Thursday, September 18, 2008

Monday 17th February 1941

All day we've been travelling in the fertile region. About midday we swung inland, climbing high into rolling hill country by two magnificent passes. A fine road swept up and down and spiralled into the hills with many hairpin bends. Farms, delightful sunshine. It might have been Derbyshire. We stopped for lunch near a white State Colonists Scheme farmhouse, where some Aussies were in billets. The farmer and his wife, typical Italians, came out to us. They could not speak English but were very friendly. It only made war seem all the more futile...

In mid afternoon we halted and made bivouac in bushy hill country. It looked for all the world as though we were somewhere on Danbury Common, near Chelmsford. But on the splendid tarmac road just below, are several wrecked English tanks and lorries. There must have been an ambush here, during the advance... Beside one tank, I noticed two fresh graves, each marked with a little cross of three-ply wood.

“Eee, ah'm sorry for they poor bleeders” said Jackie Hall. Still – there are two men sleeping quietly in the green country. And each has his mate, whom he must have known very well, lying alongside. And just for a while at least, the tank in which they served together, and fought and probably died, remains beside them in the greenery. And, for them, this war is over. No more hopes or fears...

9p.m. M1 stands in the midst of bushes, half way up a hill. Sid and I are sitting in the blacked-our cab, whilst Jackie, Vic, Naden and Grant are lying in their beds discussing great matters – stars, planets and the sun. From time to time, Sid and I interpolate with some sage remark – presumably culled from our superior Knowledge of Space. A staccato remark rips out from the cab into the middle of some astronomical argument, then we are silent again. “But, I tell ye, a fallin' star...”

“A falling star is actually a meteorite, boy, moving through space at 40 miles per second and only visible to your eye when passing at it's nearest point to the earth!”
“... 'An we're all revolving round the sun” ... “Yeah, but they reckon the sun's getting smaller” ... “The sun is losing gaseous matter at the rate of over a billion tons a year, Basil!”

Well, I'll read a bit before turning in. Tonight I have a good old cloak and sword romance by HC Bailey - “Karl of Erbacht”. There's a rare business of book swopping nowadays and somehow, between us, we each manage to get two or three fresh books each week.

The world news is not too good – apart from the African campaign. Increasing tension in the Far East (Japan and French Indo-China and Dutch East Indies) and in the Balkans (Yugo-Slavia, Bulgaria, Turkey and Romania).

“The boys are pretty shaken tonight,” Sid told me just now, when I returned from a visit to Stan Ling at “X” car. Oh, we were bombed a bit last night! I'd almost forgotten it, in the Bagush Box days I'd have written a lengthy account of our ordeal in the slit trench. Last night we all awoke but no one got out of bed or just put on a tin hat. We just lay there sleepily, listening to the drone of planes, the roar as they dived an the crash of explosives, followed sometimes by the tinkle of breaking glass as windows were blown in. They were Jerry planes – a different engine note to Iti planes.

“Here's a Hurricane coming,” said someone as a rapidly increasing snarl was heard. “Don't be too sure,” came Naden's voice, complainingly, “I thought I heard a Hurricane just now – and it dropped a load of shit!”

We have discovered a bottle of Chianti (belonging to Jackie) in the cab here and are quietly disposing of it. He'll call us a couple of whores in the morning, but that won't get his Chianti back!

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