With Christmas approaching I have turned again to my parents’ letters written during WWII, from the time they first corresponded in May 1942 through to December 1942, and noted how much had changed for them in that time. At home rationing started to kick in and my mother, Kay, mentioned that stores are sometimes closed because there was nothing to sell. In late November the household was down to their “last three teaballs” and didn’t know if they would be able to ever get more. Blackouts happened with increasing frequency. All lights extinguished on the streets and blinds pulled or curtains drawn. Kay is busy working in Holman's Bible Bindery as a 'bindery girl' and sings in the church choir.
On the war front, many men began to be shipped overseas to Europe. Kay’s girlfriends saw their brothers and boyfriends leave, some for basic training and then a couple on to North Africa. Kay’s brother, Albert, was still home at this point, but not for long. Will was stationed at Camp Lee, Virginia still, working as a statistician, a job that kept him stateside for the time being.
Still, there is time for listening to the radio, where Bing Crosby sings “Buddy Love” and Jerome Kern tunes remind everyone that romance is still around. At Wanamakers Department Store there are “victory sings” on Friday nights and the occasional air raid drill can provide opportunities for romance for Kay and Will on one of his few weekend furloughs.
Romance is certainly in the air for them. Through their letters they continue to discover how much they have in common and discuss their love of music, literature, film and many other things. The two times they meet are brief—one day in August and another in October. They speak on the phone a few times and then in November Kay takes the train to meet Will at Washington, D.C. to spend the day with him. She writes to say that she very nervous and has second thoughts about the meeting. Will she return her ticket and not go? Later she explains that she was so afraid that he would see her and realize that she is not for him and that all her imaginings were a dream. Little did she know as she set out on the train that he thought she was more than alright, but that she was THE one. He proposed to her on that day and she floated home on a cloud.
She writes and says that because she's had to give most of her money she earns to her mother she has only "her heart and two willing hands" to bring to him. Also two chairs, a desk and a fifty year old cook book (that cook book is on my shelf now, sixty years later -- add 2 gils of water, 10 cups of flour, etc.-- a real gem).
In December Will was able to get a week’s furlough and spent most of it with Kay visiting her friends and family and his own family. His family was quite extensive with two older brothers, two older sisters and one younger sister, each with their own families. (His parents were still in England with his middle sister). But everyone wanted to meet and congratulate the couple. The furlough meant it was certain he would not be home for Christmas and so the two of them corresponded everyday over the Christmas period and put all their emotions of the first flush of love and future together in their letters while the undercurrent of war made each promise uncertain. Below is a selection of their letters written the few days before and during Christmas. December 1943, though, I fear, was a bit different for them both.
Such a sweet, sweet letter today. Regreting the lost moments of the past we could have shared. Do not regret them, my dearest. They were merely a preparation for the present and the future. Of that I am fully convinced. I myself was not ready for such an ecstasy. I was skeptical and doubtful often that such love as we have experienced existed. But now I know. I know there was building up inside me a person that would appreciate the real values of life. And I think that now I do. A few years ago I was frightened to live, before that I was heatedly rebellious. But I’ve overcome that all now. I’ve grown emotionally and mentally to a stage where I can be wife to you, a partner worthy of your, my dearest. So again I say don’t regret the past years. They have served their purpose. And if it had not happened thru the correspondence and the service. Somewhere, somehow, someday we would have come together. It makes no difference that some may wonder at the suddenness of our love and call it the result of war. To me it is the most exquisite, the loveliest experience that ever happened to anyone. There remains only the final step to make it completely so. I’ve dreamed of being a part of such a love, often. What girl hasn’t? But I wouldn’t admit to anyone before. And I used to shake off the dream and say it wasn’t possible, anymore, that I was an idealist, a dreamer, a romanticist. Call it what you will. Oh I was quite a cynic. But under it all I was forever hoping that the dreamer was right and the cynic was wrong. How thankful I am the cynic was wrong. And I know that the dream was always right. And my dearest, I’ll do all in my power to deserve the blessings that our future relationship will bring to me. I’ll try so very hard to be a good wife. This Christmas we may be apart in reality but in spirit we will be together. I have such delightful pictures in my heart of our future Christmases. You and I trimming a tree together for our children. I wonder what they will look like. Curly–haired no doubt since we both have curly hair. I picture a sturdy little boy who looks rather like me and a darling dark-haired brown-eyed little girl just like you. Why like that? Well I’m a bit superstitious about it. Someone once told me it was lucky for a boy to look like his mother and a girl to look like her father. So just in case it’s so I want our children to be that way. Otherwise I’d want a dark-haired little boy, too. Maybe two little boys and two little girls. Maybe twins, who knows? --Maybe I’d better stop this. How I do go on.
