Letter from Billie Laird
Billie Laird was the young lady who invited Dad and his friend Graham Watts to her family home in Glasgow on New Year’s Eve, 1940. ‘The boys’ saw quite a bit of the Laird’s in the following days. Dad’s letter of May 5 to his mother mentions receiving a letter from Mrs Laird written on Jan 29, but his diary only mentions one from Billie – which is actually in the collection. Billie’s was written on Jan 14, in response to the one he mentions having written to her, in his diary on Jan 10:
Helped by Capt Miller got to wharf and rang Mrs Laird and Billie. Promised to see Billie that night – got sick. Bloody sick at tea time – vomited blood. Couldn’t get ashore – wrote Billie a note.
Less than a month before that, Dad had become engaged to Shirley Balfour, a nurse who worked in an Edinburgh hospital. The letter to his mother of 1st May explained why he hadn’t seen Shirley while he was in Scotland in the New Year:
…until we actually got there we didn’t know we were going to Glasgow and when I rang Leith Hospital they told me she was out. I intended ringing again that night but somehow or other didn’t do so and when I got there next morning found that that night – New Year’s night – was her night off and that she’d gone home and would not be back till the next night and by that time we were standing by to go aboard ship and once aboard all leave was off and although I went AWL a couple of times it would have been impossible to get through to Edinburgh. I spoke to her for about twenty minutes over the phone (the ships phone) and when questioned by the Chief Officer told him I was a signalman and it was a military call.
It is obvious from Billie’s remarks that Dad had told the Laird’s about Shirley, but that wasn’t going to stop Billie carrying a torch for him. I don’t know whether this little card arrived in the same mail:
Text of the letter from Billie:
39 Beaufort St
My dear Max
Here I am as soon as your letter arrived, I am answering in hope of catching you. Your letter arrived yesterday, last night I sat down and wrote you two long letters but destroyed both, if I had sent them I am afraid you might have thought it was Shirley writing. In fact I felt kind of like her when I was sitting writing you (confession).
Max it was simply delightful to hear your voice on the phone. I can’t tell you how happy I was. I think I tried to tell you so on the phone. Did I succeed in letting you know?
I am very sorry you did not get to see me, we had such a grand time together. I was very anxious to see you, everyone in the family felt the same way so they tell me, but I think I had a very special wish to see you.
Molly – the lady (whose) house you were at on New Year’s Eve, was over seeing us this morning at least when I went home for lunch Mother & Molly were sitting chatting and no sign of lunch. Well Max, Molly was saying she thought they were two very nice boys. (one up, Max) and was sorry she had not seen you again.
On Saturday afternoon I went over town with Betty. I had your brooch in my coat and had my eyes glinted for an Aussie. I told Betty if I saw an Aussie with your colours that I would speak to him about your battalion. Betty was horrified that I would speak to a strange soldier and was very disappointed when we saw none as she wanted to test me. She didn’t know how anxious I was for word of you.
When there was no word from you on Tuesday my face was like a fiddle but it wasn’t long until I was beaming again. We have some men in the office just now and when I kept dashing to the phone on Tuesday they teased me no end. One boy went out to a call box and phoned me. When he came on he said ‘Billie by dear, I managed through to phone you when I can see you’. I recognised his voice and entered into the joke but I went for him when he came in.
The weather is a great deal better and all the popes are thawed – what a blessing. Margaret says to tell you she was asking for you both and hopes you will come back some day and that we all meet.
By the way how did you do when you went to keep Graham company, how many nurses? Or were you just keeping Graham company? I hope it is the latter but couldn’t blame you if it was the first as there are so many pretty nurses. (But!! remember that you’ve got to come back to Scotland).
Well Max, you two boys were the first strange soldiers I had taken home and I am afraid the last. I guess you are wondering why I say that. I have a good reason “I got too fond of you” now isn’t that a good reason. I have enough now to worry about without getting fond of any more so I am asking no more. I son’t know what induced me to ask you but somehow I liked you and well it came natural.
Mother & Dad were out last night at the pictures and saw ‘New Moon’. They enjoyed it very well. I had just finished writing your first letter when a visitor came in so I had to go and make the supper then had to get Hazel off to bed and between one thing and another I went to bed in bad humour and to crown it all had a nightmare.
One of my aunts phoned Dad to tell him Sam our cousin is home on leave and asked if we would be going down to wee him. He was in the Scots Greys before war broke out and hasn’t been home for two years. I am wondering if he will see a change in me. I expect I will see a change in him.
Mother was saying she wishes she could have had another game of ‘500’ with you as she enjoyed the other one so much. I guess if we could have had our wishes you would never have sailed. I am glad Graham is better although I am sure he won’t be too pleased losing his nursey – or is it nursey’s?
Well Max I will have to go on my way rejoicing. Thanks again for your lovely letter, hope maybe someday we will hear from you, meantime I will keep writing hopping you get some of my letters.
Cheerio just now
A cousin who was in the Scots Greys
Although the Carrier platoon had not been with the rest of the battalion at the time, it’s an amazing coincidence that when the bulk of the unit arrived in Palestine after its long journey from Mersa Matruh, they were, according to The Footsoldiers, “ ‘fostered’ by the Scots Greys.