By Simon Garfield
I had not expected that my Air Mail letter would travel so quickly, and I am delighted that you should already have it, and have spent some time, probably, in reading it. At the moment, and for the present, there isn’t a shadow of doubt that we are both in the same mutually approving mood, and that if we were within smiling distance of each other, we should soon be doing rather more than that.
If I was a wise guy I would not write you and thus encourage your racing thoughts. I admit to a state of gleaming, dangerous excitement as I read again and again your written words. What a pity that they have just given me my mosquito net for my second summer, and not a ticket for an air journey home. I am writing these particular words at midnight 13.4.44 – I could have breakfast with you on the 14th, if only one or two people would cooperate. It might be a little late, but what matter. Here I am, wondering when I last saw you and what you look like. I wish I could confirm by personal investigation. Do you still smoke? – a bad habit.
I was quite OK before I got your first letter. I was rational, objective. But now that you have my ear – I must give you my heart as well! No doubt it is wrong, certainly it is indiscreet, to blurt out such things when the future laughs that only present conditions make me like this. But I am like this. I am always consulting my diary to see how soon you will get my letters, wondering how soon I will get yours. I feel that you are doing exactly the same, and share my upset.
I find you wonderful, you delight me and thrill me and engross me. But as I said earlier, disregard these purely Spring emotions. I might mean it very much today, but it is tomorrow that matters in such affairs, and I am certain to revoke a dozen times in the long tomorrow. This is a real sane note to end on, as I sit here, hot-faced and desirous, ready for you as you are ready for me.
I am but a miserable sinner!
Chris Barker in Libya in 1945
I think we are so near to each other that our reactions to similar occurrences are very much, if not exactly, the same. So that you know the excitement I felt when I saw your handwriting on the LC my brother handed me.
I could read it only once, and then had to put it in my pocket, while my poor old head tried to cope with its contents as far as I could remember. You have come at me with such a terrific rush of warmth, and I am so very much in need of you.
Well, I washed and made my bed (it was six o’clock before I received your letter) and fidgeted around. Then I thought: “I must read it again before I sleep” – so I pushed off to the latrine (where the humblest may be sure of privacy) and read your words again. The comic expression “It shakes me” is true in a serious sense about this deeply thrilling state of wellbeing that you have caused or created.
Back in the tent, and to bed. How impossible to sleep with thought and wonder of you hot within me. As I toss and turn and wriggle and writhe I think of you, probably doing the same. Isn’t it blooming awful? I know that if I think of you, I will not sleep; yet I keep on thinking of you, and get hotter and hotter. Phew – I could do with a couple of ice-blocks around me. Finally, to sleep. Up in the morning, my first thoughts, of your nearness and your distance from me, and the hope that I can race off these first six pages, to post this afternoon.
Chris (front row, third from left) with comrades in Rome in 1945
Unfortunately, there is no likelihood of my early return. I must be another year, I may be another three or four. Relax, my girl, or you’ll be a physical wreck in no time. Regard me as what you will, but don’t altogether forget circumstance, distance, environment.
I wonder what you look like (don’t have a special photograph taken). I know you haven’t a bus-back face but I have never looked at you as now I would. I wonder how many times I have seen you, and how many we have been alone. Now my foolish pulse races at the thought that you even have a figure. I want, very much, to touch you, to feel you, to see you as you naturally are, to hear you. I want to sleep and awaken with you. I want to live with you.
Let me know if you think I’m mad. When my signature dries I am going to kiss it. If you do the same, that will be a complete (unhygienic) circuit!
Six months later, not long after Chris moved from Alexandria to Athens, he is taken prisoner by the Greek People’s Liberation Army. In London at the beginning of December 1944, with rockets falling, Bessie Moore waits for news.
So very worried about what is happening in Greece. On the news tonight it spoke of it spreading and seems to have become a battle, my worst suspicions of what the British Army went to Greece for are fulfilled. I don’t know how this is affecting you and whether the ordinary people are involved.
Darling, I have no complaints about your letters, I am too happy that it is my body that you want, that occupies your thoughts. If you didn’t write and tell me these things, I should suspect you of being interested in somebody else’s body.
Well, I am glad you have four blankets to keep you warm – if I was there you wouldn’t want any, you’d be hot enough.
