Monday, June 30, 2008

Tuesday 15th August 1939

I’m writing this where I wrote the last 8 pages – in the waiting room at Renolds of Dagenham. I have been here nearly 100 minutes now whilst they make yet another attempt to fit my electric motor so that the windscreen wipers work.

Have made only three calls today, so far. One gave an order and another was an important call. Billings of Grays! This name is in the news again! At my last “service” call, he revealed that because of our high prices he’d given the last order to a rival firm. However, he gave us an opportunity to revise our prices and deal direct, cutting out the three merchants who’ve been fighting for the business.

I reported all this, adding that he had used about 270 gallons of Paripan products within the last 18 months, and was duly requested to call at head office. This I did last week and Mr Reddall went into it thoroughly. Beside the special prices, I did not want trouble with the merchants unless the firm were at my back!

Today I interviewed Billings again, did my sales talk and quoted prices. Was able to go a little higher in the case of hard gloss, quoting a better quality material than that suggested. Am to recall next Friday and there seems quite a chance that the great man will give us his next order.

I have now been in the waiting room for 110 minutes.

Quite soon after writing the above, my car was ready. They had been able to get only a single wiper in action – the motor was not strong enough for the twin wipers.
Fed-up and disgusted, I was thankful for small mercies and came away. Sure enough, one wiper worked!

George and I strolled along the Chelmer this evening. Returning in the darkness across a field, George was just explaining the duties of “A” troop Signals NCO and had mentioned those of Norrington, the telephonist, when a voice cried, “Who’s talking about me?”

It was Norrington, leaning against the lock baulks, with a girl! To my further amusement, Gobey appeared from the darkness! He was presumably acting as chaperone. Eventually we brought Harold Gobey away with us. Dropped George outside the Milk Bar. Wiley (of 5 Queens Road) appeared simultaneously so I introduced him to George and after a short chat, left them there together.

Chelmsford begins to feel “friendly” now that I can wander about and bump into people I know.

Monday 14th August 1939

Sunny day! Twelve calls in Southend, three orders – one from a new client, a property owner, who paid cash in advance – and a total turnover of £9.

“There’ll always be an England” – I whistled loudly, as I dashed into my pub at quarter to seven.

Sunday 13th August 1939

Sunshine! And a holiday morning! Grey bags, khaki shirt, no tie, RNVR scarf, tweed jacket, brown shoes, socks rolled down to the ankles, saucy French onionman’s beret on my head.

George and Jacko alighted from the bus, strolled across to where I waited with Slinky B, outside The Cock. Sun glasses were needed! Billericay, Laindon Hills, Tilbury and – over the river! Caught a bus to the outskirts of Gravesend (I never know which bus to take and I’m still ignorant!) Usual path across the fields and up to the mill. This climb in the noonday sun “sweated the callow fat” off us as they say in books which revel in cliché. We ate our sandwiches and had pints of shandy at Ye Olde See Ho, Shorne.

Aeroplanes droned overhead as we took to the fields again and the enthusiastic George told us how to recognise the various types. Thereafter Jacko and I, at frequent intervals and after great concentration would cry, “Avro!” or “De Haviland” or “Hawker!” Surprisingly, our elementary judgement was often confirmed by the expert George.

Once Cobham Park was reached, our pace slackened considerably and we strolled leisurely through the woods, halting frequently. George tried to make cigarettes from some dry plant he’d found; Jacko lay, hands behind head, and looked at the blue sky, then cut himself a stick; I lounged on the ground and sleepily examined the contents of my rucksack – Prayer Book, pack of cards and map in one pocket; cotton wool, whisky flask (almost empty) aspirins and string in the other.

Later we reached a railway cutting and sat down on the bank whilst several trains passed. I became an inert subject in the sunshine. George sang “Over the border, down Mexico way.” Jacko hurried off to investigate the merest flutter of a feminine skirt, seen some distance away, across the bridge. When he returned, we tramped along the line. We read all the letters we found lying beside the way and tried to weave fantastic romances out of them. Jacko spat hopefully on the live rail but nothing happened. “It’s terrible tempting,” he said wistfully.

After two miles or so of alertness for trains, live rail fascination and fantasy production we left the line and got onto the main road at the intended point. I loudly referred to my magnificent map reading, but nobody else seemed impressed.
Soon reached Cobham and had tea at the Dorrit (one glass of milk, four cups of tea). Then we shamelessly called at the Leather Bottle, ostensibly for a glass of grapefruit, actually for a wash.

When George and I reached the lavatory, Jacko had disappeared but the door of the inner chamber was marked “engaged” so we (rightly) deduced that Jacko was within.
Determined that an eavesdropper should hear no good of himself, George and I, whilst washing, discussed Jacko in the most scathing terms (“Of course, I wouldn’t like to say it to his face, but…”) and then hurried out. Looking slightly worried, Jacko rejoined us in the street.

To atone, we eventually agreed to go to Church with him. George was extremely reluctant; as we went up the churchyard path he grumbled, “But I don’t bloody well want to go to Church” and he was still muttering impotently as we sat down in a pew.
Two things I liked: first, it was nice to take part in the familiar ritual once more, secondly it was a good chance for praying – a rare habit of mine. There were so many things to pray about – requests, apologies and thanks.

Bus. Ferry. Slinky B. Lengthening shadows, dusk, night.

Ten o’clock. We all sat in the car outside Jacko’s house. He was to join the Army in eleven hours time.

“Well, so long you fellows!”
“Cheerio, Jacko, all the best”
“Good-bye Jacko. Good luck!”

Handclasps. End of a trio, no doubt. George and I arranged to meet again next Tuesday.

Saturday 12th August 1939

April and her Mother having quarrelled, April decided to move into digs for awhile. I did a little knight-erranting this afternoon, transporting her kit to the digs!
Returned to her house for tea.

Garden-scene. We were trying to bathe the dog, which suffers from hysteria and will probably be destroyed. (April was badly bitten a week ago.) The ruddy dog snapped savagely at April and bit her Mother. Treacherously it then approached me, wagging it’s tail. I stroked it, gently edging towards the waiting bat-tub.

“He hasn’t bitten you yet,” said April’s Mother thoughtfully. “See if it will bite you” she added hopefully… The brute snapped a moment later! Eventually we threw the water over him.

Evening: I drove April into the green lands north of the Crouch and we finally reached the Ferry Boat Inn, at North Fambridge. We sat facing each other across a bare deal table and April talked about the Far East and a man therein. Toasts in sherry. One of mine was the most important – “To the fourth month of the year!”
“Three little fishes… And they swam and they swam, right over the dam”.

We drove slowly homewards through the darkness. Although I stopped the car suddenly, it was April who’d put her hand on mine as it steered and it was April later on, who suddenly moved closer to me. Weaving of fantasy by April – if we were both freed now, by some godlike figure that came down the road – freed of all troubles, all responsibilities, what would we do?

“We both belong to someone else, but tonight, somehow, we belong to each other”
“Mm, I’, frightened”
“So am I!”
“I feel this night is different and that it will never be the same again”
“What!” – in anxious fear – “You mean this is the zenith and afterward “love will die out from kiss to kiss”?”
“No” she said solemnly. “This is the beginning”
“Oh! Well, if it had been the zenith, we’d have stayed here all night, so as not to lose a moment of it!”

And we only made a few promises, but lovely ones. April should be her month, and I could not get married then. No one else should ever call her April. And mysteriously, “If I ever have a son, I’d like to call him Stephen so as he’d be like you!”

Friday 11th August 1939

Tolerably good day on the road in Southend. And dryness and sunshine!

Evening: Jacko, George and I were together. Singing lustily, we drove through Chelmsford (“Clementine” and “Loch Lomond” were rendered in almost perfect harmony) and reached The Oasis with a rather doubtful “Ye Banks and Braes of Bonnie Doon”.

Coffee, welsh rarebit a l’Oasis and an hours telephone call to Pat. We were able to phone in comfort, sitting at the bar. Everyone became interested in our conversation and we eventually handed photographs around so that they could appreciate it better.

Back to town. Jacko fetched Mary out; she sat on Georges’ knee at the back of the car and showed us some new underclothes she’d bought. (She wasn’t wearing them!) She laughed and sparkled and was happy. We took her up to The Sunbeam and she stood us coffee. Left her at about midnight. The three of us discussed psychological subjects until two o’clock or so.

Thursday 10th August 1939

Ten calls, one order (22/-) on the short country journey. Yet another stickily warm, rainy day. Fed-up by 3 o’clock, so I came home. Wasted enough petrol! Now I think I’ll have a bath, as it is not tea-time yet. One needs a bath every day in this humid weather.

Having just re-read my notes (yesterday’s) re Mary, even I feel guilty! I think we must arrange to gradually see less of each other. That way does not hurt as does the sudden break. (A girl like April is different. She is a bit like me – elastic, fickle, light-hearted. People like she and I are the lucky ones.) But a girl of Mary’s type is slowly stirred, easily hurt; she must not be either. She is a serious sort of person, more fitted for marriage than flirtation. Besides for a girl of her sort, half the fun of an affair must be gone when it becomes secret. I’m sure the family aspect of an affair – friends and relatives – is important to her.

Sinister item in today’s news! The German troops now massed on the Polish frontier (for what?) have been issued with Polish phrase books so that they can say in Polish tongue such things as: “Where is your husband?”, “If you resist we will burn down your house” and “Don’t move or we shall kill you”. Apparently similar books, in the Czech language, were also issued prior to the Sudetenland invasion last year.

I, like most of the people of this once peaceful country, am now resigned to War.
We have had so much of the threat of war now that we are almost accepting the reality before it comes. If and when there is war, I shall be excited, tense, thrilled and nervous, no doubt but all the same – resigned to it.

Wednesday 9th August 1939

Jacko and George have been fearfully concerned about the break between Mary and I.
Today, following a message from George, I called on Mary once more. She said she’d changed her mind and that I could see her again if I liked. She’d felt miserable since we parted and this seemed unnecessary so she would risk being hurt later on, unless I’d changed my mind. Like a fool and a blighter, I said I hadn’t changed in the least.

One honest thing about SJD among many less enviable traits – he realises his caddishness and does not attempt to minimise it or deceive himself!

I met her in the evening – now in the teeth of opposition from her parents – and we went to the ford near Danbury where I sat one wet afternoon and wrote my diary. Rain dripped sadly from the trees there tonight, also.

Had a drink at a Danbury pub – to “Us!” She said perhaps she’d be able to deceive her parents about seeing me – she who is so terribly honest and truthful. She “lit a candle” for me in the Catholic fashion the other night. Apparently, whilst the candle burns, all ones prayers ascend to God. She prayed that when he did get married he’d be happy. (Happier than he deserved, she should have said.)

Tuesday 8th August 1939

Lots of clammy sweat, terrifying rain showers and traffic. Visit to the Office, where everyone seemed pleased to see me. Mr Reddall, instead of his one-time attitude of sarcasm and argumentiveness is now cordial and complimentary. Can’t be a matter of turnover – that, owing to the slump, is little better than last years – so it must be my increased efficiency and preciseness in reports that please him.

Monday 7th August 1939

West-End day with George and Jacko – making the most of their remaining time as civilians. Sultry day, with lots of sweat in Town.

