Tag Archives: army

A soldier’s life is terrible hard! (says Alice)

Image result for duchess of kent in wrac uniform

A life  – another instalment of my autobiography before I revert to my normal blogs

Gentle in manner, resolute in deed, was the motto of the lady-like group of women I now joined – no rifles, mud-covered faces, raucous corporals or killing fields for us. The picture above is our Colonel Commandant, the Duchess of Kent, and my company commander, Major Betty Metcalfe- veteran of the war, and a blonde, elegant blue- eyed woman.

The recruiting officer had sent me to the Regular Commissions Board to see if I was officer material. Here I had had a pleasant surprise – though I was the youngest, everyone else was young and full of fun –  and life began to look up. I jumped through all the hoops for three days, and was eventually informed that I was indeed officer material.

Back home waiting for the date to join up, when I continued to drive my parents mad dreaming around the place, and my father had uttered with relish threats like: “they’ll wake you up when you join the army”, and: “you’re going to get the shock of your life when you get there”, I wasn’t too worried.

I got to the WRAC Depot on the wrong day, just as I’d got the dates wrong all my life, taking half term holidays when every-one else was at school, arriving to catch the plane as it landed the other end, taking a train to Chester instead of York, or Birmingham instead of Cardiff.

My unheralded arrival at the depot caused great consternation, and several anxious conferences I discovered later. It was decided to park me with the recruit company which was already half way through its training. The quartermaster resolutely refused to issue me with a uniform, because it would screw up her account books, but was prevailed upon to allow me a pair of shoes in order to do all the marching I was about to embark on.

Not knowing the procedure, when they took me to the quartermaster’s stores, I took fitting my shoes as seriously as though I was in Russell and Bromley buying some fabulously expensive gear. I pinched the toes, checked the heels, worried about the width, and walked up and down trying several different ones for size, while the quartermaster’s staff looked on in dumb disbelief, and allowed me to get away with it, since I was obviously away with the fairies! Later I discovered that it was just a question of saying your size and taking what you were given. Ignorance/innocence was bliss…

I was then escorted to the barrack-room, with a corporal helping me to carry my suit case. As we neared the entrance, I heard the clatter of seventy pairs of shoes thundering along wooden floors, and can still remember my subconscious thought, “Oh, they must have taken the carpets up for cleaning…”

Since the quartermaster – a fearsome figure – had dug her toes in over my uniform, I had to trail around at the end of the squad in my old red raincoat, the only thing I had to wear. Every time the Colonel – another fearsome figure – saw my red mac, it was worse than a red rag to a bull, because she then trounced the harried Adjutant for the incompetence of everyone down the chain of command who hadn’t issued me with uniform. Thus, unbeknown to me, I became famous or rather, infamous throughout the depot.

Meanwhile I solemnly got on with the job of being a recruit, with a lot of help from my fellows, who thought I was going to be a clerk or a cook like them. Since I was out of sequence with the other officer cadets, I was in with a room of diverse and fascinating girls, some escaping the slums, some escaping their parents, others escaping an unhappy marriage, or a cruel employer. There were also two girls from the Gorbals, the notorious Glasgow slums, whose speech was salted with curses and swear words – most of them new to my ears.

One night, after another exhausting day of: “by the right, by the left”, right wheeling, left wheeling, right form, and lectures, with the same programme awaiting us the next day, I got tired of their strident voices and obscenities keeping us all awake while we tried to get our much- needed sleep. I said to them very crisply in my pukka Queen’s English, down the length of the barrack room – “Good Bloody Night !” There followed a deafening silence and I went straight off to sleep.

At lunch-time the next day, a deputation from the barrack room came to me, and asked me very seriously not to be corrupted, and start using bad language. They gently told me I’d been brought up properly, and they didn’t want me to be influenced by people who didn’t know any better! I promised them I’d be a good girl, thinking of my father, and wondering if he would think I was getting that shock to the system that was going to wake me up!

Because I’d muddled up my dates, when I emerged as a fully- fledged recruit, my fellow officer cadets were still some weeks behind me, so I was a spare wheel. They invented a temporary rank for me, and I was called a Senior Private. I had the job of marching the new recruits to the cookhouse, which was no sinecure, because you had to remember the right military words of command, shout them loud enough for a long column to hear, and get them timed for the right feet to come to a halt in sequence.

My counting was a shambles so the girls stumbled instead of coming to a brisk halt, and the worst time was when we’d reached the cook house and I couldn’t remember the word for Halt! Finally, as they were in danger of piling up against the door, continuing to march with no word of command to halt them, I shouted “Stop!” in desperation, and I could hear them all muttering things like, “we didn’t get the right foot… she didn’t give us the right command… what’s wrong with her”… responsibility is a terrible thing, I would have told Alice.

By now I was in a new barrack room with all the tough old hands, and one morning in the first week, someone dropped their highly polished shoes for parade, and exclaimed: “Shit”. There was a heavy intake of breath around the room, and then silence. She turned to me and said “I’m sorry”. “Why apologise to me?” I asked in amazement. “Because we all decided we wouldn’t swear when you came into this room,” she said!

My poor father would have been sadly disappointed – coddled and protected, when was I going to wake up?  But a soldier’s life was terrible fun! So after my somewhat chequered career as a recruit I set off for officer cadet school with the rest of my intake – all eleven of us who had surfaced from the forty other applicants.

I learned later that it was no coincidence that the Colonel happened to come past the transport as we left, looking keenly at me! Oblivious to the impact I had had on various unfortunates at the depot, I discovered that officer cadet school was just like going back to boarding school, only better – I got paid!. As the youngest, and just out of school, I probably found it easier than the rest who had enjoyed their freedom. But to me, regular study periods, meals in the dining room, putting on uniform every day, was just more of the same.

Cadet school was set in a camp left behind by the Canadians after D –Day. Our nearest neighbours were the TB patients in the next- door sanatorium. No potential there for hobnobbing with the opposite sex. The camp was surrounded by silver birch woods, which stretched for miles to the nearest village, and on still June nights I would wake to hear nightingales singing in the moonlight.

The only difference to boarding school was the hours spent on the huge parade ground being drilled by a tiny sergeant major, less than five feet tall, whose mighty voice echoed not just around the parade square but on and beyond to the main Portsmouth road. As the eleven of us wheeled and drilled, and right formed, and fell into line, came to a halt, and about turned, a line of lorry drivers would pull up on the side of the road to watch us for their amusement, while they ate their sandwiches for lunch.

Thus it felt all the more humiliating, when dreaming about the un-read pages of the timid love letter stuffed hastily into my battledress top to read in our break, that I missed a step, failed to hear the word of command and carried on marching in the opposite direction when the rest had about turned. Love letters – or what passed for them – were a fairly scarce commodity at cadet school, as we might as well have been in a nunnery, we saw so few men or even boys.

The highlights of each term were the invitations to the house of an elderly couple who invited batches of Sandhurst cadets and us girls to hear talks on Moral Re-Armament. Their house just missed being stately, their servants were helpful, their food was heavenly, the worthy talks were utterly boring to frivolous young women, but the chaps might be interesting, we hoped. They never were but hope always sprang eternal.

Apart from the daily morning parades, and the hours spent perfecting our drill and learning to shout commands that one day would be directed at our platoons when we took them on parade, we spent a great deal of time in lectures on arcane subjects like pay scales, army regulations, map-reading and leadership.

No rifle drill for us, but instead lectures from a series of university lecturers on constitutional history, current affairs, scientific trends and something called Clear Thinking, which involved logic, and fallacies and syllogisms – all considered necessary for a well-educated officer back in 1957!

