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Griffith Pugh Edited Letters from Cedars 1943

19/1/1943 ME Ski School

It is wonderful to be skiing again, & I keep thinking how lucky I am to be here. Jimmie Riddell whom you probably remember is chief instructor, has been responsible for the entire organisation of the school. He has made an excellent job of it, I must say. The equipment & everything is good, & we have a nice warm building to live in.

One might be anywhere in the Alps up here on this snow covered plateau surrounded on three sides by mountains of 3000 metres. On the fourth side however you look over the Mediterranean & there is one other thing that gives the game away, the lordly cedar trees in place of the humble alpine pine. We have not had nearly as much snow as they had last year, but there is enough all the same & it looks as though more is coming soon.

We are working very hard here, & I am afraid some of the students can’t stand the strain. Parade is at 0800 & we are out on skis all the morning until one o’clock. After lunch we parade again at 1400 & stay out until about half past four, which makes 7 ½ hours in all on skis. By the end of three weeks the students can do continuous down hill running without falling too much & are reasonably fast on the level & uphill. They are then ready for their advanced training for which I am at present responsible.

Yesterday we spent the night in a camp out in the mountains. It was the greatest fun but rather cold. We had tents & double eiderdown sleeping bags, we also made a snow hut in which to store equipment & eat our supper. With four people inside & two hurricane lamps and a Primus stove, it got very warm. We went to bed directly after supper as the roof began to drip, but we were there at least an hour with the temperature several degrees above freezing before any sign of melting occurred.

The others went to their tents, but I slept in the snow hut to see if one kept warm enough there in a sleeping bag. I was a bit cold in the night, would have been all right if I had had a thick pair of trousers inside of cotton ski trousers or even a pair of the pants, winter, warm old Mrs Skrine made me in Meshed.

[…]

Have just come in from skiing. It has been snowing heavily & we spent the afternoon running about in the woods. I am finding my langlauf training very useful.

 23/1/1943 ME Ski Scool

I have just had a perfect day. The storm that has been raging for three days & made our training an uncomfortable necessity, has cleared leaving the cedars loaded with snow which sparkles in the warm sunshine. I was away at night with my section now quite decent skiers, about John Buzzard’s standard. We climbed a col four miles away & 4000 feet above the hotel which is the headquarters of the school.

I am experimenting with climbing wax while the others climbed with the aid of strings which go criss-cross round the ski from end to end & tie in the middle – not so good as skins, but better than nothing. The wax however was excellent & I reached the top in 2 hours 20 minutes with Sgt Craig who is a very keen climber. As the others were a good way behind, the Sgt & I went on up the shoulder to the left. The ridge on top was bitterly cold & the Steinman had a great cowl six feet long on its lee side which shows that icy winds are frequent up there.

My hands were numb as I fastened my bindings & I was glad of the extra clothes I had with me. Craig had been rather snooty about being made to take extra gloves & pullover, but now he was heartily glad of them.

Back at the little stone hut which is full of snow for it is without a door or window frames – the Lebanese burn all wood – how different from the Swiss – back at the hut on the sunny side out of the wind we eat our lunch while the rest of section began to arrive. I had told them to go each man at his own pace today because yesterday I chivvied them so for not keeping together when we went down to the village 5 miles away to fetch our rations & for the road was blocked with snow [sic]. Today was such a lovely day that I didn’t have the heart to hurry them. The wax on my skis melted nicely in the sun, & I smoothed it over & put paraffin on top. Capt Machan, the lame duck of the section – he is always last – had brought up a huge bottle of beer, but he promised only to drink half. He cut his finger opening it just retribution - & then drank 3/4s. On the way down Leut Philips, Pig as they call him – was star turn. He skied in huge stem christies getting up tremendous speed but he held on & got to the bottom long before the others. Machan's beer seemed to have given him Dutch courage & he skied much better than usual.

We got to the bottom breathless & happy by half past two & had to spend an hour or two nursery sloping before going in, as we have to do our seven hours a day. It was a pity to see them floundering in the difficult snow after they had done so well on the run. But the lovely warm weather & magnificent view made up for the falls.

This is the first real ski run I have had one spends all the time teaching on easy slopes when the weather is bad; and before there wasn't enough snow anyway for the longer runs. I am glad I have the advanced section. It means I get the best of the skiing & all the camping, which is such fun.

