Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Friday 26th June 1942

Our retreat continues. Today's “Egyptian Mail” states:- “FIERCE FIGHTING IN WESTERN DESERT.” “Enemy Reach Point SE of Sidi Barrani.” “Our troops have been withdrawn from their positions at Sollum.”

“Come from Libya?” “Yes. Sidi Rezegh.” “Seen anything of 104th RHA up there?” “Afraid not. There were some 25 pounders in Matruh... Most artillery units have had a bashing, you know.” “Yes. 107th RHA is finished isn't it?” “So I heard. Pretty grim.”

My two temporary friends here have now left the ward – moved to a convalescent camp. They were Ken Ellis, commercial traveller, of Yorkshire, and Eric Britten, stockbroker's clerk, of London. Ellis was a few years older, and Britten a few years younger than myself. We've had many strolls along the sweet-water canal (tree-fringed!) near here, and accompanied by mass pipe smoking, in the evenings.
Many of the original members of this ward have left during my stay here and of these – most surprisingly! - about half have been starting their journey towards England. One lance bombardier Dawson goes tomorrow; heart disease, subsequent to rheumatic fever.

They have a quaint custom in this ward, so uncanny that I thought only some person with the sentimental intelligence of myself would have thought of it. When someone leaves the ward, his favourite record is played on the gramophone! It is started up, unobtrusively, by someone else, whilst the departing one is going around the ward, shaking hands. Funny!

There's another feller in the ward, one Toomey. Not exactly a friend of mine but entertaining and easy to get on with, like most Cockneys. Last night we sat furtively smoking on my bed, for a couple of hours after lights-out, whilst Toomey “put me wise.” He gave me advice on what to do and not to do when in gaol. (He's done several “stretches”, the longest 18 months.); lectured on lock-picking; gave an interesting account of a house-break at Cricklewood; and best of all, explained the intricacies of the scrap metal racket, interpolated with many personal experiences.

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