Thursday, January 01, 2009

Thursday 11th March 1943

Killick seemed better last night and also today. Slightly eccentric perhaps still, but a good deal less tense and taut. Jock is in a mischievous mood. He's built little cairns of stone around the tent, put flowers in a bottle of urine (he arranged them most decoratively too, until he was stopped) and washed himself with toothpaste.

However, the great event of this morning has been the COLONEL'S INSPECTION. He came in majestically, attended by a retinue of one lesser Colonel, two sergeant-majors, a matron and – oh yes! two a.n. others, the Medical Officer and the Ward Sister. On this occasion, I watched carefully to see if I could discover the purpose of the visit, but there seemed to be none. The Colonel only paused in front of those patients who seemed fairly fit. Surely, if he were a real colonel-doctor, he'd be principally interested in the bad cases?

“How are you?” “Very well thank you sir.”

What would the old boy do if someone treated him as a doctor, and said he was feeling damned crook, and then gave a list of symptoms?

“What were you before you came here?” “RAMC, sir. 10th Armoured Div.” “Yes, good. Were you with Colonel Steward?” “No sir, I was...” “Yes, good.”

Then he passed out, and everyone relaxed again. It was like the end of the Two Minutes Silence we used to celebrate at 11a.m. each November 11th, until this war began. This Silence was a tribute to the millions of men, all over the world, who from 1914 – 1918 “died in war, that we might live in peace.” (I quote from the inscription on a village war memorial in Essex.)

These inspections are mysterious events and leave many questions unanswered, in my mind. I recall, in 1940, a General who inspected my unit. He paused by the man next to me and said, “What were you in civil life?” “A gas meter inspector, sir,” replied the soldier. “A gas meter inspector, hey?” said the General, “Ha! Good.” And he passed on. What was the purpose of his question and why was the answer good??

Even earlier, in 1936, I recall a Captain (the naval equivalent of Army Colonels) inspecting ratings on board HMS Broke. I stood stiffly to attention just aft of the break of the fo'c'stle. On my cap was a ribbon, which instead of being inscribed “HMS Broke” was marked, in large letters, “RNVR LONDON”. So the great man halted in front of me, looked me up and down, glanced at my cap, and said, “Are you in the RNVR?” “Yes sir.” “Where do you come from?” “London sir.” “London? Good.” And he moved on.

Why did that high ranking officer, surely a very intelligent man, waste his own time and insult his own intellect by asking such futile questions? I suppose the ways of the great are beyond us, as some platitudinal once said.

8p.m. Three more patients in the ward now – a Cypriot and two Englishmen. They put the Cypriot next door to Paras, the Greek, who immediately burst into joyous speech. So this is now a place in which four languages are sometimes being spoken simultaneously. The Cypriot and Paras (the latter is a Red, and became quite agitated when one of the orderlies jokingly made a Fascist salute today, shouting “Fascisti!” and a torrent of Greek) – these two seem remarkably normal blokes. Their sense of humour is quite normal, for one thing. The two Englishmen are nondescript; one, who is very quiet indeed, is in the RAMC, the other is healthy, self-confident and well-scrubbed looking and I suspect he's a Regular. Therefore I distrust and dislike him instinctively, although this is quite unreasonable and he is possibly a likeable and intelligent man in reality. Indeed, he may not be a Regular, for all I know.

The ward has been somewhat “bughouse” this evening. Taffy (an up-patient now) has been very restless and irritable, Hamad has had an attack of the “Ch'moon” (some sort of devil) and as for Jock, he's been crazy all day. A few minutes ago he was crawling half-naked on the floor, snake fashion, saying that he was praising Allah, His praise left a little pool of spittle and slobber on the floor where his mouth had rested.

All these antics were appropriately restrained by the orderlies, whilst the RAMC man watched in disgust and Paras and the Cypriot looked on laughing uproariously.
The Killick still seems alright. His only verbal aberration has been more talking about the extraordinary happenings at the hospital he was in before coming here. It certainly is a rum place that NZ hospital! It was closed down when he left, and then came here in Seven Ambulances....

Apparently he is not yet rational enough to realise that the things he appeared to experience during the height of his attack did not actually happen.

I haven't said much about the elderly man in the enclosure because a) I don't know much about him and b) he is not very amusing or humorous. He's been in prolonged narcosis, which is now over. The whole thing was rather reminiscent of sapper or Leslie Charteris at their best and most melodramatic – needles in the night, sharp voices and a dull, sleepy reply. “Lemme have... cigarette...” “Will you go to sleep before you finish it?” “No... I'm doing my best... give... cigarette.” I woke up last night and heard him whispering forlornly, like a lonely old man of eighty, “My li'l boy's ill, my li'l boy's not well... God bless 'im... My li'l boy...”

Now that he's gradually coming to life again, he's very petulant and calls out irritably, “I wanna Sister!,” “I wanna Padre!” or “Ginger!” The last is the most frequent demand, for no other orderly seems to satisfy him. Of course, usually he doesn't know what he wants, when his request is answered. No, poor old Paddy is hardly a subject for humour.

Here, as the lower middle class letter writer would put it, “I draw to a close,” my notes for Dawn 1943

More Arabic:

K'man? - More?
Mokh – Brains
Hal-um – Dream
Sa-habi – Friend or Sarhabi – Short
Katta Herak Jeddan – Thank you very much
Kall-lim – Speak, or speak to him
Arif – Understand
S'harbi – Friends
The-if – Food given to stranger on entering house.
Hiya – Snake
Sabalk-elkeel – Good morning (Moslem) (Saida is Christian greeting)
Rzeel – Bad manners
Car-cem – Good do
Bel-sarbak/Feel sarbak – before
Aliyum – Today
Yum – Day
Lil – Night

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