Constitutional history was taught by the scion of a famous German intellectual family who’d escaped Hitler before the war, but the name of this gentleman was so long that generations of philistine and irreverent cadets just called him ‘Footy’, which he pretended not to know. He also pretended not to know that we never listened to a word he told us about constitutional history and the balance of power between the Commons and the House of Lords, but sat instead endlessly practising our signatures, or planning what to wear on our next trip to London.

Scientific Trends was taught by another mid-European lecturer, only unlike Footy who’d grown up in England, this very gentle man had a very thick accent and a deadly monotone. He showed films to illustrate the latest scientific trends, and as his lectures were conducted in the cadet sitting room, where there was a film screen, we just curled up in an arm chair in the dark with a bar of chocolate, and usually dozed off.

The rest of the syllabus was devoted to giving us an understanding of life, and the background many of our future charges came from, so we visited a Lyons Swiss roll factory to see what life on a conveyor belt was like, attended a Petty Sessions where we saw sad souls parade before the magistrates, and I felt like a voyeur, and worst of all, went to the Old Bailey. The day we were there we watched a murderer condemned to death, after a crime passionel. His voice after sentence had been passed was like the rustling of dry leaves.

The most challenging part of officer training was the two days I spent in the cook house, discovering how hard life really was. My worst crime was to leave the potatoes so long in the potato peeling machine that they came out the size of marshmallows. The kindly cooks who actually had to deal with this catastrophe, covered up for me, and my copybook was not as blotted as it might have been.

A handful of lectures on strategy and army organisation at Sandhurst were memorable for the lunch breaks when we mingled with the Sandhurst cadets. My most lasting memory is going for a punt on the lake, and it sinking, and my partner in this exploit – John Blashford-Snell, who has since become a famous explorer who did the first descent of the Blue Nile, explored the whole Congo River, and the Amazon, shooting many rapids unscathed – had to wade ignominiously back to shore, towing me sitting on the end of the leaky vessel.

The one thing I did master while at cadet school were the steps to the Charleston, then back in fashion. I perfected the knock knees, pigeon toes and tight sideways kick by holding onto the back of my chair in the lecture room as we waited for the next lecturer to arrive. I practised my dancing until I was foot perfect, and by the time we Passed- Out was acknowledged as top of the class by my peers in this useful social accomplishment.

At the end of this gruelling training, interspersed with dances, parties and uniformed guest nights – when we practised the solemn ritual of Passing the Port – you Never lift the decanter from the table and only slide it in the coaster from right to left so it goes around in a circle, using Only the right hand – five of us emerged as second lieutenants. And now reality hit us.

Second lieutenants, we discovered, were despised by all, except new recruits. Everyone knew we hadn’t the faintest idea of what we had to do, from the regimental sergeant major down to the newest corporal. We were saluted, and called ma’am, but we knew that behind this ritual was the thinly concealed contempt of ‘old hands’.  Wet behind the ears, my father would have called us.

Many of the old hands had been through the war, like my motherly platoon sergeant who told me they knew D-Day must be in the offing, when they had to give up all the sheets from their beds, so that the huge new detachments of American soldiers arriving nearby could have the same sheets on their beds! And in the end, it was my platoon sergeant and the company sergeant major who taught me what I needed to know. Which seemed to be mostly to do what they told me!

Their commands varied from: “Here’s the pay books to sign, ma’am”, to: “Time to inspect the recruits, ma’am”, to: “Time to have your tea ma’am”. My requests varied from: “What shall I do now, Sergeant Major?” to: “D’you know where Private Smith is ?  She hasn’t made the tea yet.” A soldier’s life is terrible hard…with apologies to AA Milne and Christopher Robin

To be continued

 Food for threadbare gourmets

 Raw food isn’t really my thing, but I found this recipe for mushroom pate rather delicious. Chop twelve to fifteen baby mushrooms or two really big portobello mushrooms, and marinate them in two tablespoons of olive oil and the same of tamari soya sauce, for half an hour. Put half a cup of walnuts in a food processor and pulse until slightly broken down, and add the mushrooms and a clove of garlic. Pulse until the mixture is slightly chunky and add salt and black pepper to taste. Good on crackers with a glass of wine, or sherry…

Food for thought

Clanmother sent me this time ago, and I love it.  She wrote:   ”  J.R.R. Tolkien lost his best friends in WWI. One of my favourite quotes on war comes from his work, “The Return of the King,”
‘It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under army, british soldiers, cookery/recipes, humour, military history, Thoughts on writing and life, uncategorised, Uncategorized

Ducal splendour and daily deprivation

On my tenth birthday -wearing my pearlsInline image 1

A life – This is the eighth instalment of an autobiographical series before I revert to my normal blogs)

There was a legend that there were no birds in Belsen, that they had fled this dreadful place. That I don’t remember, but I do remember the strange energy, a sense of shifting sands, and unknown menace. The Germans seemed hostile (understandably), and refugees from East Germany trudging past were distant, pre-occupied with despair.

And as well as the British Army, there were also posse’s of Yugoslav soldiers in navy-blue greatcoats, armed with rifles, who constantly patrolled the place, guarding it, though I never discovered what they were guarding it from or why they were there. They had a reputation for being dangerous and unpredictable, and every now and then, one would shoot himself or a comrade.

And our succession of German maids left constantly, Helena after stealing tea, Elsa taking nylon stockings, Hilde our meagre meat ration, and finally Hannah who left to get married;  Kuntz, the big taciturn batman, suddenly disappeared in a rush of joy, when he had word that his wife who he had thought was dead, had surfaced in Berlin.

Behind our house was a pine forest, rich in bilberries, where the local Germans would come in autumn to pick this source of food in a starving land, and beyond that, a mile down the road, was the DP’s camp. Displaced Persons were the survivors of Belsen, still waiting for passports or permission to make their way back home across the bomb- blasted continent to find their scattered families.

One fine summer’s day they torched the pine forest, and our homes were in danger until the fire was checked. The DP’s had set the forest on fire as a desperate gesture to show their frustration and get some action from post -war authorities. I don’t think it made the slightest difference to their plight.

The Allied authorities were dealing with twenty million people trying to get back to homes and families after the war. Many had no homes, families or countries to go to. The problem grew under our eyes, as refugees, another two million in the next four years, fled from Eastern Europe and the Soviets. They came straggling down Hoppenstadt Strasse carrying bulging bundles wrapped in blankets on the end of sticks hoisted over their shoulders like pictures of Dick Whittington.

Unlike him they were not seeking streets paved with gold, but something more precious – freedom. Sometimes they were found sleeping or sheltering in our empty garages, or taking desperately needed clothes from the washing line, and were hurried on or arrested by the implacable Military Police.

The currency was changed from the cardboard money we knew, to the new currency, the Deutschemark. This triggered the months of tension, which even we children were conscious of, when Russia began the process of harassing and then blocking all traffic in and out of Berlin, by road or river. This finally culminated in the historic Berlin Airlift to save the citizens of West Berlin.

Stalin‘s intention was to starve and freeze the Berliners into submission and oust the Allies. He failed, thanks to the extraordinary air-lift when planes flew in and out of Berlin every four minutes bringing in food and fuel for over two million Berliners, and World War Three was averted.

The conquerors shared the hardships of ravaged Europe. Our meagre rations were delivered once a fortnight in a cardboard box. I remember my stepmother looking at a small pile of cucumbers, our vegetables for the next two weeks, and asking in despair what we could do with cucumbers for a fortnight. We only ever had revolting, evaporated, tinned milk to drink for there was no organised milk supply and no pasteurised herds.

