Monday, October 06, 2008

Monday 28th July 1941

The water ration is now ¾ gallon per man per day – for washing, cooking and drinking. From time to time we are also issued with bulk washing water. This is slightly salty, being infiltrated from the sea. Despite the extra drinking water (it was formerly on ½ gallon per man per day) we still have insufficient for our great thirsts. On M1 Last night Scott and I went miles rearward to the beloved water hole near our old position. Alas! No one is keeping the level low, therefore the once delicious water was now deep, stagnant and teeming “with animal life”, as Scott put it.

Scott, the AA gunner who came up here in place of Mafham, is imaginative and yet hard-boiled. Fighter and dreamer! The only other time I've found this quaint combination of contrary characteristics present strongly in anyone was in the strange Jackaman, whom I knew for a while at Richmond Road, Staines (“So you've been through the mill, too!” ... “I took my glasses off and walked back quickly towards him” ... “I saw the fireglow flickering on their faces” ... “To our greatest desires, - may they never be attained!”)

How the whole atmosphere of M1 has changed since so many new faces appeared – to stay or disappear again! Jack Wetherall, “Whacker” Newton, Leslie Scott (he, like the other two is from Liverpool, having served previously in our much-battered brother regiment - 106th Lancashire Yeomanry Regt. RHA), Cliff Mafham, and Sergeant “Bandy” Bransgrove. It's quite a happy family now.

However! I was writing about the disappointing water quest! We had to return almost empty-handed from our long trip; it wasn't altogether fruitless, as we managed get a gallon of sandy water from the “dripping barrel” at the water point. It was dark when we got back to the widely dispersed battery area. Few stars were visible and the new moon had set. We went off the track and wandered bafflingly around for some considerable time. Just as we staggered, worn out, into our wadi, a large number of enemy planes arrived, roaring around and occasionally releasing bombs. A shower of AA shells began to burst overhead, unusually low. Fragments of steel and whole shells descended. The former came with a gentle whirring sound, ending in a faint thud; the latter with a viscous whistle! crash!

Scotty and I sat in the tent (one feels comparatively safe with a sheet of canvas above one!), morosely munching cheese and biscuits. “If a piece of English metal hits you, it does just as much damage as a German or Iti fragment” I remarked gloomily. “It's grim, Steve!” came the voice from the dark. “Definitely” ... “All this shelling, month in month out – bombs – noises and things – must affect your nerves, Steve.”

“Fortunately, the Army training – hateful though it is – deadens your imagination, Scotty. Otherwise we'd feel much worse about all this” “Makes you stolid and sort of wooden, you mean?” “I guess so” “Yes” “Have another biscuit?” “Yes, I'll have one one, please, Steve.”

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