To make up for the wet autumn a hard frost set in early in the year.
The M.T. provided us with anti-freezing mixture for the radiators, but the antifreezing cheerfully froze! We tried emptying them at night, turning off the petrol and running the engine till the carburettor was dry (for even the petrol was not above freezing), and wrapping up the engines as carefully as if they were babies, but even that failed.
Starting the cars up in the morning (a detail I see I have not mentioned so far), even in ordinary times quite a hard job, now became doubly so.
It was no uncommon sight to see F.A.N.Y.s lying supine across the bonnets of their cars, completely winded by their efforts. The morning air was full of sobbing breaths and groans as they swung in vain! This process was known as “getting her loose”—(I’m referring to the car not the F.A.N.Y., though, from personal experience, it’s quite applicable to both.)
Brown or Johnson (the latter had replaced Kirkby) was secured to come if possible and give the final fillip that set the engine going. It’s a well-known thing that you may turn at a car for ten minutes and not get her going, and a fresh hand will come and do so the first time.
This swinging left one feeling like nothing on earth, and sometimes was a day’s work in itself.
In spite of all the precautions we took, whatever water was left in the water pipes and drainings at the bottom of the radiators froze solidly, and sure enough, when we had got them going, clouds of steam rose into the air. The frost had come to stay and moreover it was a black one.
Something had to be done to solve the problem for it was imperative for every car to be ready for the road first thing in the morning.
Camp fires were suggested, but were impracticable, and then it was that “Night Guards” were instituted.
Four girls sat up all night, and once every hour turned out to crank up the cars, run them with bonnet covers on till they were thoroughly warm, and then tuck them up again till the next time. We had from four to five cars each, and it will give some idea of the extreme cold to say that when we came to crank them again, in roughly three-quarters of an hour’s time, they were almost cold. The noise must have been heard for some distance when the whole Convoy was roaring and racing at once like a small inferno. But in spite of this, I know that when it was not our turn to sit up we others never woke.
As soon as the cars were tucked up and silent again we raced back to the cook-house, where we threw ourselves into deck chairs, played the gramophone, made coffee to keep us awake, or read frightening books—I remember I read “Bella Donna” on one of these occasions and wouldn’t have gone across the camp alone if you’d paid me. A grand midnight supper also took up a certain amount of time.
That three-quarters of an hour positively flew, and seemed more like ten minutes, but punctually at the second we had to turn out again, willy-nilly—into that biting cold with the moon shining frostily over everything apparently turning it into steel.