Saturday, November 15, 2008

Thursday 19th March 1942

Evening in the exchange.

I've been constantly taking down notes that might be useful later on in story-writing. There are quite a few odd jottings now in the book which I keep for the purpose – ideas for titles, good themes and plots. The latest seems quite a decent outline for a novel – only I can't finish it until this damn war finishes, as the story concludes just after the war!

I got the idea from a bundle of letters which we found in this wadi, all addressed to Lieut. Wehner and all from his family – a very nice family too, we gathered from their correspondence. That gave me the initial idea and the general pathetic yet raucous theme of the story, evolved out of a tinkling tune – an old waltz – which somehow always is associated in my mind with harvesting, garden party, village fair and May-day! To all these, add a sensation of faint sadness and you have the emotion called forth by the song. I've already thought of several titles for the story:-

“Rendezvous”, “Gay Fragment”, “Mocking Tune”, “Apple Acre”, “Journey to Gayle”, “Towards Apple Acre” and so on.

First I had to find the words of my tune, if possible. So I whistled it all around the Troop and discovered it was called, “Till we meet again.” Naden knew some of the words, too, and they were curiously applicable to my theme:

“... Over high garden walls
This sweet echo falls,
As some wondering boy whispers good bye
Smile the while
You kiss me sad adieu,
When the clouds roll by I'll come to you...
Every tear will be a memory...
So wait and pray each night for me
Till we meet again...”

Then I began to write the synopsis. Suddenly I found I must have a name for the house about which the story centred, some placid English country name. What could it be? Then - “APPLEYARD!” bellowed an officer in the wadi, shouting for his batman*

*I got to know Basil Appleyard, an RHQ (MY) driver, in December 1942. He was a poet, and had composed the following requiem for Steer, whom I used to talk to at nights, on the exchange.

Blow Wind. (published in “Parade”)

“Blow wind, soft wind and blow the sand,
tell England all the things we know,
of Devon moors, the sweet Downland
and lanes all white with winter snow,
Blow wind, harsh wind and drift the sand,
tell English hearts the dreams we dream,
of love and hope and hopes half planned,
cool waters of an English stream.
Blow wind, hot wind and drive the sand,
tell England of the mind we bear,
of humble men who hoped to stand
amid the faith you cherish there.
Blow wind, soft wind and smooth the sand,
tell England we her children lie
beneath the drifting Libyan sand,
tell her we dream of England's sky.”

(For PGC and LJS killed in Tobruch 22/11/41)

“My God! Has Jerry broken through?” I exclaimed, roused by the panicky voice. “What did he shout?” “Appleyard,” said someone. Appleyard? I thought. Apple Yard? No, not “yard”. Ah! Apple Acre! And “Apple Acre” it is. I made the village Gayleham but always thought of it as Gayle, so read back through my plot and deleted each “ham”!

I was next stuck for the correct name for those musical(?) machines one sees in pubs and cafes, in which you insert a coin and press a button, whereupon atrocious music is produced. I've asked everyone in the Troop about this, too, but no one can help me, although they all know the sort of machine I mean. So for now I'm calling the machine from which the mocking tune tinkles at beginning and end of the story, a melodion! Alas! Until this war is over, I cannot finish my story or make more than a sketchy outline.

One thing – it is not that evil thing so often produced by the young, hopeful author, an autobiography! I am not in the story, although I shall draw all my data and many of my characters from real life.

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