Monday, September 08, 2008

Wednesday 25th December 1940

Called 3:45a.m. Walked 180 paces S by W (after I'd huddled shivering into boots, tunic and greatcoat and tin hat) and found “RA” and waked Jim Hutley. He had to go to the OP. Eventually found my way back to the exchange and took over from Ted. At 5a.m. - in three minutes time - “B” will fire again. This is “harassing fire”. We find it so.

Just spoke to Sammy Jacobovitch at “B” links, checking time. And “Merry Xmas, B Troop!” “Merry Xmas, Exchange!” A bit satirical. However damn 'em all, I've just eaten an orange (issued today with the rations) and there are some hard biscuits here and a tin of scrounged jam so -

(They're off!) A moment ago, TORO rang me. “I make it five now, old man” “In that case you'll hear a few bangs in a minute” “Oh my God what a Christmas present to send them!” “Yes, we'll never forget this bloody Xmas, will we?” “No!” said the voice, “We were in civilisation last year, weren't we?”

7:33a.m. now on a Christmas morning and the firing has died away except for an occasional desultory shot. It's daylight now and that cold dawn wind is keening. I'm huddled here in my greatcoat and four blankets.

Breakfast: Porridge (!) a mouthful of bacon, three biscuits, marmalade and margarine. Lunch: Tinned herring, three biscuits (But, Nicholls and Grant, neat cooks, scrounged some bully, biscuits and baked beans, and made a really quite tasty stew, which I ate until sated).
Tea: Rice (!) and Stew (!)

The meals have really been very good today. Breakfast was eaten under fire, unfortunately. With two meals we have had tea, made with salt water. The British salted the wells (dirty warfare, I reckon) when retreating last September and now we, and other advancing troops, are paying the penalty. The water ration is only a bottle a day, per man, so we rarely wash or shave. Yesterday, it being Xmas Eve I washed, shaved, cleaned my teeth and feet – all in one mug of hot water – and trimmed my moustache. Then I set my tin hat at a jaunty angle and felt fine. “Dawson, the desert dandy!” chuckled Gayler. “A dandy in no-man's land” I grunted. “Yeah, and why is it no-mans land?” asked Grant. “'Cos no-man wants a bloody, bastard mile of it, from here to Alex.”

Memories – of Christmas in the wilderness! No presents, no letters, no cards, no merriment, no anything!

9p.m. Sid Pond and I are enjoying a fair degree of comfort in the new exchange pit. We've been digging it for three days off and on and now and at last it's ready and the switchboard installed (the change over being efficiently made without there being a break in communications for more than a minute on each line). The pit is about 10 foot long. One end is about 3 foot wide by 4 foot deep (where the operator sits) and the other end is about 3 foot by 2 foot 6 inches and contains the switchboard and what I call the “terminal chamber”, where adjustments can be made to the leads. There's elbow room and one can sit on a box without touching the tarpaulin roof (which is stretched on a tier of sandbags, and ramped). Surprising what a difference a little space makes towards comfort!

At present, Sid and I are doing what we were doing this time last week – having a snug little read and smoke. I've got the cushy first shift – 7p.m. to 10p.m. - tonight. Quite a few shells came over just now and there's some bombing going on also. So it's hardly quite the same as last week, for we're both a bit on the alert – with the storm lantern flickering when something comes a bit nearer. Guess they're paying us back for last night.

Ah! A possible feather in the 339 cap! We had an air shoot this afternoon (A steady old Lysander, cruising around in a circle of bursting Iti shrapnel, directing our fire) and “A” Troop with a furious burst of 8 rounds gunfire, are reported to have scored direct hits on the famous Bardia Bill!

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