Saturday, January 17, 2009

Friday 19th November 1943

32 furlongs.

My pacing may not be so constant now, for at last I have a staff job in the ward. Yes, I am one of the few fortunates who are allowed to work! Mind you it is a job of the lowest grade – Ward Sweeper – but it carries with it certain choice rewards.

My promotion came thus:- I was sitting on the sand, watching two ants fight a wingless fly, when Farmer Jim, the orderly came along and asked if I'd like to work? “What, Ward Sweeper?” (I knew there was a vacancy) “Yes,” said Farmer Jim slowly, “Sweep-out the ward every day at 8a.m. and 4:30p.m. and help tidy the beds if necessary. On Sunday mornings, wash out with water.” “OK” I said.

The great perquisites attached to this appointment, being unofficial, were not mentioned. These are 1) all meals in the ward kitchen. 2) Orderlies tea at 9:30 a.m. and 8p.m. Incidentally the food they get is a sort of “special diet,” heaven knows why.

Delicately, I went across to the compound mess hall as usual at lunch time, and stood in the long queue. Sure enough, Joe Meek came over and called me out of the queue, formally inviting me to eat in the kitchen. And, equally sure enough, I reluctantly accepted his invitation! One could see that Joe enjoyed his mission of fetching me in to the sanctum! It was a graceful and delicate sort of business, like one's first introduction to the Sergeant's Mess.

There are three others in this kitchen racket – Joe, Magee and Murdoch. We had chicken for lunch. “Eat it” said Magee comfortably, “I've watched you getting thinner every week here.” I'm not sorry to be out of that mess hall; sometimes the food is quite alright, but occasionally one remains terribly hungry after the “meal” and cannot even beg a crust of bread. At tea time we each had a fried egg and two rounds of bread, margarine and marmalade! Mess hall tea is always restricted to one round of bread, margarine and marmalade, with perhaps an extra round if one is very lucky.

But apart from the actual food, the environment is vastly improved. I have described conditions in the mess hall before now. In the kitchen one finds a table cloth spread; one sits on a chair and drinks out of an earthenware jug instead of a convicts' tin bowl. One's companions are there respectable, quiet Englishmen. No one fights, or shouts, or argues, or throws tea over someone else. Of course, I miss the post-prandial talks with Hardy and Brown, but one can't have everything...

“What's this?” exclaimed Hardy this afternoon, “Are you in the kitchen now?” “I've got my feet in there, anyhow, mate,” I replied. “One of the Tee-hee boys, hey?” remarked Hardy, “A creeper, hey?” “Yes!” I cried gloatingly.

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