Migrant, refugee and sentimental traveller

Sense of travelling changed after World War 2. FreeWorld possessed great wealth. We Europeans got crumbs from Imperialism's table. Students discovered new life and freedom in England's VA Camps. Herein the life of a Spaniard in Britain those years.

Migrant, refugee and sentimental traveller

Fernando García Izquierdo

Foreign students.
After the second world war, the British government was facing a situation, common to all governments, I suppose, in post-war periods, which can be summarised in these few words: hundreds of thousands of young men had perished or been disabled on battlefields, labourers for the most part, and there was need, therefore, to find replacements. There had always been in Great Britain up to that time, as in other European countries, a large proportion of the labour force employed on the land.
With the end of the conflict many changes took place in this respect. First and foremost, of course, women entered the labour market en masse (continuing a trend initiated much before 1945, during the war.) Their work was now an essential part of the reconstruction effort. Next, industry was about to expand at an accelerated rate and, after a while, what was already a diminished number of farm labourers (for the reason stated above) became still more reduced as country dwellers made their way to cities and towns where factory wages were higher and life generally more attractive, especially for the young who were now full of hope and with prospects of a better life.
The country areas were therefore doubly deprived of their usual, previously abundant supply of farmhands. The rich farmers panicked. Badly needed new hands had to be found somehow. The British labour government understood all this.
It was then that the Volunteer-Agricultural-Camps scheme was born. These camps appeared in many important English counties in all regions, north, south, east and west, the biggest being probably in Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Isle of Ely and Kent. In some places newly built structures made their appearance, but in the regions where there had been military and concentration camps until the end of the conflict, such camps were quickly transformed in order to receive the volunteer campers and start operating.
Because I think there is some interest from a historical point of view (and also because for me, personally, it will bring some pleasing remembrances from the past) I shall be dealing herein with the character of these camps and more particularly the condition and nature of the campers. They were, most of them, young foreigners, men and women, usually students who came for the season (a ‘sojourn’ we called it), though some stayed for real long periods, spring, summer and autumn. And they lived, some of them at least, perhaps the greatest adventures of their lives.
Europe was now at peace with herself (save Greece, Sicily and perhaps some other country in the east) and everybody expected now a life of collaboration, justice, continual progress, social well-being and prosperity.
For the visiting foreign student, as a matter of fact, the British Volunteer Agricultural Camp was a divination. It would not be easy for me to convey to the youth of today what travelling to Britain (across a Europe again at peace), there to settle at least for a while, as I have said, came to represent for the young men and women of yesteryears. I am speaking of the decade that started more or less in 1949.
The students lived a healthy natural life, among other volunteer workers, in a world newly opened to them. An optimistic atmosphere of peace and freedom prevail: in an England and a Europe where the word slavery seemed to have been eradicated for good.
The campers shared their lives in fine camaraderie among themselves and with the inhabitants of the land. There was faith in the future, belief in the possibility of peace at last. World peace, we thought, had been achieved. At least, for the less politically conscious, no world conflict was visible; until the fifties, in truth. And there was the great discovery that a different nationality did not mean animosity: Germans, French, British, Nordic and Mediterraneans we all were substantially the same.
Travelling, young people formed new friendships, where before there had been mistrust, antagonism and war. Visitors from abroad learned the English language. People perceived in others different customs, ways of life, which were accepted, partially adopted. Less importance was given to what might have appeared at first sight strange behaviours, oddities. And many other things, besides, were learned by the young travellers.
Among the volunteer workers (who were not students) you often found in the camps people nearing middle age, men and women who preferred the freedom which the camp represented (afforded, for some), but were very sociable; they had, some of them, very interesting stories to tell.
The camps were generally made of several cylindrical black structures, called nissen-huts, where the campers slept and spent collectively most of their spare time; men and women being lodged in separate quarters. There were several other (public) spaces, usually large-sized wooden huts, where the campers had their meals, and lounged during their free hours, reading or otherwise enjoying their free time, alone or with friends, old and new acquaintances, listening sometimes to music or otherwise spending the evening. Cultural and other social activities, organised entertainment, such as concerts and dancing were organised practically every evening.
Management offices and kitchens and other services occupied other spaces, generally wooden cabins. There were residences for the warden, secretarial and other staff. Also kitchen staff and other employees. Much depended on the importance and size of the particular camp.
The foreign students and other campers were employed by the local farmers for a fee, and the wages they received were in all cases satisfying. Accommodation and meals were provided for by the camp, the campers paying weekly a relatively small amount for said board and lodging plus additional services provided.

Madrid, spring 1953.
I was studying at university, in my last year of law, just twenty-three years of age. One morning I bumped in the faculty’s corridors into my best friend, Chema, who led me to one of the notice boards wherein, in Spanish, I read the following: ‘The British government will provide students with entry visas and other requisites allowing a foreigner to work in England, provided the student undertakes not to enter into any employment, paid or unpaid, in the United Kingdom, other than agricultural employment in a specified Volunteer Agricultural Camp.’ There was an address, a certain ‘Allied Circle’ of Paris. It was also specified that the volunteer camper would receive normal wages.
We looked at one another, laughing, and at once fell into each other’s arms. ‘Now, shall we? Shall we apply, shall we do it, eh?’ And other students had hastened to read the announcement.
I had better explain at this stage that although Europe was more or less at peace, and Spain was one of the countries where class conflicts had been suppressed, in the Iberian Peninsula there was outright fascism. People were extremely poor, there were no constitutional rights at all. Travelling abroad was a near impossibility and, among other things, the currency (Peseta) had no value at all in the international sphere. All the same, we embraced one another again, and swore we would do it. And for me, a most tremendous adventure had commenced that eighth March, 1953.
We got our passports, the necessary visas, English (entry) and an exit one; certificates from the Police Commissariat, the department of Penados and Rebeldes (proving we had never been in jail or otherwise rebelled against society or the state); another one certifying that we were neither socialists, nor communists or freemasons and anarchists; a document of Buena Conducta signed by the parish priest; and written permission from the Army and the Falange, being of ‘military’ age; and an authorisation from the Instituto de la Moneda Extranjera, since the Spanish Central Bank was to exchange our Pesetas into Sterling (the black market was prohibitive and too dangerous to try.)
We decided we would go each our own way, and would see one another in Paris. Our instructions were to meet, with others, on a certain day of June, at Gare Saint Lazare, the large passengers’ hall, under the Grande Horloge. After another train journey, together with a crew of Continental students, we crossed the English Channel by ferry on a luminous spring morning and eventually reached London, early June There were great festivities in the United Kingdom all over. The King was dead, the cry was God save the Queen, Elizabeth II Regina.

Yorkshire revisited.
We were on the last leg of our journey, having left York well behind and already on our way to Pocklington. Our destination was the tiny village of Melbourne, which name in my mind then conveyed (and still conveys today) great emotion derived, as often happens with deeply entrenched remembrances, from dreams rather than reality. ‘Things Past! Who can claim to reconstitute the past? Everything changes, nothing remains stable, not even the images which one day entered your brain and there remained: for good, but not unchanged.
Shadowy recollections, that was all: moments that I judged interesting because I had cherished them, those memories, particularly those happy days of my youth, which (as a great Nicaraguan poet said long ago) ‘Se van para no volver.’ Treasured youth, he said: ‘¡Juventud, divino tesoro!’
After an absence of about fifteen years (ten of them spent in Australia), we had come back to England, for a long holiday. For in our quality as ‘returned migrants’ we had settled, not in Britain or Spain, but in Paris, where we both had found employment. These days we were staying in Lancaster, where we had left our two daughters with some relatives.
It was most delicious weather that morning; the sun was shining, the sky without a cloud, the hills and dales were green, save where there were extensive plantations of (now golden) grain; and in some of the larger fields where the harvest had already begun, the plain was getting brown on one side and on the other you still saw the lofty yellow stems of wheat standing high, balancing in the breeze.
I closed my eyes and fell into a reverie.
… I was surprised. It was a warm clear day. August in England, the Yorkshire moors. A tangible reality still in my brain. Like a flash, the image of that Summer ’53.
I woke up as we were entering the market town of Pocklington and, perhaps yet not wide-awake, I gazed right and left again and again, with great curiosity, a feeling of disappointment somehow creeping into my heart. The houses, the shops, the offices and public buildings were there… but nothing brought to me the feeling of old, the sense of things I might have experienced then. The same with the passers-by I perceived walking on the pavements, the people.
I turned my eyes, rather lost, trying to find something that would help me to express my thoughts in words to my wife, but did not find what to say, how to speak; and she would not have listened anyhow, always such a careful driver. English all right, my dear Nicky.
I did not how to swallow my disappointment. Pocklington was for me a dear name, it had all these years in Australia represented so much, so many beautiful recollections, my head as always so full of souvenirs. Was I simply a dreamer, a babbler, had I invented all I had had in my bain in Australia, what I had been telling my wife a day or two ago and so many times before? False, my God, all false? oh false!
… I was a strong young man when I first set my foot in there, that little town in the midst of an agricultural region. A young man ready to see and experience, to learn, to live. An immature young man, to tell the truth, when a day or two later, I fell in love with the first pretty blond I saw.
… I had been thinking, when I landed on la Pérfida Albión, that I would become a famous exile from a country in which fascism reigned supreme. For I was not intending to go back, ever, to Spain, planning as I was to sail far away.
… and I came to love England best of all. Goodness gracious me, that first day in London! what celebrations! Music, parades, the royal cavalry, red-cloaked horsemen with black bearskins on their heads, riding their magnificent stallions; all was colour, inclusive and specially the splendid golden carriage of a fairy queen. It was ‘Coronation Year.’
… from London I had boarded the train north. Arriving at York, the capital of the county, I caught a local train which took me to Pocklington. What would I now write home? a postcard or a long letter? None in my family or in our circle of friends had ever travelled so far north.
… coming out from the station, I noticed a green lorry parked on one side of the square. A stocky white-haired man was placidly smoking his pipe, leaning on the radiator of the vehicle: ‘Are you for Melbourne Camp?’ he asked.
… in my bad English I answered that I had in fact ‘booked for a sojourn in a volunteer agricultural camp’ and showed him some papers. ‘Climb inside,’ he muttered, still chewing his pipe and flipping his free hand over his shoulder.
… I first hurled my enormous haversack in. An extremely beautiful girl then helped me to jump inside, under the green tarpaulin cover. She was seated on a wooden plank, cross-wise, the first one of about ten similar benches that were very sparcely occupied by other young people.
… after a while, with much difficulty, I muttered: ‘What are we waiting for?’, and was informed that a group of Swedish students were to arrive on the coach from Newcastle. The Swedes arrived, the free benches were all occupied, and we were on the road to Melbourne Camp.
… from my bench, near the opening, I watched the prospect of what was for me an exotic country and not at all nordic. It was warm and sunny. It became for me the land of great felicity and freedom.
… thirty minutes later we were on a tarred piece of land, at the camp entrance. Some other lorries had just arrived, and the place was filled in a instant with young people sauntering about talking animately in different languages.
But today, midsummer 1972, I was another man, a rather disgruntled, melancholy fellow, prematurely grey-haired. I had begun to explain all the above to Nicky and I wondered whether she understood me. Anyhow, all the time she held her peace.
I saw a small English town, but it was somehow different from what I had known The vitality of the market town of yore, the crowds, the noise and movement I remembered, all that and much more was missing: the colour in the apparel of the old-ladies’ summer dresses, which had so astonished me then (coming from a Mediterranean country where married women wore sombre colours, often black); the discipline on the zebra crossings, the liveliness of the population generally; the famous Saturday morning shopping crowds, those orderly English men and women, carrying packets in their hands or at their feet, making those long queues at the bus-stops on both sides of the main street… oh, my heart, where had all that gone? ‘Eighteen or nineteen years is not that much (I said to myself), or is it?’
I asked Nicky to park the car, please, somewhere. And we entered a public house. I had probably been in there, alone or with friends, when of a Saturday morning we came to town shopping (accompanying the cook or some camp attendant driving one of the lorries into town to do some purchasing of provisions, or bringing some commission for buying something or having some instrument repaired.)
I had to pass my finger under my spectacles, over my eyelid, waiting for the publican or someone to serve us. He saw me looking, and I do not know what he thought seeing me so melancholy.
I seemed to recognise the man when he approached (sure, a fluke of my imagination, I had not seen him before), nice and friendly in any case. He did not speak with an accent I could associate with the Yorkshiremen of yore. Probably he was of my own age. I asked for a cider and a beer, and as he stood afterwards watching us out of his blue eyes when he served us I asked him for directions, always trying to find the shortest way to the village of our destination, for we only had a Michelin map bought in a French supermarket.
… the picture of the Melbourne I still had in my brain was like a colour print. It was a village, not a hamlet. I saw it, like on the top of the hill. A country road leading to it, a dazzling green lawn on either side full of dandelions and daisies, and shiny little flowers which I learned they called buttercups.
… for we used to march of an evening along that road to the public house with linked arms, singing aloud in Italian, I do not know why, except we had an Italian student with us.
… Franco was his name, from Venice. My new Swedish friend was also there, Ingvar, from Katrineholm. And Claude, a Frenchman who came from Paris.

… we soon saw on top of the hill the black beams of the country pub, criss-crossing the glossy white façade. The sound of music was in the air. It made us run or at least accelerate our strides.
… it was indeed a luminous pub that we approached: the dazzling setting sun was reflected on door-and-window panes, like copperish squares reflecting the rays of the star that gives us life.
It was a vision I had in my mind that probably was false, but how could I now (with the man’s eyes fixed on me, for him nothing but ‘an alien’) have otherwise described my dear village?
‘Melbourne,’ the publican cried, and, upon reflection: ‘is that not a large city in Australia?’
‘Yes, and also a village in Yorkshire… I mean here… you see…in this region, East Riding.’ I did not know what I was saying. I am not a natural stammerer, but on occasion, speaking English, yes. ‘I was here nineteen years ago… there was a students’ camp… I mean, young people lived there. The warden was a Londoner, Mr Cobb. Secretariat and other staff. It was a big affair, you see. Yorkshire people, or English. I couldn’t remember, of course where the staff came from. Cook was a Lithuanian, I remember that particularly… an escapee from the Soviet Union. A good bloke, though. There were others. And hundreds of campers. Them English or foreigners… students and other volunteer workers. Agriculture, you understand?’
An old man, who had been silently drinking his bottle of porter in a corner, now joined in the conversation, stammering like myself. I believe he wanted to help us find the village, perhaps he knew. But I am not sure he was entirely rational. Anyhow you sensed the alcohol in him when he spoke. He was too drunk, and I could not understand what he was saying.
‘Hip… takes a lon’ roon… partickler, sir, when ye says… you moost… per’aps. If ye’re by car, well not far… boot…’

Then the man went back to his bottle; and I explained to the publican, rather too much at length again, that I had been a student, that was long ago! and I had worked in a camp, that was why I’d come to England. Spaniards had no money. It must be near. This is an agricultural area, you see? several nissen huts, you will have seen them, no doubt… I mean when on a trip, I suppose you own a car too. Fifteen or twenty miles, I guess, no more. You see, a Volunteer Agricultural Camp, that was what the… the designation was. Wooden huts and… also huts like this, you see, a circular roof… no, no… cylindrical. Long constructions. Several nissen-huts.’
‘I tell you what,’ he said, pensively, ‘just as you were explaining it to me, I could gather that… well this is what I suggest…’ and he rushed to attend other clients without uttering his suggestion.
They had just entered, two young workers. He went to them. One of them must have just picked from me the term nissen-huts in the air, as he entered, and at once joined in the conversation, addressing himself to me. The two were at the bar, not far from Nicky and me.
‘Goovernor,’ he said, ‘them nissen hoots were used during the war. Black roofs, ye say. Righ-tee-O! and with green walls at either end, two entrances, façade round, two little windows. Frames painted white, doors an’ windows. Haven’t seen’em meself, boot… Quite a sight from the road, from what I’ve heard. Was told ‘about the camps o’ny last week: because the television proogram. There were many. Barbed-wired during the war. Them Jerries... Prisoners of war.’
‘Yes,’ I hastened to add, when he stopped, full of hope, and about Melbourne... Meanwhile the publican was serving the men their beers. And the young man, my interlocutor, kept mum for the time being.
Now that I had accepted his entering the conversation, I was left helplesss.
‘And after the war,’ said the other young labourer ‘they were transformed, the camps I mean, into volunteer workers’ residences. Right you are. I’ve read ‘bout them camps in The Mirror… no, The Sun.’
At this moment the publican spoke again. ‘Prisoners of war, all right. Them Italians good chappies. Many stayed after the war. Married local girls. I mean, up north at least. I’m from Newcastle, you see. I haven’t been here long. Just bought this establishment six months ago.’
‘The one explains the other,’ I said, and my kind wife added, to clarify my thought.
‘We mean that your being from Northumberland explains your not knowing about the village my husband has mentioned.’

