Sunday, October 19, 2008

Saturday 29th November 1941

The exchange was absolutely dank when I went on duty at 3a.m. I wore a damp great coat and bought with me two damp blankets. One of these fell in the puddle at the bottom and became even wetter. “Hell!” I said or words to that effect.

Putting my feet out of the puddle's reach I read and smoked. The book was a tale of the Wars of the Roses – bow and arrow, tabard and jerkin; horses and the green wood – called “The Black Arrow.” I last read this romance (RL Stevenson) in Leicestershire. (On summer afternoons I'd cycle out alone, by Evington and Stoughton along the quiet Roman road to nowhere, called Via Devana. There I'd perch in an oak tree above the road, reading; and “Black Arrow” was one of the books that I enjoyed in this oak tree. None of the few people who passed below, along the road, ever noticed the youth in the tree!)

Eventually the bloody light grew too dim for reading and I was left alone with the dampness, in a twilight. Eventually, to keep awake and cheerful I dashed down the wadi, returning with a mug of water, a mug containing milk, a spoon and the tea tin. Yes! I intended a midnight brew! The primus burnt well and I carefully balanced the mug of water upon it. This was too good to be true! The mug would fall over' or the primus fade out! But nothing untoward took place. I crouched over the primus, intent, engrossed, like some high priest of mystic cults. Watching and waiting I whispered the lines of the Tobruch poem, “Ode to Beer”:-

“O choice brown shape of my desiring,
My eager lips doth crave for thee...
O brew... sublime and free...”

Then as the water began to steam, I leaned back shouting aloud, triumphantly:-

“This royal throne of Kings,
This sceptred isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars!”

And then I mashed. There was no sugar but ah! what a glorious cup of tea!

There is now a wide corridor connecting Tobruch and the New Zealanders, through which supplies are being passed. Some of the Nzs came in this morning with their guns. These must be the first British troops to reach Tobruch by land since the siege commenced. Tobruch is not yet relieved, as shells still whistle in from east, south and west. Yes, here on the eastern sector, we get shelled from three sides!

Dialogue.
The Colonel: We are now linked to the New Zealanders by a corridor.
OC: Yes sir.
The Colonel (savagely) It's got to be kept open. Understand?
OC: Quite sir.
The Colonel: They'll want ammo. So we've got to go careful with that. No waste! Understand?
OC: Yes sir.
The Colonel (grimly) Right. Off!
Exchange operator: Finish? Finish? Finish!

(The Colonel bites off every word, fiercely, accusingly. The OC sounds polite, resigned, yet unimpressed)

3:30p.m. and a sunny very warm day – praise the gods!

Apparently a counter attack has been made by the enemy at El Duda (presumably the southern end of the corridor between Tobruch and the NZ's forces). Our role is still a minor one. This battery has not enough vehicles to take the field for action. We are however sending up ammo to the 1st RHA, who are in the corridor. They have already had one convoy (it left about an hour ago) but they have sent for still more ammo and this is at present being loaded into any available truck. Now, it is stated that a heavy battle may develop at El Duda.

10:30p.m. A Polish battery is all mixed up with ours. The last few hours have been pretty hectic, with people jabbering incomprehensible lingo on several lines at once. Order has arisen out of chaos however. At present there is another exchange in this pit, “Polish Mary” manned by a Polish signaller from Posan via Hungary, Greece, Turkey, Syria and Palestine, named Joseph Mowski or Moski or something. Besides his native tongue he speaks a little English, German, French and very little Arabic. So with the help of all these we manage to sustain a conversation. At present he's reading a Jerry magazine, part of the meagre loot from Butch.

He is a decent feller (1914 class) and it's rather nice to have some company on the night shift.

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