Monday, January 19, 2009

Wednesday 15th December 1943

This is a very steady ship. It is rolling slightly for the first time, this evening.
It's a bit cooler but we were able to sit about in shirts and trousers only, when “exercising” on the crowded well deck this afternoon. Most of the time when one is below, however, out of the sunshine, a battle-dress blouse or pullover is advisable.

One poor devil here, had two epileptic fits yesterday and two today...

Yesterday I called into the PP ward (under an orderleys escort and passing two or three more stationed at various points along the passages between the two wards) Joe, Hardy, Cohen, Styles, Collis and the rest were all there and appeared quite happy.

The vigilance of our watchers has not relaxed. The lavatory doors are now screwed back so that they remain permanently open. Once I had looked out of a porthole (to see the position of Orionis) but was soon fetched away by a nervous orderly.
The experienced orderlies are decent, jovial fellows, but most of our warders are RAMC men “working their passage” home.

One is very stupid. Whilst cautiously watching me brush my hair yesterday, he said, “Ah well! Roll on Blighty!” “Yes,” I agreed, “Hope you'll let us all look out of the portholes when the coast is sighted.”

“Ah!” he said, and adding confidentially, “You'll see it through them portholes, there.” “Why? Doesn't it depend where we dock, and how we approach the land?”
“No. This here's the starboard side, see? And that's the port side. You'll see the coast through there. It's always the same, at sea.”

“Really?” I asked, looking at him to see if he was joking. But he was quite serious, and eager to impart his newly gained knowledge, added, “What's more, this end of the ship is the forward end and back there is the after end. Yes! It's always the same, at sea!”

Conversation piece between Corporal Lias and horrible Sapper Parkes:

SP “Corporal Lias!”
CL (wearily) “Sir?”
SP “Did you know that glass was a liquid? It's not a solid, it's a liquid.”
Me (viciously) Ha!... Ha!
SP “What do you think of that, Corporal Lias?”
CL “I didn't hear a word you said.”
SP “It says here, glass is a liquid. Not a solid. What do you think of that?”
CL (grimly) “Nothing.”
SP (persistently) “But surely you have some comment to make?”
CL “I refuse to laugh or make any comment. But if you insist on some acknowledgement, I'll bang some books together or something.”
SP (loftily) “Some people seem to think it is funny to make fun of other people.”
Me “Who does?”
SP (coldly) “I don't mention any names, I'm just referring to certain persons, that's all.”

After this, peace descends; Parkes continues his search for bits of knowledge in the “Reader's Digest,” William reads his railway magazine and I “Waverley.” The ship rolls on, mile after mile westwards. I've not been so far west since the voyage out, in 1940. William and I estimate we should pass the Malta area before tomorrow morning.

I've been reading an old diary – the one which records the last weeks at Southwell and the journey towards Palestine. Those pages seem very boyish and eager and un-disillusioned and the writing seems large and sprawling. Hope I shall not seem terribly aged to those I left behind, when we all meet again. Even more, I do hope that they won't seem greatly older or changed by these four bloody years.

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