Thursday, November 8, 2012

No Wonder the English Drink Tea

Excerpt from Fogg in the Cockpit, the Wartime Diary of Captain Howard Fogg:

Thursday, November 18: Wretham

Painted on plane insignia in cold canvas hangar all day. Hands nearly numb. Paint equipment is poor but it looks fair.

Gall is still fighting trouble in the hydraulic system on my plane.

My cold is worse. Worked on the locomotive model.

Had tea at eleven. Hit the spot. No wonder the English drink tea:
1) to keep warm
2) to prevent starvation

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The following essay, "Tea Call" by Helen Moore, is not included in Fogg in the Cockpit, but Helen would have served tea to Howard many times. Helen, a volunteer, was the Tea Wagon's effervescent, cheerful, kind and always pleasant operator. She and her best friend, Bonnie Cole, became “big sisters” to a whole field of men at Station F-133. Captain John G. Dales, Supply Officer of the 648th Air Material Squadron wrote that, “Helen Moore was a delightful person, so animated and full of life."

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Bonnie and I were filled with trepidation when we first learned that we had to work among American troops. We were excited and rather nervous about our reception.

We had served previously with Czechs, Poles, New Zealand and, Australian, Canadian, South African and British troops of all descriptions, but the thought of working with Yanks was, well, somehow we knew it would be different to say the least. That it was!

Arriving on a day in August, 1943, to welcome our Allies with tea and cakes, we were vastly interested in the different variety of clothes they worked in -- especially the queer little hats with the turned up brim, worn anyway on the head apparently, but the one it was intended for.

At first sight we noticed how pale and thin all the men looked. In amazement we wondered if these were the United States A-1 men! Since then we discovered there had been a very rough crossing and a tedious journey to the station. I now constantly tease everyone by saying how much better they look and how the weight they have put on since partaking of YMCA tea and cakes everyday. And they do!

When we made our first stop the boys crowded round curiously, looked us over and shook our ego immensely by anxiously asking "Could you tell us if there are any American girls 'round here?" They demanded coffee and we persuaded them earnestly that our tea was very good and hot! They found later when the proverbial English winter developed that the hot tea was to be appreciated. Soon we were distributing from 30 to 40 gallons daily in our two vans, which you will admit is a lot of tea when doled out in cupfuls.

We were very cheered when an Officer came up the first day and told us he was from San Francisco and knew Mr. and Mrs. Walter A. Haas who had donated my van to the British War Relief Fund -- It was then we began to think we "really belonged".

When at first we arrived in the morning blowing the horn vigorously the Americans sauntered over slowly. This wasn't the procedure we'd been accustomed to, as the RAF who had been there before made one mad rush when the nose of the van drove into sight.

The GI's soon discovered they had to run fast if they wanted the best cakes or a morning paper and now I wish their folks at home could see them when I turn into the field. They came chasing along on bicycles and every conceivable kind of vehicle. They hang on the van and push and pull to obtain the best position in the "queue".

"Queue" was one word they didn't use before -- only for a Chinaman's pigtail. Now it's used with great frequency and without ever noticing it.

Of course, we had great fun over the difference in the language pronunciation. "Have" was one word that still causes amusement. "Have a cup of tea" is a daily phrase used a thousand times and I pronounce it with a long "A" which still gets a laugh.

When first told we looked "sharp" we looked at each other in amazement as "sharp" is an adjective used over here if a person is particularly intelligent(!). Since I have absorbed so much American slang and expressions that I astound my family by using rather peculiar phrases such as "sweating it out" or "on the beam" -- which just isn't done in polite society and often causes me confusion.

Dealing with the money caused a great deal of fun. The boys handed us out messes of coins of every sort in order to give us, say two pence half penny and many always handed us some huge amount such as ten shillings or a pound note in order to pay one penny for a cup of tea. We feel we helped them considerably from the start to learn the value of our system of exchange.

Bonnie and I became big sisters to a whole field of men. After a time we knew most of them by their first or nick names -- knew their life stories, their troubles, their pleasures, their homesickness and their ambitions.

