Thursday, January 24, 2008

Wednesday 3rd November 1937

Extract from report dated 26/4/37 – “Mr Greenbaum has never heard of Paripan, is not interested in paint and will not discuss the matter”. This laconic report covered the rudest reception I’ve ever received from a prospective client.

Triumphant sequel today when I made a second call on “Mr Greenbaum” (a Jew). “Ordered: 5 gallons SO Gloss Paint. Pro forma invoice”. Even more laconic! And he duly paid, by return of post!

Saturday 30th October 1937

To Ealing for the weekend (50 miles exactly, by my milometer.) Richard has joined the Scouts (16th Ealing). Nice to see the old uniform again! John, alas, is no longer a civilian. Will soon be having khaki – and puttees wound in a similar way to mine! More ambitious than myself, he has joined the University of London OTC (Artillery) Anticipate being an officer after two years. The blighter!

A little note arrived from Egham Post Office reminding me that letters had been re-directed from “Kapai”, Riverside, Egham for a little more than a year. Did I wish this to continue? Little more than a year since I left Kapai. How incredible it does seem! I turn to old diaries…

October 17th Saturday… “delivered up the key of Kapai. I walked out of that little white gate with regret! A pull on the river… Around Witchery Island, up the Colne (the same dear, familiar way!)…” Deputy foreman in the stores and rather a dreamer. Certainly not a business man! Salary – I think - £2-15-0 a week. Now with expenses, it is £5-10-0. Looking back, from 1937 to 1936, I understand that strange mood which came upon me as I wrote in this diary on September 1st 1936. I knew the end of a phase was near! Lengthening Shadows 1933, repeated itself in 1936. Perhaps one of the Mysteries… “Oh this beautiful human life…”

I wonder if life consists of a series of crescendo? Like the song – of a motor car! One is in bottom gear; high goes the voice of the engine, you change into middle gear. Higher and higher sings the engine until, as it reaches crescendo, you change into top (if you’re a good driver!). Is life like that, with crescendo at the end of each phase? When will there be another ending? Not yet. In any case, I shall know beforehand. It all fits in. Crescendo is the Ultimate Perfection. And there is a point where extreme happiness goes beyond itself and becomes tragedy. Which theory accounts for those two moods of sadness – in 1933 and 1936.


Thursday 28th October 1937

Brigade Gun Contest at Walthamstow. I was Eight on Number One Gun. Felt more nervous than I did before the first shoot! A different drill hall, strange equipment. The unfortunate 193rd had to be rushed 30 miles by bus to compete, and was competing within a few moments of arrival. We did not win. Lost on time. The predictor detachment bungled the dials of an unfamiliar instrument.

Droning back, late at night, we argued and argued, grumbling at the general unfairness of the contest. However, I have no complaints. The judge praised our gun drill, saying it was the most efficient during the contest. Furthermore, Number One Gun, my gun, was the faster of the two. What more could a humble Eight wish for?

Wednesday 27th October 1937

Attended Recruits Night at the 193rd this evening. About thirty men. “Dawson?” said the BSM at roll call, “You’re not a recruit!”. However I asked and received permission to join the class. It was most interesting. When I joined, during the chaotic period before camp, very little instruction was being given.

Deck, a predictor man, also turned up. I met a decent bloke named Thornton; he had thought of joining RNVR but eventually decided on the Ack-Acks. Heard some sad and surprising news tonight. Trigg is dead. He was in my tent at Watchet, the first night at camp. One evening he and I walked along the sea coast to St. Andries Bay. A tall, ungainly youth with a squeaky voice. Smart at his drill though, and good hearted.

Rather sudden, that he should be dead.

Monday 25th October 1937

Drear at Rayleigh, with buyers out or utterly uninterested. I felt fed-up and had an early lunch. A fresh start at Hullbridge; it seemed just as bad and soon all my “drive” had deserted me, so that I felt like packing up, allowing it to be one of those grim days without a single order. However, at my second call I found Kempton the philosopher. No – it was my fourth attempt to find him! He gave me a lecture and an order for two gallons.

Then I returned to Roedean; brushed my hair, straightened my tie; went to Westcliff. First I met two “Terriers”, one a recruit, the other a man who was Number Eight on my gun at Watchet, during our first “shoot”. Next, useful contact with a builder named Ellis, in a snack bar.

Turning the car, I happened to pass the offices of Ramuz Ltd. Contractors – one of the principal firms here. Realising I’d never yet been able to see the buyer, I went in and told the clerk I had a bargain to offer. To my surprise the buyer was “in” and I was interviewed. This was so encouraging that I sold five gallons of Special Offer (“as an introduction to our products”). It changed the whole feeling of the day. Just luck! A day that had seemed hopeless at 3 o’clock ended at 5 o’clock with two new clients!

Evening: 193rd Class for trained men and NCO’s Dismantling and re-assembling the breech. Beastly mechanical, all bits and pieces and things. Hadn’t the nerve to take a turn and felt jolly glad I wasn’t detailed.

Wednesday 20th October 1937

Morning fog. As I lay in bed I heard an intermittent booming, seawards. Even inland, here at Eastwoodbury, I can hear the sirens of the shops!

After the days of fog, days of wind and rain. Trees half bare. Falling leaves. Dead leaves. Autumn.

Tuesday 19th October 1937

Dashed to Frinton on Sea today and formally added it to my territory. The distance is too great. Shall have to move there for a while, before anything can be done. Worth it, with Clacton and Colchester. Good class district too! Mileage, 110. Too much to allow time for calls. I obtained an order (30/-) from Mr Hollings, the builder whose enquiry had been my first notification of the increased territory.

On the road back, I reached Colchester at 5 o’clock. Had a somewhat belated lunch there. Two bananas from a shop in – Crouch Road? The Floral Box? Something like that. Ate the bananas as I drove through the suburbs, then dashed on through the country.

Dusk – and as I came from the hills to the low country, fog. First little patches in the hollows, then faint wraiths drifting across the road; then it enveloped me. Headlights dipped towards the kerb, speed 15 –20 miles an hour. The fourth successive evening fog.

Home 7:10. Tea, reports, a wash. Out by 7:30! Quite like old times, this rush to school! Among other things, we did an Act from “Macbeth” tonight. I had the highly dramatic part of Macbeth. Good sport. I thought I was quite decent, but was corrected regarding my ribs! The most attractive girl in the class was happily, Lady Macbeth. “My husband!” These were the first words with which she ever greeted me. I should have been thrilled, secretly thinking, “Would that it were so!” but was too busy preparing my reply, which was somewhat sombre – “I have done the deed”.

Sunday 17th October 1937

Various ladies intervened tonight. Two pairs of sisters had lifts to various places. Fog. And a fiancé. Left the car in the lane. In the fog.

N.B. Fog and a fiancé. Nearly three years ago I decided I would never again become involved with anyone’s fiancée. And I won’t!