‘Ities you say,’ another elderly man at the bar now joined in the conversation. ‘Prisoners of war orright. An’ arterwards, Ities preferred to stay. Apparently Italy, you know, was poor. But them Jerries is another kettle of fish!
But whether anyone had heard or knew anything about the village of my recollection, I never got to know. No one I talked to, either in the street or in the public house, that Saturday morning, could advise us about the road we ought to take to get to Melbourne village.
At length the publican came up with a solution (it seemed.) Repeating what had already been said, he began. ‘Tell’ye what. Prisoners of war all right. What I meantersay, them Italians are good chappies. No longer enemies they joined in. Many stayed behind after the war, as you’s said’ (glancing at the young labourers), ‘and ev’n married local girls. I mean up north them did. You’s right, them Jerries was another cattle of fish!
Somebody else wanted to add some other thought. ‘On’y, mind you, they were not so comfy down here in the East Ridin’ arter the war. Employment was easy. An’ the military wanted to git oot an’ freed ‘em prisoners orright... Wone’ ov them Ities is on a farm near Market Weighton, as you’s said. There’s where I lives. Married a fair lady. The widow‘f a rich farmer. You wouldn’t call him an alien now.’
‘Blow that, Terry!’ said the publican, addressing himself to the fellow. ‘Let’em Ities alone. An’ ye, Stew. They’re in a hurry to find Melbourne. Don’t you see?’ And, somewhow guessing my wife was driving, he addressed himself to her. ‘You go on the road and ask for directions, that’s the proper thing to do. And if not easy, perhaps, be bold enough and ring at a door, if a farmhouse appears at the turn of the road.’
Neither did we find anybody in the street who could tell us anything about a working-camp or a village called Melbourne, and Nicky went on driving for about another half hour, while I observed or imagined what I was seeing: anyhow, dreaming. It was delightful weather, and I was delighted to see the Yorkshire moors, that wonderful prospect again. They had not changed. The East Riding in all its splendour, as it were, once more.
For I had begun to see something of the old, the vision that I had entertained in my mind all these years in Australia. And this part of the county was particularly familiar, or to say it differently, dear to my heart, recollections from my youth. Unfortunately, of the camp or the village… nothing.

Wrong way.
At the turn of the road, I had just seen on the left all of sudden the name of a place which sounded familiar, a village where I had certainly been in the past
‘Everingham,’ I said to myself. But I took some time to react, and we had crossed the village before I shouted: ‘Stop Nicky, we’ve taken the wrong way.’
I didn’t tell her that I had been there many times that summer.
… the feeling of old coming back across the mirage of time. That fine farmer with a nice numerous family, a lovely girlio his daughter. On Sunday, We were supposed to meet, Suzy and I. I felt most frustrated afterwards.
… Barbro had just left the camp to go back to Uppsala. That was why. When I first arrived at Melbourne Camp, I was twentry-three and yet, she was my first love. Before, in Madrid, I had always been terribly timid in my relation to women.
… I felt in the camp that early summer ’53, and for the first time, that pleasant sensation in simply walking on a road and talking to a girl. I felt so naturally attracted to my Swedish girl. I knew she also liked me.
… we worked together on the fields. Still the green of spring. ‘Hello! ‘Weeding!’ I shouted, reading the notice. ‘What does that mean?’ And she explained to me what the term meant. Next morning we all went out in the several lorries: eight in my team. Barbro was in that number.
… each one was provided with a two-pronged fork, four or five feet long. ‘This is a hoe,’ she explained. We worked together, had lunch on the grass. And at four we were paid fifteen shillings. We danced that evening, Barbro and I.

‘All right, Nano,’ Nicky answered, ‘which way should we take?’
We had already passed the place, and I asked her to stop the car at the crest of the hill. We would have a rest strolling about. I was going to drive next.
There was something in the sweet sunshine which made me feel more optimistic. The variety of greens, never seen in my own country or in Australia.
‘It is nice,’ I said to my wife.
No longer any vehicle on the road, we moved on for while. I saw a silvery bird. What, a seagull? I did not particularly remember what sort of birds I saw on the fields then, but not seagulls, except on the coast.
… that Saturday the warden himself (Mr. Cobb) took us in one of the camp lorries to Bridlington. I felt so happy, just ambling with my Barbro, at some distance from the other campers, on an immense green field situated almost on the cliff.
… like a well-attended lawn, a very long green carpet, facing the North Sea. I felt the wind on my face, and saw the cliff, the sun, the birds. And I felt happy talking in English with my girl.
… I sat with her, the two of us alone upon the cliff, a stone-and-grass platform overhanging a narrow misty beach down below and farther away a furious sea, dark blue and white, and the horizon. We had begun eating the sandwiches provided for us by Mr. Cobb (and drinking an orangeade of a most irritating reddish colour.)
… and in front of us, over the cliff, the sky was completely filled with silky seagulls in an instant. All floating in the air, as it were, standing (it seems) with the two wings spread out and beaks ready. The straight-up little bodies, facing us.
… gosh, those screeches! I was for leaving at once, but she loved to see so many white birds making us company. And she laughed again as she threw bit by bit most of her sandwiches into the air.
… it all became worse. The noise was absolutely unbearable: croaks and cries and screeches. In a moment my sandwiches, too, disappeared taken right out from between my fingers.

On the road again with Nicky.

I like to reminisce about the camp. I wanted to tell her about Bridlington, that day, and about Scarborough, about each and every one of my days in Yorkshire that summer. She knew. We might write one day the story of Melbourne Camp together. But she asked me to concentrate on what I was doing. Not to have an accident. Otherwise we should change drivers again.
I did as she wished. After a while, we passed a middle-sized farm, on the left-side of the road. I noticed a pretty woman standing at a gate. I saw her eyes rising an instant towards my wife, as if she had recognised her. Being now on the passenger-seat of our French car, I had naturally escaped her observation. And yet, I looked at her with curiosity. She could have been Nicky’s sister. Blond, beautiful, obviously good-tempered as well, she was also about thirty-seven years old. Needless to say, I found her attractive.
… and it must have been there precisely that I worked for a week that summer. Usually we campers were taken to work in teams, but at times a farmer drove in and took just one of us.
… a very nice man, a traditional farm, with several old buildings (in part ivy-covered), two big court yards, and several fields all around. I worked with him Monday to Saturday, mainly as his assistant. The stables, the fields, driving at times the tractor.
… I had my meals with the family, in the kitchen. A girl of seventeen, sitting on the opposite side of the table was looking at me. Shiny blue eyes (the sort of eyes I have always liked), half hidden by two, oh so tender eyelids!
… I exchanged a few words with her. Now, should I fall in love? would I be able to conquer the heart of this pretty-little-blue-eyed Suzy? I might never go back to fascist Spain and become a farmer, marrying her, my pretty girlio.
… on the seventh day, after the usual Sunday luncheon in the camp, specially prepared by Vitas, pudding as usual to celebrate the Day of the Lord, I left the dining-room, the camp and waited for some minutes for the local bus on the road, inside the shelter, for it was drizzling.
… we were supposed to meet at another shelter, the fifth one, the lovely blonde and I. And I waited in vain for a long time. And when hours had passed and the rain had stopped, I walked piano piano back to the camp, a sad and disappointed Spaniard with no one to love me.
The following day, I had a long chat with Chema. We talked of the Swedish girls. They had long left for Newcastle and the girls, our eternal loves, were no more. Chema and I had accompanied them to Pocklington in the lorry, and saw Eva and Barbro waving goodbye from the coach window. ‘That’s the last time we see them,’ my pal said.

Yorkshire, harvest time.
The top of another hill. Again it brought me remembrances from the past. Far away I saw great activity: a large field rather yellow, the grain glowing in the sun, waiting for the big combine-harvester to arrive and swallow the lot at one go; a small team of workers operating the large machines; and on the other side of the field long rows of of straw made into square blocks. The image brought to my mind, once again, a thousand souvenirs.
… the harvest was in full swing. I was moving with martial step next to a trailer pulled by a tractor driven by the famer. A few days ago the whole field had been yellow: now in part little bits of grass were claiming the right to introduce a weak green hue in what had been, two days ago, just brown soil.
… but there is a bit more to harvest and we two, under the farmer’s instructions, were working hard: bundles of sheaves tied into stacks with the grain glowing in the sun, dozens of these placed in orderly rows. I was picking up with my long fork the sheaves as we advanced.
… on the trailer another young man, my pal, who was placing the sheaves in one by one, filling the bottom of the trailer and then on. I was lifting sheaves, harmoniously, one by one, actually throwing them in the air with a perfect circular motion; and he hurried to catch them. ‘Well done Chema!’
‘I wonder,’ I began telling Nicky; but I noticed she wasn’t listening, concentrated as she was on what she was doing.
Never mind, I had to tell my story. ‘All through that summer,’ I said, almost inaudibly (I was talking to myself, really), ‘Oh, I know you’re not jealous when I talk about girls.’ I kept quiet for the rest of the trip. If I had begun talking it was because I wanted her to know I mainly came to England to work hard and earn my living while I learn the language. And breaking my promise:
‘Then, working in the fields was so healthy. I love manual work.’
‘I know you do, darling.’
‘And I loved that camaraderie that one found in the camps. I made so many friends. Italians, Swedes, French. And girls too. For there were others that came after the Swedes, you very well know, English girls came to Melbourne Camp.
… with Chema I hitch-hiked to Blackburn. The families of two girls who stayed in the camp only one week invited us. The girls took us by bus to see the Blackpool Illuminations. They paid for everything, the bus fare, entertaiment, bazaar, the dodg’ems. We did not want to accept, but they said we were aliens and needed the money we earned.
‘Nicky, you know Chema, my pal. We became inseparable. He came to our wedding.’
‘Yes, of course, I know José María Bustamante. A very nice man.’
‘And when in London we went together to visit a friend. Oh, ten years older than us. We had met him in Madrid many years before. Leslie, of Leytonstone. He wanted to know what had made us come to England. I need to learn the language, Chema said. And you? he asked me. I replied that I wanted to see how other people lived. Yet, I worked hard to learn the language, too.’
‘Funny you lost contact with him, José María, I mean,’ Nicky said.
‘I went to to see him off at Victoria Station, and to wish him good luck in his further studies. He had always wanted to become a diplomat.’

An abandoned airfield.
The idea flashed across my mind. That ugly extension of land occupying the whole valley, which seemed to have no other purpose but to destroy the beauty of the landscape, had had quite a specific function in times gone by, even before I first set my foot in Yorkshire. During the second world war, big bombers and fighters had been operating out of there, bringing death and destruction upon the Continent.
‘An airfield,’ I said to myself, looking at the large dark-grey terrain with spots of dirty-green here and there. Contemplating that big oblong ‘mancha’, a sore to the eye, paradoxically, many happy recollections again came to my mind.
… already in 1953 it was not performing the task for which it had been built. But it was not then covered with moss and weeds and gravel. There had still been a long tarmac, probably not very different from what it had been.
… planes of the Royal Air Force, continually flying in and out to bomb the enemy: the lovely Cathedral city of Cologne, the Third Reich capital Berlin, the eastern cities of Leipzig and Dresden. And fighters too had gone from there into the air, to knock down German planes: the Battle of Britain.
… it was Bill Lawrence, the farmer father of that adorable Suzy, who told me about the war years. ‘Ah, good pilots the British! The best at carpet bombing. They knew what was to be done. Dozens of airfields along this coast. Hundreds of planes every night. Dresden was the best example of carpet-bombing.’
‘Stop, please!’ I cried. ‘That is it, Nicky. We’re there.’
‘That’s it?’ she exclaimed in surprise. ‘I see no camp, no Melbourne village.’
‘But I do see,’ I answered, dreamily.
… two lorries racing. Two groups of campers coming from a day labouring in the fields, back to the camp. We entered the tarmac, to make a short cut and into the camp.
… fatigued but all the same full of life. The camp was exactly on the other side. We used the tarmac to shorten the distance. Sometimes the two drivers competed, and they raced their motors, the road being five-hundred feet broad or more, and with our shouts we encouraged them to go faster.
… ‘more, more! hurrah! hurrah!’ We laughed and yelled offensive adjectives at the others when we overtook their lorry, and viceversa; and we really felt devastated if we were left behind.
‘It was great fun, Nicky,’ I said, forgetting for the time being to tell her that there were our girlfreinds those days with us. And in the lorry when we crossed the tarmac, if we won the race, we kissed them.
‘That airfield you see now covered with weeds,’ I went on, ‘was unused in 1953, but it was clear of weeds and pebbles. That is why. I mean, being like a very broad highway racing was a fantastic sport.’
‘But what are you talking about, an airfield, Nano, highway? I only see a large ugly field.’
She had stopped the car at the top of the hill, and we were now stretching our legs.
‘Why, there were airfields all along this coast. You know this better than me.’
‘During the war.’
‘And after the world war, well, in the fifties, they were still there. I mean, a big oblong tarred surface.’
She had fixed her eyes on the ex-field, and I was gazing at her adorable face, holding her hands: her clear blue eyes were turned on mine. Words failed me. I wanted her to feel the emotion I felt, but she was less sentimental. ‘What I mean to say,’ I sighed, ‘you know… and this is the important thing for me… for our trip… the purpose of our driving today. The camp was beyond that field. If it still exists, it must be there .’
‘Yes,’ was all she said.
For some reason I went on. ‘I don’t know, Nicky, I don’t know if I understand myself. My head is in a muddle. The camp was there,’ I repeated. ‘I must go and see. Will you come?’
‘No, darling, I shall stay here. You go, please.’
‘What are you going to do?’
‘I’ll stretch my legs for a while. Then I’ll read. Brought a novel with me.’
Turning round I began my walk and eventually came upon the junction of two roads, one of them rather narrow, and probably leading nowhere. I took it, however, a sort of premonition. Soon I found myself in a sort of square terrain. It must have been in former times in one piece, but now it was fractured into portions of broken tar, stones and cinders. The whole was overgrown with weeds.
I recognised the parking ground where the lorries arrived in the afternoon, bringing us back from working in the different farms of the region. And for the first time that day I felt entirely lost. For I saw nothing, and I sensed I was nowhere. The camp was gone, the village was still to be found, the fields around were altered nothing like what I used to know and work on. My heart was torn.
Completely alone this time (since Nicky was not there to help) I felt devastated. Only desolation all around. Was this the English countryside I had known and liked so in times of yore?.
The fact was that I was looking for something familiar which couldn’t now exist. The replica of images I had had all these years in my mind and which were themselves altered. And I found in consequence nothing. Like searching for a needle in a haystack. Indeed, I was looking for this and that, names! Places, forms, colours, the impressions that existed in my brain; the fiction I had built and had been entertaining all these years in Australia.
The entrance to the camp should have been there. Instead an unfinished cylindrical construction which I guessed was destined to become a silo. There were a couple of wheelbarrows and several bags of cement or lime or sand or whatever. On the ground with several other things, tools and machine-tools, a small machine: things of the sort architects and bricklayers used in the building industry. A gondola full of rubbish, lumber, stones, whole or broken bricks, blocks of concrete or plaster, mingled with lumps of black soil and even a rusty bucket or flower-pot containing weeds or dead plants.
I turned and went back to the road. It was suffocatingly hot, and that perhaps had influenced my condition. I looked at my watch. I had been walking thinking I had found the place, and nothing.
The quiet narrow road I remembered was there. But I did not see the two bands of bright green lawn, right and left, dotted with dandelions and daisies. There were some big tall trees instead, here and there, and their leafy branches prevented me from seeing the country pub on the top of the hill, which I remembered, ‘the King’s Arms’ or something similar. And my Melbourne village?

… we are marching with linked arms, girls and boys: an Italian singing a Neapolitan song, and the rest of us have joined in, inclusive of the Lancashire lass I love.
… she’s been telling me that on Saturday she’ll be leaving to start her first term at Manchester University. Already I know I’ll miss her terribly. Yes, I love her wavy blond hair, her nice red mouth and her sweet smile.
… we go on up the narrow road: on top of the hill the country pub, where we shall meet the locals in their public assembly of Saturday evenings.

… as we appproach, the beautiful white façade criss-crossed by shiny black beams, the windows and door with many little glass-panes, directly reflecting the rays of the setting sun.
… we push the glass door and walk along a corridor with a circular cork-board for playing darts on the wall; and after pushing another door, are received enthusiastically by the villagers, with some of whom we have worked during the day.
… an old lady in a colourful cotton dress and hat, presiding over a old piano, is thumping her fat fingers on the keys: she turns her head round singing some ditty, and the audience repeats the refrain with great hilarity.
Well, I must have lost my way. I felt feverish. Where could the camp be? I am a poor devil, that is what I am. What is the reason for trying to revive the past, what for?