I've discussed every conceivable problem with the GI's. Those parted from their wives I can readily understand and sympathize with as my own husband has been away from me in the Army overseas for nearly four years.

As time went on we found our tea wagon activities were only a small part of our efforts to promote Anglo-American relations. All our free time gradually got involved with the life of the field.

Bonnie is a professional dancer and she started a weekly dancing class at the Aero Club. As the class grew I was called in to "be practiced on" when she'd taught the steps. Bonnie since left to work with the Y in another area and I found myself doing the incredible by carrying on with about six other girls as partners. These evenings are really fun and are enjoyed immensely by both the girls and the men. Now and again we get a GI to give us a jitterbug lesson -- a lease-end arrangement.

Last year I lent my tennis court four nights a week for the use of the men. This was a great success. I hope to repeat them again this year when the grass is induced to grow again on the bare patches!

Almost overnight we found ourselves gradually doing the personal shopping for the whole base. This started in a small way when somebody said "Helen can you get me a bicycle tyre or tube in town" -- or "Bonnie can you get my pictures developed for me". Soon it grew to such dimensions we spent literally hours each day buying the oddest collection of things imaginable! We've purchased among other things countless tyres and tubes, spokes for wheels, cotter pins, chains, pedals, patches and all the things that go to repair a bicycle. We've bought birthday cards, Easter cards, Christmas cards to be sent to wives, mothers and sweethearts. Those for the girl friend take the longest time (I must be sentimental). Then there's been frying pans, coffee and teapots, a puppy, an electric iron, a mouse trap, cups and mugs, buttons, darning wool, dyes, nails and tacks, brushes, sheets of music, Christmas presents of jewelry and antiques. Photographs to be developed by the hundreds. I've never been on such good terms with the local tradesmen. This, incidentally, is good for us.

We've delivered countless messages 'round the town. Someone rushed up desperately saying "I'm working tonight, can you tell Doris I shan't be in town?" or "Alice is coming down from London or Manchester is there anywhere in town where she can stay?"

Phone calls come from all over the country from friends asking me to deliver messages. Telegrams have to be sent, etc.

Of course, we've assisted in several weddings. For one we arranged, at the last minute, to obtain a bouquet of scarlet dahlias for a bride who unexpectedly arrived without a bridal outfit! I remember driving a frantic bridegroom into town for this occasion to meet trains. Somehow the bride had set out in the wrong direction and mislaid her outfit en route amidst the confusion of it all. She arrived alright and I attended a very charming ceremony and the bride looked beautiful with scarlet bouquet!

Our coming and goings soon became known and the boys found they had a regular van service at their disposal. Now we usually find small bunches waiting, coming or going on passes or furloughs.

So many interesting incidents happen every day it's impossible to record them -- like serving a bride and groom with tea and cake just before their wedding. We grew to love our life on the field just as it was. The boys are always so glad to see us, always so friendly and helpful.

Someone always jumps in the van and helps pour the tea and do the washing up and can now dole out 'Limey' change as well as I.

I didn't realize how we were liked until Bonnie had to go. She was missed very much and I was besieged with enquiries, and still am asked as to her whereabouts and when she is coming back. In fact I began to think it was I who should have gone instead.

If ever we're in trouble with our tea wagon, a puncture or engine trouble, willing hands are always ready to help out. All sorts of odd jobs have been done for me too. One regularly mends the tea strainers when they become the worse for wear. Cake knives are sharpened, even our vacuum cleaner was mended, our poker soldered together, lawn mower and my watch repaired. These things were all next to impossible to be done in war time England.

I feel I have so many friends on the base that when we do visit the States, as I threaten to do one day, I shan't lack companions to show me around. I feel I belong to the base now so much. The personal loss I shall suffer when eventually they leave will be very acute.

If all Anglo-American friendships prosper as ours has the world won't need to worry for many a long day.

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Photo: Helen Moore, a “Tea Girl” for the 359th FG at East Wretham with her “Tea Wagon.”

Photo courtesy of Alfred M. Swiren. Text and photo archived by Char Baldridge, Historian, 359th Fighter Group Association.

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