Sepia Saturday 700. Fifteenth in a series about letters from my dad’s brother Frederic Mason Charboneau while he was in the US Army during WWII.
In August 1942, while stationed somewhere in England, my paternal uncle Frederic Mason Charboneau finally got a three-day pass and traveled to London with a group of Army buddies.
London had survived the Nazi Blitz of 1940-41, but was still digging its way out of the rubble. Yet many of the major landmarks had survived, albeit with some damage, and they were what Uncle Fred and his crew wanted to see.
His next letter home (shown below) is dated Sept. 3, 1942 and describes their three-day visit.
On the other side of the Regent Plaza Hotel letterhead Uncle Fred wrote, “This is one of the places that I stopped in to see. One of the higher-class joints. — F.”
Once in a lifetime tour
“I have come back from a three-day pass to London. I had a grand vacation and saw a lot of things that I had always dreamed of seeing but never thought I would,” Fred wrote to his mother. “I saw Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, and many other things.”
Apparently Uncle Fred’s London tour followed a long-standing U.S. Army tradition, because I found several photos of recovering WWI soldiers visiting the same sites circa 1917-1919. Above, they visit Westminster Abbey. Below, they stop at St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Visiting St. Paul’s Cathedral in 1942 must have been a bittersweet experience for Uncle Fred. Much of the surrounding area was severely bombed, but St. Paul’s escaped with minor damage by comparison.
While the sights were breathtaking, according to Uncle Fred the food was even better — and this is my favorite part of his letter:
“The best part of the whole thing was that me and the others that were there with me had a couple of steak dinners and also some spaghetti and chicken,” Fred wrote. “The last night that we were in town, a man who manages a fish and chips place took us to a private home where we had a steak dinner and all the trimmings. It was very good, and we had a grand time.”
To these young soldiers, having a home-cooked meal was clearly special. And I love that the fish-and-chips vendor brought them home with him, displaying the camaraderie of a survivor in a war-torn city.
I was also amused that the food was one of Uncle Fred’s fondest memories, because my dad (Fred’s younger brother Norm) was the same way. After every vacation, what my dad mainly talked about was the food.
The final touch to this letter is the stationery on which it is typed. Being the son of Otter Lake Hotel owners, Uncle Fred clearly knew the impact of fancy letterhead.
So when Uncle Fred and the fellows nipped into the Regent Palace Hotel (“One of the higher-class joints.”), he snagged some swanky stationery to wow the folks back home. The Regent Palace also escaped damage, although bombs fell nearby — and the building, with its hotel marquee, is still standing today.
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