Monday, August 04, 2008

Wednesday 7th February 1940

Heavy rain added to our weather troubles today. Again men were picked for fatigues; again I was lucky and was dismissed at 9:30a.m. for the rest of the morning.

It is nearly twelve now. I’m warm and dry! Some of my clothes are dry and others are before the fire at the moment. I’ve written up this my journal and done some packing. I’ll finish the drying and do as much packing as possible before I report again – at 2 p.m. Having lunch at billets.

The Essex Yeomanry goes away now…

(This is written at sea as we wait for the convoy on the evening of the 8th)

Good bye to the billets. “God bless you”

And at Eileen’s… We sat by the fire. She had written me a letter but decided to destroy it. I seized the four sheets of paper suddenly, all crumpled, and put them in my pocket. Eventually when I’d threatened and coaxed she allowed me to keep them. So I came away, no arrangement for a next meeting to cause argument this time.

Battle dress; pack, water-bottle and haversack, respirator, tin hat, ground sheet, blankets, rifle, kit bag. Amazing the amount one can carry when put to it!
“Good bye Stephen,” she said quietly and ever so calmly.

I tramped up the road, alone. Assembly, rough supper, darkness and confusion, slush and mud. Soon after eleven we fell-in to march off by troops. I marched behind Captain Boulton in the first three of “B” Troop. Thud of boots on the drying tarmac. We sang discordantly. “Good luck!” cried people sometimes from open doorways.

Dick Cartwright – he is just recovering from pleurisy – collapsed suddenly as he marched and the men around him stopped in disorder. The front of “B” Troop halted in the road only about 20 yards from Eileen’s house. Did she know? I cautiously flashed my lamp in the pre arranged way. I whistled “La Paloma”. It was possible that she, somewhere. Would hear that tune from the body of men in the road. The tune we’d both loved, a few days ago. Cartwright was helped onwards. Would she guess it was he?

“B Troop, Quick march!” I flashed my lamp as we went by and heard her call from the pavement outside the gate, “Good luck Stephen”, I think. Everyman in the troop yelled in answer. It was chaotically incoherent but as the thudding boots inexorably carried me further away from her, I called, “Auf Wiederschen, Eileen!” “Auf Wiederschein, Stephen”.

Guards van journey as far as Nottingham – for unlucky “B” Troop. Somewhere beyond, the train stopped for a danger signal, in the white countryside. I jumped down onto the track and clambered into the next coach. A 414 Battery BSM handed my kit down to me. In a carriage in this coach I found Bryceland, Barford (both in my sub-section) and an RHQ driver. All quiet and tidy blokes.

It was now about 2 a.m. and…

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