Dearest Blue Eyes
These letters were written by Major Henry James Drew Smythe, M.C., in January 1919 to his wife, Enid.
At this time, he was with the International Commission for the Repatriation of Prisoners in Bavaria and she was at the Hotel Crystal, Boulogne, serving as a V.A.D. They had been married in November 1914, soon after the outbreak of World War 1 and saw each other only on infrequent leave opportunities.
This is the portrait of a relationship as much as an observation, with anecdotes, contained within a complete personal report of a few weeks of his work and travels in Germany and Austria less than two months after the Armistice that ended The Great War.
Note: The spellings of towns, areas and vocabulary are as they appear in the original letters. Students or researchers should make their own geographical or linguistic verifications.
Unknown Place 19.1.1919
Baby mine we are in an awful mess at present. We started off by car for Salzburg from Ischal at 8.o'clock this morning and while we were on the level we had snow a foot deep. We got to a small place on the Wolfgang See and then we commenced to climb up to get over the mountains to Salzburg. The snow got deeper and deeper and we had to shovel a way for the car all up the side and we got to the top of one place in this way, taking four hours to do three kilometres. Then we started on a downward slope and did quite well for three kilometres, the car charging a way through the snow; but suddenly we slipped off the side of the road into a ditch and the car nearly turned over on its side, both wheels on one side being in the ditch with the axle and everything resting on the side of the road. And I thought "this is the end" - and it was. We have borrowed jacks from local farmers, put wood in the ditch, raced the engine and rushed at it but so far it has been to no avail and the car is still in the ditch. Now, owing to the constant sharp "clutching" we have worn the clutch out and it wont catch.
The position at present is that the car is still in the ditch but in a slightly better position and the clutch is beginning to catch; but, as it is dark, we can do nothing further and have all returned to the nearest farm house where we have found three beds for six of us. Three of the men have to sleep on the floor. Luckily they have brought their blankets and will be as comfortable as possible under the circumstances. Tomorrow we are going to try to get the car out of the ditch and also proceed on to Salzburg which is another twelve miles. We may get there, we may not. It all depends on the depth of the snow further on - we are told it is deeper and it certainly will be, for it has been snowing all day today and will continue all through the night I expect. The chances of having to dig ourselves out all the way are fairly considerable. However, we have got to get to Salzburg so there is nothing for it but to carry on.
I am tired, so tired, my Pinkie heart and my arms ache from digging and we have had such strenuous days during the last three days especially. When you will get this letter, I do not know for the ration lorry has not to go until we get back from this stint. We just must get to Strazburg tomorrow then we can put the car on a train and can also do everything by train but this is just an impossible country that we are in at present.
I must first read your letters my sweet one and then answer them and I shall be much happier afterwards my lovely one.
Cupid one, I do know McCormack quite well. I have been to the DDMS Mess at Corps H.Q. - where he messes - very often and he has also been to our Mess and knows the DDMS and Colonel Green very well too. He is a sporting old chap, as you say but an awful "gas-bag"; you can never get rid of him. I took a bit of grit out of his eye once at Valdagno but I did not know that he had left Italy. That was very funny about your Colonel not turning up for lunch. What an awful thing for Mrs. Bishop to lose both her brother and her husband. I do hope that she will be able to find their graves; but it will be very hard if the ground has been fought over again. Poor little woman. I am sorry for her.
My Baby angel, you shall go for heaps of dances next winter. You dear soul, you have a lot of missed happiness to make up for haven't you? And your hubby will see that you have it all, my beautiful 'cus he does love you so ...
Well, we did arrive, my cupid and it was not such a terrible run as we had expected. We had to dig our way and push and with the help of numerous natives we got the car out of the ditch. This accomplished, we started off up hill for about a mile and a half and most of this the Colonel and I and our men had to shovel away the snow from the front of the car. After this we had a bit of down hill work but the snow was not so thick here - only reaching to the bottom of the radiator - and so by a series of rushes we got the car up this bit and from there we had, except for one sharp hill, a continuous downward run to Salzburg which we reached at 2.45, starting at 8.30. The whole distance from where we started this morning being not further than twelve miles - but when you pile up snow in front of the radiator it is surprising that we made progress at all. However, we are here my sweet lambkin and that is the great thing; but I do not want the experience again.
The beds we slept in last night were ghastly but by piling all my clothes on top and wearing the others I managed to keep warm. We then got up at 6.30 and luckily I had my primus and got hot shaving water - but I had no glass and neither had the Colonel so we had to shave without one. Then, as we had been away so long, our rations ran out and we had to have a breakfast of bread and sardines which luckily we had in the store. Altogether, my precious lamb, it was a most unpleasant experience.
The Colonel is sending the car back to Munich tomorrow and letters and dispatches with it so I shall send this letter with them my lovely one. We are going to do the rest of our wanderings by train as the snow is much too bad for motoring.
Alright my precious lamb, I am quite with you that you should go home in February if it can be possibly managed. What do you want to do my angel heart when you get home? It all depends on what I am going to do - whether Dublin or the job at Brighton.
I wish that I could get back to Italy quickly as it is impossible to arrange anything while I am out here for it takes a fortnight at the least for an answer and one cannot settle a practice without going and seeing just what it's like. It's so very difficult my Baby to decide what to do and I think a letter from him explaining all things would be much better. I could not possibly do a maternity hospital practice at present, my angel soul, as four and a half years of practically no work of that sort makes one forget it all - whereas six months at Dublin would make me quite accomplished. Another thing about that practice is the price which will swallow up most of our capital and that we cannot afford at present. I have absolutely no time to do anything but rush about.
I hope that your next letter will come to you in less than a week as this has been more than a week my precious soul. Goodbye little angel mine. I am longing for you so. I want you more than anything else in the world, my Baby, Blue Eyes.