Monday, August 04, 2008

Thursday 8th February 1940

Pleasant as the train thudded monotonously onwards. We each had a corner and shaded lights; it was very warm. I’d read little Eileen’s letter in the guards van – and my eyes had been wet – (sitting there with pack and rifle and big boots!) – and now I quietly smoked a cigarette and thought of her again and fell asleep.

Soon after daybreak we were awake and saw a familiar town pass by and guessed where we were going. I managed to get some – just a little – hot water so shaved, washed my feet, hands, face and teeth. And dried the towel on a hot radiator!

We had a damn good breakfast at the docks. The rest of us carried Dick Cartwright’s kit between us. At last, “B Troop Staff ‘shun!” (“Pay attention there!”) “Right – turn. Quick march!” I led my section onto the gangplank and on board the troop ship. For some considerable time we remained alongside; but eventually the seamen cast off and the ship slid away. As we passed another troop ship – I was unromantically leaning over the side eating bread and tinned meat – the soldiers lining her decks suddenly cheered us! We were the first to go.

It is now evening and we are out at a rendezvous a few miles from the coast, waiting for the convoy that will join us at about 2a.m. I was able to buy duty free cigarettes! 100 “Capstain” for 3/6d! Yes, we are “active service” now. I obtained a supply of field service post cards for the section; cigarettes are now included in our ration issue. Had a game of chess with Stan. He won by a sudden attack; just when I had the game in my pocket. So he leads now, 4-3.

Just as the light faded, after boat drill I went on the afterdeck and saw a vague grey shape, almost disappeared in the twilight. The land. And it might be terribly long before I saw England again.

Our saloon being very crowded, Willoughby and I slept on benches on the weather deck, with our blankets (and ground sheets and lifebelts as pillows) and great coats. I awoke after a few hours, heard the thud of machinery and felt the ship swaying. We were at sea.

Up at 5 o’clock. Hell of a job to get washed and shaved in the crowded lavatory.
Breakfast on the weather deck, surrounded by spewing soldiers. Great darkness on the forecastle. A high wind throbbing in the rigging. Mysteriously the ship plunged on. A flickering light showed where a destroyer circled watchfully around us.

It grew quite light and we gathered on the forecastle deck, till a grey land appeared ahead and then two concrete islands, the entrance to a harbour.
We landed in France at 8 o’clock in the morning of –

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