Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Sunday 26th September 1943

Last night I went to my first entertainment in months – a concert by some touring artistes which was held in the camp canteen. It was rather rash to go, perhaps, but I was carried away by the group enthusiasm when Jock Hart, Joe Meek and Brown (a cockney who has taken MacKay's place in our circle) all said they were going and was I? Nobody seemed to think the entertainment very good and of course, we had to stand up all the time... Quarter of the seats and a few rows of forms were already occupied by patients who'd arrived early. The other three quarters of the seats were reserved for Sisters and Officers – chiefly officers. A few other ranks were allowed to sit at the back of the hall or around the walls.

Incidentally, the usual social distinctions were rubbed in by the first comedian on the stage. His first quip was to ask, “How would a Private Soldier be charged who was found outside a Cairo hotel at midnight, bidding farewell to an AT, WREN, WAAF or nurse?” And his answer was, “He'd be charged with impersonating an Officer”

Oh! I discovered the brutal orderly, Moseley, performing a kindness at the concert! In his own off-duty time, he called at the ward and collected Am Dan, a rather nice Arab lad, recovering from sleepy sickness. I saw them both at the concert, and Moseley had obtained two seats for himself and his patient. So that goes on Moseley's credit side in the balance sheet.

Brown, Jock Hart and I usually occupy the first table in the dining hall. This is a strategic position from which we observe the various patients receiving their food from the ration table, while we make sardonic comment. “You remember I told you about a feller who specialised in throat-cutting?” asked Jock suddenly. “Yes. He cut someone's throat with a razor a few weeks ago, you mean?” “Yes. Well, that's the gentleman, sitting opposite you.” I looked across the table at a horrible-looking, animal-like type of man who was eating his dinner with a spoon instead of the usual knife and fork. He naturally overheard our conversation but merely stared woodenly, at the same time tearing meat apart with his hand and spoon. “Can he speak English?” I enquired anxiously. “No,” said Jock, “He's a Greek.” “He looks a nasty piece of work,” I remarked. “And so it is,” replied Jock.

Another friend is Gutwillig, a German Jew. He hates Jerry far more than most of us do, because he is an exile and his mother and father have both been killed by the Nazis. He suffers from nervous twitchings of head and hands; apart from family worries he has been in the desert a good deal (he knows Sgt. Geller and Kopansky) Heaven knows why they don't send him to the Sarafend hospital. It's only 12 hours by train and he has many friends and a sweetheart in Palestine.

Altogether, he's one of the best Jews I have known. He buys the paper one day; I the next. It's quite a routine now that we sit outside in the sun from 12:30p.m. to 1:30p.m., while most people are taking the siesta doze. We discuss the war and speculate on the news until about 1:30p.m. when we hear the Wog boy bawling, “Engleesh paper – today!”

This afternoon it was Gutwillig's turn so away he trotted to the wire fence, head rolling pathetically, hands nervously rubbing each other. He was quickly back this time, flourishing the paper, crying, “The Russian have now Smolensk!” Then, the usual politeness. He hands me the paper. I scan the headlines and hand it back. “You don't want?” exclaims Gutwillig. “Afterwards. You read first,” I say. “I bring back in 30 minutes,” he says earnestly, being terribly anxious to read all the news.

Punctually in half an hour he returns, and finds me placidly immersed in a book. “Ah! You are a typical Englishman!” cries Gutwillig, in amazement at this. “Here is the news and you smoke your pipe and read your book. In no hurry!”

End of Dust 1943

And Dust it has been. Dust and ashes upon our hopes!


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