[page last updated 14 May 2015]
MEMOIRS - Excerpts from Letters written by Sapper Frank Wolfe [aka Trotzky] to his father Frank M. Wolfe
The letters are transcribed here by kind permission of C.Wolfe, copyright holders are Sapper Wolfe's family.
They give a vivid insight of his early days in the Royal Engineers, based at Pinefield Camp near Elgin, Scotland and then joining the Parachute Squadron.
12 May 1943
Just arrived at Elgin and I am wondering whether I like the place, they appear very strict and the camp is off the beaten track and seems to be very quaint in its idea of toilet arrangements. There are no baths and it will be unfortunate for me unless I can manage to find somewhere to bathe.
Also we sleep on the floor
The air is very fresh and the camp is only 4ÃƒÆ’Ã†â€™ÃƒÂ¢€Ã…Â¡ÃƒÆ’Ã¢€Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â½ miles from the sea so it is healthy place and will probbly be a good place as regards my wellbeing
In haste Dad ~ Will write more fully tomorrow
SAPPER F WOLFE 14422902
"D" COMPANY 667 PARTY
6 TBRE PINEFIELD CAMP
17 May 1943
I am writing this in bed Friday night after a few hours in Elgin. The town is small and there isn't much to do in it except eat; but the countryside is pretty and the town itself isn't without attraction.
We have finished the preliminarys and are now ready to start training ~ the training here is certainly tough and the old sweats are pretty desperate to get away ~
They work at night every now and again ~ bridge building and mine clearing, the discipline is very strict but as far as I can tell if one does as one is told and keep out of the limelight you can generally avoid trouble.
The food isn't bad, but it certainly isn't good and although you have enough to eat the first course is usually the last I eat, or rather the only I eat.
The camp itself is situated outside Elgin and is very well laid out and in a very pretty country ~ the only complaint I have is the toilet question ~ we are only allowed one bath a week and this will prove unfortunate for me unless I have a word with the MO (he could probably arrange for me to have more.)
The huts are comfortable and very roomy ~ this is because we sleep on the floor thus eliminating the man in the top bunk ? there is also a rather weak wireless.
I hope the dogs are a little better for you this week ~ there are no tracks up here at all ~ in fact its rather a blank day on Sunday- they must be religious I suppose.
I'll close now as the lights out has just been rung ...
SPR WOLFE 14422902
'D' COMPANY 6TBRE (No.6 Training Battalion Royal Engineers)
2 July 1943
I have had no reply to my last letters and am beginning to wonder if anything is amiss, I tried to get through last night (Thursday) but after waiting half an hour I had to return to the camp in order to get in by midnight, please write!
Everything is fine up here, the good weather we are enjoying at the moment helps us in our training and our training is very interesting indeed, we have had everthing crammed down at us in an indigestible hurry but I manage to keep my flag flying so what the hell!
We are now having a course of mine-laying and mine-clearing and what I don't know about mines isn't worth a fag paper, I can make safe any German or Italian mine and if they don't finish before I get there, the war will (practically) be over. The food is up to the same low standard but we are all very much comforted by the thought that it can't get any lower and so it doesn't worry us too much.
I still enjoy myself at every opportunity and yet I continue to be the same sweet lad ~ no smoking ~ no drinking and I've never felt better in my life (pimples worse) ~ next Wed night I represent Pinefield in the 100yds and 220 yds at the Sports for War Weapons (Elgin FC) but I'm very much afraid I won't be up to the standard of some of these entrants so don't be disappointed. I will however try my best and should I manage to get in third I'll probably be able to send you a paper clipping with my name on. Excited?
I get home Aug 5th so have your best suit on and black your boots ~ I'm looking forward to it so very much, I never knew how much I would miss you all.
Please write Dad
8 July 1943
I was very pleased to hear from you ~ it has been nearly a fortnight since you have written and I was wondering if anything was wrong.
