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15 October 2014
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HMS Barham - Alexandria, September 1941

by Graeme Sorley

Contributed by 
Graeme Sorley
People in story: 
Surgeon-Commander E.R.Sorley, RN
Location of story: 
Background to story: 
Royal Navy
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
12 February 2004

HMS Barham — Alexandria, September 1941

The following are extracts from censored letters written from the Barham by my father, Surgeon-Commander E.R.Sorley, RN. After two months undergoing repairs in Durban, South Africa, Barham sailed on July 31st, 1941 to re-join the Eastern Mediterranean Fleet. She arrived back in Alexandria on August 16th.

21st September, 1941: Worrying about Mail

“It is Sunday morning. We gave the Admiral(1) dinner last night - a fairly hectic party, and we are feeling a trifle jaded. P.W. loves a party and the later the better from his point of view. At dinner I sat next to Uncle Geoffrey(2), who as a member of the Staff was included in the invitation. He was in quite good form. We talked a lot about the mail question. He has had airgraphs from Mrs C. up to 29th August. So have most of the officers but I have been left lamenting. I am sure the blame is not yours, but all the same it is disappointing to see others getting letters and to have to admit that I have drawn a blank. After dinner, we played roulette, at which I lost a little. It was good fun, and the “Germans” and ”Italians” left us alone throughout. An airmail has just arrived - a very belated one - a post card of 24th July and a July airmail letter (undated). Still, I thrilled to get both. During June and July, you had a lean spell at your end, corresponding to the time of our passage from here to Durban. The short air letter card of 31st May was dashed off just before our sailing (3 days after the bombing racket)(3).

We were n’t supposed to mention South Africa until after we left Durban. All my many air letter cards - the South African Saga and all that should be rolling in to you now, and surely you have got the perfume and the leather articles by this time. I wish I could know for certain. It is so depressing having no recent news of you, although I resolutely refuse to get depressed about anything. I make my life as interesting as possible. I am reading the history of the ancient Greek - Persian War by Herodotus (2 volumes) at the moment. I have read scraps of it before at school in Greek, but the whole translation in English is most absorbing - a lively tale of men and women in the days when the world was young (450 B.C.). I have almost finished volume 1.

This afternoon, I got two more letters - one from you dated 24th July, and one from Phyllida Sorley from India, written in May. I do wonder what has happened to your August letters and cards. Never mind, they will turn up in time, I expect.”

Notes: (1) Vice-Admiral Pridham-Wippell (2) Captain G.C.Cooke (3) Battle for Crete

Airgraph — 22nd September 1941: Clothes Rationing and Rent

“No letters or cards from you beyond 27th July, but I must be patient. From other sources I have the cheerful news that Bert Moncrieff is home and has delivered at least one of the parcels in his charge, so there is every hope that your perfume has arrived. News of the leather-ware should reach me soon. Very pleased to hear of your visit from Donald and Mary and of their generosity. That Tweed material ought to be very useful for the coming winter. The mother of one of our officers wrote to him to say that she bought two tweed motoring rugs (no coupons required) and had them made into a costume. A cunning idea.

I pass it on for what it is worth. I hope you are having a good autumn. Our weather is still warm, but is getting cooler. I have been having lots of tennis and bathing, and am feeling very fit, my only “moan” being lack of letters from you; although I know you are not to blame. I’ll send off Ferdy’s cheque(4) in a few days”

Note: (4) Rent for Cottage

To be continued

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