To Bell

Dear Aunt Bell,

I'm sorry I was unable to write for so long, but the post stopped when the government evacuated everyone. Now the Yanks are here, and I hope they can get this through to you.

I wish that I could say all was well, but I fear things are far from it. The Nips arrived a month or so ago, and began building an airstrip not far from us. They left us alone at first, but one night a patrol arrived at the mission house. There was a fight, and both my dear Edward and the Reverend were killed. I would have surely been killed as well had the Yanks not arrived when they did. The Good Lord was surely watching out for me that night. There is so much more about it I wish to tell you, but it is still too difficult to write about it. Perhaps in time.

Please don't tell Mum, but I was injured - shot in the arm. You are no longer the only one who can claim such dubious distinction! Rest assured the Yanks have taken good care of me, and I am well recovered. I have been helping out as I can in their camp - translating and working in the hospital. The conditions are rough, but the people quite kind. I have made a few friends, who have helped me through. One of the blokes even has a couple of parrots that have befriended him and become our mascots.

I don't know what I shall do when this is all over, but for now I am needed here and so I shall remain.

Love always,

P.S. Send any return correspondence in care of Corpsman Binjamin Kappedal with the American Navy at Henderson Field. It will have a better chance of reaching me.

Dearest Annabelle,
It's understandable. War is a bane of the postal service at any time, it seems. I remember that much. I appreciate that it is here now, and that they were able to help you. I can only hope this gets back in turn.
I am saddened that the island has been invaded, and my heart goes out to you. No words may soothe the tears entirely, no matter how much ink I may use or how hard I may stare at the paper. But I am thankful you were saved. Write about it when you are ready to, although that won't stop this old bat from being a little worried. I think I'm allowed to do that, right? I wish I could come down there and help you, but I am mostly teaching medics these days more than full fledged doctors. It's quite a change. Reminds me of my days doing emergency work on the front. That, and they really don't send many ships for passengers out these days.
Oh dear. That's a tradition I was hoping wouldn't catch on. I suppose it's best we don't mention it to your mother, at least for now. I'm getting a few grey hairs for the both of us just in case. My heart is gladdened to hear they took good care of you and you've healed up. Especially so that you are making friends. And really? Parrots? How precious. Do they talk? I think I saw one of those at a circus once. Even at their aid station, be mindful, however. Though (unlike yours truly) you may not take up a weapon, there are still hazards. Metal is metal, regardless of its intent or target. But I've always known you to be wise and thoughtful, and so I feel silly simply putting such advise to paper.
It is funny, those words. Your mother and I asked ourselves that question once. We even spoke to the soldiers about it. We weren't really sure. Somehow, war brings a change to your heart you can never undo. I still cannot put my finger on it exactly. I'm not sure what to think to see history repeat itself, you doing just as your mother and I had done. Still, I am proud of you no matter what. I only offer this: No matter what, be true to yourself. Others will not live with the choices as much as you do. Mostly, never be ashamed of what you choose. After all, even what we see as normal now was strange once. I wish you well and will keep you in my prayers. Don't be ashamed to duck or take cover if instinct tells you. Instinct is God's little gift to us, even if it isn't always right and you look silly jumping. Blame a handy spider.
Your adoring aunt and slightly worn bat,

PS- If you need anything sent, please don't hesitate to ask. Rationing makes things a bit slow at times, though but we can manage something.

Dear Aunt Bell,

I was very happy to get your letter. The Nips seem determined not to give up this airfield. They send bombers after us nearly every day, which is quite a strain. Two of my friends were injured when bombs landed close to the aid station, but thankfully they've recovered. I pay careful attention to your advice and try to keep my head down. We're hearing gunfire in the distance now, so we must prepare the station for wounded. I'll write more later.

I haven't had the heart to finish this letter for a few days. My friend Vince was killed during a patrol. He was such a nice lad, always cheerful. He liked the natives very much, and I was teaching him a little of their language. He's sorely missed by everyone, and we've all taken to looking after his parrots.

I've also learned that the mission has been burned down. The Nips were hiding in it, and there was a fight there and a fire. I did not expect to return there for long after all this was over, but I suppose there was some comfort in knowing it was there waiting. I'm left with only the memories of our home and my life with Edward.

