Saturday, February 07, 2009

February 1983

Nearly forty years later I resume this diary, only to bring it to an end. (I write with a ball-point pen, which had not been invented when I last made diary notes, on the opposite page.)

During the last 18 months I have read all my diaries from the first laconic entries to the last. It is poignant to read a personal journal many years later, in the tolerant leisure of old age. Like Sir Bedivere, one revolves many memories. (“Ah! Dreams and the dreams of youth!”)

Looking back, it is incredible how I worried about piffling things and the opinions of other people. Now, I do not care a damn what other people think of me! If I was writing now, I would insert far less of miserable introspection and much more of humorous observation. The latter is more enjoyable in reading and in recollection.

Indeed – no regrets! - but I would have given my whole outlook on life a more humorous slant, if starting all over again. Life is not a thing to be laughed at, but with all it's wilful, wayward charm, it is to be smiled at, surely?

A few years ago, my daughter, Nina, had occasion to read the last few pages of my 1944 diary. She has an alert mind and immediately asked two questions: first, why did I stop keeping a diary? Secondly, did I know, on the 15th July 1944, that I had made the final entry?

I could not and can not answer either question. It remains an insoluble puzzle, even now. The NB of 19th June 1944 did predict the possible end of diary keeping after this book was filled, but subsequent entries seemed as effortless and observant as before. Perhaps, now married and settled, I had very properly become less lonely and introspective? These are indeed useful qualities in a true diarist!

However, I regret that I did not fill this last book and bring the long years of journals to a satisfactory and rounded termination. Perhaps, that is what I am doing now!

There is a fair amount of scenic description in the diaries, but I wish there had been more, so that some distant reader could have seen those far off places as they were. Particularly, of all my lovely places, Egham and Runnymede and the white Paripan Works with the flag flying; Cooper's Hill; the River Path to Staines, Frank's Boathouse, Egham High Street. All this is changed, more than any other place of my youth has changed. I should have described it all as it appeared through the eyes of a stranger, in September 1933.

It is too late now.

I hope that one day, someone will read these diaries from beginning to end. Otherwise all my words have gone off into the silent dark.

If there is an unknown reader, here is a thought: although human life is apparently inconsistent, there is a strange pattern to it, partially revealed when one reads diaries covering several years of a human life.

Consider the late summer entries for three years – 1933, 1936, 1939. There is a sadness in these entries, a feeling of imminent change. This is conveyed strongly when re-reading the account of those summers – Sudbrooke in Lincolnshire, 1933; “Kapai” in Egham Riverside, 1936; Essex in 1939. It is like the feeling of the fated long Edwardian summers, so beautifully portrayed in many books and films.

Re-reading old diaries, revives the memory of things, people, incidents and conversations which had been forgotten. There are many incidents etc. vividly remembered in the mind but never recorded for some reason or other in these books.
Eternal mystery surrounds those people or places or events which remain forgotten, lost, even with the stimulus of a diary record, re-read and pondered.

For instance, who were the friends who camped at Maidenhead and whom I had visited twice in 1934? (If only I had mentioned their names!) Who was the kind Mr Beach, occasionally mentioned in the Thames Valley years and to whom I went to say good-bye in the last week of Egham life? He would not be the Mr Beach of Paripan – mentioned once or twice, Was he a Toc H member? However, I cannot “see” him and now he must be dead, long since.

Finally, another instance, the cafe with the tangled garden, near the derelict tramway track at Gosforth, discovered on the 2nd May 1944. (I wish I had found it earlier, instead of during my lost, last days in Northumberland. It would have helped.) I have no recollection of this dream-like, windless refuge but it must have been real. Perhaps one day, I'll drive up to Gosforth and try to find the route of the old tramway track and so trace my way to the pace where there was once a cafe. I even noted the trees that stood around it!

“Let not the eyes grow dim; look not back but forward.”

Saturday 15th July 1944

It has been a tiring week, no doubt. Today – what remains of it – and tomorrow is a period of blessed leisure however.

This morning in the office I dealt again with rows of figures, (I handle them with a little more facility than before) and took two or three telephone calls. (The phone no longer alarms me, either.) Afterwards, lunch in a snack bar, the crowded Tubes, Liverpool Street, and the packed train down.

Alighting at Billericay, the fresh air settled around me. I collected my cycle from the shop where I leave it each morning, drew my Pension of £1-4-0 from the Post Office and then rode homewards. As soon as I was clear of the town the road inclined downwards slightly, so hardly touching the pedals, I sat in the saddle and let the wind and the gradient take me merrily the two miles to Little Dene, along winding, quiet roads between green hedges.

Then I washed, took off my city suit, tie, collar, studs and shirt, and donned a khaki drill shirt and grey bags. It's a nice, sunny afternoon and I'm now cycling to Terori to see Vi and get a few things, which I'll bring back in my rucksack. April has gone up into the town to get her hair “done”; having first performed her first wifely “wash.” She went out to the bus then turned back to cry exultantly, “Be sure you go down the garden, darling, and see your little shirt beside my little shirt!”

Obviously I have been into the garden and have beheld a line of washing. My shirt is flapping in the breeze, flanked by a dainty pair of knickers and a chemise, shift or chemisole, which is her “little shirt,” I suppose.

This is the last journal entry, until February 1983

Monday 10th July 1944

I am now a dormitory village man, one of the horde of “Londoners” who work in the city but live in the country and spend a large proportion of their pay and time in daily journeys. Yes! I am one of the season ticket men of the 8:36 to Town and the 6:8 down. This travelling is arduous but it is good to sleep in the free air out of London and to have one's base away from the city.

April and I have a Morning System, concerned with such things as times for washing (the kitchen at Little Dene is a tiny one). This System also embraces the early cup of tea and according to our rota, today was April's turn to get up first and make the brew. So she arose at 6:30a.m.,when the alarm buzzed, I at 6:40. We have a second bedroom clock, besides the alarm and painstakingly check the two by each other in case of any deviation.

April prepared breakfast rapidly but efficiently. We're having to live on the charity of friends and relatives just now as, according to the Regulations and Formalities to Safeguard the Security of the State, one cannot register for and obtain rationed food until the week after one moves into a new district! Friends and relatives rose nobly to our aid however and we have a very well stocked shelf in Mrs Potter's pantry.

Normally I shall ride to and from the station, but Aphrodites' tyres were down today and I got tired of waiting for the bus so eventually collected my stick and walked to Billericay. It was a nice, fresh morning; actually the weather is a bit cold for July. Before leaving, I was kissed and wished well, as is the custom with married business men when setting out for Town.

I reached the station in good time and found my fellow season-ticket holders in the waiting room. Ignoring the fact that British troops had entered Caen; that the Russians were in Vilna and still pushing forward towards East Prussia; and that the Fifth Army was still advancing in Italy – ignoring all this, they were eagerly discussing the robot bombs which had whistled and howled over Billericay during the night.

The 8:36 is a good train. It has seats and only stops once before Liverpool Street.
In the passages leading to the stale-smelling Tubes, the men from the dormitory towns were mingling with genuine Londoners also going to work. And the mixed stream hurried past lines of tired, dirty-faced people – mostly elderly – who huddled against the tunnel walls. These also were Londoners. The air-raid sirens had just blown.

At about 6p.m. the tunnels which had swallowed me up in the morning, disgorged me again. The down train is not so good; it is slow and seats are difficult to obtain.
At Billericay I missed the first bus, so did not reach home until nearly 8 o'clock. There had been heavy rain and everything was wet and glistening and fresh.

Curtains fluttered as I hurried up to the gate of Little Dene, and before I reached the door it was opened, and in welcome I was kissed by the Wife of the Tired Business Man. She was all dainty and sweet-smelling, and ready to serve a neat, hot dinner. It was all so like the story books that I laughed inwardly. (But actually, unlike the story-books, she had been working all day herself, had come home from the hospital two hours before me – running for a bus, loaded with parcels – and had been drenched by that same rain that made the world seem good to me, so she must have been damn busy.)

We sat over the meal and then opened some letters and parcels. I was sternly warned that all letters etc must be opened by us together and after meals. By the time we'd washed-up and put the pots away, and gloated over luscious foodstuffs sent by Father, it was time to have a wash ourselves and go to sleep! Anyhow, we had two snug cups of hot cocoa in bed!

Yes, this will be a fatiguing arrangement – the housework for April and the journeys for me – but it is worthwhile for being in rooms of our own and in the country.

Friday 7th July 1944

Nearly midnight – and the sirens are screaming; they began their mournful crying as I picked up this book to write. I'm sitting in bed – yes! and there's the thud of a robot, already! I had a good view of one this evening. It roared over this house with a streak of flame at it's tail and then the motor cut out and it dived into Hampstead. They certainly are unpleasant things – and it looks as though this strange bombardment of “Southern England” (as the target zone is discreetly termed) will continue for months yet.

Long conversation with April tonight, by phone. During our talk three occurrences were duplicated at each end of the line. Almost simultaneously we heard bombs fall and the sirens sounding “all clear” a few minutes later. About half an hour afterwards we both received a cup of tea as we sat at our respective telephones.
(Here's another robot and – bump!)

April and I are meeting at Billericay Station tomorrow, so that we can do all our errands in the town and then retire into the quietness of Great Burstead for the weekend. We hope it will be quiet; by all accounts we both need a bit of peace, but especially April.

