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T. E. Lawrence, The Mint




I wonder how you would like our nights? The hut is so small for the sixteen of us: a row of beds down each long wall, a table and two forms in the narrow middle, a square stove. In the centre of each short wall, a door: one gives on the open air, one to a wash-house-shower-bath-lavatory annexe, which makes a porch to the eastern or wintry side of the hut.

We, as I said, are sixteen: fourteen men, a corporal, and a sergeant. Our beds are of iron sheeting, and slide in. Very hard they feel, for the first nights. The mattresses are three little square brown canvas cushions, rammed solid with coir. Biscuits they call them.

The next bed is only an arm's reach from mine. It is odd to have the other man's whispering breath so near my pillow all the night. His name is also Ross: a Scotchman from Devonshire, just married, a nice fellow: which is good fortune since a rough bedfellow is exhausting. Riches wholly deliver a man from bedfellows: - a privilege, and a loss, too: for the intimate jostling of like and like is often as fertile as it's disconcerting.

Airmen sleep very restlessly, always. Partly it may be due to the hard beds, on which a man cannot turn without a groan and half-waking up to lift the hip: yet turning is needful because the hardness cramps our bodies, if we do not constantly shift them. So the night to one who, like me, lies much awake is never fully quiet. There are groans and mutterings, and dream-words. They all dream, always: and sometimes they say beastlike things in their sleep.

I wonder how far I betray myself in the first part of the night, which is my sleeping time? In the Army, when on armoured car work I was being driven unskilfully by other fellows all day, my nervousness so increased that it turned to fever and delirium, and I talked like a river half one night. None of them would ever tell me what I said: but in the morning they looked at me strangely.

Our nights are white. The ten windows have been catching the moonlight, since I came, and the walls are lime washed a water colour: so that even starlight and the reflections of the distant lamps over there in the College make them gleam. It seems never dark, here in the north, for very soon after I wake up there comes the first touch of dawn. I feel like a fish in a still cistern, dreaming away these short hours. The sleep in my eyes is like water to dull them and the quietness is real, compared with the noise of day. If you could hear the iron hangar throbbing at this moment, with the running up of a 260 h.p. Rolls-Royce engine at nineteen hundred revs!

Yet the quiet does not last long. Its beginning is delayed by the late men not coming in till midnight or after: and they may come in stumbling, unsteadily knocking puttee-defended legs against bed-foot after bed-foot, swearing or chuckling inanely, the while. And the end of quiet is at reveille.

The reveille here is the most grateful of any camp I know. There are no whistles or bugle calls (how every serving soldier hates a bugle) and no orderly sergeant to bray hideously. Just we let the dawn rouse us. As the five tall windows each side the whitewashed hut brighten, the sleepers stir, more and more frequently, till they are completely awake. At this season that is yet too early to rise: for we have no unavoidable duty before breakfast, between half-past seven and eight. So the crowd lie dozing, or sleeping; or read or chat lowly to one another. This quiet prelude to the working day was the first and greatest beatitude of College.

I get up soonest of all, and nip over in the running vest and shorts which are my sleeping suit, to 83 hut, of the opposite lines, across a grass meadow. There I bath. Such a funny little bath, a square brown earthenware socket, like a drain, in the cement floor. Fortunately I'm little, too, and if I tuck up like a tailor I can just squat in it, as if I were a dirty dish in a sink, with six inches of warm water round me: and there I splash, and shave, and splash again. This is heaven on a cold morning: and Cadet College faces the North Sea and can be colder than any spot in England. Indeed we are particular to score the low temperature record every winter.

About seven I run back to the hut and enter noisily, for a signal to the others, who begin to exhort one another to get up. We make our beds, heaping the three biscuits in a column and wrapping four blankets in a fifth, with an intervening sandwich of sheets. Then boot-cleaning, button-polishing, sweeping out the bed-area and doing my weekly one of the fourteen jobs into which hut-maintenance is divided. If it's stove-black-leading, another wash. Then I grab knife, fork and mug and run over to the mess-deck for breakfast.

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