Saturday 16th October 1937

Away by 12 o’clock dashing along the arterial road with it’s warning notices – “On this road in 1936… 14 people were killed…”

Home for lunch. Deerbrook, Ashford for tea. “A few friends,” the invitation had mentioned… An AA Scout was directing traffic inside the gate! About 50 guests, all old Pageanteers, but very few whom I knew. None of my friends. Nice to see Jack Hose again but it wasn’t frightfully exciting.

Called for Anne in the evening, to take her home. Night drive: The North Circular, Cambridge Road, Waltham Cross. We took turns at whistling, whilst the car droned on. Eerie Epping Forest. Hatfield 10p.m. A nice home and nice people. Supper, sitting snugly by the fire, with Anne. We talked until 12:30. Then, the road home. Coffee at the Oasis Roadhouse, near Chelmsford. Slowly drove on – through my first fog. The parapet of the bridge at Battlesbridge loomed suddenly ahead. Last time, on a bicycle, I nearly fell asleep there…

Home 2:45. Supper, a book and a cigarette. Bed 3:30. Life goes on; it does not stand still. To look back is useless; one must live in the present.

Twilight 1937

Let not the eyes grow dim…
Today is everything…
Look not back, but forward…”

Thursday 14th October 1937

There is a good deal of luck attached to paint selling. The most important thing (in the case of new clients especially) is to see the right man at the right moment. It rarely occurs but when it does one senses a 'click!' in the mental atmosphere and knows the chance of obtaining an order is more than 50 – 50.

Today, for instance, I made my first call on a decorator named Potts. He considered our products. “No, I don’t think we can do any business”, he said quite definitely, edging towards the door. He wanted to take his little boy to school. The right man at the wrong moment! I drove the boy to his school – with Mr Potts – and returning, took an order for 2 gallons SO Paint and 14 lbs. U/Coat Paste. Curious!

On April 14th I called on a “Westcliff builder” and simply worried and badgered him into ordering a small tin of U/Coat Paste. I still think he gave that order because my excitement and enthusiasm amused him! Since then, that firm,(Taylor and Moore) has used 3cwt. of U/Coat Paste White. Now, I’m trying to get a contract for Egham Paint. Mr Taylor has accepted a sample but I did not think it would really be tested. However, I called this evening just as he also arrived. The sample had been tested and obviously had made an impression. “Send me a sample of Glacier and a sample of Piccadilly, before I decide” he said. Well, if it’s only a case of competing with our own products..! Having been through the Works, I knew which of those three paints is the best bargain.

This evening I made a journey and broke a fantastic vow. On June 9th I looked across the Crouch at land which was out of my territory and determined that when that country had been annexed I would cross the Crouch by boat! Tonight, however I made the prospecting tour of the area north of the river – by car. A straggling piece of country on the road to nowhere, with Burnham on Crouch the only town. I looked across the river and saw three red lights high in the air. The wireless masts at Canewdon. In Area “A” seen from Area “B”.

Wednesday 13th October 1937

Reading my mail (in bed) this morning, I suddenly sat up and enthusiastically whistled a bar of “The British Grenadiers”. It was a copy of a letter written to a builder in response to his enquiry. Quite a routine sort of letter; but it bore the initials SJD in the space where the representative’s initials should be. And the address – John Hollings, Builder and Public Works Contractor, Harold Cottage, Frinton on Sea, Essex.

So Frinton was now mine! And naturally, all towns along the coast between! Excitedly I stared at the map. The deuce of a strip of territory! Maldon, Danbury, Burnham on Crouch, Brightlingsea, Clacton and Colchester.

This morning I made the first invasion of the new area, driving into unknown country beyond Wickford. And delightful country too. Not the blatant seaside atmosphere of Southend, or the bleak fenland of Foulness; not the industrial type of town-country which lies around Vange and Thundersley. Just unspoilt, picturesque greenery!

An area which will be hard to work at first, however. It will be like the early Southend days again. Worse. We are absolutely without customers and many prospects have never heard of the Company!

Scanned Danbury and Maldon today. Travel further later in the week.

Tuesday 12th October 1937

Re speech: Ever since I left school, people have grumbled at my incoherent, careless way of speaking. Mr Smith of Mellor Bromley’s; Mr Hapraike of the British United…
Now, eleven years later, I find a speech – clear, pure speech – more than ever important. So at last I’m doing something about it!

Am taking Elocution at the Southend Municipal College. On evening a week. The breathing and muscular control part of the course is frightfully funny. (“Keep your ribs out!”) The enunciation part will prove interesting, as we go on. Recitations, play reading and all that. Next week we are to read Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” (Act 2, the dagger scene.) About 20 in the class. One girl is quite easy to look at, incidentally.

Saturday 9th October 1937

A note from the Battery to say that as the instruments were still out of order, there would be no practice for the Brigade Trophy contest this weekend. Second week the instruments have been “out of order”. A ragtime army! Blast them! And blast their tight puttees and loutish boots, not to mention shiny buttons.

Friday 8th October 1937

Spent the afternoon at Hullbridge. A queer town of bungalows, with land selling at £10 an acre. Queer people too. Rumour has it that hordes of builders descend on Hullbridge each weekend. On Monday one finds a row of bungalows where cows grazed on Saturday. The Weekend Workers of Hullbridge! Almost a legend, like the Wiltshire Moonrakers or the Wise Men of Gotham.

Many of the inhabitants are not of the rough diamond type which usually dwell in these bungaloid growths. I take Kempton, the bungalow builder, as an example. One phrase he used during conversation; “…the basic fundamentals of the individuals ego” (or something like that!) Mr Kempton and an intellectual friend once talked, “Until the stars faded from the sky”.

Evening call at Rochford yielded an order for a gallon of Egham Paint. Only 12/6, but a new account and the first order from Rochford. No more calls until Monday; just a little office work tomorrow! The Zephyr (my Austin Seven) droned along to the Anne Boleyn, and waited whilst it’s owner had three half pints of light ale. I rarely drink nowadays but it was pleasant to be in the cheery atmosphere of a bar again; meeting Mr Butler’s friends. Drove back to Eastwoodbury. Skilfully reversed Zephyr down the lane opposite Roedean, and left her there.

Later, I gave Nancy a lift to Westcliff, garaged Zephyr at St. Christopher’s and walked across the fields to Roedean, whistling tunelessly and noisily.

Wednesday 6th October 1937

An autumnal morning; grey skies and a high wind. For the first time, I noticed a tinge of yellow in the Eastwoodbury leafage. A miserable day for a traveller – on a bicycle! The car made a difference. I strolled across fields to the garage soon after 10 O’clock. By 11 o’clock I was in South Benfleet and had already taken one order!

