Thursday, February 05, 2009

Monday 22nd May 1944

I'm sitting in the cafe of the tangled garden. Here it is warm and quiet. Hot pipes from the adjoining greenhouse run through this room and there's a faint hot smell of tomatoes, drowned just now by he aroma rising from a cup of hot coffee in front of me.

A few minutes ago, before walking here, I glanced at Battery Orders, to see if tomorrow's orders had been added, and if so, I'd feel a stirring of hope whilst I looked quickly down the sheet for my name. So many times lately I've known that quick eagerness, quenched a moment later when I found nothing.

But tonight I saw; “... Div. Medical Boards at Fenham Barracks, 23rd May... The under-mentioned will attend at the times stated... Bdr. Dawson SJ 1130 Hrs...”

This afternoon I heard a Welshman with a fine voice singing as we bumped along in a lorry. As I turned away from the notice board I could hear that song inside me, in breath and in my face. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem! Open your gates for me! Hosanna! In the highest...”

But I'm beginning at the end. Surely there are other things to record besides this?
Yes. The weather and the weekend.

Friday was more cold, windy, miserable and wet than Thursday. Saturday surpassed Friday – until the afternoon. I had a 36 hour pass, which entitled me to spend the weekend at Mrs Overs' flat in West Jesmond, and once I was away from Gosforth Park Camp I didn't notice the weather much, except that the rain stopped.

I've often had supper there before but supper tonight was especially nice for it was not followed by a rush for the tram back to hell. Instead we all sat around the fire and talked. There was washing-up of pots to be done – and I had a glorious hot bath before I went to bed, at about 12:30. Sleep on a makeshift bed, but the best night's slumber I've enjoyed for two or three weeks. Got up at about 10a.m. on Sunday and went to church with Nora Overs. Actually it was a Presbyterian Chapel, only they call it a church.

The chapel (beyond Jesmond Dene) was crowded, for it was a Sunday Schools Anniversary service. Very informal and charming. The children took charge of the service up to the sermon, whilst the minister sat smiling in his pulpit. They were such young folk too, only 7 to 11 years old, but they all said their pieces and sang their hymns nobly.

One small girl twice dropped the penny she had brought for the collection and twice clambered down amid laughter to retrieve it. Quaintly enough the recitation allocated to this same child was something about “golden pennies... shall I take them in my hand?”

The differences between a Chapel and the more formal C of E service were interesting. The minister didn't read his sermon, he spoke from memory and in a conversational voice without intoning. Most of the women in the congregation wore no hats – a custom which is absolutely taboo in the C of E, where “woman's crowning glory” must be hidden. There were no set prayers and a prayer book was not used. When the minister said,”Let us pray,” everyone leaned forward slightly; no one kneeled, and a quick peep around showed me that several other people were also having a casual stare around whilst the minister prayed.

At the end of the service the minister stood by the door and shook hands with each member of the congregation. The adult choir wears ordinary clothes, not white gowns. I did notice too that everyone seemed more jovial than in a C of E Church on a Sunday morning. However I may be wrong there, it's a long time since I went to a civilian C of E service. Regarding the hatlessness, Nora told me this was only a recent innovation, so perhaps it's a wartime idea.

After I'd washed-up the lunch dishes, Nora and Jean Overs went out for a walk. I was amused to find that Mrs Overs always waves her grown-up children out of sight. The first waving occurs just before they disappear beyond a leafy tree near the house; I imagined that concluded it, but Mrs Overs remained by the window and, several minutes later they appeared at a street crossing some distance off, just visible, and waved again before passing finally out of sight. Mrs Overs fluttered the white lace curtains in return. “They can't see me, but they can see the curtains move”, she said.

Afterwards, Jimmie Overs showed me more of Newcastle's wonders, in the same quaint way that he once displayed Jesmond Dene. This time it was the quayside, the River Tyne and the bridges. He was very proud of a large railway warehouse which had been gutted in one of the few air raids here and pointed out the blackened walls from four different places as we walked.

Jimmie also made a great point of explaining that when we crossed the Tyne, we were in Gateshead, County Durham, instead of Newcastle, Northumberland. “Aye,” he said, as we re-crossed the bridge, “Ye can always say you've been in County Durham now. Aye, Gateshead. and yonder's Newcastle.”

“Yes, Gateshead, County Durham,” I replied, almost infected by his pride. “Aye. See there? Ye can see the railway warehouse well now. Hit in the air raid. Aye, a wee bit blaze it was. Aye, there it is, the railway warehouse.” Jimmie nearly inscribes as much magic to that warehouse as to the waterfall in Jesmond Dene!

I came back to Gosforth last night at about 10 o'clock. The day's sunshine had dried-out the interior of the hut. I slept well.

Today was cold again, but dry and windless, and this evening I saw my name in Orders for a Medical Board, at last.


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