Monday, August 04, 2008

Wednesday 14th February 1940

The sea was calm today but the wind was still agonising to bear. We moved out into the Gulf at breakfast time and anchored there, about a quarter mile off a rocky coast.

Troop decks cleared at 7:45a.m. for PT and boat stations. Physical training made me feel awful. I felt I’d either be sick or faint; no amount of exercise could make us feel warm on the exposed upper deck. And later, we stood by the boats nearly an hour, whilst troop decks were cleared for inspection. How the bitter seconds crawled! Tiny Jennings was taken ill so I helped him down to the hospital – a few minutes before the inspection ended. In my mess (no.52) there are now five men on the sick report out of 18 in the mess. Another man was sent ashore yesterday, suffering from pleurisy. He won’t be with us.

7:30p.m. I have just been talking to Jennings, in the hospital. After that I helped poor old Stan Ling into his hammock on this crowded mess deck. He’s pretty ill; looks like an old man. We are still lying off the shore and there is a destroyer, gleaming whitely in the night, lying alongside. The sea is calm and the ship hardly stirs, but there’s a fearful wind blowing.

I feel unbearably homesick and sentimental tonight. England gone! If I’d known it would be missed so deeply! I thought it would be awful but could not visualise the actuality. And Southwell! At Southwell too, we knew times of misery there, there was the evening anodyne. Tea at the billets, or at a café. A warm fireside. Pictures. Kisses and whispered words and stupid lovely quarrels. Dances, music. How I miss Southwell! I can go again to Stock, Ealing Common and Wolfhampcote. But Southwell and the peculiar life of Southwell (Eileen-and-khaki) can never be again, just the same – “Once more together all”. And little Eileen! If I’d known how awful this separation would be, how keenly I’d miss her, I could not have left her so calmly. I should have broken down and wept.

Heaven knows why I feel so sad tonight! Perhaps because I don’t feel A1 and am weather despondent. Or because it is just a week (only a week!) since we left Southwell. This time last Wednesday I was spending my last hour with my O.L.T.E. I feel that when the time or period of being apart has lengthened beyond the seven days of a week, the past is quite beyond the reach of my fingers… Oh hell! I mustn’t get morbid. It’s nearly eight now. I’ll queue up for some chocolate at the canteen on – brghh! – the weather deck; get some for Stan if he needs it too. Then I’ll turn in and read a bit.

The ship has just weighed anchor and is standing out to sea. I took a look at the line of lights on shore swinging around, as the ship turned. Goodbye Europe!

“What time is it old man?” I asked Pond, on the weather deck. “8:30 old boy,” he replied with a look at his watch.

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