I think I told you about the night I spent in the snow hut. There will be lots of those later on. I must stop now as it is dinner time and I shall have a bottle of red wine from Cyprus with the Colonel & after dinner chess until bedtime, usually around ten.

 25/1/1943 Somehow this letter missed getting posted. Have just had another marvellous day. We went out moonlight skiing the day before yesterday from 9 till 11.30. It was fun

 

14/2/1943 ME Ski School

I am afraid I am getting awfully bad at writing. We have such a busy time and I have a lot of lecturing & writing to do in the evenings. I should really give up my game of chess after dinner & write letters instead, but the Colonel won’t hear of it. It is such fun sitting in his room playing chess with the door leading to Jimmie’s room open & the sound of the wireless coming through. One can always hear good music here, usually from Italian or German stations. Chess & skiing make a good combination.

[...]

We have lovely skiing here. It is just like being in Switzerland. If only it could go on a little longer. I am finding the military aspect extremely interesting & am learning every day. Every few days we go out & camp on the mountain with little tents or dig snow shelters. I hope later on to go on some long patrols exploring all the mountains round.

 

28/2/43 ME Ski School

[…]

Being in charge of the advanced training I have a great deal of organising to do when I come in from skiing. Everything has to be built up from the beginning & all the equipment worked out. It is all tremendously interesting & already results are beginning to show themselves. Being a doctor is a great help I finding the best training methods. It is possible that I may be kept here in the summer, but I can’t tell you more of that at present.

Last week I did a patrol with John Carryer, one of the instructors, we went right down south over the mountains almost to B_, it was great fun. At night we went down to villages to sleep. The people are really very hospitable and kind, but terrible to do business with like all Orientals.

They are not nearly as good looking as the Persians, & in spite of living more civilised they lack the courtly manners & appreciation of beautiful things that you find among even the simplest Persians.

[…]

We ended up by the sea. It is spring down there – lovely green grass & the fruit trees in bloom.

 

3/3/1943 ME Ski School

 It is so nice getting your airgraphs within a month of writing. I feel a whole lot nearer home.

We are getting terribly busy here as xxxx xxxx xxxx [censored] arriving. I scarcely have a moment to myself. In fact I have not opened a book since I came. It is a wonderful life & I am very fit. Your cigars came the other day & I am enjoying them very much as you can imagine. Let me know if these letter cards are as quick as airgraphs. I believe they are and one can say so much more on them.

There is a delightful dog here called Rex – an Alsatian – his great pleasure is to knock over the beginners as they run down the slopes. He lies in wait about two thirds down & dashes at them one by one as they pass. The other day he had a fight with a mastiff at the Bon Repos & returned home looking very sick with a lacerated ear. He was not himself for some days after that & looked a picture of misery sitting in the snow shivering & taking none of his usual interest in the skiers.

There is a beautiful wood of ancient trees here, some of them are sixteen feet across the trunk & are said to be 1500 years old. Great masses of snow collect on their branches & when the wind blows, the masses fall one by one with a loud thump & shower off powder. It sounds just like the sound of distant bombs exploding. I shouldn’t like to have one land on my head.

[…]

You see I am handling all the advanced training, as well as the medical scheme for finding out the best way of picking men for this kind of work. The medical authorities are very jealous of their MO’s & do not let them do anything but strictly medical work. On the other hand there isn’t anyone available at present to do the non medical part of my job. Anyhow it is settled now & I am staying on.

We have some very exiting people here. There was a major who had destroyed over a hundred enemy aircraft with his own hand, & one broke into a German officers’ mess in the desert & shot the lot with a Tommy gun.

Wonderful news again today, am listening to it now as I sit writing in the orderly room. Only two destroyers left of the huge Japanese convoy on its way to New Guinea, and the Russians have taken Rjeff (how is it spelt?).

 

March 8th Mtn Wing MWTC

 I have just got back from another exercise, this time away to the north towards Sir Ed Dani where the forest country begins. The winter has begun again after a month’s lapse when much of the snow disappeared. Then was the great storm of ten days ago, which I told you about. & now it has begun to snow heavily again. The mountains are perfect just now. At 10000 ft there is beautiful spring snow lasting all day. Down here at 6000 on has to get out early to catch the snow before it gets slushy.

