DAD’S WWII LETTERS: Chapter 17, Calcutta, Back to Work

taj mahalThe Taj Mahal

August 19, 1944

Well, I’m enjoying a fifteen day furlough.  Anyway I’m enjoying it as much as a person could in this country.  I’m in a rest camp and am free to come and go as I please.  It is located in one of the nicest spots that I’ve seen so far in India.  It isn’t so cool always here at night but the days are usually cool here in the camp.  We have a PX here and a recreation center.  We have a pass to go to town anytime we feel like it.  There are no duties.  The only thing we are required to do is to report when the time is up to go back.

I’ve been here five days in a row now and it’s beginning to get a little bit old.  Some of the fellows don’t even stay here, but get a room downtown.  That costs a little too much.  I’ve eaten downtown a few times and a person can get steaks that aren’t as good as they are back home, but they taste better than corned beef and viennas.

calcutta key bookletSoldier’s guidebook to Calcutta

The camp here feeds a lot of fresh meat.  We can buy all the ice cream and cold drinks we want.  They sell cold beer at the PX.  The first few days the weather was nice for going around seeing things.  Today though is one of those rainy days.

A day or two ago I went on a Red Cross tour and saw some native temples and places where they burn the dead.  I had heard a lot about how they burned the dead but was the first time I actually seen it.

It takes a lot of rupees to have much of a time down here but it’s worth it after being in the jungle so long.   It might be the last chance I have for a long time.  I hope that my next furlough will be in the States.

I hope you are well.

Sept. 2, 1944

I hope you don’t think that I’ve forgotten you.  I got back from my furlough in Calcutta last night.  I got my mail (14 letters in all) this morning and now I’m trying to catch up on some of it.

GI's at newsstandSoldiers at Calcutta newsstand

It’s nice in a way to be back, but it was hard to leave a nice place in civilization to come back here in the jungle again and go to work again for no telling how long.

I got to eat lots of steaks, ham and eggs while I was down there.  I got to ride around in taxis which reminded me of home more or less.  I rented a bicycle to ride  a couple of times while I was there and that was quite a sport.  It was the cheapest way to get around as they cost the equivalent of 16 cents an hour.

It’s no telling just where I’ll be for Christmas, but more than likely I’ll still be over here.  You need not send me any soap or tooth powder or shaving cream as we can get plenty of it.  You could send some after shave lotion.  You could send me a fairly good pipe (one of medium weight).  Oh yes, if you could get hold of some small scissors, I could use those.  There isn’t so much that I need right now and there’s no use sending stuff that a person can get over here.  It’s better not to send anything to eat as it usually gets stale by the time it gets here.  I’m hoping this will be my last Christmas overseas or away from home.  Let’s see.  I’ve been away from home for three Christmases now, and this’ll make the fourth.  If I think of anything else, I need I’ll tell you right away.

calcutta 2Calcutta streets

I’m sorry to hear that it’s so dry back there.  It’s too bad you can’t have some of this moisture we have here.  I guess you have enough heat the way it is.  It is cooler here today than what it was when I left.  It may just be one of those days, but it should get cooler now before long and I’ll sure be glad of it.

It’s nice that Kallal’s are able to take a little vacation.  When I get home you can take a vacation while Dorothy and I look after things.

It sounds like you are going to have some beef in the locker this winter.  I hope I get home in time to eat some of it.  Well, I may not get home quite soon enough for that, but I do have expectations of getting home by spring.  If not they surely don’t expect much out of me by then.

I can just imagine how Uncle George is puttering around getting everything fixed just the way Aunt Minnie wants it.  It sounds like the high school and grade school are having a time this year trying to get teachers.  I guess the shortage is getting critical.  The schools will be opening again in a few days as this is the first of September.  I guess everyone has their troubles in war-time.  Maybe the European situation will soon be settled.  I sure hope so, as that’ll simplify matters considerable.  That should give us older fellow more of a chance of getting back to the States sooner.

Uncle George should have a place like the old Barr place so that he could keep a cow or two and chickens to have something to piddle around at.  The way it is, he won’t have much to do and he won’t know what to do with himself.  I suppose though, that he’ll take of Opal’s garden as well as their own, and besides helping Aunt Minnie, that’ll keep him busy anyway during the summer.  I just can’t picture him sitting down and taking life easy.  I suppose Aunt Minnie would just as soon continue living out there on the farm, but she’s lucky that she got to live there as long as she did.

I don’t remember just what was the trouble when I told you I wasn’t feeling so good.  I’m OK now since I had a vacation.  I think I gained a few pounds because I seem to fill out my pants a little better.  A person gets off feed once in a while when it is so hot continuously.  The weather will be getting cooler now along and I hope to be out of here before the next hot season.  Don’t worry about me because if I do get sick, they have good hospitals and equipment to take care of a person.

After you get the crops all in this fall, you’ll be able to sit back and take life a little easier.  That takes quite a bit off my mind as well as yours.  I’m not going to worry about what I’m going to do till the time comes.  I think I’ll just take it easy for a while at first when I get back.

