Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Saturday 27th February 1943

The black sergeants' frenzy is so bad, next door, that his three mates have been sent back here. They have not slept since Wednesday night, except in snatches. The two big darkies carried their own beds etc but chattering Ghandi was escorted in by several orderlies, carrying his kit. He stalked in, very dignified, pyjama-clad, and cap at usual ridiculous angle. He went straight to his bed without a sound and settled down after a five minute inspection of himself in a mirror. He seem very subdued; so do they all. “It shook 'em up, in there,” said an orderly. “Like bloody bedlam... We've just given 'im another shot of dope...”

I now find, to my surprise and disgust, that these poor blacks were moved out because the South African didn't wish to sleep in the same tent as native soldiers... He has agreed to stay in here with them for tonight “as a favour”. Tomorrow he is being sent to the nearest South African hospital (in Cairo, many miles away); and a good riddance too. Apparently he is of a higher caste to us, and higher than the caste of the English Sister' who work here and look after everyone, black and white. Absolutely disgusting. And they pander to his babyish demands! He is given coffee each day, as well as the tea we get. The coffee is brought in specially, from the kitchen, and offered to him... It wasn't possible to get him 100 African cigarettes a week though, so he has to have 50 English cigarettes, like us. He continually whines about that “injustice”... A South African and a man of high caste...

Hunt took me for a walk this afternoon. (ie. I was in his nominal charge) There is genuine country just outside the hospital, and we were able to stroll pleasantly across grass, with a little river on our right and orange groves on our left. The river went down into a valley, towards distant, snow-covered mountains. Of course, we couldn't walk too far, in our conspicuous blues... But the short outing we did take was very nice. (Pipes burning merrily, of course!) How quiet it was, except for the river noises. Beyond the river, on a green hillside, was a picturesque little village, rising in tiers and terraces. Qwise!

The red-haired Corporal (only he's not a corporal, which just shows the state I was in when I arrived here), sits beside me, writing up his report on the habits, progress etc. of the patients. “Are you studying French again?” he asks suddenly. “Yes.” He nods, and rapidly makes an entry. I can visualise it: “Dawson, quiet and happy, taking interest in French...”

Presently Ginger, after looking thoughtfully at a very silent patient says, “Now, how would you define the word “Preoccupied”?” “Oh, “wrapped up in one's thoughts,” you know, sort of “aloof,”” I reply. “Yes,” nods Ginger in agreement and writes in his book again. “Say, aren't I improving Ginger? When I first came, you just asked me if I knew who I was, and all that sort of stuff. Now you ask me the meaning of long words!” The blue eyes twinkled alertly, but nothing is said in reply.


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