Mamie Porritt: meeting the AVG

Rangoon, October 21, 1941 -- Well, here I've been a week and it hasn't been too bad. The job I am doing at present doesn't require any brain work at all and its easy on my eyes. The office is quite pleasant and I am not worrying too much about work. Murph Gerrold blew into town last Monday for a week's stay and of course I enjoyed see him. We went to the picture show every night. Made no difference whether they were good or bad. We got a front seat and had a hilarious time. He left yesterday morning and I felt quite lonely. However, last night Dr. Gentry, American surgeon with the Volunteer Group, took me to the pictures and afterwards a nice long ride and a drink at a rather disreputable cafi. It was the only place open. We saw quite a good show, though. Today he is driving back to Toungoo and asked me to go up for a day or two. As I am doing work connected with that now, they said they thought it would be a good idea if I went up for a look-see. We are leaving in about half an hour. Dr. Gentry, Skip Adair and a young pilot that Dr. Gentry brought down for attention at the hospital here. It's a six-hour drive. I'll stay there tonight and tomorrow and come back by train tomorrow night. The group will be moving out of Toungoo soon and I am glad for a chance to see it before it breaks up.

[Later] We left here about 11 o'clock, had lunch at Pegu and arrived at Toungoo about 5.... Met [Jo Stewart and Emma Foster] two very nice American girls who are nurses and stayed with them in the mat shed hospital. They had picture shows that night so I attended with the boy who had been to school at Teachers College. Next day I was taken all around the place. Saw two emergency landings from the radio control tower. Had sandwiches and tea with the pilots in the ready room at 9:30. They start flying at 6 [AM]. In the afternoon we rode up into the mountains to a swimming pool and spent a very nice time. Came back for a beer at the station in Toungoo and then a nice evening on the hospital verandah talking to Dr. Gentry and some of the pilots. Returned to Rangoon on Thursday morning and walked into the dining room for lunch about 2 to find a crowd of Loiwing people had come in on the Lockheed. So Thursday night Andy Sargeant took us to a grand Chinese chow. Best one I've had in a long time....

Saturday a gang of the pilots blew in from Toungoo and I went to the races with them in the afternoon. Jack Nevin, who put in our refrigerating plant at Loiwing, took me to a 6:30 show and dinner afterwards at the Savoy. After a little spin I called it a day and went to bed. Jack had given me six new copies of Life Magazine and I spent Sunday morning reading them with much interest.... I had Sunday lunch with the gang from Toungoo and afterwards we went to some of the jewel shops. The boys were buying sapphires, star rubies, etc. Last night I had dinner with them and we sat talking in the lounge for some time.

I am staying at the Strand Hotel which is quite close to the office. Although it isn't up to much it's the best in Rangoon and that is where all of our gang hangs out. I haven't been drinking anything stronger than an occasional gin and bitters since I've been here....

Al Anderson is arriving in Rangoon somewhere around the first of November with another group of [AVG] pilots and mechanics. It will be good seeing Al again and in addition he is bring me some things from Matty.... I don't have much to do with Ed Pawley -- he is in charge of the office -- but apparently as a face saving they tell me I am in charge of the "department". That makes me laugh. Mrs. Ed Pawley is very nice. Mr. Bill Pawley blows in and out occasionally but I don't see much of him....

Rangoon, Nov. 4, 1941 -- Friday night I had dinner and bridge with Mr. and Mrs. Ed Pawley, Saturday afternoon I went to the races with Andy and his "blonde Burmese", as the Toungoo boys call the Anglo-Burmans, and Dr [Lewis] Richards, second flight surgeon at Toungoo. It was crazy racing but I managed to come home with twenty chips to the good. Got back in time to go to a 6:30 show with Jack Nevin and dinner afterwards at the Savoy.... I am enclosing a cutting [about the AVG?] which I think will interest you. My particular job is looking after this personnel. At the end of the month when the payroll has to be made up, I am very busy but the rest of time there isn't so very much to do. As the new lots come in I have to make up personnel records, etc. There is a new boy [Kennedy] from the New York office who helps me and we manage to get things done without too much difficulty. I don't have to bother with anything else in the office and don't have very much contact with Ed Pawley, other than an occasional question.

Rangoon, Nov. 28, 1941 -- Rangoon is crowded with Americans now. There are all sorts of missions and commissions coming through here. The U. S. flag on trucks and cars is seen all over the place. The Volunteer group that I work with is increasing rapidly and there is certainly no indication but that they are out here to talk turkey.

[Rangoon, Dec. 9, 1941] -- You know I had always planned a celebration on the day America declared war on Japan. I've been waiting ten years for that and somehow or other I didn't feel a bit like it yesterday. I had had a very good time over the weekend. Doc stayed down from Tuesday until Monday. Saturday we went to the races. It was a gala affair as the Governor attended and presented a cup. In the evening we attended a War Donation ball at the hotel and Sunday we stayed pretty busy. Of course Doc had already left for the airport when I heard the news about the war and we couldn't even have a drink together. However, after the excitement died down Mr. Pearson, Standard Oil manager for Burma, asked me to go to a 6:30 picture show, -- said there wasn't a thing we could do about the Loiwing bombing -- and after the show we went for dinner to the Savoy. We celebrated with a bottle of wine and some fried chicken livers!

Dec. 10th. We are still without news from Loiwing and we heard they had bombed it again yesterday. So far we have had no bombing in Rangoon. I am now almost afraid to get the news from Loiwing. Perhaps, after all, it was a blessing that I was down here. I smile when I remember how I cursed when I was told to come down. I went to a picture show with Mrs. Pawley at 6:30 and then back to the hotel for dinner. As we walked in the lobby the first person we saw was the American Consul and he asked us what we were doing there. We explained that it was just a little food we were after and then we would beat it. Mrs. Pawley had done the best she could but we had to sleep on the floor. Even so I slept all right. We will have to have our lunches and dinner at the hotel for the next few days.