Write when you can.

Sept. 6, 1944

I received two more letters from you today.  The latest was mailed on the 28th of August.  That makes three of your letters I have to answer now.  We sure are getting some nice music on our radio now.  I think I told you that we have one in the tent now that one of the fellows fixed up from salvage parts.  It’s a pretty nice one too, even though it was made of pieces from here and there.

It isn’t quite as hot here now as it was, but is still hot enough that a person still perspires quite a bit.  The reason a person notices the perspiration is that the humidity is high.

What are you planning on doing with the cattle you have on pasture?  Are you going to sell them this fall or feed them through the winter?  Seed clover must be a good price now isn’t it?  I’m not going to worry about renting a farm until I get home and am ready for it.  Something else may come up by then.  The only thing I have to worry about is having enough laid away to get set up in farming.

The picture of Armin Rigsbey and his dad show quite a contrast between the way the soldier was dressed last war and this war.  There is as much difference between the wars, too.  I was sort of surprised to see the clipping showing the picture of Armin’s wife to be.  Seems like all those young fellows that were kids whin I was around home are getting married.  It makes me feel like an old-timer.

I’m glad the weather has cooled off some back there.

Yes, sometimes a person gets pretty discouraged being way over here and at times it seems that the war would last indefinitely.  The longer a person stays over here the worse it is.  Things look better though, now, and I’ve had a furlough. and feel a little more like carrying on.  I just hope I don’t have to endure another hot season over here.  I’ve picked up a little weight since I was on furlough.  I had some steaks and ham and eggs to eat while I was down there.  I’ve had a better appetite since I got back.

Snake Charmer in IndiaIndian snake charmer

As for feeling patriotic, I don’t feel so much so, after being over here and seeing what actually goes on.  I’ll tell you more about it when I get home.

I don’t put much stock in the good things that are going to be done for the returning soldiers.  I’ve been in the army too long and seen too many promises fall through for that.  I think the fellow that looks out for himself and grabs off what he can get will be the one that’s best off.  The ones that stayed home are getting the cream now.  They won’t have to worry so much about the future if they provide for it now.

It would be nice to take a short course in agriculture when I get back.  I don’t want to have to spend much time or money trying to get an education at this late date, though I’ll have to get down to scratching for a living as soon as possible.

Editor’s note:  Dad’s letters reflected realistic views of army life, the post-war world.  What he couldn’t talk about was army waste and corruption.  Dad felt left behind while life at home went on.  After the war, Dad took an agriculture course at the local high school, under Prof. Klaus–also my high school agriculture instructor in the sixties.

As for bookkeeping, I’ve learned quite a bit about it these last eighteen months.  I’m beginning to get tired of it.

Mary Sawtell sure made a nice looking young lady.  She’ll make all the boys run a temperature that she takes care of in the line of duty as a nurse.  Ha!

Well, I’ll close for this time.  I hope you are well.  Write as often as you can.

Sept. 10, 1944 Letter from India (2)Handwritten Sep. 10th letter

Sept. 10, 1944

Here it is another Sunday almost gone.  I worked this morning and this afternoon.  I passed the time by playing a few games of cards.  I played a few games of table tennis this evening.

We had ice cream for supper tonight. We have it quite often ow that we have a way of making it in the company.  We have cold drinks most of the time, too, except when we have coffee.  It sure us quite different from when we first came over here, when you couldn’t get anything like that.

I’m glad that it has turned cooler now.  It isn’t quite as warm here as it was.  The nights are cooler now.  A person has to cover up with a sheet now where before a person wore as little as possible all night.  Before too many weeks we’ll be looking for blankets to cover up with.  It seems like when it does turn cool, the dampness chills a person through and through.

The cow you bought is doing her part to step up production.  i imagine the veal calves are a pretty good price aren’t they?  Boy! I’d sure like to milk a cow again to see how it’s like.  It seems like it’s been a long tome since I’ve done anything like that.  I’d probably have to learn all over again.  i believe I did milk once when i was home last.

By now I suppose you are either in the middle of silo filling or else you’ve finished.  It shouldn’t take too long this year as you’ve got only one silo to fill.  Some of these days you’ll be starting to shuck corn.  that’s something else I haven’t done in a long time.  It’s been about four years since I’ve done any of that.  I think I told you that my corn over here didn’t amount to much.  The best I could get out of the two hills I planted were two small nubbins.  I was going to send some grains home to show how it turned out, but somebody threw it away when i was on furlough.  I had it tied up on a string drying out.

I’m glad to hear that you were able to get some new tractor tires.  Are they any heavier than the others?  What make are they?  You didn’t have to get new ones for the front, too, did you?  It seems like the old ones didn’t last very long as they weren’t on quite four whole seasons.  I guess they did a lot of work though and they weren’t hardly heavy enough.