We saw a leg and bosom show at the Prince of Wales’, rowed on the Serpentine and had dinner at Schmidt’s.

11:30p.m. Called at Hammersmith and helped Father. Damned hot in that confounded cellar!

Bed 1 a.m. How ever long is it since I was in bed by midnight?

Sunday 6th August 1939

Did nothing much – except that in the evening I went to the Hammersmith Police Canteen where Father is now working temporarily and helped with the washing and clearing-up until 11:40p.m when he’d finished.

Even this was tiring – in the close atmosphere of a cellar – so heaven knows what Father feels like after nearly ten hours of it…

Saturday 5th August 1939

Jacko called at the pub at 11 o’clock, for a lift to Town. It still rained. Slinky still stood miserably in the yard. There have been horses in the garage this week, as luck would have it, so that Slinky has not had a thoroughly dry hour for several days. Could not possible grope our way to Ealing through rain so there was nothing to be done except pray for fine weather; this I did.

Jacko and I went to the saloon and played several very good games of darts. We had tots of rum to keep out the cold. At 1 o’clock, the rain, which had been gradually lessening, ceased. Slinky took the road!

Jacko had intended to be deposited somewhere near a tube station, so that he could push on to the West End but he eventually said, oh, it didn’t matter. We had lunch at a massive BDC café on the North Circular. Efficient mass-production service. Later we played darts in the games room, using a fascinating automatic scorer. This was the Ace Café. Must go there again.

Stayed at home awhile. Father in, rest of the family away.

Rushed down to Staines and Egham. Took out a skiff and went down stream (by the rollers at Bell Weir). Rowed up the Colne – a struggle, with such a heavy stream running – as far as the Mill Pool, explaining to Jacko that it was a point of honour to make this trip. The current threw us around in the Pool, then we commenced the downstream drift. I explained to Jacko that it was also a point of honour to attempt to drift downstream. He got out of control on the last bend but one but, becoming enthusiastic, went up to the Pool again and made another attempt.

By jove! He did it! As we drifted gently around the last bend, stern making a clearance of two inches, Jacko gave a shout of triumph! I must mention that he “fluttered” the rudder continually so am not sure that this is a legal record.
Afterwards, we went around Witchery Island and then upstream to Runnymede. Jacko learnt to “feather blades” and to “ship sculls”.

Supper at a little café below Staines Bridge, at a window that overlooked the river. No sign of rain, now. After a hell of a big supper we returned slowly to Town, singing. Saw Jacko off at Ealing Station.

Friday 4th August 1939

Rainy weather – sudden, short showers. Slinky’s roof began to leak. Eight calls in Southend. No orders but I received one by post this morning (from Atkinson, at Chelmsford GPO) so was able to use my order book.

George and Jacko were not at drill tonight (“foretaste of things to come” I thought gloomily) but I met Jacko accidentally later on. After supper at various places, we ended with another long discussion re dreams, ideals and ambitions, sitting in the car outside his house. Sheets of rain crashed down. Slinky leaked slightly. Occasionally there was a vivid flash of sheet lightening.

Home 5 o’clock.

Thursday 3rd August 1939

So much for yesterday. I’m still sitting by the ford. Grey rain is falling still.
I have been here over two hours, alone. I will have another cup of tea, re-read this diary then, perhaps, go home.

Evening: Met George and Jacko in Chelmsford. Still raining, so we went to the pictures – and saw the same “horrific” film which I saw at Laindon yesterday. Afterwards, supper and the usual pow-wow. Switched out the light at 2:15 a.m.

Wednesday 2nd August 1939

I’m writing this a day later. It’s a rainy afternoon. I grew tired of touting hopelessly in Chelmsford, hoping nervously that the police would not observe the absence of windscreen wipers. Slinky B too, had had his full ration of rain – there’s a blue sheen on his roof. So I drove out here, onto a rough, little-used road between Butts Green and Danbury Common. I’m parked, partially sheltered by a tree, above the ford. A place I know well; John has been here, and Lois, and Pat Retallack, and Mad Willie, and Mary.

Sad afternoon. Drip, drip from the trees; Ssssss into the grass, plit. plit. plitter. plit into the stream. Grey rain! It’s comfortable in the car though. I’m sitting in the front passenger seat, using an improvised ashtray. Only two cars have gone, splashing through the ford, since I came here nearly an hour ago. I’ve a thermos of tea with me. I bought the flask this morning, very cheaply, at a mass-produced goods store. I had lunch at Wainwrights’ and got the flask filled.

Mary was there. I didn’t expect to find her there, otherwise I would not have gone. I made a list of the days and hours of her duty but it seems she arranged things differently today. Couldn’t eat my lunch with much gusto! She looked at me just as brightly, with the same twinkle, as though nothing had happened. She thanked me for the letter and Doc, speaking low: She’d put Doc on the wireless cabinet beside her bed but he seemed rather sad still!

“If it’s any consolation to you”, Mary said, “I feel pretty rotten myself.”
“Oh, it makes it worse!”

I went out into the rain and presently came here. However this is yesterdays diary and I’ve been writing nearly three pages of today! Yesterday was foul – until the evening! One smallish order in Romford. I went several miles out of my way to the Ford Garage at Dagenham and waited whilst they fitted the windscreen wiper. But it didn’t work! So they took it off and said they’d write me again in a week or so.
This gave me, literally, a headache.

A boy cyclist was run over by a car. I pulled up and ran back. He lay underneath the wheels, crying, “Take it off me, take it off me!” We lifted the car off him. The cycle was in pieces but he wasn’t badly hurt, just shaken and gashed a bit. Dozens of clumsy, sympathetic motorists – I wish I knew first aid! – gathered around.
Once we had him off the road, the boy was very quiet and cool. I told him so and he looked up suddenly, pale-faced, and smiled.

Evening: Called for April. Her Mother, that was married for three days only, to an Australian soldier, greeted me as though I’d been there only yesterday. April and I went to a country cinema – at Laindon, and were put in the back row and whispered when the picture was not too exciting. Sometimes knee would touch knee, and fingers brush elbow. We came away; we laughed a lot, for no reason, usually!

We were in one of those moods, which two people sometimes get, when the thoughts and words of one are echoed by the other. Perhaps this was because it was a reunion and we are both sentimental blighters (strange April should be sentimental! More typical of October!) and both adore Memories. Slinky B began to chug up Laindon Hill. “How much do you bet he won’t go up in top gear?” She had just been going to say the same thing! “All right,” she said solemnly, “I’ll take you on. Same as last time”.

Slinky, with a bad start and a cold engine, crawled up the first half of the hill. He gathered speed on the gentler incline beyond. We rolled dangerously around the corners and rushed at the steepest part! Slinky breasted the slope at a good twenty!
Dry Street – and turn right, down a winding road. I thought of something. April turned and looked back, excitedly. I knew her gesture and my thought meant the same.

“What are you looking for?”
“A man”
“On a bicycle?”

I cannot write anything that describes the dual cry of mixed delight and mirth then, as Slinky B nearly struck the grass verge at a corner. Duet! (You see, we were both re-living the first time, long ago, that we’d come here.) She wouldn’t let me kiss her until she’d first kissed me, In accordance with the terms of the bet.
As she lay in my arms we remembered…

(Wrapping her up in the rug and suddenly she sat bolt upright – “I don’t want to sleep!” Three times I’d used the word “amorphous” and once she’d mispronounced it, saying sleepily, “Am I ‘morphous?” It had been snowing and I said, “Would you like the rug?” “What? The rug?” she said. I hastily took it away. Then, suddenly, “It’s a damn good idea!”)

Most of the things she says are sudden and most, when written, should be followed by an exclamation mark. It is the way she says them! Damned if I know what she sees in me, April who is so lovely and full of life and for ever winning prizes for beauty and what not. How jealous I’d be, as her husband; miserable as hell I’ve no doubt.

As we went down Laindon Hill she’d said, “I was just going to dab some scent behind my ears when you called. I wish I had.”

“It would have brought back the old atmosphere”
“What atmosphere?”
“Oh, us!”

Then I knew.

Twelve-thirty as we trundled up to her house.

“How are things in Indo-China?”
“If you mean the Malay Straits…”
“Well, it’s all the same – Far East”
“…Not too good. All off in fact.”
“Anything I can do?”
“What then? Think of the Round Table and all that…”
“We’ll talk it over together some time, perhaps”
“Auf wiederschen”

Another thing we’d both laughed about. “Damn you!” she said, “You spoilt everything when you came back! I didn’t think you would!” Apparently she’d had a special sentimental evening abut six weeks ago and written “finis” to me. Everything connected with me had been carefully collected and put away in a sealed box. April had even written a short précis about it and sealed that, too. Now I’d returned and everything was disorganised!

“Today I feel so happy!” she sang as we drove homewards.

At 2 o’clock I switched out the light, put the book down and fell asleep.

Tuesday 1st August 1939

"VE AAA Farewell George Embleton Stop Casualties in UK RAF very high AR”. This I sent to the morse class at four a minute. George, sitting by, laughed as he heard the check. “Ever since he knew I was joining, he’s been trying to put me off like that, Sir!” he said to Lieutenant Adams. I like to send messages that are amusing to read; I always hated the dull unimaginative messages copied from notices on the walls (“Press key and a buzz should be heard in both receivers…” etc).

Later on I sent, “VE AAA Lieunt. Adams says we must all be more military in our ways stop This is a good idea is it not AR”. To my horror, Mr Adams came into the room again whilst this was being sent, and heard the check. Without comment.

Jacko, George and I went to the Sunbeam for supper. George left us at 12:30; Jacko and I went to the Oasis for one more coffee each. Home 1:30.

“Days and nights and dawnings” indeed! Well, I’m making the most of my time, just in case there is a War this month!

Sunday 30th July 1939

After tea I drove slowly to Great Yeldham. Parked the car in a rough track that led to a ford across the Colne. Presently Lois came, dressed in white, with a scarlet kerchief. We went to Ashen and leaned on a bridge above a stream. Taking stones from her mouth as she chewed damsons (or plums). Angel hurled them into the brook, indicating points at which she had previously seen water rats.

We drove slowly and vaguely to Castle Hedingham, taking many wrong turnings and not worrying in the least. I sang. I felt hungry and suddenly felt weak with hunger. For a few moments I gazed feverishly around the empty fields in search of a café. Then I remembered Lois had brought some apples. I stopped abruptly. Presently my teeth sank into a juicy apple of exactly the right texture and hardness. It was a Sturmer, Lois said and she could also recommend Granny Smith’s apples. Oh yes, I must certainly ask for a Granny Smith’s apple next time I went into a fruiterers.

At last, just at nightfall, Slinky crawled into Castle Hedingham. The castle loomed vaguely on the hill above; it looked unreal, like a cardboard castle in a stage scene. Went into a pub for cider. Still faint for nourishment, I also had bread, cheese and tomatoes. A shilling altogether. A Roman Catholic priest, in full war paint, sat in the bar, talking to some of the men. Beside him was a half pint glass tankard of beer. He held his cigarette rather awkwardly, like a lady, not like a heavy smoker. He listened intently to the jokes and gossip and smiled broadly.

