Gordon Charles Dinnis (my father) was born on the 29th of September, 1923 and passed away on the 31st of July 2001. He would have been just sixteen years of age at the outbreak of World War 2, and from various letters and documents we know he was just twenty years old when he left West Hartlepool where he had been training with the 10th Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment.
I have a few letters he wrote to his mother during the time he spent training and then travelling to Italy. Then he was injured and spent time in hospital and a re-allocation centre. It is interesting to see how the tone of the letters changes, from lighthearted news of dances and films, through to his injuries and operations and trying to reassure his mother he was alright and she shouldn’t worry.
The first letter is dated Octover 14th, 1943 and is sent from County Durham, it begins “My Dear Mum, just a few lines to say we shall be leaving here sometime this week. All our kit has been packed, I have no idea where we are going, but will write again as soon as I possibly can. I am going to the pictures tonight, and then maybe on to a dance. All the boys here are very cheerful, and joking a lot. Last night I went to the pictures and saw ‘The Man In Grey’. It was not a very good film, and after I went to a dance. We got back about 11.30.”
In the following letters we see how his lighthearted approach gradually wore off, although he was always keen to reassure his mother that he was fine and she shouldn’t worry about him. He wrote about what he was eating, which included white bread (much to his delight) and tins of peaches when he was on board the ship taking him to Italy. He jokingly said ” I nearly forgot to tell you Mum, we can get tinned fruit now and I’ve already had a 2lb tin of peaches, and am having another one today. They are really lovely only I miss the cream. Yes, I still eat a lot and really enjoy my meals.” It’s the sort of thing you can imagine a mother would like to hear. I remember tinned fruit being a real treat as I was growing up in the early 1960s, topped with evaporated milk – I don’t think we had cream! Tinned fruit isn’t something I buy anymore, in fact I can’t recall the last time I ate it.
The next letters are sent from hospitals, where he bravely tries to play down his injuries so his mother won’t worry. He had two spells in hospital, the first in April 1944. He writes “I was transferred over a week ago to a hospital in Sicily, I thought that would surprise you, and it did me to. Especially when we were told we were going by air. I wonder if you can imagine what I felt like as I sat in the plane waiting for it to take off. It certainly is something I’ll never forget.” In these days of air travel being so common it is important to remember what a new experience it was for the soldiers, the world was a bigger place then and travelling abroad was not something that was done.
I shall write about his second spell in hospital at a later date. You can read more of these letters in a little book entitled ‘Don’t Worry Mum’, which is available from http://www.blurb.co.uk