This is the fifth in a series of reprints of past Ernie Pyle columns about our
armed forces. Ernie is on leave.
ENGLAND, OCTOBER, 1942: It is a strange night, here in the American camp.
There are rows on rows of khaki tents, some of them round, some of them square.
They are built on ridges, with depressions in between for drainage.
We are in a far country from home. Work is urgent and grave in this camp. The air
is chill and damp, and ghostlike sentries walk their posts in the blackout. If
there were only bonfires about we might be a picture from Civil War days.
I wander among the tents, picking up new friends here and there. Even in the dark
the presence of a stranger draws soldiers as molasses draws flies, for an
outsider in camp is a curiosity and anything that breaks the monotony is welcome.
THE BOYS IN THIS CAMP work seven days a week, unloading the vast and constant
flow of war supplies from America out of trucks and freight cars. It is dark now
when they get up of a morning. It will soon be dark before they get back from
work in the evening.
Their tents have neither heat nor light. There isn't much to do but sit on your
mattress in the dark tent till bedtime. There are no chairs and no cots. The
straw-filled mattresses lie on the ground. The boys stack their blankets in
daytime to keep them dry.
At night some of them write short letters while holding a flashlight. Some go to
the water faucets and wash clothes in the dark. Some gather in tents and play
guitars and sing old songs. I even heard a violin accompaniment to singing in one
WE STOOD IN THE DARK, talking. New boys would join our huddle out of curiosity,
and after hearing me say something they'd speak up with, "Say, you're an
American, aren't you?"
And I'd say yes and they'd shake hands and say, "Well, I'll be damned, I never
expected to see an American over here," or, "Boy, it's sure good to see an
That's a funny psychology the soldiers have. They're surrounded by Americans, of
course. But they're all in uniforms, and they cease to be Americans to each other
and become just soldiers. When they see an American in civilian clothes they look
upon him as the first real American they've seen since coming over here.
It's a kind of flash-back to home and normal life before everything went-olive
DEEP DARKNESS came and we were only forms in a circle. We stood there in the
night and talked for nearly three hours. We stood because there wasn't any place
to sit down. Inside the crowded tents other boys had gone to bed. Now and then
we'd stick our heads inside a tent flap to light a cigaret and then light one
from another all the way around.
In this camp there are both Negro and white troops. They are given liberty on
alternate nights. Only a certain percentage of any camp is ever allowed out at
any one time. Thus it works out that each man gets only one evening a week in
The nearest town is two miles away, and most of them have to walk. By the time
they get support and are ready to start it is 8 o'clock. They have to be back by
They have only chiily water to wash and shave in, standing at an outdoor trough.
They use an outdoor latrine. There is no possible way for them to take a bath.
TRUE, THE ARMY is building concrete-floored barracks huts for them, out of
composition material, as fast as it can. But labor is scarce, and work goes
"If they'd take a few of us off unloading, We could throw up those barracks
ourselves," one of the boys said. "There's a lot of fair carpenters among us."
But the unloading of supplies musn't stop. There are hardly enough men even now
to keep up with the flow. The Army hopes to have everybody housed before real
Some of the boys I talked with had come recently from another camp, where their
living conditions were even better than they'd had back home. That's the way
camps go. Some good, some bad. The soldiers seem to feel it's just a matter of
your good luck or your bad luck, and you can't have it good all the time.
I've almost got so I hate the word "morale" because its used so much by the
professionals. But there is such a word, so I will use it and say that the morale
of our troops in England is not only fine, but is downright admirable.