Thursday, February 05, 2009

Tuesday 6th June 1944

We cycled (I a bit grumpy at first) to Margaretting to see a cottage. This viewing had all been arranged through the BMH authorities who had some vague lordship over the cottage. Having been told confidentially by Bill that we could retain this place at a low rental so long as April remained at the Hospital, I wasn't exactly biased in favour of the scheme.

It was a sunny morning, though not very warm. April still not too well, we didn't hurry, and walked up the hills. The cottage was pleasant to look at and nicely situated – tucked away in a quiet lane but quite near the main road and bus routes.
As we approached the cottage again (after long searching for the key which opened the door) we met a country woman who had News to tell anyone who wanted to listen. We must have been a godsend to her, because we didn't know that great events had occurred.

“This is D-Day!” announced the woman, “We've invaded France!” “Really?” “Yes! It's on the radio!” “Are you sure?” I asked sternly, “Who announced it?” “We did!” she told me joyously, “They've all been on the air – Eisenhower, the King of Norway and all those. Yes, D-Day! The King is speaking tonight...”
“Have we got ashore, or...?” “Yes, they're pushing inland and casualties aren't too bad. They landed on the Cherbourge Peninsula. Air-borne troops as well! It's the real thing!”

“That's why we've noticed so many planes about this morning,” commented April as we went on down the lane. And that was about the extent of our interest at the time.

Despite it's pleasing exterior, the cottage was hopeless. It was a rambling place with no amenities except a cold water tap. The housework would have been terrific and we couldn't have managed it whilst we both had to go out to work. Wistfully we realised this was not to be our dream cottage. We sat down in misery on a bedroom floor, munching chocolate. It was warm and dead quiet except for winds restlessly whistling in the eaves; a comforting sound, but we were not to hear it all the summer. “and so this is D-Day!” said one of us gloomily.

The rest of the day however was increasingly happy, comradely and hilarious. We went in search of digs or furnished rooms. First we had a tremendous meal in a cafe at Ingatestone, excellent except for the meat, which was rather tough. “Shall I tell you something?” whispered my lady in confidence, when I'd eaten all the meat I could manage. “What?” I asked, anticipating some delicate secret. “You've been eating horseflesh” she said gruesomely.

Despite horseflesh I felt unusually fit today – and had no cough. That is such an habitual ailment that to pass a day without any coughing, wheezing or retching is quite a thrilling novelty.

We inspected some comic digs in Ingatestone and then cycled lazily to the village of Stock (on the way we wandered into an attractive roadside wood) where I made a friendly call on my pre-war landlord, Mr Allen at the Cock Inn and we also made arrangements for a later call on one Nurse Pascoe who occasionally “took in” married couples but never single gentlemen.

Then we went on to Brentwood, calling at two extraordinary places in Billericay on the way. One house was an atrocity called “Avalon”, kept by a women with protruding teeth; the other a bungalow owned by a half-crazed, middle-aged spinster named Miss Brown. That's all I'll say about our Billericay prospective digs, except to say that both afforded us considerable amusement!

When we got back, we entertained Bill and Mrs Connie by an account of our weird adventures. April and I sat side by side on the floor and narrated the drama in duet, one continuing when the other became breathless sort of thing. I felt we were very much “twins” again and that the Wallis's must notice how different we were from our aloofness and stiffness of the preceding night. (They did, but fortunately put another construction on it; Mrs Connie said to April, “Stephen seemed very shy at first but was quite at home afterwards”.)

April gargled sternly, and blew her nose thunderously at intervals. I usually (with indecency) examined her handkerchief on each occasion, to see what she'd blown. She didn't mind!

“Why didn't you sleep well last night?” asked April when we were in bed. “Because I was in bed with the Statutory Clerk, not with my April,” I replied. A long, long time later my wife whispered, “Are you with your April tonight?”

THERE WAS NO REPLY! SJ Dawson, Waste of good rations was asleep! I didn't know such a question had been asked until next day, when I felt humorously chagrined at not having answered it.

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