“In case you've forgotten me, look out for a Tired Business Man,” I told her, “For I look the part.” And so I do! I happened to see myself suddenly mirrored in a shop window today whilst going to lunch, and was surprised how closely I resembled the TBM. Not much of an ex-soldier look about me, thank heavens.

I have revealed my identity to the too-respectful Woods. “Don't you remember me, Woods?” I asked. “Can't say I do sir.” “Well, I used to call at your depot, with the work's lorries...” “Why, yes!” he said, losing the respectful attitude abruptly, “You was there the day we shifted from Edgware Road to 'Arrow Road, wasn't you?” “That's right!” “O'course! Well, pardon me saying so – no offence meant, like – but you 'ave aged, y'know.” “I suppose so,” I said sadly, “Of course, I was only a boy in those days, really.” “You've been to Egypt, 'aven't you.” “That's right.”

Woods beamed and revealed his past by saying, “Qwise keteer, hey?” (“very good” in Arabic) “Ha! Zift!” I exclaimed (“no! bloody bad!”) “Were you out there too?” "Yes! In the last war. Know Ismailia? Damascus? Gaza?” “Sure. I bet they've changed since you were there, though.”

So, thoroughly introduced to Woods, I returned to my office and the book of Figures. I'm balancing my Tons, Gallons and Pounds, Shillings and Pence now. A deadly job for my khaki-stupid head. No wonder I look like a TBM!

Thursday 6th July 1944

I'm still struggling gamely with my analysis book. Each page has 93 vertical columns... This work gives me a nagging headache which lasts all day. Or maybe the headache is caused by the roar of road drills and a petrol engine in Glasshouse Street just below my window.

I sit in an office marked “Private”, with my own desk and telephone (A shock of horror hits me whenever the phone rings, as I don't know how to deal with people who ring up!). When I look over my shoulder I look down into Piccadilly Circus (the part where it is joined by Glasshouse street and Regent Street) and can see Eros, veiled in anti-blast walls, in the centre. Maybe Eros isn't there anymore. The wooden shroud of this possibly empty sepulchre bears many Government posters on it's sides – propaganda stuff.. This is England 1944, not 1938.

The sirens are moaning all day. There are certainly longer “alert” than “all clear” periods, here in central London. When a bomb flies uncannily over, one cannot always hear it because of the roar of traffic and those damned road drills. But if it comes close I can see the people below huddle and peer upwards. If it's very close and the motor stops (signal that it is about to drop) there is a mad rush for doorways and entrances to subways. Then Thud! a safe distance away, and people emerge, laughing at each other in their relief.

This morning, crossing the Circus towards the office, I heard a bomb drop and, looking down Lower Regent Street saw a gigantic column of smoke rise – fluff! - and mushroom out, hovering above the venerable buildings of Westminster Abbey. A picturesque sight if not so terrible. However, that particular one may have fallen in the river.

I don't travel up and down by that foul tube now, for I've discovered a bus which runs from Hampstead to Charing Cross Road. It is a longer journey and means a bit of a walk as well but that is pleasant enough. I always sit upstairs – yes! one gets a seat on the buses! As we jog along we take stock of the previous night's bomb damage. When there is evidence of fresh destruction, everyone turns and gazes down the stricken street and talks about the robots and how long it will last and how dreadful it all is.

At lunchtime I go out to find some cafe in Soho. Twice I've lunched at an old favourite – The Vienna in Denham Street. It is expensive, but the food is very good.
A high spot of the afternoon is when Woods, the war-time commissionaire (formerly porter at the Harrow Road Depot) comes in with my cup of tea. “Here y'are sir,” he says respectfully, putting it on my desk. He can't remember when I, dressed in dungarees, used to arrive at the depot and unload cans of paint from a lorry into his dark basement! Otherwise he wouldn't mistake me for a great business man.
The tea is well-sweetened and is provided by the firm for all employees.
It is a nice firm to work for! So friendly. I have not worked in any other office where the Managing Director tours the office with a friendly smile each forenoon, greeting each member of the staff. “Good morning Miss White, Good morning Dawson, Good morning Reddall...”

I worked a bit late tonight, trying to get that damn book finished. Mr Reddall sent a girl in who literally took the book away out of my hands! “Mr Reddall say's he doesn't want you to stay late. You can finish this tomorrow.”

I won't be sorry when my time at the office is ended though; it will be nice to be a sort of free-lance again and working irregular hours. I'm pleased to note that I'm not taken quite seriously as a member of the office staff – this takes away any sense of permanency. People are amused at my superfluous questions and occasional errors. “What? The India-rubber again? Put something down in the wrong column, I suppose!” And, “Well, Dawson, how are you getting on with all your big books?” “I'm not sir. And when I think you can hear the machinery clanking inside my brain.” At which Mr Randall goes away with a chuckle. He wouldn't be amused at my mistakes if I made them as a representative!

Tuesday 4th July 1944

I've been informed of my salary today. It is to be £300 a year, or £25 per month. Quite good considering I'm just doing elementary work in the office for now. No doubt my fixed pay will be reduced when I go on the road and begin earning commission.

Monday 3rd July 1944

(Inward-sweating people pressed
tightly in the airless Tube;
thrusting crowds in Piccadilly;
clammy rain and broken glass)

That – in blank verse – comprises my impressions of the morning journey to Town; and the evening return home could be the same reversed. Thank heavens I'm working in London for a few months, not a lifetime.

It was rather dirty and disorderly in the office – and rain was pouring into the top floor, which had been torn open by the blast of Friday night's robot bomb. Nearly all windows had been smashed and a few doors torn off their hinges, but casualties were only small – three girls cut by fragmenting glass.

In the morning I just buggered about but in the afternoon I was given books and a desk and put to work. It has to do with figures and some arithmetic is involved. Seems very complicated. I worked laboriously, slowly re-checking my work line by line before making entries in the huge ledger of multitudinous columns. It has to Balance at the end, so I must not lose any gallons, tons, pounds, or shillings by entering in the wrong column!

Hours are 9:30a.m. to 5:30p.m. and I'm advised to take a 3-monthly season ticket from Essex. Nothing is known about my salary however. Mr FCR said vaguely, “Oh, I expect it will be the same as before. Don't worry about that, Stephen J.”

During my idle morning I studied the report book of the offices' ARP squad. The diary for last Friday included the laconic entry: “12:50 hrs. Bomb. (extensive damage here)” Last night's report stated: “July 2nd /3rd 2355 hrs. Bomb very near. 37 bombs during night. No incidents in Area 240E”

Robot bombs are being discussed everywhere – in tubes, streets, cafes... Each time the office phone tinkled, bombs were discussed in addition to business. The Second Front has quite faded as a topic of conversation!

Sunday 2nd July 1944

I am at Pat's at Hampstead; this is being written in bed. Tomorrow I begin work at the Paripan Office in Piccadilly Circus – at least, I hope so, but Liddie said a robot bomb fell near there on Friday and she found the street of the office to be roped off. (Glasshouse Street) The office windows appeared to be smashed, but we hope there was no internal damage.

I made several visits to Little Dene last week and little remains to be done. April and I both went there on Saturday afternoon. Our things are neatly stowed away in cupboard, drawer and wardrobe, and there is still room for more. Mrs Potter has certainly been busy and made room. The kit arrived from Westbourne Terrace too. I have few possessions at Terori now and none are stored here in Hampstead, so my things are more centralised than for years.

Yes, all is well at Great Burstead. April and I rendezvous there on Saturday next, to live in our first home together. That is something happy to anticipate.

On Friday I went into Southend, bought shirts, socks, braces (with elastic, which is apparently a luxury these days) and a knock-about tweed jacket. Prices: 12/11 per shirt, £2-14-0 the jacket. Before the War they would have been 7/- and 30/- respectively.

The weeks at Terori were happy ones, not idle, for there always seemed a good deal to do – digs to look for, visits to be made, forms to be filled in (this is a bureaucratic Age of Forms) shopping to do etc. April came down several times, beside at the weekends. Of course those mid-week visits entailed a rising at 5:30 a.m. next morning so that she could catch the 7 o'clock of the first of a series of cross-country buses that took her to the hospital.

Vi and I got on quite well, alone together. Yes, I enjoyed those weeks. They're a separate little piece of my life, the period of change from being a soldier to being an ordinary, working civilian. That period is ended now. Tomorrow (if the office is still inhabitable) I begin work.

Thursday 29th June 1944

My wife has given me one of her spare fountain pens and it was filled with this merry, vivid ink, which I shall continue to use.

Yesterday I was theoretically still a soldier but now I'm genuinely a civilian. My last leave pass expired at midnight last night.

“Thank God that's done, and I'll take the road, Quit of my youth and you...”
(This is an excellent fountain pen)

At 2a.m. today (two hours after I left the Army) I heard the thud of a robot bomb just as I awoke. At the same moment, Violet rushed into my bedroom crying, “Ooo! Stephen! They're coming down on us!” “I heard the bomb” I mumbled. “Sorry to disturb you,” said Vi, returning to her own room, “I forgot you didn't want to be wakened to die. Only I heard it begin diving, and the engine cut off.”

I've recorded this incident because the great statement of “I heard the bomb” was my first pronouncement as a civilian and free man, and it's therefore historic.

Monday 26th June 1944

Called for April in Romford and we brought back a lot of her kit, on Saturday afternoon. Doll's house Terori is looking a bit over-crowded now.

