Those Plucky Posties

This female postal delivery person is walking her route in the war torn London of 1940. Notice the bomb-damaged building on the left and what looks like a pile of rubble, or perhaps gravel for fixing the road, on the right. A wheel barrow is propped neatly against the wall in the background.

Beginning September 7, 1940, London was bombed during 56 of the next 57 days and nights, a rain of fire known as the Blitz. With a stiff upper lip, the British populace carried on, remarking on the bombardment as one would on the weather, saying whether or not a day was “very blitzy.”

While the post office did not welcome many women employees prior to World War II, the loss of male staffers to the armed forces opened many positions to women.

The advent of WWII also caused the U.S. Post Service to adjust its thinking about women delivering the mail. In 1944, Jeannette Lee became Chicago’s first female letter carrier, leading to today’s post office where women comprise 40% of the work force.

A World War II Wager

bettingIt’s such a small folded scrap of paper I’m surprised it has survived 70 years. I found it tucked among family photos and letters. Actually, I didn’t find it on my first rummage through the pile. It fell out of a stack of pictures I had set aside for scanning. When I pulled an image from the bag, out dropped the paper, as if through a crack in time.

It’s the marker for a bet, a wager made by U.S. Army Private Clarence E. Fisk on what date World War II would end. Fisk wasn’t feeling too optimistic when he scribbled the note. He promised to pay $50 only if it ended on or before April 14, 1947.

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dad in army023I assume he made the bet with my dad, Gunnar Lendroth, who also served in WWII. Fisk’s army records (LOVE the Internet) indicate that he enlisted on November 10, 1943. By that time, Dad had been posted to India where he worked in the photography corps. Was Clarence Fisk one of his army buddies? Or did this marker change hands in a floating game of craps, which Dad dearly loved to play?

I’ll never know, but perhaps the bet remained uncollected because everyone was so relieved that the fighting ended two years earlier than Fisk predicted. Or maybe Dad hung onto it just in case he ever again crossed paths with Clarence Fisk!

Film Friday: Steal a Pencil for Me

Steal a Pencil for MeSteal a Pencil for Me is a love story set in a time and place when love was in very short supply, and hope almost non-existent.

A documentary, the film tells the wonderful, stranger-than-fiction tale of Jaap (or Jack) Polak and Ina Soep, who met at a party in Amsterdam in 1943 and again in two different concentration camps.

Jaap described the first time he saw Ina, “I remember coming into the room and seeing a beautiful girl sitting there and thinking I wish I was married to that girl.” Except, he was married to Manja, who was flirting with other men at the party. Within months, all three were deported to Kamp Westerbork.

“I’m a very special Holocaust survivor,” said Jaap. “I was in the camps with my wife and my girlfriend; and believe me, it wasn’t easy.”

Steal a Pencil for Me 3The documentary details their lives in the camp as well as their growing romance. They held hands and walked in the dark between the barracks. They waited in dread for the weekly announcements of who was to be shipped from Westerbork, a “model” work camp, to the death camps further east. And they wrote letters to one another.

“Im writing with a pencil stub. Darling, try to steal a pencil for me somewhere.”

In February 1944, the Nazis sent Jaap and his wife to Bergen Belsen. Three months later, Ina arrived in the same camp. And somehow, through all the horror and all the death, Jaap’s and Ina’s love flourished.

It’s an amazing tale with a happy ending — Steal a Pencil for Me will steal your heart.

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Between the Leaves

wwiormskirk-6871487I’m sure there are organized people who always have a bookmark on hand when closing a book, but I’m not one of them. I grab bills or coupons or ticket stubs to slip between the pages, and if I still received letters, I’d probably grab those, too.   Continue Reading…

Mail for Sale

churchill2There’s a booming business in mail today—at least on the auction block. On sale this week are letters by both Winston Churchill and Ernest Hemingway, expected to fetch $25,000 to $50,000.

When Churchill resigned as Prime Minister in 1955, he wrote to John Harvey to explain why he was stepping down at age 81. It’s worth noting that Churchill retired as PM, not from British politics; he served as a member of Parliament for another nine years.   Continue reading…