Saturday, 18 July 2009

19 August 1942

Out yesterday from 3 to 4.30 pm.  Usual ball games.  Lights dim again last night with complete black out from 8.30 to 9.30 pm.  Food is improving every day.  Excellent soup yesterday afternoon – also a mug of tea.  This morning our trusty came round the cells asking whether we preferred tea or coffee in the morning. My hat!  If this thing continues we shall be thoroughly spoiled in no time and we shall have to be forcibly persuaded to go home when the time comes.


As the time of departure drew near, realisation of all that it meant became clearer and the thought of breaking with loved ones and dear lifelong associations counter balanced my exited imagination which leapt forward to the expectation of strange scenes and a new way of life.  At last the inevitable day of parting came, the 13th October 1926 and in memory I am seated for the last time at the tea table, eating bread and butter with boiled ham and tomato sauce and having a dreadful struggle to swallow each mouthful, father, mother and sister being no more successful in that operation.  I had taken leave of my fiancée the night before.  We became officially engaged in the course of the last week and I had bought an engagement ring out of the money remaining to me after purchasing my outfit.  At the station there was quite a turnout of relatives.  Partings such as these are too sacred to be described in detail.  Sufficient to say that in due course I found myself in a railway carriage being whirled away rapidly towards the unknown, really alone for the first time in my 23 years, feeling very lonely and sad and not a little apprehensive as to what was to become of me now that I must stand on my own feet and make my way through life by my own unaided efforts.  Mother used always to say, ‘The young birdies maun spread their wings’, which, is, of course, true, but I must confess that my wings were pitifully weak when my flight commenced.  My uncle Joe had very kindly suggested that I should spend a day or two with him and his family in London before embarking, hence my departure from Aberdeen 3 days before the actual sailing date.  Joe came with me to the boat and as we moved away down the river I stood and looked and looked at him, waving until he was no longer distinguishable among the many who stood on the quay and then, turning away, I looked forward on our course realising that the last link with all that had been my life before had snapped.  On board the ‘Khiva’ I found that I shared a cabin, 2nd class, with an Italian named Vaccaro who was a saleman of some kind.  It is amusing to recall that I considered him foppish because he was in the habit of rubbing his face with Eau de Cologne after shaving, a confirmed drunkard because he now and then became a bit noisy on account of having taken the slightest drop too much, and morally depraved because he had brought a copy of La Vie Parisienne along with him.  Oh, I WAS young and green and strait laced at that age with a vengeance.  Since then, many is the bottle of Eau de Cologne I have used for the same purpose and more often than I care to recall have I been much more drunk than Vaccaro ever was, although to be quite frank literature of the La Vie Parisienne class had never appealed to me.  We became quite good friends, however, and he taught me to sing ‘Mussolini, nostre Duce’ while I on my part improvised an accompaniment for same on the piano.  But one night, when we were in the Red Sea, Vaccaro’s behaviour was too much for my then Puritan soul and resulted in my requesting a transfer to another cabin the next day.  His offence was by no means henous but I was extremely shocked my this standing at our cabin door with only his trousers on and calling ‘Coo-ee’ along the passage in the hope of attracting some female attention.  I was really sorry about the transfer after a few days because I had offended my Italian friend deeply by my action, but the damage was done.  I was ashamed of myself then and I am more ashamed of myself now and I should like to have the opportunity  of apologising to Vaccaro for my narrow minded foolishness.  But there, how many things do we not do throughout our lives which cause us regret and remorse to the end of our days.  That is the cross we all have to bear and the fashioning and burden of it are of our own making.  In changing my quarters I had a bunk in a three berth cabin and the great joke was that, although such was my state of innocence that I did not realise it till 12 years later, I had then a couple of sodomites for company.  The explanation of much that had then been only mildly puzzling became clear to me when the clean up of homosexuals in the DEI and elsewhere startled everybody in the Far East in 1939.  But of that, more later.  The voyage, once the novelty of shipboard life had worn off, was rather uneventful except, of course, for stoppages at ports of call which were Port Said, Colombo, Penang and, for me, finally Singapore.  At Port Said I was fascinated with the spectacle afforded in coaling operations going on in a vessel close to where the ‘Khiva’ was lying.  The sight of hundreds of apparently sub humans, dirty, ragged and pitch black, running squealing, shrieking and shouting in unending streams up and down planks stretching from quay to ship, each bearing a basket on his head, was like a peep into some choice corner of Hell itself.  And then the mystery of black veiled women with their noses seemingly enclosed in a metal casing, and the swarming touts and vendors of Birmingham manufactured relics of TutanKhamen who kept shouting ‘Aye Aye Mr Mackintosh, Ah’m Mr Macpherson, frae Aiberdeen, Ethel Macfechel, Auchtermuchty’.  These pests gathered and hung around us like flies as soon as we set foot on shore and were not to be shaken off by any means what ever.  Several of them specialised in ‘Dirty postcards, sir, dirty postcards’ and kept trying to entice one away from the party round a corner to prove their assertion.  There was a young Lancashire lad on board whose dialect sounded to me like a foreign language until the night we left Port Said.  He emerged from his cabin cursing and sweating with extreme fluency and lucidity carrying a packet of plain postcards in his hand, the wrapping around which he had just then removed in anticipation of all the merchant, by means of sample cards, had guaranteed him.  The plain postcards were no doubt better for his morals than the others would have been but his experience did not seem to have bred in him a spirit of Christian resignation and thanksgiving for temptation removed.  Of course, I had to pay a visit to the world famous emporium of Simon Arts and it was too much to be expected that I should get back to the ship without a box of genuine tasteless Turkish Delight.  I pride myself that I avoided that pitfall when I again visited Port Said.  We left Port Said in the evening after dark so I missed seeing something I had been looking forward to – the Suez Canal, but that loss was fully compensated for 11 years later.

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