Monday, August 04, 2008

Sunday 11th February 1940

A lousy night’s sleep. Reveille at 4:30a.m. Breakfast at 5:30a.m. For the last time we hastily thrust our mess tins outside the door, as the cooks advanced along the corridor, armed with pans of food. For the last time we hurled slops and empty tins from the window; crowded into the lavatories to clean our mess tins. There was no water left in the tanks so many did not wash or shave. However I found a not-too-dirty-lav. And washed face, hands and teeth, watered my hair and shaved, using water very sparingly from my bottle. I left the lavatory feeling fit and fresh.

“Eggy” Brookes a somewhat coarse and definitely unimaginative sergeant, was standing at the corridor window. I joined him and a dream came true: I’d always dreamt from boyhood, that one day I would see that thrilling, warm, colourful sea, the Mediterranean. Now I saw it! The train was running in a deep cutting of white rock. Suddenly there was a great gap, and beyond this, about 100 yards away, a lovely blue sea lapped against rocks. And the far horizon was rose-red with the dawn. Yes! I first saw the Mediterranean at daybreak!

Scenes of bewitching loveliness – like I’d imagined Italy rather than France to be – from here to Marseilles – I can mention names now! – as we followed the coast.
Marseilles Docks – organisation! – the troopship “Dilwara” – system! – lower Mess Deck 3, Mess no.52 – meals efficiently and rapidly served by two orderlies chosen (one was Tiny Jennings) from the 18 men who comprised the mess.

Stan Ling and I slept for half an hour in the afternoon, lying on the upper deck with people falling over our feet. It was in the evening that we noticed how warmer the temperature had become. Yesterday, beyond the hills, it was winter; but tonight, with no breeze, it is like an evening in May. I’m sitting here on the open deck writing this at 9:15p.m. without a coat or hat and feeling quite warm. Beyond the harbour up the hill, stretch the lights – yes! The Lights! Of Marseilles.

Earlier, I smoked a contemplative pipe of Waverly with Stan Ling on the promenade deck; and we watched the twilight gather over sea and cliffs and town and distant hills; watched cars climbing the winding road above the water’s edge. “Sunday night!” I said, “Just a week ago in Southwell, there was heavy rain and awful slush. Everything was wet and they cancelled the route march”. “Yes” said Stan, “What a letter each of us could write home, if there were no censorship! Beginning from the moment we pulled out of Southwell; the trip across the Channel from X. How we spent two days in the train and got here, hundreds of miles from home. If only they could realise what has been happening to us!”

Guess I’d better turn-in now. My hammock is slung and it’s lights-out at 9:30p.m.

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