Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sunday 5th December 1943

Sant, of Istanbul (that's his name, not Larti) came up to me, stood to attention, bowed slightly, and said meekly, “May I go out of the ward, please?” “Yes, yes!” I said. He thanked me and went. Sant is, surely, a good soldier. Bags of humility.

One of the men from India is a six foot three inch specimen of a broken soldier. He has served in the RAF for 27 years, chiefly overseas. Next-of-kin, nil. When in England he lodges at the Union Jack Club. Rank: Flight Sergeant. (Discipline) He knows all about discipline but has no knowledge of any craft or trade. He cannot even drive. He is terrified of being discharged from the RAF, as he has no home and does not know how to work. He was a heavy drinker, and mental debility ensued. He said (proudly!) that when drunk he could always carry out his military duties correctly (automaton!) although any brain work (even making a simple addition like 2+6 = 8) was impossible. His journey towards mental hospitals began last July, when he rang up the AOC at 1o'clock in the morning, to report the loss of some personal kit... Interesting type of good NCO after 27 years service.

Taffy he Commando says he wants home rule for Wales, and Anglesey (his own island) to be independent of the rest of Wales. Or for the Marquis of Anglesey to be President of the Welsh Republic! “After doing sabotage in the Balkans,” says Taffy casually, “our officer said he had a new job for us. He told us, “I'm not asking you to volunteer for a dangerous mission this time, boys. I'm asking for volunteers for death”” “And you?” - enquires one of the cynical audience. “Yes, I volunteered,” replies Taffy calmly and lies back, puffing at a cigarette.
The results of the Colonel's temper are pretty well clear and crystallised now. No one was allowed to go on pay parade today, (“I daren't risk it” said the Sister, “Until this blows over. The Colonel might be there, waiting...”) but the new rule is that two or three patients “will be allowed to leave the compound unescorted, on errands, fetching food etc. Other patients will be allowed to proceed to Occupational Therapy work if in possession of a chit signed by the Sister i/c ward and counter signed by the Sister i/c OT. These (OT department) patients will not enter the canteen.

No patients are to be allowed to go to the cinema, concerts etc. and so far, no one has been allowed to go to the evening church services. I came quite well out of all this as I'm one of the “selected patients,” a ward worker and an OT worker. I'm sorry for many of the others however, quite normal fellows, who now get no breaks from the monotony of the compound.

It's quite pleasant in this compound now. Apart from the amenities of the kitchen and my various little responsibilities, I'm now treated differently (ie without so much reserve and suspicion) by the staff.

It must be Mars – and Saturn – which I am mystified by at night. And Venus will be the super-bright star which is seen just before dawn. According to the table in Jeans' book, these three planets are all at their best this month and will not be prominent again for a year (more, in the case of Mars).

When I get home I must really study a book which I have kept for 20 years, yet never read! I think it's called “How to know the Stars.” It is rather comforting to consider how permanent the sky seems. Something everlasting about it. Sometimes everything seems fleeting, temporary and terribly insecure and subject to change. But the good old stars, moon and sun rise and set just the same. The shape of constellations does not change appreciably (as viewed from Earth) in hundreds of years. That book I had in the nineteen twenties, is still an up-to-date guide of the stars today.

Jeans' says: “Ancient star maps shew that the arrangement of the constellations looks practically the same to us as it did to the Egyptians, the Chinese and the Chaldeans, when first they began to study the face of the sky 5000 years ago.”
Compare this with Crosbie Garstin's: “How quickly spent are beautiful and fragile things. A woman, a rose, a rainbow – a second, an hour, a year... Then – gone! Very strange and sad!”

After nearly three barren months, I've written a sonnet about something I have not seen for many a year – An English river! This is it's genesis:

“... From rain, and snow, and the wind's high strife;
... Like pools by the draggled hedge forlorn
And woody banks where the wet moss clings
... a scattered score of sobbing streams...
... Because the sky, long ago, was grey...”

It doesn't give me the pleasure which some of my others have done, but it is just about good enough to record in my book.


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