The main event of Sunday evening was that I saw a robot for the first time. It whistled by about 11p.m., just before dusk (we're on double summer time, of course) at a height of 2000 feet. Foolishly, we all stood watching it. (AA shells were bursting near and it might easily have exploded in mid-air) The robot flew on a dead straight course, at a constant height and speed. There was something eerie about it's steady but rapid flight. A light gleamed at it's tail. It sped on and on, 'til it disappeared in the distance towards Chelmsford.

I've made two journeys to Great Burstead today; in the morning I cycled over with a ruck-sack full of clothes. I also made a few calls in Billericay, checked the trains service to and from Town; sought (and failed to find) a branch of the Midland Bank; checked that I could draw my pension from he Post Office on Saturdays – and incidentally found a decent hairdressers named Vere. Now, perhaps, I'll be able to have a regular hairdresser again. It is pleasant to always go to the same shop for things of that sort.

In the afternoon Mr O'Brian gave me a lift to Great Burstead in his car, on his way home. The back seat was piled high with clothing, books, and pots and pans.
Feeling happy, I arranged my things in various drawers, put some books in the bookcase and hung my dressing gown behind the door. I'm going to be settled at last, have somewhere of my own again, with my bits and pieces around me. I came back on foot as far as Laindon, then caught a bus for Vange.

An envelope marked “OHMS THE WAR OFFICE” plopped through the letter-box at Terori this afternoon. “Ha! What does the Minister for War want this time?” I said aloud, importantly, as I opened it. A money order fluttered out. Back pay? About £5? Dazed, I read the figures £31-3-4... glanced at the accompanying slip of paper. It stated laconically:

“The enclosed money order is made up as follows:

Amount of Final Payment £8-8-4
Amount of Post-War Credits £22-15-0
Total £31-3-4”

It's always best to not expect anything. Then, one occasionally receives a nice surprise. I hurried down to Vange Post Office at once - “Just in case the Government goes broke tonight.” The order was honoured however.

£1-3-4 for this week's spending money. £5 for April. £5 for shirts, socks and a tweed jacket. £20 for next months living money (I'm on the monthly wages roll and shall not draw anything until July.)

It has been a warm, grey, showery day, but “inside, a little bird was singing.”

Friday, February 06, 2009

Friday 23rd June 1944

Spent the night at Hampstead. Pat took me for a pleasant evening stroll among the picturesque streets near the heath – I saw Sarah Siddon's house, and Galsworthy's, and Romney's. People with bundles were converging on the Tube stations as dusk fell and down below they were crouching in the draughty passages. I heard eleven robot-planes crash before I went to sleep. One was quite near. It is weird to hear them droning over without any roar of gunfire.

I cleared all my kit from Hampstead, bringing away two kit bags and a pack. Spent the morning and part of the afternoon in clearing-out that filthy cupboard in the basement of Majories flat. Except for a bundle of old report and order books which I discarded, I managed to pack all my belongings into the old wooden chest. Then I nailed it down and corded it; went out (sirens wailing) and bought a cup of tea and some tie-on labels; rang Carter Paterson and asked them to collect one chest and one empty tea chest from 99 Westbourne Terrace, and deliver to “Little Dene”, Church Street, Great Burstead, Essex; and finally returned to the flat and tied on lots of labels. (I'd written them out in a nearby Post Office.) I'd a splitting headache by this time, but had a splendid bath at Paddington Station, and then felt better (and less grimy).

All day the air raid warnings were sounding. People hurried through the streets, gazing upwards. Sitting in a cafe, having a late tea, I heard a robot plane bomb go droning past. People cowered nervously against the walls, and someone cried, “Look out! Mind the glass window!” “Ah well!” I said complacently, “They can't turn round and come back!” “Can't they?” cried a waitress, “I saw one fly past yesterday and then put on a swerve and turn back! They do sometimes!”

With my two kit bags and pack I caught a train at Fenchurch Street, which meandered slowly to Pitsea, via Tilbury. Whilst we were puffing clear of the ruined East End streets I heard the sirens screaming the “all clear.” I read “Auden and After” and dozed.

Got on board a bus at Pitsea Station, and Violet was waiting for me when I alighted in Vange. A letter from Blackpool was lying on the kitchen table at Terori. It contained a cheap-looking badge of white metal, marked “FOR LOYAL SERVICE” and known as The King's Badge (for ex-servicemen). I shan't wear it; I don't want to be branded as anything.

There were also documents which told me, to my surprise and pleasure, that the Ministry of Pensions considered me 40% disabled as a result of war service (Post Malarial Depression) and had awarded me a Pension of 17/4d weekly plus 4/- marriage allowance “until further notice.”

21/4d per week! That will be very useful, while it lasts.

Thursday 22nd June 1944

To Town by the 10:38, dressed rather like an ex-soldier in mufti. As previously instructed, I rang the Company when I reached Fenchurch Street and was put through to Mr Percy. They've decided that I shall remain in or around London much longer than at first suggested, whilst I learn about industrial paints. (“They're the paints of the Future,” said Mr Percy alluringly!”

Now I may be in Town all the summer; it's a pity they didn't decide this earlier, before we'd arranged to move to Great Burstead, in the depths of the country. Well, I'll have to travel to and fro, that's all. Lunch at a rough cafe in Villiers Street. (Sausages, mash and peas; at my request, the sausages were burnt ones.)

“May I look at your book, please?” asked the woman who served me. “It's poetry,” I said dubiously. “I know. I love poetry.” “Well you won't love that,” I said, “Anyway, I don't. It's modern stuff – free verse chiefly. Not much rhyme and usually no metre.”
“I certainly don't know these authors,” said the woman, strolling away away with the book, “Except Sitwell...” “Edith?” “Yes.”
“Pretty deadly verse in there, isn't it? I'm only reading for educational purposes.”
(Presently she'll tell me her favourite poem, I thought amusedly, cutting up a sausage, that's what this is leading to, really.)

She came back and put down my “introduction to Modern Poetry”. “I've been looking everywhere for a copy of “Cynara,” she said, “My husband read it to me once and I'd like to get hold of a copy...” “What's that – a book?” How do you spell it?” “C-Y-N-A-R-A Just a poem. By Dobson, or Dowson – some such name.”
“I know it! “I have been faithful to you, Cynara, after my fashion”” “Yes! If you ever find a copy, leave it here. The manager will pay for it, if I'm not in.” “And you are?” “Joan Clark. Mrs Joan Clark.”

Half way through the mash and peas and nearly entirely through the burnt sausages, I looked up to hear Mrs Clark, beside the tea-urn declaiming Omar Khayyam! “Lovely lines, those. I like the sadness of, “... has gone with all his rose...” I don't read it for escapism, like some. I read poetry because I really love it. Do you like Ben Johnson?”
“Don't know him,” I said regretfully, and beginning to enjoy the conversation – one so seldom meets anyone who want's to discuss poetry. “Do you like the start of the Rubiyat?” “Yes!' she exclaimed, “'Awake! For morning in the bowl of night...'” “... 'Has flung the stone that puts the stars to flight'” “'And lo! The hunter of the East has caught...'”

“Mash, pie and beans, please,” said a girl, coming in. “And tea?” asked the poetess, ceasing to recite. “Yes, please.”
“From the sublime to the ridiculous” hissed Mrs Clark, going to fetch it.

(“Mad,” I thought privately, “or neurotic. Or a real poetry lover. Or pretending to be one. But I haven't time to find out”)

All the better for this encounter, I went on to the Ministry of Pensions. There was an alarming number of soldiers (ex) sitting on chairs or standing in queues. Despite their civilian clothes, they had an alarming air of uniformity. There were also war widows, bless their hearts. A filtering system chuffed me along from room to room and different groups of people until I was being interviewed by a specialist. To my disappointment, he only wanted to know if I was settling down well and all that. “Ah well! You'll be alright!” he added breezily.

“But what about a pension?” I asked. “Nothing to do with me, my boy,” he said boisterously. “Try for one if you like. Write to the Ministry at Blackpool.”

Air raid sirens wailed every now and then. Near Tottenham Court Road I saw an area cordoned off. Rescue squads were busy. It seemed as if Schmidts and Charlotte Street had disappeared...

Wednesday 21st June 1944

I think this is Midsummer Day. Half an hour ago I took April to Gales Corner to catch the 7a.m. bus to her hospital. We were both shivering with the cold. Yes, Midsummer Day! I'm writing this in the sitting room at Terori. Violet is not awake yet.

The newspaper headlines say:

“Americans only two miles from city.”
“Key to Finland captured.”

Only stray “flying bombs” or “robot planes” have exploded within sound of here in the last few days. There have been many alerts though, the sirens wail day and night and people turn eagerly to watch the sky.

I wonder what it's like in London? There are many rumours – I hope quite wild and baseless. It's said that 600 crashed into London at the weekend; that a dozen fell in Piccadilly. Well, I'm going up tomorrow and shall see for myself.

Yesterday April and I went to Billericay and she entered the dock. To our disappointment the technical error proved no loophole. They apologised handsomely and asked her if the summons could be amended. “Well, it's your error...” she said demurely, but the Inspector beamed and said urbanely that in such case they'd have to issue a fresh summons. We'd thought they couldn't do that. Accordingly April paid 10/- (less 2d gained through twice using the lavatory in the Court House without having to pay a penny!) The Court was a bit of a mockery; everyone was laughing except April and I. Such trivial charges!

