Monday, September 08, 2008

Wednesday 18th December 1940

Early on Monday, we left Mena and came into the desert. Ye gods, how cold it was, on the road! Back to the old grub now – biscuits, tea and bully beef for each meal. We're muffled up with scarves, greatcoats and gloves; those who have them are wearing balaclava helmets or cap comforters. Must look a rough crowd! On M1 are, besides myself and Hall the driver – Grant, Nicholls and Hammick. Sid Pond is NCOi/c Sigs. (Hignall, Naden and Goodwin did not return to us) Yes, a pretty scratch crew.

We bivouacked on the edge of the Delta country on Monday night. I lay in a shallow trench, fully clothed, with camouflage netting over the blankets and my greatcoat over my head. Quite warm – whilst I was in bed. Last night we were supposed to bivouac at Mersa Matruh but when we halted at Sidihanaish some new orders were received and we rushed back to kilo 57 and made bivouac. We heard here that Sollum had fallen and that our forces were pushing on into Libya. Also that we might vegetate around here for some time. But nobody really knows. Now – it's midday and almost warm when you're not in the wind – there's a rumour that we might be moving soon. But again, nothing is certain!

(2:15p.m. We're loaded and ready to move as I write this, in the front seat of M1.)

During the last few evenings at Mena, Stevens told me a story, whilst we sat in the snug lamp-lit tent. A pretty, sentimental little tale with a sad ending. When we left Mena, he lent me the book. It is “The Passionate Year” by James Hilton (author of “Good-bye Mr Chips”) and I've been reading it for three days now, at intervals, when we were moving slowly or were halted. A sweet story of the “idyll” type, strangely contrasted to the conditions in which I'm reading it. - “It was all deeply and inexpressibly lovely” ... “and then the curt command of the perfect imposing silence, silence which, reigned over by the moon and the sky of stars, lasted through the short summer night until dawn” ... “... he could fill the basket on his bicycle with books and go cycling along the sweet smelling sunlit lanes...” “... She came to him like a shy wraith, resolving out of the haze of moonbeams...”

Beautiful words! Delightful dreams! Lost!

7:40p.m. A bit of comfort and snugness tonight! Sid Pond and I are having a quiet read and smoke in the covered back of an 8cwt. I've draped a blanket over the doorway to keep the cold out; Sid has rigged up a signalling lamp for our illumination. Later on we'll have to lie in the cold, damp, square hole where our companions now lie huddled in their blankets like corpses in a grave. And tomorrow (unless orders are changed again) we'll move to Sidi Barrani. But now! We sit snugly and conclude our respective books – he, “Prince Charming” and I, “Passionate Year”.


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