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Inevitably, Jim found that the topics he could write about were rather limited, both by the environment and by censorship. Indeed he fell foul of the latter with an apparently innocuous comment in an Air Letter on 18th March. Occasionally he would refer to something in a letter from Pip, but we have to guess exactly what her news might have been. Here are a few typical extracts. Fred Stannier continued to feature in letters; by this time they were sending messages home for each other when one of them was on leave and had access to telegrams.

Western Desert, 2 March 1942

"Today is the second day without a dust-storm although the wind is beginning to rise a little and may start the (sic) much before long. How I long for the days when one can have a clean wind – out here one must be content with dust or no wind at all – I don’t know which is the worst. Eight months we’ve been in the desert now and the one time greenhorn 44th is now an experienced bunch of “desert rats” otherwise termed the “Night Riders” – very romantic."

"You seem determined to make a tank for me. I smile when you mention it. I have no desire to go in to one – dangerous things tanks are – I like a bit of space myself. My chief objection to the same vehicles being that I’m too big where every inch counts and I do not like being shut up like a sardine for 10 hours at a stretch. Give me my old lorry and I’ll chance the bombs and bullets (if any)."

"Why was David humped? I beg your pardon – lose his stripe? Skeletons in the cupboard and all that no doubt – lucky Dave and I suppose he’s itching to fight someone! I’ve had a letter from him and replied to the same – I expect an answer about Christmas or thereabouts."

"I must get Fred to cut my hair – it is getting very long and of course is stiff with muck. Our “official” hairdresser has gone back to Base with guts trouble and so we have no one to perform."

Western Desert, 3 March 1942

"Fred is busy making the afternoon tea – an unhygienic proceeding which nevertheless will not deter me from supping the fruits of his labour. The sugar like everything else is yellow with sand. I’m bloated with sand myself as must be everyone else in this quarter of the globe. My writing desk at the moment is a board stretched across the lorry and my seat is a Jerry petrol can and a pack – very comfortable I can assure you. I think Jerry can factories will have to work 25 hours a day to replace his losses – the way is or was almost paved with ‘em. Quite ingenious things they are and very efficient. They certainly weren’t made to leave lying about haphazardly. Of course he was in a hurry at the time."

"Occasionally during our travels one sees a Bedouin ploughing a little stretch of sand with a primitive plough pulled by a camel – eternal optimists in my opinion but I suppose they know better than we or they wouldn’t do it. I’ve never met any who would do something for nothing."

Senussi on the move

Jim wrote on the back of this photograph: "Senussi on the move somewhere in the W/D".

Western Desert, 8 March 1942

"I thought I had experienced everything the Desert could provide in the way of weather but a few days ago we had a variation. About 24 hours continuous rain plus a series of thunderstorms converted the lorry into an islet in the middle of a lake. We had to paddle to and fro to meals and the lorry – one of several – had to be winched out of the quagmire – c’est la guerre. Humping out the load by hand however wasn’t so good – a task just completed an hour or two ago."

This occasion was sufficiently remarkable to rate a mention in the Regimental History and consequently reveals where Jim was at the time: "While we were at Sidi Suleiman we suffered the unusual experience in the desert of being flooded by heavy rain. In places the water was two feet deep, beds and bedding were awash and empty petrol cans were pressed into service as gum boots to wade through the floods."

Western Desert, 14 March 1942

"The old bus has been (and is) giving a lot of trouble lately and at times gets positively exasperating. I believe a weak battery is at the bottom of all the trouble. I’m down for a new one but heaven knows when I’ll get it. We’ve done a move or two since I wrote to you last but the landscape is still the same. The deluge which struck us was evidently widespread as we have found hard going (in the soft way) all the time. I was bogged twice."

Western Desert, 18 March 1942

"The wind is annoyingly perverse lately. Three days ago we dug a large hole, struck our bivvy and erected it over the hole facing the opposite way as the wind was blowing right in (which it wasn’t when we put it up 3 days before that), It still blows right into the bivvy! We have excavated enough limestone in large lumps to stock a nurseryman for six months. I suppose we’ll move soon – we always do when we get comfortable."

"Fred is busy brewing up in our old brew tin it has certainly brewed a few gallons of water for us since we claimed it ......... The original handle has long since gone and is replaced by copper wire - it has sundry dents and dinges but it still brews well."

The ........ indicates where a hole had been cut in the letter. Presumably the censor objected to Jim revealing where the brew tin had been claimed - even though it was old news, it might have revealed information on previous troop movements.

Western Desert, 28 March 1942

"I suppose by the time you get this you will know that Fred’s brother was in Singapore when it fell. Fred evidently was much attached to him as he took it rather badly at first. However he’s probably a prisoner as he only arrived a few days before the capitulation. I expect it will be a long while before they know what has become of him – c’est la lousy guerre. Some of his work is now on exhibition in the USA. I’ll bet the people looking at it little dream where its creator is!"

An intriguing comment: I wonder who Fred's brother was and what "work" was on exhibition? Clearly, Jim had no idea what the future held for prisoners of war after the fall of Singapore.

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