Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Tuesday 17th September 1940

Beginning of Lengthening Shadows 1940

Again I write by moonshine. Hope I'll get this finished before there's a raid. We had quite some excitement last night. For the first alarm Jackie and I stayed smugly in our hole, whilst the rest huddled in the trench. I wrote two letters afterwards and then scribbled an attempt at rhyme to a mysterious girl in Essex who occasionally writes to me. She was a builder's secretary in Chelmsford. I only knew her in a business way. God knows how she discovered my Army number, rank and unit or how she knew I was in the Army at all! In reply to a quaint little rhyme which arrived from her last week I wrote:-

“So once again your message came
To this hot land of sun and sand.
The “other place” was very sweet,
Yet still I long one day to meet
My -”

Drone of plane. A rush into the trench. Frantic whistles. At first Jackie and I did not move but when we saw the plane, low and nearly overhead we leapt into the slit trench. How much safer it seemed there! Slowly he came, amid the exciting clatter of machine guns from AA posts. Unperturbed. Mysterious red verey lights shot up into the air. I suddenly felt most surprisingly bloodthirsty, and scrambled out of the trench - “Where's a bloody rifle? Let's have a shot at him!” But the M1 rifle had been given to someone on guard. He went out to sea. All clear. We walked around searching for delayed action bombs. Nothing. A shining piece of tinsel paper gave us a thrill!

Returned to the poem:

“ - My lovely England once more
And all those things that were before.
I write this by the moon beams light,
Happiest dreams! (air raid alarm) A long good night”

I finished hastily and got in the trench again, chuckling aloud at the irony of my moon poetry. “That bloody bright moon again,” we say apprehensively. We cursed and joked, as the plane again crossed over, amid Hotchkiss rattle and weird verey lights (God knows why they let those off.) “There goes the Yeomanry gun!” I cried in ecstasy, as a clatter began nearby. “Don't look up!” “Keep down boys!” “The bastard!” “Ye Geordie whore ye!” The plane went out to sea. All clear.

I hastily put my lyric-letter in an envelope, addressed it: Miss Phyllis Church, Priory House, Bicknacre, Near Chelmsford, Essex, England” and then joined in another hunt for DA bombs. Nothing around us, anyhow. My bed seemed fine and soft and warm. Soft sand in this hole. I awoke drowsily when I heard them in the trench behind me sometime later. Thought it was reveille, but my watch said 1:30. Was just getting alert when the all clear sounded. I slept again.

It was hard to wake this morning. A rotten day. Wind like an oven blast and dust storms. We heard the Italian advance had halted some 70 miles off. “One thing,” said Naden philosophically, “It takes our minds off things at home now that the bastards are coming down the road!” The flies and dust at meals! The inadequate supply of hot tea! No shade! Above all, the heat and the dust! We're making keen preparations to stop and shake 'em in this area, anyhow.

Well, nothing's happened yet and it's 9:30p.m. (There was an alarm at 8p.m. but nothing occurred.) This is the best time of the day. We have washed and feel cool and clean and not particularly thirsty. “It's nice to lie smoking and thinking,” says Naden, from his bed nearby. Now he's talking quietly, trying to convince me that we'll be home by next spring. Pleasant to be convinced on such a point!

I've now fallen back on the only tobacco which can be obtained here. ie. “Skipper” Not so bad as I'd feared. Will have a swig of water and a pipe-full, then turn in.

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