Friday, December 12, 2008

Thursday 21st January 1943

Too cold to write; my fingers can hardly hold the pen. This canteen has three paraffin stoves; they don't create much heat and there isn't enough paraffin to keep them alight more than eight hours each day. So it is bitterly cold in here, always. Men come in muffled in greatcoats, and the place is usually empty by nine o'clock. Everyone goes to bed early, to keep warm – we have six blankets each, now.

I went into Damascus today, for stores. It is warmer there, in the valley. I had to wait four hours before there was a truck back, so had a look round the town, with Geoff Pyman. We had a bath at the Mobile Bath Unit – a pretty crude experience after the luxury of Cairo hotel baths. The town seems impoverished and hard hit by the war. There are poor stocks in the shops, and few proper cafes. Some of the people seem half starved. This is not the fault of the British, who are in fact doing what they can to alleviate the hardships of the civilians. They'll be no splendid clubs here; no Music for All; no comfortable restaurants. On the other hand, there are no Cairo “Wogs”; the Syrian Arabs are a better type. The military police here are an improvement too. They are very helpful and friendly, not like the officious swaggerers of Cairo. In Le Cavie, I should have been arrested for appearing in the streets in my muddy boots, ragged overcoat and dirty buttons!

Damascus is pleasantly “foreign”, too. It has few soldiers in its streets and one has to speak French or Arabic in most of the shops. Altogether it is a nice change from Cairo, despite it's poverty.

Another thing lacking in this canteen is a stove for heating water etc. The cook house will let us have a limited supply of hot water later on. There was none tonight, so the crowd of men with mugs, hoping for a hot drink, slowly dispersed.


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