Wednesday, 3 February 2010

The Scraper's Diary, Friday, April 4th, 1947, Itzehoe

No. 22

There have been so many enquiries as to who the Scraper was, that, even at this late stage, I should tell you a bit more about him. He was a young conscript, serving in the British Army after WW II. He was a trained classical musician, who was sent on a tour of duty, lasting six weeks, to BAOR (British Army of the Rhine) with an RA band, to perform for British troops stationed in Germany, as well as in Church and concert halls,

His diary has very little to do with the music they played, it is much more a first-hand account of the situation he found himself in.  

Good Friday,

only there's nothing specially good about it.

True, the pub is good, but the table-cloth is patched. The water is hot but the waste-pipe doesn't run well,  and the chambermaids don't talk English. Oh well, I expect we'll get over it.

I won six shillings at solo on the journey here, these bus trips are quite a useful source of income to me.

Tea was hilarious, The four at our table,  Mike, Len, Derek and me,  indulged in a lengthy bit of horseplay with a small dish of sugar. I put all into my cup and then Len seized it and divided it unequally between us. The matter was forgotten until tea was poured out. We tasted it.

"What is it", said Derek, "Bicarb?"
"Persil, I think," I said.

The waitress explained that the little dish had held salt. We wont forget in a hurry.

We went into a German pub, in order to test the pulse of the Black Market over a glass of unmentionable beer. A very low dive. On one table a game of expletive-riddled poker was in progress. At another, a huddle of old men were deeply into serious, hissed, discussion, while, at a third, Bill and Ray were trying to drink enough to forget the girls they were with. Several more tarts were lounging about, bored.

We sat at a table with two unshaven road sweepers, and soon got down to business. I changed sixty cigarettes into three hundred marks and made an appointment for tomorrow.

Quite a Hemingway set-up. Real honky-tonk. Real low.


Easter Saturday, April 5th

I kept thinking about those two girls, the ones with Bill and Ray last night. I mean, they were so young and yet they seemed to have no youth. They weren't common tarts, as I have since found out, but they will be soon. They're only novices, they just sat there, drinking, saying very little, and understanding the loud, self-conscious conversation of their pick-ups only in gesture, not words. Apparently, they had seen Bill and Ray and said "Kaffee?" and that was all that was needed.

They left the inn before us, but the lads didn't get in until the small hours.

We went to the inn again this afternoon, to meet some stockings, watches and a case. I bought a case and we sat drinking until the stockings arrived.

When they turned up, half an hour later, we were surprised at the scale of operations. We were ushered into a back room and the two salesmen set up shop. They unpacked their cases and laid plastic raincoats and stockings over chairs and tables. Raincoats 200 cigarettes, stockings 60 cigarettes and ladies underwear (sets)  150 cigarettes; they were no amateur black marketeers, but fully-fledged professionals.
They would not barter or lower their prices. They told me that the raincoats were made for them at a special factory, and that they could get me any number of them. The stockings, apart from some Parisian ones of Rayon were all fully-fashioned silk, smuggled from the Russian zone. I was asked whether there were many troops at our next halt, - Kiel - , so that they could tell if it would be worthwhile to visit the place on business.

The episode had one amusing sidelight; they were discussing some coffee and chicory I had, in German,
and I managed to understand one sentence: "these Englishmen can't tell vinegar from coffee". I could make remarks about German tea.

Things had ben conducted with so much guile on both sides, and with such intensity, that I leant against the doorpost for a minute when I got outside and felt quite dizzy. The street still lay in the quiet sunshine and the kids still played in the gutter and on the hard old cobblestones. I could hardly believe that I was within ten feet of a very squalid section of commerce.

I shrugged and walked on to the Y.M.C.A. That's how things are here. Very fair of face but with a real sickness at heart. The black market and the prostitutes aren't an illness in themselves, but a symptom of a very real national disease. There have been occasional eruptions of this illness while we have been here.
Riots in Dusseldorf a fortnight after we left. Razor gangs on one side and rape on the other in Osnabruck, two days before we arrived. More razor gangs and theft in Oldenburg.

And yet the air is peaceful and fresh. Spring is abroad, and the land itself smiles; but somehow there is something.........
It's as vague as that.

I buy a tablet of soap in the Y.M.C.A. for fivepence. I walk round to the pub and the innkeeper's brother gives me twenty five marks for the piece of soap that cost me fivepence. A mark equals sixpence at current exchange, but I can't exchange it. I can only buy twopence worth of goods with it.


  1. Thanks for the info about the Scraper, I enjoy reading his scripts.

  2. What year or years was this?

  3. QMM - it was about time I gave him an intro.

    Tabor - Bother, I forgot to put the year into the heading. It's 1947.

  4. For me, this is probably the best yet. I could smell the inside of that bar and feel some of the resignation,"That's how things are here. Very fair of face but with real sickness at heart."

    I hope there's still more to come.

  5. Such interesting and valuable first-hand history, Friko!

    Aloha, Friend!

    Comfort Spiral

  6. Where do the details come from, Friko? Is this from personal experience (oh my god, not the tart bit!!!!) or do you research before you write?
    It's very good. I'm not just saying that to be nice. It's so authentic to my inner ears.

  7. Very fascinating, Friko! Old letters and journals are some of the truest history there is.

  8. These are so facinating. I do love reading the words, in a way, so timeless. It is like reading a very good book...

  9. Just like Cinéma Vérité of the 1960s – do you remember what that was ? Cinéma Vérité, literally film truth, was a type of artistic realism – an attempt to recreate life. It was a style developed by French film directors of that era. They would re-create actual conversations, interviews and statements made by the people who had experienced it. It was candid realism - showing people in true situations with authentic dialogues. Yours is not Cinéma Vérité since we see no clip, but more like a Story Vérité, no?

  10. MartinH - there are a few days still to come.

    Fran Hill - well, it was.

    Cloudia - thanks, and aloha

    Deborah - I'm afraid it is personal experience, even the tart bit. The scraper is a real, historical person.

    Vicki Lane - thanks you Vicki; they are truer than many a researcher's findings.

    swallowtail - thank you for your kind comment.

    Vagabonde - Definitely a story verite. I also remember the films, they were shown in Germany, albeit dubbed.


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