Monday, January 19, 2009

Saturday 25th December 1943

Brief, uninteresting church service.

Saw William. Looks desperate. “Tell my wife what's happened when you get out, Steve!”

Breakfast – brown bread and a scrape of margarine, one egg. Genuine Christmas dinner though. Best since 1938. Huge plateful – Xmas pudding, and a cup of beer. Each man received 20 Players and a bag of sweets.

“It was Xmas Day in the workhouse...”

No books, no magazines, no belongings; nothing to do. Cold and bare up here but worse below. One can only shamble (and painfully) in these ill-fitting shoes.
I've just encountered a decent orderly, from St Albans, who did not treat me as an obstreperous imbecile. “Here you are, boy. Use my shaving soap and have a proper shave.” He was a plasterer until call-up, 6 months ago. “Bugger this job, mate. Sooner I get back to the buildings the better. I'll go barmy myself, here.”

Had tea downstairs, for some reason. There is a large placard on the wall there, inscribed, “WELCOME TO ENGLAND” !! Everyone sits still after a meal downstairs, until an orderly shouts “Tables!” (rather like “Kennel!”) and then all jump up and place chairs on the tables. Here there's a similar procedure but less brutal. We move leisurely at a cry of “Righto lads!” or something like that.

Probably it is not so bad here (and certainly better than 41) when one has settled down – if one has parole and is allowed out to work and get some exercise and fresh air; and if one is allowed a little money for “SMOKES”; and if one is allowed one or two personal belongings like a pipe, or notebook, pen and ink; or of one has a book to read, or even a handkerchief, for blowing the nose; or if one is permitted to brush the hair, cut the nails and clean the teeth... I'm afraid the word “if” occurs many times!

Altogether, this institution gives the impression that it might eventually turn out to be better than 41 in many ways – but 41 was in Egypt. It shakes us all that this should be our return to the England we thought of, and dreamed of, for so long.

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