I had barely awakened this morning when a corporal pushed his head around our door and asked “does Greenwood hang out here?” – I said yes and he then said “You’re sick – report to the Orderly Office at 8.20 am and arrange to see the Medical Officer.” I wondered whether it was a joke, or whether I looked as though I was dying. I sat up in bed and told him I was not sick, but the Army had decided I was sick and there could be no argument about it. The corporal said they possibly wanted to see me because of my semi-collapse on Wednesday.
I duly reported to the orderly office, and was then instructed to appear in the Guard room at 8.45 am, when I would be driven to the M.O. in some other part of the town. After umpteen delays, I was eventually ushered before the M.O. (a captain). He asked whether I had asked for a medical inspection and when I explained the circumstances he was damned annoyed. But what annoyed me was his accusative manner, – he seemed to blame me for not knowing why I was ill! I was ordered from his presence very peremptorily, and then had to wait in another room whilst my case was investigated. All the time, I was being looked after by a corporal, who was apparently my official escort. After about 10 minutes, the M.O. returned and said he had found out that I had been sent for my ‘vaccination’, which I had missed on Wednesday. This gave me the jitters! I have been through hell with my left arm and it is still almost too sore to touch – how the devil could I stand a further butchering?
I told him that my left arm was still very painful from Wednesday’s inoculation, and he brightened up. “So you were inoculated?” he asked, and I told him I was (had told him once before). He then admitted that the whole matter was a mistake:- they had simply forgotten to register my name on Wednesday. So passed about 3 hours of this morning. I didn’t mind very much, because my “illness” had absolved me from that wretched fatigue.
But listen! during this afternoon, a sergeant burst into our room and gave us a lecture on health and germs and then explained that our floor was filthy and as we were sleeping within about 3 inches of the bare boards, it was solely in our own interests that the floor should be scrubbed. He said that Captain somebody had kindly arranged to supply buckets and scrubbing brushes, and we must scrub the entire floor after breakfast tomorrow. What sheer bunk! I am not in this damned place for my health, but of course I couldn’t tell him that! The floor is a beauty – about five or six times the area of our dining room, with rough boards which don’t appear to have been scrubbed since the school was built about 70 years ago.
But the sergeant’s instructions will not now be carried out – not tomorrow at any rate. Word came through later that we have to appear on dental parade tomorrow morning – and that is more important than scrubbing. I have no idea what dental parade is, but I suppose it is actually a five minute job, which will take about 3 hours to carry out.
Most of us have spent a couple of hours this afternoon trying to clean our boots. The army boots are enormously heavy things, and the uppers are rough leather, similar to your Zug shoes. They are very dull, and appear to have been heavily oiled. But the army insists that the toe-caps and the heels must shine like a mirror. And there lies the rub! To achieve the desired polish it is necessary to spend about 2 hours on each boot – we have two pairs of boots! Spit and polish and elbow grease, plus a bone or tooth-brush are the required ingredients. I have rubbed my toe caps on one pair until I have segs on my hands, but there is still no sign of a shine.
This evening, our corporal has advised some of the fellows to burn the toe-caps with a candle – this helps a little! What amazes me is the incredible stupidity of the whole business. As though it matters a damn whether the boots shine, but even if they must shine, why not have them made that way. Clean footwear I can agree with, but all this nonsense – ach! – it would drive one mad in a sane world. There is a chap near me at the moment – a man with previous military service, and not a novice at the job, who is scrubbing away with a tooth-brush handle and spit. He has spent at least 5 hours on the job today and has not yet finished.
Please don’t ask me why these things should be. I don’t know an answer to the question, but it may be a means of keeping us busy:- soldiers should not be encouraged to think – idleness may be a means of engendering dangerous thoughts.