Every night for two hours from six till eight the electricity was switched off to save power, and we sat in the darkness playing games like twenty questions to while away the pitch- black hours. There were no candles. Our puppy seized the darkness as an opportunity to chew the rubbers/erasers my father used for the crossword.

The Daily Telegraph crossword was one of the most popular diversions in the regiment, and I achieved minor fame and popularity in the officers mess then. Whoever wrote the crosswords had a penchant for using ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and ‘The Wind in the Willows’ for clues, and a phone call would come from the mess for me. This would then put my parents on to the clue if they hadn’t already. In retrospect, I think there must have been a daily sweepstake for first past the post, judging by the competition to get the thing finished.

The officers mess was the Duke of Hanover’s palace, a little way out of Belsen, and splendid it was. (What had he made of the concentration camp on his doorstep?) We went there occasionally for drinks before lunch on Sundays, and for the children’s Christmas Party, when we played musical chairs in the ballroom under the shining chandeliers, slipping and sliding on the marble floor while little gilt chairs were subtracted from the circle. Then, when the party ended, like nearly every other party of my childhood, we danced Sir Roger de Coverley, with all the parents standing round clapping in time to the music.

Some weekends, we drove out to the Duke’s hunting lodge in the middle of a pine forest, where deer darted out onto the road, and wild boar lurked. This gemutlich little pile was now the officers club, run by a friendly middle-aged German couple. Had they always been the stewards of this place, I wondered later? Did they transfer their loyalties to their new employers in the interim, and hold the place in trust until the Duke regained his ancestral homes – if indeed he did?

Anyway, their speciality were delicious, lavishly sugared doughnuts, stuffed with butter icing. The glory of these doughnuts in a life of total gastronomic deprivation and war-time rations was utterly memorable (Did the Duke enjoy them too, before and after us?) My parents managed to get some of these dough-nuts for my tenth birthday.

It was the first birthday I had ever spent with my father, who went off to war when I was ten -months- old and my mother was pregnant with my sister. The previous year when I was nine, we were still in Yorkshire while he was battling his way to Belsen. He seemed more excited than I. The night before, when I went into the garden to say good-night to them, sitting in wicker chairs with their gin and tonics, I was allowed to stay up beyond seven o’clock, so my father could give me my birthday presents.

He was too excited to wait until morning. He gave me a string of pearls and a black fountain pen with a gold clip and nib. When the next birthday came, it was different, for he and my stepmother had a baby son, and my sister and I were rather a chore by then.

My stepmother had learned German and French at school, and rather fancied herself as a linguist. So she seized this opportunity to try to turn us into cosmopolitans too. Thanks to the puppy we’d become friendly with the local German vet from Bergen village five miles away. His twenty year old  daughter Suzanne became our German teacher, and she came every Sunday afternoon to teach us nouns and verbs and the endless der, die, and das, to be sorted through and applied to each noun.

She left us with piles of homework to do, and extraordinary medieval -looking text books with print that looked like something straight off Caxton’s press. The print was extra black, and the S’s and F’s and W’s and V’s expressly designed to trick baffled and ignorant nine and ten- year- olds.

She also told us how lucky we were, because her younger sister Hildegarde and brother Carljurgen had no paper and pencil at school, just broken, leftover stubs, and had to write in the margins of printed books when they wrote answers and essays. I didn’t always feel lucky. Her father, Herr Muller, called regularly, whether our various dogs needed his attentions or not. He regarded my parents as friends – or at any rate, their gin bottle.

In return for the generous helpings of gin he sipped – unobtainable in civilian Germany – he would bring my stepmother a specimen of the many extraordinary varieties of exotic orchids which he grew. I thought they were awful, not like flowers at all, but fantastically petalled and bearded and contorted in strange fluorescent pinks and acid greens and sharp yellows. He would arrive bearing this gift, and bend over my stepmother’s hand, clicking his heels together and bowing, in a strange old- fashioned Prussian ritual.

After some months of laborious social intercourse – his English becoming more broken with the quantity of gin consumed – we were invited to his house in Bergen to meet his wife. We had tea on exquisite Meissen china, but because they could get sugar at the time, but no flour, we had no cakes or biscuits, but dipped sour apples from the garden into the sugar, as a substitute for cake. The grownups managed with a cup of tea.

The vet’s wife was a fair-haired, washed-out, melancholy woman. When I exclaimed enthusiastically over the beautiful porcelain, she told me that they’d hidden it with all their other treasures in a hole under the cellar, so the invaders wouldn’t loot them. Even as a child I thought this was rather tactless. Invaders? Was she talking about us?

She also reminisced about the awfulness of the war to my parents, she and her daughter Suzanne, our teacher, describing the anguish of seeing their poor, wounded soldiers in blood- stained bandages in passing trains. Back home I heard my stepmother snort indignantly: “If they saw those trains, how come they didn’t know about the others!”

Since I didn’t understand what she was talking about it stuck in my mind, but some years later, I realised she was referring to the trains of the condemned heading for Belsen. In her book “The Children’s House of Belsen,” Hetty Verolme describes the platform at Celle lined with thirty SS men and Alsation dogs straining at the leash as her train pulled in from Holland. They then, eleven hundred young and old, sick and exhausted, hungry and thirsty, straggled the fifteen  miles or so to Belsen on foot and apparently unobserved by the local population, who denied all knowledge of the camp when the British authorities discovered it and questioned them.

But the friendship limped on. One summer’s day, Hildegarde and Carljurgen, the one with long fair plaits, and wearing a dirndl skirt and long, white, lace socks, the other, just as fair haired and blue-eyed, wearing leather lederhosen, long, white lace socks and black boots, took me driving in their farm cart, rumbling and swaying down narrow farm tracks between fields of blazing blue and purple lupins shimmering with tiny butterflies in the sunshine. Carljurgen let me hold the reins. He avoided that other field, where there were miles and miles of burnt -out German tanks my parents had shown us one dank winter’s day.

My father said I was learning to ride like a Prussian officer. The army stables were run by an aristocratic Prussian officer- not, of course, using his military rank now – but known merely as Herr Freiser. He took great pains with me, never guessing that I was terrified of the huge jumps he put me over. Fear runs along the reins, I would remember from reading Black Beauty, and hope I was bluffing the huge, far -too- big military horse I rode regularly. A big brushwood jump was one thing, but the fence on the wall was too much, and I came off every time, never knowing what had happened until it was all over.

Herr Freiser’s blonde, classically beautiful Prussian wife regarded me with loathing, as though I was a pet cockroach her husband was training. But I decided she hated all English, and was probably still a Nazi lady. They lived in the groom’s quarters by the stables, and were lucky to have a job and a home in their ruined country, though she obviously didn’t think so.

Their gilded furniture, rescued no doubt from their Prussian schloss, was piled right up to the ceiling in one room, while they lived in the other. Herr Freiser seemed as frightened of her as I was. She would stalk through the stable yard in her immaculate jodhpurs, her glare like a blue flame from her icy blue eyes.

To be continued –  back to England

Food for threadbare gourmets

Having eaten a lot of curry in hot climates like tropical Malaya and humid Hongkong, it seems quite normal to me to eat it in our hot humid summer days at the moment. Curry Tiffin on Sunday in the Officers Mess was a hallowed ritual, and I used to love the choice of beef, lamb or chicken curry, gently simmering in large casseroles on the long polished table. These days, since I shattered my leg, and am less interested in standing for hours over a hot stove, I’m always looking for short cuts and now use some quick ingredients I’ve shunned in the past.

