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A Gentle War 16 Nov - 30 Nov 1942

by CSV Actiondesk at BBC Oxford

Contributed by 
CSV Actiondesk at BBC Oxford
People in story: 
Kenneth James Crapp
Location of story: 
Cornwall, UK
Background to story: 
Royal Air Force
Article ID: 
A8023781
Contributed on: 
24 December 2005

A GENTLE WAR
November 16th — 30th 1942

During his RAF posting at Predannack Airfield in Cornwall my father, Kenneth Crapp, kept a diary. The diary runs from October 27th 1942 — June 7th 1944 and the first 4 month extract is included below. It shows an unexpectedly tranquil aspect of war — quiet background work on a somewhat isolated airfield, where an interest in birds and nature was undoubtedly ‘a saving grace’.

Monday, November 16th
Cycling down to the Lizard, I remembered Auntie Lucy’s birthday, and went to the Post Office and sent her a telegram.

This afternoon the intercom trouble was investigated at the control end — two fuses were the cause of the trouble; but still the buzzer would not work. I think that being designed to work on 24 volts — the 15 volts (which is all we’re getting) won’t work it.

The 8th Army are still pursuing Rommel — have seized the landing grounds at Martubo and air-strafed Axis troops at Benghazi and El Agheila. The first Army advancing into Tunis has clashed with Axis forces — mostly landed by air.

Noticeable songs of late have been those of the robin, song-thrush, wren, linnet, goldfinch, starling. Once I have seen a yellowhammer carrying off a piece of straw and once a house sparrow bearing away a white feather.

Tuesday, November 17th
My electrician visitor this morning told me that off Guadalcanal, the Americans have sunk a battleship, two heavy cruisers, three light cruisers and six destroyers — as well as 12 transports. Wonderful news, I hope it’s completely true — what a blow to the Japs! He also told me that, a few days ago, when our Typhoons were roaring over our heads, one of them bore down on a workman working on a 40 — 50 foot pole and bearing an electric cable. The plane passed between the wire and the ground and the man so terrified that they had to bring him down.

The farmer’s new clump of marigolds, just over our hedge, is an attraction for the birds, as it has a straw cover. Goldfinch, great tits, blue tits, yellow hammers, dunnocks have been here this morning.

At last I got the buzzer working — it just needed a little adjustment. Now there is not much wrong here, and the stand-by set is even wired up.

To Kynance this afternoon, with clear blue skies and a cold wind. There, under the lee of the cliffs, it was quite warm — but no black redstarts. However, up the path winding up the rocky valley due eastwards, I saw one, recognised it by its dainty dip and then by the red flash at the tip of its tail. I also saw two ravens, a couple of stonechats, and a little owl: and found the corpse of a brownish owl, either a short-eared owl or a tawny owl. I wrote a long letter to my headmaster and enjoyed it all.

Our mouse visitor, an engaging little field mouse, has been in and is quite unafraid. He has climbed up the wire to the heater and reached the table top. Tonight he’s had to scrounge tiny grains of sugar or cheesy bits from the floor. When I told Uncle C how we’d been having big breakfasts, he told me we were being fattened up for the slaughter.

Wednesday, November 18th
I enjoyed the clear cold of early morning as I rode into Helston, most typical of all Cornish towns.

Out on the Falmouth road, a flock of peewits passed over, and with them were several curlews. Last night, at dusk, I saw three birds flying over and thought immediately ‘lapwings’. This time, the flock brought the word ‘peewits’ straight into my head. I must use both words equally often for the same bird.

As I got out of the bus, Mrs Bray spoke and revealed her presence there with Mrs Allport. I spent most of the afternoon playing records over to myself, Auntie and her visitor, Mrs Patt. Some I put on especially for their benefit, such as ‘No, No, a Thousand Times No’; others out of curiosity, as the lovely Easter Hymn from Cavallieria Rusticana, but best of all, after tea, was ‘He shall feed his flock’ and ‘Che faro senza Euridice’.

I said I would buy them a record for Xmas; a token, or one I could order. I consulted Uncle and he called Auntie ‘What about A Midsummer Night’s Dream?’ he said. ‘Where?’ she asked and at her unconscious joke Uncle was so overcome that he was at a loss for words. I bought a token.

Bacon, eggs and fried potatoes and apple tart (flavoured with blackberry jam) for dinner and a most tasty vegetable soup for supper.

On the way back, down in Bochyn woods, there was quite a chorus from the rooks and jackdaws. The mouse was scratching last night, and somehow had got the bench top.

