1942: Uncle Fred wins at cards and meets a hometown pal

Sepia Saturday 709. Twentieth 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

Several other interesting things happened to my dad’s brother Frederic Mason Charboneau while he was stationed in England in the fall of 1942.

First, he won some money gambling, then he ran into a school pal from back home. Here’s how Uncle Fred described it to his mother, Mary (Owen) Charboneau.

Winning at cards

“Somewhere in England, Oct. 21, 1942. Dear Mom, Well, first of all I will begin right away and explain the $100.00 money order that is enclosed. Well, you know my weakness for gambling. Well, enclosed you will find my winnings. It is the favorite indoor sport over here and about the only thing to do to pass the time.

WWII soldiers gambling. Source: tumblr.com

Don’t worry, from now on I can’t lose very much because I won’t have much to lose after taking out my allotment and insurance,” Fred continued. “You should be getting my allotment sometime the first of next month, which will be $40.00 per month, so I should have a nice bank account by the time I get out of the Army.”

Saving for the future

Gambling among the troops was apparently a regular pass time as far back as the U.S. Civil War. Like cigarette smoking in the service, gambling was also eventually recognized as a potentially addictive behavior.

Yet perhaps because of his business training, Uncle Fred seems to have regarded gambling as a means to an end — a way to enhance his military stipend in order to build a post-war nest egg. This is reflected in a number of his letters home, which mention sending money back for his mother to save for him.

Fred runs into a former classmate

Meanwhile, Uncle Fred had asked in a few letters whether his mom was aware of anyone from back home who was also in the service. And she wanted to know if he’d run into anybody.

The answer came at last when Uncle Fred had a chance encounter with a former classmate in October 1942.

“You have been asking me in your letters if I have met anybody that I know. Well, the past week I ran into a fellow from Forestport,” Uncle Fred wrote. “He was in my graduating class. His name is Raymond McKinney. I don’t know whether you know him or not, but Hubert [Fred’s middle brother] does.

Part of a WWII US airbase in Sudbury, England (1943). Source: WWII – The Americans in Sudbury.

Fred does a double take

Years had passed since they were classmates, so at first Uncle Fred didn’t recognize McKinney — which made for a much better story when he wrote it up, with more detail about his daily life. His letter also gives an idea of the size of some of the bases, with the troops spread out far and wide.

“We are now working seven days a week in the army, but we get one day off. I was on mine and was in a little town near here.” Uncle Fred wrote. “Well, I was supposed to meet a fellow in a hotel at 5 o’clock, and I had gone to the movie and was late getting there.

I was hurrying down the street and passed this fellow and he spoke to me,,” Fred continued. I didn’t recognize him and kept on going, when he called me back. I went back and then didn’t recognize him until I was right up to him. He is stationed in the same camp I am, only I am in one end, and he is in the other.”

A closing reassurance

And just in case his mother was worried about his gambling, Uncle Fred closed his letter with the following reassurance:

“Well, I guess that is it for this time period… So long and please don’t worry about my bad habits. I will be OK. Your loving son, Fred.

Up next: More from Uncle Fred’s fall 1942 letters. Please stop back! Meanwhile, please visit the other intrepid bloggers over at Sepia Saturday.

© 2024 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

6 thoughts on “1942: Uncle Fred wins at cards and meets a hometown pal”

  1. Another great story about your Uncle Fred. I’ve enjoyed reading them. How amazing that he was able to reconnect with his friend. These letters really are priceless. I don’t know much about American history so each I have learnt something from each of your posts.

  2. Gambling must be the oldest recreation/vice of soldiers going back to ancient times. Did Fred mention what game he liked to play? Thanks for the link to the Sudbury WW2 history website. I just started watching the new mini-series “Masters of the Air” on Apple TV. The storyline is typical for that kind of historical series but the action and characters are thoughtfully researched. The website helps answer some of the questions that the film raised.

  3. History comes alive when we read letters from our ancestors. I imagine there must be boring moments in army service, waiting fir rpthe action to start. So Fred was looking to break the monotony with some fun I.e. gambling.

  4. As always, I enjoyed this newest trip through Uncle Fred’s army life by way of his letters. I’m so glad you’re sharing them! 🙂

  5. I hope his mom didn’t worry about his bad habits. At least there’s no denial.

    It seems like he had his gambling under control.

    When I taught in S. Korea, I watched the Armed Forces TV Network. They had lots of PSA’s telling people how to get help for gambling. It’s a big problem.

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