Frank’s National Service – 1949

Frank’s first letter home.

22109753 Private Worsdale

“A” Training Company

1st Battalion East Yorkshire Regiment, B.T.A

May 1949

Dear Mam, Dad, Bill, Ray, and Charlie

It’s about 10pm (the time here is an hour behind English time) and the train is passing over a very wide river. I’m not sure what river it is but I think it must be the Rhine. It’s just getting dark now and the big black hills at the other side of the river look lovely with all the little lights from the houses dotted all over them.

Well Mam and Dad, I guess you want to know first how I went on crossing over the water from Harwich to Holland. I wasn’t sick a bit. I took two Kwells before we set off, but I really needn’t have because the boat (HMS Vienna) sailed over like a streamlined car, and just after we set off I dropped off to sleep (12:30am Wednesday) and didn’t wake up until we were about a mile from the Hook of Holland.

We got into Holland at 7:30am this morning, went through customs and then we had the best breakfast since I was called up – there was fresh tasting porridge to start with, then fish and potatoes with the purest white bread and the best butter I have ever tasted. After that we had toast and marmalade. Then we had a 4 hour’s wait for our train so we all went into the NAFFI where there was every kind of sweets, chocolates, and cakes you could think of (Oh, before going into the NAFFI we got all of our money changed into NAFFI cheques – yellow and red plastic coins, and red notes).

At around 12:00pm we set off on our train journey which will last about 40 hours. Through Holland we passed dozens of gaily painted towns where nearly everybody stopped and waved to us. The country is dead flat and there are thousands of flowers – just like you read about. The Dutch people all look well clothed and fed. Just after 5pm (Wednesday) the train passed over the border into Germany. At 5:30pm we stopped for a wash and brush-up at a small German town. There was soon a small crowd of German children round us (they all looked healthy and had good clothes on) and we gave them all sweets and chewing gum which made them all very pleased. We arrived at the City of Cologne at 7:20pm. All that’s left in one piece is the big black cathedral, every other single building is bombed to the ground. I could see people living in houses with half the walls torn away, other people seemed to come up out of the ground from nowhere. Our train changed engines and we left Cologne at 8pm, all the towns we saw from then had been badly bombed and one town looked even worse than Cologne. Well, this is where I finish my letter for today. We’ve had four lovely meals on the train today and now we are jogging along at the side of the Rhine. It’s 10:30pm and I am getting tired…., Good Night.

Thursday 20th May – When I woke up this morning the train was still on the move. We had breakfast of porridge, then sausage, bacon, beans, and some more of that lovely white bread and butter (by the way, all the waiters on the train are Dutch) At 10am the train was passing through a belt of very high mountains – we couldn’t see the tops because of the clouds. All around the bottoms of the mountains are hundreds of wooden houses, painted all the colours of the rainbow and everyone has a veranda packed with flowers.

We’re still in Germany but the people wear much different clothes now. The men wear short pants, white stockings, and funny black hats with white lace at the side. The women wear long brightly coloured dresses with white hats and white stockings. The station masters walk round their stations like kings, with black uniforms, brass buttons and bright red caps.

At 4:30am this morning we crossed over the border at Salzburg into Austria. Now it’s 1:30pm (Thursday) and we have pulled into a small Austrian station among the mountains. Some of the mountains must be three miles high and one mass of solid grey rock with snow at the peaks. There are others, not quite so high, covered with fir trees. We’ve been passing through mountains now since 12 o’clock and the only people we have seen have been wood-cutters here and there, who live in little coloured huts on the mountain sides. Some of the lads are now shouting and whistling out of the train windows and listening to their echoes bouncing around the mountains and then dying away.

The sun is now beating down on our train and it’s been grand leaning out of the window all morning with just my shirt and pants on. We still have about 6 hours train journey to go yet so I will get back to my window and will add more to my letter later on.

Well, here I am again. We now have a seven hour rest (at Vellach transit camp) before completing our train journey to a town called Graz, near Vienna. We have all just finished a grand tea and are sta in the NAFFI canteen drinking cold lemonade. The last three or four hours on the train have been the best so far. Our train has run for 50 or 60 miles on a very narrow mountain shelf, just wide enough for a railway track with a mile drop below us. The villages down in the valley look just like sets of doll’s houses. I wish all you at home could see what I see.

The place we are having our seven hour break is called Vellach. It’s a very nice camp with mountains all around it. We set off for Graz at 11:00pm tonight and should arrive early on Friday morning (21st May).

Friday: Well, here we are at last. We arrived in Graz at 5:00am this morning. I can’t tell you anything about the journey from Vellach (except that the train left there at 9pm instead of 11pm) because I was asleep the whole time. The barracks that I am going to live in for the rest of my time in Austria are ex-Nazi SS barracks (Mielding Barracks), and it’s just like living in a luxury hotel. There are only six of us to a room, we all have big wooden lockers and white pillowcases and sheets (nothing like Strensall where we were 30 to a room and the bedding was rough). The wash-house is a posh place, all tiled and with hot water laid on all the time. The lavatories flush by pressing button, and all the barracks are centrally heated. I feel lovely and fresh now as I’ve just got back from a lovely warm shower.

The officer told us when we got here that the town of Graz is about as big as Newcastle. What I saw of it at the station was all bombed and shelled. It’s not so mountainous round here as it was when we first got to Austria but it’s still very hilly and there are a few mountains dotted here and there. We are about 150 miles from Vienna so it doesn’t look as though we will get out there to see the place – unless we get posted to guard duty there. Anyway, it doesn’t bother me because the country round here looks nice enough.

That’s all about Austria for the time being. I could write about lots more but I know you are all waiting for this letter so I will finish it off now. We are not allowed out of camp for a week, so tell Charlie and Ray to be good and I’ll send them something as soon as I get the chance. Oh, did Charlie go to school all last week? And, is Ray looking after my books, and Bill his strawberries?

I’m OK Mam and Dad, don’t worry. I’ll close now but will write again soon. God bless you all, Mam, Dad, Bill, Ray, and Charlie

Cheerio, Frank.

4 responses to “Frank’s National Service – 1949

  1. Christine Ward (formely Sharpe)

    Symeon,
    I am interested in buying the book, is it available on Amazon?
    We bought your book via Amazon which we found very interesting and informative so thank you for that.

  2. Christine Ward (formely Sharpe)

    Just fantastic! So interesting, that I felt I was on that train with Frank, and I was so disappointed when the letter ended.
    As a point of interest, I have two lovely paintings by Ray which are a delight to me and my husband and both of horses. Wonderful!

    • It seems so weird that you have paintings by Ray. As I’ve only met him through Frank’s diaries he is just a little boy in my head.

      I’m glad you liked the letter. Frank has made the diary into a book which is out now in case you are interested.

      Best wishes,

      Sym.

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