I received the money in good condition and am very grateful indeed, mother says she is getting ÃƒÆ’Ã†â€™ÃƒÂ¢€Ã…Â¡ÃƒÆ’Ã¢€Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â£1.19.1 each week from the Railway and so she is putting it away (less a ÃƒÆ’Ã†â€™ÃƒÂ¢€Ã…Â¡ÃƒÆ’Ã¢€Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â£1 for herself) until I get back, this should provide me with quite a tidy sum by the time this lot is over, I'm afraid I shall have to stay in the army for a long time.
Mother says I have to pay ÃƒÆ’Ã†â€™ÃƒÂ¢€Ã…Â¡ÃƒÆ’Ã¢€Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â£13.16.0 for income tax (you know about it) if they are assessing on my railway money alone this amount is about 6 or 7 quid too much but I imagine you take the view that it is better for them to deduct what they want and so forget the money you put down, even if they do catch up ~ the money they have deducted will go towards it. I leave everything of that sort to you with the gentle hint that I've discovered the authorties are very lax when the debtor is in the Army so anything you ************
I had a grand experience last night and ran really well in spite of having had a five mile forced march just previously. The class was obviously too good for me ~ Bates (10 second man) was there, he won the 100 yds in 10.2 seconds and also the 220 yds (late entrant) and best of all Cameron ~ the Scottish Mile Champion ~ he won the 1/2 and the mile and they tell me he ran 2nd to Wooderson at Glasgow. I enclose the programme and you will see I took part in the 100 yds and 220.
In the 100yds heat I ran 3rd and the winner recorded 10.4 seconds
In the 220 (my right distance) I finished 5th and was very satisfied indeed to have some good lads behind me (the winner Oates won by 11 yds)
Altogether ~ I did well.
The food in camp is very bad indeed and on two occasions lately there has been a little trouble ~ there is a taining centre for cooks up here (in camp) and I imagine we enjoy their products. After my spending leave I will have instructions as to my future, my training is nearly completed and it is now a case of revision and then tests and examination, at the moment we are in the boats ~ assault and bridging.
Seriously Dad, if all the lads have enjoyed as full a training as we have then Hitler has no chance.
I would like to see the second front start just a wee while before I finish training, I don't fancy the lads who will have to go first it'll be a hell of a job. I am though beginning to wonder what Russia is thinking !
I note you have sent me a parcel and I shall be very pleased to get it, you're a good sort of Dad, I'd like to hear you on the phone but I don't get through, its a pity as its cheap between 5.30 and 7.30PM
I was very sorry to read that you had lost ÃƒÆ’Ã†â€™ÃƒÂ¢€Ã…Â¡ÃƒÆ’Ã¢€Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â£100 on the dogs, its about 6000 suppers in the Naafi~ what a waste: its no good my advising you to lay off but if you were up here you'd have a hell of a job to get rid of that except by buying the town up.
The question of food I have partly solved, I get in camp by 5 o'clock (if possible) and I'm ready to slip out by 5.20 then I make my way to Batchen St in Elgin and have a meal at the George Restaurant, and what food.
Regularly, each Sat and Tues afternoon they provide a meal of bacon-sausage-egg (real) and chips- scones and jam and as many cakes as I can manage ~ other days they manage to provide something equally delightful ~ fish etc.
Friday and Saturday are usually half days for us and during that period you'll be able to find me residing at the George, there are two other good places Austin's and Murray's but I usually favour the George............
Notes: The Sporting Games held at Borough Briggs, Elgin were part of a Nationwide program of events to mark 'Holidays at Home' week. Borough Briggs is the home ground of Elgin Football Club.
Circa early August 1943
I am rolling on with the tide and it certainly is a big 'un' ~ today has been full of toil and we finished at 6.0pm after a very hectic day.