It isn’t easy to express these things in words, but you have done it, you have moved me, right down, down to the foundations, you have accomplished what I shouldn’t have thought was possible, you have opened a vision of a new world, a new experience for me, I cannot help but be so very, very grateful to you.
I had to giggle about my “bravery” in bombed London. I live here, work here, and there isn’t anything else to do but live here and work here, and like most things up to a point, you get used to it. It’s one’s low resources that one has to be brave about, all one’s usual aches and pains get you down easily, any extra effort tires you out, but as we are all in the same boat, that isn’t so bad as it sounds, it’s communal you know, makes a difference, besides the battle fronts sound so much worse, I concentrate on that when I feel pathetic.
Am just listening to the 9 o’clock news and it’s most disheartening, it says it’s spreading not slackening. Oh! Dear! Christopher! I really can’t think of anything else, Darling, I do really want to be cheerful, but it’s so blooming difficult, Xmas! And you out there. I love you, I love you, I love you, and my heart is aching, it is so lonely and desolate without you.
Keep calm is my motto. But I do wish I knew how things were with you.
I Love You.
Chris and Bessie together
At the end of January 1945, after two months of waiting, Bessie finally gets a telegram.
This is so wonderful. Oh Gosh! Christopher, I have just received your telegram – how can I tell you how beautiful the world is, contact again with you, contact with life.
Oh, darling of my heart, I did not realise what a benumbed state I had been reduced to. It took about a quarter of an hour to sink in. I did not whoop or prance but my knees went weak, my tummy turned over, since when I have been grinning happily to myself with a beautiful inward pleasure.
FREE, FIT and WELL, such wonderful words, the relief from these last weeks of possible sickness, you Blessed Darling, I just haven’t any words, no words Christopher, just all bubbles and tremblings.
I have not been able to look at your photos or read your letters, much too painful, but I have now, I have now. You have been with me in all these bad days. You are there, you are alive. You are in this world with me, we are together, we, we, we, US. Deep breath here!
Darling, I suppose there isn’t any chance of you coming home. I thought there might be a possibility, for Churchill said something about the prisoners coming home – don’t know whether that could mean all of you, or just the sick and wounded. Coo – just supposing.
Dearie me, things are looking up, though this business of Germany fighting to the last ditch sounds rather appalling. Some silly blighter, an MP too, was asking for indiscriminate bombing of Germany, I should have thought what was happening now was grim enough to satisfy even the most bloodthirsty.
I Love You.
Chris and Bessie married after the war, had two sons and lived long, happy lives together
My Dearest One,
I have just heard the news that all the Army men taken POW are to return to their homes. Because of the shipping situation we may not commence to go before the end of February, but can probably count on being in England sometime in March. It may be sooner. It has made me very warm inside. It is terrific, wonderful, shattering.
I don’t know what to say, and I cannot think. The delay is nothing, the decision is everything. Now I am confirming in my head the little decisions I have made when contemplating just the possibility. I must spend the first days at home, I must see Deb and her Mother. I must consider giving a party somewhere. Above all, I must be with you. I must warm you, surround you, love you and be kind to you.
Tell me anything that is in your mind, write tons and tons and tons, and plan our time. I would prefer not to get married, but want you to agree on the point. In the battle, I was afraid. For you. For my Mother. For myself. Wait we must, my love and my darling. Let us meet, let us be, let us know, but do not let us, now, make any mistakes. I am anxious, very anxious, that you should not misunderstand what I have said. Say what you think – but – please agree, and remember I was afraid, and I am still afraid.
How good for us to see each other before I am completely bald! I have some fine little wisps of hair on the top of my head.
I love you.
Darling, Darling, Darling,
This is what I have been waiting for, your freedom left me dumb and choked up, but now, oh now, I feel released. Oh Christopher, my dear, dear man, it is so, so wonderful. You are coming home. Golly, I shall have to be careful, all this excitement is almost too much for my body.
I must pinch myself, is it true? Yes, your LC says so, and now I have such a funny photo of you, with a little beard, but you look a little grim, as if you need loving, as if you need tenderness.
Marriage my sweet, yes I agree, what you wish, I wish. I want you to be happy in this darling, want to make you happy.
I Love You.
My Dear Bessie by Simon Garfield (Canongate £8.99) is available to order from Telegraph Books at £8.54 + £1.95 p&p. Call 0844 871 1515 or visit books.telegraph.co.uk