Stalking about like the devil, I passed the gondola again, full of rubbish: soil and rests of construction material; and when I had retraced my steps past the silo again, I saw a large wooden hut which I instantly recognised. It was a representation of part of the camp, coming to me from the past. A big wooden cabin much fallen in decay. And oh, surprise! On the façade, a weather-beaten board on which, straining my eyes, I could read the words ‘Recreation Hall’ high on the frontispiece over the large door, which was locked with chain-and-padlock. Ambling about a little I came upon a smaller door at the back which seemed ajar. I went up two stone-steps, pushed the door open, and walked into the black interior. After a minute of indecison, groping my way, I went on. I had been dazzled by the contrast between full sunlight outside and the present darkness.
I placed my spectacles in the top-pocket of my flannel suit, for fear of breaking them, and my vision was doubly impaired in consequence. All I gathered was that I was stepping along a dark corridor formed by piles of wooden boxes and broken furniture. There were some windows, I saw, but they were dusty and covered with planks of wood and other objects
In my now changed mood, I went on, groping my way through, and while my mind became absent, my eyes concentrated on a streak of sunlight that filtered through one of the windows on the left and fell upon a piece of furniture which suddenly appeared before my eyes: dirty and dusty alright, but brilliantly black somehow.
‘Oh, the piano!’ I cried. ‘Ah, those pleasant days! Music, music, music! The merry songs! The pretty faces! How pleasant to recall them!’
And I touch the piano, my fingers marking ebany rows, that wonderful piano player. ‘Vitas!’
With him there were two Latvians (playing the violin and the violincello.) Most of the members of the staff of the volunteer agricultural camp were escapees from the Soviet Union, the cooks, the waiters, the cleaners, etc.
… my Lancashire lass was dancing with a tall blond German who waltzed marvellously and I was jealous, for I was a bad dancer. I was observing the players on the stage, and the campers, on the dance-floor, four or five couples turning round and round, whilst I was standing against a wall, despondent and lost.
‘Vitas!’ I said again. What a wonderful musician! Chopin, Beethoven, Brahms. Someone had said he was a composer himself. But he was now a happy cook. He could not have lived, it was said, in the Soviet Union under communism.
‘Oh gosh! oh gosh!’ I said to myself. I had recognised other things. Broken pieces of furniture alright, but so dear to me. There was a bookshelf; and there were on the floor cases full of mildewed books.
I had lifted the piano lid and was touching with two fingers the yellowed keys, thrown into a fine distraction, producing irregular sounds (for apart from the fact of not being at all a musician, only a few keys were still functional) when I became conscious of some people approaching. Steps, voices, the noise of a door opening. And the place was soon illuminated by an electric bulb that I now clearly perceived hanging from the ceiling on one side. Three men entered the place.
‘Beggin’ pardon, sir, what’ee doin’ here?’ one of them asked.
I was at pains to explain who I was and why I was in that inappropriate, dusty place, so far from any town or employment that might be in accord with my wearing apparel. The men themselves were labourers of some kind or other. To compound their amazement and my own confusion, I suddenly found myself in some difficulty to express myself in English, though this was now my first language after years of working with American and English lawyers. Besides, I was afraid that they might take me for a burglar or potential author of some evil doing, of which I was completely innocent.
Here the younger of the three, tall and blond as a Viking, mattered something which I did not understand; and he nodded twice.
Unfortunately, just as the three came in and caught me caressing the old piano, I was in one of those moods that caused me to feel nostalgic and I began to fear they will find me too ridiculous for words.
‘You see,’ I stammered, in an accent which must have seemed very odd to the three Yorkshiremen, ‘I’m a foreigner here… I was. I mean, I first came to this here camp in 1953, as a foreign student I mean. To learn the language, you see…, and work, of course, working camp, they called it… paid us a guinea a day, if we worked hard; piecework, you know. And now… I’ve come , today, I mean, out of curiosity, you see… sort of… wanting to remember those days, the place, them people, old friends. Yes, I was here, believe it or not, ’53, and again ’54. Melbourne village up the road. ‘Melbourne Volunteer Agricultural Camp, that is what they called it. It was written at the entrance, perhaps you will recall that… detail. And… and this here building, hut, it was then the recreation hall. I was a migrant in a way, esacaping from fascism I should say.’

The men listened to my disorderly discourse in mute dismay. No doubt they had never in their lives come across so queer an individual, and almost certainly did not now know what to do or say.
They stood, facing me, in complete silence. They were, I gathered, temporarily engaged to do some job or other on the fields or, more probably, in the construction of the big silo outside the hut; for I now noticed there were tools and instruments on the floor: perhaps they had come to fetch them.
After a while, I made another attempt to revive my monologue. ‘You know,’ I said, ‘I come from Australia. No, no,’ I hastened to add, getting deep into my subject, my past in the students’ camp, ‘I know my accent shows another origin, but I live in Sydney. I mean, we’ve come… returning migrants. With my wife and daughters, All the way from Down Under, so to say, to visit… so, here I am today. I can say. For the sake of remembrance, you see. I guess I’ve already told you all this before.’
At this point, the worker who had not yet opened his mouth laughed. The other two just went on staring.
Having myself, after my long tirade, expected a better response, I felt like starting anew, but was prevented from doing so by a loud peal of laughter coming from one of them.
‘I know I’m laughable,’ I said. ‘Yet, that’s not the point. My person interests no one: an alien all right. The fact, I’m sure of what I’m saying. If my speech makes you wonder about me, it’s nevertheless true there was a Volunteer Agricultural Camp on this very spot.’ Strangely enough, I had become much calmer, and my language came out fluently now. ‘You may remember to have seen nissen huts all around; you see, nissen huts, cylindrical constructions, for habitation, of course, huts made of corrugated iron painted black. That’s what they were, and at either end of what one could call a large cylinder, no, half-cylinder stuck on the ground, two façades painted green, circular walls with one door and two windows. Had to be circular, ain’t it? And, over there,’ I added, noticing I had got them interested in the subject, and pointing with one finger in the direction of one of the blocked-up windows, ‘was the entrance of the camp, you know, like a big arch high up, and the words on it, as I’ve just described,. Melbourne Volunteer Agricultural Camp.’
‘I wish we could do something for you, sir,’ the senior fellow said in reply.
But I went on, as if I had not heard: ‘It had been a concentration camp for German and Italian prisoners of war.’
‘Right! Now I remember,’’ the man added suddenly. I noticed he was about my age, or perhaps a few years older. ‘Yes, them Jerry prisoners. Good chappies though, soome ov ‘em was. I was a child meself. An’ as you say,’’ he went on, becoming friendly, ‘’it became a camp for volunteer workers arter the war, now I remember. O’ course. Voolunteer campers. To help them farmers. Right’yee are. Now I remember,’’ he repeated.
‘And there were foreign students among the volunteer workers,’ I put in. ‘You remember?’
‘Ah! that I doon’t know,’’ the man replied. ‘’To let you into a secret, sir, I ran away from here, found employment in a factory down south, you see. But the Volunteer Agricultural Camp, yes, that I remember now. Sorry I’d forgotten. Time flies arter all.’ he concluded in a tone of complete unconcern.
And when I asked him if he knew, nevertheless, when and why the camp had been closed, the man replied, shrugging his shoulders.
’Why, it was knocked down bit by bit, as I recall. There were a few ov ‘em nissen hoots still standing, foonctionin’ sort of thin’, when I came back, and then, coople of years later, noothin’!’
‘When was that?’’
‘A pretty long time back,’’ was all the man said.
The other two workers, who had been listening to the conversation between their foreman and the queer alien with their eyes half closed, woke up at this point and, for some reason, nodded assent.
By contrast, all sorts of recollections of those my early days, of my first summer in England, now came crowding to my mind.
They began to collect their tools to go out and do their job outside. And that was all concerning the camp. It was all one to them. The fact that there might have been in that empty desert a happy crew of foreign students or not, was for them absolutely of no importance. I felt a tear coursing down my cheek.
It was only natural: It hadn’t been an essential part of their lives, as it had been of mine during those wonderful hours of my youth, my sentimental travel to England, my pals, that students’ camp, the blond girls, my first love.
The dilapidated weatherboard construction in which I now found myself with those men, all that bad composition, that old piano, the broken tables and chairs and other pieces of furniture, piled in great disorder, were nothing to them. They were to me because they represented a milestone in my life: I had there ceased to be an adolescent and became a man, a young man full of strength and hope and enthusiasm. I had there loved my girl.
‘On’y, mind yoor! Them volunteer workers weren’t so comfortable, I mean well-paid, as down south. Better mooney in industry,’ said the senior workman, already leaving the place
‘Billy, sir, pr’haps they carried oot their work an’ git on well. Like evry won,’ said the second man.
I felt devastated, paralysed. As they went out of the hut, the foreman turned round and I heard him shout out:
’Take care, sir! an’ good look to you!’’

Back to join Nicky
Slowly and sadly, coming out into the sunlight, I took sometime to look around, I saw the men working hard, and strode towards the road where I had left my wife. I don’t know if I was by then fully awake.

… It is the identical country road from Melbourne to Thornton I had trodden so many times those years; the fact that I am now alone and in direct contact with the very earth I walked on then must have unlatched the door to this dream.
… rekindling the feelings of old, that is what it is. But I had then had my youth, a future, a world to conquer, all my life before me, and now I am past forty. How different my feelings were now, on the old road to Thornton; the very roadway on which I was walking seemed strange: it was not like that before; the tar I was treading on, the matter that surrounded me, the dirt and dark patches on the road (then so stainless) and the fields on either side were not the same, and then the smell of oil, petrol, diesel, whatever: artificial fertilizers right and left. The farmhouses did not now have those ivy-covered façades, the very few copses left in the prospect, looked rusty, unattractive. Everything was so different! Before all had been beauty, harmony. Then it had been possible to hear the music of nature that still vibrates in my memory, and in my heart. Today I hear the hoot of motorcars passing by, the noise of engines, tractors and other machinery on the fields. The sounds of voices, conversation, shouts? The bark of the farmers’ dogs, the twittering of birds? They were no more. Even in the cloudless sky you only saw the colour of decay. I sense the smell of pollution.
I was walking on the roadway. What had consisted on both sides in long stretches of nearly emerald grass verges thoroughly sprinkled with shiny golden buttercups , now showed the stains of petrol, instead of yellow flowers. Black, specially on the borders, and the long blades of grass were grey and had never known the mower. Or gosh! even in this secondary road? Invaded by the dirt of transport and industry. Yes! I see a few dead dandelions.

Of a sudden another fear stabbed my heart, my Nicky had disappeared. I saw the car all right. She was supposed to wait until I came back, and now she was nowhere to be seen. I ran panic-stricken down the road, and as I ran I remembered there was an old unused canal down there, somewhere. I was reaching out of breath the canal, when I caught sight of my wife sitting on the stone-parapet of the bulging bridge which, somebody had told me then, dated from Emperor Hadrian’s time. She was reading her book.
‘I thought you’d left me,’ I gasped as I sat on the parapet by her side.
‘Don’t be so ridiculous,’ she said, fondling my ruffled hair.
I put my arm round her shoulders and remained silent for a minute or two. She snuggled into my embrace, knowing I was suffering, kissing me tenderly on one cheek.
‘You take things too much to heart, Nano.’
Sitting as we were on the apex of a stone roman-arch we had a fine view of the canal and the lock sixty or seventy feet away.
‘You see up there,’ I began, pointing to the lock, ‘when it was really hot, late July early August, we came to swim after the evening meal.’
‘I know, plenty of water at the lock. And reeds too. Just as it appears today.’
‘It’s not the same,’ I said pensively. ‘We sat on the grass, among the stacks of wheat.’
‘And the music coming from the camp was heard. Other campers had entered the recreation hall and were dancing.’
I had closed my eyes.
… the surface of the canal was shining like a mirror in the moonlight. Two girls were sitting on the grass with us. One of them quite near me. Her face was rosy, her pretty lips were tight, she was hugging her legs with both arms, resting her chin on her two round glowing knees.
… I was lying on my back, looking at the dark-blue starry sky. Oh, happy moment of my youth! that wonderful feeling! I had grabbed with both hands a few blades of the grass I was lying on, and taken them to my face, rubbing them on my nose.
… for I wanted to absorb through my senses the very essence of that English night. I wanted to keep deep in my heart that happiness, that freedom, that companionship, health, strength… my youth.
‘So, you found nothing,’ Nicky asked, ‘no Melbourne Camp.’

’Why, nothing I don’t know,’ I muttered, absent-mindedly. ‘I saw the old piano, decrepit and torn apart.’
‘What did you expect?’
‘Really I know the world changes, new things come up… that’s life, I guess: a spark, an instant, I don’t know. Eventually everything turns into ashes. Oh, Nicky, now I can say… to think that even the most cherished remembrances… come to nothing! I’ve tried… to keep it in my memory; but, eventually, one does forget, not a thing left. The past is gone. And it will never come back.’
‘Poor Nan!’
‘I wish we hadn’t come.’ I cried.
‘So do I,’ she muttered.
‘It will now be more difficult to remember… to bring back the feeling of old, those dear images, the campers, the land, the places, that recreation hall… how can those images now form part of my soul, when I’ve seen all has turned to ashes?
‘No, Nano, please, the images will remain. And our feelings of yore. They still are our feelings. They have been ours together for so long, they form part of our lives. Life is not a succession of moments, it is a continuity. We will always be united… in those feelings, that past together, always together at heart.’
I felt sad, but knew I was not alone. Whenever the thorns of life have hurt me sorely (and it has happened sometimes), she has been there to help, to bring me out of my madness, from the brink of despair. I love her, adore her, and will always do.
We were now walking up the road to where the car was parked. On both sides of the way, as far as the eye could reach, there were wheatfields, the golden ears fluttering in the breeze, and the whole prospect sprinkled with the deep-red dots of poppies.

fg.izquierdo@yahoo.es

Migrant, refugee and sentimental traveller

Fernando García Izquierdo

Foreign students.
After the second world war, the British government was facing a situation, common to all governments, I suppose, in post-war periods, which can be summarised in these few words: hundreds of thousands of young men had perished or been disabled on battlefields, labourers for the most part, and there was need, therefore, to find replacements. There had always been in Great Britain up to that time, as in other European countries, a large proportion of the labour force employed on the land.
With the end of the conflict many changes took place in this respect. First and foremost, of course, women entered the labour market en masse (continuing a trend initiated much before 1945, during the war.) Their work was now an essential part of the reconstruction effort. Next, industry was about to expand at an accelerated rate and, after a while, what was already a diminished number of farm labourers (for the reason stated above) became still more reduced as country dwellers made their way to cities and towns where factory wages were higher and life generally more attractive, especially for the young who were now full of hope and with prospects of a better life.
The country areas were therefore doubly deprived of their usual, previously abundant supply of farmhands. The rich farmers panicked. Badly needed new hands had to be found somehow. The British labour government understood all this.
It was then that the Volunteer-Agricultural-Camps scheme was born. These camps appeared in many important English counties in all regions, north, south, east and west, the biggest being probably in Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Isle of Ely and Kent. In some places newly built structures made their appearance, but in the regions where there had been military and concentration camps until the end of the conflict, such camps were quickly transformed in order to receive the volunteer campers and start operating.
Because I think there is some interest from a historical point of view (and also because for me, personally, it will bring some pleasing remembrances from the past) I shall be dealing herein with the character of these camps and more particularly the condition and nature of the campers. They were, most of them, young foreigners, men and women, usually students who came for the season (a ‘sojourn’ we called it), though some stayed for real long periods, spring, summer and autumn. And they lived, some of them at least, perhaps the greatest adventures of their lives.
Europe was now at peace with herself (save Greece, Sicily and perhaps some other country in the east) and everybody expected now a life of collaboration, justice, continual progress, social well-being and prosperity.
For the visiting foreign student, as a matter of fact, the British Volunteer Agricultural Camp was a divination. It would not be easy for me to convey to the youth of today what travelling to Britain (across a Europe again at peace), there to settle at least for a while, as I have said, came to represent for the young men and women of yesteryears. I am speaking of the decade that started more or less in 1949.
The students lived a healthy natural life, among other volunteer workers, in a world newly opened to them. An optimistic atmosphere of peace and freedom prevail: in an England and a Europe where the word slavery seemed to have been eradicated for good.
The campers shared their lives in fine camaraderie among themselves and with the inhabitants of the land. There was faith in the future, belief in the possibility of peace at last. World peace, we thought, had been achieved. At least, for the less politically conscious, no world conflict was visible; until the fifties, in truth. And there was the great discovery that a different nationality did not mean animosity: Germans, French, British, Nordic and Mediterraneans we all were substantially the same.
Travelling, young people formed new friendships, where before there had been mistrust, antagonism and war. Visitors from abroad learned the English language. People perceived in others different customs, ways of life, which were accepted, partially adopted. Less importance was given to what might have appeared at first sight strange behaviours, oddities. And many other things, besides, were learned by the young travellers.
Among the volunteer workers (who were not students) you often found in the camps people nearing middle age, men and women who preferred the freedom which the camp represented (afforded, for some), but were very sociable; they had, some of them, very interesting stories to tell.
The camps were generally made of several cylindrical black structures, called nissen-huts, where the campers slept and spent collectively most of their spare time; men and women being lodged in separate quarters. There were several other (public) spaces, usually large-sized wooden huts, where the campers had their meals, and lounged during their free hours, reading or otherwise enjoying their free time, alone or with friends, old and new acquaintances, listening sometimes to music or otherwise spending the evening. Cultural and other social activities, organised entertainment, such as concerts and dancing were organised practically every evening.
Management offices and kitchens and other services occupied other spaces, generally wooden cabins. There were residences for the warden, secretarial and other staff. Also kitchen staff and other employees. Much depended on the importance and size of the particular camp.
The foreign students and other campers were employed by the local farmers for a fee, and the wages they received were in all cases satisfying. Accommodation and meals were provided for by the camp, the campers paying weekly a relatively small amount for said board and lodging plus additional services provided.

Madrid, spring 1953.
I was studying at university, in my last year of law, just twenty-three years of age. One morning I bumped in the faculty’s corridors into my best friend, Chema, who led me to one of the notice boards wherein, in Spanish, I read the following: ‘The British government will provide students with entry visas and other requisites allowing a foreigner to work in England, provided the student undertakes not to enter into any employment, paid or unpaid, in the United Kingdom, other than agricultural employment in a specified Volunteer Agricultural Camp.’ There was an address, a certain ‘Allied Circle’ of Paris. It was also specified that the volunteer camper would receive normal wages.
We looked at one another, laughing, and at once fell into each other’s arms. ‘Now, shall we? Shall we apply, shall we do it, eh?’ And other students had hastened to read the announcement.
I had better explain at this stage that although Europe was more or less at peace, and Spain was one of the countries where class conflicts had been suppressed, in the Iberian Peninsula there was outright fascism. People were extremely poor, there were no constitutional rights at all. Travelling abroad was a near impossibility and, among other things, the currency (Peseta) had no value at all in the international sphere. All the same, we embraced one another again, and swore we would do it. And for me, a most tremendous adventure had commenced that eighth March, 1953.
We got our passports, the necessary visas, English (entry) and an exit one; certificates from the Police Commissariat, the department of Penados and Rebeldes (proving we had never been in jail or otherwise rebelled against society or the state); another one certifying that we were neither socialists, nor communists or freemasons and anarchists; a document of Buena Conducta signed by the parish priest; and written permission from the Army and the Falange, being of ‘military’ age; and an authorisation from the Instituto de la Moneda Extranjera, since the Spanish Central Bank was to exchange our Pesetas into Sterling (the black market was prohibitive and too dangerous to try.)
We decided we would go each our own way, and would see one another in Paris. Our instructions were to meet, with others, on a certain day of June, at Gare Saint Lazare, the large passengers’ hall, under the Grande Horloge. After another train journey, together with a crew of Continental students, we crossed the English Channel by ferry on a luminous spring morning and eventually reached London, early June There were great festivities in the United Kingdom all over. The King was dead, the cry was God save the Queen, Elizabeth II Regina.