A warm, sunny day, yesterday. We'd heard of possible digs near Billericay, and walked across fields to Great Burstead. Each field was divided from the next by a hedge and a kissing gate... The fields were very quiet and the village beyond (hitherto unexplored by either of us) seemed asleep in the sunshine.

We enquired at the village shop (name of proprietor, Pluckrose!) and he said, “Little Dene? Down this road, past what we call the tin hut, past “Melody Mede” and it's the next bungalow.”

We soon saw the tin atrocity. Almost opposite was a beautiful whitewash and black timbered walled house with a well kept lawn. We feared that “Little Dene” would be the gaunt-looking bungalow at the bottom of the road, but it was a smaller and prettier place next door to “Melody Mede” (or “Mead”).

We said Mr O'Brien had recommended this for digs, and were shown into the back parlour. There was brass-work and a sleepy, old-aged dog. “Shades of Nurse Pascoe!” I muttered my wife, sotto voce. “Doesn't look the same sort of woman,” I replied reassuringly as I saw Mrs Potter coming across he back garden.

She was lady aged about 50, greyish hair braided attractively across the top, educated voice. She seemed slightly embarrassed about having to take in diggers at all. On the whole a rather nice type of landlady. She was an ex-nurse (April and I looked at each other in alarm!)

The bedroom was quite alright; but when we were shown a room across the passage and Mrs Potter said, “This would be your sitting room. You'd be quite on your own...” and when we heard we could be left to ourselves entirely, using her cooking and washing facilities, we began to look hopeful.

“But – have you a lavatory?” I asked, thinking of Stock. “Oh, yes!” She opened a door off the scullery, and a second door and April saw a dangling chain and cried ecstatically, “Oh! You're on the sewer!”. The only possible snag then was the charge and this turned out to be quite reasonable – 25/- a week for two rooms and no extra charge for gas except for baths.

So we arranged to begin to move in before July 9th and paid her a retaining fee. Mrs Potter gave us two keys then and there! To save her any subsequent uneasiness we showed her our identity cards. The name “Dawson” on April's card was hidden at first and I saw Mrs Potter stare a bit blankly! Then April opened the flap of her case and showed the magic surname and Mrs Potter said, “Oh!” “Ah, there's nothing like that about us!” laughed April.

So with a home in prospect at last, we walked back to Billericay. “Little Dene” was quite near the Brentwood bus route. We had a luncheon snack at Cottis'. I sat facing the shop door, whilst April chatted to an old friend. Presently I saw Lois Rogers stride into the shop, I think for a packet of cigarettes and some cakes. She came with the old air of confidence and arrogance and was wearing an ambulance driver's uniform. This shook me and I was stunned for a few minutes.

When April's friend had gone I said, “Lois was in here just now” and my wife opened
her eyes wide in surprise. Later, curious, she wandered out into the street, looking for a blonde in navy blue but the ghost had gone.

That was all yesterday. Vi is up now and has just lit the fire in the sitting room.
This, as I said before, is midsummer.

Monday 19th June 1944

I've just seen April off to work on the 7 o'clock bus. (It seems strange that I don't have to work myself!) The air raid sirens wailed just before the bus began it's journey. Newspaper reports of the new weapon remind one of fantastic, pseudo-scientific books by such writers as HG Wells. Reference is made to pilotless aircraft, flying bombs, flying robots, robot planes...

Tomorrow we go to Court. This is the sequel to the case of the mislaid Identity Card on May 30th. The curious thing is that April has been served with a summons dated May 31st in respect of this “offence”. We're hoping this technical error may provide April with a chance to escape the full and dire penalties of the Law!

NB: Have I begun to lose my long appetite for diary writing? It seems more of an effort these days; perhaps now that I'm married the hobby will fall out of use because I'll be less introspective and lonely. (One must be both, to be a thorough diarist, I think.)

Well, I'll carry on to the end of this book and then stop writing, perhaps for ever, perhaps only for a short time. By the day that I reach the end of this book I should be back at work and April and I settled down. Such a termination (if the journals are ever read) would give an air of completion to the whole.

Yes, I'm not a very good diarist now. Why! for my Sunday entry I didn't make any reference to the evening walk of April and I on the hill; how we helped to put out a fire in the garden of a lonely cottage and then explored a lonelier house, a ruinous “rat's castle”, inventing many fantastic stories as we roamed around it's chaotic rooms – of the body in the sack at the foot of the ladder and the new-born baby (dead 10 years) in the doctor's bag. (Of the latter, April added gruesomely, “Not really new-born, hardly formed...” “An 8 month baby?” I suggested. “Oh no, they begin to look human after the sixth month...”)

And we peered suspiciously at old photographs and letters and a newspaper we found there. There was a Last Will of somebody, and a news cutting dated 1890 regarding the succession to the Throne. That mad April trailed after me from eerie room to eerie room, squeaking plaintively, “Don't leave me!... You're going to shut me in!”

We finally concluded that the owner, a natural son of Queen Victoria, had caused his wife to have a miscarriage that killed her and then had thrown her body down the well, (Tall nettles grow all over the garden, but not around the well...) and finally he'd sewn himself in a sack and laid there 'til he died and rotted and began to smell...

All these pleasant details should have been included in my Sunday entry.

Saturday 17th June 1944

I went to Town and met Marjorie at No 99 Westbourne Terrace. The flat where I once took Dick Young to supper, is empty now. She opened a dark, musty cupboard in the basement and left me. I rummaged eagerly, found many of my books and papers that I'd not seen since that long-ago day when I packed up to go like a knight (as I then thought) to the war.

There were ancient note-books filled with schoolboy scrawlings, many books, a copy of Brooke, a copy of “Fantastic Flight”, a monks habit that I wore in the Pageant at Langley... All the Paripan stuff was there – files, orders, letters, graphs, colour charts, report books, even visiting cards. They'll be useful in these days of restricted supplies. There were also three pairs of brown shoes, which hadn't improved in years of lying damply at the bottom of a pile of books. I packed the essentials in a kit bag and stinking rucksack (my old rambling rucksack!) with a pair of mildewed shoes a-dangle on the outside.

There was a familiar box or battered wooden chest in the room. Lifting it's lid I saw written neatly inside:

“And Spring came too
Dancing o'er the tombs and brought him flowers.
She did not stay for long”
June 1933

That was when I realised with sad joy that beauty was elusive and transient.
I slunk out of the flat. Being unshaven and dressed anyhow, it's a wonder I wasn't arrested as a suspected burglar, between the West End and Pitsea.

On the way down I read “Fantastic Flight” and could hear again the intonation of the player's voices as they delivered their lines.

Air raids tonight, but Vi and April and I all slept soundly.

Friday 16th June 1944

Returned to Vange yesterday. There were Terori-shaking bumps in the night, and a good deal of aircraft about.

I went up to Town at midday. here were air raid alarms until 3 o'clock, off and on. Sensation in afternoon papers – the Jerries were using a new weapon against us, a pilotless aircraft which crashed to the earth with a heavy explosion. “The raids will probably continue, but our scientists are hard at work... There is no cause for alarm... The ghost planes are possibly propelled by rockets...”

I called at the Paripan office, saw Mr Percy Randall. I'm to commence work on July 3rd.

This was another noisy night but I slept soundly. Vi was restless and nervy, but heroically refrained from waking me.

Tuesday 13th – Wednesday 14th June 1944

Amazing disorder of once organised garden gone back to wilderness, impassable in parts. In one place a circle of pink and mauve flowers had struggled above the rank grass into the sunshine, but otherwise it was almost impossible to tell where the flower beds had been.

Aunt had a well-stocked kitchen. at each of my surprised remarks she twinkled, “BM” (black market). Of the vast crowd of chickens only three remain – Mrs Roup, Mrs Light Brown and Mrs Dark Brown. When opening the door of their ancient coop in the morning, I always crowed like a cockerel to give the old dears a thrill. I wonder which one will be the last to die? And how lonely she'll be when her friends have gone. Finding plenty of eggs appearing at meals, I said “Surely Mrs Roup and Co don't lay all these?” “No, BM” replied Aunt placidly.

Engine drivers on the up-grade still wave as they pass by.

Two visits to nearby farms rewarded me with ¼ lb of farm butter and a dozen eggs to bring home to Essex.

When we went to Grandboro' one afternoon, Aunt (aged 75) came stumping back at such a pace that she tired me (aged 31)!

Monday 12th June 1944

Yesterday, sitting in a chair at Terori, I read a Mazo de la Roche novel whilst April sprawled on top of me, chewed my ear and blew into it, all of which was very distracting. I also read aloud a magazine story whilst she filed my finger nails. such are our Sunday afternoon amusements.

April's hands and limbs twitch jumpily when she sleeps. In slumber she always seems sweetly helpless! Last night she awoke me to tell she'd just had a nightmare. It was a rather uncanny, creepy dream too! Having discussed it's weirdness and both feeling awed, we slept again.

This morning I travelled up to London en route for Wolfhampcote. April came with me as far as Upminster station. The train was crowded part of the way, so April sat on my knee. (Which procedure suited me finely!)

I reached Euston at 9 o'clock and had a cup of tea and a cake before going on the platform. Of course, I deposited my kit bag in the free cloak-room for soldiers, and of course I brought a return ticket at the cheap “Forces” rate. Might as well obtain all possible benefits from the Army whilst I can!

