Sunday, February 01, 2009

Wednesday 12th April 1944

The muscular stiffness has worn off; the weather is dry and sunny – but I still have that blasted cold in the head! Three miles of road-work this midday; alternate running and walking.

Most of the “course” is finished now. Except for PT periods and certain lectures, I (with two others) am now on signals training in readiness for a strict test in about a week's time. On each parade except those previously mentioned, the BSM cries, “Fall out Signallers!” and we three file away, whilst the rest become involved in a complicated whirlwind of activity; the gunners are heaving their metal monsters to and fro in response to loud shoutings, whilst the drivers scramble madly under vehicles with bundles of tools in their hands; engines are revved-up and switched off again.

However, the three signallers remain in lazy peace. The be-spectacled, overall-clad NCO i/c Sigs is the only uninterested member of the permanent staff instructors. The first afternoon he hardly spoke to us; he just sat smoking and listening to a wireless set which was well tuned to a “Music While you Work” programme. Yesterday he didn't appear for some time and the three of us waited outside dutifully.

When he came, we all went in and sat down and looked at the neat rows of wireless sets, telephones etc on the shelves. “Surely these chaps know what to do?” remarked the Sergeant to his store-man, “They wouldn't hang around outside the door, would they? Surely they'd just bugger off an' keep out of the way, wouldn't they?”
And the store-man said “Yeah, I reckon so.”

This morning therefore, finding the stores again closed, we remembered this indirect advice and hurried up the derelict tram-track out of the camp and settled down in a wood about half a mile distant. It was quite pleasant there for a couple of hours; plenty of sunshine filtered through the bare branches of the trees. Standing very still, we watched a stoat pick up a newly born rabbit by our feet – less than a yard away – and make off with it. When we'd first approached, the stoat had dropped his prey and we saw the baby rabbit (naked, un-furred) breathe twice and then remain still, whilst we were waiting for the killer to return.

In the afternoon the sergeant and his three eager pupils sat in the locked signal store, talking and smoking – at least the pupils sat, whilst the sergeant lay full length with a wireless satchel under his head. Once someone came and tried the door; no one moved to open it, so after a while the caller retired. “'Oo was it?” asked the sergeant. “It was an officer!” I said in horror, having seen his cap above the frosted part of the window. “Fuck 'im” said the sergeant unemotionally.

What is so delightful about him is that he was utterly unmoved by this visit. Not a limb stirred, or an eye or an eyelid. I didn't even notice the dangling cigarette quiver in his mouth when he spoke. Nor does he make any pretence of working. For instance he doesn't bother to put a telephone and writing pad ostentatiously in view before settling down to be lazy. When we departed he said, “Well, hope I've not overworked you gentlemen! Maybe tomorrow we'll go out with the truck on a wireless scheme – 'ave a cup of tea somewhere.”

That is our NCO i/c Signals!


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