Yorkshire revisited.
We were on the last leg of our journey, having left York well behind and already on our way to Pocklington. Our destination was the tiny village of Melbourne, which name in my mind then conveyed (and still conveys today) great emotion derived, as often happens with deeply entrenched remembrances, from dreams rather than reality. ‘Things Past! Who can claim to reconstitute the past? Everything changes, nothing remains stable, not even the images which one day entered your brain and there remained: for good, but not unchanged.
Shadowy recollections, that was all: moments that I judged interesting because I had cherished them, those memories, particularly those happy days of my youth, which (as a great Nicaraguan poet said long ago) ‘Se van para no volver.’ Treasured youth, he said: ‘¡Juventud, divino tesoro!’
After an absence of about fifteen years (ten of them spent in Australia), we had come back to England, for a long holiday. For in our quality as ‘returned migrants’ we had settled, not in Britain or Spain, but in Paris, where we both had found employment. These days we were staying in Lancaster, where we had left our two daughters with some relatives.
It was most delicious weather that morning; the sun was shining, the sky without a cloud, the hills and dales were green, save where there were extensive plantations of (now golden) grain; and in some of the larger fields where the harvest had already begun, the plain was getting brown on one side and on the other you still saw the lofty yellow stems of wheat standing high, balancing in the breeze.
I closed my eyes and fell into a reverie.
… I was surprised. It was a warm clear day. August in England, the Yorkshire moors. A tangible reality still in my brain. Like a flash, the image of that Summer ’53.
I woke up as we were entering the market town of Pocklington and, perhaps yet not wide-awake, I gazed right and left again and again, with great curiosity, a feeling of disappointment somehow creeping into my heart. The houses, the shops, the offices and public buildings were there… but nothing brought to me the feeling of old, the sense of things I might have experienced then. The same with the passers-by I perceived walking on the pavements, the people.
I turned my eyes, rather lost, trying to find something that would help me to express my thoughts in words to my wife, but did not find what to say, how to speak; and she would not have listened anyhow, always such a careful driver. English all right, my dear Nicky.
I did not how to swallow my disappointment. Pocklington was for me a dear name, it had all these years in Australia represented so much, so many beautiful recollections, my head as always so full of souvenirs. Was I simply a dreamer, a babbler, had I invented all I had had in my bain in Australia, what I had been telling my wife a day or two ago and so many times before? False, my God, all false? oh false!
… I was a strong young man when I first set my foot in there, that little town in the midst of an agricultural region. A young man ready to see and experience, to learn, to live. An immature young man, to tell the truth, when a day or two later, I fell in love with the first pretty blond I saw.
… I had been thinking, when I landed on la Pérfida Albión, that I would become a famous exile from a country in which fascism reigned supreme. For I was not intending to go back, ever, to Spain, planning as I was to sail far away.
… and I came to love England best of all. Goodness gracious me, that first day in London! what celebrations! Music, parades, the royal cavalry, red-cloaked horsemen with black bearskins on their heads, riding their magnificent stallions; all was colour, inclusive and specially the splendid golden carriage of a fairy queen. It was ‘Coronation Year.’
… from London I had boarded the train north. Arriving at York, the capital of the county, I caught a local train which took me to Pocklington. What would I now write home? a postcard or a long letter? None in my family or in our circle of friends had ever travelled so far north.
… coming out from the station, I noticed a green lorry parked on one side of the square. A stocky white-haired man was placidly smoking his pipe, leaning on the radiator of the vehicle: ‘Are you for Melbourne Camp?’ he asked.
… in my bad English I answered that I had in fact ‘booked for a sojourn in a volunteer agricultural camp’ and showed him some papers. ‘Climb inside,’ he muttered, still chewing his pipe and flipping his free hand over his shoulder.
… I first hurled my enormous haversack in. An extremely beautiful girl then helped me to jump inside, under the green tarpaulin cover. She was seated on a wooden plank, cross-wise, the first one of about ten similar benches that were very sparcely occupied by other young people.
… after a while, with much difficulty, I muttered: ‘What are we waiting for?’, and was informed that a group of Swedish students were to arrive on the coach from Newcastle. The Swedes arrived, the free benches were all occupied, and we were on the road to Melbourne Camp.
… from my bench, near the opening, I watched the prospect of what was for me an exotic country and not at all nordic. It was warm and sunny. It became for me the land of great felicity and freedom.
… thirty minutes later we were on a tarred piece of land, at the camp entrance. Some other lorries had just arrived, and the place was filled in a instant with young people sauntering about talking animately in different languages.
But today, midsummer 1972, I was another man, a rather disgruntled, melancholy fellow, prematurely grey-haired. I had begun to explain all the above to Nicky and I wondered whether she understood me. Anyhow, all the time she held her peace.
I saw a small English town, but it was somehow different from what I had known The vitality of the market town of yore, the crowds, the noise and movement I remembered, all that and much more was missing: the colour in the apparel of the old-ladies’ summer dresses, which had so astonished me then (coming from a Mediterranean country where married women wore sombre colours, often black); the discipline on the zebra crossings, the liveliness of the population generally; the famous Saturday morning shopping crowds, those orderly English men and women, carrying packets in their hands or at their feet, making those long queues at the bus-stops on both sides of the main street… oh, my heart, where had all that gone? ‘Eighteen or nineteen years is not that much (I said to myself), or is it?’
I asked Nicky to park the car, please, somewhere. And we entered a public house. I had probably been in there, alone or with friends, when of a Saturday morning we came to town shopping (accompanying the cook or some camp attendant driving one of the lorries into town to do some purchasing of provisions, or bringing some commission for buying something or having some instrument repaired.)
I had to pass my finger under my spectacles, over my eyelid, waiting for the publican or someone to serve us. He saw me looking, and I do not know what he thought seeing me so melancholy.
I seemed to recognise the man when he approached (sure, a fluke of my imagination, I had not seen him before), nice and friendly in any case. He did not speak with an accent I could associate with the Yorkshiremen of yore. Probably he was of my own age. I asked for a cider and a beer, and as he stood afterwards watching us out of his blue eyes when he served us I asked him for directions, always trying to find the shortest way to the village of our destination, for we only had a Michelin map bought in a French supermarket.
… the picture of the Melbourne I still had in my brain was like a colour print. It was a village, not a hamlet. I saw it, like on the top of the hill. A country road leading to it, a dazzling green lawn on either side full of dandelions and daisies, and shiny little flowers which I learned they called buttercups.
… for we used to march of an evening along that road to the public house with linked arms, singing aloud in Italian, I do not know why, except we had an Italian student with us.
… Franco was his name, from Venice. My new Swedish friend was also there, Ingvar, from Katrineholm. And Claude, a Frenchman who came from Paris.

… we soon saw on top of the hill the black beams of the country pub, criss-crossing the glossy white façade. The sound of music was in the air. It made us run or at least accelerate our strides.
… it was indeed a luminous pub that we approached: the dazzling setting sun was reflected on door-and-window panes, like copperish squares reflecting the rays of the star that gives us life.
It was a vision I had in my mind that probably was false, but how could I now (with the man’s eyes fixed on me, for him nothing but ‘an alien’) have otherwise described my dear village?
‘Melbourne,’ the publican cried, and, upon reflection: ‘is that not a large city in Australia?’
‘Yes, and also a village in Yorkshire… I mean here… you see…in this region, East Riding.’ I did not know what I was saying. I am not a natural stammerer, but on occasion, speaking English, yes. ‘I was here nineteen years ago… there was a students’ camp… I mean, young people lived there. The warden was a Londoner, Mr Cobb. Secretariat and other staff. It was a big affair, you see. Yorkshire people, or English. I couldn’t remember, of course where the staff came from. Cook was a Lithuanian, I remember that particularly… an escapee from the Soviet Union. A good bloke, though. There were others. And hundreds of campers. Them English or foreigners… students and other volunteer workers. Agriculture, you understand?’
An old man, who had been silently drinking his bottle of porter in a corner, now joined in the conversation, stammering like myself. I believe he wanted to help us find the village, perhaps he knew. But I am not sure he was entirely rational. Anyhow you sensed the alcohol in him when he spoke. He was too drunk, and I could not understand what he was saying.
‘Hip… takes a lon’ roon… partickler, sir, when ye says… you moost… per’aps. If ye’re by car, well not far… boot…’

Then the man went back to his bottle; and I explained to the publican, rather too much at length again, that I had been a student, that was long ago! and I had worked in a camp, that was why I’d come to England. Spaniards had no money. It must be near. This is an agricultural area, you see? several nissen huts, you will have seen them, no doubt… I mean when on a trip, I suppose you own a car too. Fifteen or twenty miles, I guess, no more. You see, a Volunteer Agricultural Camp, that was what the… the designation was. Wooden huts and… also huts like this, you see, a circular roof… no, no… cylindrical. Long constructions. Several nissen-huts.’
‘I tell you what,’ he said, pensively, ‘just as you were explaining it to me, I could gather that… well this is what I suggest…’ and he rushed to attend other clients without uttering his suggestion.
They had just entered, two young workers. He went to them. One of them must have just picked from me the term nissen-huts in the air, as he entered, and at once joined in the conversation, addressing himself to me. The two were at the bar, not far from Nicky and me.
‘Goovernor,’ he said, ‘them nissen hoots were used during the war. Black roofs, ye say. Righ-tee-O! and with green walls at either end, two entrances, façade round, two little windows. Frames painted white, doors an’ windows. Haven’t seen’em meself, boot… Quite a sight from the road, from what I’ve heard. Was told ‘about the camps o’ny last week: because the television proogram. There were many. Barbed-wired during the war. Them Jerries... Prisoners of war.’
‘Yes,’ I hastened to add, when he stopped, full of hope, and about Melbourne... Meanwhile the publican was serving the men their beers. And the young man, my interlocutor, kept mum for the time being.
Now that I had accepted his entering the conversation, I was left helplesss.
‘And after the war,’ said the other young labourer ‘they were transformed, the camps I mean, into volunteer workers’ residences. Right you are. I’ve read ‘bout them camps in The Mirror… no, The Sun.’
At this moment the publican spoke again. ‘Prisoners of war, all right. Them Italians good chappies. Many stayed after the war. Married local girls. I mean, up north at least. I’m from Newcastle, you see. I haven’t been here long. Just bought this establishment six months ago.’
‘The one explains the other,’ I said, and my kind wife added, to clarify my thought.
‘We mean that your being from Northumberland explains your not knowing about the village my husband has mentioned.’

‘Ities you say,’ another elderly man at the bar now joined in the conversation. ‘Prisoners of war orright. An’ arterwards, Ities preferred to stay. Apparently Italy, you know, was poor. But them Jerries is another kettle of fish!
But whether anyone had heard or knew anything about the village of my recollection, I never got to know. No one I talked to, either in the street or in the public house, that Saturday morning, could advise us about the road we ought to take to get to Melbourne village.
At length the publican came up with a solution (it seemed.) Repeating what had already been said, he began. ‘Tell’ye what. Prisoners of war all right. What I meantersay, them Italians are good chappies. No longer enemies they joined in. Many stayed behind after the war, as you’s said’ (glancing at the young labourers), ‘and ev’n married local girls. I mean up north them did. You’s right, them Jerries was another cattle of fish!
Somebody else wanted to add some other thought. ‘On’y, mind you, they were not so comfy down here in the East Ridin’ arter the war. Employment was easy. An’ the military wanted to git oot an’ freed ‘em prisoners orright... Wone’ ov them Ities is on a farm near Market Weighton, as you’s said. There’s where I lives. Married a fair lady. The widow‘f a rich farmer. You wouldn’t call him an alien now.’
‘Blow that, Terry!’ said the publican, addressing himself to the fellow. ‘Let’em Ities alone. An’ ye, Stew. They’re in a hurry to find Melbourne. Don’t you see?’ And, somewhow guessing my wife was driving, he addressed himself to her. ‘You go on the road and ask for directions, that’s the proper thing to do. And if not easy, perhaps, be bold enough and ring at a door, if a farmhouse appears at the turn of the road.’
Neither did we find anybody in the street who could tell us anything about a working-camp or a village called Melbourne, and Nicky went on driving for about another half hour, while I observed or imagined what I was seeing: anyhow, dreaming. It was delightful weather, and I was delighted to see the Yorkshire moors, that wonderful prospect again. They had not changed. The East Riding in all its splendour, as it were, once more.
For I had begun to see something of the old, the vision that I had entertained in my mind all these years in Australia. And this part of the county was particularly familiar, or to say it differently, dear to my heart, recollections from my youth. Unfortunately, of the camp or the village… nothing.

Wrong way.
At the turn of the road, I had just seen on the left all of sudden the name of a place which sounded familiar, a village where I had certainly been in the past
‘Everingham,’ I said to myself. But I took some time to react, and we had crossed the village before I shouted: ‘Stop Nicky, we’ve taken the wrong way.’
I didn’t tell her that I had been there many times that summer.
… the feeling of old coming back across the mirage of time. That fine farmer with a nice numerous family, a lovely girlio his daughter. On Sunday, We were supposed to meet, Suzy and I. I felt most frustrated afterwards.
… Barbro had just left the camp to go back to Uppsala. That was why. When I first arrived at Melbourne Camp, I was twentry-three and yet, she was my first love. Before, in Madrid, I had always been terribly timid in my relation to women.
… I felt in the camp that early summer ’53, and for the first time, that pleasant sensation in simply walking on a road and talking to a girl. I felt so naturally attracted to my Swedish girl. I knew she also liked me.
… we worked together on the fields. Still the green of spring. ‘Hello! ‘Weeding!’ I shouted, reading the notice. ‘What does that mean?’ And she explained to me what the term meant. Next morning we all went out in the several lorries: eight in my team. Barbro was in that number.
… each one was provided with a two-pronged fork, four or five feet long. ‘This is a hoe,’ she explained. We worked together, had lunch on the grass. And at four we were paid fifteen shillings. We danced that evening, Barbro and I.

‘All right, Nano,’ Nicky answered, ‘which way should we take?’
We had already passed the place, and I asked her to stop the car at the crest of the hill. We would have a rest strolling about. I was going to drive next.
There was something in the sweet sunshine which made me feel more optimistic. The variety of greens, never seen in my own country or in Australia.
‘It is nice,’ I said to my wife.
No longer any vehicle on the road, we moved on for while. I saw a silvery bird. What, a seagull? I did not particularly remember what sort of birds I saw on the fields then, but not seagulls, except on the coast.
… that Saturday the warden himself (Mr. Cobb) took us in one of the camp lorries to Bridlington. I felt so happy, just ambling with my Barbro, at some distance from the other campers, on an immense green field situated almost on the cliff.
… like a well-attended lawn, a very long green carpet, facing the North Sea. I felt the wind on my face, and saw the cliff, the sun, the birds. And I felt happy talking in English with my girl.
… I sat with her, the two of us alone upon the cliff, a stone-and-grass platform overhanging a narrow misty beach down below and farther away a furious sea, dark blue and white, and the horizon. We had begun eating the sandwiches provided for us by Mr. Cobb (and drinking an orangeade of a most irritating reddish colour.)
… and in front of us, over the cliff, the sky was completely filled with silky seagulls in an instant. All floating in the air, as it were, standing (it seems) with the two wings spread out and beaks ready. The straight-up little bodies, facing us.
… gosh, those screeches! I was for leaving at once, but she loved to see so many white birds making us company. And she laughed again as she threw bit by bit most of her sandwiches into the air.
… it all became worse. The noise was absolutely unbearable: croaks and cries and screeches. In a moment my sandwiches, too, disappeared taken right out from between my fingers.

On the road again with Nicky.

I like to reminisce about the camp. I wanted to tell her about Bridlington, that day, and about Scarborough, about each and every one of my days in Yorkshire that summer. She knew. We might write one day the story of Melbourne Camp together. But she asked me to concentrate on what I was doing. Not to have an accident. Otherwise we should change drivers again.
I did as she wished. After a while, we passed a middle-sized farm, on the left-side of the road. I noticed a pretty woman standing at a gate. I saw her eyes rising an instant towards my wife, as if she had recognised her. Being now on the passenger-seat of our French car, I had naturally escaped her observation. And yet, I looked at her with curiosity. She could have been Nicky’s sister. Blond, beautiful, obviously good-tempered as well, she was also about thirty-seven years old. Needless to say, I found her attractive.
… and it must have been there precisely that I worked for a week that summer. Usually we campers were taken to work in teams, but at times a farmer drove in and took just one of us.
… a very nice man, a traditional farm, with several old buildings (in part ivy-covered), two big court yards, and several fields all around. I worked with him Monday to Saturday, mainly as his assistant. The stables, the fields, driving at times the tractor.
… I had my meals with the family, in the kitchen. A girl of seventeen, sitting on the opposite side of the table was looking at me. Shiny blue eyes (the sort of eyes I have always liked), half hidden by two, oh so tender eyelids!
… I exchanged a few words with her. Now, should I fall in love? would I be able to conquer the heart of this pretty-little-blue-eyed Suzy? I might never go back to fascist Spain and become a farmer, marrying her, my pretty girlio.
… on the seventh day, after the usual Sunday luncheon in the camp, specially prepared by Vitas, pudding as usual to celebrate the Day of the Lord, I left the dining-room, the camp and waited for some minutes for the local bus on the road, inside the shelter, for it was drizzling.
… we were supposed to meet at another shelter, the fifth one, the lovely blonde and I. And I waited in vain for a long time. And when hours had passed and the rain had stopped, I walked piano piano back to the camp, a sad and disappointed Spaniard with no one to love me.
The following day, I had a long chat with Chema. We talked of the Swedish girls. They had long left for Newcastle and the girls, our eternal loves, were no more. Chema and I had accompanied them to Pocklington in the lorry, and saw Eva and Barbro waving goodbye from the coach window. ‘That’s the last time we see them,’ my pal said.