The 10:05 train to Rugby – and it was a sunny day. Rang Braunston 206 and heard Aunt Suzannah's vivacious voice on the phone. Eventually caught a Midland Red bus which took me to Dunchurch, and past Willoughby, until I saw Braunston's graceful spire amid the trees, on the hill.

(What a lot of trees everywhere! But this is the heart of “Woody Warwickshire”)

I stepped off the bus and was almost at once in the vivid green quietness of Chapel Field. The field seemed smaller than I'd remembered, and the distance to Wolfhampcote shorter. I must forget childhood perspectives!

I soon reached Aunt's house; she met me in a wilderness that was once the tennis court. In profile she seemed an old lady but when she looked at me full-faced, blue-eyed, I could see the old, quick, humorous fire still burning. This was a delight! She had not changed.

“I shannt roar” said Aunt defiantly, as she kissed me, misty eyed.

Thursday 8th June 1944

This morning I rode down to Vange, on Aphrodite, carrying a heavy suitcase in my hand. It was a bit of a sod, but I got there alright. Several letters had arrived – a pamphlet about the British Legion, an Unemployment Insurance card etc. and my Pay Book, with the coveted Discharge slip pasted in the back. Effective date of discharge 28th June 1944, Conduct exemplary, Cause “ceasing to fulfil Army physical requirements...”

Medals: Africa Star with 8th Army Clasp; Service Abroad, 7th February 1940 to 22nd December 1943; Embodied Service 4 years 301 days...

Four years! Three hundred and one days! Never again! But it doesn't seem such a long time if you write it quickly!

Wednesday 7th June 1944

In the early hours I awoke suddenly, to find April sitting up and just about to get out of bed, half asleep and hair-tumbled. (She is a bit adorable when like that, and I can “mother” her at last!) Planes were roaring past the house very low, seeming to kiss the chimney pots. “Wassermatter?” I asked seizing the sleepy bundle. “Planes... mmf wuff” it said. “They won't come in here,” I assured and pulled it down into the warmth again.

This morning we cycled out to Stock. April was in play-acting mood and pretended she was married to SJD and I, the ex-Paripan traveller, had just met her after years of absence. I got quite jealous of that feller SJD before we'd finished!

I put April in charge of my cigarettes today. She carried the packet and I had to ask her each time I wanted a smoke. It all helps to keep down the smoking; I certainly smoke much less whilst I'm with my non-smoking wife.

Nurse Pascoe lived in a quaint little cottage and was herself a nice, small old lady. There was much old brass in the kitchen, a Welsh settle and a kettle singing on the hob. She was an easy-going, accommodating woman, too. But, the lavatory was in the kitchen/scullery and consisted of a pan and bucket separated from the gas stove by six inches and a half screen. A tin bath was strapped to the wall near the bucket...

Both our faces went blank when we saw this! We decided to take a walk and think it over, and come back for lunch. Miss Pascoe agreed and we called in the tap-room of the Cock Inn to discuss the situation and chat to Mr Allen. We had two half pints of mild and bitter which must have been doped, anyway we returned to the house of pan and bucket in a tamely acquiescent mood and agreed to move in here in a few weeks time. When the decision was made I had some misgivings but presumed my wife was more enthusiastic.

However, we parted outside the Cock and April waited with the cycles whilst I visited the lav. When I returned I said cautiously, “Of course we needn't stay there very long, need we?” April walked across the road to Mr Allen's ladies room and said over her shoulder, “Do you know, I don't think we'll ever go there?” As we'd just left Nurse Pascoe in a good-bye-till-tomorrow and all that sort of fashion, this remark surprised me. “What do you mean?” I enquired darkly, when she arrived back. April then revealed that the effects of the beer (doped) had worn off as she sipped her cup of tea after lunch, in the next room to the pan and bucket. A feeling of horror and desolation had then surged over her, and all sorts of psychic feelings of grimly impending doom. “Yes, maybe we won't go there after all,” I agreed as we cycled off, “You can write to her and explain, in a few days time. Unexpected developments or something.” “Me to write?” “Yes,” I said firmly.

We entertained Mrs Connie and Bill with the second instalments of our adventures. And that ended our first quest for a home!

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.

Monday 5th June 1944

When the post arrived this morning, I took an official looking envelope into Violet with her early morning cup of tea. A moment later there was a loud cry of “Where are my eyes?” and I hastened in to the bedroom with her glasses. It was good news – a draft from the War Damage Commissioners for £6-18-0 in respect of pretty slight damage to a china cup and other articles when the bombs fell in February!

April and I had arranged to devote a few days to preliminary search for a home so I journeyed to Brentwood this afternoon and alas! met not April, but the Statutory Clerk of BMH, in cold and efficient mood as usual. We stayed the night with Bill and Connie Wallis, at their house in the hospital grounds.

“My God!” I exclaimed in bed, sleepless, “I wish we hadn't met in the Hospital this afternoon!” The Statutory Clerk, lying beside me in the dark, made no comment.

Sunday 4th June 1944

My smoking became heavy again this evening, after April had gone!

Saturday 3rd June 1944

Before we left the Cumberland I took a note of the patent medicines etc. that we'd acquired between us:

Whites QBC (quinine, belladonna, camphor)
TCP (solution of halogenides phenolic bodies)
Coty's Hand Lotion
Meggezones (for throat infections)
Valderma (antiseptic balm)

We're not a pair of invalids but I'd got a sore face and we were making an all-out attack on April's cold and sore throat.

We found we both felt miserable this morning (I don't think London really suits either of us) so walked around Hyde Park in cold sunshine, telling each other stories. This made us feel better, and after a decent lunch of salad we toddled out to Hampstead to see the Aunts and collect a few of my belongings. Pat and Lid were sitting sleepily in the London afternoon sunshine in their small garden. We joined them and had a cup of tea and our “miseries” were finally dispelled.

Came back to Pitsea happily in the early evening.

Violet didn't like the Hack's at Romford, so, urged by April I said to her mournfully, at the end of my account of the Paripan interview, “... And so Violet, this means April and I will have some sort of home in Essex; but I'm afraid she'll have to leave Hack's...” “And a bloody good job too!” ejaculated Vi. forcefully, as she rushed busily to the other side of the small kitchen!

Friday 2nd June 1944

No cough and only 4 cigarettes all day! April's sore throat is doing me good.
Margaret came up to Town with us. I booked a room at the Cumberland and she came up and sat in it with us talking until lunchtime. April and I went to a flick in the afternoon (“The Song of Bernadette”) and Margaret returned to Town.

We spent the evening rather foolishly in a slight quarrel, until April was weeping. And damn me! long after we'd made it up she was still wet-eyed and woebegone in voice. So I undressed her and gave her a nice warm bath. I couldn't tell when the wetness on her face became soap and water and steam instead of tears, nor when her unhappy voice became the childish, plaintive mourning that is hers when she is happy and comfortable.

Thursday 1st June 1944

The weather has become much more cool, alas! with occasional hints of rain.
April and I went up to Town in the morning, I to call at the Paripan Office.

When I telephoned Gerrard 3493 to announce my arrival, Mr Reddall asked, “Is your wife with you?” When I replied in the affirmative he said, “Good, I hoped she would be,” and then invited us both to join him for lunch. April looked a bit dazed at this sudden development, and entered the Paripan office feeling a little nervous, when we went there.

However, the homely and quiet atmosphere of the almost deserted offices and the charm of Mr Reddall soon put her at ease and at luncheon, in a Piccadilly Circus restaurant, she positively shone and was definitely a success as a business man's wife. I wonder what old Reddall would have thought if I'd produced some cheap little painted doll as a wife? As it was, he was obviously favourably impressed. They want me to start work again, and soon, as a traveller; the details will be settled later.

After leaving Mr Reddall we set off for the town of Beaconsfield and Jack Chenery's wife. I discovered April had a sore throat so ceased smoking cigarettes from the time we left Town, and only smoked a pipe when we were in the open air.

Margaret Chenery met us at Beaconsfield Station. She was younger and more good-looking than I'd imagined – the intellectual girl type and quite vivacious too.
While Jack's away she lives with her parents. The Father, Mr Beeston is quite incredible. He has queer ideas about diet, ate a huge plate of green stuff stolidly, switched on the wireless loudly just as we were all talking. Once he spoke to me. He said loudly and woodenly, “Do they have any salads in Egypt?” “Well, no...” I began cautiously. “Umph!” he said.

After tea Margaret took April and I for a long country walk by woodland roads and across fields. Quite like good old times, to be rambling near Beaconsfield. And we didn't meet a single soldier!

We went to bed fairly early. Jack (in a framed photograph) gazed at us from the chest of drawers. April, well dosed with aspirin, fell asleep almost at once, with her head on my shoulder.

Tuesday 30th May – Wednesday 31st May 1944

On Tuesday the heat wave was still in progress. April and I went to Billericay to get my civilian Identity Card and Ration Books. April was elegant and cool in a cream-coloured cashmere costume.

We had a misadventure on the road back. Field Security officers boarded the bus and demanded all identity cards! I showed mine proudly but April had forgotten to bring hers. At first the Officer was a bit deadly but he eventually allowed me to vouch that the lady was genuinely my wife. Nevertheless after pleasant remarks about the weather he went away stating curtly, “I have to warn you Mrs Dawson that you will be reported to the Police!” This so flabbergasted us both that we could not either expostulate or plead for mercy. We merely smiled weakly and said, “Oh? Yes.”

