1942: “Where are Gilbert and Claude?” asked Uncle Fred

Sepia Saturday 693. Twelfth in a series about letters from my dad’s brother Frederic Mason Charboneau while he was in the US Army during WWII.

Frederic Mason Charboneau c. 1942. Scan by Molly Charboneau

By Aug. 19, 1942, my dad’s brother Frederic Mason Charboneau had arrived in England for WWII duty and sent a V-MAIL update to his mother, Mary (Owen) Charboneau. Much of the letter is not legible, but a few highlights could be transcribed (in italics below).

AUG. 19, 1942, Dear Mom: Well, we finally arrived at our destination. Although I can’t say exactly where it is I can tell you that it is someplace in England…everywhere is real pretty but nothing like the Adirondacks. When I get used to this English money everything will be okay, but right now it has got us kind of whipped.

I am sending my allotment of about $40 of my pay and maybe more. I wish you would deposit it in the bank for me so that I will be able to get it when I come back.Also, if it is not too expensive, I wish you would send me some cigarettes…Tell everybody that I am fine except that I am too far away from home…That is about all for now. Fred

If only V-Mail lived up to it’s promise. Unfortunately, Uncle Fred’s first V-Mail home on Aug. 19, 1942, was only partially legible. Image: Wikimedia commons

Second report from England

About a week later, Uncle Fred wrote his next regular letter from England on Aug. 25, 1942, as transcribed below:

SOMEWHERE IN ENGLAND, AUG. 25, 1942. Dear Mom: How is everything at home? I am fine and feeling very good. The only trouble with this place is that there is no place much to go. The weather is fair although we have had some California Fog about every day that we have been here.

None of our equipment has arrived as yet so we are taking things pretty easy, but I am afraid when the stuff does come, we will be up to our knees in work.

Some mail has already arrived from the states but as yet I have not received any. Have you written lately. That is any time since the First of August. The mail that was received was dated from the first to the tenth, so the service isn’t too bad.

Where are Gilbert and Claude?

Have any other fellows come over that I know that you have heard of. Where is Gilbert now? Also is Claude still at Camp Upton? How does he like army life. He is probably used to it by now if he isn’t he should be. I suppose this letter don’t make much sense but after all there isn’t much that we can write about.

By the way did you receive that V letter? That is one of those letters that they photograph and mail for us. I expect sometime in the near future to get a three-day pass. I will probably go to London and look the place over.

Packing cigarettes for the troops during WWII. Image: www.wwiisoldier.com

Never mind sending the cigarettes. We can now get them at our canteen for about twelve cents a pack (American Cigarettes). So there is no use of you sending them and running the chance of them getting lost.

Well, I guess that is all for this time. Write often and hoping to hear from you soon. Your loving son, Fred

A spectrum of sentiments

I love these two early letters from Uncle Fred because they touch on the spectrum of sentiments and challenges that many WWII service people likely experienced at first.

Being far from home (perhaps for the first time), getting oriented in new places, adjusting to unfamiliar cultures, currency and climates while simultaneously missing home, family and friends — all this is captured in these two brief August 1942 letters from Uncle Fred.

Up next: The boldfaced items above will be explored further in the next post. Please stop back! Meanwhile, please visit the other intrepid bloggers over at Sepia Saturday.

© 2023 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

10 thoughts on “1942: “Where are Gilbert and Claude?” asked Uncle Fred”

  1. It must have been so difficult for these young men to be so far away from home and some of them so homesick. Getting letters must have been like a life line for them.

    1. It had to be difficult, and Fred alludes to this when he mentions that mail has gotten through from the U.S. but he hadn’t received any yet.

  2. I learned something new…V-Mail; I have never heard of this before. It’s always great to learn new things! I love that you have these letters and are able to transcibe them for your readers; it really gives a glimpse into his life and character, definitely adding to the “family history”! 🙂

    1. Thanks, Diane. It’s true, Fred’s letters give a glimpse of military life during WWII as well as mentioning family and friends back home.

    1. Agree. He’s also focused on making sure his mother is receiving his letters, including the V-letters — and wondering when he will receive mail from her and others, which he mentions in his Aug. 25 letter.

  3. I will definitely be “stopping back” to find out what Fred’s letters indicate happens next. 🙂

  4. I like how you present Fred’s simple messages about a typical solder’s concern for money, letters sent or received, and cigarettes. I can’t help looking up the dates to see what big events were happening in August 1942. Hitler was concentrating on the German advance into Russia and the battle of Stalingrad was just beginning. But on 19 August there was an Allied amphibious invasion of northern France called Operation Jubilee or the Dieppe Raid which was news to me. It was small force, only 6,050 infantry, mainly Canadian, with a regiment of tanks. But it failed miserably with horrendous losses of 68% casualties. I can’t believe this action was kept secret afterwards so I wonder if Fred learned anything about it in the time between his two letters.

    1. Thanks, Mike! Uncle Fred may have been aware, but he was prohibited from including military info in his letters. Also, as he was just arriving in England, he may have been more focused on settling in, awaiting orders and figuring out the currency.

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