Mr Gilbert – one of my earliest customers – is inclined to welch. I’m disappointed. He owes us £16. I discussed matters with the builder for whom he was formerly paint sub-contractor – and took an order. New account. “This is quite a satisfactory account” reported the timber merchants with whom Mr Stevenson has dealt.

Benfleet, Hadleigh and Laindon. Three orders, value about £10. A good day.

Saturday 2nd October 1937

Mr Butler sold my cycle for £3. I gave him 10/- as commission, so everyone was pleased.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Friday 1st October 1937

Mr Robinson, with Beech and Ferris, visited the Hospital today, to peer at the dark patches and discuss the advantages of that type of finish. They drove with me in the old tin-can. To my relief, she behaved nicely.

Thursday 30th September 1937

Wickford and Laindon today (apart from Southend Hospital – blast it). Two orders, one for six gallons of S.O.

Wednesday 29th September 1937

Wickford, Rawreth, Nevendon, Pitsea. Two new accounts. Sold a gallon of Mr Reddall’s Special Offer Paint at 11/6d.

Tuesday 28th September 1937

Meeting of Creditors of Eastern Star at noon today. Hard-bitten men asking pertinent questions. About a score of Creditors all determined to find out where the money had gone. Eventually a Committee was elected to “closely investigate” the whole business. An interesting experience but I hope it will not be repeated.

Back at Eastwoodbury today. Pleasant change to have been at Harcourt Avenue a few days. Does one good I think.

Friday 24th September 1937

A new account today, also a stock order for Hadleigh.

Evening collected some money, got a small contract (two months). At 8:30 the partners said they’d “leave it to next time”. At 9:30 they signed the order. 2cwts. U/coat Paste and 6 gallons Egham Paint.

A frantic rush then to write my reports and catch the post. A bulky envelope, a good day.

Wednesday 22nd September 1937

Betty ill at the digs. Measles apparently; she has fainted twice. I volunteered to move out for a few days to ease the pressure of work. I had to find digs. Not too easy. Eventually rang Southend 4383. Travers old number. Yes, they could put me up. The address was 15 Harcourt Avenue. I went there with a suitcase. Gay people. Somewhat crowded; I had a bed made in the front sitting room.

Back to Eastwoodbury to collect a few things. It was dark; I felt disconsolate; sat in the car wondering what to do next. Footsteps in the lane. It was Nancy coming home. She came for a drive with me, whereupon I no longer felt disconsolate. Drove to Wakering. Requested and received permission to go to Foulness. (I cunningly mentioned the Kings Head.) Nancy was quite thrilled by that weird Island road. When we got to the sea wall at Fisherman’s Head I realised an old ambition with removing the Danger Notice and bringing it away as a souvenir.

Back to the new digs 11:30. Just in time for supper in the crowded kitchen – all young people.

Tuesday 21st September 1937

The outlook seemed brighter today. A memo from the Firm stated I was to have £78 per annum, running expenses for the car. 30/- a week; princely allowance! Hope it’s paid weekly… This makes my cost to the firm, £5-10-0 per week. The turnover next year must justify this.

Smith, of Macstan gave me a lift up Eastwood Road. He of course, knew about the Eastern Star business, said that they’d probably pay 15/- in the £1.

Country round today. The car had been treated overnight by the mechanic (only 4/6d) and ran beautifully. Wickford, Billericay, Great Baddow. I mentally compared the day with those laborious cycle rides.

Monday 20th September 1937

Fourth anniversary of my service with Paripan. First day on the road with my car. A memorable day. Unpleasantly memorable!

First call, Hospital. Dark, streaky patches appearing on the eggshell gloss surface in the Eye Ward. A case for Ferris, too serious for me to deal with.

The 11:30 mail brought a memo from the cashier, re Eastern Star Products. An official note:-

“We have to inform you that we have today received Notice of a Meeting of Creditors in the above matter to be held at 33 Victoria Avenue, Southend on Sea, on Tuesday the 28th inst. at noon, for the purpose mentioned in Sections 238, 239 and 240 of the Companies Act, 1929. We shall be glad if you will attend theis Meeting and report in due course. For your information the amount due to us is in the neighbourhood of £55-0-0”.

So – my presentiment had been justified! Yet the status had been good… A bright start.

So. I set my teeth and went on the road. Sold a pint of Parax in the morning and took a £4 opening order from a firm of baby carriage manufacturers in the afternoon.
Both new clients. Called at Pollard’s and paid excess insurance, which left a little under £5 in the Bank. Heavy rain as I drove home. Snug in my little car as I droned along the winding lane into Eastwoodbury.

Evening in uniform with three other “Terriers”, distributing leaflets outside a cinema where a propaganda film was being shown. This was, for me, a duty rather than a pleasure.

Came home 11 o’clock, past the drill hall. Stopped the car to light a cigarette. Fatal switch off! The engine was dead when I tried to start her, a moment later.
Cranking was no use, the lights gradually went dim. I pushed dismally. Friendly policeman; the fortuitous arrival of a mechanic. Left the crock with him and marched home. (Is it going to be too expensive? Will there be much trouble like this? Shall I be able to keep it up?)

Only £2 left in my pocket, to last the week. Nevertheless, I derived pleasure from various small things. My Artillery greatcoat, collar turned up, the click-clack of my boots on the twisting moonlit road. Peaceful late at night supper at Roedean. I read a schoolboy’s book entitled, “School House and The Rest”.

Sunday 19th September 1937

Four years since I went to Egham!

This evening I took Nancy (19) daughter of Roedean, for a short trip in the car and gave her a preliminary driving lesson. She possessed no licence so we went to a cul-de-sac near Rochford, Cherry Orchard Lane. Considering her first attempt was made in a winding road after nightfall, she did fairly well.

Amusing experience for me, a mere novice, to instruct someone else!

Saturday 18th September 1937

A little extra to pay on the car - £2-8-9 additional insurance premium because I’m a salesman. Annoying, but I was determined to have the car, so agreed to give a cheque for the amount. Drove her away and out to Creeksea, getting accustomed to the drive.
Noticed the speedometer does not work correctly. Otherwise, the car seems to rattle along alright. Found a decent garage (St. Christopher’s) on the arterial road. Five minutes across the fields from Roedean.

Thursday 16th September 1937

Travers is apparently away from the district at present. In his absence I could find no one who would “vet” the car for me. Illustrates my friendlessness! So I chanced it. After stipulating two new tyres, a recharged battery and a door-key, I signed the jolly old form.

To call for the car on Saturday. It’s going to be an expense; no avoidance of that fact. But it’s got to be done. I must take the risk. I cheer myself up with phrases; - “Faint heart never won fair lady”; “At times one must risk all to gain all”.

Wednesday 15th September 1937

I now have a current account at the Midland Bank. Proudly called for my cheque book today.