Next morning April and I walked to Pitsea Police Station and she produced her identity card and papers. We hoped this might conclude the matter, but it did not.

In the afternoon we took Vi into Southend for tea and a picture show; she seemed glad to be home again though – doesn't like to stray far from Terori.

That night, or rather in the early hours of next morning, April and I had the hell of a fight because I said that the bicycle Aphrodite was my best girl friend. We rolled all over the bed and once April was standing on her head on the floor. She wouldn't give in though, wouldn't let me kiss her until I'd denied Aphrodite in her favour. As I did so, an unseen morning cock began crowing...

Saturday 27th May – Monday 29th May 1944

Hot sunshine for my journey from London to Essex. I still wore my “suits civilian” but now with neat shirt, collar and tie, Dunn hat and brown shoes. My sole visible Army link was my bulging kit bag, marked “870844 Cpl. SJ Dawson EY”.

When I walked up to the back door of Terori I was confronted by the spectacle of Vi literally foaming at the mouth – she had been cleaning her teeth with camphorated chalk. Eyes bulging she staggered past me and spat into a flower bed. Then she was able to speak. But I spoke first, “I'm being discharged!' I cried happily, “I'm on 28 days leave!”

A few hours later – a blazing summer afternoon – I sat on a fence smoking stinking herbal tobacco whilst I waited for April to come. I was dressed comfortably, wearing a khaki shirt instead of collar and tie. Then the bus stopped and April alighted, dressed delightfully as a Swiss peasant girl.

No kiss when we met; that was according to plan. Our first kiss was in bed at night.
This was Whitsuntide and they were hot, glorious summer days without a single worry or care, not even a small one. I actually tried to recollect something which had to be worried about, but there was nothing, absolutely nothing.

Most of the time I wore shorts and a bush shirt with bulging pockets, and April an astonishing succession of glamourous beach suits. We lounged in the garden until we were sunburnt and had to lie on the bed and rub Coty's into each other. Another ritual was the anointing of April's gnat bites with Milton's.

One afternoon April took me wandering on the hills above Terori, she in a skirted beach dress, I in shorts and bush shirt, and I was shown a sand pit where she used to slide on her childish bottom. “If I get another thorn, you'll have to carry me pick-a-back across this prickly field,” she said, after many halts. A few minutes later I was transformed into a horse whilst she prattled of a lady who dwelt in a tower and was pursued by a wicked knight. We came home carrying wild roses.

We sat in the garden once, and talked of past years when our knowing was young, explaining and laughing at old, small mysteries. Only twice in this fine Whitsuntide we looked like lovers and each time Vi happened to suddenly appear on some mundane business and laughed at us.

Once April had been overcome with emotion – I think after discussing the “squeegy” spot on her bot. (actually mine and it had been painfully pricked and squeezed that morning!) - and drooped her head against my knee so that her lovely hair (which s gloriously grown longer) fell forward.

Later, when we were in the sitting room and she was reading aloud from her diary, an intonation of her voice stirred me, made something go click! somewhere and looking up I saw her leaning against the table as she read. She was wearing a white, loose-fitting tennis jacket over her beach costume. I shivered and something went click! again, inside me. When April finished reading I stood up with (on this occasion) unconscious dramatic effect, kissed her and said, “I've just realised that you are the sort of girl I always wanted to marry.” She gazed at me wide-eyed and solemn and at that romantic instant Violet appeared in the doorway, cried “oooer!” and covered her face with her apron.

Both our moods changed in a flash, we roared in mirth.

High Noon 1944

“... My heart all winter lay so numb
The earth so dead and frore,
That I thought the Spring would never come,
Or my heart beat any more.

But Winter's broken, and earth has woken,
And the small birds cry again;
And the hawthorn hedge puts forth it's buds,
And my heart puts forth it's pain...”

Friday 26th May 1944

I caught the 8:5a.m. London train without any difficulty and got a seat. Later the train became fairly crowded so I didn't occupy the seat all the way. Welwyn Garden City, and sunshine. The houses, houses, streets, cross-points, clumpity-clumpity, clumpity-clump, clumpity-clump, streets, cross points, sidings, factories, locomotives, shed, Kings Cross.

It was warm in London! Before going to the Family Central Control at Hampstead, I improved my appearance slightly – with a hair-cut. Finally I made a special journey to Camden Town and walked into Dunn's and bought a dark brown trilby hat. I put it on, looked in the mirror and adjusted it at a rakish angle – and felt the years slip away – 4 9/12 of them, at any rate.

I began – only began – to realise that perhaps khaki life really was all over. But I remembered the much younger face that had peered mockingly back at me from a looking-glass the last time I'd worn a hat like this. This new face was older, gloomier, tired; yet under the dark brown hat it showed younger than it had seemed in shaving mirrors lately – and certainly more hopeful.

“I'll bet that's your first hat for a while sir?” laughed the assistant. “Rather! Is it so obvious?” “Well! Haven't you just left the Army?” “Yes – thank God.” “I'll bet you're glad to be out,” he said, “And it's no wonder, from what I've heard of the Army.” I paid the bill (1/3 more than the pre-war price of a Dunn hat) and shouldering my kit bag came out into the warm, sunny street.

SJ Dawson, ex-serviceman. Civilian. No! Just SJ Dawson, one individual among many million other separate, un-regimented individuals. Here was the end of uniformity, senseless routine, mass living – and all the other things I'd hated. What next? That's the best of it, I've no idea! After all these years of a rigidly planned existence, I am in no hurry to plan my own future. Tomorrow is all I'm planning so far.

Tomorrow I see April again.

Conclusion of Summer Shower 1944

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.

Tuesday 23rd May 1944

The Mrd. Board appointment being timed for an awkward hour, 11:30, I decided this justified a complete day off duty.

At 9 a.m. I strolled in cold sunshine down the tramway track and then along the path through the woods. As I stepped out of the bushes onto the road, a Major came by on a bicycle, smoking a cigarette. I saluted joyfully and he, startled, lurched awkwardly across the road and then saluted back uneasily, with his left hand, and the cigarette stub, which he'd grasped at and missed, still in his mouth.

Leisured, I had a cup of tea at the YMCA in town, did a little shopping and went on to Fenham Barracks.

Mary Webbs' “The Golden Arrow” will be among my “milestone” books now (like “The Passionate Year”, “How Green was my Valley”, “Waverley” and “Busman's Honeymoon.”) for I was reading it – at the bottom of the first page of Chapter 30 – when my name was called and I entered the Board Room.

Awful minutes of waiting, whilst the two doctors sat writing and asking occasional, routine questions. Then one looked up and said, “Well, Dawson, we're recommending you for discharge...” They handed me my pay-book, marked: “23/5/44 E 77Div Medical Board” on the medical classification page.

The interview was not one of unalloyed joy however. One of them said, “We feel you should go into hospital again, for treatment, really. The psychiatrist also – he recommends that you should be discharged but also suggests you should enter a hospital voluntarily, afterwards. But – you don't want to go into hospital, do you?”
“Certainly not, if I have any say in the matter!” “No, of course not. Well, you'll probably be alright once you are out of the Army.”

They bent over the documents. I heard one say, “No! Put that he's not willing to accept hospital treatment! He did say he didn't want to go into hospital, didn't he?”
I quickly saw the point of that! The question doesn't arise – unless I apply for a pension! Then the authorities can refuse it, crying “Oh, he refused our treatment! We could have cured him!” Well, damn them I don't particularly want their pension. I want my freedom. I want to be fit enough not to need their ruddy pension.

Pleasant afternoon, reading and writing letters at the YMCA. I came back to camp at about 6 o'clock. Everyone was in the hut, cleaning-up, reading, shaving, playing cards. All looked up as I entered.

My face betrayed me. There was a yell of “You've got it Lofty! Good for you boy! Get out of this shower of shit!”

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.

Thursday 18th May 1944

We've had three days of rain, six days of bitter cold weather. Surprisingly enough, I've been free of that irritating cold in the head, and cough, ever since that warm day, a week ago. Perhaps this happy fact is due to the noxious tobacco I've been smoking for the last 10 days – a mixture of herbs, purchased ridiculously cheaply at a chemists. The chief parts of the mixture are coltsfoot and clover. I notice that other people object to the smell of my pipe now, but the taste is not too bad. The aroma reminds me of Boy Scout days, when we furtively lurked behind hedges, puffing manfully at pipes full of what we then termed “clover nobs”!

The Nissen hut has been tolerably warm this last two evenings as we all went into the woods collecting dry faggots for firing. It has been a gloomy day and I don't feel very cheerful. My kit, personal possessions and writings and books all seem to be in hopeless disorder.

And still the grey rain fell.

Monday 15th May 1944

We wore greatcoats, scarves and gloves today. Such bitter weather! I felt thoroughly
miserable until the evening, when I found warmth, quiet and windlessness in the cafe of the tangled garden. I spent three hours there and wrote a long letter to April.

Friday 12th May 1944

In the woods, all trees are in leaf now, except the ash – and that shows green buds.
I noticed elm, copper beech and silver beech in leaf nearly a week ago. Yesterday was a warm, windless day – I shed one pullover! I'm wearing both pullovers again now, however.