So I used both ready-made chopped garlic from a jar and also ginger for this old recipe, and it worked like a treat. I mostly do vegetarian curries these days… chop an onion and a couple of tomatoes, and in a blender whizz them to a paste with two cups of water, a dessert spoonful of prepared garlic, half a dessert spoon of ginger, several dessert spoons of tomato paste, a dessert spoon of curry powder, a good sprinkling of turmeric and half a teaspoon of stevia powder, or brown sugar.

Tip half this mixture into a pan with half a cup of cream, and let it boil and reduce while five or six chopped mushrooms are gently frying in butter or olive oil.

Combine the two when the curry mixture has thickened, and add some ginger marmalade to soften the sharpness if necessary. Hard boil an egg and chop it over the curry. This amount serves one greedy person, and I ate it with chopped steamed cauliflower instead of rice. (I try to avoid rice since I read that it contains two to three times the amount of carbohydrate than bread. I would also eat this mix with lentils)

The other half of the curry sauce I freeze for another time, when I would curry cauliflower and peas instead of mushrooms, or even some chicken.

Food for thought

Nobody is superior, nobody is inferior, but nobody is equal either. People are simply unique, incomparable. You are you, I am I.                                                                         Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh  Indian guru

Some facts about post-war Bergen-Belsen for those who may be interested…

Adults didn’t tell us much back then… so I’ve done a lot of research to try to understand what was going on around me then. First of all, I discovered, Belsen became the holding place for DP’s from many other camps, who were unable to return to their homes behind the Iron Curtain. The facilities were the best, since they were accommodated in a Panzer training depot next door to the camp, and we all know that Hitler’s military got the best!

But many DP’s were not only depressed and traumatised but hostile to all authority after their experiences, and not all refugees were upright, honest pillars of the community – there was riff-raff as well. They were very difficult for the British to deal with – who were also tired and traumatised after six years of war, and their own social problems like returning to families who hadn’t seen them for six years.

The Jewish leader in the camp, Josef Rosensaft, a charismatic Belsen survivor, would only communicate with the frustrated British in Yiddish, even though he was a perfectly fluent English- speaker. He agitated for everyone to go to Palestine, as it then was, instead of trying to find other countries. (The Americans were still only taking in tiny numbers of refugees or displaced persons) And the British were constrained by the Mandate, (a responsibility given them after World War 1) and were not allowed to let unlimited refugees into Palestine.

The Arabs – rightly as it turns out -were concerned about their place in their own country. After the Balfour declaration, a quota of Jews had trickled in, but this didn’t bother them, when it was two thousand a year. Come Hitler, numbers jumped to 60,000 the first year and continued to rise, until the Arabs were fearful they would be outnumbered (they were right to be fearful). The British were caught in the middle of this.

Also, Europe was in chaos at the time, and the British Zone had very little farming land, so food was a real problem for the British authorities, both in England and in their zone of Germany. Labour Prime Minister Attlee considered at one stage reducing the ration for the English to 1700 calories a day, they were so up against it, with paying off the huge loans to the Americans for Lend lease – which they finally paid with all the interest in 2006.

This was also the time of the changing of the currency and the Berlin Airlift. At the same time the Black Market was a nightmare for the authorities, and it was discovered that Belsen was the biggest hub of the Black Market. British Lieutenant General Sir Frederick Morgan, chief of “displaced persons” operations for UNRRA, recorded in his memoir that :‘under Zionist auspices there had been organized at Belsen a vast illegitimate trading organization with worldwide ramifications and dealing in a wide range of goods, principally precious metals and stones. A money market dealt with a wide range of currencies.’

The British wanted to go in and search the place, and stamp it out. But Josef Rosensaft held them off for nine months, stalling over the idea of German police or British soldiers trespassing on their hallowed refuge after all they’d been through with the Nazis. By the time the British got into the camp, the evidence had been hidden or destroyed. All these events built up real hostility and dislike, which is why, I suppose, so many people, unable to distinguish between the ‘goodies and the baddies’, became unsympathetic to the D.P.s.

Ninety-six young English medical students volunteered to help the doctors and nurses coping with the disaster they had found in 1945. In the two months following, 14,000 more people died, too far gone from disease and starvation to save. Many could literally no longer stomach food, and many solutions were tried. Apart from the trials of Kramer, his infamous women guards/tormentors, and a dozen or so other guards from Auschwitz as well as Belsen, by the British, no-one else was ever held to account by the Germans for the deaths of more than 50,000 people.

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Filed under army, birds, british soldiers, cookery/recipes, history, life and death, life/style, military history, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, uncategorised, Uncategorized, world war two

These I have loved

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Preparing for the next adventure in my life, I look around the house wondering what to keep and what to let go, and I realise there are some things I cannot be parted from. They own me and I am their custodian.

There’s the pair of wooden corkscrew candlesticks which belonged to my grandmother. They sat on her kitchen mantelpiece above the black range, and since they came into my hands, I have carted them around the world. She was a feisty little red- haired late Victorian lady who converted to the Salvation Army as a girl and went to the East End of London to help save souls and sell the Army’s newspaper, ‘The War Cry’ outside pubs at closing time – and got pelted with rotten fruit for her pains. Another of the stories she told me was about her grandfather, Captain Covell, reputedly the first man to sail a paddle steamer up the Thames in the early years of the nineteenth century, and that when he arrived at the docks he was given the Freedom of the City of London.

She told me how she was asleep with her sister Jessie in her bedroom in a leafy Kent town the night Woolwich Arsenal blew up in 1907. The sky was red, and the bedroom windows and the glass in her dressing table shattered.
“We fell on our knees, and prayed” she told me, “we thought the end of the world had come.” At seven I had never imagined the world could come to an end and was haunted by this terrifying possibility for the rest of my childhood (neither did I know what Woolwich Arsenal was). She always referred to World War One as ‘The Great War’ … her husband had fought in it and her only brother died in it.

She was a highly intelligent woman, who typically for her period in history, had no outlet for her talents, and my brother once told me he’d never seen anyone add a column of figures faster; while I, during my childhood, was the beneficiary of her large collection of books, including antique early editions of classics like Pilgrim’s Progress, Foxe’s Martyrs, and Robinson Crusoe (which I was driven to read by the time I was eight, for lack of children’s books). My sister inherited her feisty nature, my brother her piercing intelligence, and I, her bent for the spiritual life which never left her, her love of reading, and the candle sticks.

A treasured brass tray on the pine dresser was hammered out of the top of a shell case by my father’s batman. The batman had etched classic Egyptian figures into the brass, in their classic sideways pose. I don’t know how long they had served together… but my father had been a Desert Rat and escaped from Tobruk, while the alliterative names of his battles rang around my childhood, Sidi Bahrani, and Sidi Rezegh, Bardia and Benghazi… before then he had escaped from France three weeks after Dunkirk, and later, fought his way up Italy before returning to Egypt when the war was over.

I was a baby when he left, and nearly nine when he returned in 1947, to be posted with the Occupation forces to Belsen two months later. My tenth birthday was the first I ever spent with him, and he was so excited that he gave me my presents the night before… a string of pearls and a black fountain pen with a gold nib and clip… the last presents he ever chose for me himself. He died too young to know his grandchildren and great grandchildren, and before I was mature enough to want to know about him and his war, so the brass tray, the one possession of his that I have, is priceless.

