I was surprised at times at the behaviour and reactions of those who I consider, and who are considered, and consider themselves, intelligent. I am thinking specifically of Lt S..., during the period when those of us who were wounded or suffering from exposure, if not both, were in Dr Seraldo's clinic.
I myself, when recovering somewhat from my wounds, chose for reading matter those light, bright, effervescent stories of PG Wodehouse, who painted a picture of the gay inconsequentialities of the bright young things of the 1930s. They were a champagne bubbling stairway to escapism and I happily took it. The escapades of Bertie Wooster and his friend Algy, allied to the imperturbability of Jeeves, was a balm to fretted nerves and I bathed in it. The innocence of Bertie Wooster's world and ménage opened a door to a world far from war, in this gay fantasy there were no rafts, no suffering, food was in plenty, gaiety held sway, I opened this door and double-barred it behind me, I unwound and healed.
Lt S... in another side ward in the clinic, suffering from exposure and a sick man, for some obscure reason, preferred to read Tolstoy's "War and Peace", a volume of weight, with many words, deep meanings and involved phraseology. Whether this was a perverse desire to prove his erudition, or a narrow knowledge of library shelves, I do not know. After a prolonged mental strain one needs to relax mentally, the human system has a habit of cutting off from worldly things when it has had enough and the time of cutting off can be unfortunate. Lt S...'s strivings to go on as before paid him back fourfold, he would wake up in the night raving deliriously. He could not unwind; the smallest pinpricks of the day roused him to a petulance that was unbecoming to his rank and age.
I could not condemn him, I sympathised with his problems, but it was his own insistence that aggravated his troubles. I believe that it was his inherent manhood that, trying to regain normality too soon, only retarded hid recovery.
For myself, I was sick and wounded; I relaxed and for a time desired no problems and I think created none. I was complacent and being so, resented nought that was done for me, or even against me. In the latter case I remember the morning dressing of my wound, the sooner they began, the sooner they were over, I recall saying as much to Dr Tomas.
Mary Golding came in one morning with the dressing trolley; Dr Tomas was already taking the bandage off my leg, as Mary came through the door I said, "I'm glad to see that thing come." Dr Tomas expressed surprise, "Do you enjoy having your leg scraped?" "No sir, but the sooner that trolley comes in the sooner it goes out!"
Such was the nature of Dr Tomas that from there on my dressing was done earlier. I think that previously he had visited his other patients first, now my wound was scraped and probed and re-dressed earlier than previously and I could relax for that extra hour.
It was Mr Golding, Mary's father, who had emptied his library shelves for my avid reading of Wodehouse. He had I believe also attempted to interest Lt S... in the same type of book, but to no avail. Lt S... left the clinic before I was fit and before he was too, from hearsay he was a sick man for a long time.
I feel that his suffering had been impressed more deeply on his soul by heavy reading, a little escapism would have given him release from that which he will not escape from for all of his days.
To be ill in bed is the time to find out who has a thought for their fellow human beings. George and Frank were my daily visitors, without fail these two came to see me. There were others also, of happy memory.
I recall with the deepest appreciation and pleasure the visits of Corporal Arkinstall and his friend. He was a tall blond, moustached RAF Corporal of droll wit and a wide experience, his friend no less worldly wise. They came to see me regularly and their visits were a delight. I would be regaled with the events of the day, incidents of note and the latest news of the war. All this nonchalantly, humorously but nevertheless truthfully.
Quite often on the occasion of their visits the RAF boys would lift me out of bed so that Marie could remake the ruckled clothes. On the first few times that this happened I would beg them to mind my leg. Arkinstall the irrepressible, corrupted this saying of mine into, "Mind my bite." This of course in the fashion of Jack Warner, the famous actor and comedian, whose wartime catchphrase was "Mind my bike."
Arkinstall commemorated these incidents in a cartoon sketch with the daily scene depicted in his own inimitable manner. I still have that cartoon, a constant reminder of two good men, good friends.
It was Arkinstall who told me of the incident at the Capilla Protestante, this was the name given locally to the Protestant Church. It was here that Commander Spurgeon RAN, the senior officer held morning parade each Sunday. It appeared that on the Sunday just gone everyone had turned out as usual and as the war survivors gathered there, it was noticed that someone had pinned to the church door a notice written in Spanish and in red paint. It said, "Muerte la Inglesia, ariba España," which translated means: "Death to the English, Spain Arise." The Commander unpinned the notice, folded it up and tucked it under his arm; Church parade went on as usual. When the ceremony was over the Commander, notice under his arm, went to see the Military Governor of the island. It transpired that the resulting interview solicited apologies from him and a promise that there would be no repetition of a similar nature.