The interview with the Psychiatrist occurred yesterday. He couldn't tell me what would be recommended to the Medical Board except that he definitely stated he would not advise that I should go into hospital anymore. So that is the greatest evil cancelled out of probability, at any rate. Beyond that, the Psychiatrist gave me no clue of his intentions. I am not daring to hope that he will recommend my discharge from the Army.

Tuesday 9th May 1944

Weary days, waiting for that interview with the Psychiatrist. I'm trying not to let it worry me, but so much depends on this. Whichever he pleases, he can recommend and the Medical Board will adopt his advice. He can (a) make me remain in the Army (b) advise that I be sent to a mental hospital again or (c) recommend my discharge from the Army. These three courses are so dissimilar and will have such enormously different effects upon my future – yes! and upon our marriage – that it is natural to feel some sense of suspense.

I sometimes find quietude by going alone into the woods – at one point the trees are so near that it is easy to slip into their green shade if only for a few minutes. When I'm in the woods I walk very softly. I rustle no bushes, no twig snaps beneath my foot; therefore sometimes I find a surprised bird, worm in mouth, looking at me quite close at hand. Occasionally in the evenings I walk right through the wood, or along the old tram track, to the cafe of the tangled garden.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Sunday 7th May 1944

I chose an extract from Michael Roberts' “Hymn to the Sun” for my Summer Shower frontispiece, partly because Longbenton village is near here, partly because here in Northumbria I shiver and long to see “bright horizons shimmering in the sun,” and also because it is a non-committal type of frontispiece. I feel in a non-committal mood these days!

It is not topical with regard to the weather, for even Northumbrians could hardly call this “voy wawm”. When we assembled for roll call this morning, long after sunrise, there was white frost gleaming on the roofs of the huts and among the rough grass around the edges of the ash parade ground. Yet this is late springtime, even the beech trees are in leaf now, although the ash boughs are still bare.

Summer Shower 1944

“ “Voy wawm” said the dustman
one bright August morning -
But that was in Longbenton,
under the trees.
He was Northumbrian, he'd never know
horizons shimmering in the sun...
He was Northumbrian, how should he know
mirage among blue hills...?”

Tuesday 2nd May 1944

Nearly the whole battery went to Newcastle General Hospital today, to give blood for the invasion casualties-to-be. We were more or less detailed for it, about a fortnight ago. There was a “pep” speech from the Colonel at a regimental muster parade and subsequently the order was delivered, “Fall out on the left anyone NOT willing to volunteer as a blood donor.” Of 200, about a score or less on non-volunteers stood forth with defiant or sheepish looks upon their faces. “Take their names, Sergeant Major!” That's what I call being detailed to volunteer!

At the hospital this afternoon, they wouldn't accept a pint of my blood, because I'd had malaria. I was hoping they'd test the blood, pronounce it OK and help themselves. It would have been cheering for me to know my blood was good enough for transfusion. Apparently not however. Half a dozen of us were told that it was quite impossible to make use of anyone who had ever had malaria.

An extraordinary wind blew all day, at gale force. It flung clouds of dust from the parade ground at the cowering ranks ranks of men until everyone was semi-blinded and deaf. Conditions resembled those produced by a desert high wind; but this ash dust was more filthy. Back in the billet huts, a layer of grey dust settled on the floor, beds kits and eating utensils, everyone was coughing and black of face, whilst the Nissen hut seemed to groan at each new furious blast. I should never have expected such an experience in England!

After tea, I braved the high wind and went along a derelict tramway track into the woods. The trees broke the wind a little, and at any rate there was no ash dust there. I found a cafe in the woods! It lies just off the track and is approached through a large, tangled garden, not looking the least like precincts of a cafe. Nevertheless, one can buy coffee, tea, cakes, cigarettes, toast, beans and pie there – and the wind does not penetrate!

There's a thick belt of trees in front of the room where I'm writing this; chestnut, lime, fir, oak – and they're all in leaf. In the foreground are clumps of rhododendron bushes encircling a small lawn, the grass of which is rough, long and speckled with the yellow of dandelions. Only a slight wind is blowing on that enclosed lawn. I've seen all trees in leaf except beech, ash and elm, and I've heard the cuckoo.

So here ends Morning Mists, 1944

Monday 1st May 1944

One day nearer the end of the war; and one day nearer the invasion of Europe. There have been hints and threats and promises of “The Second Front” for 2 or 3 years. Now, in the last six months, it has become a roll of drums which during the last couple of weeks have beaten out a louder and louder tattoo.

Thursday 27th April 1944

There is still a high wind but the sunshine is getting stronger. Yesterday was quite a warm day – but I still had to wear wooly pants and vest, thick shirt, and two pullovers under my battle-dress!

Each day however, the grass becomes a more vivid green; and each day as our lorries rumble through the woods on the way to the PT School, I notice fewer bare boughs and more trees showing fresh green leaves. Soon the woods will be fully green, as the hedges are already. This is my first springtime since that of 1939, when the world was not a khaki one and war seemed vague and distant.

Springtime! I should be happy but am not. “Hope deferred maketh the heart sad.” Also, it's hard to stick the bustle of Army routine, now that I know of no definite time limit for it's ending.

Browning (basking in Italy at the time, no doubt!) once wrote, “Oh to be in England now that April's here” I'm in England, true enough, but my April is not here and April is ill.

Monday 24th April 1944

Another 5 mile road walk this morning. It was bitterly cold, windy weather, so one had to walk fast. I finished 8th (of 33) and my time was 56 minutes. That pleased me well as it was 10 minutes better than my previous time. Also, on that occasion I felt like a semi-mobile corpse for the next couple of days, whereas now I feel not the least bit tired or stiff. So this physical training really is doing some good.

Saturday 22nd April 1944

Went into the City for tea, had a bath and bought a pair of nail scissors. (My old pair that I bought in September of '33 at Egham, had survived all the fortunes of war and Army life until a fortnight ago when they mysteriously disappeared in the Nissen hut.)

When I returned at night I found a letter from April on my bed. It was rather disheartening to read it and find that although she is really ill she is carrying on as usual at the hospital.

“The diet lasts until the inflammation goes and I stop having violent backache by day and being kept awake by horrid pains in my sides at night...” In 3¾ hours at the office she had to go to the lavatory 19 times... “But you just have to go, otherwise it burns and is most uncomfortable physically and mentally. By running on my nerves she meant I am suffering from slight nervous debility and suggested I gave up work. However we compromised by my not doing any overtime or post mortems. It would worry me more to take a long leave at present, because if I came back, that work would have to all be made up.”

Friday 21st April 1944

This morning I was told that the Medical Board couldn't deal with my case until another psychiatrist's report had been studied. So next week some time, I'm to go for an interview with a psychiatrist and only hope I don't have to tell my whole life story again. It has become boring and monotonous, I've told it so many times.

This evening was divided between April and cleaning-up for tomorrow's inspection.
A telephone to Romford is not so simple here. It means walking to the next village and then a queue outside the call box. Eventually I got inside and was told that all trunk lines would be engaged for the next half hour, so I went away and had a cup of tea in a WVS Canteen. When I returned and gave the number however, the call went through in 15 minutes. At the end of that time (I'd made it a personal call) the operator said, “I've spoken to Romford but we can't connect you. Mrs Dawson will be out until 10:30p.m.” (It seemed strange to hear a Geordie voice discussing the whereabouts of Mrs Dawson!) “Well, will you just pass three words to the person at the other end? It's her birthday.” “OK What shall I say?” “Greeting from Stephen.” A moment later the line crackled and he said, “OK I told them that.” “Thanks very much.”

Then I walked back to camp and cleaned and polished until 11 o'clock or later.

Wednesday 19th April 1944

The “signalling course” ended last Saturday with a proficiency test, at which all three candidates probably failed. Since then we have been learning gun drill with the others. This is not so pleasant as sitting around the fire in the signal stores or strolling into the quiet woods, but it passes the time.

Monday 17th April 1944

My God, that Medical Board. I had to wait 2½ hours before the interview. When I went in I was very tensed-up and obviously gave a bad impression of my mental stability. The interview lasted 30 minutes; later they recalled me and said that they'd been unable to agree about my case. “We are all of the opinion that you should be discharged from the Army,” said a quite kindly Colonel, “But there is another matter about which we have a difference of opinion. So we're going to get some more information from your MO at the camp and will see you again next week.”

It was only too obvious from this and other remarks that some of them thought I should be put back into a mental hospital... I hurried away, refusing to visualise any such possibility and determining not to imagine what a tragedy that would be. Feeling pretty shaken however, I had a wash and some tea and then called at the Overs and went to the local pictures (no queues or crowds there!) with Jean and Nora. I was glad of a friendly family tonight. The film was “The Petrified Forest,” a pre-war show I've wanted to see for years.

I laughed about the Board and told Mrs Overs “I've been remanded for a week” at supper, answering questions, I laughed again and said, “Those doctors must think I'm potty! One of them asked if I knew what town I was in!” Everyone was amused and someone said, “Gracious! There's certainly nothing wrong with your nerves!”

So I didn't think much about the whole awful business until I got back into the Nissen hut at Gosforth Park, and everyone said, “Well, Dawson, boy! How did it go at the Board?”