Dec. 11th. Last night's news brought the sinking of the Prince of Wales and Repulse. That is a sad blow to the British Navy as both of them had just arrived out here. I still think we can hold them but it's going to take some doing owing to the way they started it. I am anxiously awaiting confirmation of the bombing of Japan. That's another little incident I've been long awaiting. I hope they made a good job of it and that is only the beginning, as I feel sure it is. If the Japs get Singapore, it will make it very difficult for us, but they haven't got it yet.

I notice the above two paragraphs are slightly wonky. So much excitement going on I can neither think straight nor type correctly. But don't worry about me. We keep a car ready for a quick get away all the time and the house where I am staying is as safe as any here. We won't have to go to the hotel much longer for dinner. And perhaps it will all be over by the time this reaches you. I haven't given Christmas another thought and as for going to Loiwing I very much fear that pleasure flying in Burma won't be a very safe pastime about that time. But we will look forward to a more settled and peaceful one next year.

[Mamie spent Christmas at Loiwing, missing the Dec. 23/25 raids on Rangoon. If she wrote more letters from Rangoon, they haven't survived. She probably left Rangoon when Bill Pawley closed the CAMCO office at the end of December.]

Loiwing, March 12, 1942 -- Life runs along smoothly, except that we have air raid alarms about every day and that causes a disruption of work. I always leave the area on the first alarm. It is a wearying job but it is better than being caught short, as I was the time they actually did bomb us. And if I waste a lot of time, it will have to be charged up to the war. There isn't much news to tell you. The AVG are still going strong. God bless them! They are a grand crowd of boys. It is unbelievable some of the things they have done. I'll have to tell you about them some day. What surprises me about the boys themselves is that in addition to being good pilots they are all so well educated and have such an unbelievable love for good music, and by that I mean symphonies and operas. We have a very good selection of classical records and as soon as any of them come in, off goes the jazz and on goes the symphonies and operas. It has done my heart good to see it. I wrote you about Dave Harris and what good friend we have become. He is General Chennault's aide and has been stationed here for some time, and if I have ever met a grander kid I don't know where it was. To have been brought up the way he undoubtedly has and to be as clean living and to be able to get so much enjoyment out of simple things proves to me that America has, by no means, gone to pot. The other day General Chennault radioed him to fly an old broken down ship to Kunming. You know this is lousy flying country around here and there was a question of whether or not the ship could make it. When somebody asked him what he though about it he said he didn't care much, for then he could kiss Mamie when he left and got back. I might add he is 23 years old. I nearly cried when one of the boys told me about it.

Not many of the old gang is left. Only Andy Sargeant, Murph [Gerrold], and Bill Stoker. Chuck has gone to India for a trip. Doc [Walsh] is still here but he has gone sour, for some reason or other. I am afraid too he is leading a very lonely life. He seems embittered about everything. Seems to take most of his meals in his room and when he does come out he isn't fit to be spoken to. I realize these are abnormal times and so does everyone else, but I am surprised that Doc can't take it any better.... Murph has just come back from a buying trip to Mandalay. I asked him to do some shopping for me and he brought back everything I asked him for.... He said the shop keeper got a shock when right after buying 75,000 Rupees worth of rice he asked for six boxes of Kotex.

Loiwing, March 16th [1942] -- The intervening four days have been more than hectic. Dr. Sellett and Mr. Pawley blew in for a couple of days, their last visit before leaving for the States. The usual rush and upheaval followed. They were supposed to leave Saturday afternoon by plane but actually didn't get away until Sunday morning. I had a heart to heart talk with Mr. P. which rather cleared the air. It wasn't all sweetness and light by any means but in his usually bland way I suppose he outtalked me. Be that as it may, I feel better about things and he assured me that he did also. It looks very much as if he were about to pull out of China soon. All contracts are up the end of September and as that isn't far away and the rainy season is right on us, he said he was going to take us out gradually and some of us as soon as he could make arrangements. He suggested I go to India or possible America and said that he would try to get me into some kind of job that suited me....

Cigarette situation is pretty bad right now. I managed to get a few [British] Players the other day. Dave has asked for his share of American cigarettes to be sent down here and I hope to goodness they come. Otherwise, we are going to be out of luck. I have just about stopped drinking any whisky at all. There is a fair supply at the Club but I seem to have lost my taste for it. There is a little beer left. At one time we had American beer, but all we have now is UB -- you remember the Shanghai beer. It isn't nearly so good as the other but it can be drunk. So far we haven't had any lack of food supplies, but that is due to foresight only and I don't know how long it will be before we will have to begin to ration our supplies. We had a grand whipped cream cake last night and I wished you might have had some of it.

We have just heard on the radio and through some AVG boys that came in that a CNAC plane crashed four miles from Kunming, killing 8 Americans and 5 British. One of the British was General Dennys. When I went back to Rangoon after Christmas up here we took him down with us in the Lockheed. He was a most charming man and one of the best British officials out here, so every one said. When we got to Toungoo we had a picnic lunch and in Mr. Pawley's usual manner, it was the last word. I will always remember how much General Dennys enjoyed it. Andy Sargeant heard on the radio, although I have not heard it, that F. B. Lynch was one of the passengers. If it is true, its another tragic end to another old China hand. Scottie [Emile Scott] was flying the plane and he and the co-pilot were both killed. The plane turned on its back and burned up. We are anxiously awaiting news of the complete passenger list. Mr. Lynch's death will be a sad blow to Dr. Kung. He and his wife were with us on our trip to India last January.

continued in part 6