By the way, Min [Will's sister]told me to tell you they have their camera fixed.
Guess what? Albert [Kay's brother- car stolen]got a check from the insurance company for his car. The whole amount he asked for without any argument $185. Isn’t that splendid? He didn’t expect any more than $85
This is all dearest, for tonight. Have a nice Christmas, the nicest possible, and think of me a little, loving you from the very depths of my soul.
Always yours, Kay xxxx
No letter tonight, but instead that lovely sweetheart card. Will, you are such a darling. I did not expect another card after the photo cards but I wasn’t surprised to find one. And such a lovely one. You can be sure I’ll cherish it among my treasures.
This letter should arrive Christmas day. I hope you are having a happy one. But the happiest ones are coming. We’ll have so many together. We are apart today so that those in the future may be together. And how much sweeter they will seem to us because we will know what it means to be apart. As you go through the day, dear Will, I’ll be beside you for I shall be up quiet early Christmas. I always go to church at 6 o’clock in the morning on Christmas day. Then I dash across the street to Elsie’s and have her gift and her sister’s. Then she comes home with me and watches while I open my gifts. After that I go with her up the street while she visits her cousins up the street. Then we come home and she goes home and I take a short nap before lunch. This probably the last year for that program for I hope to be sharing Christmas with my husband in an entirely new fashion next year.
The other night I heard Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne in a Christmas play written by Stephen Vincent Benét. It was beautiful. It was written in verse and it was about the inn-keeper and his wife how the birth of the Christ-child in their stable affected them and made them endeavor to be better people. A very effective presentation. I think you would have enjoyed it if only to listen to the musical voices of the principals.
Now my dearest, I’d like to say thank you for the new life you’ve brought to me, the undreamed happiness, happiness that I would not have otherwise experienced. I was happy before, content to be alone but it was so mild compared to the ecstasy your love has cause to burst forth within me. Now I know I can never be completely happy alone again. You must be there and I know you are. So that is the most perfect gift I have this Christmas, our love.
Yours always, Kay xxxx
I’ve just finished wrapping packages and straightening up my room. Talk about chaos, my room looked like a cyclone struck. I guess I won’t get to bed at all tonight. Edna[sister] wants to go carolling and she won’t go unless I do. So altho I’ve tried to talk her out of it, we’re going. Of course if I really put my foot down it would be different, but I don’t like to do that because she wants to go so much and it’s her first.
Dearest, I’m awfully sorry about the postal delay. I know how badly I felt last week when I didn’t get any all week. I was really worried by Friday. However, you have the advantage over me. When NO letters arrive you know I’m still in Philadelphia but when I don’t receive any I can’t be sure where you are, whether still at camp or outward bound to parts unknown. I hope it is working regularly by this time as yours to me is doing. Remember this, tho’ no matter what the demands on my time, I always will manage to find time to scrawl a letter to my own beloved. He is most important, more than anything or anyone else. I, too, get that dream feeling now and then and it seems as if I’ve imagined the lovely things that you’ve caused to happen or read it in a book. Then I wonder if others can be as happy as we’ve been and doubt that it is possible. I know that few have the capacity to appreciate such happiness but I think we have.
If only we could arrive at the completion of our dreams of being together for all time. Sometimes that day seems so far off. Now it seems like such an age since I was in your arms and your lips were pressing mine. And heaven alone knows when such bliss will be mine again. I know, my darling, you will make the trip home as soon again as you can, but times is so slow. It’s a long time between kisses.
Now I must go get ready to go with Edna. I’ll be sending my thoughts to you real hard all night long so maybe you’ll dream a happy dream.