The egg-shell china antique coffee set, white, blue and gold, was given to me on my wedding day by my step- grandmother who had also received them on her wedding day, and her book –Testament of Youth – she gave me to read when I was seventeen. In spite of Vera Brittain’s rather priggish voice to me, a child of the forties and fifties, I still dissolved into a puddle of anguished tears as I read it. And I understood from it much about this grandmother, who over a hundred years ago now, had waved her fiancee away, rainbow banners billowing in the north- country breeze, flowers flying, trumpets sounding, drums tapping out a triumphant tattoo as the exuberant young men marched through the village in 1914… never to return.

She was so beautiful that it wasn’t hard for her to find a husband even in a time when there were too few men, and she often reminisced to me about that distant past. She told me about the floating flowered tulle tea gown she wore to a garden party in Shrewsbury in the early thirties when she met the Prince of Wales; of the doctor who set eyes on her, and wanted to marry her, only to see her pushing her pram a few days later… the time her long frilly white petticoat suddenly fell to the pavement from under her long skirt, and how she simply stepped out of it and walked away…. memories that will disappear like gossamer shreds of tulle too, when I no longer remember them.

I will keep the tiny etching of Ripon Cathedral for a grandchild – it had once belonged his other great-grandfather, a padre who was badly wounded on a beach at D-Day. On the back in faded italic handwriting is its story. It says that when the North Transept of Ripon Cathedral was re-roofed in 1842, the wood from the original roof was used to frame this picture. The Cathedral, a work in progress on the site of three former buildings, was finally roofed in 1156. It takes up to a hundred and fifty years before an oak is ready to use in construction, so the mature oak used for the roof, and now framing the picture, must have been growing well before 1066, that dividing line in English history. So the wood in this frame is over a thousand years old.

Which makes me think of the span of years that my memories stretch across. Our formidable black-garbed great-grandmother was in her nineties when I met her as a four- year- old in 1942, which means that she was born just before the 1850’s, a hundred and sixty-five years ago now. By the time my eldest grandchild is in his eighties, sixty years from now, the span of generations will be two hundred and twenty five years… not long in the history of the world, but the span of two lifetimes have seen the world move from the age of steam, crinoline and candle-light, to this blog – one of over eighty million on the internet – and to travel in space among the stars… so where will the world be at the end of that third life-time in 2075?

These facts and figures make me feel that my sentimental memories and guardianship of these little possessions may not have any significance at all. L.P. Hartley wrote: ‘The past is a foreign country’, and for today’s generations this may be only too true. So I now feel that though I‘ll continue to cherish these objects linked to other proud and passionate lives – lives lived through some of the most turbulent times in the history of the world – in the future, these things may not be so precious to anyone else
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To a generation who live in the present, preserving the moment in selfies and on Facebook, tweeting and twittering and texting, my past, our ancestors, and the last century must seem as far away as the days of the dinosaurs… ah well, I tell myself, ‘ sic transit gloria mundi ‘- ‘ So passes away earthly glory…

Food for threadbare gourmets
On a cold wet winter’s day when I read of summer blossoming in blogs all over the northern hemisphere, I think of this salad, which is good in any season in which you can find fresh fennel and hard green apples – preferably grannie smiths.
I grind 75 gms of walnuts in the grinder which I use for parmesan cheese, and stir them into a quarter of a cup of good quality mayonnaise, quarter of a cup of plain yogurt and the zest and juice of a lemon to taste. Slice two grannie smiths and a large fennel bulb into thin matchsticks, and then mix with the walnut mixture. A few chopped fennel leaves are good too. If you like ham, it’s good with it, but I just eat it with a hard-boiled egg and crusty rolls for a refreshing lunch.

Food for thought
These I have loved:
White plates and cups, clean-gleaming,
Ringed with blue lines; and feathery, faery dust;
Wet roofs, beneath the lamp-light; the strong crust
Of friendly bread; and many-tasting food;
Rainbows; and the blue bitter smoke of wood …
The first lines from Rupert Brooke’s nostalgic poem The Great Lover

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Rise up children and be free

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How to make yourself very, very unpopular!  Years ago I discovered that in the tug of war between the rights of women and the needs of children it can be dangerous to take sides. I gave up writing supportive articles about feminism, since there were already plenty of them, and started to defend the rights of children. It seemed to me then that children’s well – being was in danger of being forgotten in the rush for rights for women in this country.

To my amazement, the very active feminists around me ostracised me – crossed the road rather than acknowledge me if I met them in the street, and carried on a sustained campaign over the years of hostile letters about me and my articles in the local press. Many years later one of the most prominent and talented of these women, by then a mother herself, wrote a book on mothering in which she vindicated my stand, saying I was the only woman in NZ who had stood up for motherhood.

I say this as I gear myself up for what could well be an infuriated response to this blog by people who feel passionately about the rights of women. Because now I’m bothered about motherhood. It’s a fact of life that when women become mothers they have to give up lots of rights – the right to a night of unbroken sleep, the right to go to the loo without an audience, the right to have an un-interrupted conversation with a friend… the list of lost freedoms is a long one. But we all know that babies and children must come first.

So it bothers me to read that women are artificially having babies into their fifties and sixties, or when they don’t have a partner to support them and their child. I know from experience how hard it is to be a single mother, and to try to be both mother and father. And I feel sad for children who lose their elderly mothers to illness or old age before they are even adults. Children are stuck with what sometimes seem to me to be selfish choices and I don’t feel that all women have the right to have a child, if the child’s quality of life is at risk.

But even worse, is to read that in the US, Canada, Australia and Germany, women are not just being being sent on active service, but now to fight as front line soldiers. An enraged man wrote a blog that this was ridiculous as women were not physically strong enough to do what has to be done in the front line and under fire, he felt that men were being endangered, and he’s probably right.

But what bothers me is that many women serving now are also mothers, with their husbands also serving. Surely we all know now that parting a baby or a young child from their parents breaks the bonds of trust. Abandonment sets them up for all sorts of emotional problems and relationship difficulties both in childhood and in later life. And most people now too, surely know that this is one of the traumas that propels hurting teenagers into drugs and alcohol dependency, pregnancies and violence, and too often, broken relationships, marriages and unskilled parenting?

And if the mother is killed on active service – where does this leave the child, growing up feeling that his or her mother chose her career and the thrill of fighting over the commitment of mothering? Do the temporary caregivers love the child, and are they happy to discover that now it’s a lifetime commitment? If it’s elderly grandparents, were they looking forward to a peaceful retirement, or maybe coping with ill health?

For older children the parting from their mothers is just as traumatic. It more than bothers me to think of a child having to say goodbye to their mother, living with care-givers who may or may not love him or her, and going to school every day, either longing for a letter or text from their mother, or wondering if this is the day they’re going to hear that their mother has been wounded or killed.

I was six and a half when my mother walked out of my life forever, and I know how it feels for those children. The trauma was so great that I was forty five and on a personal growth course before I could bring myself to mention my mother again. What anger and grief vulnerable, broken-hearted little boys and traumatised little girls will grow up with, feeling rejected by a mother who left them behind. Little boys rarely receive again that tenderness and gentleness that a mother can give her son, and little girls are lucky if they find a loving stepmother who doesn’t prefer her own children.

We read of worrying numbers of soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq committing suicide, and the veterans who come home so deeply traumatized by their experiences that they never recover. Some become violent – thirty per cent of returning British soldiers are involved in violence on their return – others are so deeply depressed that they are unable to work, and unable to sustain their relationships.  How will it be for children if their mothers, as well as their fathers, come home in this state? Or so badly wounded that they can’t care for their children?

I wonder if when the policymakers, finding they were running out of men to send on active service, thought – ah, we can send women, and they will approve because they’ll feel they’re now truly equal, and we’ll get some brownie points – I wonder if they ever thought about the children, and the huge social problems they are cooking up for the future? Have they planned any safeguards for the innocent traumatised  children of traumatised parents?

