Sunday, November 30, 2008

Monday 12th October 1942

Amirya, 7:30 p.m. Hell of a time last night, for when I did eventually report to battery office, the bloody wastes in there didn't seem to know there was a draft detailed. So I had to roam about restlessly for about two hours, whilst they sorted themselves out. Eventually they located the only decent and efficient sergeant of the Base, who gave me full details of what was happening and where I was to sleep. “That business of this morning,” he said, staccato, with a sweeping gesture of the hands, “All washed out.” “No stain on my character?” I laughed. “Ah! I wouldn't say that!”

I felt beastly lonely, somehow. There was no one whom I knew really well on the draft. Several times during the evening I went into the old tent. It was dark and deserted. I had missed Dewhurst somewhere. On my last visit however, he was there, dozing. He woke up as I was leaving and came out for a few last words. “Where've you been Steve? I was waiting in the Beacon... Maybe we'll meet again... If I can, I'll come to the 104th later...”
“Write, Bob. Let me know if your charge gets quashed, too.” “Sure.”
“Don't suppose we shall meet again, actually.” “If you come through the war OK, Steve, come down to Worthing. You've got the address...”

These war time friendships and their foul, abrupt endings!

Well, I got to bed about 10:30 last night, and was up again at 4 o'clock this morning. A good breakfast. Eleven of us in the draft. Left the Base Depot at 4:45a.m. It was like leaving a grim concentration camp. The barbed wire, the sentries, the barrier and finally the glaring arc light above the gate, seen as our lorry sped down the dark road, made it resemble a prison even more. Then what were we? Men discharged to freedom, or condemned men being taken out for a dawn execution? What you will!

The train journey to this forward reinforcements camp seemed very quick. I didn't read a detective thriller this time but an equally suitable naval story, “Submarine Flotilla.” And now, here I am in the YMCA, in the same reading room as I sat in precisely 11 months ago, on the way back to Tobruch. I expect we shall be drafted on to the Regiment early in the morning. The camp is just the same as it was eleven months ago. A place of transit indeed! A great sprawling camp of hundreds of men, few of whom remain as long as 48 hours before moving on.

Amirya! TS Eliot's “Hollow Men” has some applicable lines:

“... In this last of meeting places
We grope together
And avoid speech
Gathered on this beach of the tumid river...”

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