Friday, December 12, 2008

Sunday 24th January 1943

This morning it was Pat's turn to get up first, so I was awakened from under my six blankets, pullover and greatcoat, at 6:45, with a cup of tea. Whilst my shaving water was heating, I dressed (a simple process, I simply put trousers, boots and scarf and battle dress blouse on top of the clothing I'd worn during the night) and strolled down to the latrines, pipe alight.

What a glorious morning! The ground was firm and hard, there was thick ice on what had been puddles of muddy water the day before. The sun shone, the air was clear,still and brittle. So still was the air that, looking back, I could see each separate puff of blue-grey tobacco smoke, disintegrating very slowly behind me. It was the sort of morning when in England, I'd enjoy a long walk ending with lunch at a country pub.

Jackson left us – an amiable parting – today, as he'd found a job with pay. Before going he introduced us to “mon ami Alexander”, another Armenian, who will help us in his stead. Alexander can speak English.

A quiet afternoon, so I went up that enticing hill, Jebel Mezzar, which towers above the camp. I took my camera and wore boots and gaiters, trousers, belt and shirt. That was enough although it was a cold, frosty day! I was sweating (profusely of course!) before I reached the top. I didn't take the track around the shoulder of the hill, I went straight up the slope facing the camp. There was plenty of work for hands, but no real climbing. Soon I'd scrambled up into the snow area. My first experience of mountain snow! There was a false summit. I felt tired after half an hour and fit and fresh after 45 minutes. Many Yeomen were climbing, and I did the last stretch with George Payne and “Pixielated” Rogers.

There were two rocky crests, each marked with a pole. Don't know which was the highest point; anyhow we went to both! There were old French defence works of rocky walls and trenches all along the ridge. Our camp, lay stretched below – very neat lines of vehicles, and the cluster of huts – as seen by an airman from 2000 feet or so. The hills around stood out like the pattern of a relief map. There seemed three higher hills within sight, and all were snow-capped. Mount Herman was clear and distinct today – it seemed only a couple of miles away – and had a solitary cloud nestling on it's side, well below the summit.

I came down alone, very rapidly, and rashly, slipping and sliding across the snow and rocks, sometimes hitting a soft spot and sinking in a couple of foot. I descended in less than an hour (pausing for photographs on the way). The upward climb took an hour and ten minutes.

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