Friday, January 23, 2009

Friday 11th February 1944

Continuation of my memories of past happiness and present misery:

I've just spoken (it's 8p.m.) to my wife on the telephone; it's a great comfort to speak with her and one feels that although one's body may be inside a call box in Woolwich RA Depot, one's mind and intellect is free, elsewhere. Things are not so good. I'm afraid I've been rather a failure here. I can't stick it and am becoming very apprehensive, anxious and confused, so far as my military duties are concerned. My application for a weekend pass was turned down but I shall attempt to bluff my way out of barracks tomorrow – that's if I'm still here and not in hospital...

This afternoon I went out on a half day pass and reconnoitered the route from the gates to the station, where I noted, the MP did not bother to ask about my pass. On returning, I went in to see the officer (he is open to request men in an informal way on Friday evenings) and told him about my hospital history and that I didn't feel my job was suitable or the environment anything but depressing. “You've been graded now – C2, I see” he said, looking at a paper, “We can get you posted from here to a Regiment in Newcastle as soon as possible... How would that suit you?” “Well, alright,” I said rather dubiously, thinking Newcastle was a long way from Essex.

(By the way an air raid is in progress as I write this. Furious gunfire is now going on.
“I'll get you a better job,” he said, “and promise I'll get you posted away from here as soon as a bombardier is wanted.” “Thank you sir,” I said. He seemed a pretty human officer. “But – do you want to stay in the Army?”

“No sir! I don't!” I cried frankly, quite ecstatic at the sudden prospect of health and freedom. “Well, if military life gets you down like this, it's perhaps best to be out of the Army... I suggest that you report sick tomorrow morning and tell the MO what you've told me.” “But I don't want to go into hospital any more!” I exclaimed anxiously.

(Womp! Something landed and one man in here lay down quickly on the floor. The other man hastily put his tin hat on and went out, saying, “Someone's got it! I'll go and see.”)

“I doubt if you will,” he said, “You don't look as ill as all that. But I advise you to see the doctor and see what he says. Probably send you to a specialist.” Eventually I agreed to do that, and soon afterwards I telephoned April and told her all about it.

“Oh God!” she said, “Don't go into hospital if you can help it; not again... But if you do go in, don't write and tell me not to come and see you because I shall, that's all. But I do hope you don't go into hospital...” "I don't suppose I will,” I said cheerfully, feeling a lot better for hearing her voice.

We eventually agreed that I would ring her at Romford tomorrow, to say whether or not I could slip out of barracks and go to meet her at Pitsea. No call from me before 1:55p.m. will mean that I am in hospital... That was a foolish and dramatic way to leave things, for she'll worry if there is no telephone call, now. However, I should be still “at liberty” then!

(Sounds of a plane somewhere, but no AA fire)

I'll continue with past and pleasanter rememberings.

I remember that first morning in Town, when, married less than 20 hours, my wife and I walked in the winter sunshine near Rotten Row. We were arm in arm; presently we saw an elderly RAF officer approaching with his wife and I said, “Shall I be correct and salute this old boy?” “Yes, do!” ordered April after a few moments appraisal of the advancing couple. So I gave him a swashbuckling salute and he saluted back and said “Good morning.” “Oh! I'm glad you did salute him!” exclaimed Mrs. AWC Dawson and squeezed my arm, “He was nice, wasn't he?” This incident made us joyful – it didn't take much to make us joyful in those gay days!

(No all-clear yet but everything is quiet again. It's very soothing to write this diary, by the way. Makes my Army worries fade away for a while. Maybe that's why I didn't keep a diary between being married and coming here – because there was nothing, then, to “escape” from.)

A couple of days after the wedding I went down to Southend on sea to get some money from the Bank (having failed, as stated, to get any substantial sum from the Army) and it was one of those days when all things ran smoothly. I alighted in bright, cold sunshine in Southend's High Street, walked about a hundred yards and found myself in the Midland Bank. I told the clerk my name, and showed him one of their letters to prove it, and said I wanted to see the state of my account and have a cheque book and draw some money.

