Students of the First World War will find letter dated June 5th 1915 interesting...
Thank you for your last letter and please forgive me for taking so long to reply. The fact that they've collected a large number of white feathers doesn't mean that my brother Harry and his dissolute chums belong to an ornithological society. The thing is, I've been awfully busy fighting this blessed war. Well, not only me. There are also others out here doing much the same thing. For obvious reasons, I'm unable to go into specific details. But, suffice it to say, I've been trying desperately hard to kill all the Huns - including that dreadful fellow they call their Kaiser. Once he and the other Huns are dead I'm confident that this war will end. Unfortunately, even though I've been in the thick of the fighting, I've not been able to kill very many. In fact, to be honest, I haven't killed any at all. Not without trying, I may add. Indeed, I thought I'd killed one a few weeks ago when I took a pot shot at him. But Corporal Mulligan, a veritable salt of the earth, told me that the bally German got up again and ran off. Mulligan concludes that the Hun may have tripped just as I fired my rifle at him. Alas, dear Mother, I must confess that I've not been a very satisfactory warrior. Just before Christmas I managed to lose one of my legs. My Sergeant, a cheerful Cockney, said it was a bad time to lose a leg. Being the season of goodwill to all men and all that. I feel the Sergeant was exaggerating because I can't think of a good time to lose one's leg. (Unless one is trapped and one has to amputate it to save one's life.) Fortunately, those medical chappies managed to fit me up with a tin one. Then, only three months ago, I lost the middle finger of my left hand and my right ear. I suppose it all started last October when I lost my whatsit. It happened when a trench mortar fell nearby whilst I was answering a most pressing call of nature. Delicacy prevents me from mentioning what part of my anatomy was removed, but you mustn't hold out much hope for grandchildren. Then, three weeks ago, the Commanding Officer came to see me. He said, "Roger, we fear the enemy are whittling you away. However, you'll be delighted to learn that I've brought you some good news."
He told me I was being transferred to the Festive Balloon Section of the Royal Flying Corps. Let me tell you something about this remarkable unit of the British Army. At least the bits that will not prove useful to any bally spies who might catch sight of this correspondence. No, Mother! I'm not accusing you of being a spy. I do, however, confess to harbouring a slight suspicion about the postman you told me about. That chap with the foreign accent who calls himself Otto von Scheisskopf. Anyway, last week I found myself in this Belgian town. I cannot tell you its name, but it rhymes with "Dons." I will give you a clue. To solve this little riddle one merely needs to replace the letter "D" with the letter "M. " Anyway, it was a beautiful town. It was also in range of the heavy German guns. And, every day, those big guns would fire on this town. Just for the sheer devilment of it. Because, apart from an army supply dump, two ammunitions factories, an aircraft factory, a training school for saboteurs, a unit responsible for breaking enemy secret codes, a laboratory for the production of poison gases and a large railway depot, there were no military targets to speak of. Sometimes these whizz- bangs fell short. But sometimes they fell on the town. And that was a bad thing for anyone who happened to be standing at the spot where they landed.
Now this was not very sporting because the people who were injured were mainly civilians. We military types spend all our time in specially constructed shelters. Why? Because experience has taught us that it's quite dangerous for chaps in uniform to go wandering around in time of war. How would you like it if that nice friend of Daddy's who is staying with you whilst Pater is away, were to be killed in cold blood by a German whizz-bang? By the way, I often wonder why people use the expression - "killed in cold blood." I asked a medical officer and he assured me that a person's blood would not be cold at the point of death. Instead it would be at body temperature. "Ah!" I said. "But what if the chap were running a temperature? What if he had the influenza or some other infectious disease? Or what if he were a cook or baker standing by a large stove or oven? "In that case," replied the Medical Officer, "His blood would be somewhat warmer." And what about those ladies in your sewing circle? How would you feel if they were shot down like mad dogs by some Boche sniper?
So what is this new unit I'm in? Well, the Festive Balloon Section has but one purpose in life. And that is to bring a little joy and happiness to all those on the front line, civilian as well as military. An admirable undertaking, don't you agree? Now, in order to perform our duties to the best of our abilities, each member is issued with a number of festive balloons. These balloons come in all the colours of the rainbow and consist of two types: the circular and the tubular MKII. They make a pretty sight and are guaranteed to brighten the dullest of trenches. Needles to say, the balloons are issued in the deflated state. Apparently, the top brass at Military Headquarters concluded that carrying a number of inflated and brightly coloured balloons might present the German sniper with a tempting target.
Before one can become a useful member of the Section one needs to be thoroughly trained in the uses of the Balloon, Military, Festive for the use of. This training covers both the circular model and the tubular MKII. First of one is taught how to inflate both types using the power of the lungs. This is vital because a deflated balloon serves very little purpose. Then one is taught the basic safety measures. Once filled with air the balloon, (circular and tubular MKII), is considered to be "live" and therefore potentially dangerous. For example, if one releases an inflated festive balloon before securing the nozzle, it could fly away and poke someone's eye out. We therefore treat our inflated festive balloons with the same degree of care we treat our hand grenades.
Once one has achieved proficiency in the inflation and securing of a festive balloon, (circular and tubular MKII), one moves on to the practical applications applicable to this particular piece of equipment. The Army is a strictly regulated organization, (much like a public school), and there are set rules laid down for the display of festive balloons. The nature of the display will depend on the festive occasion. For example, birthday party, Christmas, celebration of a promotion, wedding, military funeral, etc.
Finally, one is taught to master the extremely skilful art of Balloon Sculpturing. Obviously, I'm not at liberty to divulge the technical details, but suffice it to say that my comrades now call me "Rodin." After a particularly gruelling bombardment I had the opportunity to cheer a number of civilians up, (those who'd managed to survive the whizz-bangs), by demonstrating my skill at "balloon sculpturing." It went down a treat, apart from the Daschund I created out of four tubular MKII balloons. The sight of this creature appeared to stir up some primitive urges in the crowd and I barely managed to escape with my life. Yes, Mother! I'm quite aware of the fact that the Daschund is a breed of German dog. However, it's clear that these Belgians don't share our sense of irony.
Have you, perchance, read Sir John French's dispatch regarding the Festive Balloon Section of the RFC? If not, then I urge you to do so. It's a branch of service that any right-thinking chap with good lungs and nimble fingers would be proud to belong to. So please do pass the word! The Festive Balloon Section needs men badly. When organising a birthday party or some other big shindig in the trenches I'd like to be sure I have the support of the strongest lungs in all of England. "Ah!" I hear you say. "It's all very well for you to expect me to go on a recruiting drive for this splendid Section of yours. But suppose they ask me what else there is besides honour and glory?" Well, Mother, apart from belonging to the smartest unit in the Army the pay is very generous. You get a half-penny for every festive balloon you inflate and a full two-pence for every balloon sculpture created. On top of this, food, clothing and accommodation are thrown in free of charge!
So tell those who are interested to go down to the London Rubber Company and see Major Jurecks. Tell them to rally round! Maybe old Harry and his chums will be interested. After all, what is better? A chest filled with medals or enough white feathers to stuff a duvet? Old Jurecks will put them right. And, if any of those chaps have their School Certificates and a bent for science, they may even end up in our top secret Helium Unit. Not only do these boffins produce festive balloons that are lighter than air, they also get the opportunity to talk in silly sounding voices! Now, Mother, what more could a patriotic Englishman ask for?
Your Loving Son,