True Happiness is a Chocolate Bar
(Jefe started the ‘True Happiness’ topic in the science section, but I thought this story would fit better in ‘Other Reading’).
From time to time during the Battle of Britain, a letter would get through the Rudeltaktik, the German Wolf Pack, the U-boats that prowled the Atlantic threatening to starve us into surrender. (privately, this was Churchill’s greatest fear). The letter from America would be from relatives inquiring about our health, and telling us that a Care package was on the way.
The packages would never come. I suppose, even as you read this, a glass jar that was meant for me is lying intact on the floor of the Atlantic. To begin with it might have had a hand-lettered note taped to it, ‘AUNT ELSIE’S STRAWBERRY JAM FOR UNSMOKED.’ Think of all the brave seamen who died trying to deliver my jar of jam and keep Britain afloat - Roosevelt’s Lend Lease in the face of public opposition.
However, by the spring of 1943 the Enigma Code had been cracked. The mighty Bismark had been sent to the bottom. American hunter-killer groups consisting of escort carriers and destroyers were systematically locating and destroying the U-tankers, severely limiting the range of the Wolf Packs. U-boat commanders couldn’t figure out how the RAF knew where they were. They continued to use the Enigma. 30,000 German U-boat sailors lost their lives out of a total of 39,000 - the highest casualty rate of any armed service in modern war.
Maybe it was around the early spring of ‘43 that a huge convoy of supply ships sailed out of Halifax bound for Southampton, and other ports. Almost all of them made it through. At last the postman brought a Care package to our door.
I’m not sure, but I think the box may have been assembled by an institution rather than our relatives. There were bars of lye soap that could take your skin off! Served the powdered eggs, my sister and I opted for death by starvation. (I heard once that the RCMP, in response to a report that some Eskimos were starving on an ice flow, flew over them and dropped sacks of dry beans! There were no survivors). I’m sure Care Inc. meant well. The tins of corned beef were a godsend. There was also a cardboard box with a picture of a Camel on it, and a large tin of coffee.
My parents were tea drinkers, and for reasons I still don’t understand, could not smoke Virginia tobacco, at least, could not smoke the Camels.
I was told to suit up for the rain and my mother gave me a cloth shopping bag containing the carton of Camels and the tin of coffee. “Take these to the Yanks doon at Happy Charley’s.
Happy Charley’s was an abandoned brick cabin that was down past the turnip fields, across the Cart river from the shipyards. I don’t know what the Americans were doing there. Maybe they were setting up more anti-aircraft batteries, or stringing rolls of barbed wire around the fields and laying land mines. Maybe they were there to guard against saboteurs at the shipyards. Probably they had a field tent, but had moved into Happy Charley’s hut because it was more comfortable.
I squeezed between the concrete tank barriers and went up the path to the hut. I could hear loud radio music. It was pouring. Barrage balloons floated over the shipyards. Through the fog and rain I could see the flare of welder’s torches. The noise of riveters all but drowned out the cries of gulls. A destroyer was taking shape. Yanks! God help me! I thumped on the plank door.
(to be continued)