As dreary as this letter seems, I must assure you that things are not all bad here. I still spend some time among the natives, whom I've grown quite fond of. The lads here all look after me. It's like being in a camp with a great many brothers. One of them has even offered to teach me to use his camera. There are lighthearted moments, and I feel I am making a good contribution here.

It was kind of you to offer to send something. I hoped you might turn up some film for a model XYZ camera. Also it would be nice if you might send along something nice for Ben. He and Vince were best mates, and also with being wounded it's been rough for him. He's Jewish, so I think he doesn't eat chocolate, but perhaps you can find some suitable treat from home.

Love always,

Dearest Annabelle,

I am glad to hear my letter made it. And even more glad I've gotten another from you. That sounds a lot like the Turks and our front. They greeted us in the mornings and almost hourly with artillery, I think. It is hard to imagine bombs from planes, although it seems shrapnel never changes. Just keep yourself under cover when you hear the shots and artillery. It's about all you can do, when not tending to the wounded. They mostly keep us busy teaching medics more than doctors and surgeons these days. A part of me wishes I could go out there and help you. Somehow, I doubt I'm as spry as I was and that Philip would handle it well. I imagine the fresh, young medics are more useful than one old doctor.
I am very saddened to hear this. It's hard losing the cheerful ones who grow close to you. I imagine his parrots appreciate it. They tend to form flocks for life. You have my sympathies, for all that they mean. It's a memory all too familiar, I think. How sad how much and how little changes from war to war.
They did!? I'm sorry. I suspect I am old fashioned when I worry that someone as young and kind as you suffers so. It doesn't really seem fair. If it would help, I will send the few photos we have, although there's not many. I'm not sure if that is a help or making it worse. That is me being an old bat. You are always welcome at the manor, though - whenever you need it. It's not as if I use all of the rooms.
I am glad there are some bright spots. And oh? That's wonderful. Photography seems to be the new thing. You'll have to show us your pictures. I imagine they will be lovely. And I have no doubt that you are. You're a kind young woman with a good head on your shoulders. That's worth more than gold anywhere and don't forget that.
As far as sending something, I have sent a bit of film - although there are lots of postal limits. For Ben, all we found were some honey and apples. I'm not really a fan of apples, so it's nothing to take it out of the rations. That, and I suspect they will survive shipping far better than bread or something along those lines. As for anything else, I've sent along one light dress. It's all I can send for a good while. They limit the things we can buy and send a great deal. But it's made of cotton, like we wore in Gallipoli to help deal with the heat. It isn't really beautiful or glamorous, but I'd be very sad if you cooked for want of a good dress. It's light, so it should make it through. Failing that, I'll chase the postmaster down there. I don't think I'm flexible enough to stow away anymore, so this dress will have to do. Please be safe out there. I'm keeping up with grey hairs enough for your mother and I both. At least we're safe on that front. Though it's more silver than grey. It still counts.

Love always,
Your Aunt Bell.

Dear Aunt Bell,

Thank you so much for your letter and package. The dress is perfect for the weather here, and it is a relief to have something other than this borrowed uniform to wear. I save it for when I am not working, though, since I should hate to see it ruined. Ben enjoyed the apples and honey as well.

Thank you also for the film. I have not had much chance to put it to use, but hopefully will soon. Here is a photo one of the lads took of me and Vince's parrots. I'm sure you will find it amusing. The one picking at my hair is Elly, the other Frank. They are both quite dear. I appreciate you offering to send some photos back, but I fear that something would happen to them here. Best you hold onto them for safekeeping. I have one photo of Edward here, and that is enough to carry me through.

Do not doubt that you are doing a valuable service by teaching the new medics. They are indispensable here, and I've seen them save a good many lives. I am glad that you are safe at home, though I did hear from one of the pilots about the Japanese submarines at Sydney some weeks ago. How awful. I pray that the war never comes closer to home.

It's hard to imagine you and mum off at war. I can understand now why you rarely speak of it. It is such a horrible business. It makes me sad to think that you must have lost friends in the last war as well.

I've been sick the past few days, taken ill with malaria. The doctor says it is not bad at all, and I will be fine. At this moment, though, I feel rather awful, and downhearted. Being so idle gives me too much time to think, and I feel so useless and helpless just lying here.