Tuesday 14th September 1937

One of those delightful days when all is well. Took a comfortable little order at the new Vicarage building site, Eastwoodbury, then cycled to Leigh on Sea (Without the suit case, feeling a free man!) to collect a half gallon can of paint for return to the Works.

Back to Eastwoodbury; strolled down the road and just caught the noon bus. Strolled onto the LNER platform at Southend and just caught the train to Liverpool Street. Bound for the Office, an order in my pocket, and no cares! Chatted to the fellow passengers, smoked, read an interesting novel (“Jew Boy”, somewhat - blunt in parts.) The journey seemed very rapid!

Luncheon snack at an ABC – a delicious pear flan. The office: pleasant converse with Mr Reddall, Miss Ewings, Miss Bunce, Mr Pullen, Mr Baker. Remained talking to FCR long after the office had closed. Nothing of vital importance, but these discussions make the distant representative feel less isolated.

Eventually, the two of us came back to Liverpool Street together, discussing modern looks and what not. FCR’s train went first. He shook hands and dashed along the platform, turning round to wave “cheerio!” A strange sales manager.

I went into the tea room for some cheese, bread and butter, and tea. Ninepence. Gave the girl (a nice girl, too) a pound note. She gave me a hell of a lot of silver and then hesitated. “That’s alright” said I, imagining I’d received 19/-. “Oh no,” she said firmly, almost reproachfully, “let me at least give you the silver” and produced another 1/6d. Certainly, a charming girl! I was too surprised to be properly grateful. Caught the 9:45 down.

Saturday 11th September 1937

Eastern Star this morning. Still complaint of unsatisfactory work. (Mr Pullen, our cashier, informs that no payments have been made at all, yet. He adds that the account has only recently become due for settlement.) Southend General Hospital. All OK, work proceeding smoothly. The contract is nearly over, so far as we are concerned.

Called at Pollard’s Garage, Leigh, and was taken for a run in a 1934 Austin Seven. The thing would not start, stalled several times, rattled. The inside of the bonnet was dirty; side indicators did not work. As each defect became apparent, the salesman would say cheerily, “I’ll get that fixed – afterwards”. The two front tyres are badly worn. They ask £50 for the car. £64 with insurance and a 3 months tax, on HP. £10 down and the balance at rate of £4-10 per month. A) Is the car worth so much? B) Can I afford it? (An old acquaintance returns!) Well, I must afford it – if the car is worth so much.

Left a deposit of £4 and arranged to call back next week. I’ll get some motor expert to have a look at the bus. Purchase of a car means the temporary abandonment of my affluence, but a car is fast becoming an essential to my business success.

Friday 10th September 1937

A bitter north wind. First signs of approaching winter! I wore a mackintosh today, although it was not raining. In the evening when I returned there was a fire in the sitting room at Roedean. I was not sorry…

Made a total of three calls today. Admittedly an hour was wasted at a garage, discussing second hand cars… But only three calls! Must go on the road tomorrow morning, damnit.

Evening – went to the pictures. Alone – always alone.

Thursday 9th September 1937

Ambitious move as regards finance: Having £8-0-0 in my home safe account at the Midland Bank, I requested that this be placed in a current account – with a cheque book and all that! Gave Paripan Ltd and my Father as references.

Soon afterwards I sold 12 1/- tins of P Cleaner and Polisher to an ironmonger. First PCP sale and a new account. Trial order. When the paint trade gets slack this winter, I will do some high pressure selling of PCP among retail stores. In the meantime, I have placed a dozen tins on the market as a “feeler”.

Hadleigh at lunchtime. Took a stock renewal order from Mr Page. The day became cold; rain began to fall. My list of calls was exhausted. What the hell happens next? I wondered. Cycled aimlessly along the Broadway, through the rain. Harris, the decorator, hailed me from the pavement. Undercoat Paste applied yesterday and still not dry! For the rest of the afternoon I swung between this job and Mr Page’s shop.
Eventually the complaint was settled amicably, it being proved that our product was not the cause of the trouble.

Still raining. Found Harris and his men in a peaceful room, playing darts. (The decoration job was at a club hall.) Waited until Harris had won the match, then sold him two gallons of PHG - rush order, special shade to be matched, wanted Monday.

Cycled home (through the rain!) and reached Roedean about 4:45. Sorted things out, wrote my lengthy reports. 6:30. I like the evening “office work” - a little business of my own!

Monday 6th September 1937

193 Battery has entered for the Brigade Trophy contest for section drill, to be held at Walthamstow next month. Two gun crews are training, one will be chosen to represent the Battery.

Yes, I’ve been picked - No. Eight of Bombardier Lucks gun. Guess I’ve lost that exciting and important post as No. Four. Wonder why? I did not make any mistakes! However, Luck seems a decent feller really, although he is unpopular. Perhaps I’ll stay in his crew. Bombardier Roberts is leader of our other crew. Glad I’m not with Porter any more, somehow. Seems self-conscious, self-satisfied, full of a secret conceit, “psycho-analytical”. Funny way to describe a man who’s not a bad sort really! Trigg describes him as “two faced”…

As No Eight my duties oncoming into action are not arduous. Hope I’ll become a layer eventually – or No.4 again.

Lengthening Shadows and Twilight 1937

(Conclusion of Shimmering Haze)

S.J. Dawson, Roedean, Eastwoodbury, Eastwood, Essex
Later: “Sway”, Carlton Avenue, Westcliff-on-Sea.

“Seasons of mist and mellow fruitfulness”
“The great difference between men…
… is energy, invincible determination”

Sunday 5th September 1937

Up about 10:30. John lent me his dressing gown for the journey to the bathroom.

This time we went upstream in a double sculling skiff. “Shot” Staines Bridge at speed and paced by a motor boat, reached Witchery in record time. Struggled up the Colne, to Bell Weir pool. John steered downstream without any way on the boat. He struck the bank once, near the mouth. Not a bad performance. I, meanwhile, lounged low in the boat, staring upward at the trees and blue sky moving slowly past.

We paddled around Witchery standing in the boat like gondoliers, the long skulls dipping together. From Staines Bridge to Beddells we crouched on the thwarts, heaving frantically. I sighed as we crossed to the Middlesex side in the ferry boat. Good bye to the river again. No! Auf wiedersehen! Before the summer has altogether fled – I will come back!

Several hours of hot and sticky travel, to the county of Essex; to Southend with it’s tykish youths in “Natty” suitings; from Southend to Eastwoodbury. It is quiet at Eastwoodbury.

And now – half past eleven – I am sitting in my bedroom. The window, facing southwards, is open wide. I can hear the roar of traffic on the arterial road, half a mile away across the fields. I can see Westcliffs street lights and above, a bright planet – is it Jupiter? By my elbow is the alarm clock (Bought 18 months ago, it shows signs of age. The ticking ceases when it stands as clocks should stand; so, like a senile invalid, it lies all day on it’s back.)

