Watching his first snowfall through the Mess window, William felt the tensions of the preceding months recede as his body relaxed into the chair. The verdant fields and gently rolling hills around Weymouth were a far cry from the moonscape of Gallipoli that constantly erupted from a deathly storm of arsenal. When he first saw the lush green landscape of England on the train from London, he suddenly felt alive for the first time in months.
It had been weeks since his evacuation and strangely enough, this new world within the safety of the camp still felt quite alien. In moments like the present, he had to remind himself that life in England was normal. At Gallipoli, trying to survive in an abnormal world had become normal. The non-stop destruction of the earth, and every living thing on it, was his norm. That grotesque face of death watched over their waking hours, stealthily waiting to pluck its next victim, or if it so desired, multiple victims. Although William was now away from that environment, the smell of death still followed him, along with the sounds that had invaded his waking hours for four months.
He assumed that away from the war zone the noises would stop, but he was wrong. The most insignificant sound could trigger the resurfacing of those memories that he tried to keep buried in the far reaches of his mind; in a cave on a cliff face, way out of anyone’s reach, most of all his own. Without warning, marching leather boots along the streets of Weymouth, can set the earth off in a pounding rage. Even the chink of a silver teaspoon against a china teacup can suddenly transform into a flying bullet pinging against metal.
Today, however, he embraced his new norm as he watched the snow whiten the living fields of Dorset. He allowed the gradual formation of soft white velvety borders around the square window panes to capture his attention. Today, he was able to pull the reins in on that horse that liked to cut an angry galloping path across his soul. He allowed his mind to sail across the seas to his home in “the jungle”.
He chose a spot in front of a window in the hope of capturing the last few minutes of dying sun. Steam rose curiously from the hot mug of tea that sat on the table in front of William as he gathered his thoughts. Dinner would be served in 45 minutes and he wished to use the time to write a letter to Cis. Placing a blank sheet of paper on the table, he poised his pencil to begin. By now, the lights were burning inside and the twilight glow of early evening began to dim the wintry scene outside.
He was amazed at how early the afternoons succumbed to darkness in England. The brightness of the snowy landscape dulled into shades of grey, like his thoughts. There was so much he could tell Cis of the past year, but he chose not to divulge any details of the worst experiences. How could he even begin to describe the details of his life at Gallipoli. No, there was no need to worry her any more than was necessary. Now that he was in England, there was so much to report about life in the camp.
Allowing the crackling fire to wrap its blanket of warmth around his thinner than thin physique, he took a sip from his mug of tea before bowing his head and allowing his pencil to speak.
I trust all is well in the Jungle and a big hello to the boys.
You will not believe it when I tell you that it is 1610 and already night is near. Tea will be at 1645 so I am taking this opportunity to give you some news. We are all being well looked after by the staff here at Weymouth and we are never lost for something to do. Now that I am well enough, I am able to partake in the normal army drills. Reveille is usually sounded at 0630. Rising that early and getting ready for the parade at 07.00 is difficult in the freezing cold. I participate in two route marches each day which usually take us around the town of Weymouth. I am sure that the exercise has greatly enabled me to gather my strength. I also enjoy seeing the local sights.
As ill as I was, I could never really complain Cis. Many of the chaps here in the camps are much worse off than me. They have lost arms and legs and have to be assisted in their wheelchairs by their able-bodied mates. But Cis, as much as they have endured, they never murmur one word of complaint, although I can see the pain in their eyes. Some will never recover fully and no doubt will be sent home when they are well enough to travel.
The food in camp is good – anything beats bully beef and biscuits! The Salvation Army have provided us with refreshments at a small cost and we have even been privileged to have a small picture palace set up in one of the barracks. I have attended a few times now. They get a good crowd each night. Many of us have also taken advantage of the good motor service that transports us into town. The esplanade is a wonderful place to walk, along the seafront. Apparently, in the warmer months, it was always crowded with Anzacs. There is also a really grand Picture Palace in town that is like nothing I have ever seen.
Many of the chaps have met young local girls at the local dance hall and can be seen strolling with them along the seafront, despite the frigid weather. Cis, you would struggle with the cold weather here, although our barracks are heated with burning fires. In fact we refer to the barracks as hot houses as they tend to get too hot. Snow is falling as I write and it is such a spectacular show! The boys would be love it! At least we are able to get in out of it, unlike the poor chaps who are still at Gallipoli. Reports of their suffering have trickled into the camp….
William looked up as the quietness of the room became invaded by troops of thumping boots and rolling wheelchairs on the timber floor, accompanied by a discord of voices engaged in lively banter. The aroma of hot food wafted in from the kitchen, adding to the comforting warmth of the fire. William quickly signed off his letter and slipped his pencil into his shirt pocket. As he carefully folded the sheets and placed them into an awaiting envelope, he once more peered out through the white bordered window panes into a hole of darkness. He tried to discern the outlines of neighbouring huts that stood bleakly against the sleeping sky. Most, like his future, were dark and indeterminable.
William, straightened his narrow shoulders back, picked up the mug of tea with his thin bony fingers and sipped slowly and deliberately, savouring every drop as if it was his last. He knew there were no certainties about war. He had witnessed the futures of many good men being snatched from them in an instant. He knew with certainty that war was the ficklest friend of all.