When we got outside I said to Angel: “I’ll just go into the yard and see if there is a suicide buried there. Of course it’s not a cross roads but still”. Angel said, “Yes, see if there’s one for me, too, will you?” “Suicide at the cross roads” is our new code-phrase for going to the lavatory. It used to be “going to the telephone” at one time.

Did not drive right up to The White Hart. Went past it, then Lois got out and walked back. As I returned I saw her just crossing the road to go in doors. Under trees the road was dappled shadows. In open country, with the moon in a cloudless sky, I only used sidelights. Thus robbed of all artificial lighting, the road became a silver ribbon.

Home 12:30 Read in bed a little – I usually do. Sleep was permitted to approach at 1:30.

Saturday 29th July 1939

Jacko and George and I went to Southend, by the courtesy of Captain Slinky B.

Oh! We went to a flicks, and had supper at Sam Isaac’s and smiled at a waitress with naughty eyes who admitted she chewed spearmint. Yet the evening commenced at midnight when the three of us sat on stone steps on the Esplanade, looking seawards. Even George was quiet. The waves lapped gently higher and two steps, dry at first, became covered with the salty water. The moon was at the full. Symphony.

“The tide is rising; I wonder if the tide of our life is rising like that. It would be nice to think the ebb had not begun yet”. “I think we are still beyond the farthest wave. Only the spray has touched us yet”.

Quiet drive through the moonlight. George left us at 2 o’clock. Reached Jacko’s street. He and I sat there, smoking pipe after pipe, until the stars had faded and the moon had gone. When we had discussed and settled all the important things I drove alone to Stock. Did not even need sidelights; it was dawn. Birds fluttered beside the car, as I crossed the Common.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Shimmering Haze 1939

SJ Dawson, The Cock Inn, Stock, Near Ingatestone, Essex.

… “And laughed with him and sung with him and wasted,
In feast and wine and many crown’d carouse,
The days and nights and dawnings of the time
When Youth kept open house.”

At the beginning of Shimmering haze 1939:

Thank God! I have not, after all, lost – imagination and dreams! I began to think they and their gay companions had gone for ever, leaving me a wooden, stolid plodding man. Writing a diary ceased to be a joy and to write sentences like these would have been impossible or not sincere. Yet they had not deserted me, perhaps just run away for awhile. Now that they have returned, nothing can cheat me. I will “live and thou canst rob me now, only of some long life…”

The deeper things have come dancing back to me! Perhaps they came out of the moonlit sea at Southend as I sat on the slowly disappearing stone steps at midnight, with two friends. I can’t say why they are here again – I just know.

Laughter, Tears, Colour, Dreams, Fancy, Imagination, Song, Beauty… and all the rest.
I greet you again!

Friday 28th July 1939

Lost the contract for paint at Rochford Hospital. Starline got it, after a grim struggle. If the firm had written their sales letter when requested instead of three days later things might have been different. As it was there was some misunderstanding about price which would not otherwise have existed. Garforth and Wellham were the contractors. I’m still trying to get the order for their remaining two schools. If I get it, the balance of victory swings my way. Four schools for me, two schools and a hospital for Starline.

I waited in a country lane, sitting half in and half out of Slinky B. April came! She looked at me and said “Gosh!” and looked down and laughed. It’s two months since we last met.

Mournful task – helping George take his kit into the drill hall. We exchanged cap bands (chinstraps) as his was better than mine. Another car brought Jacko’s kit in…
Before joining their respective regular units, they have to leave TA and their civilian jobs. Stanley Ling does not think he’ll be coming down any more – except possible at weekends. Got a job in Town. He will leave altogether, eventually. Tiny, now a driver, still remains but he expects to go to Cheltenham within six months.
Soon I’ll be all alone.

Sergeant Quayle came down. I was taking a buzzer class. He took me aside and told me that he, Lieut. Adams and George all considered I was the best man to take George’s place. I pointed out doubtfully I did not consider myself experienced or capable enough. Lieut. Adams then entered and gave me the works and I eventually agreed. I really am ignorant but suppose everyone else is as bad! So, assuming George does get accepted by the RAF, I’ll be Bombardier in charge of “A” Troop signallers. Phew! I have never worked with either Troop! Good bye to my beloved exchange and the Command Post.

As I write, a haunting tune comes from the wireless – “One alone”. I often think my fate is to be always alone at heart.

The milk bar. Jacko, George, Tiny and I sat there a long time, with an interlude for ringing-up Pat at Harlow. A drifter from “down under” came in and drawled his opinion of Chelmsford, the milk bar and people in general. One could imagine him “shooting up” a saloon bar-room “out-West”. For a moment I wondered if there’d be trouble and if I should take charge. But I glanced across and saw the watchful, twinkling eyes of Littlefield of 5 Queens Road. He took care of the “drifter” with a little neat repartee.

“…Hey you! Where are you going?”
“That’s my business stranger, if I want to get out of this louse-bound town”
“I say that’s my business, stranger”
“Say old timer, I like the cut of your jib. What’s your name?”
“Call me Poona!”
“How are ye?”

They shook hands solemnly, got together. “Man meets man,” I whispered to Jacko.
It eventually transpired that the Australian intended to “drift on” to America – “a dinkum country”.

Mary sat with me in the car. A horrid good-bye. Because I’m engaged and she’s getting fond of me, she won’t see me any more. Would not even let me give her a lift home. A more genuine boy friend waited around the corner. I said lots of bitter things, which I should not have. She is a damn nice girl. The theme – a confused, heart-sickening break between a straight girl and a crooked fella.

Bright night. I stopped at Galleywood Common and looked at the stars. Mars, nearer than for 15 years; the full moon, the Bear. Philosophical policeman. We talked about the heavens whilst I filled, lighted, smoked and knocked out a pipe. And he did not end by prosaically asking to see my driving licence and insurance certificate, bless him!

Reached my bedroom soon after midnight. Hot summer’s night! There on the dressing table, stood Doc, the token given me by Mary because I’d been “Doc” at Camp. No, I couldn’t keep it! Silly, but I must send it back. I wrapped it up very carefully, with strange anxious-ness as though Doc were something alive and might be hurt – perhaps like a little puppy. I’d thought I could never be hurt again! Only if I kept among light-hearted people apparently…

With Doc, I enclosed a note which I hoped would cancel out the bitter things I’d said. “…I’ll unwrap that scented store…” As I packed away Doc and the letter, I was packing away the scented store of memories that never were, of the happy times we might have had… “Close the rainbow and the rose…”

The rose had only budded.

“Send George Beer” said a member of my morse class as we finished (- - . - …) GB is signallese for goodbye. GB! Today has been all GB – except for April and that, thank God! Was VE VE AAA (Calling up, calling up, break signal preceding text. Hullo! Old friend)

High Noon 1939 however really ends with “GB”.

Tuesday 25th July 1939

Evening drill. Afterwards, Jacko and I waited, as usual, for George, then went out for a coffee – to The Sunbeam. Coffee and welsh rarebits, actually. Sang to a vamped piano, played bar billiards; it was damned hot. Jacko sang divinely. Girl looked at Jacko; went out. Smiled over her shoulder. Jacko hurried off. “Pay my bill old man, I’ll be back in half an hour!” I flourished half a crown. The proprietor said, “You can put that right away!” “Oh, you’re not the least interested in half a crown, eh?”
“No! Your bill is one and four and his three and a penny!”

George and I scrambled into Slinky and hastened after the blighter. Wait half an hour, indeed! Ferociously, I crawled behind Jacko and the girl his arm encircled, headlights blazing. She left Jacko at her garden gate. Hungry for a kiss he walked slowly towards the door. And slowly the door closed! Jacko stood irresolute. George and I laughed loudly. Stung, poor Jacko knocked on the door. It opened immediately and the girl furiously told him to go away. Everyone was furious except George and I. Loud mirth had made me helpless.

Monday 24th July 1939

Today’s turnover £65 – a record day and a record week, right at the start!
Flaxman’s RAF Volunteer Reserve HQ – 60 gallons. Flaxman’s Telephone Exchange – 7 gallons. Chambers Telephone Exchange – 15 gallons. Hughes’ School – 14 gallons. Hughes’ had three schools and gave one to Starline. He will give the other two to me and I received a preliminary order today.

The Starline traveller was waiting outside. “Do any good old man?” “Damn. This is your job, isn’t it?” I asked, waving towards the school. “Yes”, he said, swelling visibly with smugness, “I thought I’d have a cut at ‘em all this year!” “Hm. I’ve got the other two” I said casually. He deflated suddenly. “Ah well” he said with a forced laugh, “I’ll go in and see if you’ve left me anything at all” (I hadn’t!)

Rain, dammit. I’d been working hard and profitable, felt happy. Back 7p.m. Damn hungry. Nice dainty bread and butter and a gangster book, for tea.

Sunday 23rd July 1939

Home and to bed, 1 a.m.

Saturday 22nd July 1939

Father’s new job – steward in a police canteen; serving cups of tea, frying bacon and eggs, for PC’s. I met him when he came out a lunchtime, looking a bit pale and tired, but still, obviously Mr NC Dawson, a gentleman and ex-officer. He said to Mother last week, “If I ever did anything wrong in my life, this job must be my punishment”…

Met John – and Noelle. Saw a few races at Staines Regatta, dinner at “Melville”, a play in Richmond; Rain. Coffee at The Dome. We sat talking in the car outside “Melville”, whilst rain drummed on the roof.

Home 2a.m.

Friday 21st July 1939

Epping, Loughton, Waltham Cross. No orders; had to dodge showers all day. No windscreen wipers.

Evening: Took the recruits on morse. Quite amusing being an instructor. Lieutenant Adams also took notes. My clique later adjourned to Wainwrights. We rang Pat. She was all by herself; would Jacko and I come over? “On one condition,” I bellowed into the mouthpiece, “I am not going to be a gooseberry!” “Oh, you won’t be, Stephen” came a demure voice. “I’m just your mascot and I feel lonely and I want someone to talk to.” It seemed a crazy journey to make but – “When in doubt do the unusual”, says my favourite slogan.Took Mary home at 11p.m., met Jacko at 11:20p.m.

Called in at my pub for a quick wash and to don quiet, rubber soled shoes.
Patches of mist on the cross-country roads. Hobbs Cross 12:20. Cautious approach to a cottage where a light glimmered – Slinky parked on the roadside a little way back.
As instructed, we just opened the door and walked in. Pat, apparently clad in night-dress and dressing gown, sat on the sofa. Sweet music from the wireless. And soft lights from two candles and a lamp. I went, quiet determined to do no kissing but actually I began it. She’s a provocative little devil and tonight she seemed particularly keen to provoke me. Frightfully humorous experience to share a girl with another fella. In the middle of a kiss – “Aw, come on you blighter, it’s my turn now!”

We left 3:45. Cocoa and cheese and biscuits before I went to bed at Stock. 4:45. It was getting quite light.

Never kissed anyone so young as 16 before! Another new experience. What a nauseating wretch it is, isn’t it?

Thursday 20th July 1939

No orders until 4p.m. Felt staggered when I then received two! Turnover, 30/-.