On the wall are two framed tracts: “Let not your heart be troubled” (John 14.1) and “Serve the Lord with gladness” (Psalm 100.2) Near the latter tract a section of squared paper is pinned, showing a zig zag graph and headed “Turnover 1937. Weekly. Estimated” Beyond this in the corner, is a map of Essex on which Area A is shown by inky lines. What else can I see here? Files, note books, the hissing gas light. My tunic hangs on the back of a chair. On the shoulders I can see, “T” and “RA”. There are no stripes on the sleeves!

Tomorrow, the suit case and push bike. Not for long though. I’ll soon have a car.
Within a month. One little month – less than that!

Saturday 4th September 1937

My weekend’s holiday began badly. A mosquito bit me in the night – the bastard! Two bites on the forehead, one on the mouth. When I awoke, my lower lip was horribly swollen. Furthermore, the post was late; so I could not dash off to Staines after breakfast, as planned. Instead I went out and bought some Witch Hazel for my mouth. By this time the swelling made it difficult to eat or smoke. My lower lip looked like a balloon and the swelling extended inside my mouth also.

However the second post arrived at 11:30 and brought the usual daily letter from Sherwood House. Nothing that required immediate attention. There was a cheque for £7-9-11, commission up to June 30th. Things began to brighten!

I caught the 12:45 up and found myself able to smoke again. Staines by 2:30 and the sun shining! At three o’clock John and I were punting upstream. My mouth began to feel less uncomfortable as I became happier. Around Witchery; through Bell Weir Lock (for the first time; a curious sensation as the water rises).

Up the Runnymede reach. Had tea at the roadside snack bar where I – an impoverished student – used to lunch, hoping Mr Val would not notice me when he passed. We tied up just below the road, and sat in the punt eating our pastries and rolls and drinking our tea. Then we paddled idly upstream, as far as the old boathouse.
(Gwyn and I sheltered here once, during a sudden shower. The year previous I used to swim here, and dive off the landing stage.) Now, one cannot land or moor at the old boathouse. A riverside Club has sprung up there.

We paddled or punted, not very energetically, back to Staines. At a stationer’s in Thames Street, I bought a further supply of the note books which I use for diaries. The old man was pleased to see me again; wondered where I had gone. Afterwards we went to the pictures.

Came out at 10:45, had supper at Pat’s. (What memories in the Thames side district!)
Walked back to Melville (I was to sleep there). It was past midnight. I went into John’s bedroom whilst he finished a story – what was it? “Devil’s Garden”? Something like that. Then I went to my own room, read “Men Only” for a few minutes, realised my mouth felt easy again. Switched off the light: fell asleep.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Wednesday 1st September 1937

Three fiddling calls with “buyers out”. Three lengthy calls with plenty of trouble.
The Hospital. WT Taylor. Eastern Star.

“A perfect finish has not been obtained; brush marks are discernable…”

“From Messrs. Taylor’s letter to you it would appear… This is not quite correct…Paripan could allow a further 5% or Mr Adams could pay the extra 4/- …The latter course was adopted… Messrs. Taylor… dislike our marketing methods… I notice you do not ask for these details but in view of the recent correspondence I thought it best to explain these matters”. (I did not add that I myself had given Mr Adams 4/- so that he would not object to the increase in price.)

“The results obtained are in some cases really awful. Great inconvenience has been caused to Eastern Star Products… unless an improvement occurs soon, we shall certainly lose their business… Under separate cover I am sending pieces of a cabinet door…” (I did not add that “loss of money” figured largely in our conversation. Nor that things seemed so desperate that it would not be reasonably expected to receive further orders; that it seemed extraordinary that they should still be willing to give us another chance. However, I did enclose a brief note to our cashier – “Re: Eastern Star. Are payments being made regularly?”)…”

Oh hell! Pushing about on a bicycle with a bloody big suit case! Not making enough calls. Not taking enough orders. Initiative and enterprise slipping away from me. Bloody hell!

In private life, no friends, no colour, no romance. Damnation! But – I’ve got £9 cash in reserve.

Sunday 29th August 1937

A day in uniform. Very hot. 193 Battery lost many fluid ounces of perspiration! Assembled 10:30 and, headed by the Brigade Band, marched to Chalkwell Park.

Drumhead service.
Not an ordeal.
Not very impressive.
Or thrilling.

Marched back to the drill hall. Wearily. Six miles in yokel’s boots. When I was at Roedean again I had to change everything – clothes were so damp. What a relief to put on grey bags, canvas shoes and an old jacket! Two hours at Roedean, then back to headquarters, once more in uniform.

“At Home” to parents and friends. I had no parents or friends present, so helped with the tea. Rather a chaotic tea, with everyone scrambling for cups. Afterwards, when we’d cleaned up and so forth, I hung about in the canteen. Had several shandies (no beer!); smoked several pipes and cigarettes; played darts with Tree.

Home 9 o’clock. Changed into “civvies” again.

Saturday 28th August 1937

After the morning post arrived I totalled up my week’s turnover. £29. Second best since I came on the road.

Friday 27th August 1937

On the road from 9:30 to 6:30 – and only five calls! Complications! Had a bit of a headache by teatime.

The Hospital; W.T.Taylor and their 25% discount; Eastern Star.

Thursday 26th August 1937

The first post brought a little note from Gwyn, enclosing a photograph of herself, as was promised long ago. “Life is not so foul, after all,” I thought as I cycled to business on my blasted push bike, with the ruddy suit case perched on the handle bars, to brand me as a traveller.

Called at the Hospital, where Gower’s men were busily slapping Paripan on the walls of the Sportsmen’s Ward. A familiar atmosphere, reminding me of those days, early this year, when I used to travel around with Beach. “Broken White Priming.” “First U/coat.” “Second U/coat for Cream.” The contract atmosphere. Matters seemed complicated but they all straightened out eventually and I returned to Eastwoodbury to write out my report – and an order.

By the second post came a letter from John. Typical. “Blank face and rotten balls, come and lunch with me at my digs on 4th Sept. We will piss off up the river then…” Four cheery pages, then, in conclusion; “Have read many interesting little stories about blank, blank, blank, and blank blank, which I will discuss in detail when I see you. Come straight to Melville on the 4th. Cheerio, Blank." (There are certain words I use frequently, yet do not write – in this my diary. It may, some day, be read by a lady!)

Feeling still more cheerful I left Roedean, had lunch at a café, then went on the road. Back at 5 o’clock, having sold a cwt. of U/ct. paste meanwhile. Two orders on Tuesday, one on Wednesday, two today. £12 this week, so far. Not too bad.

Tuesday 24th August 1937

My state of mind is almost neurotic.

World Affairs

Spain: The dogged struggle goes on; both sides claim victories…

The Far East: China and Japan have been at war for ten days. The battlefield is Shanghai. “British business men estimate that the total property losses so far in the fighting amount to about £31,000,000.”

