Friday, January 02, 2009

Sunday 14th March 1943

Howe was tight when he first arrived in this ward; perhaps that's why I misjudged him. In actuality he's quite a decent sort of fellow, witty, educated and intelligent and not a Regular soldier. He dislikes the Regular attitude as much as I do. Last night, beginning to think that he did, after all, lack most of the dreary attributes of the professional soldier, I bluntly demanded, “Are you a Regular?” “My God, no!” he exclaimed, “I'm not even a volunteer. I'm a conscript!”

We then began to check mutual ground, and eventually established that we both knew Brentwood, had come out East by the same route within a month of each other, and had both been stationed at Nathanya in early 1940. This left us well content.

The sailor still rambles on about his hospital experiences. During a good deal of the last two days he's been writing home about it. Either he's writing several letters or he has been destroying and re-writing the same letter all the time.
Hamad's low caste Durzia are, it seems the Jebel Druze, which I always thought were pretty fine people. However, they are condemned in the eyes of the Musselman, perhaps because their religion is indeterminate or because they are not mentioned in the Koran. It is surprising how akin Moslems are to Christians. Hamad worships Allah (God) through his prophet Mohammed. Their lesser holy folk, to be revered are, Fatimah (daughter of Mohammed), Asa, Miriam, Moses and Abreem. These are respectively, Jesus, the Virgin Mary, Moses and Abraham!

“Why weren't you on duty yesterday, Stan?” “I had to go sick and have a blood test, old man. Just a slight touch of the pox, you know how it is.” “Pox, aye?” “Yes, I may have a slight dose in consequence of having been bitten recently by that syphilitic old nigger in the corner there.” Stan has such a precise way of putting things!

Chadwick was 3rd i/c of laundry this morning but didn't seem to work up much enthusiasm for the job. He was listless and grim-faced. He seldom spoke, and when he did it was to say, “This is the end now; I know I'll never see England again. They'll keep me out here for good, after this” - or something equally cheerful.

A weird and immoral custom of the despicable Durzi (Jebel Druse) is, according to Hamad, this:- They have a wholesale wedding ceremony, at various times, and all the Durzi men and women of a certain age are placed together in a room with a priest.The holy man does a bit of chanting and the lights are put out, (Hamad takes a poor view of that) and in the darkness the men and women “mingle together”. They find their partners not by sight or speech, but by the sense of touch. (It must be very amusing) After a few abortive touchings, the man finds a women whose shape pleases him – or whose shape he recognises – and he gives a certain mysterious pressure with his fingers in the region of her appendix. This means, “You are the delight of my heart; what about it? OK?” And the woman, after checking up on his shape, and if satisfied, gives him a similar signal, meaning, “You'll suit me fine, old boy.” When everyone has thus become engaged, they are wedded by the priest (who has been standing well apart from the earlier proceedings) and then and there, according to the disgusted Hamad, there is a mass consummation of the marriages. “This – no good,” Hamad concludes.

“Theodorus Paras!” with a click of the heels. He's definitely Balkan and comic opera. His gestures are melodramatic and exaggerated, his speech sonorous and of course, quite incomprehensible. Today, he was annoyed or amused (it's difficult to know which) because there was only a small piece of bread with his lunch. “Mungrial PLENTY!” he bellowed, leaping to his feet, throwing wide his arms, “Bread, NO! Cooloo magdoon! Doctor magdoon!” A Sister came in to quieten him down. He explained his grievances loudly, in fluent Greek, with furious gesticulation. The Sister was a couple of foot shorter, so she put her hands on his shoulders and said, “There, now. Sit on your bed.” Flabbergasted, Paras sat down, suddenly laughed jovially. “Me baby, huh?” and subsided for the time being. All of which seemed very Balkan, except that he had no cloak or duelling pistols!

Took Chadwick the morose, for a country walk this afternoon. We went a few yards past a notice marked “Out of Bounds to Hospital Patients” and sat down beside the stream. The water made a soothing, gurgling sound as it rippled past and other noises were drowned – we couldn't hear soldiers' voices. “Lovely isn't it?” “It would be if I could appreciate it but I can't. I'm, finished. I'm, wondering how it's all going to turn out,” said Chadwick in his usual hearty style.

“Can You Chaps Read?” demanded a voice. “A little,” I said. “Well you get back on the other side of that notice. It's not that I mind, like. But yer out of bounds 'ere.” “We're two nerve-shattered men,” I told the man with the arm band, “And we came here for peace and quietness.” “Well, that's 'ow it is, mate. The Army says you mustn't 'ave peace and quiet, see? OK?” “Yes, OK”

Having got in bounds again we picked some wild flowers – a pastime I had not enjoyed for twenty years or so. Red, green, white and yellow and blue flowers. Chadwick was deliberately stepping off the path to pluck them, after a bit. He ceased speaking about his troubles, and presently said, “What a nice bunch we've got.” This remark is historic as it was the first time I'd heard him make a non-neurotic, neutral statement. And when we got back the Sister arranged them in a bowl and showed them to Chadwick – and he smiled.

There are about 16 patients in this ward, and I cannot cope with them; it is impossible to record everything that happens.

Potpourri:

The new darkie, whose name ought to be Johnson, seems a bit of a waste. He staggers out of bed and looks vacantly around, as though wondering what he is standing up for. At other times he rolls out of the bed and lies upon the floor, dazed and silent. He is at least, not noisy! The Cypriot Anastas is a quiet, well-behaved, intelligent lad. He regards Paras' trumpetings with amusement. The Killick continues his letter writing. Jock continues to be Jock. Joe Louis says he is dying – otherwise OK.

So that the devil cannot locate him and remove his head, Hamad has made himself unrecognisable (and repulsive) by shaving off his eyebrows and moustache and by ploughing a V-shaped furrow across the top of his head. Tonight Captain Soon's rounds were made more pleasant by Hamad (complete with ghastly head) attaching himself to the retinue as a sub-sister.

And Paddy, in the enclosure, from being a pathetic wreck, is becoming a whimsical, roguish old man again. This evening he even got out of bed and peered over his screen, chuckling. “Get back in bed Patrick or sure an' be Jasus I'll be in among ye!” cried Ginger. “Och, I'll give it ye if ye come in here!” responded Paddy, delighted. But he got back into bed.

Something is always happening. Suddenly a Greek sergeant with a harassed look comes in. He hurries to the end of the tent, sees a nice bed all ready for him, turns on his heel with a few Greek exclamations and quickly walks out again. Paras, highly excited, dashes after him, to help or hinder no one knows, and is driven back again protesting. A few minutes later we hear him being carried into the tent where the nigger sergeant dwells in solitary state.

As soon as that commotion subsides, some thing else happens. Something is always happening here. Which is very nice.

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