Goodnight my darling,
Your own Kay. P.S. I love you more than a little. I love you absolutely.
Thank you ever so much for the beautiful roses. Dearest, you do think of the loveliest ways to surprise a girl. I was so very pleased. When they arrived Margaret McIntyre and my mother’s uncle and aunt were here. I was so excited and proud. Mother, in explanation of my sudden dash to the door told Uncle Andy that we were engaged so we have more good wishes to add to our collection. They also wish to meet you and want to know when we are to be married. I told you about him. He is the one who went to Girard College and is now Vice-President of the first company he worked for. Edna has also spread the news at my grandmother’s so when you are home again we must go there. She is anxious to meet you because you are English. She wants to ask you what you remember of England.
So now you must meet the two sides of my family. Dearest, I had a very happy Christmas and the lovely yellow roses from you were the crowning point of it all.
I was up all night since I went caroling. We walked all over from about 1.30’itl 4.30. Then we came back to church where there was a breakfast of coffee and buns awaiting us. We sat around a while and relaxed and waited until church began at 6.15. It was scheduled for six but the organist had transportation trouble with the 60 trolley and we waited for him. It was quite an inspiring service in spite of the delay. Also in spite of the fact we all were quite sleepy by that time and had a difficult time keeping awake. Just before the Benediction we had six girls, white clad and carrying candles come down the aisle and up to the chancel where four of them recited verses reference to the birth of the Christ and the other two sang. One girl had a surprisingly lovely voice. Surprising because she is not quite fourteen yet her voice was a full round contralto. She sang something unknown to me which was very pretty. The other girl sang Silent Night in an adequate manner but after the first girl disappointingly.
After church I went as usual over to Elsie’s where I greeted her brother just arrived home on a 3 day pass from Fort Monroe. He is now an acting Corporal. I had more coffee and cake there and then I brought Elsie home with me to see my gifts and receive hers. Then she made me go with her to her cousin’s a few blocks up the street as she usually does. I went along because I thought to myself “it will be different next year.” I finally arrived back home at 10.10 to go to bed for a while until 12.00 when my uncle and aunt arrived. I got up then for the rest of the day. Then the flowers came and I loved them. You are very dear and a most thoughtful darling. I stayed at home for the rest of the day and just relaxed. It was a beautiful day but it is raining now.
Will, I had a lot of fun all night and delightful time all day but underneath there was the feeling of wanting you with me and loving you hard. I thought of you constantly. At 5.45 I said to Edna you were just getting up. I called Min [Will's sister] to give her my greetings and intended to call Jessie [Will's sister] right after. But while I was talking to George, Jessie and Owen came in so I extended my greetings to them there. Min was hoping that Ted[son] would call.
I hope you had an enjoyable day but that you missed me a little.
Now I’ll say goodnight for I’m going to bed as soon as I mail this letter.
I don’t have to get tired so I can sleep tonight. I am tired, but I still want to dream of you and I Hope that you dream too. It seems a year since I saw you.
Lovingly yours, Kay xxxx
My Dearest Kay,
Darn these holidays anyhow no mail from you today, being away from you is enough, but not to get some word from you that is more than I can possibly bear. When I used to get your letters so regularly I thought our love was running along the lines of other peoples’ love affairs, but when I receive only one in two or three days I am utterly convinced that ours is more than just attraction. I am afraid, when they don’t come, that our love is a dream. Therefore my halucinations are dispersed by the love which you bear for me written in each of your letters.
I received Christmas cards from both you and Edna. Give my appreciations to Edna, very thoughtful, also decidedly important, my appreciations to Mom for her card. I may have expressed these words heretofore, so it is still not out of place to repeat myself. I presume you all have had the opportunity of admiring or criticizing the pictures I have sent to you. This mail!!!
I presume by the time you receive this letter, you will have your time all tied up [?] many packages. However, I knew your time will be very much in demand, so I won’t expect you to write, not that I would not like one from you. Much to the contrary, I like to hear my name called at mail call, but alas, it appears everyo9jne is waiting for the holidays to subside.
Express my Christmas Greetings to the McIntyres, Gladys and anyone that I met, things went around so fast, I hadn’t the chance to get their names.