I was surprised to hear that Uncle Alvin died.  I knew that he was poorly too.  I got a letter from Dorothy written on the 31st of August and she said she was at Dixon at the time it happened.  She was out there, though, after she got back and met some of the folks.  She said that Aunt Minnie was sick in bed then.

Mr. Banks death was rather sudden.  There sure have been a lot of deaths in and around Chesterfield since I’ve been over here.  There have certainly been a lot of changes made.  I’ll feel like a stranger around there.

Ed Kallal must be figuring on running the home place.  Mr. & Mrs. Kallal are getting pretty old to keep up the gait they’ve been going and i suppose they hate to move away and leave the place after they’ve worked so hard to fix it up.

I see by the clipping you sent me the Ed Jacoby family is having their share of trouble with their boys in the service.  I hope I don’t have to spend as long a time overseas as Eldon Miller before I get home.

I’ll close for this time.

Sept 17, 1944

Here it is another Sunday.  It isn’t so nice today, but is cooler this way.  I had guard duty last night so will be through with that for a few days again.

You must have gotten to see a lot of the folks out for Uncle Alvin’s funeral.  Yes, it’s too bad that it turned out that Dorothy was gone.  She met a few of them later after she got back.  I suppose you know by now the reason they were gone, and didn’t get back as soon as expected.  It would have been a good opportunity for her to meet a lot of the folds.

I imagine that by now everyone has their silos filled, unless it is someone who has some exceptionally late corn.  I had a letter from Carl Getz and he said that he had quite a bit of corn to cut up if he got it done.  It’s pretty tough now on the farmers that have to cut up so much corn for the shock as help is so scarce.  He could use a binder though unless the corn is down too bad.  He did talk like some of it has gone down.  I hope you enjoyed the show that you went with Kallals to see.  I don’t see why you don’t go more often.  Maybe you can go after you get through with the busy work.  You might as well enjoy life while you can.  I’m surprised to hear that Jesse Peacock is still out there with Mrs. Costley.  I guess that’s the only way she has to take care of her place.  I suppose she doesn’t want to rent it out and leave the place.  how do these boys court these girls so far from home in times like these?  I guess I’ve been gone too long to figure things like that out.

Will close for now.

Sept 25, 1944

The mail hasn’t been coming in so good the last week or so.  That’s usually the way it is though.  It comes in bunches and I received a bunch of it here a while back and am caught up for a while.

The weather also has been warm again for the last few days.  I’ve had a cold and you know how that is during warm weather.

There was a show tonight, but the weather was uncertain that I didn’t go.  I can’t enjoy a show much in the rain although some of the fellows go anyway.  Well, September is soon going to be gone.  I’ll bet the leaves will soon be turning pretty colors.  It’s been quite a while since I’ve seen anything like that.  Most of the time since, I’ve been where the vegetation stays green the year around.

The other night I got to thinking of the old Rigsbey place where we used to live.  I quite often dream of the place but it is never about anything that happened there.  It’s been fifteen years since we moved away from there.  It doesn’t hardly seem like it’s been that long.  The years that followed sure turned out to be hectic as far as financial troubles went.

After things straighten out after this war, I hope things run a little more smoothly.

Well, there isn’t much to write about seems like so I’ll close for this time hoping I hear from you soon.

Sept 30, 1944

I received your letter of Sept. 11th.

I sent you a letter telling you what I wanted for Christmas.  You’ve probably gotten it by now.  Yes, I’ll still be over here by then.  That’s for sure.

Well, by now I guess you are finished filling the silo in the neighborhood and are thinking about sowing wheat and shucking corn.

It’ll be quite a comedown for Ed Kallal’s wife to move out on the farm in an old makeshift house after having lived in the city.  I guess he wants to hurry up and get settled on the farm before the draft board catches up with him.

Who is the mail carrier now that Myron Parker no longer does it?

The new principal sounds like he believes in large families.  He’ll have enough kids to start a school of his own pretty soon.  It sounds like Chesterfield is going to be a strange place to me when I get back.

It seems like there’s a lot of sickness and deaths around there.

Uncle George will get a taste of what we had if he goes back and forth to feed this winter.  I guess they figured that as long as they didn’t own the place anymore there wasn’t any use of fixing it up.  If Green doesn’t get some one on his place that’s interested in keeping the place fixed up he won’t have much as he lives so far from it.

Editor’s note:  First mention of the new owner of Uncle George Gahr’s farm.  As I remember, the new owner lived in Detroit, Michigan.  Grandpa previously had crops and cattle on the place for several few years.  It was about three miles west of town.

Uncle George’s place in town may not make them a living, but they should have enough to live on now after selling the place.

I wish I could have seen the crops on the old place once again before someone else took over.  Oh well!  By the time I can start out it’ll be like starting out fresh in a new neighborhood anyway.

It’s rather indefinite when I’m going to get back there.  I first thought I would get home for a furlough the first part of the year, but it begins to look doubtful.  Oh well, the later I get back there, the more chance I’ll have of not having to come back overseas again.

Well, I’ll close for this time, hoping you are well.