The exercise was fun, but strenuous as far as I was concerned as I had to travel fast with a load of over 50 lbs. At one of our base camps I found an officer with a very swollen foot from an infected blister. It was impossible for him to walk & we had to bring him down to Sir Ed Dani on a ski stretcher & carry him for the last 2000 ft below the snow line. I’m afraid he was in rather poor condition by the end of the journey. We left him in hospital in T. By the way, the stove I designed has been put into production, & gives excellent results. It boils a gallon of water from snow in 12 minutes, but you have to have a Primus with plenty of guts under it.

The tent was a success too, but we haven’t been able to get it adopted owing to lack of materials.

[…] 

24/3/1943 ME Ski School

 Your letter card broke all records and arrived in twelve days! Do get some more of them, they are so much better than airgraphs. Since I last wrote alas nearly a fortnight ago, I have been in bed 6 days with blood poisoning from a splinter in my finger. Fortunately I spotted what the trouble was at once & started taking M&B the very first night – it started with a shivering attack just like I had in Oxford after TAB injection when you had to warm me in the middle of the night. Well the M&B did the trick & I am now quite all right again. I had a couple of days sick leave in Beirut & stayed with some Americans called Dodge. Mr Dodge is president of the American University. They have a lovely house in the campus on a hillside overlooking the sea.

[…]

Back up on the mountain everything is going well. We are very busy as usual, in spite of the bad weather. It has been snowing again for the last two days. My experimental section the guinea pigs as we call them are really getting quite good. I can’t really say much about what we do up here because of the censorship which I understand has been tightened up recently & we have all been warned of serious measures to taken against people who are indiscreet.

[…]

 27/3/1943 ME Ski School

 […]

I am preparing for a patrol right down south about 40 miles. We hope to do it in a day starting at 3 am in the dark. It will be quite an adventure as the mountains are very desolate & the weather never very certain.

29/3/1943 Am just off. This letter will reach you by "Ski mail"

 4/4/1943

We had a fine trip the other day to A_ 80 Km away, sleeping the night in tents on the way. The weather was perfect & we did not have the normal afternoon clouds, so navigation was easy. The second day we were up by 3.0 am and away by 4.30 in the moonlight. It was very cold & my sleeping bag was covered with hoarfrost in the morning. The skiing is at its best now that the rainy season is over – marvellous spring snow up to eleven o’clock - & again in the evening. The sun gets really hot & one has to be careful of one’s eyes & skin. There is still a tremendous amount of organising & experimenting going on. It is difficult to keep abreast of it – Perhaps Jimmie & I will be given a month at the end of the season to do all the writing etc. At present things are rather indefinite & I don’t know what my address will be a month hence. However if you go on writing to me at this address I will wire as soon as I know where I shall be.

[…]

Coming back from A after the patrol on the coast road, the jeep had a puncture & we sat in a café by the sea while the driver went to get the tyre repaired. After a long conversation with the proprietor’s family – three girls & 2 small boys – we had only about a dozen words in common, but it is surprising how you can get along- we started walking on to Biblos. There is a ruined crusader castle there by the seashore with lovely honeysuckle tumbling over the moss covered wall. I don’t wonder the crusaders got stuck there. It is a quite lovely country. In the end we missed the jeep & had to get a lift on a civilian lorry. Then we were held up at the tunnel before T as traffic is stopped at dark. However we eventually got through & spent the night in the officer’s club in T.

I love these long range patrols with small sections, particularly the ones that end up by the sea. The spring down below is such a delightful contrast.. Soon it will be warm enough to bathe – by Mediterranean standards I mean – of course the water must already be as warm as it ever gets in England.

My Indian batman is getting quite good at skiing and is terribly keen. Being away from his own people he gets English food & the difference in him is outstanding. Before he came he used to be a miserable creature always to be seen in his overcoat with his shoulders hunched & a miserable expression on his face. But now he is plump colourful and always smiling. The only reason I can think of is the change in diet. Of course we get wonderful food here & plenty of it.

 16/4/1943 Mountain Warfare Training Centre

[…]

We had another visit from a Brig & had to but on a show. It went off quite well & we even got him on skis.

The weather is still as treacherous as ever & we are still having falls of snow although the wet season should have ended a fortnight ago. Up at the base camp on the plateau we have a dugout in the lee of a cornice, & every time it snows heavily the entrance the entrance gets obstructed, the tunnel leading to it is already thirty feet long. The dug out is getting like the burial chamber in the great pyramid, & soon we shall have to arrange a ventilation shaft.