Yesterday’s news of the US naval victory off the Solomons is good — Japs have lost a battleship, 3 heavy cruisers, 3 light cruisers, six destroyers — over 20,000 men lost — and it was an old time hulk to hulk scrap.

Thursday, November 19th
In Cyreneia, 8th army have clashed with Axis forces south of Benghazi.

Friday, November 20th
At bicycle inspection Mr Adams said something about a few bicycles being as good as new, and the rest not worth £2 the lot. I wondered which category he put mine.

I’m finding ‘A Cornish Childhood’ by A L Rowse of Tregnissey, a book that interests me very much because it reminds me in many ways of my own early days. He is an interesting man, rather conceited and vain and a snob, but an honest one, for he admits he is glad to have little more to do with the working classes: he is always referring to his acquaintance and friendship with notable men — as Bernard Walbe and Dr Frere and Q.

A party here tonight, Fred and Frank and Brian and I — supper and mutual leg-pulling and facetiousness, ending with loud recital of ‘Before the Roman came to Rye’ and ‘Soldier’s Dream’.

Saturday, November 21st
Brian stayed down here this morning; it was really his day off. We had oxtail soup for breakfast and we soaked bread in it and made a good meal.

In the afternoon I took him to Poltesco where the gold leaves of the elms were carpeting the ground and where the brook rushed in its rocky bed with the increased vigour of autumn. From there we got to Carleon and rambled over the cliffs towards Cadgwith, keeping as much as possible to the cliff edge and clambering at length down a rocky point to sea-level, round to a little pebbled beach and so up to the steep slope before us. In one spot where we took shelter from a brief little shower, I found a few berries on the butcher’s room, and black fruit on the wild madder.

In the evening I finished ‘A Cornish Childhood’. I found it most interesting, though the man is a prig and a snob, I fear.

Benghazi is ours: it is inevitable that there should be a lull in the North African fighting, prior to the last phase of the offensive to clear the Axis out. Rommel’s army is still retreating, but some troops may find a delaying action at El Agheila. In Tunis the Germans arriving by air will have to be ejected. Significantly, our reports here are very vague, hardly anything is being told us.

Sunday, November 22nd
I stayed in bed late and had breakfast here. After a wash and a shave at the camp, I went to Poltesco again. Today I counted up to 33 bird species, amongst them heron and green woodpecker. At Caerleon Cove I found a black redstart, still actively seeking insect prey. There was a big bank of decaying seaweed there that had attracted crows, pipits, stonechats and the redstart.

I began to read ‘Wessex Wine’ and found it interesting to discover that A G Street had not begun to write until he was 37.

At the Music Circle, the chief work was Beethoven’s Concerto in D Major for violin: Kreisler was the violinist. Most certainly, I would like to hear this piece again. Very lovely, too, was Elgar’s Serenade for Strings.

At the camp gate, service police were checking up cycle lamps — the upper half of the glass and the lower half of the reflector have to be blacked out. I was passed.

Monday, November 23rd
Perhaps a trade board soon for LAC — perhaps — so I’m reading through my ‘Foundation of Wireless’.

Tuesday, November 24th
In George’s Café, with Uncle and Auntie, we conversed with a couple, he a painter and she, aged perhaps 45, but 32 she has told Uncle. Referred to me as ‘another of our gallant young men’, while Uncle made rude remarks about ‘being blessed with nephews’. The old man has painted the view of the harbour from the window where we sat.

Discovered in some of my own music books a charming piece Valse Arietta by Ambrosio and Prairie Rose by Schwarenka. Uncle ordered the Casse Noisette Suite played by the Philadelphia SO, under Stokowski. In the shop he puzzled the girl with his ‘Nutcracker’ Suite — ‘You’ll find it under C’ he said. When she found it, he said ‘I couldn’t say more, as I couldn’t pronounce it’.

Spent a happy afternoon sorting out his ‘white elephant’ records and discarding unwanted ones. Maurice Elwin has a pleasant voice, as I discovered from his record of ‘Josephine’ and ‘Just Once For All Time’.

Bacon and egg and fried potato for dinner and soup for supper, Heinz Tomato.

Auntie makes delicious flapjack of rolled oats, margarine and treacle; and chocolate dainties made with 1oz of cornflakes and a melted 2oz box of plain chocolate.

Uncle found, to my surprise and amusement, a record amongst the discarded ones of the Lambeth Walk, presented to them by their friend Ruth. He was amused at my amusement.