Sunday 22nd August 1937

193rd for drills in the morning. In uniform again! The puttees and awful boots do not seem strange now. Plenty of acquaintances in 193 – fellers who’ll exchange cigarettes, say “cheerio!” and chat for ten minutes or so. Usually “shop” or general conversation. But there no real friends – boon companions. Of course it takes one a few years to find and make real friendships. That is the worst of having to constantly change locations. I feel lonely.

Afternoon, loafed about the house, read a book, went to sleep, smoked too much. Had the impulse to go to the pictures again, but three times in three days seemed a bit too thick, so I did not go.

Saturday 21st August 1937

Loafed about the house all day; went to the pictures at night – alone.

Friday 20th August 1937

Spent the early forenoon at the Hospital, looking at wards, discussing colour schemes etc. Awful to go to a place like the Hospital on a push bike! Blast it.
Afternoon: Stock order at Hadleigh and a small order from the coach painter at Howards Dairies.

Evening: met Travers and went to the pictures. Walked most of the way home, afterwards. Southend is still lousy. Glad I don’t have to live there now!

Thursday 19th August 1937

Spent the morning with the Hospital contractor, Mr Gower. Ordered 18 galls. U/cts and primings. Decoration of the wards starts on Monday.

Wednesday 18th August 1937

Billericay, Laindon and Nevendon.

Home 7:30. No orders.

Tuesday 17th August 1937

Again I came home without any orders. Again little Eastwoodbury saved the day from being utterly sterile. The new Vicarage job, this time. £2 for Piccadilly H.G.

Bought myself a new hat in Southend – at Dunn’s. 15/-. A doggy nigger brown. Ready for the winter! I walked back from Kent Elms Corner, where I’d had supper at a pleasant café. I wore the old jacket, grey bags, comfortable old shoes, and an ancient hat. In my pockets were three packets of cigarettes and two boxes of matches. The pockets bulged, but because the jacket was old, this did not matter.
I swung a stick in my right hand. Under my left arm was a book (“Who once eats out of the tin bowl”.) which I had been reading in the café.

The winding road into Eastwoodbury was dark and quiet. The moon showed through clouds, southwards; it was nearly at the full. Presently, as I strolled along, four aeroplanes flew in a wide sweep above me. Their lights in perfect alignment, the disappeared in the south-east.

Monday 16th August 1937

Determined to break the run of bad luck, I did the Hadleigh – South Benfleet journey today. This journey never fails to yield at least one order. But it did today. Fruitless!

Yet in the evening, after tea, little Eastwoodbury gave me an order – 17/- So the day was not barren.

Saturday and Sunday 14th and 15th August 1937

Spent the weekend at home – Hawthorn Court. First time since the coronation. All OK now.

Thursday 12th August 1937

Eight fruitless calls in Southend and Westcliff. Anyhow it was better than yesterday; I did try. Finished early and was back in Southend by 6p.m. Had a welsh rarebit at Garron’s then went to the pictures.

“For You Alone”, Grace Moore. What a voice! Makes one’s hair crinkle. Have seen her three times now. “One Night of Love”, “Love me Forever”. Shall always remember that time when I casually went into the Dominion, Hounslow (early in 1935) without knowing what film was being shown. She was singing in a scene from “Madame Butterfly” when I went in. In white, in a garden, with blossoms falling. And “Love me Forever”. Reminds me of that foolish, still regretted fortnight… She used to sing it…

In sharp contrast, it also brings back Gwyneth and the night when the old King died.

Wednesday 11th August 1937

An awful day. Hung about the house until 11:30, in case there was any mail by the second post. There was, but nothing important.

Bloody well fed up with my cycling round so walked to Rochford by the footpath (not appreciating the beauty of the fields!) and went by train from Rochford to Wickford. 12:30 when I arrived, so had lunch first.

In the afternoon I made four calls (three cold canvasses) without success. Then came home, feeling bloody fed up and tired and depressed into the bargain. After tea I wrote my reports – not very lengthy! – smoked too many cigarettes, and painted the Roedean gate. (“A little green gate.”)

At 9 o’clock I posted the reports, bought some more cigarettes and cycled to the outskirts of Southend. However, I suddenly realised there was nothing for me to do in Southend; no one to see. So I came back again.

Monday 9th August 1937

Having received a little over £12 for arrears of pay and expenses last Saturday, I am haunted by no spectre at the moment. Paid in £7-0-8 at the Midland Bank this morning, bringing my balance to £7-2-0. My credit has never been so high since I left school!

Did not feel very enthusiastic or enterprising today – pushing around on a blasted bicycle! No initiative. No orders.

Saturday 7th August 1937

Cycled to Anne’s home, at Hatfield Broad Oak – 30-40 miles. Made two fruitless calls en route. Had a snack at Chelmsford and late lunch at a pleasant roadside café at Leaden Roding. Real Essex country. Quaint names! Good Easter, High Easter, White Roding (pronounced Roothing).

A walk with Anne after tea, through pastures and corn fields. We stared contentedly at weeds and flowers, munched wheat. We “made love” when the stars began to twinkle. All gone to bed when we returned to the cottage. Had supper in the lamp light and left about 12 o’clock. Cycled along gaily at first, singing in the quietness.
Then I rode silently, wondering if I should ever be able to fall in love with anyone again, or be stirred, as I used to be. I ate chocolate, and some ham sandwiches which Anne had given me.

2 o’clock. How weak I felt! It is always so on these night rides. Frequent pauses; every little hill has to be walked up. No all-night cafes on these roads.
Incredibly thirsty and sleepy. Walking up hills I began to close my eyes and eventually walked 100 yards without opening them. At Battlesbridge , I leaned against the iron parapet of the bridge, without dismounting, and nearly fell asleep.

At last I reached Roedean. Still dark, at 4 o’clock. I drank three glasses of water; had a little supper, not much, because I was so tired. Slept from 4:30 to 11:30a.m.

August 2nd to August 6th 1937

Slept until 10 o’clock on Monday morning. Up 7:30 other mornings. Did not work very hard on Tuesday and Wednesday! However, the weeks turnover was about £20. Did not receive my arrears of pay, as anticipated, so was beastly hard up. Drew 9/- from the bank – all I could! – and borrowed a shilling from Mrs Butler.

On Friday I spent the whole day at the Eastern Star works with Mad Willy. They have been having trouble with our synthetics. Must not lose that contract! Mr Marston, the director, was very tolerant about it however, and afterwards bought me back to Roedean in his car. Mad Willy roared away to Chertsey (Chertsey, by the Thames, in Surrey!) on his Velocette.

It has been a week of lovely weather, a heat wave in fact.

Sunday 1st August 1937

Although the troop train did not leave Watchet until about 11 o’clock, we had to turn out at 5:30. In best SD dress, we hung about the camp or did fatigues, until 10 o’clock, when we paraded for the march.

