It always seemed to me that my parents had a high old time during the war, a great adventure. It also seemed this was their impression, at least in retrospect. They were young, history was being made, the world was topsy-turvy. Exciting stuff. Of course, they didn’t have to fight.
It was a lot different for many others, including Tom Smith, who went ashore at Normandy on or shortly after D-Day and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. And for Ralph Yull who rode dispatches on the Italian front and saw some of the blitz, and for Robert Smith who, as noted in a previous post, was killed in Italy.
But even those who fought, weren’t fighting all the time, and there was opportunity in England for overseas service people, especially settled office workers, to travel and learn, and cut loose – as many of Betty Smith’s pictures from this period make clear.
On one occasion, three of the four overseas Smiths hooked up in London, probably in 1944. They also took a jaunt to the Channel-side resort of Brighton, along with Betty’s roommate, Pat. Jack and Tom appear to be dressed in identical uniforms in the two sets of pictures, so presumably both occasions were at about the same time.
Was this Tom’s last leave before going to fight? The photos unfortunately aren’t dated. The trees are in full leaf, which could make it any time from April to October. (D-Day was June 6, 1944.) Here’s a selection of the pictures.
This one of Tom, Betty and Jack was apparently taken in London, perhaps just before or after Brighton. I’ve tried to deduce where it was shot, with no luck so far. It appears they’re just standing in the street, with nothing of any particular interest in the background – so maybe near Betty’s flat, or Jack’s or Tom’s billet. There are other pictures of Tom and Jack together and just Tom in the same location.
Now they’re in Brighton. The inscription on the back of the first, in Betty’s hand, reads, “Some park in Brighton. P.S. I think we found a few.” (Jack appears to be checking Tom’s head for lice – presumably as a joke, but maybe not if he’d just come back from the front.) The inscription on the second, taken at the same time, reads, “Note the blouse, suit and shoes you sent me.” Which confirms these were pictures Betty sent home.
We finally get a glimpse of Brighton in this one. I think that’s the famous pier in the background. The inscription on the back reads, “Brighton in the background – me looking about 6 months gone!” None of the Smiths looks particularly cheery here. Ditto for the next one, apparently taken by Jack, with Betty, Tom and Pat, who would have been the photographer for the other pictures that day. Inscription: “Brighton again!”