Here it is-and at the double too ~
6.0am RISE & SHINE
6.45 PARADE AND MARCH
7.30 BREAKFAST (PORRIDGE & BACON & FRIED SPUDS) (BREAD & TEA)
8-10 AGILITY EXERCISES
12-1 DINNER ~ PUDDING ~ HOT DINNER BREAD
2-2.45 RIFLE & BREN GUN PRACTICE
2.45-3.15 RIFLE INSTRUCTION
3.30-4.30 PHYSICAL TRAINING
4.40- TEA (BREAD & FRIED CHEESE) TEA (CAKE)
SUPPER ~ STEW & BREAD
So you see Dad I have a very tough time keeping my wind and as each day goes on the details get increasingly difficult (assault course etc and manoeuvres)
The food is wonderful and I still think they are feeding us up for the coming trials - but except for a certain amount of red tape it is a very agreeable life.
I hope you are well Dad and when you write just let me know how you go on at the dogs and whether Beefy breaks the track record or not ~ I broke out on my first Saturday, to Preston dogs and won a quid or two and missed the last three races and got back before they missed me. It's a nice little track but nowhere near as grandiose as Nott'm. The best dogs here do 32.00 for 525 yrds so our worst could come up here and make news.
Tuesday ~ what a day drilling, marching, drilling and more marching ~ it gets just a little exhausting but still they feed us well so I can't grumble.
Everything is done to time and we even parade to meals ~ today by the way I had to have a compulsory bath ~ we are forced to have one each week ~ a public one at that. Such moments which occur are embarassing to me as my back is very unsightly and the other lads keep clear thinking no doubt it may be infectious ~ but this is the only thing that mars an otherwise agreeable life ~ unfortunately such times occur most days ~ still it can't be helped and I must bear them and curb my tending to sensitiveness ~ Just had tea ~ sausage, mash, tea and bread butter and jam. I am ready for each meal so if they serve it below restaurant standard I still enjoy it.
My address: PTE Wolfe 14422902
(possibly: 8 March 1944) - BULFORD CAMP- WILTSHIRE
Today I had a day I shall always remember ~ the first inclination I had was being told to blanco my belt and gaiters yesterday evening (along with the rest of the squadron) and we paraded first thing with the dejected feeling that we were in for a real 'bullshit'.
We made our way to the dropping zone for the big 'do' and were told when we arrived that we were going to be inspected by General Montgomery ~ you can imagine even in your rather prosaically indifferent attitude towards the war lords, that we were excited.
There was no red tape when he arrived!, we just made a gap in the ranks to allow him to walk through and that completed he walked back to the jeep car and made a motion for us to gather around him. He was a hundred yards of more away from us and although I was in the back rank I was well in front at the death and sat at his feet and had a really good look at him.
He is a small wiry man with a rather careworn air which is enlivened by brief flashes of military humour, he looks old and his face is wrinkled and worried but his whole appearance is merely a background for his eyes.
They are like small glazed marbles of grey and green and somehow even before he spoke I knew he was a great man ~ at least he has Sapper Wolfe's complete confidence ~ I know what you're thinking you cold blooded b****** but Dad he really is a big man and with five million men in the palm of his hand he must shoulder more than anyone, and at least he can turn me into a dead duck!
I got the three quid Dad ~ thanks ~ thanks a lot, ~ I hope I'm wrong but I think its possible you're getting in a tangle again and I'd sooner anything happen than that ~ look after yourself Dad
Maybe home at week-end.
19 March 1944
I'm writing this on Sunday as I don't suppose I'll be able to phone up for a few days ~ we're going on a scheme until the end of the week.
We had a bit of excitement here yesterday ~ I saw a crowd of blokes staring up at the sky and on looking up I saw a poor devil hanging by his webbing from the plane ~ apparently he'd fitted his chute wrongly and had been jerked to a postition fifteen feet below the plane. We all watched the plane circle round and round for an hour or more and we pitied the crew ~ they must have puzzled a lot as it would no doubt be impossible for them to pull him in, at the finish, they solved the problem by taking him out over Poole Harbour and cutting him loose. He won't be much good now I don't suppose ~ although he is alive.
