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Griffith Pugh Edited Letters from Cedars 1944

18/3/1944 Mtn Wing MWTC

[Ö]

I got back yesterday from a two day exercise with the stretcher-bearers. They made their camps on a col & in the night there was a sixty mile an hour gale. They must have been very uncomfortable as they were sleeping on bare ground without any shelter. However the sleeping bags are so good that they did [torn] any harm.

I had started a day later & caught them up. Hamson was with me. He is a schoolmaster from Manchester, a very precise fellow in speech & manner. He always reminds me rather of a bird.

We found the party on the col & told them it was a stupid place to camp but the leader didnít want to change orders so they stayed.

We still have plenty of snow, but Iím afraid it is going to be an early spring this year & it will all be gone halfway through April.

 

28/3/1944 Mtn Wing, MWTC

I am just off to join a party at one of the huts about three hours away. A terrible storm is raging, and as I am going by myself I donít want to start late. Iíve been very busy all the morning & couldnít get away. Now it is two oíclock & there are only 4 hours of daylight left.

A great exercise is going on involving xxxxxx xxx [censored] men.

Thanks very much for your last letter darling. There seems to be considerable doubt about our future here. Will let you know more later on.

 

April 2nd [1944 from post mark] Mtn Wing MWTC

Since I last wrote there was a terrible storm. People were more [or] less confined to the two huts on the ridge for four days. The battalion exercise was a flop as the unfortunate troops were transported to the scene of operations in open trucks & got wet through before they started. It was impossible to go high in wet clothes as there is no warmth in them as any one who has fallen in the river knows.

Old Hiram Walker (heís 49) the equipment officer & an American known as Uncle Sam tried to go to the Ainata hut on snowshoes. The storm was so bad that they only just made it with the help of Eddie Barta & someone else who took their loads.

They stayed 4 days in the hut in their sleeping bags & their frozen trousers were still standing up in the corner on the fourth day.

The wind outside was so strong that you could only crawl against it. The day I was there one could still walk with difficulty. It was impossible to look into wind & the hail stones hurt ones face even through the thick hood of the parka.

The other day I went to the other hut alone leaving at 3 in the afternoon, this was stupid but couldnít be helped. By 5.30 I was still an hour from the hut so I had to turn back for fear of being caught in the dark. On the way back I slipped down a 2000 ft ice slope. My big rucksack protected me from damage. It was like going down in a fast lift in a fog. I landed with a jolt in soft snow at the bottom. I was lucky to get away without more damage than a sore shoulder.

 

4/4/1944 Mtn Wing MWTC

 

[Ö]

I am just off on a 6 day exercise, this time without skis. I am doing a controlled experiment on the effect of certain vitamins on the capacity for prolonged exercise. We hope to put in a visit to the ruins at Baalbek in the course [of] the exercise. The mosquitoes will be a nuisance there & we shall have to take precautions against malaria.

 

15/4/1944 Mtn Wing MWTC

[Ö]

We had a good trip to Col Baidan, mostly by moonlight. You could see almost as well as by day. We started at half past five in the evening & had covered nearly half the distance by moonlight. It was rather cold but our sleeping bags are so good that we slept comfortably on the snow without any tent. We were up again in a few hours, & made a really early start. The ration Officer had omitted to put any sugar with the cocoa & we had be content with a thin Pemmican soup for breakfast - very unpalatable. The country is very wild on the plateau & one often sees a fox or a hare. Once we passed the tracks of a bear. It would have been fun to have followed them up, but that might have taken all day. We dropped down into the other camp at S 3000 ft below & rested from one to six, moving off again at dusk. There were only four of us in the party & one was John Carryer the New Zealander. He has been back home since last year, so this is his third winter without an intervening summer. He is a major now & runs the "snow wing". It was a bit of luck that he could get away.

The trip finished eventually in B where our transport was waiting to pick us up. We had a wonderful meal the French Club with prawns & strawberries & cream.