Yorkshire, harvest time.
The top of another hill. Again it brought me remembrances from the past. Far away I saw great activity: a large field rather yellow, the grain glowing in the sun, waiting for the big combine-harvester to arrive and swallow the lot at one go; a small team of workers operating the large machines; and on the other side of the field long rows of of straw made into square blocks. The image brought to my mind, once again, a thousand souvenirs.
… the harvest was in full swing. I was moving with martial step next to a trailer pulled by a tractor driven by the famer. A few days ago the whole field had been yellow: now in part little bits of grass were claiming the right to introduce a weak green hue in what had been, two days ago, just brown soil.
… but there is a bit more to harvest and we two, under the farmer’s instructions, were working hard: bundles of sheaves tied into stacks with the grain glowing in the sun, dozens of these placed in orderly rows. I was picking up with my long fork the sheaves as we advanced.
… on the trailer another young man, my pal, who was placing the sheaves in one by one, filling the bottom of the trailer and then on. I was lifting sheaves, harmoniously, one by one, actually throwing them in the air with a perfect circular motion; and he hurried to catch them. ‘Well done Chema!’
‘I wonder,’ I began telling Nicky; but I noticed she wasn’t listening, concentrated as she was on what she was doing.
Never mind, I had to tell my story. ‘All through that summer,’ I said, almost inaudibly (I was talking to myself, really), ‘Oh, I know you’re not jealous when I talk about girls.’ I kept quiet for the rest of the trip. If I had begun talking it was because I wanted her to know I mainly came to England to work hard and earn my living while I learn the language. And breaking my promise:
‘Then, working in the fields was so healthy. I love manual work.’
‘I know you do, darling.’
‘And I loved that camaraderie that one found in the camps. I made so many friends. Italians, Swedes, French. And girls too. For there were others that came after the Swedes, you very well know, English girls came to Melbourne Camp.
… with Chema I hitch-hiked to Blackburn. The families of two girls who stayed in the camp only one week invited us. The girls took us by bus to see the Blackpool Illuminations. They paid for everything, the bus fare, entertaiment, bazaar, the dodg’ems. We did not want to accept, but they said we were aliens and needed the money we earned.
‘Nicky, you know Chema, my pal. We became inseparable. He came to our wedding.’
‘Yes, of course, I know José María Bustamante. A very nice man.’
‘And when in London we went together to visit a friend. Oh, ten years older than us. We had met him in Madrid many years before. Leslie, of Leytonstone. He wanted to know what had made us come to England. I need to learn the language, Chema said. And you? he asked me. I replied that I wanted to see how other people lived. Yet, I worked hard to learn the language, too.’
‘Funny you lost contact with him, José María, I mean,’ Nicky said.
‘I went to to see him off at Victoria Station, and to wish him good luck in his further studies. He had always wanted to become a diplomat.’

An abandoned airfield.
The idea flashed across my mind. That ugly extension of land occupying the whole valley, which seemed to have no other purpose but to destroy the beauty of the landscape, had had quite a specific function in times gone by, even before I first set my foot in Yorkshire. During the second world war, big bombers and fighters had been operating out of there, bringing death and destruction upon the Continent.
‘An airfield,’ I said to myself, looking at the large dark-grey terrain with spots of dirty-green here and there. Contemplating that big oblong ‘mancha’, a sore to the eye, paradoxically, many happy recollections again came to my mind.
… already in 1953 it was not performing the task for which it had been built. But it was not then covered with moss and weeds and gravel. There had still been a long tarmac, probably not very different from what it had been.
… planes of the Royal Air Force, continually flying in and out to bomb the enemy: the lovely Cathedral city of Cologne, the Third Reich capital Berlin, the eastern cities of Leipzig and Dresden. And fighters too had gone from there into the air, to knock down German planes: the Battle of Britain.
… it was Bill Lawrence, the farmer father of that adorable Suzy, who told me about the war years. ‘Ah, good pilots the British! The best at carpet bombing. They knew what was to be done. Dozens of airfields along this coast. Hundreds of planes every night. Dresden was the best example of carpet-bombing.’
‘Stop, please!’ I cried. ‘That is it, Nicky. We’re there.’
‘That’s it?’ she exclaimed in surprise. ‘I see no camp, no Melbourne village.’
‘But I do see,’ I answered, dreamily.
… two lorries racing. Two groups of campers coming from a day labouring in the fields, back to the camp. We entered the tarmac, to make a short cut and into the camp.
… fatigued but all the same full of life. The camp was exactly on the other side. We used the tarmac to shorten the distance. Sometimes the two drivers competed, and they raced their motors, the road being five-hundred feet broad or more, and with our shouts we encouraged them to go faster.
… ‘more, more! hurrah! hurrah!’ We laughed and yelled offensive adjectives at the others when we overtook their lorry, and viceversa; and we really felt devastated if we were left behind.
‘It was great fun, Nicky,’ I said, forgetting for the time being to tell her that there were our girlfreinds those days with us. And in the lorry when we crossed the tarmac, if we won the race, we kissed them.
‘That airfield you see now covered with weeds,’ I went on, ‘was unused in 1953, but it was clear of weeds and pebbles. That is why. I mean, being like a very broad highway racing was a fantastic sport.’
‘But what are you talking about, an airfield, Nano, highway? I only see a large ugly field.’
She had stopped the car at the top of the hill, and we were now stretching our legs.
‘Why, there were airfields all along this coast. You know this better than me.’
‘During the war.’
‘And after the world war, well, in the fifties, they were still there. I mean, a big oblong tarred surface.’
She had fixed her eyes on the ex-field, and I was gazing at her adorable face, holding her hands: her clear blue eyes were turned on mine. Words failed me. I wanted her to feel the emotion I felt, but she was less sentimental. ‘What I mean to say,’ I sighed, ‘you know… and this is the important thing for me… for our trip… the purpose of our driving today. The camp was beyond that field. If it still exists, it must be there .’
‘Yes,’ was all she said.
For some reason I went on. ‘I don’t know, Nicky, I don’t know if I understand myself. My head is in a muddle. The camp was there,’ I repeated. ‘I must go and see. Will you come?’
‘No, darling, I shall stay here. You go, please.’
‘What are you going to do?’
‘I’ll stretch my legs for a while. Then I’ll read. Brought a novel with me.’
Turning round I began my walk and eventually came upon the junction of two roads, one of them rather narrow, and probably leading nowhere. I took it, however, a sort of premonition. Soon I found myself in a sort of square terrain. It must have been in former times in one piece, but now it was fractured into portions of broken tar, stones and cinders. The whole was overgrown with weeds.
I recognised the parking ground where the lorries arrived in the afternoon, bringing us back from working in the different farms of the region. And for the first time that day I felt entirely lost. For I saw nothing, and I sensed I was nowhere. The camp was gone, the village was still to be found, the fields around were altered nothing like what I used to know and work on. My heart was torn.
Completely alone this time (since Nicky was not there to help) I felt devastated. Only desolation all around. Was this the English countryside I had known and liked so in times of yore?.
The fact was that I was looking for something familiar which couldn’t now exist. The replica of images I had had all these years in my mind and which were themselves altered. And I found in consequence nothing. Like searching for a needle in a haystack. Indeed, I was looking for this and that, names! Places, forms, colours, the impressions that existed in my brain; the fiction I had built and had been entertaining all these years in Australia.
The entrance to the camp should have been there. Instead an unfinished cylindrical construction which I guessed was destined to become a silo. There were a couple of wheelbarrows and several bags of cement or lime or sand or whatever. On the ground with several other things, tools and machine-tools, a small machine: things of the sort architects and bricklayers used in the building industry. A gondola full of rubbish, lumber, stones, whole or broken bricks, blocks of concrete or plaster, mingled with lumps of black soil and even a rusty bucket or flower-pot containing weeds or dead plants.
I turned and went back to the road. It was suffocatingly hot, and that perhaps had influenced my condition. I looked at my watch. I had been walking thinking I had found the place, and nothing.
The quiet narrow road I remembered was there. But I did not see the two bands of bright green lawn, right and left, dotted with dandelions and daisies. There were some big tall trees instead, here and there, and their leafy branches prevented me from seeing the country pub on the top of the hill, which I remembered, ‘the King’s Arms’ or something similar. And my Melbourne village?

… we are marching with linked arms, girls and boys: an Italian singing a Neapolitan song, and the rest of us have joined in, inclusive of the Lancashire lass I love.
… she’s been telling me that on Saturday she’ll be leaving to start her first term at Manchester University. Already I know I’ll miss her terribly. Yes, I love her wavy blond hair, her nice red mouth and her sweet smile.
… we go on up the narrow road: on top of the hill the country pub, where we shall meet the locals in their public assembly of Saturday evenings.

… as we appproach, the beautiful white façade criss-crossed by shiny black beams, the windows and door with many little glass-panes, directly reflecting the rays of the setting sun.
… we push the glass door and walk along a corridor with a circular cork-board for playing darts on the wall; and after pushing another door, are received enthusiastically by the villagers, with some of whom we have worked during the day.
… an old lady in a colourful cotton dress and hat, presiding over a old piano, is thumping her fat fingers on the keys: she turns her head round singing some ditty, and the audience repeats the refrain with great hilarity.
Well, I must have lost my way. I felt feverish. Where could the camp be? I am a poor devil, that is what I am. What is the reason for trying to revive the past, what for?

Stalking about like the devil, I passed the gondola again, full of rubbish: soil and rests of construction material; and when I had retraced my steps past the silo again, I saw a large wooden hut which I instantly recognised. It was a representation of part of the camp, coming to me from the past. A big wooden cabin much fallen in decay. And oh, surprise! On the façade, a weather-beaten board on which, straining my eyes, I could read the words ‘Recreation Hall’ high on the frontispiece over the large door, which was locked with chain-and-padlock. Ambling about a little I came upon a smaller door at the back which seemed ajar. I went up two stone-steps, pushed the door open, and walked into the black interior. After a minute of indecison, groping my way, I went on. I had been dazzled by the contrast between full sunlight outside and the present darkness.
I placed my spectacles in the top-pocket of my flannel suit, for fear of breaking them, and my vision was doubly impaired in consequence. All I gathered was that I was stepping along a dark corridor formed by piles of wooden boxes and broken furniture. There were some windows, I saw, but they were dusty and covered with planks of wood and other objects
In my now changed mood, I went on, groping my way through, and while my mind became absent, my eyes concentrated on a streak of sunlight that filtered through one of the windows on the left and fell upon a piece of furniture which suddenly appeared before my eyes: dirty and dusty alright, but brilliantly black somehow.
‘Oh, the piano!’ I cried. ‘Ah, those pleasant days! Music, music, music! The merry songs! The pretty faces! How pleasant to recall them!’
And I touch the piano, my fingers marking ebany rows, that wonderful piano player. ‘Vitas!’
With him there were two Latvians (playing the violin and the violincello.) Most of the members of the staff of the volunteer agricultural camp were escapees from the Soviet Union, the cooks, the waiters, the cleaners, etc.
… my Lancashire lass was dancing with a tall blond German who waltzed marvellously and I was jealous, for I was a bad dancer. I was observing the players on the stage, and the campers, on the dance-floor, four or five couples turning round and round, whilst I was standing against a wall, despondent and lost.
‘Vitas!’ I said again. What a wonderful musician! Chopin, Beethoven, Brahms. Someone had said he was a composer himself. But he was now a happy cook. He could not have lived, it was said, in the Soviet Union under communism.
‘Oh gosh! oh gosh!’ I said to myself. I had recognised other things. Broken pieces of furniture alright, but so dear to me. There was a bookshelf; and there were on the floor cases full of mildewed books.
I had lifted the piano lid and was touching with two fingers the yellowed keys, thrown into a fine distraction, producing irregular sounds (for apart from the fact of not being at all a musician, only a few keys were still functional) when I became conscious of some people approaching. Steps, voices, the noise of a door opening. And the place was soon illuminated by an electric bulb that I now clearly perceived hanging from the ceiling on one side. Three men entered the place.
‘Beggin’ pardon, sir, what’ee doin’ here?’ one of them asked.
I was at pains to explain who I was and why I was in that inappropriate, dusty place, so far from any town or employment that might be in accord with my wearing apparel. The men themselves were labourers of some kind or other. To compound their amazement and my own confusion, I suddenly found myself in some difficulty to express myself in English, though this was now my first language after years of working with American and English lawyers. Besides, I was afraid that they might take me for a burglar or potential author of some evil doing, of which I was completely innocent.
Here the younger of the three, tall and blond as a Viking, mattered something which I did not understand; and he nodded twice.
Unfortunately, just as the three came in and caught me caressing the old piano, I was in one of those moods that caused me to feel nostalgic and I began to fear they will find me too ridiculous for words.
‘You see,’ I stammered, in an accent which must have seemed very odd to the three Yorkshiremen, ‘I’m a foreigner here… I was. I mean, I first came to this here camp in 1953, as a foreign student I mean. To learn the language, you see…, and work, of course, working camp, they called it… paid us a guinea a day, if we worked hard; piecework, you know. And now… I’ve come , today, I mean, out of curiosity, you see… sort of… wanting to remember those days, the place, them people, old friends. Yes, I was here, believe it or not, ’53, and again ’54. Melbourne village up the road. ‘Melbourne Volunteer Agricultural Camp, that is what they called it. It was written at the entrance, perhaps you will recall that… detail. And… and this here building, hut, it was then the recreation hall. I was a migrant in a way, esacaping from fascism I should say.’

The men listened to my disorderly discourse in mute dismay. No doubt they had never in their lives come across so queer an individual, and almost certainly did not now know what to do or say.
They stood, facing me, in complete silence. They were, I gathered, temporarily engaged to do some job or other on the fields or, more probably, in the construction of the big silo outside the hut; for I now noticed there were tools and instruments on the floor: perhaps they had come to fetch them.
After a while, I made another attempt to revive my monologue. ‘You know,’ I said, ‘I come from Australia. No, no,’ I hastened to add, getting deep into my subject, my past in the students’ camp, ‘I know my accent shows another origin, but I live in Sydney. I mean, we’ve come… returning migrants. With my wife and daughters, All the way from Down Under, so to say, to visit… so, here I am today. I can say. For the sake of remembrance, you see. I guess I’ve already told you all this before.’
At this point, the worker who had not yet opened his mouth laughed. The other two just went on staring.
Having myself, after my long tirade, expected a better response, I felt like starting anew, but was prevented from doing so by a loud peal of laughter coming from one of them.
‘I know I’m laughable,’ I said. ‘Yet, that’s not the point. My person interests no one: an alien all right. The fact, I’m sure of what I’m saying. If my speech makes you wonder about me, it’s nevertheless true there was a Volunteer Agricultural Camp on this very spot.’ Strangely enough, I had become much calmer, and my language came out fluently now. ‘You may remember to have seen nissen huts all around; you see, nissen huts, cylindrical constructions, for habitation, of course, huts made of corrugated iron painted black. That’s what they were, and at either end of what one could call a large cylinder, no, half-cylinder stuck on the ground, two façades painted green, circular walls with one door and two windows. Had to be circular, ain’t it? And, over there,’ I added, noticing I had got them interested in the subject, and pointing with one finger in the direction of one of the blocked-up windows, ‘was the entrance of the camp, you know, like a big arch high up, and the words on it, as I’ve just described,. Melbourne Volunteer Agricultural Camp.’
‘I wish we could do something for you, sir,’ the senior fellow said in reply.
But I went on, as if I had not heard: ‘It had been a concentration camp for German and Italian prisoners of war.’
‘Right! Now I remember,’’ the man added suddenly. I noticed he was about my age, or perhaps a few years older. ‘Yes, them Jerry prisoners. Good chappies though, soome ov ‘em was. I was a child meself. An’ as you say,’’ he went on, becoming friendly, ‘’it became a camp for volunteer workers arter the war, now I remember. O’ course. Voolunteer campers. To help them farmers. Right’yee are. Now I remember,’’ he repeated.
‘And there were foreign students among the volunteer workers,’ I put in. ‘You remember?’
‘Ah! that I doon’t know,’’ the man replied. ‘’To let you into a secret, sir, I ran away from here, found employment in a factory down south, you see. But the Volunteer Agricultural Camp, yes, that I remember now. Sorry I’d forgotten. Time flies arter all.’ he concluded in a tone of complete unconcern.
And when I asked him if he knew, nevertheless, when and why the camp had been closed, the man replied, shrugging his shoulders.
’Why, it was knocked down bit by bit, as I recall. There were a few ov ‘em nissen hoots still standing, foonctionin’ sort of thin’, when I came back, and then, coople of years later, noothin’!’
‘When was that?’’
‘A pretty long time back,’’ was all the man said.
The other two workers, who had been listening to the conversation between their foreman and the queer alien with their eyes half closed, woke up at this point and, for some reason, nodded assent.
By contrast, all sorts of recollections of those my early days, of my first summer in England, now came crowding to my mind.
They began to collect their tools to go out and do their job outside. And that was all concerning the camp. It was all one to them. The fact that there might have been in that empty desert a happy crew of foreign students or not, was for them absolutely of no importance. I felt a tear coursing down my cheek.
It was only natural: It hadn’t been an essential part of their lives, as it had been of mine during those wonderful hours of my youth, my sentimental travel to England, my pals, that students’ camp, the blond girls, my first love.
The dilapidated weatherboard construction in which I now found myself with those men, all that bad composition, that old piano, the broken tables and chairs and other pieces of furniture, piled in great disorder, were nothing to them. They were to me because they represented a milestone in my life: I had there ceased to be an adolescent and became a man, a young man full of strength and hope and enthusiasm. I had there loved my girl.
‘On’y, mind yoor! Them volunteer workers weren’t so comfortable, I mean well-paid, as down south. Better mooney in industry,’ said the senior workman, already leaving the place
‘Billy, sir, pr’haps they carried oot their work an’ git on well. Like evry won,’ said the second man.
I felt devastated, paralysed. As they went out of the hut, the foreman turned round and I heard him shout out:
’Take care, sir! an’ good look to you!’’