Last evening our corporal (the 2-stripe one) warned us against a certain crowd of ‘old’ troopers in the barracks: he asked us “for Christ’s sake” not to lend them any money. Apparently these chaps make a habit of scrounging and debts are never re-paid. I have myself noticed a certain clique, mostly young chaps of about 25 years, who appear to be humans of a very low order. Their language is not just foul – it is rancid! I can stand a good deal of clean honest cursing, but this gang have a language of their own – like their minds, it is beastly. Incidentally, they are mostly Lance-corporals (1 stripe). There are hardly any ordinary troopers up here, apart from the newcomers. The ‘old’ hands are mostly officers and N.C.O.s from the 3rd Battalion who were retained to form a nucleus for the 9th Battalion.
We have today received our A.B. 64 “Soldier’s Service and Pay Book”. Apparently a precious document which we have to keep at all costs. It is a small pocket book with various instructions to soldiers, details of soldiers’ Wills and full particulars of the ‘bearer’. The latter particulars are actually entered by our corporal. There is a column for ‘Religious Denomination’. When he asked me my religion, I said I hadn’t any. He looked surprised and said “don’t tell me you’re an atheist!” I said yes, I was decidedly, and I loathed the Church and all it stood for.
I wondered how he would react to this and expected a telling off. But instead, he said simply “you know, I’m inclined to agree with you” – and casually entered NIL in my book. We had a little chat about the church afterwards, and he told me that I would not be bothered by much religion in this regiment.
I have learned a little more about this corporal (Davis) since my recent letter, and I believe he is a good deal more intelligent than the average N.C.O. up here. He told me he works in a rival concern to my electrical trade – Bournemouth Gas Authority! He is assistant sales manager and seems to have a good civil job. Of course, he curses like a trooper, but it is clean cursing, and I think he is a good man for the job.
A few of us had a discussion with him this evening about tanks and our jobs in general. He gave us several interesting facts about tank warfare, but what I was most pleased to hear, was the news that it would take at least 12 months to train us. I had had visions of intensified training to prepare us for a possible Spring offensive, but he said this was impossible. There is too much to learn, and tanks are too important for modern war to be sent out with half trained crews.
I have asked about leave, and understand that we will be able to have long week-ends after 4 weeks training. A long week-end officially consists of 48 hours, but Cpl Davis says we will probably be allowed to leave on the Friday at noon, returning to Barracks by midnight on Sunday. You can therefore rest assured my dear that I will have the first possible week-end with you.
Today has been our first pay-day, and I have received 5/-. With the pay we were handed our A.B. 64 (PartII), another small pocket book for recording our payments and other details.
The official rates of pay are as follows:-
My daily rate of service pay is 2/6, but of this 2/6, 1/- has to be relinquished for my wife (that’s you!), otherwise you cannot qualify for the Marriage Allowance. The latter amounts to 18/- per week, so your total pay from the Army is 25/- per week.
Out of the 10/6 nett, left for me, 6d is deducted for a fund, but I will get it back on my discharge. I am thus left with 10/- per week actual cash.
Cpl. Davis has informed me that it may be from 10 days to 3 weeks before you commence to receive any pay, but all arrears will be paid with the first warrant. I cannot do anything about this latter point, as it is in the hands of the authorities and will be settled automatically by the Paymaster at Manchester.
The enclosed form I am sending because it may get mislaid amongst my junk up here. It should be handed to Joe Kirkham, but not until my official number had been inserted after the word ‘Trooper’ viz – “Rank or Rating and Number” column. Please insert this number as soon as I let you have it, and hand the form to Joe, as my firm’s pay will not be dealt with until the form is received by Head Office. Unfortunately, I have not yet been given a number, but I should have it early next week. Meanwhile, I hope you will not hesitate to approach Joe for a “sub” if you need it!
I asked the Corporal whether soldiers’ pay was subject to income-tax, if one’s income exceeds the minimum basis. He is not sure of the point, but promised to let me know. In view of our combined income, I cannot imagine my service pay being exempt, but I suppose you will know more about this than I.
And so, my darling, I arrive at the end of another letter – it is also the end of a happy two hours for me. Most of the fellows have been out, but they are now returning, and are making up their beds. I will have to do likewise.
Incidentally, I will tell you something of our bed procedure at a later date – like everything else in the army, beds have to be made and unmade in a meticulous way.
Good night sweetheart –
I can at least have you in my mind and my dreams –
I love you