He Saw Enough of the World

My grandmother's letter. Photo by me.

Following is a letter my grandmother, Skipper, wrote to my mother, Rosalind. Bob is the youngest of Skipper’s four children. I was gobsmacked when I found this among my mother’s papers, which I am gathering to create a website dedicated to my mother’s compositions. She must have just moved into the little red house in Essex where she lived out the rest of her life. My cousin and his wife live there now. 

Essex, Conn
May 25th
(She does not list the year.
Possibly 1944 or 1945?)

Dear Ros,

What a cute little doll house this is!!

And no more dust than a week of living would make. In three hours I cleaned the whole place.

When I got here Bob [a gentle soul who joined the Merchant Marine during the war] had left signs of his presence. He had trophies with notes all over the place. But he also came last evening for 3 hours again. He left this morning at 8 for Baltimore with the same ship. They are going on a shorter trip this time, they think. So you can continue writing to the Nishmaha.*

We have a lot of wooden souvenirs and I have a real pair of wooden Dutch shoes along with tiny ornamental ones. He brought a bottle of perfume from a barber in Belgium. But the souvenirs he is going to pass out when he has time [I assume to the rest of the family]. There is a wonderful ripper-knife he made for his own protection, and a silver knife with a (drawing of a swastika!) on it. He has some German insignia of very cheap metal, wings etc.

The tales he tells are these:

For 6 weeks he was under V bombing which brought bombs every twenty minutes or so. One evening they counted 148 bombs which they watch in the distance. They hear the purr of the [plane] motor. There is a time when — if the motor runs out at that minute the bomb will nose down and hit them. So they wait for the suspense minute [to pass] and then know it is for someone else.

But one time a bomb after passing over them made a figure 8 and came back twice more over the ship. The whole crew was dashing back and forth on the decks to duck it, and then it landed on the dock and blew that up.

They left one berth 10 minutes before the spot was bombed. They moved into another berth a half hour after a ship was sunk there.
In fact, 48 ships in his convoy across the channel was sunk and he has photos of some of them sinking.

Antwerp is much harder hit than London. One day he thought of going in a bakery as he passed it to get some cookies — then decided he shouldn’t eat their scarce food so went half a block to a barber shop. Before he got in the barber shot, the bakery was gone.

He attended a red cross club with a ship’s gunner one evening. They had a fine time and were going back the next night but Bob had a repair job to do that night so another engineer went with him. The engineer came back with the gunner’s bloody coat in a short time. The Club was hit that night. He said the engineer was still under nervous shock from it and the gunner is in the hospital over there now.

Yes. Bob has seen the war.

But his nerves are quite calm. He was jittery over there, but the voyage home was very calming. He has gained 5 lbs — or more and seems in excellent condition.

Oh — he told of a periscope coming up in the middle of the convoy — turning around and evidently seeing the predicament ducked out of sight but too late. The depth bombs were falling all around him.
Bob plans on getting engineering work ashore after the war. He has seen enough of the world for new and doesn’t want to spend his life at sea.

Well — local notes are
Spence & Bill were both married this month to California girls. However, they were so busy with their own affairs they did not attend each other’s weddings. Mrs. Spencer can’t imagine that.

The church people are pretending to be so dissappointed that I’m not coming back. Very nice. And the Boyles are thinking about boarding Duke because no one is going to be on Navy Lane this summer.
It’s pretty cold here. I’ve got a fire but Duke the Dope shivers anyhow.

Tell me about Davy and Jo [my brothers who were just babies then; I was not yet born.]

I couldn’t find a lot of info about the Nishmaha — just that it was built in 1919 and was used as a cargo ship in the Second World War. And this article in the New York Times about it being used to bring back POWs.

I knew nothing about the situation in Antwerp!

I especially love her acerbic comment about the church people. What had she done to offend them, I wonder!

Finally, I have no idea who the Boyles are or who poor Duke the Dope is. A dog, I’m assuming. One of my cousins may know.



  1. David MacEnulty on October 15, 2023 at 7:43 pm

    Wow! Mama mentioned that he dodged catastrophe a few times. Skipper’s phrasing of the stories in this simple, matter-of-fact way sandwiched between stories of dusting and the church and the dog is almost surreal.

    • Trish MacEnulty on October 16, 2023 at 8:28 am


  2. Cynthia Field on October 16, 2023 at 12:43 pm

    Both of my parents served in WWII. Mom was an Army nurse in northern India and my Dad was a navigator in the Army Air Force, based in England. Neither one spoke about the war itself although over time I came away with one or two stories.

    • Trish MacEnulty on October 16, 2023 at 1:05 pm

      Oh wow! I did not know Aunt Hilda served! Fascinating!

      • Roger Field on October 16, 2023 at 4:21 pm

        Cynthia’s parents were Dot and Norm Ross. Hilda and Bob, as you know, were mine. Hilda worked in the engineering department of a munitions manufacturer in Cardiff, Wales. The two of them met on a blind date when dad was in the Merchant Marines.

        • Trish MacEnulty on October 18, 2023 at 7:53 pm

          It’s all so fascinating.

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