Back to join Nicky
Slowly and sadly, coming out into the sunlight, I took sometime to look around, I saw the men working hard, and strode towards the road where I had left my wife. I don’t know if I was by then fully awake.

… It is the identical country road from Melbourne to Thornton I had trodden so many times those years; the fact that I am now alone and in direct contact with the very earth I walked on then must have unlatched the door to this dream.
… rekindling the feelings of old, that is what it is. But I had then had my youth, a future, a world to conquer, all my life before me, and now I am past forty. How different my feelings were now, on the old road to Thornton; the very roadway on which I was walking seemed strange: it was not like that before; the tar I was treading on, the matter that surrounded me, the dirt and dark patches on the road (then so stainless) and the fields on either side were not the same, and then the smell of oil, petrol, diesel, whatever: artificial fertilizers right and left. The farmhouses did not now have those ivy-covered façades, the very few copses left in the prospect, looked rusty, unattractive. Everything was so different! Before all had been beauty, harmony. Then it had been possible to hear the music of nature that still vibrates in my memory, and in my heart. Today I hear the hoot of motorcars passing by, the noise of engines, tractors and other machinery on the fields. The sounds of voices, conversation, shouts? The bark of the farmers’ dogs, the twittering of birds? They were no more. Even in the cloudless sky you only saw the colour of decay. I sense the smell of pollution.
I was walking on the roadway. What had consisted on both sides in long stretches of nearly emerald grass verges thoroughly sprinkled with shiny golden buttercups , now showed the stains of petrol, instead of yellow flowers. Black, specially on the borders, and the long blades of grass were grey and had never known the mower. Or gosh! even in this secondary road? Invaded by the dirt of transport and industry. Yes! I see a few dead dandelions.

Of a sudden another fear stabbed my heart, my Nicky had disappeared. I saw the car all right. She was supposed to wait until I came back, and now she was nowhere to be seen. I ran panic-stricken down the road, and as I ran I remembered there was an old unused canal down there, somewhere. I was reaching out of breath the canal, when I caught sight of my wife sitting on the stone-parapet of the bulging bridge which, somebody had told me then, dated from Emperor Hadrian’s time. She was reading her book.
‘I thought you’d left me,’ I gasped as I sat on the parapet by her side.
‘Don’t be so ridiculous,’ she said, fondling my ruffled hair.
I put my arm round her shoulders and remained silent for a minute or two. She snuggled into my embrace, knowing I was suffering, kissing me tenderly on one cheek.
‘You take things too much to heart, Nano.’
Sitting as we were on the apex of a stone roman-arch we had a fine view of the canal and the lock sixty or seventy feet away.
‘You see up there,’ I began, pointing to the lock, ‘when it was really hot, late July early August, we came to swim after the evening meal.’
‘I know, plenty of water at the lock. And reeds too. Just as it appears today.’
‘It’s not the same,’ I said pensively. ‘We sat on the grass, among the stacks of wheat.’
‘And the music coming from the camp was heard. Other campers had entered the recreation hall and were dancing.’
I had closed my eyes.
… the surface of the canal was shining like a mirror in the moonlight. Two girls were sitting on the grass with us. One of them quite near me. Her face was rosy, her pretty lips were tight, she was hugging her legs with both arms, resting her chin on her two round glowing knees.
… I was lying on my back, looking at the dark-blue starry sky. Oh, happy moment of my youth! that wonderful feeling! I had grabbed with both hands a few blades of the grass I was lying on, and taken them to my face, rubbing them on my nose.
… for I wanted to absorb through my senses the very essence of that English night. I wanted to keep deep in my heart that happiness, that freedom, that companionship, health, strength… my youth.
‘So, you found nothing,’ Nicky asked, ‘no Melbourne Camp.’

’Why, nothing I don’t know,’ I muttered, absent-mindedly. ‘I saw the old piano, decrepit and torn apart.’
‘What did you expect?’
‘Really I know the world changes, new things come up… that’s life, I guess: a spark, an instant, I don’t know. Eventually everything turns into ashes. Oh, Nicky, now I can say… to think that even the most cherished remembrances… come to nothing! I’ve tried… to keep it in my memory; but, eventually, one does forget, not a thing left. The past is gone. And it will never come back.’
‘Poor Nan!’
‘I wish we hadn’t come.’ I cried.
‘So do I,’ she muttered.
‘It will now be more difficult to remember… to bring back the feeling of old, those dear images, the campers, the land, the places, that recreation hall… how can those images now form part of my soul, when I’ve seen all has turned to ashes?
‘No, Nano, please, the images will remain. And our feelings of yore. They still are our feelings. They have been ours together for so long, they form part of our lives. Life is not a succession of moments, it is a continuity. We will always be united… in those feelings, that past together, always together at heart.’
I felt sad, but knew I was not alone. Whenever the thorns of life have hurt me sorely (and it has happened sometimes), she has been there to help, to bring me out of my madness, from the brink of despair. I love her, adore her, and will always do.
We were now walking up the road to where the car was parked. On both sides of the way, as far as the eye could reach, there were wheatfields, the golden ears fluttering in the breeze, and the whole prospect sprinkled with the deep-red dots of poppies.

fg.izquierdo@yahoo.es

Migrant, refugee and sentimental traveller

Fernando García Izquierdo

Foreign students.
After the second world war, the British government was facing a situation, common to all governments, I suppose, in post-war periods, which can be summarised in these few words: hundreds of thousands of young men had perished or been disabled on battlefields, labourers for the most part, and there was need, therefore, to find replacements. There had always been in Great Britain up to that time, as in other European countries, a large proportion of the labour force employed on the land.
With the end of the conflict many changes took place in this respect. First and foremost, of course, women entered the labour market en masse (continuing a trend initiated much before 1945, during the war.) Their work was now an essential part of the reconstruction effort. Next, industry was about to expand at an accelerated rate and, after a while, what was already a diminished number of farm labourers (for the reason stated above) became still more reduced as country dwellers made their way to cities and towns where factory wages were higher and life generally more attractive, especially for the young who were now full of hope and with prospects of a better life.
The country areas were therefore doubly deprived of their usual, previously abundant supply of farmhands. The rich farmers panicked. Badly needed new hands had to be found somehow. The British labour government understood all this.
It was then that the Volunteer-Agricultural-Camps scheme was born. These camps appeared in many important English counties in all regions, north, south, east and west, the biggest being probably in Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Isle of Ely and Kent. In some places newly built structures made their appearance, but in the regions where there had been military and concentration camps until the end of the conflict, such camps were quickly transformed in order to receive the volunteer campers and start operating.
Because I think there is some interest from a historical point of view (and also because for me, personally, it will bring some pleasing remembrances from the past) I shall be dealing herein with the character of these camps and more particularly the condition and nature of the campers. They were, most of them, young foreigners, men and women, usually students who came for the season (a ‘sojourn’ we called it), though some stayed for real long periods, spring, summer and autumn. And they lived, some of them at least, perhaps the greatest adventures of their lives.
Europe was now at peace with herself (save Greece, Sicily and perhaps some other country in the east) and everybody expected now a life of collaboration, justice, continual progress, social well-being and prosperity.
For the visiting foreign student, as a matter of fact, the British Volunteer Agricultural Camp was a divination. It would not be easy for me to convey to the youth of today what travelling to Britain (across a Europe again at peace), there to settle at least for a while, as I have said, came to represent for the young men and women of yesteryears. I am speaking of the decade that started more or less in 1949.
The students lived a healthy natural life, among other volunteer workers, in a world newly opened to them. An optimistic atmosphere of peace and freedom prevail: in an England and a Europe where the word slavery seemed to have been eradicated for good.
The campers shared their lives in fine camaraderie among themselves and with the inhabitants of the land. There was faith in the future, belief in the possibility of peace at last. World peace, we thought, had been achieved. At least, for the less politically conscious, no world conflict was visible; until the fifties, in truth. And there was the great discovery that a different nationality did not mean animosity: Germans, French, British, Nordic and Mediterraneans we all were substantially the same.
Travelling, young people formed new friendships, where before there had been mistrust, antagonism and war. Visitors from abroad learned the English language. People perceived in others different customs, ways of life, which were accepted, partially adopted. Less importance was given to what might have appeared at first sight strange behaviours, oddities. And many other things, besides, were learned by the young travellers.
Among the volunteer workers (who were not students) you often found in the camps people nearing middle age, men and women who preferred the freedom which the camp represented (afforded, for some), but were very sociable; they had, some of them, very interesting stories to tell.
The camps were generally made of several cylindrical black structures, called nissen-huts, where the campers slept and spent collectively most of their spare time; men and women being lodged in separate quarters. There were several other (public) spaces, usually large-sized wooden huts, where the campers had their meals, and lounged during their free hours, reading or otherwise enjoying their free time, alone or with friends, old and new acquaintances, listening sometimes to music or otherwise spending the evening. Cultural and other social activities, organised entertainment, such as concerts and dancing were organised practically every evening.
Management offices and kitchens and other services occupied other spaces, generally wooden cabins. There were residences for the warden, secretarial and other staff. Also kitchen staff and other employees. Much depended on the importance and size of the particular camp.
The foreign students and other campers were employed by the local farmers for a fee, and the wages they received were in all cases satisfying. Accommodation and meals were provided for by the camp, the campers paying weekly a relatively small amount for said board and lodging plus additional services provided.

Madrid, spring 1953.
I was studying at university, in my last year of law, just twenty-three years of age. One morning I bumped in the faculty’s corridors into my best friend, Chema, who led me to one of the notice boards wherein, in Spanish, I read the following: ‘The British government will provide students with entry visas and other requisites allowing a foreigner to work in England, provided the student undertakes not to enter into any employment, paid or unpaid, in the United Kingdom, other than agricultural employment in a specified Volunteer Agricultural Camp.’ There was an address, a certain ‘Allied Circle’ of Paris. It was also specified that the volunteer camper would receive normal wages.
We looked at one another, laughing, and at once fell into each other’s arms. ‘Now, shall we? Shall we apply, shall we do it, eh?’ And other students had hastened to read the announcement.
I had better explain at this stage that although Europe was more or less at peace, and Spain was one of the countries where class conflicts had been suppressed, in the Iberian Peninsula there was outright fascism. People were extremely poor, there were no constitutional rights at all. Travelling abroad was a near impossibility and, among other things, the currency (Peseta) had no value at all in the international sphere. All the same, we embraced one another again, and swore we would do it. And for me, a most tremendous adventure had commenced that eighth March, 1953.
We got our passports, the necessary visas, English (entry) and an exit one; certificates from the Police Commissariat, the department of Penados and Rebeldes (proving we had never been in jail or otherwise rebelled against society or the state); another one certifying that we were neither socialists, nor communists or freemasons and anarchists; a document of Buena Conducta signed by the parish priest; and written permission from the Army and the Falange, being of ‘military’ age; and an authorisation from the Instituto de la Moneda Extranjera, since the Spanish Central Bank was to exchange our Pesetas into Sterling (the black market was prohibitive and too dangerous to try.)
We decided we would go each our own way, and would see one another in Paris. Our instructions were to meet, with others, on a certain day of June, at Gare Saint Lazare, the large passengers’ hall, under the Grande Horloge. After another train journey, together with a crew of Continental students, we crossed the English Channel by ferry on a luminous spring morning and eventually reached London, early June There were great festivities in the United Kingdom all over. The King was dead, the cry was God save the Queen, Elizabeth II Regina.

Yorkshire revisited.
We were on the last leg of our journey, having left York well behind and already on our way to Pocklington. Our destination was the tiny village of Melbourne, which name in my mind then conveyed (and still conveys today) great emotion derived, as often happens with deeply entrenched remembrances, from dreams rather than reality. ‘Things Past! Who can claim to reconstitute the past? Everything changes, nothing remains stable, not even the images which one day entered your brain and there remained: for good, but not unchanged.
Shadowy recollections, that was all: moments that I judged interesting because I had cherished them, those memories, particularly those happy days of my youth, which (as a great Nicaraguan poet said long ago) ‘Se van para no volver.’ Treasured youth, he said: ‘¡Juventud, divino tesoro!’
After an absence of about fifteen years (ten of them spent in Australia), we had come back to England, for a long holiday. For in our quality as ‘returned migrants’ we had settled, not in Britain or Spain, but in Paris, where we both had found employment. These days we were staying in Lancaster, where we had left our two daughters with some relatives.
It was most delicious weather that morning; the sun was shining, the sky without a cloud, the hills and dales were green, save where there were extensive plantations of (now golden) grain; and in some of the larger fields where the harvest had already begun, the plain was getting brown on one side and on the other you still saw the lofty yellow stems of wheat standing high, balancing in the breeze.
I closed my eyes and fell into a reverie.
… I was surprised. It was a warm clear day. August in England, the Yorkshire moors. A tangible reality still in my brain. Like a flash, the image of that Summer ’53.
I woke up as we were entering the market town of Pocklington and, perhaps yet not wide-awake, I gazed right and left again and again, with great curiosity, a feeling of disappointment somehow creeping into my heart. The houses, the shops, the offices and public buildings were there… but nothing brought to me the feeling of old, the sense of things I might have experienced then. The same with the passers-by I perceived walking on the pavements, the people.
I turned my eyes, rather lost, trying to find something that would help me to express my thoughts in words to my wife, but did not find what to say, how to speak; and she would not have listened anyhow, always such a careful driver. English all right, my dear Nicky.
I did not how to swallow my disappointment. Pocklington was for me a dear name, it had all these years in Australia represented so much, so many beautiful recollections, my head as always so full of souvenirs. Was I simply a dreamer, a babbler, had I invented all I had had in my bain in Australia, what I had been telling my wife a day or two ago and so many times before? False, my God, all false? oh false!
… I was a strong young man when I first set my foot in there, that little town in the midst of an agricultural region. A young man ready to see and experience, to learn, to live. An immature young man, to tell the truth, when a day or two later, I fell in love with the first pretty blond I saw.
… I had been thinking, when I landed on la Pérfida Albión, that I would become a famous exile from a country in which fascism reigned supreme. For I was not intending to go back, ever, to Spain, planning as I was to sail far away.
… and I came to love England best of all. Goodness gracious me, that first day in London! what celebrations! Music, parades, the royal cavalry, red-cloaked horsemen with black bearskins on their heads, riding their magnificent stallions; all was colour, inclusive and specially the splendid golden carriage of a fairy queen. It was ‘Coronation Year.’
… from London I had boarded the train north. Arriving at York, the capital of the county, I caught a local train which took me to Pocklington. What would I now write home? a postcard or a long letter? None in my family or in our circle of friends had ever travelled so far north.
… coming out from the station, I noticed a green lorry parked on one side of the square. A stocky white-haired man was placidly smoking his pipe, leaning on the radiator of the vehicle: ‘Are you for Melbourne Camp?’ he asked.
… in my bad English I answered that I had in fact ‘booked for a sojourn in a volunteer agricultural camp’ and showed him some papers. ‘Climb inside,’ he muttered, still chewing his pipe and flipping his free hand over his shoulder.
… I first hurled my enormous haversack in. An extremely beautiful girl then helped me to jump inside, under the green tarpaulin cover. She was seated on a wooden plank, cross-wise, the first one of about ten similar benches that were very sparcely occupied by other young people.
… after a while, with much difficulty, I muttered: ‘What are we waiting for?’, and was informed that a group of Swedish students were to arrive on the coach from Newcastle. The Swedes arrived, the free benches were all occupied, and we were on the road to Melbourne Camp.
… from my bench, near the opening, I watched the prospect of what was for me an exotic country and not at all nordic. It was warm and sunny. It became for me the land of great felicity and freedom.
… thirty minutes later we were on a tarred piece of land, at the camp entrance. Some other lorries had just arrived, and the place was filled in a instant with young people sauntering about talking animately in different languages.
But today, midsummer 1972, I was another man, a rather disgruntled, melancholy fellow, prematurely grey-haired. I had begun to explain all the above to Nicky and I wondered whether she understood me. Anyhow, all the time she held her peace.
I saw a small English town, but it was somehow different from what I had known The vitality of the market town of yore, the crowds, the noise and movement I remembered, all that and much more was missing: the colour in the apparel of the old-ladies’ summer dresses, which had so astonished me then (coming from a Mediterranean country where married women wore sombre colours, often black); the discipline on the zebra crossings, the liveliness of the population generally; the famous Saturday morning shopping crowds, those orderly English men and women, carrying packets in their hands or at their feet, making those long queues at the bus-stops on both sides of the main street… oh, my heart, where had all that gone? ‘Eighteen or nineteen years is not that much (I said to myself), or is it?’
I asked Nicky to park the car, please, somewhere. And we entered a public house. I had probably been in there, alone or with friends, when of a Saturday morning we came to town shopping (accompanying the cook or some camp attendant driving one of the lorries into town to do some purchasing of provisions, or bringing some commission for buying something or having some instrument repaired.)
I had to pass my finger under my spectacles, over my eyelid, waiting for the publican or someone to serve us. He saw me looking, and I do not know what he thought seeing me so melancholy.
I seemed to recognise the man when he approached (sure, a fluke of my imagination, I had not seen him before), nice and friendly in any case. He did not speak with an accent I could associate with the Yorkshiremen of yore. Probably he was of my own age. I asked for a cider and a beer, and as he stood afterwards watching us out of his blue eyes when he served us I asked him for directions, always trying to find the shortest way to the village of our destination, for we only had a Michelin map bought in a French supermarket.
… the picture of the Melbourne I still had in my brain was like a colour print. It was a village, not a hamlet. I saw it, like on the top of the hill. A country road leading to it, a dazzling green lawn on either side full of dandelions and daisies, and shiny little flowers which I learned they called buttercups.
… for we used to march of an evening along that road to the public house with linked arms, singing aloud in Italian, I do not know why, except we had an Italian student with us.
… Franco was his name, from Venice. My new Swedish friend was also there, Ingvar, from Katrineholm. And Claude, a Frenchman who came from Paris.

