Monday, January 19, 2009

Friday 17th December 1943

When we awoke this morning, there was a light flickering far away to port; four flashes, pause – four flashes, pause. Probably this was a lighthouse on Alboran Island.

When it grew light we could no longer see the African coast, which suggested we were in the western part of the Mediterranean. Sure enough, on looking northwards through the starboard portholes, we could see distant land – Spain.

For two hours we were overhauling a westbound convoy in which I counted 60 ships, although there were probably more.

Soon after daybreak, the distant land proved to be land indeed, as we saw the snow on the mountains blushed red by the rising sun.

“Rose red the dawn; rose-red
The mountain snow.”

This would be, I think the Sierra Nevadas in Granada.

7p.m. Sometime this afternoon I stuck my head out of a porthole and to my joy saw the distant coast of Spain curving until it lay directly ahead as well as to the northward. Shortly afterwards we could see the African coast, also curving in, until Europe and Africa nearly met.

Presently we could distinguish the great pillar of Gibraltar Rock and it's peculiar artificial watershed. A signal lamp was flashing at us from the Rock. Speed diminished and we crept gently into a bay – and anchored. We had a good view of Gibraltar – it's houses, roads, trees, a car going along a road, two animals like cows, in a field.

Tea was served. Before we'd finished it, the “Atlantis” was under way again! This surprised but pleased everyone as we're all keen to get home... Obviously very neurotic...

Supper time came and the land on both sides of us began to fall away. To the north, presumably Portugal; to the south – Africa. Like Egypt, at the last, Africa contrived to appear deceivingly pleasant. When I looked out I saw a dark green, woody hill, with one or two white houses among trees. At the farthest point west, there was a lighthouse and white building. The windows of the latter were shining as though from within, reflecting a sparkle from the setting sun. I glanced ahead and saw the sun sinking, into the Atlantic this time, not the Mediterranean.

Some time later I returned to the porthole saying to William, “Now I will say “farewell Africa” old man.” “I've just done that myself,” responded William, “And believe it or not just as I did the band on the wireless played, “Here's to the Next Time!” It shook me old man, it shook me!”

I laughed, and looked out, determined not to be intimidated. The green hill was just a dark slope astern now; there was no light in the house although I could still see it's white walls faintly gleaming. The lighthouse nearby was sending out a rhythmic series of flashes.

That was the last (I hope) that I'll see of Africa, as a soldier especially.

End of Midnight (1) 1943


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