Thursday, February 05, 2009

Thursday 25th May 1944

Noon: The Army really means business this time. I have signed sundry forms, received £6-15-0 and been issued with: (a) suits civilian, soldiers, sailors, airmen, discharged, one (b) caps civilian one (c) collars civilian one (d) ties civilian one.

The suit looks like that of a workhouse inmate, ex-convict or ex-soldier. Beneath the collars civilian I'll be wearing an ordinary Army shirt, too small to button at the neck, so “you'll scream when you see me,” as I've just written to Mrs Dawson.

When I came out of the stores at Fenham Barracks, carrying the civvie clothes under my arm, an envious sergeant cried, “How did you get those, Corp?” “How? By a long and stony road,” I replied picturesquely. For the last two days I've been receiving as many congratulations and good wishes as if tomorrow was my wedding day. My nick-name changed from “Lofty” to “Civvie” or “Mister” as soon as the Medicl Board was over. Everyone seems very decent. Naturally everyone envies my luck but no one grudges it.

By evening all was finished. My kit bag was packed, with my books etc. (including “Golden Arrow” which I'd not finished and couldn't bear to abandon), underclothing, shoes and toilet articles.

I wore the civvie suit, boots, pullover, Army shirt and khaki scarf; from Battery Office I'd received (a) a booklet about pensions (b) an application form for clothing coupons (c) a certificate requesting a civilian respirator (d) a 28 days leave-pass (e) a rail warrant, Newcastle to Pitsea, single (f) a small document which serves as an identity pass until exchanged for a proper national Registration Identity Card, ration book and clothing coupons book.

This latter is Army Form B108K, and contains the magic words:-

“The above named soldier, or auxiliary, has been discharged or is on leave pending discharge from Army Service and is awaiting the issue of a formal discharge certificate. He (or she) is free to take up civil employment...” I shouldered my kit bag and clumped heavily down the green-bordered drive.

I went to the station and enquired about trains to London – 10p.m. or 8a.m. Suddenly I realised that I was now free to go where I pleased. There was no need to go to London, except that i wanted to go; and there was no need to hurry anywhere. The Army no longer cared where I went. Even in London, no one expected me so soon.

I had coffee and sandwiches in the station buffet, then went back into town and dumped my kit at the YMCA. After reserving a bed in the hostel, I went to Jesmond to say good-bye and stayed until quite late. They didn't know I'd left the camp for good! I let them think I had to return there for one more night. Jean, Nora, Mrs Overs and Jimmie all came to the door to see me off, with many luck wishes and last minute instructions. What dear folk and how they've helped me! Eee but they were canny!

Nearly midnight when I clumped through the City's deserted streets and found the YMCA had an all-night snack bar open. Intoxicated with my new sense of freedom I lingered, sipping tea, smoking, reading newspapers until about 1:30a.m. Then I went to the hostel, was shown into a room where 50 men slept in two-tier bunks, turned in and eventually slept.


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