One warm summer day Gutsie and I were sitting on a grassy knoll, just beyond our camp overlooking the sea (well within earshot of the summoning whistle), watching a specially large merchant ship come in. Except for the distant booming of the guns (that had now become such a background to existence we never noticed it till it stopped), an atmosphere of peace and drowsiness reigned over everything. The ship was just nearing the jetty preparatory to entering the harbour when a dull reverberating roar broke the summer stillness, the banks we were on fairly shook, and there before our eyes, out of the sea, rose a dense black cloud of smoke 50 feet high that totally obscured the ship from sight for a moment. When the black fumes sank down, there, where a whole vessel had been a moment before, was only half a ship! We rubbed our eyes incredulously. It had all happened so suddenly it might have taken place on a Cinema. She had, of course, struck a German mine, and quick as lightning two long, lithe, grey bodies (French destroyers) shot out from the port and took off what survivors were left. Contrary to expectation she did not sink, but settled down, and remained afloat till she was towed in later in the day.
A “Y.M.C.A.” article on “Women’s work in France,” that appeared in a Magazine at home, was sent out to one of the girls. The paragraph relating to us ran:—
“Then there are the ‘F.A.N.N.I.E.S.,’ the dear mud-besplashing F.A.N.Y.s. (to judge from the language of the sometime bespattered, the adjective was not always ’dear’), with them cheeriness is almost a cult; at 6 a.m. in the morning you may always be sure of a smile, even when their sleep for the week has only averaged five hours per night.”
There were not many parties at Filbert during that summer. Off-time was such an uncertain quantity. We managed to put in several though, likewise some gallops on the glorious sands stretching for miles along the coast. (It was hardly safe to call at the Convoy on your favourite charger. When you came out from tea it was more than probable you found him in a most unaccountable lather!) Bathing during the daytime was also a rare event, so we went down in an ambulance after dark, macks covering our bathing dresses, and scampered over the sands in the moonlight to the warm waves shining and glistening with phosphorus.
Zeppelin raids seemed to go out of fashion, but Gothas replaced them with pretty considerable success. As we had a French Archie battery near us it was no uncommon thing, when a raid was in progress, for our souvenirs and plates, etc., to rattle off the walls and bomb us (more or less gently) awake!
There was a stretch of asphalt just at the bottom of our camp that had been begun by an enterprising burgher as a tennis club before the war, though others did say it was really intended as a secret German gun emplacement. It did not matter much to us for which purpose it had been made, for, as it was near, we could play tennis and still be within call. There was just room for two courts, and many a good game we enjoyed there, especially after an early evacuation, in the long empty pause till “brekker” at eight o’clock.