Thursday, October 02, 2008

Sunday 1st June 1941

(The first of June! I mustn't conjure up memories of Junes. June seems usually my happiest month of happy summers.)

My ink supply is exhausted and no one else in the Battery seems to have any. So it may have to be indelible pencil from now on.

*Original pencil notes inked-over in May 1943.

The weather has changed in the last week or so. No high winds, no dust storms; breezes or windless days and intense heat. Warm nights, too.

Have not been up to the OP for some time. Only wireless signallers go up now. At M1, things have been much more cheery since the arrival of jovial Newton and philosophical Mayhew but all the same, nerves are obviously strained - the heat, propinquity and the general situation are probable causes – and tempers flare up very easily and for trivial reasons. Newton is the most even tempered person around here, really.

News: Nothing to report in Libya or Egypt. Fighting intense still, in Crete. Iraq campaign progressing satisfactorily. Our troops are nearing Baghdad and it is thought that Iraq will shortly submit.

Life in the perimeter could become very boring but there are compensations. The other evening we had a rifle meeting in a wadi nearby and shot on a 175 yards range. I did as well as I've ever done, - 51/60 points – and was placed top. M1 personnel, who had not done very well, were startled, but not for long: “We didn't try to 'it the targets mate, we've been up in this Army too long for that! Oh yes! We're not mugs! If you does well, they gives you a rifle to carry, see?”

Then, about every other day, one can go to the beach, two miles away, with a swimming party. It's a glorious rocky cove; water as still and clear as a lagoon. I remember, I came here once last winter, after the battle, and thought it would be a qwise place in the summer, when it wasn't so damn bloody cold. Yesterday afternoon Ling, Parker, Steve and I, swam across the cove (about 150 yards) to a rock where they'd rigged up a diving board. One leapt off that into about 10 foot of clear, greenish cool-ness, and clean-ness. Ah! At such places one can forget the war – until a drone is heard, and puffs of AA shrapnel bursts appear in the blue sky!

Ling and I disdaining to return in the dust lorry, walked back. Pleasant ramble! We soon felt thirsty, but found some Aussie engineers working on a great tank of fresh water.

“Can we have a drink, digger?”
“Sure! Dip your heads right in!”
“Thanks”
“You're welcome!”

We proceeded on our way, into a deep and magnificent wadi, quite 200 feet deep. (this sounds like an extract from one of Bob Andrew's diaries, but it is original!) We began to feel thirsty again and – thrill of thrills – we found a water hole. There was an Aussie there (an anti-tank gunner) who'd just had a drink and said it was dinkum. It was grand. The cool, unsalty water was trickling slowly out of a hole in the limestone at the bottom of the water-hole. We held an old tin to the tiny trickle until it was full... of water that need not be hoarded! Water that could be drunk right away without compunction; fresh water from the earth, not distilled sea water!

There are also compensations of the spirit rather than of the body – books. Occasionally one obtains a really decent book, which brings a complete sense of detachment. Then there's my Atlas of the World. It is interesting to muse over this, or discuss it with one's friends, or to deliberately add to one's geographical knowledge by studying the maps and data.

(Where will there be a chance of “making good” - peace and prosperity – after the war?) Canada? Aussie? United States? Toronto, Sidney, Freemantle, Wiluna, Ottawa, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles? Nova Scotia, Western Aussie, California, New Mexico, Illinois. Magical names!

And lastly there's poetry. I revived an interest in that, lately. It's sweet to try and remember poetry, struggling to write down once well-known poems. And it's good to try and keep one's understanding of poetry and to discuss poetry with such kindred spirits as Jack Chenery.

Midnight. I sleep in the open now, on account of the heat. I'd just gone to sleep, about an hour ago, when I was awakened by a drone (familiar sound) and opened my eyes to see great searchlights criss-crossing above my head. Then the AA barrage began. It was only a single plane. It got away. There were about six Aeronautica Bombardamento Indiscriminato shows by single planes today, and, towards sunset, one Tauchen Bombardiren by upwards of thirty Stukas. After their bombs had been released, several of the planes appeared to dive on to the bathing beach, machine guns clattering.

News: After a fortnight of absolute peace in Blighty, air raids have now recommenced. Iraq: Armistice has been signed – on our terms. Crete: 15,000 of our troops have been evacuated from there, as it was difficult to give air support...
I dare say that Tobruk will be the next place to receive Jerry parachute troops and an air blitz. Very likely. They will not get much air opposition here, I'm afraid!

If this journal should ever fall into German or Italian hands and be studied for propaganda purposes (I don't think this will happen as, if the worst comes to the worst, I should try to destroy my diaries. How ghastly that would be, like Williamson's Mad Willy Maddison destroying his Star-born as the tide rose, in “The Pathway”). However, if this journal is ever read, by the enemy, I'd like to mention that the morale of M1 is not in my mind, typical of the morale of Tobruk Garrison; also that my morale is not typical of the British soldier's morale, because I'm a pacifist and not a typical soldier in any way. My patriotism isn't of the nationalistic sort at all; it's just a love of green fields and smoky old cities and dear Thames Valley and of “Hearts at peace under an English heaven”.

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