193 Battery seemed sadly depleted; so many men had already gone home. I shared a compartment with Tree, White and Lee. The 193 coaches were not crowded – MacRae slept soundly, alone in a carriage! After leaving Taunton, Tree and I found a nice peaceful carriage to ourselves. We smoked, ate our ration, cleaned our equipment. I took off my puttees and was very comfortable. 193 left the train at Stratford, said “cheerio” to 164 and 167. Reached Southend 6 o’clock. There were a dozen in my bus. Judd left us, old Warner, Mann, Autie, MacRae, Tree.

At the drill hall, Stock the BSM, Sergt. Crawford and myself alone remained. I got my push bike from the Battery Office. Kit bag on my handle bars I cycled down the gentle hill into Eastwoodbury.

Saturday 31st July 1937

When I had washed this morning, I strolled through the gate nearby and glanced along the road. How bewitchingly it curved away towards the hills! A lovely country – and I have not seen it. Those great hills to the east – The Quantocks – seem mysterious and bare. Have never seen hills which so nearly resembled Blue Mountain – the mythical hill about which I used to dream, as a child. And, like Blue Mountain, I’ve never reached the summit of The Quantocks!

Today our Battery instruments were packed and loaded on a railway van. Nothing to be done at the gun position, so Lee and I were ordered to report back to the main camp, with our kits. I went into my old tent. Demmer, Trigg, Brailey and Howell were all gone. The Lance-Bomardier, MacRae lay there alone, sleeping. He awoke. “Can I kip here again Mac?” “Aye, ye micht as weel”, he said slowly.

Friday 30th July 1937

A nauseating little piece of cold dry steak for breakfast. Could not face it, so had bread, margarine and marmalade with my tepid tea.

Went to the ammo. Dump at R.A.O.C. depot this morning. Hard work, packing boxes of shell cases etc. Back to the main camp by lorry at 1 o’clock.

Saw a line of men outside the Battery Office. “Dawson!” bellowed an NCO, “At the double!” It was the pay parade and they had just started on the letter “D”. The psychological arrival! Received 15/- and dashed along to a roadside café for cigarettes and chocolate.

Dinner: cold stewed meat and semi-cold peas and potatoes.

Short of gunners in 193, so two scratch crews were made up. I was Number Seven of no. 1 gun. Soon got used to this new job (Numbers I have not attempted yet are 2,3,5 and 6.) My gun let off 75 rounds, short burst.

Finished 7p.m. Had a snack – cheese, bread, butter and tepid tea – at the guard tent. Cleaning and covering guns until 9 o’clock. Then, at last, I had a wash, got rid of my overalls.

Nearly 11 o’clock now. Lee is out; I’ll smoke and read.

Thursday 29th July 1937

Misty day.

We carried out the ammo. Stood-by for a concentration shoot. Four guns were in action for a few seconds, and fired 20 rounds. The Left section did not shoot.

Afterwards, we laboriously reset the fuses at safety, repacked the ammo. And took it back to the dump. Felt somewhat gloomy. Only 1/2d left, therefore no refreshments today. Just a few cigarettes remaining, and a little pipe tobacco. The dining tent was empty when I wearily arrived about 6 o’clock. However, the orderly brought me bread, margarine and marmalade and slab cake. The tea, by some miracle, was still hot.

I read a paper afterwards, lit a cigarette, and felt better.

Wednesday 28th July 1937

Westoby, of 193 Battery, was NCO in charge of the guard here today. He awoke us at 5:45 with the news that it was a fine day. Windless. Cloudless. “Der Tag!” I cried as I peered cautiously from the tent doorway. The Left Section, 193, went to gun stations at 9 o’clock. Boxes of ammo. Wee set in rear of the guns. Fuses were set. (As No.9, I am one of the fuse setters.) We were given cotton wool for our ears. I bought some chewing gum. A plane towing a slave began to drone up and down. The guns mutely followed it. We waited tensely, listening to the UB2 and Predictor reports.

“Fuse eight” “Fuse eight set”
“Height, eight one hundred!”
…”Fuse one oh set”

Then at last –

“Vertical, Steady!”
“Lateral, Steady!”

“Fuse one-one!” yelled our Number Four. Number Eight seized a round, ran to the breech. I followed with another. Heard the metallic clatter of the breech, as it closed; thrust my round into the hands of Number Seven. Heard a crash as the other gun went off; turned to get another round, heard someone shout “Fire!” Then, crash!
I had been baptised. We fired 45 rounds before being relieved by the Right section.
Observers said our shooting was very close.

Tuesday 27th July 1937

The wind dropped today. Warmer weather but still low cloud at 4000 feet. Stood-by all day waiting for a chance to fire live rounds but the skies did not clear. This waiting and inaction is making 193 discontented. There is a good deal of grumbling in the main camp. The Battery is only six months old yet. We’ll settle down, later on. Evening “on” again. (I have not left camp since Saturday.)

It is just become dark. The wind has risen in the last few minutes. Lee and myself are laying on our beds fairly snugly. Candles burning on the UB2 boxes on each side. Have 2/9d left. Lee only has one penny so I’ve arranged to lend him a shilling! Two men in low water!

Monday 26th July 1937

Bitterly cold. High wind. Low cloud – 3000 feet. 193 still standing by.

The Predictor is a really infernal machine with lots of little wheels and dials and what-not. I carried out my duties satisfactorily, without knowing what it all meant.
Saw Porter at teatime. He has now got a vacancy on his gun, for a Number Nine. That is hardly a proud position, but I’m glad to be on the gun, glad to be back in the left section and glad to be under Porter.

The loneliness here does not seem to suit Stock – he’s only 17 – so I saw Sergt. Dunster about it. He at once arranged for Stock to be relieved. Lee is the new man. I don’t know him but he’s an old soldier and I think we’ll get on well together. Allen was too “cocky” and Stock was unintelligent. Lee and I have made a comfortable nook with boxes, in the least draughty part of the tent.

It is now 10 p.m. The sky is grey, the sea is grey; the marquee shakes in the wind, which moans around the corners. I am going to turn in and read for a few moments. Have a stub of candle left. Will smoke two cigarettes perhaps. Funds are running low; 5/6d still remains.

Sunday 25th July 1937

Still cold, with a high wind. Full day’s duty for me. Up at 7 o’clock. Stock went to breakfast first. I followed later and had a comfortable meal with Coleman, the AQM, Webb, the Battery Clerk, and two mess orderlies.

This morning 22 men left camp, having completed eight days training. I watched them march past the Gun Park. “Cheerio!” “Cheerio old boy!” Coleman, Howell, Allen, Barber and Morrison were in the party.