When the air raid siren goes off, or the sound of fighting grows near, I am so frightened. Not of dying. Death does not scare me, for I know that I would go to Heaven, and be in good company with papa, Edward, and the other good people we've lost. What frightens me is the suffering I see here every day. The men who are not dead, but ruined - physically and mentally. It is too horrible to contemplate, and yet my idle mind keeps drifting back to it.

I console myself by thinking that this awful war cannot last forever. When this is over, I look forward to coming to see you and Uncle Philip at the manor. Until then, be well.

Love always,

Dearest Annabelle,

I am glad to hear that. The hot weather can be difficult and men have a habit of wearing heavy things. Don't fret too much over it. Just be sure to keep yourself from passing out in that heat. I am glad the apples and honey went over well. I hope you enjoyed a little too. Wartime food is rarely the best, I remember that.

It's good it made you safely. The picture made me smile. You look adorable with those birds. Your smile warms our hearts. They are precious animals and it makes me happy you've some to keep you company. We will keep your pictures safe until you can come by. They are tucked away in storage and I suspect unless we go on a rampage or Australia sinks, they are nice and safe.

I appreciate that. Although, a part of me misses that sort of medicine. I wasn't too bad at surgery and I liked working hard. But I think I'm a bit old for the front now. I could tell the Japanese to get off my lawn and back in my day… but I'm a bit shocked they submarines came so near Sydney. It is a bit troubling. Our manor is safely inland though, for now.

It is hard to imagine the days before the war. It changes a part of you you can never undo. I am saddened that you must go through it too, and I suspect people have gotten better at it. The Great War was so clumsy, so little progress with so many losses. Not that being better at it is a good thing. I lost friends. Though, there were not many women out on the front. There were many nurses I grew to care for. Over the years, we fall away. I feel as if my sun is setting. Their memories fading. How many sunsets were lost for those who fell. The depression that consumed so many after. It is hard to talk about or write about, but if you've questions, I will answer them as honestly as I can. I couldn't say no to you, unless you were doing something dangerous. And I do not wish to depress you. I suppose one good thing came out of that war. Many women got to leave home, travel, take up jobs and do things normally off limits to them. How times have changed! But I am glad, they are changing for the better. Strange that there used to be only a handful of us as doctors. Limited numbers of teachers and phone operators did not even exist.
I can understand being frustrated while helpless. We saw it so often in the trenches. But you are never useless, my little Anna, because even if we cannot work we are still someone's friend. To someone, you are encouragement. At least, I remember how bright your smile is.

It is a strange paradox, isn't it? I always thought the war was like a bad dream. Too strange and awful to believe, but there it is in your face. With all its strange complexities, dilemmas and mingling personalities. From what I hear, the Japanese fight a lot differently than the Turks ever did. It is hard to see the ruined ones. I remember that too, and will pray it does not linger on your mind. You've a kind heart, so I'm sure it's especially hard. But hang in there. You are a bright light in the fog and madness. And it is true. No war can last forever. People will grow tired, though I hope it is over long before the whole world is tired. I would love to have you by and will keep your room clean. We'll send things as we can. I know fresh food is bound to be scarce and I'd swim over there before you got scurvy or suffered from anything like that with a basket of fruit.

You are always in our hearts, and I look forward to seeing you once more. Now I know why so many wish they could be young again. I am not sure I'm ready to be closing in on 60 years old. Maybe if I stop counting birthdays you think? Or start counting backwards…

Lovingly yours,
Aunt Bell.

Dear Aunt Bell,

It always cheers me to hear from you. I am glad that you are well, and I trust Uncle Philip is also. I have recovered from the malaria, and you needn't worry about me not having enough to eat. The Yank food may not be great, but there is plenty, and some fruit and fish from the island as well.

So much has happened in the past few weeks. I will start with the easiest first. Doctor Fredricks found a book on the Gallipoli campaign - <title here>. There was a picture from the evacuation in it. You, Mum and Mr. Colson were there with a number of other people. You were all so young then! I was struck by how sad Mum looked. I suppose it must have been very hard to leave there, after fighting so hard. I'm sure I'd feel the same if the Yanks left off here. You're mentioned in the passage as well. The lads here were quite impressed that you had been at the front - and a doctor, no less. It makes me proud.

