Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Monday 6th July 1942

According to this morning's news, the enemy is still being held near El Alamein. Apparently we have a few tanks in action again, but this stemming of the Axis advance is undoubtedly due to the efforts of the RAF. We have definite air superiority and our bombers have been causing constant bloody havoc.

Now my “Summer Shower” is coming to it's end. I'm sitting in a well dug in tent as I write this. Crouching, rather, on my kit bag. Sergeant's have a very easy time at this con. depot. It's unfair, really. The men have roll calls, parades, fatigues and even guards. We do NOTHING! The parades are not attended by us and we have no duties. The only time we appear in public is for the re-grading and medical inspection ie once or twice a week. We lie in bed, half awake, half asleep in the mornings, while the men go on roll call; then we doze again until about 7:15a.m., when we get up, hastily wash and shave, and go to breakfast in the mess.

All the same, this is a foul con. depot. It's chief virtue is that one can get plenty of rest... (The cinema doesn't open now owing to increased black out restrictions and swimming in the Suez has also been stopped.) I wanted to get plenty of exercise here, but usually I feel too tired. During most of the day it is too hot to do much, anyway.

So much for the uneventful present. Let us look back through this book. It has covered a long space of time, starting at the old railhead last February! Then, the journey to Tobruch – a peaceful Tobruch, with enemy patrols over 50 miles distant. The floods. The move into HQ wadi and then a few idyllic weeks, once we'd settled down in our zareba. Wireless music, and Tannoy loud speakers, my hammock...

During this time I was confirmed in the C of E. Then the move into Egypt. (Horrid incident at night, near Barrani, Mena). Evenings in Cairo. The end of the old 339 and the birth of 519. I had a new job, Troop Signals NCO. I liked it. Training.

Suddenly – the Sergeant's Mess. A new circle of friends. Drill orders. Evenings in Cairo. Training. A short leave.

Suddenly hell broke loose in Libya. We moved up. The Duke and I in M2's cab. He kept needing cigarettes – wish I'd given him more than I did -now!

Action! About 12 days of excitement, comradeship, fear and hardships, then malaria again. Tobruch, the hospital ship, no.1 General and no. 2 Con Depot. Which brings me back to this foul tent, with the dust streaming in the doorway!

Tomorrow I'll start diary no. 11 of the 4th Series. During the period which will be covered by no. 11, I shall go to Base and be drafted to an artillery regiment, possibly my own (what's left of it) probably in the Western Desert, probably – almost certainly! - in action. Beyond that I can make no surmises.

In a Hospital Train. I couldn't see the man in the berth below me; but he moved almost all the time. When the train stopped in stations, men and women gazed at something just beneath me with expressions of absolute horror on their faces. Arab urchins ran alongside his window as we moved on, eager for a last sadistic fascinating glimpse of suffering.

Opposite me was a man who seemed quite normal except for his dull eyes. He smoked continuously. His label was marked; “Neurosis NYD”. Below him was a small tough man with smashed legs. He was about 28 or so. He was unshaven, dusty, tousle-haired and silent. He clung to a strap with both hands to ease the pain. Of course, the Egyptian flies were having a fine time with so much raw flesh thinly covered, and the smell of blood...

Once the wiry man spoke to the orderly. “The flies have got under one of the bandages, chum.” The orderly got them out, adjusted the bandage. “You fellows can take it,” he said admiringly. The dusty man's lips moved again. "Y' can take it when y' gotta.”


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