Wednesday 19th July 1939

No orders. Contracts seem my only hope now, for ordinary work has practically ceased. And this is summer!

Reply from Scotland Yard, on impressive note paper. I was not required, thanks awfully!

Tuesday 18th July 1939

One order – a decent one – from Chelmsford GPO. All the other calls quite futile.

Monday 17th July 1939

No orders. Garforth and Wellham have three small schools jobs this year. Starline has one and Mr Garforth intends to give them the other two. A losing but bitter fight against Starline in my Southend district. Being a local firm, whose managing director is a Councillor they have lots of “pull” and use it.

There is battle after battle, most lost, but each desperately fought!

Saturday 15th July 1939

Historic day, said the papers. The first day in England’s peace time history that there have been conscripts in khaki. Yes, today, 30,000 militiamen (courtesy title for conscripts) reported at their depots for training!

Personally this was also an historic day in that Lois at last cast off the shackles of parental domination and started work alone. Drove her from Oakdene, baggage in the back seat, into north Essex and a countryside that grew gradually lovelier as we left the marshes behind. The White Hart was at a pretty village called Great Yeldham, nearly on the Cambridgeshire and Suffolk borders, I should imagine.

We stopped in a country lane a few miles away, had luncheon sandwiches and tea ex thermos. Made our private adieux here. As I could not be her fiancé, I had become her brother, Stephen Rogers, thus having an excuse for occasional official calls beside furtive visits!

Great Yeldham seemed a sweet place, beside the Colne. The White Hart was a delightful old timbered house. Definitely a hotel although Lois will probably pose to her old friends as a barmaid at a village pub. Mrs Nankivell, who was quite young, seemed a decent sort. I’m sure she sensed no connection between the cautious deep-voiced Mr Dawson and young Rogers in his gay school blazer, who spoke in tenor accents! Having taken Lois’ luggage up I left her. Casual farewell, as fitted our relationship – “Cheerio” “Good-bye and good luck, Sis”. I drove away. Lois and her employer – fair and dark - walked slowly across a meadow without a backward glance. I felt a bit sick – like the first day of term at school. Dammit, anyone might think I had got the new job, not Lois!

Flicks at Chelmsford.

Sat up in the evening some time, writing letters. One) To the Income Tax people. The usual fierce battle for rebate is in full swing now! Two) To the Special Branch, Scotland Yard, offering to do a little spare-time counter espionage work. Doubtless nothing will come of it but if I had not written I’d have worried about it, having once conceived the idea! Three) To Lois, so that she’d have a letter by the first possible post, to relieve any loneliness.

Friday 14th July 1939

Morning – peaceful calls on the short country journey. Afternoon, frantic attempt to get a share, at least, of the schools contract. Desperate nervy dashes backwards and forwards, in Southend, don’t think I’ll get anything from Garforth and Wellham this year – the local manufacturers, Starline, are a menace on this type of contract – but will get the order for two schools by Hughes of Southend if the firm accepts the price I quoted. Prices seem to get keener each year.

I heard Lois had got her situation but was unable to stop at Oakdene long as I was still in a hell of a rush. Arranged to take her up to the White Hart tomorrow.

Thursday 13th July 1939

Jacko Franks and I went to see Sybil and Mary, two girls friends who were on holiday in Southend. Of course, I’m a bit of a cad aren’t I, having flirtations with other girls whilst I’m engaged? Well I tried not to at first but it was no use – my nature is inconstant. All these affairs give me is a spot of romance, colour and memories however. All the prettiness of discovering a girl… I don’t fall in love any more. Really I’m faithful to my Lois in my heart because that’s quite different, a sort of deep comradeship. (Thus a nasty piece of work, busily making excuses!)

Tonight was damn funny; Sybil could not accompany us as her young man (the genuine one) was coming. This made Jacko what one might call a “gooseberry”. He sat in the back of the car and bemoaned his fate. I reminded him of the time, quite recently, when I took him to Billericay, called on one of his girl friends and drove around whilst they kissed in the back. Later I’d parked in a quiet lane and left them whilst I took a stroll. Nobility!

We all did some singing. We regretted that Jacko could not drive; otherwise he could have sat in front singing – it would have been like a gondola in Venice. Supper at The Mayphill, Battlesbridge. Left there about eleven thirty. Stopped the car somewhere near Rawreth, whilst Jacko demonstrated some dance steps. Then Mary floated about the road, in the car’s headlights beam. Strange sight for midnight travellers! A motor cyclist stopped to ask if anything was wrong. Looked tough. I think he’d have thrashed the pair of us if Mary had made any plea for help!

Parked the car at the entrance to Hockley Woods. Mary and I took a stroll therein, leaving Jacko in the car. As we returned, Mary said definitely that it was now poor Jacko’s turn to get out of the car. “Shall we let him sit in the front seat” I suggested, but vainly. He was lounging comfortably within Slinky B. “Jacko” I said gently, “Do you remember the other day, how I left you and your girl in the car and took a walk?” “Yes” he said suspiciously. “That was nice of me, you know, Jacko. That was a fine thing…” “All right, I’ll go” he broke in then, seeing that further resistance was hopeless.

He lurched out, sympathetically I gave him my car rug. As he stumbled into the wood, rug around him, hat tilted, cigarette glowing, he looked priceless! I switched on the headlights so that we could see him, for a moment. Some time afterwards, he came back, subdued, and asked for a cigarette. I gave him permission to return permanently when he’d finished it! We all drove back to Southend. I congratulated Jacko on his nobility and stated we were now quits.

I tiptoed inside her bedroom for a good-night kiss (nothing more, she is not like her friend Sybil). Mary stood in the doorway, silhouetted against the hall light, as Slinky B, brake off, glided silently away down the road. We stopped for a cup of tea at an all-night snack bar then drove homewards along deserted roads. Left Jacko at his house, came back to Stock.

Cup of cocoa and pickles and biscuits. Bed 3:45.

NB: Jacko and I found we’d one quaint ambition in common – we both wanted to be smugglers!

Wednesday 12th July 1939

Having received a courteous reply from Reynolds re the windscreen wiper I went to Dagenham this afternoon (Lois with me), making calls en route. They removed the motor again, - whilst we lounged in a comfortable waiting room – and will notify me further.

Impromptu party at Oakdene tonight, when Pa Shervill and Mick called in. As we sat there, Lois, doubtless for some good reason, suddenly ejaculated, “Blast!” I thought it sounded very neat and was frightfully amused. Mick looked startled however and Pa, horrified, remonstrated gently. Lois was unabashed!

Tuesday 11 July 1939

Sunshine, Burnham on Crouch and green lanes. 12 calls, 5 cheques, 3 orders, £7. The brown faced knife grinder who’d fought with the International Brigade at Madrid – a sharp pocket knife and a Spanish story for 6d. And – “You’re going to be lucky, you’ll see!” (Like the old gypsy on Chobham Common many years ago – 1933? “You’ll be lucky my gentleman.”)

Lois seemed to have a good chance of a job – and in Essex! She rang up today saying she’d had a favourable interview with the proprietoress of the White Hart, a country hotel in north Essex. General help and look after the children. She’d quoted me as a reference, and also stated that she was not engaged. (This would have spoilt her chances.)

In due course Mrs Nankivell telephoned and asked me if I knew Miss Lois Rogers?
After being surprised (I was playing the part of a very respectable, middle-aged friend of the family), I said oh yes, I’d know Miss Rogers about twenty years. (This in a very deep, dignified voice). Upon learning the circumstances I eventually assured Mrs Nankivell that I could thoroughly recommend Miss Rogers and so forth.
Damn funny!

Saturday 8th July 1939

Evening: Went across to see Phyllis in Southend General Hospital. (I’d heard she felt lonely on Saturday nights cos although it wasn’t visitors day, husbands used to come and see their wives then). I asked for Mrs Lawrence, said that I was a relative and had come from Brentwood (sounded further than Stock). After some delay I went upstairs and sat nervously by the Sister’s desk in a corridor adjacent to the ward – maternity ward. A grim wait of half an hour ensued; there were obviously no other visitors about. The Sister returned and after listening to my story, allowed me to go in (to my sister).

Thank heavens, the bed was only just inside the ward. I told Sister she was less frightening than I’d expected, which seemed to please her. There was Phyllis, as gay and vivacious as ever, although she said she’d had a terrible time. It was fine to see her again after wondering what had become of her and not knowing whether she was alive or dead. She loved the baby – a boy, probably to be called Graham. The only thing that worried her was whether Lawrence’s trial would commence before she left hospital. She was sensitive that people might be discussing it. Otherwise Phyllis seemed quite happy.

Eastern counties black-out tonight. I drove home cautiously, with side-lights. Each time that I, getting impatient, turned headlights on, an air raid warden would stop me (even in the country!) and request the lights to be extinguished. Very few lights showing in any houses. I undressed and got into bed with the illumination provided by a very feeble electric torch.

Friday 7th July 1939

Sure enough, the bloody telephone blared at seven and I staggered out of bed to answer it. Jacko. The bleeder wanted to know if he could come around with me in the car today instead of going to work as he felt in rebellious mood. (I felt in highly indignant but sleepy mood just then but said nothing!) Agreed to meet him in Chelmsford later then went back to bed – and sleep.

With the 8:30 mail was a letter from Mother. Could I lend them £10 or £12 at once? It was needed to pay the rent. They must have the money by Saturday or they’d be proceedings… Father had now obtained a job which should bring in a net profit of £2 a week. My God! As they borrow from me, it means that all Mother’s money, left by Grandfather is gone. Sent a cheque for £11.

Glad of Jacko’s company in north west Essex. A fine day when the usual morning drizzle ceased. Hundred miles. Two orders. £2-10-0. Swan, Saffron Walden and Snell, Harlow – the latter a new account. After the last call, we drove back from Harlow, hats off, car windows open, singing.

Evening – after drill, Sid Pond (now a specialist), Tiny (now a driver). George, Jacko and Stan Ling and I all went to Wainwrights for a coffee. The old friendship looks like dissolving… Tiny’s at the Admiralty and says his department will be moved to Cheltenham later this year. All part of ARP. Jacko is thinking of joining the Regular Army and George has sent in an application for enrolment in the RAF. Soon there’ll only be Stan Ling and I left, of the five comrades!

Searchlights filled the western sky, blazed, probing upwards into the night beyond Galleywood Common. The moon, unworried, began to show above the horizon.

Thursday 6th July 1939

Cold wind – heat – rain. Generally the weather nowadays is oppressive, with a few hours of coldness, a high wind or drizzle of rain that does not seem to freshen the land. Anything but healthy!

The bloody windscreen wipers have ceased working again. The motor went back to the makers only two months ago. It was examined tonight and the garage hand stated that it seemed the same proceeding was necessary again. Wrote a polite letter to Reynolds of Dagenham, through whom the job was done last time, when I returned home tonight.

Discovered the mystery behind Phyllis Clarke’s disappearance this afternoon. (She became engaged about the same time as myself and when I last saw her, some months ago, was radiantly happy and expecting to be married anytime to a dream-like fiancé who did everything “in a big way”, was in the British secret service, held a degree and would someday hold an important position in the Government. Then she suddenly disappeared.)

