In this week's letter home Cletus talks about a trip into town and what happens after the shooting stops. The report on the battle mentioned in this letter can be found here.
Dear Ma & Pa,
Hope everyone back home is doing ok. I'm writing this letter the day after my birthday, 21 at last! But I ain't feeling so good right now on account of the celebrations. That wodka stuff sure packs a punch and close as I can reckon we got though a few jug fulls last night.
But I didn't just spend the day drinking. Somehow the Prof got us a 12-hour pass to go into town to celebrate my birthday. He said that he was going to try and show me some of England without the Nazis shooting at us! We got into Worcester town about 10am and the Prof proceeded to show me round. We saw some streets full of real old houses. I know you wont believe me but the Prof said some of these houses was over six hundred years old! I thought he was yankin' ma chain at first but he said it was the God's honest truth. Then he showed me round this big church he called a cathedral. Oooo ee was it big or what! You could fit our church back home into it ten times over or more. It had all these real pretty windows full of colored glass that made up pictures of the saints and a bunch of other things. It ain't never seen nuthin' like it.
We was getting a mite peckish so the Prof took me to this real fancy eating place right by the river and he bought me lunch. He said it was his birthday present to me. We had roast beef and potatoes and something called Yorkshire puddings. I wern't sure about having a pudding with my beef but when it arrived I saw they was like the popovers we have back home. We even had some wine with our food just like them rich folk do. When we was done we went out onto the balcony and had us a couple of cigars. It was the best meal I'd ate in a long time and for a while we forgot all about the war.
When we got back to camp the russkies threw me a party too. I guess they must have fixed up their still cos we had plenty of that wodka to go round. I don't remember much about the rest of the night 'cept there was lots of singing and dancin'.
We've just been told to move out as we're going into action again. I'll finish this letter when I get chance.
It's been a few days since my birthday now and things didn't go to good for us in the battle. We got told to clear out some Hungarians so we could take a supply dump. The russkies split up into two forces one each side of this river and then they advanced. Didn't seem like we was going to have too much trouble cos all we could see was a bunch of infantry and a tank near some woods that was supporting them. Then this bunch of Panthers ambushes the russkies north of the river and starts knocking out their tanks. The tank supporting the infantry turned out to be a Tiger and it knocked out one of the russkie tanks south of the river. The russkies returned fire but it looked like their shells was just bouncing of the nazi tanks. Pretty soon the northern force was near wiped out, what was left pulled back. It looked like we might take the southern objective as our tanks closed in on it when two more Tigers appeared and knocked out most of our tanks so they had to fall back as well. Near as I can tell we lost eight out of eleven tanks.
We'd been back in camp about a day when the word came that the area was safe for a while and we could go and try to recover the bodies of the fallen. I hadn't done this afore but we was so short-handed on account of the losses that they needed help so I got 'volunteered'. I got into the truck and I saw it had loads of white cotton mattress covers in it. I asked what they was for and they said that's what they put the bodies in on account of they ain't got no coffins.
We got to the battlefield and started to look for bodies. We found some that must have got out of their tanks after they'd been hit. What we found ain't something I want to talk about too much cos it wern't a pretty sight. Course I'd seen dead soldiers afore but these were friends I'd been celebrating my birthday with the night before. Leastways I think they was, some of them was hit so bad it was hard to tell who they was. We had a medic with us whose job it was to work out who the ones we couldn't identify for sure were. I don't know how he did that and I'm not sure I want to know.
We got the mattress covers out of the truck and put the identified bodies into them. Some of them had limbs missing and we had to find them and put them in with the bodies if we did. I didn't think it could get any worse then they told us to bring the bodies out of the burnt and wrecked tanks. What we saw in there was awful, but the worst part was the smell. It didn't smell bad like a dead possum, it smelt like meat that had been left in the stove too long and that ain't right. We had to get the bodies out of the tanks if we could. I won't say what we had to do to prise the bodies free but I reckon I ain't gonna sleep well tonight.
When we'd done what we could we headed back to camp. Someone had dug a big grave and we put the bodies into it. They found a russkie chaplain from somewhere and he said the words over the bodies while we filled in the grave. They put up a marker but it didn't have no names on it. I asked but they said it was just to mark the spot and iff'n they could they'd come back one day and bury them proper.
The camp's kinda quiet now on account of us having lost so many men but I can't go to sleep. Every time I close my eyes I see terrible things. Things no one should ever have to see. But you know what's worse? Knowing that this ain't over and that I'm going to be seeing things like what I saw today over and over again.
Pray for me Ma, I sure could use some of the Lord's comfort right about now.
Your loving son,