Thursday, October 02, 2008

Saturday 24th May 1941

Very dusty, as expected.

Things are a bit more lively at M1 now as there are two fresh faces. We've had two LMG gunners attached for several days. Their gun, an Iti Breda, is rigged up by the exchange. One is a new reinforcement from Blighty – Cliff Mayhew. Rather pathetic, somehow. He's small, diffident and quiet. North country, married. He does his share of work but is not appreciated by the others, more noisy, quarrelsome and aggressive. He is know as The Waste (waste of a good man's rations). I rather like him. Anyhow, he's a damn good cook – especially with pastry. Yesterday he made us a fruit pasty for dinner – I've had nothing like that since leaving Blighty!

The other gunner of course is the great hacker Newton of Liverpool, who's been with us since Southwell and has many times been seen at defaulters parades – he was awarded pack drill immediately on arrival in France, I remember, and managed to slip past the police and into the brothel area as soon as the punishment was over.

Well, he's now with us, a swaggering ex-gangster (of the Jazz Eleven Gang) redolent of a world of knuckle dusters, kicking, gouging, butting, razors, broken bottles; race tracks, gambling, whoring, drinking; religious riots and all the rest of it. He's jovial and good hearted. Very proud of the baton scars on his close cropped head.

“They calls me Duke, back at 'ome,” he confided to me, “'Cos I'm the mainstay of the town, see?” Willing to give advice on boxing;- “Always 'it 'em below the belt. If you must 'it 'em in the face, use a knuckle duster. If 'e goes down – don't let 'im get up again, see? If you ever have to wear boxing gloves, stuff 'em up with bits of metal before you start”.

Whacker has quite a good voice and often sings, plaintively, a sentimental ballad, “There's a rose in no-man's land”. “My old woman used to sing that,” he says, homesick, “Especially after she'd had a few drinks”. He calls me “The Playboy” (“Lives on yer wits, see?”) “Dawson of the Desert,” he says, smacking his lips. “Playboy Dawson and The Duke ride again.”

“There's a Major Dawson in Liverpool” he told me the other day. “Talks just like you, too. Dresses posh you know. A real toff. Goes on the race tracks. 'E did two years for slashin'. “What!” I exclaimed startled at this unexpected ending to the portrait of a gentleman, “Slashing? With a razor?” “Yep. Good with a razor 'e was, too. A rare character. Lived on the Parish y'know and walked around like a toff. 'E'd give tips at the races, see? When 'e came out after doin' 'is time, I saw 'im at the race tracks again. “You all know me,” 'e says, speaking posh, “I've been away for two years, working as the King's Gardener”. Yes, King's Gardener! A real case, 'e was!”

Needless to say, since the two AA gunners arrived, no enemy plane has flown low over this area (irony of fate!). The Duke doesn't understand the gun anyhow but Mayhew does and is keen to be one of those few LMG gunners who shoot down a plane!

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