Monday, 5 April 2010

The Scraper's Diary, Tuesday, April 8th, 1947

The Scraper, a young conscript and musician, is on a six week tour of the British Army of the Rhine; he and the band are travelling from camp to camp, playing in make-shift concert halls, officers' and OR's messes and churches. But mostly they are bored, making use of the black market whenever they can, playing cards and drinking. The Scraper keeps a diary throughout.

The tour is almost over.


A most interesting day, apart from - or in spite of - the monologue from Gunner Say, about his amatory experiences of the last few days, and the after-effects thereof.

We loaded the lorries at eight thirty this morning, drove to the barracks for breakfast and then on to Rendsburg. We are staying in the erstwhile ENSA hostel here, the third hotel in three places. Sheets, tablecloths, hot water, waitresses . . . . .

Mike and I went out to see the sights this afternoon. We discovered a fair, almost hidden by mobs of children. I tried my hand, unsuccessfully, at hoopla and Aunt Sally. Mike won a shapeless, purposeless piece of metal at the Aunt Sally. Most of the stalls were merely pigs in pokes. You bought little screws of paper at 20 Pfennigs each and if they bore a number you won a suitably insignificant prize. Most of the prizes were cheap, useless things, rosettes, cheap dolls and penknives and the like. One prize, rated pretty highly, was a teat for a baby's bottle.

There were none of the English side shows like roll-'em-downs, rubber-ball-rollings and lotteries; nothing but a few tawdry roundabouts. I felt a general air of "I must enjoy myself, even if it is all hollow."

Having seen all we wanted of the fair, we went slowly on to the Naafi and sat in the lounge reading. Soon after, a funeral cortège passed the window.

First came a ragged procession of men in greys and browns, all wearing bowlers or caps. Gradually the colours darkened and then came four men in black frock coats and top hats; then came the wreaths, reverently carried by sad-looking elders; then came the hearse, draped in black and drawn by two black horses in black-plumed harnesses. Directly behind the hearse was an old lady, leaning on the arm of a young man, weeping proudly and profusely. Behind them came three young women with wet eyes and handkerchiefs. A black robed priest followed wearing what seemed to me to be a cardinal's black biretta.

A ragged assortment of men and women followed, in dark clothes or with black armbands and finally, there was a closed carriage, in which four black-clad old women were talking animatedly.

The whole procession was in unrelieved black, with a few greys and browns sprinkled through here and there, except for the bright red shorts worn by six men who marched, three on each side, by the side of the hearse, heads bowed. There was no sound except for the shuffling of feet and the ragged rattle of the horses' hooves.

They passed beyond our field of vision and we sat down gain. Len started playing some light song. I  picked up my book again.

"Quaint, these continental customs", said the W.V.S. lady, and went back to her book-sorting.


  1. I love the attention to detail in the Scraper's accounts of his post-war experiences. His description of the funeral cortège brought the entire scene to life.

  2. I think the war made people somewhat blasé about death - it had been so much a part of life for too long...

  3. I liked the description of the fair juxtaposed with that of the funeral afterwards.

  4. And once again I marvel at your ability to take your readers back in time. This is not something I could easily do, and I'm curious to know if you pull all of this out of your head, or whether you research any of the details.

    Punchy, pithy ending to this diary entry, too!

  5. Such vivid writing! Wonderful!

  6. friko, such rich emptiness. i have imagined that the days post war were filled with that quality of experience. making the most of so little. perhaps making less of so little. why bother. you're such an incredible storyteller. thankyou. steven

  7. I couldn't help but put myself back into the small North Rhineland- Westphalia village in which I lived some 30 years ago. The fair (kermis?) and the funeral while somewhat changed were still recognizable. The woman's comment at the end - like a slice with a knife.

  8. You are a great story teller. I can close my eyes and see this funeral – your words are as much images as pictures, if you understand what I mean.

  9. Quite an enjoyable peek here.. Terrific-

  10. I think it is very telling that he felt he had to enjoy whatever was going on around him. True living in the moment. Who knows what is coming next. I love this running story of his diary. A great technique. You asked about my Magpie Story. I did work at a shop just like I described and the children came but the family was fictional.

  11. Such living history!

    Sorry I haven't been visiting as often as I'd like, but I've been
    having connection issues that I THINK I've solved. Thanks for YOUr
    visits & comments :)

    Aloha from Waikiki

    Comfort Spiral


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