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15 October 2014
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The Anguish of Absence: Algiers, 1943icon for Recommended story

by Sgt Len Scott RAPC

Contributed by 
Sgt Len Scott RAPC
People in story: 
Sgt Len Scott, Minna Scott, Brigadier Francis Rabino
Location of story: 
Algiers
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A2789490
Contributed on: 
28 June 2004

Len Scott alone in Algiers - a self-portrait

In 27 Area Cash Office three of us were married, three unmarried. One used to read aloud sections of his wife's letters; another admitted that he composed his letters home in a strictly literary fashion - eye-catching opening, then the main matter, the threads of his discourse gradually drawing together to reach a concluding paragraph of rounded sonority. Although we all worked, ate and slept in the same rooms we had little mental contact. I wondered if any of them disclosed their sexual frustrations to their wives. If they did, how would their wives respond?

Minna and I had endured an 18-month separation before she came to England to marry me. We had been separated while she was in the A.T.S. and I was stationed in Sidcup, Kent. We had nothing to learn about sexual frustrations and I knew that she would understand... if I cared to disclose them. But words... words! When we desired each other there were no words. A glance, my fingers brushing the nape of her neck, her hands ruffling my hair... all more eloquent than speech. Sometimes on our long country walks the fragrance of lilac or the intoxicating pungency of pinewoods would bring us together in unworded instancy.

Now words were all that were left to us. But I knew, and she knew, that my letters were liable to censorship. I had no wish to discuss military matters but could not bear the idea of some third party reading my most intimate thoughts. Then came an opportunity to send a letter which would be read by Minna alone. In the early spring of 1943 my Brigadier was summoned to London for consultation but would return. He offered to carry a letter for Minna, telephone her, give news of me and carry back her reply.

'Sweetheart. This letter will reach you speedily via Brigadier Rabino who, I expect, has already telephoned you. He is a great fellow and we get along well. I should like to tell you a lot more about my work but I know you will understand that although this letter reaches you unofficially I am still "on my honour etc. etc".' It may have been this sudden annihilation of distance which brought such a longing for Minna's physical presence that I let my emotional and sexual needs flow out. I recalled our life together and added 'There you were, marvellously attractive and in love with me; and yet often and often I felt terribly shy with you. Not stupidly shy you know, but shy in the sense that you were such a wonderful thing to happen to me. Here, living this monastic life I know you will realise that I often think of your sheer, physical adorableness. Yes, I miss you, miss you damnably. If only we could be together at this moment instead of my sitting here alone, aching for you and trying to put this aching down on paper!' Then I released my pent-up feelings.

When her reply reached me she told me of a strangely disturbed night which concentrated upon the idea that 'Len is in trouble'. The feeling persisted all day until she returned home and found my letter awaiting her.

'Beloved, if I were only wise and calm enough I might be able to help you, even at this distance. To say that I feel shattered is to put it mildly; shattered, darling - not shocked. You have stripped my mind of all the little prettiness behind which I hid certain aspects of our separation; I thought it was better that way. For the first time I have walked round our valley today quite alone. Not since Christmas when I walked with Ib have I sought the places we used to visit together, you and I. Our valley is very beautiful and I picked the very first bluebells for the vase I keep on the table for you, flowers for you.

'I tried to think of wise and comforting things to write, words which would reach you like cool hands caressing your forehead. And I know it is my body you want (She became tenderly explicit) But how can words like this help you? If I did not know that the union with me for which you are longing were spiritual as well as physical I might be tempted to advise you to "'go elsewhere" even though the thought of you with someone else would cause me hellish torment. I suspect a great difference in the mental make-up of men and women on this point. I am generalising, of course.

'I am trying to make the most of this opportunity. It makes me nervous, like balancing a costly glass vase on my head while attempting to climb a peak. One mistake and that brittle vessel, my opportunity, will be lost. And then I am surrounded by your things, I sleep in your room and am reminded of you by a hundred small things every day. In spite of these advantages I find myself, over and over again, aching for the nearness of you. How much more so you, then. I am not hedging, Len, I only want to make sure that you feel I understand. For although I am terribly shy about our life together - I mean talking about it, let alone writing - you can have no doubt whatever that I am passionately in love with you. It sounds so childish but I often cry from sheer desire for you - but there is nothing childish about the feeling. Darling, darling, what can I do to help you when I cannot even help myself?

'When I had Ib I used to take him for walks or play boisterous games with him and make a fuss of him generally. At night I had only to stretch out my hand to touch his woolly head and be rewarded with a funny little grunt of satisfaction. I had something on which to bestow my affection after you left - someone to care for and take my mind off the emptiness of my existence. But Ib is dead. (see Mail From England - Joy And Grief In Algiers)

You ask me whether I think it 'brutal' of you to write as you do. My own, I love you so and understand you too - we need each other. But does it help you to write to me as you do? Now we have brought this up we must find out how best to cope with the situation and although I cannot bear the idea of a third person reading our letters (all yours are censored) I am prepared to try to overcome my idiotic shyness if I can help you that way.

'Shall I ever be able to tell you how your passionate letter moved me. Four days have passed since it came and my mind is constantly dwelling on it, turning over my answer and thinking, thinking, what can I do? Your confidence in me makes me proud and happy, makes me glory in this lovely companionship of ours which seemed perfect many years ago but which is still deepening, growing. I love you. I love you, my whole being is crying out for you, for your kisses and the touch of your hands, for the physical fulfilment of the desire of my body. It is so damnably difficult. A caress which would be inviting and perhaps amusing in actual fact, may become rude and revolting if committed to paper.

'I must be quite frank with you. That letter gave me the fiercest delight I have ever got from a letter of yours because it recalled mutually satisfactory experiences and because I believe there is a goodish lot of cave-woman, even in normally shy women like me. Shy about talking or writing about love-making, I mean. Write to me soon. I must know how you find my letters in answer to yours and, remember, if I am shy it is not for you but only at the thought of others reading our letters. You have made me happier than I ever thought possible. The only pain you have ever caused me is by being so far away....'

So we learned to ignore censorship. Yet, strangely, it was rare for our letters to become as sexually intimate as in this first exchange of intimate tenderness. More, we had discovered a means of contact which defied time and space itself. At nine o'clock each Sunday evening we would each withdraw to some quiet place and project our thoughts, our love, our dreams to each other. These 'Sunday meetings' became part of our lives. We did not know, mercifully we did not know, for how long we would be separated. Six months had gone. A further two and a half years would pass before I climbed the hundred steps to our hilltop home in England.

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