While I was sick, one of the lads came to visit me quite a lot. His name's Ryan Fischer, though everyone calls him Fish. He's the one with the camera, and he's such an amazing fellow, so sweet and kind and handsome. I have fallen quite madly in love with him, and he back. It must seem sudden, I know, but I have learned to trust my heart. I hope that you will meet him someday, for I know that you would like him.

I worry so much for him, though. The other night he was shot rather badly, and talked about wanting me to go on and be happy should something happen to him. It was at once sweet and heartbreaking. I try to remind myself that it's in God's hands, and all I can do is enjoy what time we have and pray that it lasts a good long while. But I find that to be a small comfort. It must have been so awful for you, worrying after Uncle Philip for all those years during the war. However did you carry on?

The last thing is the most awful and difficult. I've killed a man. It is so strange to see that written there, so starkly. It still seems terribly unreal. Fish and I ran into a pair of Nip scouts, who had somehow gotten through the lines. One of them came after me, and I hit him with a machete. I know there was no choice - they'd have killed us both without a thought. It still makes me sick inside to think on it. I can only hope this awful feeling gets better in time.

I hate to close on such a grim note, but I'm afraid 'tis where my heart is today. I do so wish you were here. Much I'd give for one of our quiet talks by the fire at the manor. Love always,

Dearest Annabelle,

And I am glad to hear from you as well. It means you are safe for a time there. We are both well, tending our garden and teaching young medics. How things progress. We have so many more female nurses. I am glad that you have enough to eat and that you are well. If you are short things, we will try to send what we can. Though, I suspect that despite technology and time, the mail is still terribly unreliable. Some things are eternal. I bet centuries for now people will still rue the mail…

Oh? I was only about 29 when I went to Gallipoli. I suspect I should have stopped counting at 21. I'm getting silver hair now. We were all sad. So many lads thrown away and we had slink out. But I suppose one side cannot win every battle or the war would not have lasted as long as it did. I'm flattered they mentioned me! You have no idea how many times I was mistaken for a nurse or someone thought I was putting on a costume. Nurses are very hard workers though, and I hope the Yanks treat you and all of them with respect. And I am certainly happy you are proud of me. It warms my old heart. I think I've had a good time of it being a doctor.

Did you now? I'm happy for you! I imagine I will if you approve of him. I honestly confessed my feelings for Philip as we were leaving Gallipoli. But it still pained me to see him wounded over and over. I honestly am not sure how I did. I simply did what I could to care for the others and watched over him as I could. He was always in my prayers. He seems like a good fellow, and you have our blessings.

It is a normal reason if that is of any comfort. From the story you gave me here, I think you were justified in protecting yourself. God and I, I think we can agree, that you are a good person even after having to fight for yourself. Don't let anyone try to tell you otherwise. You will overcome the stress in time, though I suspect the guilt may never go away entirely. There are many things in life that feel that way. What determines character and inner strength is if you lay down or carry on. You will be fine. You're a kind, healthy young woman with a lot ahead of you. For what it is worth, I suspect I played a part in a soldier getting picked off by a sniper. I smiled and greeted him in the trenches. He waved back at me. The waving attracted a sniper… they got him neatly. It haunts me still. He was such a sweetheart. But the point is - it is a sad fact of war. You are safe and that is what matters. If you need /anything/, please do not hesitate to write. Philip and I are here for you and love you dearly, as do your family.

And from the tone of this letter, I dearly wish I could go out there as well to you. But I doubt they want an old lady doctor out there and I doubt even more many passenger ships go that way. Can't swim nearly as far as I used to either. We will keep the fireplace clean and ready for when you do come home though. You're always in our thoughts and I've sent along some fruit and honey for you. Stay healthy and safe out there.

Lovingly yours,
Old Aunt Bell (Old already? God, I should have stopped counting!)

Dear Aunt Bell,

I find myself in far better spirits than when last I wrote, despite a brush with artillery that was alarmingly close. (Rest assured I am all right, but it was a near thing and I have resolved to be more careful in the future.) I was touched and overwhelmed that a number of the lads were quick to rush out into the barrage to help me. It is such a blessing to be surrounded by such dear, brave mates. They do their best to look after me.

It saddens me to hear about your experiences in the war, especially that poor lad got by the sniper. Having read about it more now, and seeing this war myself, gives me greater respect for what you, Mum, Da, and Uncle Philip must have gone through. I understand why everyone so rarely speaks of it.