A hilarious journey back in the bus, due to the drunken woman next to me, who was very garrulous and made out loud such remarks as ‘Th’old woman in the corner’s gone sleep’ and ‘Stop the bus, Daisy, I want to get out! I can’t wait! I’ll go in the bloody cornfield. Oh, stop the bus’ and who sang in a tuneless voice, ‘You push your backside in, you push your backside out’ to the tune of a modern dance ditty.

Everyone laughed, but it was a sorry state of affairs for that feeble young woman.

Wednesday, November 25th
The leave ban has been raised at last. I’ve got to come to some arrangement with another lad who wants the same time as I do, for reasons less good than my own.

I got hauled in to unload the new transmitter (HF/DF) that came this afternoon — driven down all the way from Middlesex by a WAAF.

The great Russian offensive, begun on November 19th, news of which is just coming through, seems to be making excellent progress. The German army attacking Stalingrad is in danger of encirclement and destruction. Thousands of prisoners have been taken and casualties are very heavy.

In North Africa, news of Allied progress is scanty. Such a lull is to be expected, before the offensive is resumed. Meanwhile enemy troops are being airborne to Tunisia.

Japs hold on to Brena in Papua, but are slowly being driven out.

Thursday, November 26th
Two years ago today, I was on my way to Blackpool to join up. How different was the war situation then!

Early morning trip to Gunwalloe to see the departure of the starlings. Quiet flock of oyster-catchers on the beach. Hawk beating over the starling roost. I was surprised at the apparent smallness of numbers. I heard the incessant chatter and I smelt the faint, unpleasant smell. About 8.40, a dark mass heaved away from the colony, rose and went off and thereafter, for about 15 minutes, they streamed away: it was thus obvious that they must roost in tiers, or hidden deep in the reedy stems.

I talked with the keeper on the links, who was full of weather lore and tales of the coast. He was Scottish.

At the back of Gunwalloe Head I saw a black redstart.

Several small flocks of curlews passed over: I wondered if the weird screaming from the rushes came from water-rails.

A short sentence heard from two women passing through Mullion Churchyard revealed to me that certain information which should have been secret was known to them, and so, most probably, to the village.

The Russian offensive succeeds admirably.

Friday, November 27th
At dawn German troops entered Toulon, no doubt in the hope of seizing the French fleet, but, led by the Strasbourg, they were all scuttled — so France has found her honour once more.

The leave position is getting clearer, I hope to get mine while Betty is at home from school. Yesterday, in addition to the parcel from home, I had a box of apples from Peggy.

Yesterday, too, I had a tiff with Mr Adams over the waste of note-paper in our diary. He wants six lines left every day — and I said it was a waste of paper. He also wants no criticisms from me.

Saturday, November 28th
Leave position gets worse. D, who wants the New Year and so clashes with me, now proposed to sandwich himself in between the return of H and my going, so knocking 2 days off my time with Betty. We shall never agree unless he will do some giving as well as taking and Mr A will get fed up soon.

Black redstart seen at Caerleon; also green woodpecker, grey wagtail, ringed plover.

Fitting party came today to fit T1190: found that our fitters had put 12v on the filaments of the 6.3v valves.

Sunday, November 29th
The tea I made this morning for ourselves and the fitting party was the best I’ve made down here — due to the milk straight from a newly opened tin, and not much diluted.

Poltesco in the afternoon and Caerleon, with a glimpse of a green woodpecker packed in the Cliffside. I love Poltesco and its little cove of Caerleon.

I’ve seen swans, four of them, on the large pool at the north end of the ‘drome. I haven’t been able to identify them yet.

I wrote up the dawn trip to the starling roost, and my conversation with the Scottish groundsman on the links.

Monday, November 30th
War news is still good. A new Russian offensive has been in progress for some days in the neighbourhood of Rhezoh and has almost surrounded this vital town. The Stalingrad offensive has hemmed in the attacking Germany army.

In Tunisia, a ‘drome close to Tunis has been captured by our paratroopers. Mr Churchill, in his speech last night to the world, warned Italy of her peril, and spoke of the great struggle ahead ; ‘when the war in Europe is over’, he declared, ‘ we must help our American friends to crush the enemy in Asia’.

My first job back at the section meant a long tramp over the moors, bearing a test telephone set over my shoulder. As soon as I heard a tractor in the distance, I guessed I should find a broken cable in the gateway.

I saw the swans in flight this evening and they uttered a strange hoot, which drew my attention to them.

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