The Protestant Church
The whole event was due to the Phalangists, the Spanish fascist party. There were other occasions when the Phalangists were to display their dislike of Englishmen and of those who supported them. There were times when they would hold noticed parades and at these times we were warned quietly by the British residents to keep off the streets.
My first venture into the outside world and the light of day was made in the company of Arkinstall and his friend. With my increased improvement I had for many days begged the Doctor to allow me out into the town. As I progressed on my crutches he eventually gave permission.
Arkinstall arranged that the three of us should be picked up by taxi at the Clinic and have a drive down town to the Café Atlantica. The day arrived, Arkinstall, his mate and I, limping, went down the stairs, boarded the taxi and were on our way. After my long illness this was, for me, a great adventure indeed.
I do not remember where the taxi dropped us but we strolled down the shopping area. Such is the natural politeness of the Spanish that I was greeted at almost every yard with the phrases which were to become commonly accepted by me.
Spaniard: Good day, sir ... Bueno dias, senor.
Self: Good day, friend ... Bueno dias, amigo.
Spaniard: Are you well? ... Usted bueno?
Self: Yes, friend, I am well ... Si! Bueno y usted.
Spaniard: Good. Good day to you ... Bueno senor, muy gracias.
This exchange of common courtesies was repeated times beyond number, the Spanish are a courteous race and enjoy the ceremonies of greeting each other and wishing God speed on parting.
The advent of our party of survivors on the island was of course a thing of some note in their lives. In my case I of course drew a little attention, I was the man who had been bitten by a shark and therefore somewhat of a curiosity. Their enquiries after my health were sincere and well intended.
As we progressed towards the Café Atlantica various passersby would pause and wish us the usual polite "Usted bien?" (You are well?) After the umpteenth enquiry, Arkinstall would, with a beaming smile, reply in English, "Of course he's well you silly b ....," this without a change in his apparent air of respectful geniality. The Vera Cruzians would go on their way no doubt thinking how polite and appreciative we were. This play of ours was amusing for a little while but we realised that it was not and never would be a proper response to genuine solicitude and moreover, what if we were to meet an English speaking Spaniard?
We arrived eventually at the Café Atlantica, which faced out across the bay and, sitting in the open under the bright awning, one could watch a little activity going on in the harbour. It was here that our boys used to foregather for their morning drink and gossip. George and Frank were already at the café and the five of us sat at a table well out on the pavement. I was delighted to be out and about, this being my first trip into the world of movement again, everything was a feast to my eyes, nothing offended.
Tenerife from the Café Atlantica
Frank advised me to try the coffee, this he said was drinkable, the consensus of opinion was that it was unwise to ask for a cup of tea. The request for "Te con leche," - this was tea with milk - evoked a cup of hot water into which was immersed a small tea bag, when the liquid turned a pale sepia the whole thing was drowned in milk. The result was an off white repulsion that made one sympathise with the Boston Tea Party.
The Café Atlantica was not only the meeting place for the British survivors; here also the German consul came for an occasional coffee. Italians too used the place, none interfered with the other, there was a wary neutrality. We all had to respect the neutrality of Spain or suffer the consequences.
My arrival at the Atlantica was once more the signal for the proprietor, the waiter and innumerable customers to start the usual, "Esta bien." I was rather embarrassed to be the centre of such attention. "Let's go," I said to Arkinstall. "No!" he replied, "You've got to face it, you're a nine day's wonder, so face it out and they will leave you alone then. Anyway, they mean well."
He was right of course, once you move among people you must accept them as they accept you. I learned to appreciate the Santa Cruzians, their kindness and their courtesies. Many of our lads found friends amongst the Islanders as well as amongst the British residents.
The Island of Tenerife had long had strong British ties, many residents had been or were representatives of British firms. Many had retired on the Island, loath to give up the warm sun and reasonable standard of living. The war had separated them from England physically but their hearts never wavered. When we came amongst them, we were a living representation of England's fight for survival; we were Britain's warriors even though we had suffered a setback.
They spared nothing to help us, the men folk found us suits and clothing; the ladies invited us to tea. They feted us and we thrived on it, all they wanted from us was news of home and "Were we going to win?" and of course we were!