Arthur’s Tale – Part X

When on guard duty at night we also had to wear long sleeved jackets and long trousers, and wear mosquito cream on our hands and faces, but because of the humid weather we would perspire and sweat would ooze out from under the mosquito cream and trickle down our face and itch like mad.  Under normal conditions we would sleep under mosquito nets. Our beds were made of rough timber and string would be threaded across the top in zig-zag fashion and on this we would lay a canvas sheet. On top of this we would lay a folded blanket, and because our blankets were grey on top of our blanket we would lay a white sheet to show up any insects that might settle on it when it was exposed during the day.  Before nightfall we would check our sheet for insects, and pull our mosquito nets down and tuck them in under our blankets before the mosquitos came out. We would roll down our sleeves and take off our shorts and put on our slacks. Our camp lights would attract all kind of insects, flying and crawling into our billets, including lizards and snakes.

When we went to bed we would put out the lights, crawl under our mosquito nets and listen.  If a mosquito or two had got in with us we would turn on our torch. The light would attract the mosquito and we would swat it, then we could settle down to sleep.  We would lay on our backs on top of our sheet naked with just a towel over our stomach to prevent colic if a breeze blew up at night. By morning we would wake up covered in sweat especially our backs and neck.  Our backs were almost always covered in prickly heat. We would get up and first have a shower, then we would carefully wash our feet in permanganate of potash, dry them thoroughly, cover them with talcum powder, put more powder into our socks, dress and go for breakfast.  Our working dress was khaki shorts, shirts and socks and shoes. For breakfast we would have two soya links (sausages made from soya bean) and two half slices of fried bread, a cup of hot tea or pinky pani. We would usually put a spoonful of salt in our tea to replace salt sweated out during the night.  The salt was crystals because table salt would just stick together and not flow. We would go to work at 7:30 and work till 12:00 then knock off for Tiffin. This was usually a cold meal and back to work at 1 o’clock. We would work till 6 o’clock and go back to our billet for dinner. This was almost always Maconochie dried meat and veg in tins.  They would be tipped into large basins and heated. We would then be given a choice of Maconochie with curry or without. The meals were the same every day, week after week, month after month.

When we complained we were told to consider ourselves lucky, the boys at the front were worse off.  We had to pay to get our washing done, or do it ourselves. We had to pay to get alterations done to our uniforms to get them to fit properly or do them ourselves.  In the meantime the officers enjoyed five course meals served in their mess and had their tailoring and washing done for them and paid for by the military authorities.  We had no entertainment and no amenities at all.

We formed a committee and checked KRs and A.CIs, and found that we were entitled to receive allowances because these services were not being supplied by the military authorities.  We were told that our allowances were being passed to the ‘boys at the front line’ to compensate them for the terrible conditions that they had to endure. We found out much later that this was untrue and could only assume that our allowances were being absorbed by the officers mess to keep them in the comforts that they were used to receiving.

We were ordered to disband our committee as it was not allowed and constituted a form of mutiny.  We pointed out that our committee was an amenities committee and allowed under Kings Regulation. Our C.O then informed us that it would only be permitted if a commissioned officer sat as chairman of the committee, and we had to agree that was to be so.

Some months later our C.O was removed from his job and replaced by a Wing Commander who laid down a new set of rules.  All parades were to stop saluting officers throughout the day. We were to salute our officers first thing in the morning and from then on all efforts were to be put into the war effort taking in increasing quantities of supplies, expanding the unit and dispatching goods to forward units and building up supplies for special tasks and pack up for specific offensives.

Through our committee we complained about the meals so the unit decided to breed chickens and so we were given chicken every day. We did not get any green vegetables so we were given raw onion.  These used to come over in airtight tins. We were also given American K rations one day a week.

Fruit was readily available and cheap but we had to buy this ourselves; oranges, bananas, mangoes and plantains.

We began to have problems with bed bugs.  We woke up one night and saw one wall covered in bugs.  They were moving down the wall like an army on the move.  We had to spray the walls with paraffin, which seems to dry them up, and tread on them as they fell onto the floor.  After this a large metal tank was put outside the billet and we put our beds into it filled with paraffin and left our beds in the sun to dry out.

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