Saturday, December 13, 2008

Friday 19th February 1943

Yesterday evening I sat in the canteen and listened to the music. Quite a few people asked me the time but more people came along and said, “What's this I hear about you going to hospital, Steve?” On my saying yes, I was going to hospital, they all said, “Oh, what's wrong?” “Headaches,” I replied, usually.

This morning about 11a.m., I set off for my last walk through the camp, towards the MI room. Ahead of me I saw a signaller, plodding along a line, phone on back, clouds of blue-grey tobacco smoke rising around his head every few yards. It was the Communist Cornishman, Bill Semmons. It seemed a familiar scene, somehow, one I'd seen before, in the desert.

I can't quite remember, but I do think I saw this when I first arrived back in the battery last autumn, just before El Alamein – Bill Semmons (I hardly knew him then) tramping along a signal cable, with a telephone, smoking. If so, it's a coincidence – first and last sight.

There was another sort of coincidence in the MI room. I decided to read a book, so took along Llewellyn's “How Green Was My Valley” I'd had it in my pack for a couple of months, unread. Now, sitting on my kit, all ready to leave the Regiment I joined in 1938, I opened the first page and read:

“I am going to pack my two shirts with my other socks and my best suit in the little blue cloth my mother used to tie round her hair when she did the house, and I am going from the Valley...”

Like Huw, my valley which was once so green is now only a dismal rut full of memories. Now I am in hospital in Damascus. It is a large ward, with many empty beds, and very quiet. But there is nothing for me to do.


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