Ryan lends me his camera when he's out on watch or patrol, so I've been taking more photos. I've found I quite enjoy it, and I hope to keep it up after the war. (Some more film would not go amiss, but I know rationing is tight, so no worries.)

I've included a few photos I've taken, and one that someone took of me and some mates. Ryan's the big bloke on the left, then Dr. Fredricks and Ben. The parrot is Elly. She's my favorite, and I hope to bring her home with me when all this is finished. I'd be much obliged if you could send the photos on to Mum when you've finished. We have limited supplies to make copies.

Best news for last this time: Ryan and I have gotten engaged! I know that many disapprove, with Edward so soon gone, but I try not to care. Ryan makes me happier than I can say, and I've never been more sure of anything. If he's going to be transferred elsewhere, we plan to be married before we are parted. I hope he will get some leave first, for I'd very much like you to be there.

I miss you all terribly and hope very much to see you soon. Love always,

Dear Annabelle,

I am glad to hear that you are in better spirits. Artillery has a nasty way of doing that. I do not think you're aware of how much you touch the people around you. Good hearts are hard to find in this mess and I am sure they are glad to look after you as you look after them. While I do worry about you, as nurses were hurt in the first Great War by artillery (Shame how little things change I suppose), I know you're wise enough to take cover.
I do not mean to dampen your spirits with my experiences, though it always puzzles me how I see one sun set and another rise. Never honestly thought about it before. I realize the best I can do for you is to listen, when you wish to speak of your own experiences and I am always glad to. Uncle Philip was hit much harder than me I think. And that lad will never leave my memory, I don't think - unless I have lost so much memory that I am no longer myself. Only speak of it or write if you feel comfortable doing so, others may not understand how much it changes you and you're not selfish if you don't want to share it.
Photography is a fine hobby! Some of the girls got pictures of themselves taken, although I don't suppose you use the same cameras. I am glad you enjoy it. We'll try to send what film we can.
They are lovely photos. And that tall fellow; is that him? Tall fellow. Elly has a sweet face. I hope you can take her home with you as well. Can they talk? I've heard some birds could, but I've never seen it in person. I have sent the photos on to your mother.
Congratulations! And I understand. I imagine though, that people don't understand themselves since they haven't walked in your shoes. If you are happy for it, that is what matters most in the end. I'm hardly one to disapprove of someone's actions in love after all. I wonder what we should get you for your wedding then? I would be honored to be a guest at your wedding, but I also understand that circumstances are strange these days. I wish you both nothing but the best, wherever you may marry.

We miss you very much and look forward to your visits. They keep me fairly busy these days, although not so busy that I cannot pause and worry (and think of you!) a moment here and there. Be safe out there.

With love,
Aunt Bell.

Dear Aunt Bell,

Ryan and I were married just over a week ago, so I write to you now as Mrs. Annabelle Fischer. It still seems like a happy dream that I've no wish to wake up from. The ceremony was small, as we did not want a big spectacle - just the pair of us and a few mates. It was a beautiful evening on the beach. I've sent along some photos for you to keep (thanks for the film, by the way). I wish you could have been there, but we wanted to do it while we were able. Heaven knows where the war might take us. It is such a comfort to know that whatever happens, we'll have had this time together and will leave here as man and wife.

Still it does not keep me from worrying dreadfully for him. I'm sorry to have caused you so many new gray hairs as well. We had a brief respite from the fighting, and it was such a relief to be spared the daily bombings and influx of mangled lads. We're back in the thick of it now, alas, as the Yanks try to drive the Nips off the island for good.

Do not think that you've dampened my spirits with your tales. On the contrary, it is a comfort to have someone who understands how awful this can all be. Not all awful, though. There are light times, like hunting for shells along the beach or enjoying some local fish or fruit - the district officer even turned up some ice cream, of all things. It was delightful. And I count myself lucky that I can be here with my new husband, not worrying after him from a thousand miles away. For all the trials, that alone is worth it.

To answer your other questions - yes, Ryan is the tall bloke in the photos, and Elly can say a number of words. She actually knows a few in German and Yiddish as well thanks to Ryan and Ben. She's quite a talented parrot, and a dear. Be well, and I hope to see you soon.

Love always,

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