I began to get quite worried about her, especially as my inquiries, at first casual, were evaded by her parents at the tobacco shop. They are loquacious people but whenever Phyllis’ name was mentioned their faces became mask-like. Eventually, today, I asked Mrs. Clarke point-blank if anything was wrong with Phyllis? Was she in any trouble? (looking her in the eye meanwhile.) Mrs. Clarke wept a bit, went away, came back again and told me all about it. Once we’d got down to brass tacks as it were, she was glad to talk.

The marvellous too-good-to-be-true fiancé (Lawrence) was actually a married man and – worse! He was a crook and at present awaiting trial on a number of swindling charges. He’d already served one term this winter. He’d swindled people, to whom he’d been introduced by the Clarkes, of several hundreds. His name wasn’t Lawrence at all, really…

No wonder the Clarkes, a family of Victorian respectability, had moved to a new address… And poor Phyllis had been quite deceived by the bastard. The old story – let’s go away and get married by special licence and then the marriage is postponed until the next day and the next… Phyllis became the mother of one of the sod’s children two days ago. She’d had a bad time but was alright now. The trouble was said to have made a dreadful mess of Mr Clarke but I couldn’t help thinking that the suffering had improved Mrs Clarke. She’d lost most of her smug respectability and narrow-ness and seemed somehow nobler and broadminded.

Angel and I seemed in no hurry to part tonight so I did not reach The Cock Inn until 12:15. House in darkness – lift up the cellar flap – step in, crouching – lower the flap above my head – down steps – up steps – matchlight – into the passage at the foot of the stairs! On the supper table beside my plate was a laconic note stating that “a man named Jacko” had telephoned in the evening and would ring again at 7a.m. SEVEN A.M.!

Sod him, I’ll enjoy my supper – a mixed vegetable supper – and read a thriller!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Monday 3rd July 1939

14 calls in Southend and district – three cheques, 3 orders. A substantial payment and an order from Yeldham. In view of the payment I decided to accept the order – first since October. Gower settled his January account. Turnover about £4-10-0.

Toc H tonight, after an absence of several weeks. To my surprise I heard that the Secretary, Travess - that very ordinary young man – had disappeared a month ago. Just vanished, taking most of his more valuable possessions and leaving all affairs in order! Apparently he just got fed-up and went! How easy to misjudge a man’s type at first acquaintance!

We all went to one of the members houses and played bowls. An interesting game which I’d never played before. Did not distinguish myself but luckily there were several other novices, some worse than I.

Everywhere, preparations for War in August or September. The King reviews 20,000 national service men and women in Hyde Park. German troops and arms pour into Danzig.
Poland, France and Britain stand together – and wait. The pact with Russia is still not signed…

Friday, June 20, 2008

Saturday 1st July and Sunday 2nd July 1939

All night ramble – “North of the Crouch” according to the programme. Gilliver, Lois and I took bus to Rayleigh and walked through the dusk, into the night, to Hullbridge. Told ‘em the story of Count Zaroff, the sinister hunter and his hounds, to beguile the way. The moon, at the full, rose. I let Lois walk in front of me, for she made a beautiful picture, swing free-limbed along the road.

Hullbridge 10:50p.m. Joan Yeaxlee and Ella Dorken waiting for us at the café. Damn good hot supper followed by coffee. We were supposed to catch the eleven o’clock ferry but could not rush through such an enjoyable meal. So we missed the last ferry and could not cross to the Crouch! The only way to get to the North side was to make a five mile detour to Battlesbridge… But we had to be in Maldon for breakfast.
What about my car?

Unspeakable ramblers; we left Hullbridge at 11:45 and walked back to Oakdene. A delightful walk, through moonlit fields and dark woods. I saw Lois walking through breast high corn and led the way along devious paths I know in Hockley Woods. At Oakdene, we stealthily withdrew Slinky and got aboard – the three girls in the back, Gilliver beside me. Moonlit roads and the sky lightening to the East. Crossed the river at Battlesbridge and the ramblers were “north of the Crouch” at last!

Left the car in a dead end lane somewhere beyond Purleigh. Up through a dewy field facing eastwards, to see the sun rise and the last stars fade. Sat on my spare mackintosh. Had coffee and sandwiches. Cold up there. Presently we moved to the car, squeezed in and did questionnaires and puzzles from a book of entertainments which I’d brought. Our intellect, at such an hour, was amazing! We gradually got warm, whilst heavy condensation obscured the windows. We used that for games of noughts and crosses!

Drove to Woodham Mortimer at about 7 o’clock and left the car in a lane there. Walked the two miles into Maldon and breakfast. After breakfast, Joan took the lead, whilst Angel and I hiked back to the car. Drove (what ramblers!) to The Mill, where the others, who had walked along the river, presently joined us.

Warm sunshine. We all lay and basked, heads on ruckers. Lois and I both fell asleep but hearing Ella speak, awoke to find a cold wind blowing and the obscured sky no longer blue. Left the Chelmer and returned to Slinky, parked just off the road.
I felt hellish stiff and swore I’d walk no more. Warm in the car. I settled down in the driving seat, Gilliver beside me, Lois in the back. We read the paper and ate sandwiches. The other two were outside in the sun. Very quiet in the car. A marvellous, soporific silence.

Joan and Ella, undaunted, left us to walk to Danbury, where we’d meet them for tea.
We dozed and read and dozed again. A stream of cars engaged in a treasure hunt aroused us. I read a story from my book.

We drove to Danbury. I glanced occasionally into the driving mirror and saw Lois’ face, brow-eyed, wide-eyed, looking solemnly from side to side as we crawled along the road.

After tea, I delivered all to their respective homes. Now to bed – 9:30 p.m.
Half an hours reading and then, sleep.

Saturday 24th June 1939

This weeks turnover - £21. Only bright day on the road this week was Tuesday. Grays, Upminster, Romford, Ilford. Things don’t seem so bad in the London districts. £8-10-0 that day. Sunny, hot day too.

Returning from Ilford, I had an enjoyable road race (along the double track) with a Ford Ten – same year and model as mine. From Ilford to Laindon we were never more than 40 yards apart, although I actually led most of the time. 55-50-55 He was marvellous on bends! Gained at each roundabout. As I swung off at Laindon I looked round, saw the other driver’s teeth gleam as he smiled. We saluted. A draw!
Lois has quarrelled with her parents. Well – not exactly quarrelled but she’s fed-up with being at home – and I don’t wonder. She is trying to get a job as companion-chauffeuse. Romance!

I had breakfast in bed this morning and have done nothing much all day, except writing. All-night ramble tonight. It won’t be such a glorious show as last year’s. Hardly anyone coming! Lois is leading again.

Saturday 17th June 1939

Packing-up. We were turned out at five o’clock but as all the tents were wet there was nothing to do until 8. Organisation! Sunny day. Everyone worked “as slowly and inefficiently as possible,” according to Tiny. The tents were gradually taken down. Chaos.

“Lunch” was two rounds of dry bread, stale bully beef and a cup of tea. I tramped up and down, grumbling, past the rows of squatting men in the latrines. “No bloody paper”. “Hemmings” came to the rescue. He had a double sheet of Yesterday's “Telegraph” which he tore in half. “Here you are, Dawson”.
So I found a vacant seat beside him, we read and discussed yesterday’s news, and in due course, used our paper for other purposes.

Returned with George, in time for tea, a wiser and wealthy man. Able to put aside £10 for banking! For a fortnight I’d forgotten all “The Depression,” “Business” and “War? War?”

Friday 16th June 1939

Awake at 4. The ration lorry had arrived. Followed Sergt. Quayle in the grey light across the fields. Met Jacko half-way; he looked tired out and wet and miserable. George was there too, full of enthusiasm as usual. Hot tea, then back to our positions. The light strengthened and the guns, which had come up in the night, theoretically fired lots of shells.

We did a link shoot. Stan relieved me about 6 o’clock and Rose relieved Fenning.
Stan squatted in the ditch, I lay on my blankets. He lowered the head receiver until it rested on my ear. We both munched the very tasty ham sandwiches we’d bought in Epping.

Back to camp at about 7:30, M1 was last to leave. Having only one pair of pliers we are handicapped when dealing with line. As M1 rolled out of the field I noticed that a gun and two men had been left behind. They made a funny picture, sitting there in the greyness, waiting for someone to come and take them home. We all dozed in the lorry, fell over and awoke and dozed again.

Breakfast and a wash. Rebelliously we slept from 9:30 until 11, although we should have paraded for fatigues at 10 o’clock. (“That’s right Steve, lace it up tight, so that we can’t hear anything!”)

Afternoon. I had to take stores into Chelmsford by lorry. Jacko and Tiny went with me. We sat in the back – a drizzle of rain – with our capes on and sang.

Thursday 15th June 1939

Rainy morning; nothing to do except overhaul the signals gear in readiness for the night ops., scheduled to start in the afternoon. George wangled things neatly. He had to go into town to buy some minor part from an ironmonger – a screw or bolt or something. To help him, he selected Stan and I and we all went in Captain Slinky B. Whilst George was at the ironmongers, Stan and I bought sandwiches, biscuits, and chocolate to augment the usual “rations” (Jacko, George and Tiny had given us a list of their requirements) Back within 30 minutes.

The Battery moved off about 3 o’clock. As I’ve said little previously about our work on schemes I’ll describe this one in more detail. “M1” followed another lorry – “GB” I think – along about 15 miles of winding road until we reached Hatfield Broad Oak – Anne’s village! We got the order to dismount and smoke. I lay in long grass, rested my head on my steel helmet, and dozed off. Awoke about 10 minutes later. The lorry was still there. Rose and Moore lounged in it, half asleep. The rest were a little further on, talking and smoking. Ling was stretched on a garden wall, asleep.
(In my tent – “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” – we call him “Sleepy” Tiny is “Bashful”, Jacko is “Happy”, I am “Doc”, Alan Cracknell is “Dopey”, George is “Snow White”…)

I took a sip from my water bottle, ate a cornbeef and bread sandwich to take away the dryness in my mouth, and lit a cigarette, looking up at the sky. I felt nice and warm; under my overalls I’d got an old tunic, the buttons of which had never been cleaned. (Active service conditions – no cleaning.) In my haversack was a pullover, my own rations and the unappetising Army rations, and a military squared map. My greatcoat, groundsheet and two blankets, were in M1.

Presently the guns came past. Soon afterwards our little convoy got under way – Ling reluctantly rousing himself – and dashed through the village into Barrington Hall Park. When M1 stopped, we jumped out and set up the exchange, ran out metallic circuits to the CP Phone and CP Operator and CP Message Op. The A link and B link men trotted off and laid an earth return line. We were through within about ten minutes but communication from the links was bad until we’d made a few adjustments and poured water on our earth pins.

We’ve had the same men for several days now and they are all learning their jobs. I had Ling with me on the Exchange. Moore was fixing the terminals as the lines came in. Rose was message operator and Fenning was Command Post operator. Stripe, Willoughby, Burch and Chinnery were maintenance men and had little to do, once we were through to the links. Both observation posts came on the line soon afterwards. We’d been here about an hour and the guns were (theoretically) blowing the enemy to blazes, when Segt. Quayle – our guardian angel – spoke to me from B Troop. “That you Dawson? We’re goin’ to withdraw soon. I reckon. Get ready for it. Leave two men and take as much equipment to your new position as can be spared. OK?”

