L o v e ,  W a r   a n d   L a s t   T h i n g s
   n z e p c


Ralph Blair (b. 1917)


Barzelletta, Italy 1945

During this period, when the war was over I got sent across to Italy and was often on guard duty at the big hospital in the south of Italy that Mussolini built.  It was built to house ten thousand and it had a great big high wall built right around it and one entrance for everything. At the entrance there was a guard house and there were representatives from the South African, the British, Indian and New Zealand armies there, but at this time the South Africans had gone home so there were just the three of us there. And nobody bothered us much, so long as we did our duty nobody worried, least of all us of course. We just had to watch everybody going through, see that nobody unauthorised came in. And some little Italian kids came along, ages about four to nine, and they used to, for a bar of chocolate, they would get up on the guardroom table and do their folksongs and I thought this was great. The little girls would dance and the boys would clap, pretty much the same as your Islanders would do their songs down in the hut there. And I thought this was great. 

And on this sunny winter’s day I was sitting there, with these three little girls on the guardroom table, dancing away, and on the other guardroom table I stuck my feet up on the table, pushed my chair back on two legs, pushed my hat back on my head, raised a cup of tea to my lips and I thought: ‘Boy, if only Dulce could see me now, she’d never believe her eyes’. And at that moment the guardroom door burst open and in walked the major, the captain (who was the officer of the day, the major being a the British army representative) and the sergeant, the duty sergeant of the day. And if Dulce wouldn’t believe her eyes, I’m sure the major didn’t either. By the dumbfounded expression on his face he was caught as much by surprise as I was. The major’s forehead began to pulse, his eyes bulged, his mouth dropped open and shut, and suddenly he found his voice and bellowed: What in Hades are you doing? Of course, being truthful, I said: ‘Sitting down, sir.’ And the major bellowed: Then stand up! he says, Put that cup down! Then, stabbing his finger at the little girls on the table he says: What are these? I said: ‘They’re girls, sir.’ Shaking with rage he said: But what are they doing? I said: ‘Why, sir, they’re dancing.’ Shut up! he says, I can see what they’re doing. It was on the tip of my tongue to say: ‘well if you can see what they’re doing, why ask?  But I thought, boy, you’ve gone far enough. The rest of what he said I couldn’t dare repeat in church.



Last updated 23 June, 2008