Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Saturday 19th June 1943

That “Sonnet” (I've called it by that name) was attacked again, yesterday and today and was finally born, polished off and written in my book, making the 17th one entered. Sad theme as usual; the trouble is that many of my themes are just twistings of one original idea – a lament for the happiness and peace we have all lost. That's something I must guard against in future – an innate same-ness of theme. However, whilst sorrowing, “Sonnet” is at the same time glorifying the lost happiness:

“This, our once dear world of shadows and light,
And gossamer and rock and vivid flame, ...
Of lonely reaches on a river darkling...
- Lost is the welcome of lit windows sparkling
- Through gusty rain at night......
of a few
Streams of sunshine slanting through old trees,
And all the sudden sights of paradise we knew.”

S/Sgt. Cook, formerly one of the patients in “A” tent at No. 9 ward, Sidon, came into this hospital today and into the bed next to Bill Lias. I'm the only remaining patient of Sidon whom he knows, for Store came after he had left the 22nd himself. “You're much better, Lofty,” he told me, “When you were at Sidon you seldom spoke to anyone, you know.”

The S/Sgt's neurosis is very unusual. It would not look out of place as a short story in the “Strand Magazine.” After leaving No. 22, he was given a job in the wilderness, building a rough road to the Turkish frontier, with 2000 Arab workers. (An armed guard on his tent – two Bedouins – and one day a week set aside for shooting gazelle and wild turkey.) That was fine; but he was sent from there to some place on the Euphrates where a river bridge was in danger of destruction from the rising waters.

There were two other English engineers on ths job and a host of Arab workers. They worked day and night, in the roar of waters, throwing boulders into the stream, so as to make a bank above the bridge which would protect it from the full force of the flood. Many huge rocks were thrown downstream by the terrific current but the bank gradually grew and though everyone was getting very tired, all went well until one night when the Staff/Sgt. was alone in charge on the bridge, at midnight...

A Major of the Royal Engineers came and began interferring, as Know-all officers often do. He caused a good deal of trouble by altering the systems of work etc. and slowed down the whole job. They were working by the light of electric lamps which one of the engineers had rigged up. Suddenly the Staff could restrain himself no longer. He seized the Major, carried him across the bridge and tried to hurl him over the parapet into the torrent. “As soon as he felt my arms loose around him, he stopped arguing, and began to struggle frantically... he knew my nerves were bad... then some of the Arab workers ran up and pulled us apart. The Major ran off the bridge... I felt alright then and carried on with the work. The other two engineers came out from their beds and worked with me all night. They tried to get me drunk on whisky, so that I would go quietly...” Next day he was locked up by the MO and so, via various hospitals, he arrived here.

He is a very quiet sort of man.


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