Lunchtime, some balls-up occurred re. my job in the Battery. Apparently I had been chosen for Officer’s Mess Servant for the next week. I strongly objected to this subservient post and Sergt. Dunster eventually gave someone else the job. However, in the meantime, Porter had deleted my name from his list of gunners and had got another fuse number. “I assure you sincerely that the mistake wasn’t mine,” he said, “And I’ll try and get you back on the gun by Tuesday.” (“A jolly decent NCO”, I thought.) Later in the afternoon, Sergt. Dunster scrambled into my wildly flapping tent and briefly stated I was to be Number Six in the Predictor Detachment. An utterly different job! Let us hope it is only a temporary one.

Lonely afternoon in the wind shake, draughty tent. Eventually, I made a barricade of UB2 boxes and lay snugly in between them, reading an American magazine.

Saturday 24th July 1937

Up 6:30. Cold and windy. Had a good wash; shaved in the tent – a mirror lashed to the pole and my utensils neatly arranged on the UB2 boxes. Put on fatigues (but not boots!) and reached the main camp about 15 minutes before breakfast. Sausage, bacon, fried potatoes, followed by bread and margarine. Meals are improving.

The bugle sounded for parade as I left the camp. I paused in a fold of the ground, lit a cigarette and strolled on in a leisurely fashion, thinking I was bloody lucky.
Allen returns home tomorrow. His replacement arrived this afternoon – a somewhat unintelligent youth named Stock. Allen went to Taunton, presumably for one last binge.

I went for a stroll along the coast, leaving Stock in the stores tent. Silent, puffing a pipe, beside the sea, below the cliffs. A beach strewn with seaweed, rock and slate. Four men from the 164th overtook me and we all ambled along to St. Audries Bay. Exciting scramble around a towering cliff, with every other wave splashing against the base. Later, a man told us that a whole family had been drowned there recently, in similar circumstances!

In the gathering dusk, we climbed the cliffs. A bat fluttered past my ear as I led the way. At the top, we found ourselves in private grounds, so slunk along through a wood and across fields at the edge of the cliffs. Reached camp 10:30. Felt beastly hungry, so walked along to the Civilian. Closed of course, but Mrs Taverner – God bless her! – gave me a pie and hot coffee, also a bar of chocolate.

It is now past midnight. Guess I’ll turn in.

Friday 23rd July 1937

Late again. On the gun without breakfast, whilst another man guarded the stores tent.
Number Two gun of the left section – Porter’s gun. I was Four. No live rounds. Clouds too low.

After lunch the right section prepared for action – patches of blue in the sky!
“Fall in 193!” bellowed an NCO. Leaving the tent unguarded, I slipped into the ranks. Had visions of being a non-combatant! We began to carry boxes of ammo to the guns. A commotion at the marquee. “Where’s Dawson?” shouted Sergeant Dunster furiously. I ran like hell. Caught off duty! “At the double!” the Sergeant ordered, somewhat superfluously, as I bolted towards him. Spent the rest of the day at the tent!

Anyhow my section did not shoot; only the right section let off a few rounds. Number One gun fired the first shot of 193rd Battery! I saw the shell pushed home; saw Gunner Pilgrim crouching at the breech; saw his hand hesitate for a fraction of a second above the firing lever; saw it jerk down. Crash! Our first shot!

Pay day. Drew 15/9d.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Thursday 22nd July 1937

Awoke late. Heard the tramp of feet as the 193rd came down the road to shoot. “Here they come, like lambs to the slaughter” I heard someone say. Dashed into camp, late for breakfast. Cold tea, bread and margarine and jam. Cloudy weather. The right section of 193rd stood-by, waiting to shoot. Ammunition stacked in rear of the guns.

At lunchtime, had 1/2d left. Went down the road in overalls, wearing “civvy” clothes underneath. Round a bend in the road, I dodged behind a hedge, rapidly removed my overalls, wrapped them in a brown paper parcel. Proceeded into Watchet in civvies – a free man! Drew 20/- from the Bank, had Somerset cream for lunch. Back to camp in mid-afternoon. Marched smartly in, again clad in overalls. Nothing said!

Evening: To Minehead. Walked up North Hill, about 800 feet sheer from the sea. Met a quiet gentleman who was delighted to be my guide. The woods, the shoulder, the summit. Coombes and wirtleberries. The distant sea seemed at our feet.
“I’d like to come here, when I retire”, I said, as the Somerset quietness crept upon me. “That’s what I did”, replied my leader, - “A few years ago”. We took a broad track into the woods; there was a broken gate which served no apparent purpose. I said sleepily… “They closed the way through the woods…” We turned off the track, down a narrow path between the rhododendrons.

My guide laughed at a humorous memory. A few months ago he met a man here, in the heart of the woods. It was dark and lonely, so he thought the occasion demanded some bright remark and called, as they met, “Doctor Livingstone, I presume?”
The man was apparently of the uneducated classes. He stared in amazement. “I don’t know”, he said, “I ain’t seen im nowhere about ere”. What thoughts must have oozed through his mind as the poor man went on his way!

On the outskirts of the town we parted. I thanked my serene companion. Never knew his name. Mingled with the crowds. Went to a café – The Bungalow Tearooms – and had a feast. Cheese and pickles, tea, baked beans on toast, in that sequence.
Back by the 9:40 bus. Saw the moon (nearly at the full) rising above unknown hills.

Wednesday 21st July 1937

Rainy day, “cushy” for the whole Battery, including myself.

Tuesday 20th July 1937

Up 6:30. Cleaned my uniform, washed and shaved, had a run around the gun park with Maine. No parades! No rushing to answer bugle calls! When Allen came back from breakfast, I went across to the main camp. Kipper (cold) and tea (warm) Also bread and margarine. Back at the gun position, hectic moments whilst stores were being issued, then a slack interval.

Crouched in the doorway, watching the 167th shooting. Live rounds, not dummies. “Fire”, from the GPO. “Fuse one oh!” from a Number Four”…. “Fire!” “Fire!” from Number One. Then the roar of the explosion! The gun jerks back viciously, flame belches from the muzzle, the shell whines away into the sky, the tent shakes, a blast of air makes the eyes blink. A few seconds later there is a puff of smoke 10,000 feet up; again a few seconds pass, then comes the sound of the distant report. By that time the same gun will have roared again and again. One round every four seconds! My eyes blink 40 yards in rear of 3 inch guns. Shows I am new to gunfire.

As the firing continued, I began to feel nervous, to hope that I should not have to go on the gun. Was I the only 193rd man that felt like that?

Had tea (Somerset cream and bananas) at the Civilian canteen, a snug place just outside the entrance of the main camp. Then I put on my grey bags, tweed jacket and tartan tie. My evening “off”. I discreetly left the gun park and walked into Watchet, scorning to obtain the requisite pass. Bought some “baccy”; had a Somerset cider in a pub with a Gunner from the 167th.

When I returned to camp, four of us played Pontoon and Brag in the marquee, by candlelight.