World War II and Sweeney Todd

Collective nouns include a peep of chickens, a murder of crows and a smack of jellyfish – today’s strange thought.

I have been completely absorbed in the task at hand for the last four days. I am taking my Dad’s letters and making a book out of them. These are letters he wrote home to his Mum and Dad, his sister, Dorothy, and his brother, Bruce, while he was in England and the Middle East 1940-1944 as a Spitfire pilot and they are fascinating. Several things have struck me, the contrast between what he wrote home and the pieces that he wrote after the war, which detail what actually happened during patrols and escorts. The letters are largely written on leave and detail what he has done to relax. He’s very careful what he mentions as far as the locations of squadrons/aerodromes and day-to-day activities, not just to save his Mother worry, but also because they were read and censored. But the ones written June-December 1941 start to detail the losses, by October 1941 six men are left alive out of the 21 who graduated from his war course. His best friend is shot down behind him on their first raid over France, two of his closest friends from the course are on bombers and they are both lost, in one letter he talks about Bob’s body being returned by the Germans. Bitterness breaks through and so does the determination to make sure this never happens again. When he shoots down his first plane it affects him deeply and he is a very thoughtful young man.

And the letters came by air mail so only took three weeks to a month and he continuously thanks them for such ‘recent’ news from home, he is the envy of the mess because his parents send letters, newspapers and parcels by Clipper. Most have to wait for surface mail, take three months by sea and many are lost to enemy u boats. I ask you, how far has communication come and do we know we’re lucky?? What do the parcels contain? Chocolate, cigarettes, tobacco, socks, shaving cream and yummy cakes. And he hints that NZ butter is always a treat. When he gets home he is going to eat apples all day long.

Another thing that struck me last night was that he applied to go to the Middle East, largely to escape a second English winter and also the lull that happens in winter when there is hardly any flying, and he had the choice of Singapore or the Middle East and he chose the latter. With hindsight we know what the likely outcome would have been had he chosen Singapore, internment and most likely, death. Such are the choices we make in life.

Another interesting thing in the last couple of days is the preview opening of Sweeney Todd at the Chichester Festival in Sussex. Sweeney Todd is played by Michael Ball and Mrs Lovett by the excellent actress, Imelda Staunton. Apparently it is a very dark, gritty production with lots of blood spurting everywhere and very dramatic, draining performances. Mrs Lovett has the comedic lines and has added some modern references to evil bankers etc. It is a tale of a man driven insane by grief and rage and the need for revenge.  By all accounts the production is an excellent one and the six-week run will thoroughly exhaust all involved. 

Today is Tuesday and today the huge racehorse Zanacotti (see previous post) has a trial run somewhere in an effort to qualify for a race. Go you beautiful animal!! Stay tuned.


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