Tuesday, 11 May 2010

The Scraper Is Going Home!

Aboard S.S. 'Empire Rapier'    -   Saturday, April 12th, 1947.

I am snatching a few moments to write this after dinner, which looked like it was meant to be a half-way mark between the food of the last six weeks and that to which we are returning.

Everything about this voyage is smoother and slicker than the last. The boat is faster and the weather is as different from the snow and gales of six weeks ago as possible. There is a pretty stiff wind blowing, but the sun is shining gaily and the sea is quite warm, and, above all, the table stays still.

We have a wide, curving wake of pure, milky foam and nothing seems to impede the almost visible purposefulness of the ship. The sky is unclouded and the visibility excellent. There is no ice floating about.  Instead, we got stuck on a sandbank for two hours during the night.

Psychologically speaking, one of the most interesting symptoms of our homeward sickness - and a sign more finite than the voyage that we have left Germany - is the sudden generosity of the band. We were issued with forty cigarettes each this morning, and since then I have accepted five from other lads - more than I have been offered in the last three weeks! I suppose that it's natural enough, but I have smoked far too may cigarettes already.

Most of the blokes aboard are grouphappy, or else going on leave, but there is no air of gaiety, that air that seems to be so obvious to lady journalists. We are just going to England, that's all, because the ship happens to be going there.

A bloke two bunks away is torturing a mouthorgan, and, incidentally, me.  Smoking is prohibited down here; every soldier in sight has a lighted fag in his mouth. The ship is trembling with unspeakable and unnecessary emotion.

Memo to self: must decide what articles to declare, and what story to tell if found out.


ENGLAND!  -  Sunday, April 13th, 1947

"Oh to be in England, etc ".
I have said that several times lately and even after only six weeks of exile, England holds something that is more than just a welcome.

I am sitting in the shabby carriage of a slow train, looking through the dirty windows at the furtive smoke insinuating its pollution into the fresh fields' laughter.

And yet it is not as slow, and the seats are softer, and the fields yet smile, and even the smoke breathes purpose more than there.

The squat, smoky houses by the way are squalid and sullen in the sun.
And yet they do not cringe in the air, and there are not acres of devastation and despair as there have been there.

Doncaster. The sun is bright, and Spring seems to have kissed our return, and laid her benediction upon us. The ground, cindery, is strewn with litter between the rails. Scraps of paper, dog ends, orange peel, the rails have rusty sides and careworn hypnotic faces. A pile of deserted mailbags lies disconsolately on platform five, oozing melancholy.

This is England, we are home, and it is in no sense bitterly, but a conscious knowing of the land, and yet loving.

We docked at eleven thirty last night and at eight this morning we joined the tail of the queue before the customs shed, growing steadily more and more apprehensive.

We arrived at the head of the queue.

"Any spirits. cameras, binoculars, or watches?" said the man.
"No", we said.

He looked at us.

"Oh", he said, "Band, eh? Go straight through" and doubtless added "too dumb to smuggle", under his breath.

The train was waiting by the quayside. We got aboard and waited; the train moved a few hundred yards and stopped. We waited.

Now going through the yards at Doncaster, I have made up my winnings at solo to one pound in English money. The sun is shining courageously on the page, but I cannot find a really comfortable writing position.

Roll On. Bloody Roll On.


There is just one short instalment to come before the Scraper reaches his destination and therefore the end of this diary. I will post this tomorrow.


  1. ;-( Going to miss these missives. He writes with such humor and brings to daylight that long ago history.

  2. Hello,
    as promised I have posted my latest Trillium grandiflora pictures including more information
    on my Guildwood Village blog:
    It was cloudy today and the colours of my pictures are not as bright.

  3. This is so interesting and worthwhile, Friko!

    Aloha from Hawaii

    Comfort Spiral


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