1942: Awaiting letters from home

Sepia Saturday 699. Fourteenth 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

Those in service during WWII eagerly awaited letters from home. Yet the mail was sporadic — especially at the beginning of the war.

My paternal uncle Frederic Mason Charboneau was a diligent correspondent, sending weekly letters to his mother Mary (Owen) Charboneau — and writing to others as well.

But six months into his U.S. Army service, he expressed disappointment at the lack of replies from home. [His writing is in italics below].

Where’s the mail?

Somewhere in England, August 30th, 1942, Dear Mom, Well so far, I haven’t heard from you since I arrived in England, but the mail is slow and so far all that is coming through are airmail, so in the future when you write send it by airmail and then I will get it quicker.

“I have received 2 letters so far, both of them from Jean Bastow [his future wife]. One was mailed on August 5th and the other on August 15th, so you see how well the mail runs. When the regular mail gets here, if it ever does, we all should get quite a lot. I hope so anyway.”

Uncle Fred sends a cablegram

This must have set Uncle Fred wondering whether his letters were arriving back home at all. So on Aug. 26, 1942, he sent a cablegram (below) to let his family know he was okay. He referred to it in his Aug. 30, 1942 letter.

“Did you receive the cablegram I sent? The main reason I sent it was to let you know that I was well and also I knew that it would probably get to you before my other letters that I have written. They tell us that it should be delivered within 24 hours and all they cost is about $.50 which in English money is 2 shillings and six pence. I am getting so that I can keep this English money straight, though for a while I had to figure a little.”

A three-day-pass to London

Aside from requesting letters from home, Uncle Fred wrote what he could about events at his duty station in England.

“Nothing much to write about except that I am well and so far, I haven’t seen any Germans. I am going on a three day pass this afternoon and I’m going to London to take in the sights so the next time I will have a little more to write about. It beats all, now that we are over here, they are giving us passes and when we were back in the states it was like pulling teeth to get a pass but we are all satisfied to get them so that we can take a little time off and relax.”

Hard to imagine what the sights in London may have been like just one year after the Nazi Blitzkrieg bombings of 1940-41 — with streets still full of rubble, as shown below.

WOMEN’S STREET CLEANING BRIGADE: FEMALE DUSTMEN AT WORK, LONDON, 1942 (D 8942) Women of the St Pancras Women’s Street Cleaning Brigade smile for the camera with their dust carts on a London street before setting off for work. Rubble and bomb damage can be seen behind them. Note that the cart on the right hand side of the centre row has a poster on it to encourage people to put kitchen scraps in the pig bins supplied by local authorities. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205199412

Fred’s earlier trans-Atlantic trip

Uncle Fred also gave details about his earlier boat trip across the Atlantic, providing a glimpse of his duties as part of a U.S. Army clerical/communications unit.

“Did I tell you that on the boat coming over that I had a stateroom? There were four others in with me, but we weren’t a bit crowded. How we happened to get one was due to the fact that we were in the advance party and that our Commander was Staff Officer of the ship and we had to get out the Ships Bulletins and the like, though I didn’t have much to do, in fact it was almost like a pleasure cruise although it was under a little trying conditions.”

In closing, Uncle Fred renewed his wish for news from home:

“Well, I guess that is all for now will write again soon and in the meantime so long until I hear from you, or you hear from me. Your loving son, Fred.”

What will Uncle Fred write about next? Please stop back to find out! Meanwhile, please visit the other intrepid bloggers over at Sepia Saturday.

© 2023 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

14 thoughts on “1942: Awaiting letters from home”

  1. Letters are definitely one of the most treasured heirlooms you can have from the past! Thanks so much for sharing all of these letters home with us, and giving us a glimpse into someone’s experience overseas during the war! If I were family, I’d probably be freaked out receiving a cablegram, as many times that’s how they announced deaths. 😉

  2. Letters are such powerful sources for us in conveying what life was like at the times. Fred’s disappointment at the lack o f post from home comes across so vividly. My father was in London shortly after the Blitz and wrote about it in his account “My War”. , and I treasure the letters he wrote to my mother in 1944 – 45 when he was driving a tank through France into Germany.

    1. Thanks, Sue. There is absolutely nothing that compares to hearing from those in service in their own words and I feel so grateful that Uncle Fred’s letters were carefully saved by his mother and passed down the family.

  3. That is a wonderful post. My mother did not save letters my dad wrote during World War II, though as he was stateside as a Naval aviation instructor, he wasn’t away from home much. His only extended stay away from home was when he was sent to England to a flight school there, to learn the tactics the Royal Air Force was using against the Germans, so he could bring that knowledge home and teach his students. My brother wrote from Viet Nam, and his letters had pretty much the same tone at times. I wrote to him pretty regularly, too.

    1. Thanks for these stories. Karen. There seems to be a universality in soldiers’ and sailors’ desire to maintain home connections while stationed abroad — a link that resonates as a safe place for them in times of war.

  4. One of the only things I remember about my grandfather, who died when I was 8, saying to me was how lonely it was for him to be so far away during WWI and not have any communication with him. He was only 19 years old and had never even been out of the state of Massachusetts before, so to be overseas was a big jolt for him and for so many of these young men during those wars. Great post about this and reminding people of that.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Jenny. My Uncle Fred was also away away from home for the first time, and he seems to have compensated for the lack of news from home by keeping as busy as possible — learning the English monetary system, going on leave when allowed, etc. Still, I’m sure there were moments when he felt as your grandfather did.

  5. I recognise the worry about post arriving or getting lost from my great-aunt Gerda’s postcards from France during WWI. Must have been so frustrating when writing was the only way of communicating and taking so long to arrive that anything might have happened between the sending and the arrival…

    1. I can’t imagine waiting for regular post with such important messages. When my nephew was more recently in the service, they hooked up internet communication with family before service members went abroad. Sadly, that wasn’t yet available during WWII.

  6. It’s interesting to compare Fred’s army experience in WW2 to what I know of my uncle’s similar time in the navy during the war. Sending and receiving mail was certainly difficult for soldiers but near impossible for sailors while serving on ships. Fred’s use of airmail and telegrams was a surprise as I didn’t expect it to be available then for ordinary soldiers.

    In my never-ending collection of WW1 ephemera, I’ve recently found examples of Red Cross postcards that soldiers sent back home immediately on their arrival in France. Pre-printed with fill-in lines to say “I’m here and I’m safe,” and nothing more. I’ve also found examples for the Austrian army which had pre-printed phrases in 12 languages for a soldier to circle the appropriate: “I’ve arrived and I’m okay.” Even today it’s still the same message a mother wants to hear.

    1. Interesting observations, Mike. “I’m here and I’m safe” is the message loved ones longed to hear from those in the service — as true then as now.

  7. It must have been frustrating in both directions – his mail to home, their mail to him – never knowing when either would get word from the other. Under the duress of the circumstances, frequent words in either direction would have been so welcome!

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