Did they ever stop to consider that children do have rights, even if they’ve never been spelt out?  Though there is no mention of the rights of a child in the Bill of Rights, at least the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says specifically in Article 25 that: “mothers and children are entitled to special care and assistance… and should enjoy… social protection.”  Mothers should be exempt from any service which takes them away from their children, or which infringes on the child’s right to be loved and to feel safe. And for this reason, it bothers me that we imprison mothers… the long term damage to children when parted from their mothers is incalculable.

A boy who’d been adopted at birth, endured a cruel childhood and been returned to the welfare agencies at twelve, bewildered and maimed, was in our car going on an outing, when my little ones began singing a song they’d learned at school, with a haunting tune. The words were “Rise up children and be free… free your brothers, free your sisters, rise up children and be free…”  Sing it again, the boy cried, with a catch in his voice. I realised the words felt like hope for him.

I hope and I wish that mothers could rise up to protect their children, and refuse to be parted from them. Surely all mothers would support them? Yes, women have a voice – but do mothers and children? And is there any good reason why children should be emotionally damaged at home while their mothers are in a foreign country learning how to kill in wars that nobody wants?

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

People are coming tomorrow to inspect the old chap’s collection of Japanese antiques. I’ll have to give them morning coffee and something to nibble. I thought of hot scones, but can’t be bothered juggling with the butter and the strawberry jam and the whipped cream, butter knives and napkins. A cake seems a bit grand, and actually too much trouble for a business encounter, so I’ve decided on flapjacks – nice and chewy, comforting and sustaining.

Melt six oz of butter and stir in six oz of brown sugar, a pinch of salt and eight oz of rolled oats. Mix them thoroughly and press into a well greased tin. Smooth the mix with a knife and bake for about thirty five minutes in a moderate oven. When cooked and golden brown, cut into squares in the tin, and leave in the tin until quite cold. I like a quite thick flapjack, so they are moist and chewy, so I put this amount in a smallish tin. I often double the amounts, and I usually use half sugar to half golden syrup for a stickier flapjack.

It’s easy because you don’t have to worry about it rising, and it doesn’t go stale either.

Food for Thought

Don’t make assumptions. Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement you can completely change your life.

Don Miguel Ruiz Mexican teacher and shaman

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Carrying On With The Army Again (part 4)

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This is the continuing story of ‘my brilliant career’ in the army! I had returned from my regime of prayer and fasting, otherwise known as a Religious Leadership course, none the wiser, but many times lighter from the in-edible food provided along with regular religious services by the Army Chaplain’s Department..

Back at my all women unit I prepared for my next adventure, and another opportunity to meet the young men we yearned to fall in love with, but never got within coo-ee of. Going on a  course was the only opportunity of meeting the opposite sex, so this time I’d sent my name in for a fire fighting course.

The instructions told me to bring a boiler suit. This did not bode well for a non-athletic person, but I accordingly went to the quarter-master, a grim north countrywoman who’d served all through World War Two, and didn’t approve of frivolous young things like me. Accordingly she issued me with a khaki boiler suit with its outrageous measurements listed on a label stitched to my bottom. It was so huge I had to wear a belt round the middle of my newly skinny frame to keep it up, and was, as I assumed the quartermaster had intended, a perfect antidote to any masculine interest!

Arriving at the squalid house where a harpy ripped off the army by giving us abominable food and beds, I walked into the ante room, where a group of attractive -looking young men stopped talking and sat in frozen silence, while I wondered what on earth to say or do. Luckily an old boy friend arrived and took me out to dinner (my last decent food for a fortnight), and told me that while he waited for me to go and change, one of these young men addressed the room, and declaimed: “What was that!”

The next day we all gathered at the Maidstone Fire Station. We began with a long introductory lecture, the gist of which I found hard to follow, as the Chief Fire Officer repeatedly emphasized that there would be no blue jokes and sexual innuendo. Every time these remarks were re-iterated, the various young men stole sideways looks at me, and I sat there completely mystified. But after a few days of lectures, when the practical work began, light dawned. From now on, as we reeled hoses, and ran up and down directing icy water, and manhandled female couplings, man holes, male-female connections and a number of other technical terms, I realised what these kindly firemen had tried to spare me!

Every day when we staggered back to our digs on freezing foggy December afternoons, I for one, was absolutely shattered with reeling and running and sliding down greasy poles and even climbing out of a tower on what seemed to be a piece of white cotton, and being lowered to the ground. (where my knees gave way from the aftermath of terror, and I fell on them).

I made sure I was first into the bathroom to warm up with a hot bath, and it was only on the last day, I discovered that the extreme chivalry of my fellow sufferers had caused them to hide from me the fact that that was the only hot bath in the cistern. There was no more hot water until the next morning when I had my early morning bath! On the last day too, the lovely men at the Fire Brigade staged a ceremony at which they gave me their badge mounted on a piece of leather for me to wear as a medal, and said I could come back and join their brigade any time I wanted.

Back to my nunnery at the depot, I thankfully forgot about fire fighting, and never gave it another thought. Two years later, when I had unexpectedly been made a captain at the early age of twenty two, I was posted with this rank to another all-women unit – the training centre! Did they have something against me at the War Office?

When I was taking over the job from a much older and rather sporty woman who drove the latest model expensive sports car – a cream TR4 –  she pointed out that I would also be taking over as fire officer from her as well.  “Did you do that awful course at Maidstone?” she asked in her clipped tones.  I nodded, feeling slightly intimidated by this very assured person. “Some bloody Amazon had done it just before me,” she continued, “and I was expected to run around and climb out of towers and generally behave as though I was on an outward bound course.”

Good heavens, I thought to myself. That must have been me. Didn’t I have to do all those hefty horrendous fire- fighting exercises? No wonder the Maidstone Fire Brigade had taken me to their hearts, given me their badge and offered me a job! My fire fighting duties here at Liphook were not too onerous, and consisted of regularly inspecting the seven rather dim General Duties soldiers, allotted to us to do any heavy work. When lined up for inspection they looked rather like the seven dwarfs. Our fire-fighting equipment consisted of rows of three red – painted galvanised steel fire-buckets filled with sand lined up outside each hut, along with a stirrup pump. Naturally we made sure that the ancient stirrup pumps were in good working order!

The camp was surrounded by bracken covered heath which often caught fire, and I would hear the Liphook volunteer fire fighters sounding their siren. One night I turned over hearing the siren again, and was just sleepily thinking that it sounded much nearer than usual, when my bedroom door flew open, and there stood my stout colonel, fearsome in riding breeches and a duffle coat flung on over her pyjamas. “That’s Our fire alarm,” she barked!

To be continued ! Three previous instalments of this account of my brilliant army career are in the archives under: ‘A Soldiers Life is Terrible Hard’ and: ‘Carrying on with the Army.’

 

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

 

I’ve spent the Easter break knocking up dinners, lunches and morning teas for relays of family and friends who’ve come every day of the holidays. At the beginning of the holiday I baked a fruit cake which would last for the whole holiday, moist and too filling to gobble up.

It’s simplicity itself. The basic recipe is one pound of mixed fruit, half a pound of butter and a bit less of sugar, three eggs, half a pound of flour, pinch of salt and vanilla. You simmer the fruit in a little water until soft, then add sugar, butter, essence and salt, and when cool add the beaten eggs and the flour. Bake in a medium to slow oven for an hour or until cooked.

