Sunday, October 12, 2008

Tuesday 23rd September 1941

I've been in bed since the eleventh. I feel deadly tired and listless. They're giving me a tonic. But I've felt tired-out for months now so it will have to be the hell of a good tonic. I had a few days sick leave from the Base. That wasn't bad, one could get out into Cairo after roll-call. As soon as one stepped off the tram – at the corner of Emad-El-Dine and Sharia Fouad – one either had an iced coffee at The Brazilian Coffee Stores or a coffee with cream at The American Bar.

It's a devil of an effort to write. Once it was so easy.

One days leave was cancelled, so that all could dig, in broiling heat, at the slit trenches. Not making them safer, oh no! Making them more ornamental!

The leave was fine – I wished Ling and Chenery and Pond and others could be with me instead of in bloody Tobruch – but the lethargy of sickness was already creeping over me. Gezira was grand, with Henry Ritchie and on a second occasion, Pop and Bernard Belcham as well. Leisurely cricket! Lounging in the shade of trees, watching the familiar white-clad figures on green grass with a back ground of more trees. The teams weren't too haphazard either. I saw Wally Hammond knock up a spectacular 33, nearly all in sixes and fours, ending with a magnificently caught “skier” on the boundary line.

I was usually tired. One afternoon in the Tipperary Club, I bought a pint of fresh milk and took as sip and suddenly fell asleep on a fatefully comfortable leather divan. Two hours later, I awoke with a dry mouth and drank the rest of the milk.

When I first felt ill I didn't report sick for a day or two. It is discouraged to report sick at the Base. You are usually malingering to avoid a draft. Eventually I had to go, though. As my temperature was normal I got Medicine and Duty and felt a criminal. None of the required Medicine was available but they managed to arrange plenty of Duty for me. In the afternoon (it was a half holiday) I was selected for a burial party.

We buried a couple of blokes at the English Cemetery. They had shot it out with revolvers and both died. One was an MP and weighty; the other was a Scot and lighter. I edged towards the second coffin. “C'mon this 'un,” said the Sergeant, “You look a big, healthy strong feller” (My God! What irony I thought.) The distance we had to carry the coffins was easily 250 yards. When we got there - “Whop 'im in, lads!” cried the Sergeant, “An' lets get weavin' into the town!” And these men in the be-flagged coffins had died romantically of Bullet. “Some corner of a foreign field”, what!

When I got outside, I noticed that everyone complained of the sickening smell from the coffins... Apparently the two revolver kings had been dead three days, which in this climate, is discouraged. I'd been too ill to notice any smell. All I'd observed was that there is something unmistakably peculiar about the movement of the feet of men carrying the body of another man.

Next day my temperature was 100 degrees and I was sent to bed in my tent. Next day it was normal and I remained in bed. Third day it was 102 degrees. “What is wrong with you?” asked the MO vaguely. “Suspected sandfly fever sir” “And you feel better today?” briskly selling me an affirmative. “No,” I said coldly, “I feel worse, actually” “Oh, you'd better go to hospital, out of the way!” he said impatiently.

So I came here and they soon found it was not sandfly at all but malaria. I feel much better now. Just old and tired. I read all the time, except when I feel too weary. Wonder if I'll ever feel fit again. It's months since I felt fit – or tolerably happy. Perhaps I felt happiest that last week in No.3 Hospital, when I used to sit on the edge of the bed reading “Doomsday” by Warwick Deeping and enjoying a meal as well. We used to buy lots of fizzy minerals at No.3, and dozens of bananas and tomatoes. There was plenty of salt to dip the tomatoes into, and “Doomsday” oozed peace and love and England.

Air Mail – Palestine. By David McNicoll (From the AIF News)

“Praise God from whom all blessings flow,”
The Padre said, and row on row
The rustling hymnbooks, in the sun,
Flickered, were folded. Then as one
A thousand voices stirred the air -
Were silent. Heads were bent in prayer.

Above the Padre's voice we heard
An engine drone; then like a bird
With silvered wings, we say the plane
Above the sand hills, out to sea
Heading, with mail, to Galilee.
And in the clouds we saw again
Our homes; the noonday shimmering sun
On farm and beach and station run,
The stock knee-high in summer grass,
The shearers nodding as we pass
Each stand; the silos crammed with wheat.
The sheepdogs panting in the heat;
The breaker's curl, the lash of foam -
The aching, taunting thoughts of home.

“Praise God from whom...” and each man bends
His head to thank his God who sends
Half-way across the world, the mail;
Who deems those engines shall not fail,
But that they bring across the sea
The mail, to His own Galilee.

Poem on Beer by an Australian Lieutenant in Tobruch.
Ode to the Best-Beloved.

Oh sleek brown shape, thou prize of my desiring.
Mine inner man cries out for thee,
Mine eager lips, my thirsty throat aspiring
To taste thee, brew sublime and free
In dreams I see thee held aloft and shining.
Thy sparkling fluid trembleth near:
Ah, bliss divine, what need now my repining,
Soon, soon, I'll taste thee, precious beer.
Thus dream I – soon twill be my lot
Beneath thy lips to hold mine eager pot.

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