Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Saturday 12th December 1942

I was “H” truck operator on the scheme (yes! Sole 519 operator on the regimental frequency). Aren't I getting an important wirelessman? I muddled through alright. We returned to camp (not having had any lunch) at 3:30p.m. Then the truck had to be unloaded, so it wasn't worth going into Cairo. I was further mortified to find I was to be on duty tomorrow (NCOi/c Mess) so, after all, my hopes of one afternoon in Cairo were vain.

At a recent lecture, (I was absent, being on guard), the Colonel let slip – perhaps deliberately – the fact that we shall be in the Cairo area for another two weeks. Where next? The old question! Everyone is discussing possible moves. Some people have offered to lay me 400 cigarettes that we shall go to Syria. I didn't accept this wager – it seemed a shame to take such easy cigarettes (besides they were only “Vichy”. If Players were involved, I might have been less scrupulous!)

No! Every time a new move is debated, Syria is indicated. Yet we ultimately always return to the same old “Bluey”. A few – a pitiful handful – still think we shall return to Blighty. There is a strong school of thought about Persia and quite a lot of people expect us to go to India and on into Burma, where there are mass jungles, mass snakes, mass wild beasts and mass Japs. All waiting for us! Some hope for Palestine; odd people suggest the Caucasus. However – no doubt we shall return to the Bluey! And if we reach Tripoli, I suppose we'll have to invade Sicily, or some such place. Definitely discouraged!

7p.m. and I am at the YMCA, quite near camp. Why is it that a YMCA is invariably pleasanter than a NAAFI? Perhaps the Army has more interest in a canteen and so, naturally, the NAAFI spoilt. Has the fact that a YMCA sells no beer got anything to do with it? Maybe. It is always quieter than a NAAFI. More homely, less bawdy, tawdry and noisy. A YMCA is usually in some permanent wooden or stone building, instead of being in a bleak hut or draughty, ill-lighted tent. The organisers of the YMCA definitely make a good attempt to produce a homely atmosphere. And having no beer, you have no loud songs, deafening games of “housey-housey” and no drunks.
Nowadays I'm a definite anti-beer man. Perhaps I shall never drink beer again. I like whisky, rum and wines well enough, but can do without them.

I started a little note book of poetry, during the dreary, deadly siege of Tobruch. It is gradually being filled. At present it contains 47 of my favourite poems and 18 different poets are represented. Rupert Brooke has contributed 16 poems, and WB Yeats, 6. There are four of Michael Roberts' modern poems; this is a high average for I've only read five of his, up to now!

Of the 47 poems, I think I'll here record which are my favourite ten at this present time. Some of the 47 have been passed on, through successive note books, for many years; other are quite newly discovered, and many have grown dearer by familiarity until they were at last loved enough to go in this, my current note book.
Well, it's a hard thing to select, but at present, my favourite ten are:

John of Gaunts' speech (from Shakespeare's “Richard 3rd”)
“This England... this land of such dear souls... is now leased out... with inky blots and rotten parchment bonds... this precious stone set in a silver sea...”

Brookes' “The Treasure”
“Still, Time may hold some golden Space, where I'll unpack that scented store...”

Brookes' “The Chilterns”
“For youth goes over, the joys that fly, The tears that follow fast... the autumn road... the mellow wind... and laughter and inn-fires”

Brookes' “The Wayfarers”
“We leave this resting place... the long road then, unlit by your faint smile...”

Kipling's “Way through the Woods”
“They shut the way through the woods, Seventy years ago... You will hear the beat of a horses' feet, And the swish of a skirt in the dew”

TS Eliot's “Hollow Men”
We are the hollow men, We are the stuffed men... Rat's coat, crowskin, crossed staves... The eyes are not here, There are no eyes here...”

WB Yeats' “The Rose in his Heart”
“All things uncomely and broken... the cry of a child by the roadway, the creak of a lumbering cart... Remade like a casket of gold... For my dreams of your image that blossoms, a rose in the deeps of my heart...”

Michael Roberts' “They will come back”
“They will come back, the quiet days, Rosemary, myrtle, lavender... In the shuttered streets, through barricades, And doors flung open in the wind, They will come back.”

“Song” by Louis MacNeice
“The sunlight on the garden hardens and grows cold... The sky was good for flying, defying the church bells... We are dying, Egypt, dying... And grateful too, For sunlight on the garden...

“Merciful Knight” by Siegfried Sassoon
Swift, in a moment's thought, our lastingness is wrought... In a moments light, he mercy found, that Knight... Knew this miraculous thing... In a world where armoured men... rode darkly out to die... While the cloud crossed the sun...”

Yes, those are my favourite ten. Looking through the book again, I think that the phase of my utter belief in Rupert Brooke is gradually passing. I think Brooke was my first real poet and he's ruled me for many years. Now I am finding others. People like Keats and Shelley are only sparsely represented. Byron, Grey and Wordsworth not at all. They weren't quite likeable enough, to me.

I think the modern poets – those who've written since 1920 up to the present – attract me most. I've got nothing of Tennysons', or Bridges' in my collection. There is one only, of Masefields' – but that one was almost included in my favourite ten – and one only, of Kiplings. (That is a poem too, which is different to most of his.) There is nothing of the rhymes of Service, the Canadian Kipling, though I know dozens of his verses by heart. Yet I've included in the 47, Cecil Day Lewis' “Oh hush thee my baby” a cynical rhyme which is certainly not poetry.

Ah well!

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