I hope you had a good day at the dogs on Saturday ~ I'm fearing the worst and assume you did go ! ~ After last weeks bother I wouldn't have ever visited them again but I'm afraid you do seem to have them well in your blood and its too much to hope that you've packed them up.
Forgive scribble as I'm writing on my knee and that doesn't improve my style at all, as a matter of fact I've developed quite a hand and sometime I'll write to you and you'll be complimenting me, - well Dad I'll close now with the hope that you're in good health - you seemed pretty well when I saw you !
Note: This incident made the news in several newspapers across the UK. As you can see from the article on the right, the paratrooper did not survive.
Lt. John Alexander Daniel Williams of the 83rd Field Regt. Royal Artillery, was buried in his family grave plot at St Columbecille, Durrow near Tullamore, Ireland.
[Click on image on right to see full size view.]
27 Apr 1944
You can see from the other side where I am, I come out on Saturday, will ring up early morning about eight, leading a quiet life I hope !
P.A. Same address
Am still smiling ~ it was worth it, the other two lads were punished more than I for some reason or other.
Note: this note was hand written on the back of Squadron standing orders for 27 April 1944.
5 June 1944
Spr F Wolfe 14422902
591 Parachute Sqdn RE
I'm allowed to tell you that I'm off, keep your fingers crossed and I'll be back ~ I have a fighting chance ~ I'm satisfied that every effort has been made on our [ behalf (?)]
I know I'll do what's expected of me ~ I'd like you to know that.
You've been the best of Pops and I think of as much of you as I do of myself and that's saying a lot.
Keep things going till I return Dad.
I go ~ I come back ~ I hope
Note: Trotz (Spr Wolfe) was killed early on the morning of 6th June 1944 at the ChÃƒÆ’Ã†â€™Ãƒâ€ Ã¢€â„¢ÃƒÆ’Ã¢€Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¢teau
de Grangues while held as a Prisoner Of War. The enquiry in to his death and that of his colleagues killed in the same incident can be found of the Grangues Enquiry Pages. (Click)
9 July 1945 Letter sent to Spr Wolfe's father Frank Merchant Wolfe:
With reference to your letter of the 28th May, 1945, regarding your son, No.14422902 Sapper F Wolfe, Royal Engineers, I am directed to inform you, with much regret, that in view of reports received from the few survivors of the aircraft in which your son was travelling it is greatly feared that hope of your son's survival must be regarded as extremely remote.
Further investigations are, however, being made and a reply is awaited to an enquiry made of a liberated prisoner of war. In the meantime Sapper Wolfe will remain posted as missing.
I am to convey to you an expression of sympathy in the distress which this letter must necessarily cause you, and to assure you that your wife (your son's recorded next-of-kin) will be informed of all developments.
I am, Sir
Your Obedient Servant
A S Cleary
12 July 1944 letter from Frank Merchant Wolfe to Major GF Davidson:
591 Parachute Sqdn, R.E.
Your letter to my wife Mrs Elsie G Wolfe of 21 Herbert Street, Nottingham having reference to Frank Wolfe Sapper No.14422902 (my son) has reached me.
He wrote to me June 5th
"I am allowed to tell you that I am off. I have a fighting chance. I am satisfied that every effort has been made on our behalf and I'll know I'll do what's expected of me. I'd like you to know that"
Well he may get back or be a prisoner or otherwise. He was a good lad and I am proud of him. He asked Sir Federick Sykes to get him from the railway to the army.
In the midst of all your duties you were good enough to send a personal message to the parent of one of your men. It has given her great hope that the art of consolation is not altogether lost.
To me, Sir, I am greatful to know that he was under you and do hope he was able to do what was required of him
Both I and my wife
Sapper Wolfe's father ran in to financial difficulties in 1947. His trouble with finances are alluded to in the letters Frank Jnr. sent to his father.
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