… we soon saw on top of the hill the black beams of the country pub, criss-crossing the glossy white façade. The sound of music was in the air. It made us run or at least accelerate our strides.
… it was indeed a luminous pub that we approached: the dazzling setting sun was reflected on door-and-window panes, like copperish squares reflecting the rays of the star that gives us life.
It was a vision I had in my mind that probably was false, but how could I now (with the man’s eyes fixed on me, for him nothing but ‘an alien’) have otherwise described my dear village?
‘Melbourne,’ the publican cried, and, upon reflection: ‘is that not a large city in Australia?’
‘Yes, and also a village in Yorkshire… I mean here… you see…in this region, East Riding.’ I did not know what I was saying. I am not a natural stammerer, but on occasion, speaking English, yes. ‘I was here nineteen years ago… there was a students’ camp… I mean, young people lived there. The warden was a Londoner, Mr Cobb. Secretariat and other staff. It was a big affair, you see. Yorkshire people, or English. I couldn’t remember, of course where the staff came from. Cook was a Lithuanian, I remember that particularly… an escapee from the Soviet Union. A good bloke, though. There were others. And hundreds of campers. Them English or foreigners… students and other volunteer workers. Agriculture, you understand?’
An old man, who had been silently drinking his bottle of porter in a corner, now joined in the conversation, stammering like myself. I believe he wanted to help us find the village, perhaps he knew. But I am not sure he was entirely rational. Anyhow you sensed the alcohol in him when he spoke. He was too drunk, and I could not understand what he was saying.
‘Hip… takes a lon’ roon… partickler, sir, when ye says… you moost… per’aps. If ye’re by car, well not far… boot…’

Then the man went back to his bottle; and I explained to the publican, rather too much at length again, that I had been a student, that was long ago! and I had worked in a camp, that was why I’d come to England. Spaniards had no money. It must be near. This is an agricultural area, you see? several nissen huts, you will have seen them, no doubt… I mean when on a trip, I suppose you own a car too. Fifteen or twenty miles, I guess, no more. You see, a Volunteer Agricultural Camp, that was what the… the designation was. Wooden huts and… also huts like this, you see, a circular roof… no, no… cylindrical. Long constructions. Several nissen-huts.’
‘I tell you what,’ he said, pensively, ‘just as you were explaining it to me, I could gather that… well this is what I suggest…’ and he rushed to attend other clients without uttering his suggestion.
They had just entered, two young workers. He went to them. One of them must have just picked from me the term nissen-huts in the air, as he entered, and at once joined in the conversation, addressing himself to me. The two were at the bar, not far from Nicky and me.
‘Goovernor,’ he said, ‘them nissen hoots were used during the war. Black roofs, ye say. Righ-tee-O! and with green walls at either end, two entrances, façade round, two little windows. Frames painted white, doors an’ windows. Haven’t seen’em meself, boot… Quite a sight from the road, from what I’ve heard. Was told ‘about the camps o’ny last week: because the television proogram. There were many. Barbed-wired during the war. Them Jerries... Prisoners of war.’
‘Yes,’ I hastened to add, when he stopped, full of hope, and about Melbourne... Meanwhile the publican was serving the men their beers. And the young man, my interlocutor, kept mum for the time being.
Now that I had accepted his entering the conversation, I was left helplesss.
‘And after the war,’ said the other young labourer ‘they were transformed, the camps I mean, into volunteer workers’ residences. Right you are. I’ve read ‘bout them camps in The Mirror… no, The Sun.’
At this moment the publican spoke again. ‘Prisoners of war, all right. Them Italians good chappies. Many stayed after the war. Married local girls. I mean, up north at least. I’m from Newcastle, you see. I haven’t been here long. Just bought this establishment six months ago.’
‘The one explains the other,’ I said, and my kind wife added, to clarify my thought.
‘We mean that your being from Northumberland explains your not knowing about the village my husband has mentioned.’

‘Ities you say,’ another elderly man at the bar now joined in the conversation. ‘Prisoners of war orright. An’ arterwards, Ities preferred to stay. Apparently Italy, you know, was poor. But them Jerries is another kettle of fish!
But whether anyone had heard or knew anything about the village of my recollection, I never got to know. No one I talked to, either in the street or in the public house, that Saturday morning, could advise us about the road we ought to take to get to Melbourne village.
At length the publican came up with a solution (it seemed.) Repeating what had already been said, he began. ‘Tell’ye what. Prisoners of war all right. What I meantersay, them Italians are good chappies. No longer enemies they joined in. Many stayed behind after the war, as you’s said’ (glancing at the young labourers), ‘and ev’n married local girls. I mean up north them did. You’s right, them Jerries was another cattle of fish!
Somebody else wanted to add some other thought. ‘On’y, mind you, they were not so comfy down here in the East Ridin’ arter the war. Employment was easy. An’ the military wanted to git oot an’ freed ‘em prisoners orright... Wone’ ov them Ities is on a farm near Market Weighton, as you’s said. There’s where I lives. Married a fair lady. The widow‘f a rich farmer. You wouldn’t call him an alien now.’
‘Blow that, Terry!’ said the publican, addressing himself to the fellow. ‘Let’em Ities alone. An’ ye, Stew. They’re in a hurry to find Melbourne. Don’t you see?’ And, somewhow guessing my wife was driving, he addressed himself to her. ‘You go on the road and ask for directions, that’s the proper thing to do. And if not easy, perhaps, be bold enough and ring at a door, if a farmhouse appears at the turn of the road.’
Neither did we find anybody in the street who could tell us anything about a working-camp or a village called Melbourne, and Nicky went on driving for about another half hour, while I observed or imagined what I was seeing: anyhow, dreaming. It was delightful weather, and I was delighted to see the Yorkshire moors, that wonderful prospect again. They had not changed. The East Riding in all its splendour, as it were, once more.
For I had begun to see something of the old, the vision that I had entertained in my mind all these years in Australia. And this part of the county was particularly familiar, or to say it differently, dear to my heart, recollections from my youth. Unfortunately, of the camp or the village… nothing.

Wrong way.
At the turn of the road, I had just seen on the left all of sudden the name of a place which sounded familiar, a village where I had certainly been in the past
‘Everingham,’ I said to myself. But I took some time to react, and we had crossed the village before I shouted: ‘Stop Nicky, we’ve taken the wrong way.’
I didn’t tell her that I had been there many times that summer.
… the feeling of old coming back across the mirage of time. That fine farmer with a nice numerous family, a lovely girlio his daughter. On Sunday, We were supposed to meet, Suzy and I. I felt most frustrated afterwards.
… Barbro had just left the camp to go back to Uppsala. That was why. When I first arrived at Melbourne Camp, I was twentry-three and yet, she was my first love. Before, in Madrid, I had always been terribly timid in my relation to women.
… I felt in the camp that early summer ’53, and for the first time, that pleasant sensation in simply walking on a road and talking to a girl. I felt so naturally attracted to my Swedish girl. I knew she also liked me.
… we worked together on the fields. Still the green of spring. ‘Hello! ‘Weeding!’ I shouted, reading the notice. ‘What does that mean?’ And she explained to me what the term meant. Next morning we all went out in the several lorries: eight in my team. Barbro was in that number.
… each one was provided with a two-pronged fork, four or five feet long. ‘This is a hoe,’ she explained. We worked together, had lunch on the grass. And at four we were paid fifteen shillings. We danced that evening, Barbro and I.

‘All right, Nano,’ Nicky answered, ‘which way should we take?’
We had already passed the place, and I asked her to stop the car at the crest of the hill. We would have a rest strolling about. I was going to drive next.
There was something in the sweet sunshine which made me feel more optimistic. The variety of greens, never seen in my own country or in Australia.
‘It is nice,’ I said to my wife.
No longer any vehicle on the road, we moved on for while. I saw a silvery bird. What, a seagull? I did not particularly remember what sort of birds I saw on the fields then, but not seagulls, except on the coast.
… that Saturday the warden himself (Mr. Cobb) took us in one of the camp lorries to Bridlington. I felt so happy, just ambling with my Barbro, at some distance from the other campers, on an immense green field situated almost on the cliff.
… like a well-attended lawn, a very long green carpet, facing the North Sea. I felt the wind on my face, and saw the cliff, the sun, the birds. And I felt happy talking in English with my girl.
… I sat with her, the two of us alone upon the cliff, a stone-and-grass platform overhanging a narrow misty beach down below and farther away a furious sea, dark blue and white, and the horizon. We had begun eating the sandwiches provided for us by Mr. Cobb (and drinking an orangeade of a most irritating reddish colour.)
… and in front of us, over the cliff, the sky was completely filled with silky seagulls in an instant. All floating in the air, as it were, standing (it seems) with the two wings spread out and beaks ready. The straight-up little bodies, facing us.
… gosh, those screeches! I was for leaving at once, but she loved to see so many white birds making us company. And she laughed again as she threw bit by bit most of her sandwiches into the air.
… it all became worse. The noise was absolutely unbearable: croaks and cries and screeches. In a moment my sandwiches, too, disappeared taken right out from between my fingers.

On the road again with Nicky.

I like to reminisce about the camp. I wanted to tell her about Bridlington, that day, and about Scarborough, about each and every one of my days in Yorkshire that summer. She knew. We might write one day the story of Melbourne Camp together. But she asked me to concentrate on what I was doing. Not to have an accident. Otherwise we should change drivers again.
I did as she wished. After a while, we passed a middle-sized farm, on the left-side of the road. I noticed a pretty woman standing at a gate. I saw her eyes rising an instant towards my wife, as if she had recognised her. Being now on the passenger-seat of our French car, I had naturally escaped her observation. And yet, I looked at her with curiosity. She could have been Nicky’s sister. Blond, beautiful, obviously good-tempered as well, she was also about thirty-seven years old. Needless to say, I found her attractive.
… and it must have been there precisely that I worked for a week that summer. Usually we campers were taken to work in teams, but at times a farmer drove in and took just one of us.
… a very nice man, a traditional farm, with several old buildings (in part ivy-covered), two big court yards, and several fields all around. I worked with him Monday to Saturday, mainly as his assistant. The stables, the fields, driving at times the tractor.
… I had my meals with the family, in the kitchen. A girl of seventeen, sitting on the opposite side of the table was looking at me. Shiny blue eyes (the sort of eyes I have always liked), half hidden by two, oh so tender eyelids!
… I exchanged a few words with her. Now, should I fall in love? would I be able to conquer the heart of this pretty-little-blue-eyed Suzy? I might never go back to fascist Spain and become a farmer, marrying her, my pretty girlio.
… on the seventh day, after the usual Sunday luncheon in the camp, specially prepared by Vitas, pudding as usual to celebrate the Day of the Lord, I left the dining-room, the camp and waited for some minutes for the local bus on the road, inside the shelter, for it was drizzling.
… we were supposed to meet at another shelter, the fifth one, the lovely blonde and I. And I waited in vain for a long time. And when hours had passed and the rain had stopped, I walked piano piano back to the camp, a sad and disappointed Spaniard with no one to love me.
The following day, I had a long chat with Chema. We talked of the Swedish girls. They had long left for Newcastle and the girls, our eternal loves, were no more. Chema and I had accompanied them to Pocklington in the lorry, and saw Eva and Barbro waving goodbye from the coach window. ‘That’s the last time we see them,’ my pal said.

Yorkshire, harvest time.
The top of another hill. Again it brought me remembrances from the past. Far away I saw great activity: a large field rather yellow, the grain glowing in the sun, waiting for the big combine-harvester to arrive and swallow the lot at one go; a small team of workers operating the large machines; and on the other side of the field long rows of of straw made into square blocks. The image brought to my mind, once again, a thousand souvenirs.
… the harvest was in full swing. I was moving with martial step next to a trailer pulled by a tractor driven by the famer. A few days ago the whole field had been yellow: now in part little bits of grass were claiming the right to introduce a weak green hue in what had been, two days ago, just brown soil.
… but there is a bit more to harvest and we two, under the farmer’s instructions, were working hard: bundles of sheaves tied into stacks with the grain glowing in the sun, dozens of these placed in orderly rows. I was picking up with my long fork the sheaves as we advanced.
… on the trailer another young man, my pal, who was placing the sheaves in one by one, filling the bottom of the trailer and then on. I was lifting sheaves, harmoniously, one by one, actually throwing them in the air with a perfect circular motion; and he hurried to catch them. ‘Well done Chema!’
‘I wonder,’ I began telling Nicky; but I noticed she wasn’t listening, concentrated as she was on what she was doing.
Never mind, I had to tell my story. ‘All through that summer,’ I said, almost inaudibly (I was talking to myself, really), ‘Oh, I know you’re not jealous when I talk about girls.’ I kept quiet for the rest of the trip. If I had begun talking it was because I wanted her to know I mainly came to England to work hard and earn my living while I learn the language. And breaking my promise:
‘Then, working in the fields was so healthy. I love manual work.’
‘I know you do, darling.’
‘And I loved that camaraderie that one found in the camps. I made so many friends. Italians, Swedes, French. And girls too. For there were others that came after the Swedes, you very well know, English girls came to Melbourne Camp.
… with Chema I hitch-hiked to Blackburn. The families of two girls who stayed in the camp only one week invited us. The girls took us by bus to see the Blackpool Illuminations. They paid for everything, the bus fare, entertaiment, bazaar, the dodg’ems. We did not want to accept, but they said we were aliens and needed the money we earned.
‘Nicky, you know Chema, my pal. We became inseparable. He came to our wedding.’
‘Yes, of course, I know José María Bustamante. A very nice man.’
‘And when in London we went together to visit a friend. Oh, ten years older than us. We had met him in Madrid many years before. Leslie, of Leytonstone. He wanted to know what had made us come to England. I need to learn the language, Chema said. And you? he asked me. I replied that I wanted to see how other people lived. Yet, I worked hard to learn the language, too.’
‘Funny you lost contact with him, José María, I mean,’ Nicky said.
‘I went to to see him off at Victoria Station, and to wish him good luck in his further studies. He had always wanted to become a diplomat.’