Sure enough, a few minutes later we were ordered to withdraw. M1 rushed up. We took one telephone, one pair of pliers, two earth pins, two reels of wire and the spare telephone exchange. We left Ling and Rose still at their posts whilst the guns still (theoretically) thundered. Following the gunnery position officers, M1 eventually stopped in a field about three miles in rear. We were dismounted against a hedge half way between two woods – Priory Wood and Bury Wood, to the SW of White Roding. There were no link men yet and no command post men but we laid the lines to their respective positions so that when the rest arrived they only had to plug in. I took the exchange and telephone and jammed them half-way up the side of a ditch, against the roots of a tree. I laid my groundsheet at the bottom of the ditch and put my other gear down there too. A thorn bush spread over me, so I could not sit upright in this retreat. The other blokes laughed when they saw me “go to earth” in this way, and made their beds in the field, in the hedge’s lee.

At dusk, a lorry came up the lane. We walked across the field and drew more foul rations and steaming hot tea. I was surprised to see how many men had gradually arrived without being noticed. The link signallers were there and George Embleton and Hignall, the two troop NCO’s. After supper I returned to the exchange and got through to both links.

Midnight; it was raining steadily, yet there was still a high wind. No rain reached my shelter, however. My bed was quite warm and soft. I took off boots and overall jacket and made them into a pillow, pulled the greatcoat right over my head and dozed off – telephone receiver against my ear. I heard whispers and swishing grass – the main party had arrived! The blighters put the CO apparatus down against me and told me my exchange was in the wrong place! They suddenly realised however, to my intense relief (what, move everything, undo all the work we’d done and leave my ditch!) and moved to the spot where their lines had been run.

Everyone whispered except Ling and Rose, who’d lost their blankets and kept asking for them, loudly. Eventually Liut. Adams – he’s a very decent officer – told them to go and sleep in a barn near the wagon lines. I had to awaken Fenning and without any complaint he left his bed and went to his post. (He was there all night, without a break, actually.) Burch couldn’t sleep so he joined him for company’s sake.

Soon I was quite busy on the exchange. I sat on my bed in the dark, feeling the plugs with my fingers, counting the keys before switching through. Sergt. Quayle lay down nearby, wrapped up like a mummy of Egypt. I smoked. I seemed to be the only one working. Motionless forms on the lip of the ditch; the command post was out of sight.
The rain drizzled sadly but not a drop reached me.

A long time afterwards, when “B” troop was already silent, “A” troop said, “A Troop Zero Lines Set”. “A – Troop – Zero – Lines – Set” repeated Fenning. Sergt. Quayle moved – was it instinct? “Are the zero lines set, Dawson?” “Yes, Sergeant” “Ah well, you can turn in presently. There won’t be much more”. He rolled over and slept. Half an hour later, lines all dead silent, I also turned in.

Wednesday 14th June 1939

Half day. Flicks with Pat, Tiny, George, Stan and Jacko. We were once more together, all. Colossal supper at Rose’s. (I had bacon, sausages and chips and tea, followed by coffee and several curried eggs.) Tiny, Jacko and I strolled in the peaceful woods.

Mick called at about 11 o’clock. “Is Bombardier Dawson in this tent?” “Never heard of him,” said Ling. “More worries for you tomorrow” said Jacko, as we lay in our beds. “I never worry” said George comfortably. I kicked Jacko’s feet with glee at this untruth. A moment later, “You are very fidgety tonight Steve” he said solemnly.

Tuesday 13th June 1939

“Hemmings” as Fenning calls him – Harich actually – seems a misfit. Ling grinned and pointed him out to me as we jolted along in M1 (Hemmings being with us temporarily). Each remark he makes – they’re mostly a little pompous – is greeted with jeers.
He doesn’t mix in, or swear. I felt so sympathetic – I was once like that and used to feel miserable – that I got into conversation with “Hemmings” at the first halt and tried to persuade him to swear – just occasionally! Nothing doing though. “They shall not make me give in” he said stubbornly.

Anniversary of our engagement. A very bright morning, but a dull afternoon. The Battery makes an impressive show as, in magnificent order we roar out of Camp – guns, wireless trucks and instrument vehicles all in their places. Once on the scheme however things often go wrong. Balls up. The other day, both the Major and the signals officer – Adams – apologised to us! “I’m sorry about this!” called the Major, as he passed my section, still waiting for orders. “I’m sorry Dawson, you haven’t had a chance today” said Adams, as we packed up our instruments five minutes after arriving at the position.

We tore into Camp at about 4:30 this afternoon, all very grimy and tired and damp. In M1, a disreputable looking Lance-Bombardier, standing up, waved excitedly and a radiant and very fresh-looking Lois standing on the pavement, waved back. The blokes cheered and waved, too. “That’s my fiancée actually” I said coldly.

Signallers were supposed to be on fatigue tonight, but the Sergeant let me go. I slipped out quietly, feeling a little guilty, whilst everyone else started work. We had supper with “Rose”. She gave Angel a bunch of roses!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Monday 12th June 1939

One of the men in my section is named Stripe. “Aye, Stripe” said Fenning as we sat smoking by the roadside during a halt, “Report to Ron Sorrell. He wants you!”
“Aw, d’you think I’m a mug?” grinned Stripe. I chuckled as I imagined the scene if he had been a mug:-

“Do you want me Sorrell?”
“Who the hell are you?”

Everyone knows that Sorrell wants to be a lance-jack! Coincidentally, Sergeant Quayle took me aside just as we dismounted and were strolling from the gun park at lunchtime. “What do you think of Ling? Good enough for a stripe? We’re giving out two or three today”. Naturally I gave emphatic approval so far as Stan’s work at the Command Post was concerned!

In the Command Post we have had several recruits who’ve come and gone but always, beside Ling and I, there has been Fenning (CP operator); Rose (CP messenger); Moore and Burch. It took me several days to distinguish between Moore and Burch. Many times I’ve greeted, say Moore, to be told sourly that I’m speaking to Burch! I know them now however. Moore is quick and clever and inclined to be insolent and “monthly”. Burch is slow and does as he is told. Fenning is supposed to be the awkwardest little sod in the unit but actually we get on quite well, perhaps because we like each other.

RAF planes from the nearby aerodrome were stunting above the Camp just after lunch. Apparently two wings touched in mid-air, suddenly a plane crashed. I heard shouts of “Fire!” turned round, saw a vast column of smoke rise about quarter of a mile away, at the edge of the forest. Then things happened swiftly. Ran like hell – a mob rushing across the parade ground – the red-faced Major appeared – “Fall in 339!” – silence, two ranks of men, discipline.

“I want ten men…” (He won’t choose me)… “Ten NCO’s” (God, I’m an NCO now!) Ten men in a moment. “Away you go. Sergeant Quayle take charge!” “Like this – in shit order?” gasped one wooden man as we raced towards the nearest lorry. Nobody answered. He didn’t bother to change… Jump into a lorry already moving – rush out of camp and down the road – wind in my hair – thrill! – “Let the Colonel take the lead!”
Blazing crumpled wreckage. “Anyhow, the pilot must have been killed outright”.

Crack! Crack! As the bullets exploded. RAF planes roared low, circling above the wreckage as birds swoop above a crippled mate. RAF tender came. Fire extinguishers. (Will there be one for me). Now, right up against the plane… at the base of the flames… roar, crackle, crack! crack! My extinguisher would not work for a moment. Sergeant Quayle got it going and handed it back to me. (Mr Branford on the roof at the Works, years ago…). Spray from someone else’s extinguisher fell on me. “Get back there!” Empty. Flames still leaping upwards. “Old soldiers, this way!”

Sergeant Quayle turned and went into the bushes. I followed him making my face expressionless. A Sergeant Major looks at us.(“No, I’m not an old soldier but I’m used to this”) He says nothing. We both pass him. (Now I’m going to see a dead man)
A little clearing on the lee side of the blazing wreck. (My God, he’s not dead. He’s been here all this time. This is the thing it’s done; this is it’s work). Crouched on its back in a ditch. No fingers left hand. Charred uniform. Bloody face, open mouth. Bloody tongue moves in – out – in – out.

“Ahhh! Ahhh! Ahhh!” Each time he breathes, that horrible noise. Nothing to do yet. (Oh God, don’t let me feel sick, don’t let me feel sick). A long clean bone sticking out of his heel. (But where’s the boot? Oh! That’s not the heel, it’s part of the shin. His foot’s gone.)

A policeman, two officers, two airmen, two soldiers. “Shall I get another extinguisher, Sir?” asks a cool voice. (His sexual organs, showing through the charred clothing, still smoulder…) “Yes,” says the officer. They put that out.
Spray falls on us. “Lucky we’re in overalls, Sergeant” I say, as the spray splashes down from beyond the wreckage. Roar of planes overhead, crackle of burning branches, roar of burning plane, shouts of men at the fire, crack! as another bullet explodes, groans, awful noises from it. (Why does not someone put him out of his misery?)

Here’s the stretcher. They put him on, cover him with blankets. The noises alter slightly. Carry him up to the ambulance. Cover his face as we reach the road. I see smoke under the stretcher and a small hole comes in the fabric. Extinguishers! (Ah, these small ones work in jets, like a pump.) I kneel in the road, spray under the stretcher and above, till he is out again. The ambulance drives away.

The Sergeant and I seem to be the only Territorials left. We get in a small truck and go to camp. We walk slowly across to the Signals tent, stand there pensively, smoking. (Everyone else at work. Don’t move for a minute or two, no need to hurry back to work!) A raw recruit runs up; he wants to know something. “Got any wireless headphones, please Sergeant?” We get back to work. “You look grim Sergeant!”
“So would you, mate, if you’d had the job Dawson and I have had…”

Evening: Shead, Ling, Pond and Dean each get a stripe. I found Dean almost morosely sewing on his stripe, whilst Ron Sorrell, in the same tent raved furiously at the unfairness of stripes being given to recruits like Ling and Pond, whilst trained men were missed!

Sunday 11th June 1939

Rainy day, end of the fine spell. Kits left in the tents. Rain drumming on the tent at Reveille and we hoped there might be no Church Parade, so did not hurry to get ready. Wrong however, so we had to rush about ultimately and then were nearly late.
The rain stopped, too, but it was dull all day.

Re. last night: “We went to her place” said Tiny in confidence. “George talked and talked; even I was bored…”

Forenoon. Standing stiffly by our tent (kits neatly laid out inside) we waited a long period whilst General Kirke (The lord-high of the TA) came to inspect us. A weird whispered chanting became audible, from the neighbourhood of Ling and Jacko:-

“The old Sod. The old Sod. The bastard deserves to die.”

Evening. Jacko and I called at Hobbs Cross, to inspect the damage. “We’re listening to a rather highbrow play – one of Checkov’s” “Anton?” I said brightly. (reflex action). “Yes” “Rather morbid, don’t you think, like most of the Russian writers in that period?” “Yes, but frightfully intellectual”. Jacko put the two children to bed!
“Oh, your Corporal was too funny for words” said Mrs Dore. “He talked incessantly. We just couldn’t stop him!”

