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Mamie Porritt: rumors of war

April 4, 1940 -- Mr. Pawley arrives next Monday. He seems to be bringing a thundering herd with him. A new engineer by the name of McCarthy [later spelled McCarty] is coming. I remember meeting him in Shanghai in 1936. He is the man that built the Pacific and Atlantic Clippers. He must have plenty on the ball. Mr. Mathews is coming. He is the accountant form the New York office and I had lunch with him when I was in New York last year. George Arnold is coming out... A metallurgist is also in the party. One new man arrived Monday who has the high sounding title of "production engineer". Dr. [George] Sellett is also coming....

Monday Morning. Things happen fast around this place. Saturday night a cable came in saying Mr. Pawley was bringing Olga Smith and Phyllis Steagals with him and to furnish a house for the three of us [women]. Like a bolt out of the blue it came as I had just got my room all nicely fixed up. Walter [Sobol] and all the boys jumped to early Sunday morning and with Betty's and Gertrude's help we moved me down to Murph's house.... Chuck says he has got a feeling he is going to be fired before the day is over. It will be a sad day for Bill Pawley and Central Aircraft if that happens. Bill is bringing out George Arnold and all the men despise the sight of him.... It is a shame, these boys have come out here and roughed it for over a year and got things going and now Bill brings out a lot of super executives to ride over them. If it were not for his money, his own brothers wouldn't stick to him. Instead of binding these heroes to him forever, he goes ahead and throws vinegar on them. He will probably give them all a check and then consider that he has been magnanimous. But they are all waiting for him. If he makes one squawk he is going to be without the men who really do the work. Aviation industry in America is thriving to such an extent now that they could all walk into good jobs back home. And if he makes one dirty crack at me, he is going to bring in another secretary.... I suppose Dr. Sellett will be the one to pour oil on the troubled waters. But as much as I think of him I hope he doesn't stick around long.

April 18, 1940 -- Tuesday Mr. Pawley, Ed Pawley, Dr. Sellett and Prof Dickinson left. It broke our heart to see Prof Dickinson leave but he has promised to come back as soon as he can see to things in Chengtu. Dr. Sellett was very cordial and affable and Ed was all right this time. Mr. [Bill] Pawley has apparently grown richer and more prosperous and somehow or other he doesn't seem as he did in the old Shanghai days. I think perhaps I remind him of those days and he rather resents it, although he was quite nice, was much concerned that I had been so ill and how I liked it here. I still haven't got my salary fixed.... Doc is leaving in three weeks to be away six months. I doubt if he comes back.... Chuck is general manager while Doc is away and I am to do his [Chuck Hunter's] work. Of course I like that.... McCarty, the famous engineer, is very nice, has a charming manner and is very friendly. I don't know how Bill ever got him away from Martin. He was their chief engineer. No one can understand it. He perhaps wanted the experience in a foreign country.

May 10 1940 -- Wallace is very subdued since Mr. Pawley's arrival. Apparently Bill is venting his spleen on the poor boy. I rather imagine the night that Bill leaves Wallace is going to get howling drunk -- and I don't much blame him. Of course, I suppose Bill is thinking about that US $10,000 he had to cough up to keep him out of jail in Rangoon.

May 18, 1940 -- Today at lunch we had quite a lot of excitement The CNAC plane came in unexpectedly and was over the field before we knew anything about it. A Hawk III was in the middle of the runway and there was great excitement amongst the lot of us for fear the pilot would come down and not see it. Fortunately just before he landed some coolies on the runway had enough sense to taxi it over to one side. We brought the passengers up to the Club House for sandwiches and drinks and they were all exclaiming over the Club House and the beauty of Loiwing....

I won't mention the war. I am too worried about you all to even form any idea. There seems to be little left to hope for. After all England has been a great power for 300 years and there is no reason to expect, in the light of history, why she should not decline, but oh what a sad sad case of what might have been. The Chinese are giving the noble Japs a run for their money. Last night's radio said the Chinese are in striking distance of Hankow. I suppose now that Germany is walking away with things, our noble allies, the Japs and Wops will come in on her side, exactly as they did the last time on our side. If and when it is over and England should survive I wish the statemen who write the peace terms would remember that charity begins at home, and that hands across the sea is a beautiful little bit of sentiment, but it won't work with gangsters and outlaws and cut-throats.

May 25, 1940 -- Another week gone by. It must have been an anxious one for you all. You are ever in my thought these days. Do take good care and try to get all the food you can laid by. Methinks you are going to need it before this war is over. We only have the radio news and much of the time the interference is so bad we miss the vital part. It is a case of hope for the best. When will this crazy world settle down. Not in our life time, I very much fear me.

Mr. Pawley has been in Rangoon this week and we have had things a little easier, although I've earned my corn all right. Matty [Mathews?], Chuck and Doc manage to keep me on my toes most of the time. When Mr. Pawley is here my most difficult task is sending and receiving cables. Thank heavens we don't have to code them, or I should be crazy. Keeping track of receipts and replies is a full time job....

Mr. Pawley is due back today. He is driving the station wagon from Lashio and he is going to have some idea of what things out here are like. It is 150 miles and usually takes 6 to 7 hours to make the trip. With the heavy rains it will probably take him all day and I know he will be a grand humor when he reaches here tonight. Chuck and Doc are thoroughly delighted that he is going to get a taste of what they went through during the rains last year. I am going to have some definite news for you about my salary by the time I write you next week....

