(Which still remains nameless, but is nearly half completed)

Letter from Vennie to Peg, dated 15 December 1942, Postmarked APO NY, headed Arzew, Algiers

Dear Cuz:

Well, here I am, at last with time enough to write you a very long letter! The French in North Africa surrendered a month ago, and the fighting front is over, more or less, having moved on from here to Tunisia. We continue here at Arzew, caring for our patients, but at not such a frantic rate as at first! Matters have calmed down, now that we are supplied and supported, and the hospital here has been fitted out with all that is proper and needful for care of our patients. We nurses are billeted half a mile away in old French barracks, which were so filthy and flea-ridden that they put up tents for us, on the former parade ground. We are conveyed “home” at the end of every shift, and back again by an escort of Rangers from the First Battalion, and then by soldiers from the engineers, whose unit is repairing the harbor facilities. My friend Ruth, who is tall and sturdy of build – has been courted by a Ranger who calls her ‘his little girl!’ He is as tall as Paul Bunyan, without his ax and ox! A head taller than Ruth, who is amused no end. It is the first time in her life that she has been called ‘a little girl!’ At least, since got her full growth at fourteen or so. Me – I’ve always been ‘a little girl.’ I’m done with the charm of that. Why can’t I be as tall as a Becker? Anyway, enough of my lamentations regarding my personal shortcomings.Several of us had the opportunity to visit Oran late in November – sightseeing! Can you imagine? It was so very nice, to be driven in the back of a truck, rather than in a jeep in the dark, with my legs hanging over the back.

Oran is one of the leading cities in Algiers, and I have to say that it looks very neat, beautiful and clean from a distance – all whitewashed walls and red tile roofs, in terraces climbing up and down the hills from the harbor, punctuated by tall steeples, minarets, and stands of palm trees. The outskirts of the city were adorned with groves of orange and olive trees, and there were so many native Algerians in colorful robes and turbans – all so very exotic and romantic … but that was at a distance. Up close, the walls are seen to be dingy and peeling, and the robes are faded, ragged … and the people wearing them have not washed themselves or their clothing for years, to judge by the smell. We visited the old headquarters of the French Foreign Legion in Sidi-bes-Abbes, where three of the French officers showed us around. There was a little museum in the Legion HQ, with examples of all the uniforms the Legion has worn, back to the days of one of their moldy old princes who established the Legion. They showed us through town as well but explained the reason for so many dark looks cast in our direction, as many of the locals were very pro-Nazi and not at all happy to have the Allies in occupation now. We did not linger there for long. When we came back that evening to Arzew, we had a delivery of mail from home, and I had your latest letter.

What happy news for you, that Tommy is alive and a prisoner of war! Are you able to write to him, and send him comforts, and to tell him that he is the father of a daughter as well as a son? I do hope so. I have had no word from my friend Helen, who was reported to be interned among civilian women in Santo Tomas. It is hard to believe that just a year has passed since the attacks on Pearl Harbor, Manila and Singapore. How so many things have changed for us both in just a single year! If you can write to him, send him my love and best wishes. I was also very happy to hear that the books and the coral bead necklace that I posted to you in England for Olivia and Little Tommy’s Christmas presents have arrived in good time.

They should have a lovely Christmas in Australia – we at the hospital in Arzew are planning to have the same here in Africa! Lt. Worth, our senior nurse, has said that we should make it a most memorable Christmas for our patients here. Among things found by the Rangers in a warehouse near the harbor – and which hadn’t been looted and burned by the locals – were several bolts of red serge fabric. And it is Lt. Worth’s idea that we should sew Christmas stockings of red serge, trimmed with white from hospital sheets, for every patient in this place. We are sewing like mad elves, every moment that we can get – for we will need almost seven hundred. That is – when we are not working in a candy factory! Our supply officer and his sergeant assistants came by quantities of peanuts, milk, sugar and chocolate! (We call him Ali Baba and his 40 Thieves, for no one closely inquires by what miracle they were able to come up with all this because it probably wasn’t strictly regulation!) We turn too, when off-duty and not otherwise occupied with sewing stockings – and make candy! Peanut brittle, fudge, and taffy – a lot of work, but such fun! It almost feels like normal, getting ready for Christmas. Not like last year, when everyone was so worked up over Japan attacking, and everyone looking over their shoulder and wondering what awful defeat would happen next. Now we have the Nazis on the run, and soon the Japs as well.

Got to go do candy duty in the kitchen – I’ll write again when I can.

Your fond Cuz and auntie to your babies,

Vennie

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