3: IN THE PARK
They licensed us to wander where we pleased (within gates) through the still autumn afternoon. The clouded breadth of the fallen park, into which this war-time camp had been intruded, made an appeal to me. Across it lay the gentle curve of Park Road, the only formal road in camp and quiet, being out of bounds. With a blue smoothness it stretched between cut lawns, under a rank of trees.
The park dipped in the middle to the ragged edges of a little stream, and huts climbed down each slope from the tops, reaching out over the valley as if they had meant to join roofs across its leafy stream - but something, perhaps the dank, deep grass of the lowland meadows, stayed them.
I paused on the bridge above the stagnant water, which wound into the hollow between banks of thicketed rush and foxglove. By each side were choice-planted great trees. On the western slope swelled the strident activity of red-and-chocolate footballers. Should I be concerned in football again? There had been a rumour of that sinful misery, forced games. The ball at intervals plonked musically against men's boots or on the resistant ground: and each game was edged by its vocal border of khaki and blue. The blue clothes, which pinked their wearers' faces, seemed of a startling richness against the valley-slopes of verdant or yellow grass. Curtains of darkness were drawn around the playing fields by other bulky trees, from whose boughs green shadows dripped.
The particular wilderness of the Pinne's banks seemed also forbidden to troops: in its sallows sang a choir of birds. From the tall spire (where it pricked black against the sky on the ridge behind the pent-roofed camp) fell, quarter by quarter, the Westminster chimes on tubular bells. The gentleness of the river's air added these notes, not as an echo, but as an extra gravity and sweetness to its natural sounds and prolonged them into the distances, which were less distant than silvered with the deepening afternoon and the mists it conjured off the water. The dragging rattle of electric trains and trams, outside the pale, emphasised the aloof purposefulness in which so many men were cloistered here.
By tea-time the football grew languid, and at last ceased. Slowly the mist invaded the lowest ground and slowly it climbed all the grass slope until the lights of the camp were glowing direct into its sea.