Tom on diaries

Many people begin keeping a diary on January 1 st but most of them soon give up. I’m different. I’ve kept a daily record of my doings for 54 years and I actually began this task five years before that. I often wonder what the Wehrmacht made of my account of the phoney war in 1940. It was by far the most imposing of the scores of volumes amassed over the years. I used to spend quite a bit of time jotting everything down last thing at night before I went to bed. Not that there was much to write about at that time in France except for the day when they shot the master of the big railway marshalling yard nearby. They also shot the 12-year-old-boy who used to come round every morning with the continental Daily Mail. It turned out that they were both fifth columnists busily supplying the Germans with details of our camp.

The phoney war came to an end in May and so did my diary. I had to leave it behind in my kitbag when we made a hasty retreat to the coast just in front of the advancing Wehrmacht. I often wonder if they found my diary, which it was strictly against orders to keep. They probably didn’t even capture the kitbag which might have attracted their attention if they had realised that it also contained a bottle of champagne and two pairs of silk stockings which I intended to take back to England when leave came.

This incident put me off the idea of keeping a diary until I was in what is now Bangladesh. I bought a tiny brown booklet with seven ruled lines for each page. It was published by J N Mukerjee and printed at the K P Basu works Calcutta. It looks a bit tattered now but it’s still readable.

It was quite easy to compress my daily doings into the small space allotted. Probably the most interesting day was Sunday February 25th (1945) when I was on the troopship Orontes homeward bound after three years in India. Smallpox broke out on the ship and we were put in quarantine in Port Said. No one was allowed off the ship and as far as we could see no one was allowed on either. Egypt declared war on Germany and Italy, and the Orontes and every other ship in port was dressed overall with signal flags as a compliment to our gallant ally.

Like many other nations Egypt came to this decision just before hostilities ceased. More than a hundred nations finally sat at the peace table hungry for what could be obtained in the way of increased territory and possible compensation. These two events, the quarantine and the war declaration, took up five of my six lines. There was just room for one more event to be jotted down. The assassination of the Prime Minister of Egypt. No space to give his name!

Over the years I have faithfully recorded all kinds of events including the worst weather in memory, 1947. In recent years weather has played a significant part in my diary being mentioned at the beginning of each day. This is particularly useful now when I am virtually housebound and it becomes a job to fill the four lines allotted in my five year diary. Today is the first day of March. It didn’t come in like a lion, more like a water buffalo with heavy overnight rain.

I’m on the second year of this one and I always wonder when I get these five-year books whether I shall manage to complete them. All right so far. And the next year will be the Millenium. It won’t matter if all the electronic bugs rear their ugly heads. If I’ve still got a biro I can record it for posterity.