I’ve never made the basic recipe. I add extra fruit, things like chopped dates, finely chopped figs and sometimes prunes, a spoonful of fig and ginger jam or apricot, I use brown sugar, treacle or golden syrup instead of some of the sugar, and sometimes add spices and nutmeg, or orange and lemon juice…ginger marmalade…  sometimes ground almonds, or oatmeal or whole meal flour – anything that I think will be delicious! It never tastes the same, but it’s always moist and more-ish. I dredge the top with sugar, so it has a nice crisp sweet top. Simple!

 

Food for Thought

Let all the strains of joy mingle in my last song – the joy that makes the earth flow over in the riotous excess of the grass, the joy that sets the twin brothers, life and death, dancing over the wide world, the joy that sweeps in with the tempest, shaking and waking all life with laughter, the joy that sits still with its tears on the open lotus of pain, and the joy that throws everything it has upon the dust, and knows not a word.

Rabindranath Tagore, the very sound of whose name is poetry, is one of my favourite poets. He was a Bengali, and lived from 1861 to 1941

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Awards Are Awesome…And…

I have mixed feelings about all awards, not just bloggers awards.,

We’ve just had the New Year Queen’s Honours list announced in this country, and as usual the people who’ve had successful careers – many of them having made pots of money – have had the top honours and titles. At the bottom of the list were the people who deserved the top awards – people who’d loved and fostered 150 children, someone who’d worked teaching oldies how to keep fit for 57 years, a solitary SPCA worker, who’d rescued countless animals…

When it comes to bloggers awards my feelings are mixed too… not, I hasten to say, because the wrong people get them! But when I was ten my father sent me to a convent school. The nuns were mostly French and Belgian, but the bane of my life was not a nun, but a bigoted Irish maths teacher – the only person there who was not a nun.

She made up for it by being far more religious than the rest of them put together, so that even in the middle of long division she’d stop us all to stand up and recite the Angelus. Everyone loved it, because we stopped doing maths for about five minutes!

I had three strikes against me as far as she was concerned. I was hopeless at maths. I wasn’t a Catholic  – and secretly refused to pray as she instructed,  for my non-Catholic parents – I just didn’t believe they were going to end up in hell and pits of flame.

The third strike and final nail in my coffin came in the middle of a maths lesson when I became so angry at hearing history being twisted, and how beastly we Protestants had been to the “puir” Catholics like Guy Fawkes who’d tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament, and other famous plotters, that I rebelled.

I stood up to answer back with Bloody Mary’s burnings, the Borgia Pope’s poisonings and the Spanish Inquisition’s torturing and burning. (Thanks to my grandmother’s book shelves I had all the information at my finger-tips.)

I got no further than the Inquisition, because she clapped her hands against her ears and cried out in her thick Irish brogue to the rest of the class: “Oh what a pack of Protestant lies!”

No-one spoke to me for a long time after that. The worst thing was the regular and ritual public humiliation of being picked for teams of rounders and netball. The nuns would choose two girls to pick their teams. One by one the team leaders pointed to their best friends, their next best friends, the people who weren’t any good at games, and finally I was left – to tag onto one or other team. Always last to be chosen – if you could call it that – the most unpopular girl in the class.

This preamble is actually about Awards!

I was bowled over by the generosity of Stephanie at http://kokopellibeefreeblog.wordpress.com/2012/12/27/acknowledging-the-acknowledgement/ and oawritingspoemspaintings   who each gave me an award on my first day back at the office – I mean blogging! I love reading about people’s awards, and learning things about them, and reading the blogs that they nominate.

I totally get what a great idea it is, what a gift it feels to those who receive the awards, and what a gift too to the blogging world, as we are given the opportunity to explore new blogs we otherwise wouldn’t have come across.

Like everyone else, I’m always tickled pink when someone thinks of me too, and it’s always rather moving to read what others have to say about one’s blogs. The generous recognition from fellow writers, and from what feels like family is very precious.

But when it comes to dealing with awards, my heart sinks, and I feel overwhelmed. I’m so kack-handed that my computer skills are zilch, and I simply can’t work out how to deal with the technical side of it all.

But the real nub of the matter, is that I flinch from trying to pick just a handful of deserving blogs from all the lovely blogs I read. I hate to think of people feeling they’ve been left out of the netball team, or left at the end of the queue… whenever I give a child a birthday present I give all the other children a present too.

I know we’re all adults, and presumably well-adjusted, integrated ones! But I simply don’t want to choose between blogs – some of which I read for their spiritual content and profundity, some for their humour and wit, some to live vicariously and savour life on the farm, or in the country, or exploring churches, or growing and cooking food, some for their glorious photography, or poetry, some for their quirkiness, intelligence or thoughtfulness, others for information I’d hate to miss, and others to share their insights, challenges and be awed by their courage.

Some I follow just because the personality of the writers is so gentle, good and sincere, that the world feels a better place for knowing that they exist. Each blog has its own perfume, and each one is so unique. In fact, I love you all!

So since I don’t want to fulfil the conditions of the awards, it’s not fair to accept them either.  So I must say thank you, but no thank you, for all the reasons above.

And as I step back from the awards, I want to thank the many generous and wonderful bloggers who have gifted me not just with awards, but with kindness and friendship and encouragement… if I start to name you, I will be doing what I dread, I might leave someone out! So congratulations to you all, my wonderful blogging family, and a happy new year of living, writing and blogging!

PS  There was a sequel to the story of the maths mistress. Thirteen years later, feeling like the cat’s whiskers in my expensive fitted green uniform, high heeled court shoes, and painted nails, fresh from London, I sashayed into the first school I’d been invited to speak at in my new job  on the Army Team of Lecturers. It was in remote country, and I was puzzled, because the children didn’t seem to be the right age group, and it was a shabby, run-down rather sad place. I wondered why I’d been invited.

The head mistress who greeted me and my film operator was a faded, vulnerable, and anxious middle-aged woman with an Irish brogue. I suddenly realised it was my old adversary, Miss Cummins. Intriguing as the coincidence seemed, I refrained from recognising her, and reminding her of her glory days in the upmarket school where we’d first met. The reversal in our fortunes seemed too painful to gloat over. I discovered that revenge was not sweet at all.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

I know it’s politically incorrect to dislike lettuce, but so it is for me. I don’t mind iceberg lettuce, love cos lettuce in Caesar salad, but arugula and all the fancy fashionable green leaves leave me cold. Unfortunately arugula has 70 per cent more calcium than iceberg, 50 per cent more magnesium, 40 percent more beta-carotene and sixty per cent more vitamin C. And since I have a generous neighbour who gives me the overflow of arugula from her garden, I feel I should accept fresh organic nutritious food, and behave myself!

I’ve now found a way of enjoying it. After reading that soup is the most efficient way of absorbing nutrients, I’ve created what I call green soup. Take one chopped onion sauted in butter, or leave it out and just use a leek, plus a stick of celery, some broccoli if you have it, and a potato for thickening purposes – all chopped.

Gently fry them in butter or oil. Then add some chicken stock and simmer until soft. Wash and tear the lettuce leaves, and put this with plenty of parsley and celery leaves into the blender with a cup of milk. Whizz till they’re blended, then pour this bright green mix into the soup, whizz the whole lot, and re-heat. (I don’t use parsley stalks as they can taste bitter.)

Season with salt and pepper. I usually add nutmeg, and sometimes a taste of sugar makes a difference, especially if there’s lots of lettuce. I add and leave out all sorts of different green vegetables, including asparagus. It always tastes fresh and delicious, served hot or cold. Sometimes there’s more celery in it, sometimes more leeks, sometimes plenty of broccoli – they all work. This is more than enough for two.

