We had been back in England for a couple of weeks, housed in a giant sprawl of wooden huts and buildings erected on Salisbury Plain. I was in a dormitory of around a hundred people, a small microcosm of expatriate British, considered as little better than traitors by the larger public. The dorm was run by three protestant Irish fellows, who had evidently preferred to move to England rather than see their island reunited following the Brexit.
Each of us had a bed and a lockable wardrobe. The lock on mine had been forced and a couple of bits of silver and jewellery taken the day I arrived. We had been arrested in our different European countries (except for Germany, which didn’t seem to mind), taken to various congregation points, and bussed or shipped back to the UK. I remember the police saying ‘one small bag, no pets and no foreign consorts’.
Most of us had ended up here in the camp. I imagine some were doing well enough, perhaps they had enough money to circumvent The Trouble, perhaps they owned a place in the UK. Perhaps they had escaped to Morocco or Germany.
We heard of stories of confused expatriates driving on the wrong side of the road. Others punched for drinking without paying; others still, attacked by thugs for queue-barging. It was for our own good, they had told us, a lot of angry people in England wanted to harm us: Daily Mail readers, we said. Nazis, we whispered.
It gets cold in England in October, and the heaters in the dormitories weren’t working. ‘The winter allowance hasn’t come through’, said a jocular Ulsterman. We wondered how long we would have to stay in the camp.
That autumn, we were obliged to begin heavy labour – cutting trees, farming, building. It was to help pay for our food, they said. You need to contribute to the War Effort, they told us. The gates are locked for your protection, said a billboard.
‘The only way out of here is in a coffin’, said an emaciated man who had a bunk near my own.
‘I don’t think so’, I answered.