An abandoned airfield.
The idea flashed across my mind. That ugly extension of land occupying the whole valley, which seemed to have no other purpose but to destroy the beauty of the landscape, had had quite a specific function in times gone by, even before I first set my foot in Yorkshire. During the second world war, big bombers and fighters had been operating out of there, bringing death and destruction upon the Continent.
‘An airfield,’ I said to myself, looking at the large dark-grey terrain with spots of dirty-green here and there. Contemplating that big oblong ‘mancha’, a sore to the eye, paradoxically, many happy recollections again came to my mind.
… already in 1953 it was not performing the task for which it had been built. But it was not then covered with moss and weeds and gravel. There had still been a long tarmac, probably not very different from what it had been.
… planes of the Royal Air Force, continually flying in and out to bomb the enemy: the lovely Cathedral city of Cologne, the Third Reich capital Berlin, the eastern cities of Leipzig and Dresden. And fighters too had gone from there into the air, to knock down German planes: the Battle of Britain.
… it was Bill Lawrence, the farmer father of that adorable Suzy, who told me about the war years. ‘Ah, good pilots the British! The best at carpet bombing. They knew what was to be done. Dozens of airfields along this coast. Hundreds of planes every night. Dresden was the best example of carpet-bombing.’
‘Stop, please!’ I cried. ‘That is it, Nicky. We’re there.’
‘That’s it?’ she exclaimed in surprise. ‘I see no camp, no Melbourne village.’
‘But I do see,’ I answered, dreamily.
… two lorries racing. Two groups of campers coming from a day labouring in the fields, back to the camp. We entered the tarmac, to make a short cut and into the camp.
… fatigued but all the same full of life. The camp was exactly on the other side. We used the tarmac to shorten the distance. Sometimes the two drivers competed, and they raced their motors, the road being five-hundred feet broad or more, and with our shouts we encouraged them to go faster.
… ‘more, more! hurrah! hurrah!’ We laughed and yelled offensive adjectives at the others when we overtook their lorry, and viceversa; and we really felt devastated if we were left behind.
‘It was great fun, Nicky,’ I said, forgetting for the time being to tell her that there were our girlfreinds those days with us. And in the lorry when we crossed the tarmac, if we won the race, we kissed them.
‘That airfield you see now covered with weeds,’ I went on, ‘was unused in 1953, but it was clear of weeds and pebbles. That is why. I mean, being like a very broad highway racing was a fantastic sport.’
‘But what are you talking about, an airfield, Nano, highway? I only see a large ugly field.’
She had stopped the car at the top of the hill, and we were now stretching our legs.
‘Why, there were airfields all along this coast. You know this better than me.’
‘During the war.’
‘And after the world war, well, in the fifties, they were still there. I mean, a big oblong tarred surface.’
She had fixed her eyes on the ex-field, and I was gazing at her adorable face, holding her hands: her clear blue eyes were turned on mine. Words failed me. I wanted her to feel the emotion I felt, but she was less sentimental. ‘What I mean to say,’ I sighed, ‘you know… and this is the important thing for me… for our trip… the purpose of our driving today. The camp was beyond that field. If it still exists, it must be there .’
‘Yes,’ was all she said.
For some reason I went on. ‘I don’t know, Nicky, I don’t know if I understand myself. My head is in a muddle. The camp was there,’ I repeated. ‘I must go and see. Will you come?’
‘No, darling, I shall stay here. You go, please.’
‘What are you going to do?’
‘I’ll stretch my legs for a while. Then I’ll read. Brought a novel with me.’
Turning round I began my walk and eventually came upon the junction of two roads, one of them rather narrow, and probably leading nowhere. I took it, however, a sort of premonition. Soon I found myself in a sort of square terrain. It must have been in former times in one piece, but now it was fractured into portions of broken tar, stones and cinders. The whole was overgrown with weeds.
I recognised the parking ground where the lorries arrived in the afternoon, bringing us back from working in the different farms of the region. And for the first time that day I felt entirely lost. For I saw nothing, and I sensed I was nowhere. The camp was gone, the village was still to be found, the fields around were altered nothing like what I used to know and work on. My heart was torn.
Completely alone this time (since Nicky was not there to help) I felt devastated. Only desolation all around. Was this the English countryside I had known and liked so in times of yore?.
The fact was that I was looking for something familiar which couldn’t now exist. The replica of images I had had all these years in my mind and which were themselves altered. And I found in consequence nothing. Like searching for a needle in a haystack. Indeed, I was looking for this and that, names! Places, forms, colours, the impressions that existed in my brain; the fiction I had built and had been entertaining all these years in Australia.
The entrance to the camp should have been there. Instead an unfinished cylindrical construction which I guessed was destined to become a silo. There were a couple of wheelbarrows and several bags of cement or lime or sand or whatever. On the ground with several other things, tools and machine-tools, a small machine: things of the sort architects and bricklayers used in the building industry. A gondola full of rubbish, lumber, stones, whole or broken bricks, blocks of concrete or plaster, mingled with lumps of black soil and even a rusty bucket or flower-pot containing weeds or dead plants.
I turned and went back to the road. It was suffocatingly hot, and that perhaps had influenced my condition. I looked at my watch. I had been walking thinking I had found the place, and nothing.
The quiet narrow road I remembered was there. But I did not see the two bands of bright green lawn, right and left, dotted with dandelions and daisies. There were some big tall trees instead, here and there, and their leafy branches prevented me from seeing the country pub on the top of the hill, which I remembered, ‘the King’s Arms’ or something similar. And my Melbourne village?

… we are marching with linked arms, girls and boys: an Italian singing a Neapolitan song, and the rest of us have joined in, inclusive of the Lancashire lass I love.
… she’s been telling me that on Saturday she’ll be leaving to start her first term at Manchester University. Already I know I’ll miss her terribly. Yes, I love her wavy blond hair, her nice red mouth and her sweet smile.
… we go on up the narrow road: on top of the hill the country pub, where we shall meet the locals in their public assembly of Saturday evenings.

… as we appproach, the beautiful white façade criss-crossed by shiny black beams, the windows and door with many little glass-panes, directly reflecting the rays of the setting sun.
… we push the glass door and walk along a corridor with a circular cork-board for playing darts on the wall; and after pushing another door, are received enthusiastically by the villagers, with some of whom we have worked during the day.
… an old lady in a colourful cotton dress and hat, presiding over a old piano, is thumping her fat fingers on the keys: she turns her head round singing some ditty, and the audience repeats the refrain with great hilarity.
Well, I must have lost my way. I felt feverish. Where could the camp be? I am a poor devil, that is what I am. What is the reason for trying to revive the past, what for?

Stalking about like the devil, I passed the gondola again, full of rubbish: soil and rests of construction material; and when I had retraced my steps past the silo again, I saw a large wooden hut which I instantly recognised. It was a representation of part of the camp, coming to me from the past. A big wooden cabin much fallen in decay. And oh, surprise! On the façade, a weather-beaten board on which, straining my eyes, I could read the words ‘Recreation Hall’ high on the frontispiece over the large door, which was locked with chain-and-padlock. Ambling about a little I came upon a smaller door at the back which seemed ajar. I went up two stone-steps, pushed the door open, and walked into the black interior. After a minute of indecison, groping my way, I went on. I had been dazzled by the contrast between full sunlight outside and the present darkness.
I placed my spectacles in the top-pocket of my flannel suit, for fear of breaking them, and my vision was doubly impaired in consequence. All I gathered was that I was stepping along a dark corridor formed by piles of wooden boxes and broken furniture. There were some windows, I saw, but they were dusty and covered with planks of wood and other objects
In my now changed mood, I went on, groping my way through, and while my mind became absent, my eyes concentrated on a streak of sunlight that filtered through one of the windows on the left and fell upon a piece of furniture which suddenly appeared before my eyes: dirty and dusty alright, but brilliantly black somehow.
‘Oh, the piano!’ I cried. ‘Ah, those pleasant days! Music, music, music! The merry songs! The pretty faces! How pleasant to recall them!’
And I touch the piano, my fingers marking ebany rows, that wonderful piano player. ‘Vitas!’
With him there were two Latvians (playing the violin and the violincello.) Most of the members of the staff of the volunteer agricultural camp were escapees from the Soviet Union, the cooks, the waiters, the cleaners, etc.
… my Lancashire lass was dancing with a tall blond German who waltzed marvellously and I was jealous, for I was a bad dancer. I was observing the players on the stage, and the campers, on the dance-floor, four or five couples turning round and round, whilst I was standing against a wall, despondent and lost.
‘Vitas!’ I said again. What a wonderful musician! Chopin, Beethoven, Brahms. Someone had said he was a composer himself. But he was now a happy cook. He could not have lived, it was said, in the Soviet Union under communism.
‘Oh gosh! oh gosh!’ I said to myself. I had recognised other things. Broken pieces of furniture alright, but so dear to me. There was a bookshelf; and there were on the floor cases full of mildewed books.
I had lifted the piano lid and was touching with two fingers the yellowed keys, thrown into a fine distraction, producing irregular sounds (for apart from the fact of not being at all a musician, only a few keys were still functional) when I became conscious of some people approaching. Steps, voices, the noise of a door opening. And the place was soon illuminated by an electric bulb that I now clearly perceived hanging from the ceiling on one side. Three men entered the place.
‘Beggin’ pardon, sir, what’ee doin’ here?’ one of them asked.
I was at pains to explain who I was and why I was in that inappropriate, dusty place, so far from any town or employment that might be in accord with my wearing apparel. The men themselves were labourers of some kind or other. To compound their amazement and my own confusion, I suddenly found myself in some difficulty to express myself in English, though this was now my first language after years of working with American and English lawyers. Besides, I was afraid that they might take me for a burglar or potential author of some evil doing, of which I was completely innocent.
Here the younger of the three, tall and blond as a Viking, mattered something which I did not understand; and he nodded twice.
Unfortunately, just as the three came in and caught me caressing the old piano, I was in one of those moods that caused me to feel nostalgic and I began to fear they will find me too ridiculous for words.
‘You see,’ I stammered, in an accent which must have seemed very odd to the three Yorkshiremen, ‘I’m a foreigner here… I was. I mean, I first came to this here camp in 1953, as a foreign student I mean. To learn the language, you see…, and work, of course, working camp, they called it… paid us a guinea a day, if we worked hard; piecework, you know. And now… I’ve come , today, I mean, out of curiosity, you see… sort of… wanting to remember those days, the place, them people, old friends. Yes, I was here, believe it or not, ’53, and again ’54. Melbourne village up the road. ‘Melbourne Volunteer Agricultural Camp, that is what they called it. It was written at the entrance, perhaps you will recall that… detail. And… and this here building, hut, it was then the recreation hall. I was a migrant in a way, esacaping from fascism I should say.’

The men listened to my disorderly discourse in mute dismay. No doubt they had never in their lives come across so queer an individual, and almost certainly did not now know what to do or say.
They stood, facing me, in complete silence. They were, I gathered, temporarily engaged to do some job or other on the fields or, more probably, in the construction of the big silo outside the hut; for I now noticed there were tools and instruments on the floor: perhaps they had come to fetch them.
After a while, I made another attempt to revive my monologue. ‘You know,’ I said, ‘I come from Australia. No, no,’ I hastened to add, getting deep into my subject, my past in the students’ camp, ‘I know my accent shows another origin, but I live in Sydney. I mean, we’ve come… returning migrants. With my wife and daughters, All the way from Down Under, so to say, to visit… so, here I am today. I can say. For the sake of remembrance, you see. I guess I’ve already told you all this before.’
At this point, the worker who had not yet opened his mouth laughed. The other two just went on staring.
Having myself, after my long tirade, expected a better response, I felt like starting anew, but was prevented from doing so by a loud peal of laughter coming from one of them.
‘I know I’m laughable,’ I said. ‘Yet, that’s not the point. My person interests no one: an alien all right. The fact, I’m sure of what I’m saying. If my speech makes you wonder about me, it’s nevertheless true there was a Volunteer Agricultural Camp on this very spot.’ Strangely enough, I had become much calmer, and my language came out fluently now. ‘You may remember to have seen nissen huts all around; you see, nissen huts, cylindrical constructions, for habitation, of course, huts made of corrugated iron painted black. That’s what they were, and at either end of what one could call a large cylinder, no, half-cylinder stuck on the ground, two façades painted green, circular walls with one door and two windows. Had to be circular, ain’t it? And, over there,’ I added, noticing I had got them interested in the subject, and pointing with one finger in the direction of one of the blocked-up windows, ‘was the entrance of the camp, you know, like a big arch high up, and the words on it, as I’ve just described,. Melbourne Volunteer Agricultural Camp.’
‘I wish we could do something for you, sir,’ the senior fellow said in reply.
But I went on, as if I had not heard: ‘It had been a concentration camp for German and Italian prisoners of war.’
‘Right! Now I remember,’’ the man added suddenly. I noticed he was about my age, or perhaps a few years older. ‘Yes, them Jerry prisoners. Good chappies though, soome ov ‘em was. I was a child meself. An’ as you say,’’ he went on, becoming friendly, ‘’it became a camp for volunteer workers arter the war, now I remember. O’ course. Voolunteer campers. To help them farmers. Right’yee are. Now I remember,’’ he repeated.
‘And there were foreign students among the volunteer workers,’ I put in. ‘You remember?’
‘Ah! that I doon’t know,’’ the man replied. ‘’To let you into a secret, sir, I ran away from here, found employment in a factory down south, you see. But the Volunteer Agricultural Camp, yes, that I remember now. Sorry I’d forgotten. Time flies arter all.’ he concluded in a tone of complete unconcern.
And when I asked him if he knew, nevertheless, when and why the camp had been closed, the man replied, shrugging his shoulders.
’Why, it was knocked down bit by bit, as I recall. There were a few ov ‘em nissen hoots still standing, foonctionin’ sort of thin’, when I came back, and then, coople of years later, noothin’!’
‘When was that?’’
‘A pretty long time back,’’ was all the man said.
The other two workers, who had been listening to the conversation between their foreman and the queer alien with their eyes half closed, woke up at this point and, for some reason, nodded assent.
By contrast, all sorts of recollections of those my early days, of my first summer in England, now came crowding to my mind.
They began to collect their tools to go out and do their job outside. And that was all concerning the camp. It was all one to them. The fact that there might have been in that empty desert a happy crew of foreign students or not, was for them absolutely of no importance. I felt a tear coursing down my cheek.
It was only natural: It hadn’t been an essential part of their lives, as it had been of mine during those wonderful hours of my youth, my sentimental travel to England, my pals, that students’ camp, the blond girls, my first love.
The dilapidated weatherboard construction in which I now found myself with those men, all that bad composition, that old piano, the broken tables and chairs and other pieces of furniture, piled in great disorder, were nothing to them. They were to me because they represented a milestone in my life: I had there ceased to be an adolescent and became a man, a young man full of strength and hope and enthusiasm. I had there loved my girl.
‘On’y, mind yoor! Them volunteer workers weren’t so comfortable, I mean well-paid, as down south. Better mooney in industry,’ said the senior workman, already leaving the place
‘Billy, sir, pr’haps they carried oot their work an’ git on well. Like evry won,’ said the second man.
I felt devastated, paralysed. As they went out of the hut, the foreman turned round and I heard him shout out:
’Take care, sir! an’ good look to you!’’

Back to join Nicky
Slowly and sadly, coming out into the sunlight, I took sometime to look around, I saw the men working hard, and strode towards the road where I had left my wife. I don’t know if I was by then fully awake.

… It is the identical country road from Melbourne to Thornton I had trodden so many times those years; the fact that I am now alone and in direct contact with the very earth I walked on then must have unlatched the door to this dream.
… rekindling the feelings of old, that is what it is. But I had then had my youth, a future, a world to conquer, all my life before me, and now I am past forty. How different my feelings were now, on the old road to Thornton; the very roadway on which I was walking seemed strange: it was not like that before; the tar I was treading on, the matter that surrounded me, the dirt and dark patches on the road (then so stainless) and the fields on either side were not the same, and then the smell of oil, petrol, diesel, whatever: artificial fertilizers right and left. The farmhouses did not now have those ivy-covered façades, the very few copses left in the prospect, looked rusty, unattractive. Everything was so different! Before all had been beauty, harmony. Then it had been possible to hear the music of nature that still vibrates in my memory, and in my heart. Today I hear the hoot of motorcars passing by, the noise of engines, tractors and other machinery on the fields. The sounds of voices, conversation, shouts? The bark of the farmers’ dogs, the twittering of birds? They were no more. Even in the cloudless sky you only saw the colour of decay. I sense the smell of pollution.
I was walking on the roadway. What had consisted on both sides in long stretches of nearly emerald grass verges thoroughly sprinkled with shiny golden buttercups , now showed the stains of petrol, instead of yellow flowers. Black, specially on the borders, and the long blades of grass were grey and had never known the mower. Or gosh! even in this secondary road? Invaded by the dirt of transport and industry. Yes! I see a few dead dandelions.

Of a sudden another fear stabbed my heart, my Nicky had disappeared. I saw the car all right. She was supposed to wait until I came back, and now she was nowhere to be seen. I ran panic-stricken down the road, and as I ran I remembered there was an old unused canal down there, somewhere. I was reaching out of breath the canal, when I caught sight of my wife sitting on the stone-parapet of the bulging bridge which, somebody had told me then, dated from Emperor Hadrian’s time. She was reading her book.
‘I thought you’d left me,’ I gasped as I sat on the parapet by her side.
‘Don’t be so ridiculous,’ she said, fondling my ruffled hair.
I put my arm round her shoulders and remained silent for a minute or two. She snuggled into my embrace, knowing I was suffering, kissing me tenderly on one cheek.
‘You take things too much to heart, Nano.’
Sitting as we were on the apex of a stone roman-arch we had a fine view of the canal and the lock sixty or seventy feet away.
‘You see up there,’ I began, pointing to the lock, ‘when it was really hot, late July early August, we came to swim after the evening meal.’
‘I know, plenty of water at the lock. And reeds too. Just as it appears today.’
‘It’s not the same,’ I said pensively. ‘We sat on the grass, among the stacks of wheat.’
‘And the music coming from the camp was heard. Other campers had entered the recreation hall and were dancing.’
I had closed my eyes.
… the surface of the canal was shining like a mirror in the moonlight. Two girls were sitting on the grass with us. One of them quite near me. Her face was rosy, her pretty lips were tight, she was hugging her legs with both arms, resting her chin on her two round glowing knees.
… I was lying on my back, looking at the dark-blue starry sky. Oh, happy moment of my youth! that wonderful feeling! I had grabbed with both hands a few blades of the grass I was lying on, and taken them to my face, rubbing them on my nose.
… for I wanted to absorb through my senses the very essence of that English night. I wanted to keep deep in my heart that happiness, that freedom, that companionship, health, strength… my youth.
‘So, you found nothing,’ Nicky asked, ‘no Melbourne Camp.’

’Why, nothing I don’t know,’ I muttered, absent-mindedly. ‘I saw the old piano, decrepit and torn apart.’
‘What did you expect?’
‘Really I know the world changes, new things come up… that’s life, I guess: a spark, an instant, I don’t know. Eventually everything turns into ashes. Oh, Nicky, now I can say… to think that even the most cherished remembrances… come to nothing! I’ve tried… to keep it in my memory; but, eventually, one does forget, not a thing left. The past is gone. And it will never come back.’
‘Poor Nan!’
‘I wish we hadn’t come.’ I cried.
‘So do I,’ she muttered.
‘It will now be more difficult to remember… to bring back the feeling of old, those dear images, the campers, the land, the places, that recreation hall… how can those images now form part of my soul, when I’ve seen all has turned to ashes?
‘No, Nano, please, the images will remain. And our feelings of yore. They still are our feelings. They have been ours together for so long, they form part of our lives. Life is not a succession of moments, it is a continuity. We will always be united… in those feelings, that past together, always together at heart.’
I felt sad, but knew I was not alone. Whenever the thorns of life have hurt me sorely (and it has happened sometimes), she has been there to help, to bring me out of my madness, from the brink of despair. I love her, adore her, and will always do.
We were now walking up the road to where the car was parked. On both sides of the way, as far as the eye could reach, there were wheatfields, the golden ears fluttering in the breeze, and the whole prospect sprinkled with the deep-red dots of poppies.

fg.izquierdo@yahoo.es

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