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Mail from England: Joy and Grief in Algiers (1943)icon for Recommended story

by Sgt Len Scott RAPC

Contributed by 
Sgt Len Scott RAPC
People in story: 
Minna Chatrine Scott, Corporal Len Scott
Location of story: 
Warlingham, Surrey
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
19 May 2004

My wife Minna and her terrier Ib Fidelius Aedeltand (named for a dog in a Danish story) in Warlingham in 1941.

This story continues from A Merry (Murderous) Christmas in Algiers. There is more about my wife Minna in A Dane in - and out - of the ATS, Journey through the Blitz and Flying bombs in Warlingham.

Letters from Algiers

Algiers, 8 February 1943: ‘Sweetheart - I have received all your missing letters... it is very encouraging to hear about life going on just as usual at home. I am often desperately homesick and your letters seem to bring something of our home - and you - with them...’

Algiers, 14 February 1943: ‘Dearest. So today is your birthday. It is also three months and a day since I set foot on these shores. It must have been a lonely birthday for you but I hope you made a special day of it...’

Algiers, 19 February: ‘Sweetheart: Today after a long spell without news the mail arrived at last. I was longing for it, longing with an intensity I had never known. Eight letters - three from you the latest dated 24 January. All that afternoon I treasured them, waiting for an opportunity of quiet, waiting to be alone with you. Then I opened the first…’

A welcome reply - and unwelcome news

Warlingham, 7 January: 'Len dear, I am afraid I have sad news. I had better tell you at once. Ib died at one o'clock this morning, our gay little companion of nearly five years. It is difficult not to be upset, not to sound sentimental. Today is Thursday and only last Sunday morning, a glorious day, he seemed quite well. I skipped the morning walk and stayed late in bed, afterwards trying to smooth over my omission by combing him beautifully. He was enthusiastic about his dinner but towards evening seemed troubled. At eight o'clock he went out - and did not come back. I found him next morning in the field next door where he must have spent the night, having been sick repeatedly. He was loth to come in (I had called out for him often the previous evening) and I was very worried about him.

Desperate remedies

'Well on Tuesday Mr. Michie operated for stones in the bladder but he would not keep the dog so I had to carry him home - it was after black-out - from Coulsdon by train. I had not slept the night before but after that journey and the unrest and anxiety of two previous nights, I fell asleep. He did not. Mr Michie came Wednesday morning and found Ib was suffering from uraemia. As it was my half-day [Minna had found employment, thanks to Mr.Bellatti, our landlord] I was able to nurse him properly that afternoon and evening, but it was too late. I went to bed at half-past eleven but kept awake to watch him. You see, he could not get rid of his water except with great pain and could not keep anything down. Being such a clean little fellow it worried him, so he would not stay in his basket. However, as I watched, I knew I could do nothing. His last struggle was quite short and now he cannot suffer any more. Tomorrow he will be buried in the garden he loved.

Guilt and regrets

'I could say lots more about it - how, as you know, I never liked leaving him in the house when going out to work, but could not leave him to run about because of the danger on the roads; how I might have discovered his trouble earlier and, perhaps, saved him; how I might have taken some days off from work and nursed him through. Oh, lots of hows and ifs and buts. So I remind myself that Ib, at any rate, can suffer no longer.

'Forgive this long story. I know you will when you remember how he shared my Army life and even went to hospital with me for several months. I feel very sad and rather shaky, although this morning I turned on the news to be reminded of the senseless butchering going on everywhere to get the matter of a little dog into perspective. Anyhow, I need not explain to you, you were always very fond of Ib Fidelius although you pretended to be rough with him and will miss him as much as I shall. So let us just be grateful for all the fun the three of us had together. It will be rather lonely here at first. Don't let this upset you too much. Now I shall have to go out more, the shock has perhaps done me good by shaking me out of a very comfortable rut in which Ib and I made ourselves snug. It has done me good to tell you all this.

A cry from the heart

Later: 'It is terribly difficult to write to you without ever having a reply. Do you know what I mean by complete isolation in spite of all the kindness shown me? I am not very well, nothing to worry about, just a touch of my usual idiotic nervous complaint. I have no patience with 'nerves', least of all my own. Ib's death was more of a shock than I realised at the time. I find his bowls, balls, collars and throwing-sticks. In spite of my disbelief I have the oddest feeling that when I cross the border he will be there, waiting for me, putting his wet cold nose into my hands, making me hurry up and to reassure me.'

One little death...?

So Minna had had no mail from me. And as the war in the Western Desert grew fiercer; as the Germans died in their thousands around Stalingrad. A little dog died. Why did this small death affect me more than all this impersonal slaughter? Impersonal. That was the key. Who did I know in these faceless armies? I knew every trick, every mannerism of that little dog. Minna had written on 7 January, but I did not get her letter until 19 February, during which time I had sent letters like this: 'I can imagine you sitting by the fire with a book while dogface lies stretched out on the carpet, whining in his doggy dreams. Give my kind regards to the old thing. I hope his ears are better.'

Reaching out

'My dearest' I wrote on 19 February, 'What can I say to you? I stretch out my hands to you. A little dog has died, a little thing we loved and who loved us in his own half-helpless way. On the window at my side the rain is beating down, the day is cold and sunless. And then I knew your loneliness as I know my own. Yes, our circle has been broken, for that little chap was part of it. He had been present during our hours of happiness and during our grief. Often he had given us laughter when we needed it most and the friendly patter of his paws is in my ears yet. As you say, it is difficult to arrive at a true perspective, to compare the extinction of his spark of life with the wholesale slaughter that grows day by day. Just a pet dog. But he had known joy and the pleasure of scampering in the grass, he had given us his affection.

'I thought of you alone in that quiet house and all that was in my mind was a desperate wish to be at your side just for a day, for an hour even, that I might talk with you, comfort you as I used to do, give you confidence in yourself. But here I sit, impotent and helpless and this letter will probably take a month to reach you. Do you remember how once, long ago, when I first knew I was going away, I asked you how you would manage if you were alone, if you no longer had Ib. You smiled bravely at me and said you would carry on, waiting for me. Will you keep your promise? I know you will. We have always each other and the war will not go on for ever.'

Comfort given - and received

That letter did not reach Minna until 21 March and her response was joyous: 'Your missing letters arrived together and I scarcely know how to thank you or explain my joy and relief. The lines faded to reveal your face, sad and troubled. Yes, I did stretch out my hands to you and now I feel the answering pressure of yours, firm and reassuring. Never let go again darling, never. I just cannot do without you. These letters are like your old self and have reduced the distance between North Africa and Warlingham to something negligible. You have become real once more. Don't you dare talk of impotence and helplessness where helping me is concerned. You are always helping me and you are the only one who can do so.

'I know Ib's death hurts you as much as it does me. That is one reason why I feel so keenly about it, whether I did all I could for him. But we must leave it as it is now. He cannot be hurt or troubled any more and should only be remembered as a devoted little friend who brought us much gladness. Today I planted a great cluster of violets upon his grave from you and primroses from myself.'

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Message 1 - Small tragedy

Posted on: 16 June 2004 by Helen


How very, very sad. I think that Allan may have already told you how Ib was the talk of the office here - he seems such a solid handsome dog in the photos.

How awful for Minna. But it sounds as if she was brave.

All best wishes,

Helen, WW2 Team

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