Food for Thought

The final piece of reaching for authentic power is releasing your own to a higher form of wisdom.                                                                                                                                 Gary Zukav,  born 1942.  Author of ‘Dancing Wu Li Masters’ and ‘The Seat of The Soul’. Popular and regular guest on Oprah Winfrey’s show.

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A Soldier’s Life is Terrible Hard -Part 11

By popular demand, another instalment of a soldier’s life!!

After my somewhat chequered career as a recruit I set off for officer cadet school with the rest of my intake – all eleven of us who had surfaced from the forty other applicants.

I learned later that it was no coincidence that the Colonel happened to come past the transport as we left, looking keenly at me! Oblivious to the impact I had had on various unfortunates at the depot, I discovered that officer cadet school was just like going back to boarding school, only better – I got paid!. As the youngest, and just out of school, I probably found it easier than the rest who had enjoyed their freedom. But to me, regular study periods, meals in the dining room, putting on uniform every day, was just more of the same.

Cadet school was set in a camp left behind by the Canadians after D –Day. Our nearest neighbours were the TB patients in the next door sanatorium. No potential there for hobnobbing with the opposite sex. The camp was surrounded by silver birch woods, which stretched for miles to the nearest village, and on still June nights I would wake to hear nightingales singing in the moonlight.

The only difference to boarding school was the hours spent on the huge parade square being drilled by a tiny sergeant major, less than five feet tall, whose mighty voice echoed not just around the parade square but on and beyond to the main Portsmouth road. As the eleven of us wheeled and drilled, and right formed, and fell into line, came to a halt, and about turned, a line of lorry drivers would pull up on the side of the road to watch us for their amusement, while they ate their sandwiches.

Thus it felt all the more humiliating, when dreaming about the un-read pages of the timid love letter stuffed hastily into my battledress top to read in our break, that I missed a step, failed to hear the word of command and carried on marching in the opposite direction when the rest had about turned. Love letters – or what passed for them – were a fairly scarce commodity at cadet school, as we might as well have been in a nunnery, we saw so few men or even boys.

The highlights of each term were the invitations to the house of an elderly couple who invited batches of Sandhurst cadets and us girls to hear talks on Moral Re-Armament. Their house just missed being stately, their servants were helpful, their food was heavenly, the worthy talks were utterly boring to frivolous young women, but the chaps might be interesting, we hoped. They never were, but hope always sprang eternal.

Apart from the daily morning parades, and the hours spent perfecting our drill and learning to shout commands that one day would be directed at our platoons as we took them on parade, we spent a great deal of time in lectures on arcane subjects like pay scales, army regulations, map-reading and leadership.

No rifle drill for us, but instead lectures from a series of university lecturers on constitutional history, current affairs, scientific trends and something called Clear Thinking, which involved logic, and fallacies and syllogisms – all considered necessary for a well-educated officer back in 1957!

Constitutional history was taught by the scion of a famous German intellectual family who’d escaped Hitler before the war, but the name of this gentleman was so long that generations of philistine and irreverent cadets just called him ‘Footy’, which he pretended not to know. He also pretended not to know that we never listened to a word he told us about constitutional history and the balance of power between the Commons and the House of Lords, but sat instead endlessly practising our signatures, or planning what to wear on our next trip to London.

Scientific Trends was taught by another mid-European lecturer, only unlike Footy who’d grown up in England, this very gentle man had a very thick accent and a deadly monotone. He showed films to illustrate the scientific trends, and as his lectures were conducted in the cadet sitting room, where there was a film screen, we just curled up in an arm chair in the dark with a bar of chocolate, and usually dozed off.

The rest of the syllabus was devoted to giving us an understanding of life, and the background many of our future charges came from, so we visited a Lyons Swiss roll factory to see what life on a conveyor belt was like, attended a Petty Sessions where we saw sad souls parade before the magistrates, and I felt like a voyeur, and worst of all, went to the Old Bailey. The day we were there we watched a murderer condemned to death, after a crime passionel. His voice after sentence had been passed was like the rustling of dry leaves.

The most challenging part of officer training was the two days I spent in the cook house, discovering how hard life really was. My worst crime was to leave the potatoes so long in the potato peeling machine that they came out the size of marshmallows. The kindly cooks who actually had to deal with this catastrophe, covered up for me, and my copybook was not as blotted as it might have been.

A handful of lectures on strategy and army organisation at Sandhurst were memorable for the lunch breaks when we mingled with the Sandhurst cadets. My most lasting memory is going for a punt on the lake, and it sinking, and my partner in this exploit – John Blashford-Snell, who has since become a famous explorer who did the first descent of the Blue Nile, explored the whole Congo River, and the Amazon, shooting many rapids unscathed – had to wade ignominiously back to shore, towing me sitting on the end of the leaky vessel.

The one thing I did master while at cadet school were the steps to the Charleston, then back in fashion. I perfected the knock knees, pigeon toes and tight sideways kick by holding onto the back of my chair in the lecture room as we waited for the next lecturer to arrive. I practised my dancing until I was foot perfect, and by the time we Passed- Out was acknowledged as top of the class by my peers in this  useful social accomplishment.

At the end of this gruelling training, interspersed with dances, parties and uniformed guest nights – when we practised the solemn ritual of Passing the Port – you Never lift the decanter from the table and only slide it in the coaster from right to left so it goes around in a circle, using Only the right hand – five of us emerged as second lieutenants. And now reality hit us.

Second lieutenants, we discovered, were despised by all, except new recruits. Everyone knew we hadn’t the faintest idea of what we had to do, from the regimental sergeant major down to the newest corporal. We were saluted, and called ma’am, but we knew that behind this ritual was the thinly concealed contempt of ‘old hands’.  Wet behind the ears, my father would have called us.

Many of the old hands had been through the war, like my motherly platoon sergeant who told me they knew D-Day must be in the offing, when they had to give up all the sheets from their beds, so that the huge new detachments of American soldiers  arriving nearby could have the sheets on their beds! And in the end, it was my platoon sergeant and the company sergeant major who taught me what I needed to know. Which seemed to be mostly to do what they told me!

Their commands varied from: “Here’s the pay books to sign, ma’am”, to: “Time to inspect the recruits, ma’am”, to: “Time to have your tea ma’am”. My requests varied from: “What shall I do now, Sergeant Major?” to: “D’you know where Private Smith is ?  She hasn’t made the tea yet.” A soldier’s life is terrible hard…

And as I re-assured my second, and non-military husband who feared that I was the Commanding Officer of our new establishment, he didn’t have to worry – the CO Thinks he runs the place – but it’s the regimental sergeant major who always does. He was very satisfied to be the regimental sergeant major.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

‘Sumer is a-cumen in’ slowly, while the asparagus is a-cumen in quite fast. I love it as a meal in itself. Melted butter of course, is the classic accompaniment to it, but I also love this delicate and delicious Japanese style sauce.

You need one teasp of dried mustard, one teasp of hot water, one egg yolk, one tblesp of dark soy sauce, a teasp of finely chopped fresh ginger (you could use dried) and a quarter of a teasp of salt. Mix the mustard and hot water to a thick paste, then add the rest of the ingredients and stir well. Arrange the blanched asparagus on a platter and pour the sauce over. Serve within three hours. I like it lukewarm.

Food for Thought

There is so much in the world for us all if we only have eyes to see it, and the heart to love it, and the hand to gather it to ourselves.

Lucy Maud Montgomery 1874 – 1942   Canadian writer whose evergreen Anne of Green Gables series of books have enchanted generations of children since they were first published in 1908`

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