I hope to spend the rest of this month up on the plateau, so you may not hear from me for a couple of weeks.

It has been a wonderful season & I hope some good will come out of it. People at last seem to waking up to the fact that mountain troops need long training & special equipment of the finest quality, & we are now in a position to say exactly what the training & equipment should be.

17/4/43 Very busy getting ready to go to the base camp. We shall be away several days. I had a TAB injection last night and have been feeling very seedy all day, in spite of the fact that it was only a half dose. There is a lot of typhoid in these parts & the season for it is just beginning.

[…]

May 4th [1943] ME Ski School

I have just come from a five day patrol on the plateau. There is still plenty of snow up there, although we are already well into May. On the southern ridges when the snow has gone there are snakes & lizards & queer black beetles with wrinkled shells. The peasants are about collecting bushes for firewood. There is a queer low bush like a large hedgehog which is very dry & burns furiously when you put a match to it. We use them to melt snow in our water bottles at the midday halts.

[…]

We left next morning at first light & were up on the Sannin by ten o’clock – a climb of 4500 ft.

Looking down the escarpment it seemed impossible that we should ever have got down on skis. The slope had a gradient of over 40o & there were rock outcrops running across. It would have been impossible in the Alps owing to the danger of avalanches, here the rocks & bushes hold the snow so well that avalanches are almost unknown.

The ski school closed officially on the first of May, but I have a new job with a very special unit which will keep me here for some months. Please write c/o Mountain Warfare Training Centre MEF. Only a few of us are staying on here & our real address has not been fixed yet, but I can collect my letters from the above.

 June 4th [1943] MWTC

Since I last wrote I have been doing long range exercises on the plateau. The Lebanon is more beautiful than ever now that spring is here. There are wonderful flowers everywhere. One of the men picked fifty different varieties in the wood alone. Where I was climbing the other day there was a clump of aubretia in every crevice. Up on the plateau on finds lovely mountain lilies, that are so rare in the Alps & once I found a flower like the *getchen *hahnenfun that grows up to 14000 feet in Switzerland. Hyacinths & Irises are common too, but they are over now. The wood is simply perfect. The ground is carpeted with grass & flowers & the birds singing all day. In biblical times there must have been far more trees in the Lebanon than there are now. In fact many have disappeared within living memory.

Only in this one wood have the ancient trees been preserved. I was thinking the other day how they must have seen the great Turkish Empire come & go. The wood belongs to the church & is surrounded by a wall to prevent the goats getting in. They say goats are chiefly responsible for the lack of trees, as they eat up the young shoots. The people here belong to a Christian sect called the Marionites. They belong to the Catholic Church & are the only sect allowed to celebrate mass in a language other than Latin.

We went to dinner with the Monsignor in Becharré the other day. He is a venerable looking old gentleman but at the same time, a great rascal. He has a beautiful house on the edge of the gorge and is very rich. We sat around talking French & drinking a sweet red wine, at last dinner was served, & that took a long time too as there were so many courses. We left directly after, smelling strongly of garlic, at least so the told us next morning at the Cedars.

The ski school is closed now, & I may be sent away soon, but I hope not as I am now combing medicine with climbing & a little skiing. I also am teaching German, which is rather a joke as I am really awfully bad at it. A Palestinian has come to help me out, & we gave a joint lesson today. The colonel, Jimmie & I were terribly busy, the last half of May, writing up the winter experience. We finally produced a book of 120 pages, it was like doing exams, every day different subjects. Now they have taken it to Cairo.

 [Summer in Sicily]

7/11/1943 Mountaineer Wing, Mountain Warfare Training Centre, Major LGC Pugh

At last I’m back in my old room, or rather the one next to it. The old place has been done up & is going to much best draughty than last year. There has been a surprising amount of mushroom growth & the flat ground round the Mon Repos is unrecognisable. [Everything is now on a much larger scale – crossed out] As usual one must be careful of the censor so I had better not say anything more. Jimmie is on splendid form & so is our new CO Robert Thompson. We shall be seeing Bunny soon as he is coming out to liaise. He has been doing great work in America; & I believe most of our equipment problems are being solved. Jimmie’s account of the equipment branch at ?MI [crossed out by censor] was staggering, no wonder I was depressed.

