Monday, December 01, 2008

Saturday 28th November 1942

Written in the guard tent – 9:30p.m. It is almost a week since I last wrote in my diary. Now, the whole Regiment is stationed here and we have “settled down”.

The night they all came in, I stood by the roadside, ready to act as guide to certain of the vehicles. The senior battery, 339, came in first and as they droned by me in the moonlight, dim and mysterious, half forgotten voices hailed me from some of the trucks. Once again I heard the ghostly laughter of Frank Langley; and, “Hi there Steve! You back again?” “Who's that?” “Why, Doug, mate!” (Doug, who? I wondered vaguely.) A gun rumbled by. “'Ullo Steve!” cried a voice in the gun-tower. “Guess 'oo we've got in 'ere! Trapper One!” “Hullo Jack!” There was no reply; perhaps they had the Trapper bound hand and foot and gagged!

Next I recall, from that night to this – Mass Fatigues. And leave commenced. Ironically, the first week's leave was offered to me, who'd missed most of the summer's fighting. I was just knocking in the pegs around my own tent (about 15 inhabitants; tentage for other ranks being strictly limited) when a runner came up and asked if I would like to proceed on seven days leave in two hours time. I unhesitatingly said “no” - that seemed too much of a rush! I shall try to get away for the second week, with Jack Chenery and George Kerry.

A third incident was the loss of our beloved bell-tent, which shook my faith in “Apple”. The tent was brought from Mersa on one of the BSM's vehicles. As he did not want it, Cliff and I planned to put it up, with a select few cronies. But when approached, Captain ECA Adams said, “I'll see, Dawson. We may require your tent in the officer's lines.” We felt rather mortified. Final shock! On afternoon parade next day, the BSM said, “Fall out Bdr. Dawson and three men. You're to erect a tent for the officers' wine steward” This was Tubby Cartwright, once the water king and our friend! I felt a presence behind me, beside the sergeant major. The latter said, to the presence, “Here's your fatigue party, Bombardier, for putting up your bell-tent. Bdr. Dawson knows where it is.”

Although I was still on parade, I swung around savagely and glared, with fearful hatred, into the blue eyes of Tubby Cartwright! He quailed visibly. My ferocious expression at a range of five feet was obviously devastating. The BSM noticed my look and said (bless him!) “Shall you want the NCO as well? Can't you take charge yourself?” “No. Yes, certainly.” said poor Tubby hastily. “Right” said the BSM, “We shall not need you Bdr. Dawson. But keep an eye on those men who are making (field urinals) “desert roses”” “Right, sir!” I said, and filed away. But each time I - or Cliff for that matter – see our tent by the officers' mess, full of alcohol,our hearts are bitter!

But the outstanding event of the week has been today's large letter from April! This is in reply to my letters of late September and early October. The gods must have known how important it was, and speeded both the outward and inward mail! Such an efficient, business-like letter and yet so tender and so dear at the same time. So full of laughter and yet so deadly serious too.

“... Somewhere about £80... haven't got the statement yet... I suggested £75 should be invested in 15/- certificates... they hear from Paripan every month... A basic rate to keep Bank a/c well open... Well, so much from your secretary, you know she is rather enjoying it all and hopes to give her boss every satisfaction... You are a dear aren't you? Yes! you are. The ideas you have and the things you do... Still, this silly old war will be over soon and then – everything will be real and alive again... So you think it indecent of me to go around without an engagement ring... well, my granny left me an engagement ring... so I just took to wearing it, as a label “reserved”; chiefly against students... Yes, it would be lovely to have our own ring, darling... from you to me... I wish we could be married by proxy, darling... if it is settled soon, of course we shall be... I've already instructed our Registrar... He also spent the last war in Egypt... Now, Stephen, before we go any further – you must get this quite straight. If I marry you by proxy, there is no getting a divorce or changing one's mind. The marriage would be confirmed by a real wedding I believe, before we could lawfully live together. I think we'd like that in any case though. Yes? Secondly, if such a ghastly thing happened, that you were wounded – no matter... or as you so cheerfully say... get two or three arms and legs lopped off, I should not divorce you – neither shall I give you up if we're not married until you come home.

Look, Ste. I'm terrible serious about this. I love you, and if you were wounded I'd want you to look after and make as well as possible more than ever... We'd get along anyway... We'll fight them to hell... Darling, our life seems to be founded on risk, so we'll take another one... put it on your own third finger of left hand as far as it will go, and make a wish before you send it... can't draw a round circle for toffee... My God! I shouldn't certainly want anything at all like the other... and well – there is another I don't want one like I believe darling... Talking of the future, did I mention I had a typewriter of my own, so we could do some private work or I could help you with yours sometimes... Oh yes! we'll certainly impress the Mothers when they call, whatever happens! You know, I'm terribly excited about it, and so pleased and happy as a little pig with a whole string of curly tails. Really good night, Your April”

By jove, I could write out the whole eleven pages! But that would be a bit stupid, as I shall keep this letter for many a day, in any case.

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