Wednesday, 12 May 2010

The Scraper Arrives Back Home.

This is the 27th and final episode of the Scraper's Diary, continued from the previous post.

Sunday,  April 13th, 1947

We are in one of those long, twelve-tabled carriages.
Ginger and I sit at one table, Jack is opposite, across the corridor. Ray and Taff are reading at another, and a solo school is going strong next to them, Stan, Bob, Jock and Ken. A few more of our blokes are situated at strategic points, while two tables are occupied by some arty civvies who travelled over on the boat, a perfumed black man, a precious man in blue, and two sycophantic women.

"What's trumps?"

" . . . a perfectly divine little man who cooked like an angel . . . "

"entrance to a mine, in five letters - - -"

"Cor, - - -  me,  I've saved the wrong bloody suit"

"Ever read this? It's a smashing book".

"No darling, no trouble at all; he just said, 'anything to declare, sweetheart', and I said, 'no, nothing at all', and I walked right through".

"Got a pen, old man?"

"No bombs fallen round here, makes a change, don't it?"

"Remember that tart in Husum?"

"Keep your mind on the bloody game, will you".

"Home at last. Good old England again".

"I darned nearly scuttled myself, when we went in".

"Couldn't speak a word of English".

"You might give me a gasper, darling, I'm positively dying for a smoke".

"One more revoke from you, Say, and you'll get . . . ."

" only two cigarettes too . . . ."

And the dead trees stretching themselves before the real awakening, and the few, high, expansive clouds in a dreamless sky.


I have compiled a separate list of all the articles bought on the black or grey markets in Germany during the six weeks we spent there; others in the band bought - and stole - far more. In my pack and music case I have 2 watches, camera equipment, a lighter, some lace, toys, jewellery, a pen, an electric iron, German stamps, sheet music, wooden plates, books and scent. I spent a grand total of 1185 cigarettes, one ounce of tobacco, thirteen bars of soap, two bars of chocolate and three and a quarter pounds of coffee. These cost me the princely sum of £3.1.10.

Not bad, but, as I said, this is modest compared to some blokes' loot.


I can't read anymore for a bit. The bright sunlight on my face draws my eyes outward to the swelling hills and the rich brown fields. Old hedgerows reflecting the sun, two brilliant lovers laughing in a field, a quiet stream shuffling over stones; the sudden, cool blazing of a bridge, fields still flooded here and there, and trees whose bareness in the new warmth seems a freedom rather than a martyrdom. English telegraph wires and England racing into my Spring life at fifty miles an hour, and laughing away there, chuffed to busting.

I feel fine and clean and unusually young. The country is lovely and it is England. All I want now is a drop of leave. And a drop of tea, how could I forget that, a cup of tea.

Cuxhavn, Harburg, Celle, Minden, Bad Oeynhausen, Bielefeld, Hamm, Duesseldorf, Wuppertal, Moenchen-Gladbach, Cologne, Dortmund, Osnabrueck, Oldenburg, Wilhelmshavn, Bremen, Verden, Muensterlager, Soltau, Hamburg, Husum, Itzehoe, Rendsburg, Kiel, then Hamburg and Cuxhavn again.

And now it is all history.


We are now at Basingstoke, for half an hour. A line of us in the buffet discovered a mirror on the opposite wall, which reflected all of us at once. all waiting to be served mugs of tea.


Larkhill, Royal Artillery Camp, Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire,  Monday, April 14th, 1947

The sun is shining brightly. The lady in the cigarette shop asks how we enjoyed the trip. The lady in the newsagent's asks how the weather was, 'it's been so terrible here'. The lady in the chemist's says that I can't get quinine without a prescription.

This is England, and the sun is shining.

In the cookhouse, the tables are dirty, the meat is tough, the greens are uneatable. The washing up water is dirty and insufficient. The A.T.S. servers are rude.

This is Larkhill, my Larkhill, and I'm back, and I know I'm back.