There is a colossal spirit of enthusiasm here & we have some excellent new men on our staff. I am delighted to be back.

[…]

8/6/1943 MWTC Major LGC Pugh [The date must be November]

[…]

The welter of experiences continues. I spent a few days with Barry & came up by plane to "screen" some of the new troops. In a few days I shall go down to C[airo] again to a place in the desert. Then back again I hope till the spring.

Jimmie & I have just had dinner in the officers club in T[ripoli] over a bottle of Champagne. We drank to our new experience. I am secretly rather overawed by the importance that is being attached to it, & I hope I shall do justice to my share of it. It is a thousand pities I was taken away for so long, but I wouldn’t have missed the experience of Sicily.

He other night I say the film "Mrs Minniver" in B[ierut]. It was a wonderful film, but I can’t react to bombs & destruction any more. They just make me feel wooden, like I did in Sicily.

The atmosphere of vitality gaiety & enthusiasm at the C[edars] is terrific. We have had good news from Bunny, & he sends me a book from an American called Dill who is interested in the same line as me, with the promise of a job at Harvard as soon as I am free. I am amazed at the effects of those hundred pages of typescript written in a hurry last spring in the mountains. I hope to meet Dill in C[airo] when I go down.

[…]

 Dec 6th [1943] Mountain Wing MWTC [the ink is very faint in this letter]

I have a room to myself at the Cedars with a pompous notice on the door GU Physiological.

My kit has arrived from the airport & I have unpacked my carpets. They were terribly dusty & a moth had been at work in places, but my batman has washed them & the colour has come up wonderfully. I don’t know what is wrong with this ink. It came out of a fountain pen inkbottle in one of the offices. The bottle must have been refilled with army ink.

I have just returned from a flying visit to B, where I had a stormy interview with old Russell. He is as purple & bloated as ever & quite determined to make himself unpleasant.

However, I no longer come under him, as I am on the G staff & if he doesn’t co-operate he will soon find himself in trouble.

I had to meet someone on the plane at B - an officer for MWTC. The aeroplane landed punctually at 2 o’clock & among the passengers descended I saw a little man of the intelligence corps who was on that train of German evacuees from Afghanistan two years ago. We recognised each other instantly & he even remembered my name, by which feat of recall, I was duly impressed.

The troubles in B are over. The matter having been handled with a very firm hand. I was delighted to see our Shermans & artillery. The French have been put thoroughly in their place for once. Unless they are very careful I should imagine they will lose their mandate. I can’t believe the native French in France are like the colonials. They have tasted too much bitterness.

Dec 6th continued

[…]

Now that the news has been given out I can tell you that I was at Mena House near C[airo] when the great conference was on. It was rather wonderful to think of them settling the fate of the world in its oldest human monument.

[...]

Everyone is terribly busy here. We don’t seem to get out much. I am insisting on the staff getting two hours off for exercise a day. In a week or two when we get started, the office work won’t be so bad.

Robert Thompson our new CO is charming. He is only about 35 & very efficient. He has been in the Norwegian & Sicilian campaigns & seen a lot of mountain fighting.

Bunny is in Washington & doing great work by keeping us in touch with our friends over there.

[...]

 10/12/1943 MWTC

Things are still as busy as ever. There is no snow yet, and the weather is getting colder every day. I have begun going out regularly with the instructors, and am getting quite fit again. The rest of the time, I spend lecturing and writing training pamphlets.

The little men are in good heart & doing splendidly. They will surely give the Germans something to think about.

I have just been playing the Pastoral Symphony on the mess gramophone, which is an HMV & much better than mine. Bunny is in Washington & sends us liaison letters. I do hope he comes over to see us later on.

Did I tell you about old Russell sending for me to B[eirut]? He has no control over me this year thank goodness.

B is quite again after the troubles. The Lebanese will surely claim self government now, indeed they have already done so, but they are far too corrupt really to govern themselves. However nobody here has any sympathy with the F[rench] attitude.

Jimmie is well & extremely busy. He doesn’t get out much at present & I have been trying to get him to take a couple of hours off every day.

Things are very different from last year & much more military & formal, though not in an unpleasant way. We have to sit in our offices & send each other notes or minutes, I believe they are called, & if you go & see someone you find yourself bursting in on a conference. It is all rather strange.

[…]

* Indicates an illegible word