What a different system to the Army's! A machine clicked and in less than a minute the clerk had handed me my statement of account up to date. In another five minutes I'd paid in a cheque for £10 (oh! I forgot to say that Mr. Percy Randall gave me a cheque as a wedding present that day I called at the office – to my flabbergasted surprise), drawn £30 and got my cheque book.

It was obvious that April had been before me here and left the charm of her personality behind her, for the Manager now appeared and hoped all was well and how was my fiancee? She had dealt with my account until now and he had had a pleasant conversation with her once etc.

“She is now my wife,” I said proudly, “And this money is for our honeymoon, actually.” The Manager asked where we'd thought of going and I said perhaps Somerset and he said in that case he recommended Minehead. We had already thought idly of Minehead but it wasn't at all definite then.

We parted with mutual compliments and damn me! my luck held and I had only two minutes to wait for a train back. I got off at Pitsea, carrying April's suitcase. I was bringing it back as she had not wanted to take it to the hospital with her. I'd packed that suitcase myself after she'd left me, and felt proud of it and it's contents – some silk stockings, a prayer book, a bottle of perfume, pale green pyjamas and the wonderful green gown, among other things.

I walked through Pitsea and Vange – a squalid, drab pair of villages at any time – until I came to the British Restaurant and went in and sure enough, there was Violet Aiken, my brand new mother in law, working at the cash desk. She looked young and pretty in a white coat. She kissed me and gave me a ticket for lunch, which I brought to a table near the desk. I sat eating and talking to her, or watching her work – efficiently totting up figures and giving change.

Somehow I felt very well pleased with my new mother! I'd not been very interested in her until I met her with April at Belsize Park on our wedding day. Then I felt very glad Violet had come – it would have seemed all wrong without her – and very glad she was April's mother. Now, seeing her thus in the cafe, I felt even more happy about my new relation.

When the restaurant closed, a Mrs. O'Brien, a friend of Violet's, gave us both a lift to “Terori” It was raining. Within ten minutes the kettle had boiled and we were all sitting drinking tea in the kitchen and the fire was alight. It was nice and informal and homely.

“I've brought April's things, Violet,” I said, flourishing the suitcase. “Oh, put them in there,” she said calmly, gesturing towards the bedroom – but I wanted to display my precious belongings and take a last look at them so I opened the case and said, “See? Maybe I haven't folded the pyjamas or dressing gown properly...” “I'll see to them” she said placidly.

Violet didn't fuss me with any questions but I volunteered cautiously, “I think – April seemed quite happy, Violet.” I thought she'd not heard me, for she made no reply – but she had heard me for April mentioned this remark to me, a few days later.
Yes! There's something very satisfying about this second mother of mine!

With a quiet pleasure, I remember how we came to the Plume of Feathers (after making the reservation by telegram) and found it a big, old-looking inn in the main street of Minehead. A car took us from the station and – it was very nice – the young lady who received us didn't ask who we were, she just came out into the hall and handed me a letter and said “Good afternoon.” (The letter was actually for April and consisted of her identity and ration cards, marked with her new name.)

I got to like the “Feathers”, apart from the fact that it was our honeymoon hotel, for it's unobtrusive, friendly service, it's long passages (blessed by April's stately glidings and pixielated flights), for it's informal atmosphere and good bathroom and dining room and lounge. Each afternoon you got your own tea tray and took it into the lounge. Of course the staff all liked April, within a few days.

There were twenty or thirty other people staying there, some apparently permanent residents. These mostly watched April with interest (especially the women!) each time we entered the lounge or dining room. As time went on, we watched them too, and made up romantic or fantastic stories about each of them.

(But I must stop now. It is time I cleaned my buttons and had a shave, ready for tomorrow. Tomorrow I must report to the MO. Let's hope all goes well and I'm not sent into hospital as a result of the interview. The all clear sounded long ago, by the way. Funnily enough I don't feel in the least nervy, after all this pleasant writing. However, if I don't see the MO it will only put off the evil day. This place will have me crazy if I stay long enough.)


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