Saturday, December 13, 2008

Wednesday/Thursday 3/4 February 1943

First day back on normal duty. Being a half holiday, I applied for a pass, so that I could go into Damascus to have a bath and haircut (nothing more; I am almost sans piastres, not having received any pay since coming to Syria). However at lunchtime I was detailed for regimental guard and felt exceedingly bitter. Spent the afternoon morosely getting ready. By the time I had reached the parade ground, my clean gaiters, boots and trousers were all muddy again...

I had anticipated hearing a gramophone recital (Bill Bax i/c) in camp tonight; the programme included “Swan Lake” This hope was also ruined. My God! The guard room was freezing cold! There were two heating stoves, both out of order, but fortunately there was a primus cooker which worked fitfully. I slept from 10 to 11p.m. Then the guard was turned-out by the orderly officer. Subsequently I felt too cold to sleep, although I was fully dressed and wearing a greatcoat beneath my six blankets. So at midnight I took over the watch and the sergeant went to sleep.

Thus I celebrated my return to duty. However, I also celebrated the occasion during the early hours, in between brewing hot tea for the sentries, by writing a sonnet called “Fragile Flames” It is better than the two lumps of tripe I ground out a few days ago and leaves me happy, for it has proved I shall still be able to carry on with my poetry.

“... like fragile flames a-fluttering,
like candles dimly guttering,
and small brightness, by darkness daunted
in a chill wilderness wind haunted...”

It is 5a.m. now but surprisingly I'm not very cold and not sleepy. Sitting here concentrating on a sonnet, primus and brews has kept me awake and warm. In half an hours time I'll put on the water for the reveille brew. This primus has made the night hours shorter and more congenial.


The guard was dismounted at about 5p.m. I had tea, then went into the canteen. Jack and Pat were getting ready for opening. I retired to the rear, took my boots off, lay down on my bed and pulled the blankets on top of me. I heard Jack switch the wireless on and start tuning in...

“Aye, Steve! Do you want some tea?” I opened dazed eyes. I could hear Jack counting the coins in the till. Dance music was throbbing out of the radio. Pat was by my bed. “What's on, Pat?” “We've just closed Steve. You've been asleep for hours. Want some tea?” “Yes.”

I went to bed again an hour later, and slept well. A warm night.


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