- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Bert Langley,Helyar, Zafira Vacani,Harold (Terry) Norcross
- Location of story:
- Shallufa Egypt and TelAviv Palestine 1941.
- Background to story:
- Royal Air Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 13 January 2006
Oh What a Lovely War Sometimes! Hert, Zafira, Helly and Terry on the Tel Aviv Beach.
RAF Shallufa was situated quite close to Suez and Port Tewfik where King Farouk's magnificent yacht was berthed. Near the Air Force base , just a short distance across a desert strip of land , was a small agricultural village. The village could be reached by crossing the dubiously named 'sweet water 'canal on a raft constructed with planks of wood lashed to empty oil drums. It was rumoured that if one was unfortunate enough to fall into the 'sweet water ' several differnet varieties of disease would be aquired , necessitating immediate medical attention. Nevertheless, I have always been keen on sketching , drawing and painting and the attractions of the subjects in the village overcame any fear of crossing the allegedly contaminated water. The people who lived there were very friendly and took a good deal of interest in my drawings.
The most unlikely residents at Shallufa were Italian prisoners of war. Their compound was virtually on the base and was extremely clean and tidy . Outside their gates which, incidentally were seldom closed, were stones laid in artistic patterns and painted a brilliant white. The prisoners worked on the base and those who served in the messes were, understanably, interested to find out whether the aircrew based at Shallufa had raided targets in Italy the previous night. Whilst I was at Shallufa our squadron had not attacked their country so we were able to assure them ,quite truthfully, that we had not raided their homeland.
We were able to spend some leisure time in Ismalia, Suez, Cairo and other places of interest. Train journeys to some towns were interesting. It seemed that almost as many of the local population travelled on top of the carriages as those inside . This 'fourth class' travel seemed to be extremely hazardous and certainly not for the faint hearted! Travel was not always straight forward for the uninitiated . There was a tram service from Heliopolis to Cairo which ran between two roadways. We once made the mistake of jumping onto the rear carriage unaware that it was the Harem section reserved for women . We got some very strange looks from the burka and yashmak covered ladies.
There was an Egyptian military base near to Shallufa and I remember one occasion being given a lift in an Egyptian Army jeep into Cairo. The temperature was well over the hundred mark . Riding in the back of an open vehicle was like being drawn through a furnace. We enjoyed wandering through the bazzars in the city and usually went to Groppi's restaurant for refreshments. The Giza Pyramids were within easy reach so we did the usual tourist sight-seeing , camel riding etc.
From time to time we had to carry out oil consumption tests on the aeroplanes and this offered the chance to travel to Palestine for a few days leave. We would fly the aircraft to Lydda and the crew returning from leave would fly it back to base. At that time , 1941, the Jewish population and Arabs lived quite amicably together and the Jews were extremely grateful for the Allies actions against the Germans. We invariably stayed at the small Katz hotel in Tel Aviv. After days spent mostly on the marvellous Tel Aviv beach ,we
invariably ended up sitting at the tables outside the cafe's along the road alongside the beach, relaxing and chatting to people of all nationalities , mostly refugees from the German invasion of their countries. Some of these people had apparently arrived by liners which were beached on the gently shelving Tel Aviv sand . People merely jumped overboard and waded ashore. We were told that the authorities made half-hearted attempts to stop the hordes of refugees entering Palestine without much success. I believe that it was at one of these cafes that we made the aquaintance of Zafira and Ben Vacani . They were keen for us to see the various agricultural advances which had been made at the kibutz and we spent many very pleasant times with Zafira and Benny . It transpired that their father was a professor at the Rehovot Agricultural Research Institute and Benny also worked there. We were amazed at the use which had been made of the unpromising desert like country. Large areas of crops were irrigated by water sprayed from raised pipes across the fields. Cattle were fed on a kind of silage made from grass and other vegetable matter mixed with oranges. Shredded orannges were laid out in trays to dry in the sun . these dehydrated oranges were ecported to be used in making marmalade. An unexpected feature in Tel Aviv was the YMCA Tower. From the top of this building the views were amazing; features in the surrounding countryside could be identified from panoramic maps etched on metal plates set on the sills of the viewing windows.
Despite the increasing problems in Palestine , not helped by the influx of ship loads of refugees fleeing from Hitler's persecution , the Palestinian residents were friendly and helpful to visitors. On one occasion,we had been living at the Katz hotel in Tel Aviv for a week and our expected aircraft did not arrive to take us back to Shallufa. We had virtually run out of money and explained the situation to the proprietor. He immediately said stay on here until your transport arrives and pay me when you get back. This what we did with many thanks for the proprietor's generosity.
After these brief periods of leisure it was always back to the unknown hazards of operations . Periods of relaxation interspersed with excitement and fear. Despite the war situation , I look back with some nostalgia at my time in Egypt .
Our tour of operations ended in February 1942 and we returned to the UK vis Wadi Seidna, Khartoum and Lagos . After waiting for a week in the uncomfortable steamy heat of Lagos , we boarded the ship SS Batory for the journey back home and yet another war zone.
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