 

17/4/1944 Mtn Wing, MWTC

Am just this minute off on another exercise - only two days this time. Had a marvellous run this morning from Cornet el Barre. Snow absolutely perfect, better than we have yet had this year.

 [Ö]

 

April 22nd [1944] Mountain Wing MWTC

Today is St Georgeís day. We were to have had a special church service to pray for the coming invasion. The colonel was to have conducted it & there was to have been strong fighting hymns as he put it. Unfortunately nobody could be found who could play the tunes by ear, & music could not be obtained. So in a fury he had the whole thing cancelled. I donít think I really agree with this tribal dirty attitude towards religion do you.

[Ö]

My future is very uncertain at present. Shall probably not be here much longer & it isnít impossible that we shall meet sooner.

About after the war. I havenít really been thinking much about plans lately. As to the Japanese war, I might have to go there anyway, you never know.

If Prof Dill would take me it would be a wonderful opportunity later on, as the Harvard School of Physiology is one of the best & it would have been a great help having been there, as far as getting appointments goes.

 

14/5/1944 Mtn Wing, MWTC

I have just returned from the 6 day exercise I told you of in my last letter. The results were rather inconclusive from a scientific point of view but as a training exercise was a very good one.

We used our skis a good deal in the early morning & again in the evening. On three occasions we saw Cyprus silhouetted against the setting sun a hundred & twenty miles away. This was of course from the top of a 10000 foot peak.

At night we had a fine campfire of cedar wood & juniper. Miles found a larkís nest with three eggs in. It was on a bare patch of ground at 9500 ft. I should never have thought larks would have nested so high. We havenít seen much of the bird migrations this year. Do you remember my telling you about the storks running into the hillside because they couldnít make the altitude?

May 20th [1944 postmark]

I havenít written very regularly lately as I have been away so much, either on exercises or on short trips to B.

Our immediate future here is uncertain & you may see me back in a few weeks time. On the other hand I may find myself somewhere else in the Mediterranean area for the rest of the summer.

We have started rock climbing in earnest now. It is so much less strenuous than winter training & we all enjoy the relaxation. At the same time I have a number of reports to write, which is always a worry to me as you know.

The spring here is perfectly delightful. Today we spent climbing on an outcrop of rock above Becharrť, among terraces of young wheat which shines like a deep green mirror. There are rushing streams & tall poplar trees & masses of wild irises tulips anemones & roses.

The High Commissioner of Palestine was here today for lunch. Jimmie was his ADC for eighteen months before the ski school started. It is a pity when one meets such people that one canít talk about the interesting things. I should very much like to know what he thinks about Palestine. The situation there is going to be difficult after the war & one wonders what the solution will be.

Lady MacMichael was very charming. We talked about mountain plants & figs, a funny combination.

Must stop now darling as Ragtime as come in with some papers we have to finish together.

 

May 25th [presumed to be 1944 as it fits the sequence]

I am still busy writing reports - a very tedious business. At the same time I do a little rock climbing every day to keep my hand in. The big news of the week is the war between the villages of Becharrť and Ehden. There were a lot of men out in the hills blazing away at each other near the cliffs we were climbing on.

The trouble is something to do with the local elections. There has been a feud between the villages for many years. The people of Ehden go down to the plains in winter & the village remains deserted until the spring. Apparently some Beharranites got drunk on one occasion & went up to Ehden when there was no one there & set some houses on fire. Since then there has been a feud.

Iíve just had a wedding invitation from Hugh Dowdeswell, Barryís secretary. The wedding takes place in Cairo on June 3rd & they are coming up this way on their honeymoon. I must say you could[Ďnt] have a more beautiful place to spend a honeymoon.

We are a little too high here but down by Becharrť, the country is incredibly beautiful. One of the pleasures of rock climbing is that it takes us down that way.

We have finished with skiing for the season, although there are still streaks of snow in the gullies higher up.

Ragtime (Alexander) the MO is going home to UK in a few days on compassionate grounds, his wife is 32 & hasnít had a baby yet. Jimmie isnít married yet & doesnít see why he should go home to put that right, but very likely we shall both be home before long, though our future is not yet quite decided.