Lying around the tent in the candle light, the four loyal members of the Committee tried to persuade the rebel fifth member – Stan – to keep in the combine and not try to see Pat alone. Our persuasion and threats were all useless. Each time we made a fresh point, Ling sat up in bed, raised two fingers in a significant gesture and said “Bollicks!”

Saturday 10th June 1939

On the Battery notice-board I observed among duties of the day; “Canteen Orderly, Lance Bombardier Dawson”. “That’s not Dawson SJ is it?” I asked Fullerton, the Clerk. “There’s another Dawson in the Battery. I’m a Gunner, anyhow”. Fullerton looked through the papers. “Yes old man, it must be the other bloke then”.

First heat of the tug-of-war this morning. Jacko and I and six other signallers (including Pond) were defeated after four pulls – one being questioned. We’re not in training! Both felt very stiff afterwards. Just before the last pull, Fullerton ran up to me, “Aye, Dawson! It is you! Get your stripes and report for duty as soon as possible”. I drew seven single stripes and, walking back to the tent, found the blokes laying out their kits.

I slapped the seven stripes on my arm and said, “There you are boys, how’s that for a tiger?” George, the inventor of the “striped like a tiger” phrase did not respond but Jacko cast me a quick sidelong, mischievous glance. There was a bit of ragging but no one seemed envious; in fact most of the signallers seemed quite pleased.

Grumbling, I changed into full uniform – breeches, puttees, spurs etc, and reported at the canteen. Apparently the Orderly is supposed to be there all the time that the canteen is open. Some big shot was inspecting the Camp today but I did not fall in on my kit like the rest. I stayed, sewing stripes pretty raggedly, in the empty canteen, to ensure that no one became drunk and disorderly. Pushed off at lunchtime.

When I returned the canteen was closed so I pushed off to Harlow with Jacko and fetched Pat – this was visiting day. (No one was supposed to leave camp actually.)
The Sports were dull so Pat, Ling, George, Tiny and I drove into Epping for tea. Amazingly, we were not stopped at the gate! Had tea in the garden of “The Bell” Epping.

The General had inspected the canteen, in my absence! “I’m an old soldier myself though” said the barman, “If they’d asked for you, I’d have said you were at the lats”.

Jacko (on fire piquet) and I spent most of the evening in the Canteen. George and Tiny took Pat home. Jacko anxious and confidential. Would George talk too much and create a bad impression? When Ling turned up, Jacko, still perturbed, tried to persuade him never to see Pat alone but just with the rest of us, as before. Jacko talked most convincingly, I think he’s getting fond of her! Ling listened patiently to Jacko’s persuasion and at the end said cheerfully, “Well, anyhow I’m going to take her out!” Quite unmoved by Jacko’s eloquence!

Tiny and George returned late. George said they’d had “A ruddy fine time; been sitting in her house all the evening”.

Friday 9th June 1939

Out on “Schemes” as usual today. As Ling did all the work yesterday – and did it well, I’ve heard – he had an easy time today, dozing beside the exchange. Getting to know the job now, although things don’t go too smoothly, still. This is chiefly due to faulty instruments.

Glad to be no longer an invalid; to be able to laugh again and join in the tent’s sing-songs and general gaiety. Class of men in the Battery has improved considerably during the influx of recruits. In the early part of the year – during the Signals Course at Colchester – the signalling section was composed chiefly of young hooligans; anyhow the YH element was predominant. Now however there is a distinct element of older and more refined men. The signalling section’s personnel has increased from 12 to nearly 40!

Jacko and Tiny and I drove around Harlow asking if anyone knew of a girl aged about 17, named Pat! Incredible as it seems, we eventually located her! Pat Dore, living about two miles from Harlow, at Hobbs Cross. Jacko telephoned this person – I hadn’t the nerve. Yes, she was the young lady who’d been on the river last Sunday with us!
We collected her and found a pub, where we had a few beers.

Then went to Epping for supper. Whilst we were waiting, I suggested that her Mother might be getting anxious (it was 11p.m.) So she phoned. Was Mummie anxious? She instructed her daughter to return home at once! We hurriedly gave instructions for the supper to be postponed until midnight. Ling, fortunately appearing at the café just then, agreed to eat Pats supper and ensure that the café did not close before we returned! We scorched to Harlow and left Pat with her relieved parent, (it must have seemed dangerous; young girl disappearing in the car with three strange men) and, back in Epping, found Ling loyally waiting. Thus we enjoyed a damn good supper at last.

Thursday 8th June 1939

No breakfast, thank you! Fall out with “the sick”. Frightfully futile red tape was unwound before I was allowed to go to the dentist. Lots of forms were filled in …
Shead, also “sick”, went with me for a slack, ostensibly, in case I “came all over queer” after being in the chair. We sat in the car in a quiet lane, nearly dozed off. Battery lorries suddenly appeared from all sides and the lane was no longer quiet. Shead, startled, hastily put on my sun glasses as a disguise.

We hurried up into Epping and to the dentists. He gave me an unusual amount of various kinds of dope before taking out a couple of teeth almost painlessly. The first one was a hell of a job but he didn’t break it! “Out?” “Yes” I spat joyfully. Then, “Open again please”…. “Out?” “Yes”. Thank God!

Parked on the edge of the forest for some time. Shead and I lay on the grass and read the paper. Every few minutes II rose, walked across to the bushes, and spat.
Bleeding worse when we reached Camp. I reported to Battery Office. “Oh, you’d better report to the Sergeant Major”. “Excuse me” I mumbled and turning, spat out a mouthful of blood. “Probably he’ll excuse you duty for the rest of the day” added the Sergeant thoughtfully. I lay in the tent and bled. I washed my mouth out and then went back and bled again. I read a book – and bled. The Segt. Major came to see me – I never did report to him! – and found me looking very bloody (literally)
Plugged the hole again. Bleeding stopped at 4p.m. – after 5 hours.

In the evening I sneaked out for my first meal, followed by my first cigarette of the day. “Rose”, a quaint individual, sympathetically provided soup, mashed potatoes and Horlicks again.

Wednesday 7th June 1939

Have had several twinges of toothache lately. It commenced definitely today. Hellish. No lunch; no tea. Sympathetic tent made me feel a worm as I lay silent. A whisper, “Don’t make a noise, I think he’s asleep”. Stayed in Camp this afternoon, although it was a half holiday. Unable to have anything done tonight at the dentist’s, but have made an appointment for tomorrow. I told “Rose” in the café at Epping that I had toothache. She gave me soup, mashed potatoes and Horlicks.

Tuesday 6th June 1939

Decent cooks here – give one hot water for shaving. The wash place is sheltered and screened off by sacking so the early morning wash is not such an ordeal as it usually is at camp. George is usually there a few minutes before me and waves his left arm as I approach whilst the lather brush keeps rubbing over his contorted face.

Stupid system at mealtimes. One rushes madly to the mess tents at “Cookhouse” and then has to stand in a queue for five or ten minutes, whilst the baffled gastric juices, groan with disappointment. In our tent (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs) we ruthlessly “jump” the queue in order to keep together and avoid waiting. For instance if Ling is well up and sees George, Tiny and I strolling towards the queue, he opens a place for us and we slip in nonchalantly, as though we’d been there before.

Tiny, Jacko, George, Stan Ling and I returned from supper in Epping. Feigned drunken-ness as we approached the tent. We burst into song and fell over each guy rope. We lurched into the tent and saw the alarmed faces of Sammy and the two Cracknells. We kicked out both the candles – “Put blurry lights out, you sods” Jacko tried to kiss Alan: George said, “C’mon I’ll fight the whole blurry lot of you!” “We’re not drunk!” howled Tiny and Stan and laughed hideously. “All I want,” said I solemnly, kneeling on Jack Cracknell’s bed, “Is to have a spew right here. That’s all I want. Spew”. Becoming helpless with mirth we rolled on the floor and laughed hysterically (it must have sounded most sinister).

Our victims had maintained a terrified silence but then, out of the darkness came an anxious, thoroughly disturbed voice which said soothingly, “Now look here boys. Get into bed quietly and then we’ll have a nice sing-song”.

Monday 5th June 1939

Reveille 6. Roll-call 6:30. Unpopular George Embleton. He’s a little too self-centred and bombastic. (“Blimey,” – looking proudly at his arms – “Soon I’ll be striped like a tiger!”).

First “Scheme” Had about seven men in my lorry – M1 - I being senior. Inexperience and gaucherie. I’m supposed to know the work of all the Command Post signallers, not just my own. Ling an ideal second-in-command. Quietly does his own job but does not try to “take over” the leadership. Worry-guts Cracknell on fire piquet. Slept in his overalls tonight, ready for action!

Sunday 4th June 1939

Everyone slept damn badly if at all, as is usual the first night. In my tent we were all up by 6 o’clock and getting washed. George borrowed my shaving mug and in return had it filled with hot water which I also used. This was the procedure throughout camp. Decent cooks here; always let one draw hot water.

Nothing to do after lunch and Church Parade so Stan Ling, Jacko, George and I went to Harlow and the River Stort. Strange! Stan led the way to this river, which transpired to be the one where Anne and I took out a skiff, little more than a year ago! We went down the same reach, from the same boathouse. Four of us dangerously overloaded the skiff and I was the mug who volunteered to row. Took the skiff up the backwater, donned bathing costumes and had a swim in the locks further down.
Jacko and George fell-in with three gay girls on battered cycles, any of whom might have been Deanna Durbin and were about the same age. Pat, Lita and Marjorie.
Eventually Jacko and I, riding the two least battered cycles, dashed perilously back along the towpath and purchased seven bottles of lemonade which we took downstream, like John Gilpino.

Sitting by the riverside (they met us half-way, Ling on the third bike, George with the girls in the boat) we all laughed and talked. I observed the different methods of attraction with detached amusement. George (faulty technique) talked rapidly in a monotonous tone of voice about himself, his absent friends and the people in the unit. I was kindly and courteous. Stanley Ling was quiet and sucked on an empty pipe, faintly smiling. Jacko was an obvious he-man, do-as-I-say-damn-you type.

We parted on the main road by Harlow Mill; the three girls turned to wave as their decrepit machines rattled away down a side lane. We’d learned that Lita and Marjorie would return to London that very night and that Pat was one of the local inhabitants. Nobody knew her surname, or where she lived, however!

We had tea – somewhat late – at a café in Bishops Stortford. We flirted verbally with three girls at the other table, whilst their male escorts (all motor cyclists) ate glumly, obviously unenthusiastic about our humorous sallies. Jacko assured the girls that we were travelling on tandems – which moved them to scorn. The tables were turned however when we ultimately swaggered out and poured into Captain Slinky B with much door-slamming.

Back at Camp we all laughed loudly and recounted our adventures to Tiny and the rest. One would imagine we’d had a hell of a love affair! I chuckled though when I thought of how four men went down the Stort in a protesting skiff and, two hours later, two men returned on ladies ancient bicycles; loaded up with lemonade and dashed madly away again.

