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Back to Italy in 1944. I mentioned earlier that I had to share a one-man tent for a time with another man. On the very few occasions when we were in there together we had our heads at opposite ends. At some stage, probably a bit later, I snaffled a bedroom door from a wrecked house and used that as a bedboard. We had rubber groundsheets but they didn’t insulate you from the cold ground. The wooden door was much better apart from the fact that it had a raised bit going at right angles across the door in the middle. I got round that by arranging for the crosspiece to fit into the hollow of my hip.

In talking to each other we tended to use words from different languages. Because it was an Indian unit there were a few Urdu words. (I’ve never seen any of those written down so I’ve had to guess at the spelling for any I use in these notes.) The division had spent quite some time in the Middle East and had picked up Arabic words and because we were in Italy there were odd bits of Italian and occasional words of schoolboy French. These were all mixed up together. If we were fed up we might say we were molto browned off or bahut chokka. (pron boat = very). Sometimes we’d say fiqhar nahin (ficker nay) which in Urdu means it doesn’t matter, or never mind. More often we’d use the Arab equivalent mahleesh. There’s a fairly long tradition of this. British troops in France – probably in World War 1 – used to mystify the natives by referring to an attractive girl as un piece de tout droit (literally a bit of all right.)

During the moves my job every few days was to dig a pit for the latrine. This consisted of a wooden box with three holes in the top. We dug a hole about a metre and a half deep and the box sat on top. Then somebody else put a hessian screen around it with dividing bits between each hole. Luckily the chap I shared that chore with had been a coalminer in Wales and he was pretty handy with a pick and shovel. When using the latrine you provided your own newspaper. Margarine came in tall tins about 30 cms high. An empty one of these was let into the ground (not by us) with a short hessian screen round it and the tin as an aiming point for men wishing to urinate. It was usually referred to as a desert rose. next