Haiya, Sudan – 18th December 1940

by Louise

Haiya, Sudan

18th December 1940

My dearest little darling,

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Since I last wrote to you another week has elapsed with as equal rapidity as the preceding ones. The mere fact that I am communicating with you soothes my mind and somehow brings forth sufficient material for me to write a note of length to prove each week that no matter how long we are apart, I have one most important object in life to fulfil – that of constantly rekindling the flame of our sacred union thereby reviving happy memories concerning our two hearts and looking into a hopeful future in which we will both prosper.

In spite of the approach of Christmas festivities, life in the desert does not vary and needless to say I greatly miss the enjoyment derived from walking in a typical London thoroughfare, crowded with people rushing to bring their Christmas shopping to successful conclusion. I also miss the weather, the frost and snow necessitating the wearing of warm garments. But most of all I dread to realize how deeply I miss spending a day in your charming, and sociable company. How many happy and enjoyable Christmas days are in store for us? Many, I sincerely hope for your sake as well as mine. As things go let us continue to adopt optimistic views, so we may be later richly rewarded for our patience.

The month of December has proved a hot one in as far as the weather is concerned; the absence of civilization has resulted in the complete disappearance of the symptoms of the oncoming sacred day. It is said that a Christmas dinner has been promised to us but even if it does materialize how can we possibly partake of it with that same enthusiasm and jollity in such a desolate zone as this? However there is truth in the saying ‘be thankful for small mercies’.

The past week has been responsible for getting me used to this rough type of living which is a step nearer to the worst that we will probably experience later on. I should mention however that I was on guard last Saturday night and had a splendid opportunity of admiring and the utter stillness of these regions at night. As usual the powerful moon shone brilliantly thus making every object on my path discernible. It is indeed at night that the East throws out its charms; on the other hand it gives an unquenchable thirst for romance (another example of my being so utterly helpless without you darling). The sky at night is a delight to the human eye and so very different to what us Europeans have to contend with. The clear bright moon, the myriad of stars illuminating every inch of the heavens and forming several streaks of milky ways and most characteristic of all the complete absence of clouds. The silence which reigned during my hours of duty was only broken occasionally by a distant howl of the notorious desert wolves that prevail over the more mountainous regions and that fortunately keep their distance from human beings. Needless to say, in such tranquillity there were no signs of life and at times it seems so sinister to me that I thought that me and my shadow were the only movable objects on this vast, troubled planet of ours. So much for the guard duty – I enjoyed it – the peace that reigned permitted me to fall into a delightful and passionate reverie in which you and I were the only characters.

During the week I have been on familiar terms with the natives of the district who incidentally are very few in number. I enjoy studying their habits and customs. Their actions and mannerisms seldom compare with ours. Among many instances, I have observed that these people always sell their goods in a crouching position; possess admirable white teeth even though they never “Maclean” them; eat snuff at intervals during their business hours and continue to set the best example of this good-humoured race. Adding to my collection of souvenirs from the Eastern world, I have purchased a typical double-edged dagger of sinister appearance as carried by the local inhabitants.

I have had to wash my own clothes owing to the absence of a local laundry. So please darling, add laundryman to the list of your versatile husband’s many new qualifications and trades. While stationed at our previous location I had the misfortune to fall asleep cigarette in hand. I woke with a start only to find that I had set light to my shorts! Covering up the large burn kept me busy last week and if you saw my shorts now you would, I hope, be at a loss to discover where the tragedy occurred! That wonderful performance compels you once again to add to my lengthy list of trades satisfactorily performed in the Army. Now a tailor too, ha ha!

Normally the Sabbath entitles the individual to a certain amount of rest. The sound of distant church bells evokes his spirit to a retreat from work. But alas! It is not the case in this part of the world neither is it so on active service! To me last Sunday was just an ordinary day during which more hours of work kept the mighty war machine in action. Duties in the office were even more plentiful than on an ordinary weekday, and I made more than one journey by foot across the vast plains. It is such days that make me long for a peaceful Sunday at home. Picture for yourself the peace that would reign. To begin with a bright log fire in a large cosy room and the electric light extinguished. A large settee is drawn up in front of the fire and just you and I, side by side, legs nestling on a pouf, speaking of our love and discussing our future intentions. Darling, having attempted to describe the setting after my own heart I am now desperately jealous of the words!

I have had too many opportunities of treading on this damnable soil hampered with tufts of weeds, thick sand and fragments of granite. Walking on this ground which presents so many obstacles (there are no paths or public rights of way of course) one is apt to develop a hunch back, as in order to avoid stumbling it is essential to fix one’s eyes firmly to the ground. The sand dust substantiates this ugly method of walking thus ensuring protection for the eyes. It would be neat to walk upright along the lengthy high road, which cuts across Salisbury Plain. Oh! There is no place like England, a home and my life’s companion!

Now for animal life in the desert. Wolves of which I have only seen an outline in the distant hills, inhabit these regions but as stated before are seldom seen journeying across the plains. Gazelles put in an occasional appearance and ostriches are said to abound some 4 or 5 miles from here but to this day I have not yet seen one alive and kicking. The only birds to be seen are enormous crows that usually disturb the peace of the afternoon with their shrill utterances. There is a good variety of insects here, the most common of which are insistent-natured flies. These aggravating pests are a downright curse to mankind. The more you kill them, the more they send up reinforcements. They settle on every part of the exposed body and never give you a minute’s peace. It often happens that the Adjutant joins us in fly swatting and competitions are often held as to who has the largest bounty. Indeed, the extermination of flies seems to be the favourite sport of the day.  Fortunately at night these evil creatures vanish at only to return first thing in the morning and cause you to cut your face with the razor!

Scorpions – fearful looking monsters resembling shrimps – are, thank heavens, rarely seen although I should mention that Eric located one under a stone and now holds it in captivity in a matchbox. The size of its deadly sting is grotesque in comparison with its ugly body and what we have been told about the wretched insect is enough to keep miles away from them. Crickets play their melodious tune at night but their camouflaged body is similar in hue to the nature of the ground and permits them to be passed unnoticed. Ants cross the miniature sand dunes and are giants compared with their English relatives. Large black heavy beetles possessing strong muscular legs also abound. Contemplating collecting insects, I suffocated a species of the latter in cigarette smoke but I have not continued, or rather have held that hobby in abeyance. The beetle in question however shall be kept as a souvenir so let’s hope it will forever remain in a good state of preservation.

The food is gradually reaching its normal standard again, porridge is now served for breakfast and the local bread made without yeast has proved a little more appetizing than last week. We are still upholding the watermelon habits and indulge in one every evening. Yesterday’s melon and was the largest I’ve ever set eyes upon. It was so enormous that 12 men derived a most handsome portion from it!

Well darling time compels me to hand this letter over to the censor’s hands. I have enclosed a group photograph taken on camelback in front of the pyramids. This letter carries all my love.

Ever your husband lover,

Raymond

 

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