 

June 3rd [1944] Mtn Wing MWTC

It is nearly 4 years since I left England. The foreign service limit is 4 Ĺ years at present so Iíd be due for home posting soon even if Iím not sent home earlier. At present it looks as though I shall be back within three months, but one can never tell for certain.

Iím very busy just now with some load carrying experiments. We carry 90 lbs up the hill for two hours every day Ė just four of us that is. I also have a lot of writing to do.

I told you Ragtime has been sent home didnít I? Well his replacement is a doctor from the field ambulance down the hill Ė a South African. I am rather shocked to find he has been taking the ambulance up to the top of the col for skiing. The road is open now & one can go all the way up, but not down the other side to Baalbeck.

When the snow finally goes I hope to take a trip over there to see the ruins. I still have my 14 days leave to take & am going to think up something to do. Actually there is as nice a place as one could wish for at this time of year. Cairo is far too hot & it is a beastly journey down. Perhaps I shall go to Cyprus in a Caique. I rather want to see Cyprus as it is a British possession & I like Mediterranean Islands.

By the way I have just finished reading the Iliad. Although the siege of Troy is so different from a modern war, one is continually coming across sentiments that might have been expressed by any fighting man today. Men donít seem to have changed very much in the last 3000 years.

[Ö]

 

July 3rd [1944] Mtn Wing MWTC

A good deal has happened since I last wrote a week ago. Robert has gone home by air & some of us are due to go later, so you may be seeing me in a month or two. I have been in Beirut & ate strawberries & cream twice in succession. I have been in bed with "gippie" tummy for the last three days. Just before that I was over at our new climbing camp doing training in the evacuation of casualties. For cliffs we use a fixed rope with a cradle which is pulled up & down by means of a pulley, in the same principle as the wire rope hay hoists in Switzerland. It is a rather frightening business for the unfortunate casualty, but there is no alternative.

It was fun to be under canvas again. I have spent nearly two years of the war in tents & have quite a feeling for them. The nights were unexpectedly cold - having left here in a hurry I hadnít taken enough clothes. However I managed to borrow some. In the plains the heat is now very oppressive. It isnít pleasant anymore to go down to Beirut for a break as we used to do every 4-6 weeks during the winter. The hotels do not provide fans in the bedrooms & one has to sleep under a mosquito net. Often too one is attacked either by sandflies or bed bugs. So we are much better off here. It is nice though to go down to the coast on Sundays for a bathe.

I have at last finished my reports & havenít much work to do. One gets restless here unless kept busy; we all feel as the * say, the ME has had it as far as the war is concerned & we are hoping earnestly that our move will come off soon.

 

10/7/1944 Mtn Wing MWTC

[Ö]

Robert has gone home, & it looks as though our future will soon be decided. Now that my regular work has come to an end I am getting extremely lazy & at the same time impatient.

We are all feeling thoroughly out of the swim of events, as is only natural. I hope the flying bombs donít reach Luton. They seem to be much more serious menace than we have been allowed to know, that is until Churchillís speech.

I went up to the rocks below Pie Nord today for some rock climbing practice. The aubretia is over now but the alpen roses are coming into flower. I have only seen white ones so far; they are really azaliads & not roses at all. We have true mountain roses here as well, which I have never seen in Switzerland.

Collecting of animals, insects & plants for the British Museum is still going on under the direction of Professor Kot down at MWTC.

It appears the moles here are not really moles at all, but shrews which have lost the power of sight. Old Kot showed me one the other day that he had skinned. The eyes were reduced to the size vestigial structures the size of a pinhead. They donít appear on the surface at all & there are no openings in the skin for eyelids. There are innumerable lizards here & many different kinds of snakes, about thirty in all & some of them poisonous. No one has been bitten yet.

 

[The last letter. GP returned to the UK for 2 months Sept Ė Oct 1944 as Medical Advisor, Committee on Snow and Mountain Warfare, War Office.

* Indicates an illegible word