June 1, 1940 -- Mr. Pawley has gone back to Chungking and we are hoping for a peaceful week. He is leaving for the States soon. He has several big deals on and goodness knows what will be the outcome. He got a wire late Wednesday asking him to go to Lashio as the CNAC plane had a sick engine. He rode all night and got to Lashio at 5:30. There were six of our people on the plane and he persuaded Royal Leonard to fly the plane on to Loiwing, although it had been pouring rain for a week and the runway was a lake. Chuck and Doc were scared for it to be done and after we left the office we said well we stopped that plan all right. Went up to the Club House and were sitting having a beer when we heard a plane, looked out and there was the DC-2. We all jumped into the car and went rushing down. Royal made a perfect three-point landing and we breathed a sigh. I went rushing over and saw Charles and threw my arms around his neck and he said Mamie I am so glad to see you I could kiss you, but before he could do it I spied Millie and we both got excited and started jumping up and down and I broke the frame of my glasses. However, Sebie Smith, of the instrument department, fixed them for me yesterday.

[The "big deals" probably included the first hint of the American Volunteer Group. In January, Intercontinent vice-president Bruce Leighton had urged the U.S. Navy to help set up a guerrilla air force "consisting of fifty dive-bombers, fifty twin-engine bombers, fifty pursuits, and ten transports." In June, not long after Pawley's visits to Chongqing, Chiang Kai-shek would send his brother-in-law T.V. Soong to Washington to seek U.S. military aid, and in October Claire Chennault would be sent to join him.]

Mr. Pawley was all a dither to get going to Chungking and after pulling the plane in and working on it all night we waked up yesterday with one of the hardest rains we've yet had. But he ws determined to go. Royal taxied a little distance and bang went his left wheel into the mud. They had to get the tractor to pull him out. He turned he round and went down the field very low and slow and I was sure he was going into the ditch. It looked as though he had inches to spare when he finally got his wheels up. Some of the boys say they saw where he left and he had 700 feet more, but I still don't believe it.

June 8, 1940 -- The news now is so disheartening that I scarcely know what to say, so will only tell you that I am hoping you are going to be safe and all right. Our radios have all been filled with static the past few days and nothing has been clear enough for us to make heads or tails from it. We did hear that Paris had been bombed and the outskirts of London. Goodness know what will have happened by the time you read this letter. I suppose all we can do is hope for the best....

Mr. Pawley will be back for a short visit next week and then back to the States. Doc I think now will be leaving from Hongkong on the 26th. Mr. Pawley let him down on his 19th sailing. When he goes, I think the coming and going will about be over. We've certainly had our share of visiting firemen these past three months. The rains have started now and there won't be any [visitors] until next Autumn. We can do with some peace and quiet. I will have a busy time if all the girls leave, although I think I can manage all right and I honestly believe it will be better. Olga didn't fit into the picture at all. Phyllis is so emotionally unstable that I don't think she could weather much of a storm, and Millie might go off the deep end with all the male company and no Charles in the offing. As for Mamie, she likes it here, and, except from being separated from you she would be perfectly contented. And I honestly think most the gang would hate to see me leave.

June 18, 1940 -- This has been a most heartbreaking week. I am all right and things are going well, but I have thought of you constantly and have spent every conscious moment hoping and praying that you are safe and that somehow or other a miracle will occur and that England yet may be saved. My heart stopped absolutely last night when we heard on the radio that France had given the order to cease fire. I couldn't believe it, and was relieved this morning to know that there is still a faint hope that they may continue.

We had an exciting day here today. Mr. Pawley flew in yesterday in the new Vultee transport which, apparently is not equipped with a high enough powered engine. They left Kunming and were 3 1/2 hours in the air completely lost. Eventually, through more good luck than anything else, they found Paoshan and came down. At that time they had 12 gallons of gas left and you know it doesn't take long for an airplane to eat 12 gallons of gasoline. They refueled and came on in here where they spent last night and were supposed to take off this morning at 9. They were working on the ship with some Chinese test pilots were testing some Hawks and just about the time they were ready to warm up, the Chinese test pilot flew down right over the field dropping a note saying his landing gear was stuck and he couldn't let his wheel down. Three or four times he came in to land and they waved him up. He was so near the ground I am sure I could have touched him. But each time the old engine pulled up. Finally he dropped his belly tank and we knew he would come in for a belly landing. But they continued to wave him up. And then Roger Reynolds our foreign test pilot took off in another plane and got close enough to him to hold out a wrench and show him how to work a certain gadget with his hand which would help release the landing gear. By that time all of us on the ground were all set to watch a beautiful crash, or what's more see him lose his head and bail out which would have been fatal at the height he was holding. However, when Roger showed him the wrench he waved his hands as much as to say no good, and Roger says all right I'll go back down and get out of your way. In a few minutes he came over the field with his wheels down but we certainly had an anxious hour.

Then about an hour later Mr. Pawley took off in the Vultee and, although I didn't see the take-off, Doc was telling me that he left the runway with only 200 feet to spare and he just skimmed the roof of the Club House. Doc and the Hunter children are leaving in the Vultee Thursday to connect with a CNAC at Kunming and then on into Hongkong where they take the Clipper next Wednesday. So many people have told Gertrude that the ship is no good that she is almost in hysterics about the children going in it. Chuck told Doc and me tonight he was in for a tough two months.

continued in part 3