  1. Just caught up with the latest and last 'Scraper' episode. I want to thank you for posting these charming insights. I also want to thank 'Scraper' for keeping such a detailed diary of times and events. Excellent.

  2. I'd love to know who the Scraper was - were there actually diaries, or is his experience compiled from stories of several people?
    I think that what I liked best about the Scraper's Diary was the ordinariness of it all, when we know from history that it was a terrible time. The hunger, the black market, the destruction are all there, and observed so casually. Even the references to petty thievery and the black market are off-hand. The Scraper's pleasure in being back to grey and dirty England is real, and touching. I thoroughly enjoyed this 'series'.

  3. I particularly loved the authentic slang even though much of the time I didn't have clue what he was saying. Wouldn't it be wonderful to have a photo of that reflection in the glass?

  4. The resonance of the last line gave me chicken skin. (You may know them as "goose bumps")

    Such fine, honest writing. AND the historical element. Thanks for sharing your roots with us...I heard your voice in some of the words about Spring & England.

    Glad we found each other :)

  5. So, are you going to tell us? Do you write them? Are they real diaries? Tell, tell, tell.

  6. Have now had time to read the last two episodes, Friko, and all I can say is that I really hope you start something else. You are a gifted writer and I know I've said this too many times already, but the fact that you write so beautifully in your adopted language floors me.
    You have a way of writing that is so fresh, slightly unconventional, descriptive while still keeping your prose spare and clean. I love it. Truly.
    So what's next?? I'll be waiting to find out.

  7. Sad to see it come to an add but I think very sad to think what he and his compatriots maanged to get for thier fags and soap and chocoalte and wonder how desperate the people sellign may well hae been to let precious things go for so little. Such is the way of war I suppose.

  8. Martin H - scraper and I are grateful for your comments.

    Pondside - Scraper's diary is history, in a way. It is only in hindsight that history becomes special; while we live through 'it', it's just daily life.

    Vicki Lane - thank you Vicki. i know you joined him late but i am glad that you enjoyed him.

    Tabor - I would indeed. But the story has to be the picture of his time, a photo would make it real.

    Cloudia - It is not my 'real' voice you heard, because I am not English and these are not my roots. If I have been able to make you believe otherwise, that is a very great compliment.
    Aloha, Cloudia.

    Fran - Read the next post. Still, here's a bit towards answering your question: the scraper as described existed, the tour as described existed and a lot of it may well have been like it.

    Deborah - Thank you so much, Deborah, you really are very kind.
    Perhaps I'll start another diary, but there's little Eva waiting in the wings. I'm not finished with her. The thing is that people get bored with stories that run and run and although I am really writing for myself, it is nice to hear a compliment occasionally.

    Blogging is such a wonderfully self-indulgent medium.

    her at home - these black market stories are fact, they really happened that way, or certainly very like they are described. Totally unreal now.

  9. I am behind in commenting Friko – I was away then when I came back I found a few hundred posts waiting to be read – first my blogging friends who come to my blog like you dear Friko – and thank you for your friendship (you are the first blog I followed you know) - then there are the blogs where I comment but they do not or rarely comment on mine, then the blogs I like to read and don’t comment on. I know that is too many and I am going to have to cut down because I do not have time now to write my posts! My last one was May 4th and I don’t know when I’ll write another one. It’s OK with me because writing is hard for me, not fluid like your writings and I rather read other blogs than doing my posts. I enjoyed looking at your garden which is so lovely already and will be enchanting when all your plants have grown. Our weather in the Deep South is hard on plants. We had a lovely time in Baltimore with the two toddlers and walked all over with the stroller – we did not rent a car. The Scraper’s Diary has been so much fun to read – I am sorry it is over now.

  10. Vagabonde - thank you for taking the time you read my posts, in spite of being as busy as you are. I'll be in touch.


Comments are good, I like to know what you think of my posts. I know you'll keep it civil.