Saturday 3rd June 1939

Summer day. Drove to Thornwood Common with George Embleton and arrived about twenty minutes before the rest. A very green field with orderly rows of white bell tents. Found Tiny Jennings (advance party) and arranged to be with him in the second tent of the seventh row. The rest arrived by bus and dismissed, rushed to their tents.
Jacko, Ling, Alan Cracknell, Jack Cracknell and Sammy Jacobovitch.

The Cracknells and Jacko were friends of George’s. I chose Stanley Ling as he had been detailed to help me on the exchange. Jacobovitch, an Aldgate Jew (half Polish) was an interloper. Eight in the tent. Hell of a lot! We had nothing to do today except attend roll call and hear the Camp Notices read out by the Major. Drew a ground sheet, two blankets, a pillow slip and palliasse from Stores. Straw provided! Comfort, by gad! Oil cloths, cups and saucers and china plates in the mess tents. Cutlery provided, too! Quite a gentlemanly unit!

Saturday 3rd June to Saturday 17th June 1939

This is the account of the 339th Battery (EY) RHA Camp at Thornwood Common, near Epping, 1939.

The first week – blazing sunshine and glorious summer! The second week – dismal weather with cold winds or drizzling rain. This Camp has been even more enjoyable than last year’s, possibly because each time I camp, I “know the ropes” a little better. This Camp also has been remarkable for –


High Noon 1939

SJ Dawson, The Cock Inn, Stock, Near Ingatestone, Essex.

“When colour goes home into the eyes,
And lights that shine are shut again,
With dancing birds and sweet girls cries
Behind the gateway of the brain;
And that no-place that gave them birth, shall close
The rainbow and the rose:-
Still Time may hold some golden space
Where I’ll unpack that scented store
Of song and flower and sky and face,
And count, and touch, and turn them o’er…”

Friday 2nd June 1939

Sunny weather continues. I’m used to it being summer now but I don’t take it as a matter of course or cease to be grateful. Nine calls. This was supposed to be a NE Essex day but the only two orders were taken on the way – in Billericay and Chelmsford. The seven other calls were all mere “contacts” except one which was a complaint. (Curious how some customers say Ceiling Distemper is quite hopeless and useless, whilst others praise it and give repeat orders.)

Began packing for Camp this evening and this included a melancholy and fatuous job – that of smearing filthy green “Blanco” all over my haversack. If only there was a reason for this interminable cleaning and polishing! Application of green “Blanco” however, hardly can be called “cleaning” it is dirtying.

Called at the drill hall to see if there were any final orders. Embleton and I can go by car, having first reported at the drill hall before departing. The dress is to be slacks, jacket, belt and overalls. No equipment. There’s an improvement in Army sensibility, anyhow. Last year and for every other year, we had to parade in full marching order for going to Camp – and that includes haversack, respirator and water-bottle, beside the most uncomfortable clothes ever invented! Now, however we journey in less impressive but far more comfortable and healthy outfits!

Nearly midnight now. My kit, half-packed, is spread widely yet methodically around the bedroom. At my feet is the bloody green haversack, drying. I’ll turn in now and maybe, read an Edgar Wallace thriller (lent by Lois) before going to sleep. I’m not to be called until 9:30 tomorrow morning!

Thus, on the eve of Camp, I end –

Morning Mists.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Thursday 1st June 1939

Rather a busy day in the Southend district, clearing-up things before going to Camp. 14 calls were scheduled but was only able to make 11 so deferred the others until my return. Two small payments; four orders; £11. Horder, Howards Dairies, the routine 3 gallon order which I’ve taken four times a year ever since coming on the road. Hazell, 5 gallons Egham Paint at 11/4d (special contract prices since last June). Desteese (Decorative Materials) always gives a tiny order if at all. (Last time it was a 2/- tin of distemper at trade less 33 1/3% ie 1/4d!) On this occasion, after ordering 4x1/2 pints Dryfast Bath Enamel – 8/-, he felt really ashamed and increased the order to about 20/- by also taking a stock of 12x1/2 pints All Purpose Varnish.
Taylor and Moon – builders posing as builders merchants. An ideal sale, worth about £6-5-0. Sat in Taylors office and did not need to argue whilst he looked dreamily through Piccadilly colour cards. Eventually he took 5 gallons at trade less 25%. He’s never had PHG before; originally tried our cheaper paints.

Among a bundle of colour cards under the desk I found a letter written him by head office in April 1937, thanking him for the first order (worth 8/3d). This was for U/Coat Paste. At the psychological moment I produced this letter – it obviously had not been read before! – and reminded him of the time when, amused at my eagerness and messy demonstration, he had given that first order. So he ordered 2x14lbs. U/coat Paste to come with the PHG order. After I’d chatted about old times a bit longer, mentioning the searching tests they’d applied and the fine results obtained from the U/Coat Paste, he increased this order to 8x14lbs! Then we looked around the shop, mutually agreed that a competitors goods were deplorable (Jenson and Nicholson) arranged to have some showcards etc and parted on excellent terms.

Wednesday 31st May 1939

Fourteen calls in the Southend district. One cheque, three small orders. Turnover £3-10-0. Business is usually slack just after a holiday.

In Leigh, I saw a snappy socialistic slogan pasted on a wall:


Tuesday 30th May 1939

I could have had another days holiday. Ten calls but no orders today on the short country round.

Whitsuntide. Saturday 27th May – Monday 29th May 1939

This is written several days later; the “crime” was, I think, perfect. More than a mere crime however, it was a perfect holiday! The weather was exceedingly kind to us. Forecasts were bright for Saturday with slightly less sunshine on each following day. Actually, Saturday was the dullest day and the heat and the glorious sunshine increased afterwards.

We left Eastwood at about11 o’clock. Stayed a short while at Hawthorn Court, exuding a little camouflage about friends at Egham with whom we were staying. (I chose the Manbys – Koke and George – as known acquaintances whom my people did not personally know.) All this deception, though necessary, is a bit beastly and we’ve agreed that this shall be the last intrigue. They haven’t altogether been intrigues without purpose. This is 1939, modern times, and Lois and I both felt it was necessary to know each other before marriage rather than make a mistake and be unhappy ever after. Therefore the real purpose has been achieved and we know we can live together happily if and when there is enough money.

Drove aimlessly west wards, the “crime” being in operation as soon as we were beyond Egham.
Had an early tea at The White Cottage, Hurst – in the riverside country. Then ambled on to Wargrave, found a boathouse and took a punt on the river. When the evening breeze began to seem cool we took the road again. Lois navigated with a one-inch ordinance survey map through Henley and up into the Chilterns by Fairmile. We wandered among woods and isolated villages high in the hills until the petrol gauge was flickering ominously low. Came to the main road and Nettlebed. Plenty of petrol here but no digs. Returned to Henley-on-Thames. Everywhere full up. Eventually rang the Chequers Inn at Fingest. They could take us! Lois christened herself Stephanie Knight.

Jolly good supper at the Regal in Henley, then drove, in the falling shadows, to Fingest. Green wooded hills began to sweep on either side. Stopped to light my pipe and, in the silence, we heard many birds singing. I heard a nightingale for the first time. Angel knows the birds songs.

At the Chequers we had a quaint little attic with a window set in the slope of the roof and looking across at the old church, with a glimpse, through the trees, of a wooded hill skyline beyond.
In the morning that wooded hill seemed nearer and trees that crowded its crest were gloriously green. A pot of tea was brought in and set down on the table between our beds. We breakfasted beside an open window that looked onto the garden, beyond which rose more hills and woods. Beautifully, the slopes of light and dark green do not tower menacingly above Fingest; they roll away from it on three sides, whilst to the north runs the same valley with the road snaking at its bottom, like a river.

Sang and idled our way, vaguely, until at length we found Wargrave again and the same boathouse. Took out a skiff and after leaving the Thames battled for a mile or so up a swift-flowing stream, the Loddon. Lois soon became quite a skilful steersman or cox. This Loddon appears to be navigable for quite a distance, according to the map and would be worth exploring some day – if that golden Tomorrow ever comes. We eventually tried a very narrow brook which entered the Loddon and inch by inch, paddled the skiff upwards for about 25 yards.
This stream, or rather ditch – the water was brackish – then became quite impassable owing to low hanging branches and undriftable driftwood (that sounds paradoxical!) We could now neither turn the skiff or paddle it backwards out of the tight corner we’d reached. Nothing daunted, we hoisted the unwieldy boat clean out of the water and dragged it through hundreds of buttercups until we came to a clearer part of the brook, where we launched it successfully.

“She slid into the water, newly christened and a bride…” I quoted as we gave the final shove. The current helping, we moved lazily down the Loddon, then went up Thames to Shiplake Locks and paddled to within a few yards of the boiling weir waters. Angel cool at the tiller, showed no signs of nervousness, as most girls might have done, when I curved the skiff in a wide circle until we were moving swiftly away from the weir, the water rushing impotently after us. “I’d like to shoot rapids someday” she said with interest.

In the afternoon, we drove to Stoner, then eastwards up to the Common. Settled down in the lee of some gorse bushes and let the sun do his damnedest. We lay on my mackintosh and car rug. Read the paper; drank tea from Lois’ thermos; ate oranges. I puffed my pipe. Very peaceful!

Comfortably sunburnt we went back to Henley for supper at the Armistice Café. With our brown faces we made quite a splash of colour! Saw, when happening to glance at a nearby mirror -Lois, fair hair, scarlet jacket and navy blue slacks. Myself, dark hair, yellow, chocolate and brown blazer and tie, light blue shirt, dark grey bags.

Evening: We walked up into the 550’ Hanger Wood, that had been silhouetted for my eyes in that early dawn light. It was dusk in the wood but a white light shone through the western trees. Angel hurried on to the edge. I following slowly through deep dead leaves saw her moving outlined against the glow. Struggling from darkness towards the light! We threw ourselves down in a hollow and among dead beech leaves. We looked up at green treetops beyond tall stems, with a few patches of sky showing… We wandered through the wood in the gathering dusk and came to the edge near a wild laburnum tree in flower. In the valley below we saw a light in one of the attics of The Chequers Inn.

On Monday we returned, by easy stages. Between Marlowe and Maidenhead we ascended the steep twisting hill into Park Woods and to my joy Slinkys’ speed did not drop below 20 in top gear. At my last ascent, before the retarding, I had to change down to middle.

Searching (vainly) for my brother’s Sea Scout Troop, we spent the afternoon on the Thames in a skiff. Embarked at Lower Halliford and sculled up to within a mile of Chertsey. Passed through Weybridge Locks. This was quite an adventure for both of us. Returning, we were now accustomed to locks and handled the boat skilfully.And all the day the sun blazed down jubilantly! I felt damn fit!

Proceeded slowly homewards. Stayed to watch a cricket match in Twickenham and a fire at a shop in Ealing. Tea at hawthorn Court. Rapid journey back to Eastwood in the evening. Sixty! boomed Slinky on the double-track Arterial Road, with all the traffic going the other way. Driving, afterwards, to Stock, I saw the 26,000th mile tick onto the car milometer. In view of this, and the journey to Tilbury a week ago, the ascent of that steep hill this morning and for generally sprightly behaviour, Slinky B has been honoured and is now Captain Slinky B!