Sunday 16th April 1944

We all arose about 10a.m. I stayed there until after tea, although I was anxious to slip away after breakfast so as to avoid inconveniencing them. The suggestion seemed to astonish everyone however and plans had already been made for my afternoon entertainment, so I remained.

In the afternoon Jimmie took me to see Jesmond Dene, with evident pride. The Dene is a wild piece of parkland quite near the flat. Once part of an mansion's estate it was given to the Corporation when Lady Noble died. Her house is now the ARP HQ – the at present infamous HQ of an ARP Chief and Police Chief whose activities and abuse of privileges have recently been the subject of a Home Office inquiry.

Nearby is the “Ship Church.” This was built two or three years ago by one Daglass, a former Lord Mayor and shipbuilder. Just after the church was built, Daglass went to prison for fraud of some sort. He served his sentence and was released just in time to die and be buried in his own churchyard! This struck me as an ironical story.

The Dene was a charming place and worthy of Jimmie's pride. A river broken by several waterfalls, slides down a deep narrow gorge, the banks of which are all greenery, trees and flowers. I couldn't get Jimmie to talk of anything but the local surroundings; he took his duties as a guide far too seriously to be diverted onto other subjects.

He'd say thing like: “Aye! There it is! The waterfall in Jesmond Dene. Always the same. Always comin' over like that. Jesmond Dene waterfall.” “Once, they turned the stream aside to supply the water over there, I suppose, didn't they?” I enquired.
“No,” said Jimmie indignantly, “It's always the same as it is now. The waterfall in Jesmond Dene!” He said the last words as though they had some mystic magic and added paradoxically as we moved on, “Aye! It's always just like that! An' in the winter after rain, the water rises and floods around those two rocks there, as well. Always the same!”

The tram stop is quite easy to find from the flat, but when I left Jimmie came to see me off and gave reiterated instructions of how to find my way next time I came. “Ask for the Blue House,” he said, “Get off there and you can't go wrong.” “But it's a red-brick house with green timbering,” I said, amused. “Aye, but they calls it the Blue House around here,” replied Jimmie, unmoved!

When I reached camp I found that I was detailed for the expected Medical Board tomorrow.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Saturday 15th April 1944

At lunch time a letter came from April, enclosing a large sheet of blotting paper and some purging tablets which are rumoured to be tabloid dynamite. I don't really want purging but I have a small spot upon my buttocks, of which my grim and sadistic wife is aware. Hence the ruthless enclosure!

She is better I know, because this letter began thus:

“My dearest darling Husband, if you were here I would cry all over you – oh dear, I am a silly soppy sort of bugger for you to have as a wife..!” Perhaps that isn't a cheerful sort of opening, but it made me happy because it lacked the evident note of dull depression which I'd observed in earlier letters. Yes, she is much better.

I read this for the second time on the way into Newcastle on the tram. I'd obtained a 36 hour pass – these are still available for local leave – and had intended to sleep at the YMCA hostel. My chief reason for the weekend out of camp was that I wanted to do some writing.

Newcastle was again terribly crowded. I booked a room or rather a bed or bunk at the hostel and gloomily heard that one could not be admitted until after 9p.m., that smoking was not allowed in the dormitories, that latest time for calling was at 7:30a.m. and that my bed was no. 80. I resigned myself to an uncomfortable and disappointing weekend but had not taken into consideration the famous northern hospitality, which does exist, after all!

A lady worker at the YMCA hearing I didn't seem very enthusiastic about the hostel said, “Well, would you like to come home with me?” “But wouldn't your folks mind? Surely, it's a bit sudden...” “Oh that's alright. We're always glad to do all we can. There's no spare bedroom; if you can manage on the sofa...” “Well, thanks! As a matter of fact I want to do a bit of writing.” “You'll find a nice quiet room at the flat! Well, come back in an hour's time and I'll take you along.”

This seemed delightfully casual. I looked forward with pleasure to an evening in a home, among friendly faces. Once my anticipation would have taken the form of thinking this an interesting adventure and where would it lead me? I suppose I must have grown up and become a respectable married man to whom only one lady could ever be attractive. I eyed my proposed hostess cautiously and decided she was about my own age and a decent homely soul.

Well! At 6p.m. she duly took me along to her home – a flat in the quiet suburb of Jesmond. Walking through the empty streets I got a different conception of Newcastle and was glad I hadn't been left quite misled by the intolerable central parts of the city. During the evening, my opinion of the “Geordies” or Northumbrians went up too! They are easy-going people, downright in manner, yet not too blunt as I'd feared; they are extremely kind and hospitable and that queer sing-song dialect becomes quite pleasant with usage.

I'm taking this family to be typical of Newcastle and they should be, for they've always lived there. Mrs Overs is very proud of her ailments and they all mother her. She has a son (Jimmie) aged 45, who works in a shipyard, a daughter (Minnie or Jean) who is a wartime telephone exchange operator and aged 41, and the youngest daughter, Nora, aged 31, works in a Board of Trade coal department office.

Mrs Overs has a formidable row of medicine bottles, and interested, I began smelling the contents. Actually I wondered what she was taking for her “nervous heart” and was intrigued to smell cod liver oil, iron, and bromide in three of the bottles. My interest pleased the old lady greatly (I saw a glitter of excitement in her eye when I began opening an sniffing the bottles!) and she insisted on my tasting some of the noxious contents as well. I think I was an accepted member of the family circle from that moment!

They were very good to me however. Although I could see they wanted to talk they left me severely alone in the kitchen until my writing was done, quite late at night. Then they all flocked in and talked volubly. Having a soldier about the place seemed quite a novelty to them! They're the sort of casual people who don't mind if you wander out of the bathroom with shaving lather all over your face, to say something you'd suddenly thought of; I sat on the kitchen floor whilst they were cooking and presently received a tureen of potatoes, and a gesture indicated they were to be taken to the table; they're the sort of people who yet, in some ways, treat a humble stranger as if he is an important guest; it was almost embarrassingly difficult to avoid being given the largest portion of food at meal times despite the fact that their ration arrangements don't seem so good here as in London area.

It was past midnight when I went to bed; I slept well on the long sofa.

Friday 14th April 1944

A letter came from April today – the first for several days: “I was pretty ill on Sunday night (in the night) and on Monday went to work and later to see Pat, Lid and Pep. Daren't eat anything and was really 'orribly bilious... They were marvellous at looking after me but as the evening came I got worse again and they wouldn't let me come back... I was glad to stay actually and staggered to work on Tuesday about 10a.m. I'm in bed today (Wednesday) after a lousy sort of night and don't feel too bright. Don't worry though, but I think I must be run down or something, because I do feel ill...”

Now I wish I was still stationed at Woolwich! If I was there I'd have slipped out of barracks soon after this letter came and have been on the way to Romford and the green-walled bedroom. As it is, I must just wait for more news. This letter came at midday. There was the usual huge queue in the dining-hall and so, waiting for food occupied nearly all the dinner hour. I bolted two platefuls when I was served and (with a few hiccoughs!) wrote a hasty letter back to April. Just finished it as we were ordered on parade, with respirators at the alert.

Whilst waiting for pay and wearing my respirator I read the letter through and found it made sense. I had to hold it sideways as one of my eyepieces was fogged; I had not had time to clean with anti-dim.

I drew £20, which just about clears up the balance of my credits. We'll have plenty of money for that leave, when I get it.

Thursday 13th April 1944

It is now possible to waste a good deal of time here but one still has little spare time so free that it can be put to any useful purpose. The rule of marching to meals by batteries is strictly enforced and at the end of the march one usually finds sixty to a hundred men already in the queue. So – if you happen to be at the tail end of 165 Battery it is quite likely there'll be 300 men ahead of you, waiting to be served from the single serving bench.

Tea parade (last parade of the day) is at 5 past 5. After you have queued, had your tea, washed your pots, returned to billets, walked to the bath-house, obtained warm water, washed and shaved, returned to billets, disintegrated your stacked kit and made your bed – after all this, the evening is well advanced, but it is still advisable to clean your boots and polish your brasses before going to the canteen. And the canteen closes at 9:30p.m. so there's not much time for writing letters or reading a book at the end of the day.

However, we three signallers at any rate, had a pleasantly useless day's “duty” today. In spite of the petrol shortage, that amazing Sergeant of Signals was out for many hours with a wireless set in an 8 cwt. truck. During the morning I remained in the signals store with the receiving set, which is there, and did nothing except smoke and make up the fire, whilst another instructor worked the set. The only message he passed to the mobile set was that he heard it OK, every now and then!

In the afternoon, two of us went out with the truck, which careered madly over hills and through woods, whilst we occasionally switched to send and said, “Hullo Sugar One, report my signals, over.” Each time we did this the distant set (at one time 12 miles away) faithfully replied, “Hullo Sugar One, hear you strength 3 over.” Whereupon we said, “Hullo, Sugar One, OK, out” and continued to watch the country scene again.

After an hour or so, the Sergeant pulled into a roadside cafe, where we all had a cup of tea and a smoke. Then we roared back, past the camp and into Newcastle, where we halted outside a canteen. “Can't hear him now, Sarge,” we said. “Ah, never mind,” he replied, “It's these buildings and the tram wires. I'm going in here now. Want some tea?”

Afterwards – it was nearly five o'clock – we dashed back to camp (contacting the plaintive Sugar One when we drew clear of the town) and unloaded the set and equipment. That was another day's official work done!