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Aged 6 Evacuated Egypt to Palestine and South Africa

by johnpweeks

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John P Weeks
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Egypt, Palestine, South Africa and Home
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21 December 2003

Aged 6 Evacuation- from Egypt to Palestine and Durban and Home Again to England.

At the outbreak of war in 1939 our family (mother, father and five boys) were living in Egypt. My father was a S/Sgt in the RAMC and we had been there since about 1935. My other brother, the eldest, had left Egypt to come back to school in England in the spring of ‘39 and we were to follow on later in the year. Alas, war broke out and this was not possible. My youngest brother was born in Cairo in June ‘39.

I was only 6 when war was declared but can recall the blackout curtains, the presence of a lot more army personnel, and going down into the air raid shelter. Father was posted to the western desert with Field Ambulance and as the action there was getting nearer to us we were evacuated to Palestine. We lived in Jerusalem in Allenby Barracks. I was recently to learn that when we moved in, the accommodation was in a terrible state and there was an outbreak of Typhoid and quite a few children died. The situation was getting so bad that they brought some of the fathers back from the desert. My younger brother had typhoid meningitis but luckily survived.

(I had always wondered, as father had gone to the Western Desert before we moved to Palestine why we had a photograph of my Mother, Father, younger brother and myself taken by a photographer in Jerusalem. The story I was told about the children dying solved the mystery.) It wasn’t something my parents had told us about. Father was later posted to Crete and was taken prisoner and spent most of the war in Stalag VIIIB before being repatriated in an exchange of prisoners in about late 43 or early 44.

We were moved from Jerusalem in about ‘41 and evacuated to Durban. We sailed on the SS Samaria, in a large convoy and I believe the trip took quite a while. In Durban we were accommodated in guest houses and hotels, We lived firstly in the ‘Bon Accord’ in the Berea before moving to the ‘Parade Court’ in West Street and later to the ‘Adams’, near the esplanade.
In the early years in Durban father was posted as ‘missing- presumed dead’. My mother always said on visits to the Red Cross that was the only information available. She was later to get a letter from my father, written from the prisoner of war camp and sent to our last known address in Palestine and forwarded on. I believe my mother then took the letter to the Red Cross office and said ‘if you don’t know where he is, I do’. It must have been quite a relief.

I went to school in Durban at Addington School and I recall standing on the desk waving to troops marching along the road past the school. I think it must have been the routine for all troops passing through Durban to march through the streets, with the band at the head.

When mother learnt that father had been repatriated she applied for a passage home. We sailed home in the spring of ‘44 on the Empress of Scotland (before the war it had been the Empress of Japan but had been renamed.) The U boat threat was just about over and we came home stopping at Cape Town and on into Liverpool in about 17 days. I can recall seeing the devastation caused by the bombing.

Father had been posted to the Military Hospital in Tidworth on Salisbury Plain. We went by train from Liverpool changing at Crewe, Birmingham, Cheltenham and Ludgershall and arrived in Tidworth at about six ‘o clock where we were met on the station by father.

Tidworth at that time was occupied by the Americans and the hills and fields all around were covered with tanks, half-tracks and jeeps all ready for D Day. We were all glad to be back on English soil and reunited as a family once more. My eldest brother was to spend most of the war years in Portsmouth with my grandfather before joining the Fleet Air Arm. I went to the Garrison School in Tidworth and just behind the school was the American PX. The troops would come out and throw ‘lifesavers’ and other sweets over the fence to us. As youngsters we all had our own tent made out of waterproof mattress covers thrown out by the ‘Yanks’. Tent poles and pegs were easily found round the camp, as were mess cans, baseball bats, softballs and aircraft spotter books. At weekends we would pitch our tents on waste ground nearby, light a fire and have a fry up with food we had been given by the soldiers. Tanks and halftracks going through the streets was a common sight. The camp was a transit centre after D Day with many troops passing through on route from America to France.

The dates stated must of course be approximate, I was only six when war broke out and only 10 when we came back to England but I would love to hear from anyone who was in Palestine and Durban at the same time as we were.

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