Thursday, September 04, 2008

Saturday 26th October 1940

Sand storm. I slept in the exchange dugout last night; it was my duty at 3:45a.m. to awaken all the people sleeping in the area. Reveille was at 4a.m. (The second day of our practice at the ranges.) However, I awoke suddenly at about – oh I don't know, but it was long before the time at which Bale Exchange was to ring me. Dust, drifting gently in, awoke me. I heard the wind, saw the hellish clouds swirling in the doorway; sat up. My blankets, my shirt, my hair was full of dust. It lay thickly upon the switchboard. I spat – a mouthful of slime and mud. Horrid awakening. Quite impossible to sleep, so I got up at 3:20 and tried to block the doorway with one of my blankets.

The drill order at the ranges was postponed – visibility through one's eye shields was about 3-4 foot (sometimes one could not, in the open, see the ground at one's feet). All day, Gayler, George Hignall, Naden and I huddled in the oppressive darkness of the exchange dugout. We brewed tea occasionally, and sweated. Until our throats became raw and even breathing was difficult and painful, we smoked. Had no breakfast, but groped along a telephone line to the cookhouse at lunchtime. Had a hasty and dusty lunch in the cook's tent, with a few other hungry men. Our throats, noses and eyes were most painful. We coughed steadily; it hurt to cough. My head ached like hell, also.

“Three years out here?” cried Yorky Major, “Oh my God!” and he hid his face in his hands, coughing. Gayler opened red eyes. “I've had enough of this boy. I don't mind admitting that I've had all I can stand: I'm beat.” “Aw, my bloody chest!” groaned George, coughing hard... “This'll knock about 10 years off our life – if we don't catch TB” “The sandstorm season starts about now, so they say,” “Oh yes, there'll be plenty more like this,” “I wish Lady Astor were here!” “Here come the Middle East soldiers, sent back home, no use, full of TB, - that's what she'll say...”

Now it is 6:50p.m. and the storm is over. We all feel foul. A breathless hot khamsin wind still blows, but the dust is almost normal. The 4 foot trench leading out of this dugout is practically full of sand which has drifted in. The exchange stuck it well – better than us! - but the insidious dust disabled two relays late this afternoon. Tomorrow, reveille 4a.m. and the drill order we missed today.


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