Monday, January 05, 2009

Saturday 22nd May 1943

I had wanted to write this up yesterday but felt too disturbed. There is so much to do these days; each week the Major issues more instructions for little, irritating improvements in the canteen and garden so that it is quite a struggle to get things arranged in the correct times. I'm having to observe my racing watch now, again, whilst I struggle to keep up with the programme. (For there is the Ward Linen to take care of, beside the canteen.)

Yesterday afternoon the talkative Sister brutally stuck my face over the inhalation apparatus and then held a towel over my head, so that I was breathing about 2% normal air and 98% menthol fumes. Little did I know that whilst she was inexorably saying, “Take deep breaths,” her eyes were roving over my locker and eventually becoming fixed, fascinated, upon a Red Cross personal effects bag, which long ago, I had inscribed in a spirit of whimsy:-


Soon afterwards the doctor interviewed me, with an air of now knowing the worst. He said, “Dawson, what's written on your Red Cross bag?” I told him. “And are you the King of America?” “No sir, not really.” I said, without the slightest trace of a smile. “Then why did you write that - ?” “Hamad said I was the King, sir.” “Ah, Hamad! Who is he?” inquired the doctor, obviously thinking this was a “Voice”. “He's an Arab,” I said disappointingly, “At present in Ward 34.” “Alright,” said the doctor, only half convinced.

My interview did not make me much more happy though, for the doctor would not say what was wrong with me, except that I had “a nervous illness,” and would be well-advised to have electric treatment. He would not say how long I should stay in hospital, nor what would happen to me eventually. It is a pity he is so mysterious. However, before leaving I again assured him I was not King of America and all English towns. “Alright,” he replied with an expressionless face.

By evening yesterday I was in a panic, for my plans for finishing the day's work programme had gone astray... and someone spoke sharply to me as well. After sitting agitatedly on my bed awhile I rushed out into the dark, got a can and finished watering the canteen garden. At this time of night, the nearest water supply was 100 yards from the garden. I could feel the world crashing in ruins all around me...

Then came a Sister, white in the dusk – one whom I didn't know with a flat, rouged face – and said fatuously, “Oh! Are you watering the garden?” “Yes!” I said. “Oh!” she said, “I'm just seeing if the black-outs are all done.” “Have you got a match?” I asked abruptly, and she handed me a petrol lighter and I felt the world go steady again, as I lit my pipe.

After she had gone I sat on the garden wall, coughing and tearing-up my empty match box. This took half an hour. When the match box was completely shredded I went back to the ward and sat down again. Lights out.

“I went to the cinema this afternoon...” remarked Corporal Lias in the next bed.
“That's right – talk,” I told him. And bless him, he did, for an hour or more, and without asking why! Eventually I was talking as well, of every subject under the sun. And in another half hour was in my bed, and asleep.

Today I feel alright. There's a special inspection, by Red Cross officials, of the canteen tomorrow, I now hear. As if one inspection per week by a Major, were not enough!

However, I feel alright today.


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