Ted, my nephew, sent me a card but no letter, shucks!
Well, my sweet, do you still love me a little, because my love for you is hollering, shouting, wishing for the time to loom up in front of my presence, so that I can see, I can touch and hold most precious the person I hold most dear. Reserve the couch for that occasion, will you dearest? Make sure that Smoky [cat]stays at the top of the stairs.
This is all sweet my best regards to all—Edna included. My fondest sweetest love to you,
My dearest Kay,
At last I received a letter from you particularly that you had received the picture Christmas cards. I am really pleased to hear that they bear a little praise from everyone. I will look into the matter about enlargements. I can get them made so much cheaper here. In fact after the new year I intend to do some of my own enlarging.
Kay dearest I am overjoyed at your visits of the various members of my family. Keep it up but watch your health these treacherous days, when the weather is so changeable.
I am writing from Richmond having arrived about 1.00. We were given the afternoon and tomorrow off, rather sporting eh what! It is all exceptionally balmy day today, very mild- sun shining- countless Xmas shoppers and a line from here to Hades lined up out side the liquor store buying the Christmas spirit in bottles instead of letting it come from their hearts.
If you have never seen a crowd, by jove the terminals, streets of Petersburg were crammed mostly service men on the way out. It is really a nice place to drive thru at about 50 miles an hour, owned and operated by the Sons and Daughters of Israel. An army truck pickup up about fiftee of us and drove us to Richmond, quite a break! I frequently get a hop to Richmond, save some money that way and I am one among many. I didn’t go carolling last nite, couldn’t even get out of camp, buses just overloaded, no hops whatever so saw “Life Begins at 8.30pm” and well worth the effort.
Very shortly I am leaving to go to my friend’s house, Russell for this nite and tomorrow, more music and hospitality first class.
When I heard today that we were going to get off early, my mind quickly ran to idea I might be able to see you tomorrow. Alas it wasn’t possible. The passes that were issued to us is only good as far as Richmond. The trains are being covered by M.P.s relative to passes North. Therefore I had to dispel the idea later.
I could not get your last letter until almost noon and I needed that definitely they are my sustenance. In “Life begins at 8.30pm”there are several lines spoken by the young man in love with Kathie, which I repeated word for word to you. I touch your hand, to see you when I would come home, to missyou when you were not there, and much more, much more than I could ever enfold on paper,my thoughts are forever racing madly gladly ahead of my pen. My best wishes to all. Lovingly yours, Will xxxx
My Dearest Kay,
I received both letters written Xmas day and the following day. We are up to date now and right glad of it.
The flowers pleased you did the dear, it is my weakness too. I knew undoubtedly that you would like roses. I like to give occasional gifts of flowers, so I hope to continue this practice, praise the lord I am capable.
Well my sweet, my next opportunity I will meet your relations and additional friends, it is quite a job though, you can’t leave too abruptly.
You know sweet, I frequently listen to the Saturday afternoon operas although I did not listen to the “Magic Flute.” I went to Richmond as you already know. I again listened to Russell’s records. On Sunday the Shakespeares had an open house party from 4pm -10 pm people coming and going all the time. Egg Nog is the common drink served during the holidays. One of the visitors was a Senator Fuller of Virginia. We had an interesting discussion about the war. He seemed to think that the war would be settled by Aug 1943 and how I wanted to agree with him. By jove I certainly did, I could begin my life with you, day for day. You by my side helping me to create new life and happiness. I can hardly wait, so that we may have our own place, build and plan this and the other. It really sounds interesting and heavenly doesn’t it dear. It appears that given the present circumstances we probably wll have to plan many things by letter . So let us begin—just where do you like to be kissed best, I prefer the lips. You know it occurred today that I would have a little trouble getting a best man. I thought of Miles, you know the place we were to have visited in Clifton. Maybe I am speaking out of turn but will Edna be the one to stand for you. I would like it because I think quite a lot of her. That is entirely up to you however. If you have further ideas, sing out my sweet. Lights are out now, so my best wishes to all at home. Lovingly yours, Will xxxx
Kristin Gleeson is a writer, artist and musician who lives in the west of Ireland in the Gaeltacht.
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