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Harry Blood's War Part 5: Serving in the Middle East, 1942-43

by Stockport Libraries

Contributed by 
Stockport Libraries
People in story: 
Harry Blood
Location of story: 
Beirut, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Port Tewfik, Suez
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
24 June 2004

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Elizabeth Perez of Stockport Libraries on behalf of Mary Blood, Harry’s widow, and has been added to the site with her permission. She fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.

From his call-up into the Army in January 1941 until his ‘demob’, Harry Blood kept a diary. It followed his early progress from Glasgow to Egypt, around the Cape of Good Hope, through the Western Desert to Sicily and Italy. Near the end of his service and his diaries, he had a chance meeting with W.A.A.F. Corporal Mary Pettit at a tram stop in Brussels. Not lacking in graphic and humourous descriptions, there came a happy ending as he and Mary married not long after, having a long and happy marriage. Only minimal editing has been done to exclude one or two brief entries which contained little of interest.

Fred Kennington
March 2002.

"5th September 1942. The end of my time in the Alamein area. I have now been transferred from the 7th Armoured Division and today I started on my long journey to 6 A.S.D. Beirut. Travelled by lorry to Burg el Arab – where I spent the first night - for part of the way acting as P.O.W. escort. In fact there was a lorry packed with Italians, with whom I had to travel many miles, rifle at the ready. No problem, most of them didn’t like war! They spent the journey showing me photos of their ‘bambinos’.

6th September. By lorry again along the coast road to Alexandria. Looked around the town in the evening and spent the night at Mustapha Barracks.

7th September. Started on the long train journey down through the Nile Delta to the junction at Benha, where I had to change trains and carry on overnight to Haifa, where I had an enjoyable next evening in the town. Slept in the Transit Camp there. One feature of these journeys was that at every station in Egypt there were on the platform vendors shouting, ‘Eggs’a bread’. You got a couple of hard boiled eggs and some dry bread. I never did face a hard-boiled egg again in my life!

9th September. Transport on to Beirut, passing along the coast of Palestine, and arriving at 6 A.S.D.
Beirut seems a pleasant sort of place. There’s a small swimming pool on the sea front and the grounds of the American University, which are open to us, make a grand park and place of recreation. Our life here is a great contrast from that which I have been leading for the last year or so. We have running water in the billet and a laundry and tailor just round the corner, while the canteens supply us with lovely fresh fruit salads! When I arrived at 6 A.S.D. the Sgt. Major there spent some time telling that the men they didn’t know what roughing was like! He seems to be showing me off to them as a ‘hardened Desert veteran’ – one who had ‘Got his knees brown’!

18th September. I started fourteen days leave and went to St.Andrews Mountain House at Dhour el Choiur, right up in the Lebanon Mountains. It had been recommended by several men at the unit. On the journey there are many lovely views. The road is a sort of zig-zag most of the way with the sea sparkling down below. The house itself is about 4,000 feet above sea level, but the district is wonderfully fertile. I am surprised to see the first oak trees I have come across out here. The air is very exhilarating, in fact, many of the richer people from Beirut have their summer residences in these mountains, in order to escape from the very sultry atmosphere of the town. There is one tennis court, on which I often played first thing after breakfast. We spent the rest of the day with walks through the country and perhaps a few indoor games after late dinner. After that, a stroll up to the village with drinks at an open air café, usually something hot. It is quite cold in the evenings up here. One day we visited two monasteries and were shown round by the monks. It was very interesting, but the monks in the second monastery gave us the impression of being a roguish lot.
In one of the local villages we were shown round a tobacco factory, where the girls were making cigarettes with very simple machinery. Several American ladies helped to run the hostel, and one of them invited me to go round to her house down in Beirut.

1st October. End of leave – back down to 6 A.S.D.

10th October. Went with an Air Force chap to visit our American lady, and had an enjoyable evening. The house was a fine place in the American University grounds. Started learning French at evening classes in the University. Just as I got nicely settled in Beirut I got posted, on 20th October, together with Taffy Evans (Trevor) to the Printing and Stationery H.Q. Palestine, in Jerusalem.

20th October. Off to Jerusalem by road, retracing our journey to Haifa. The vehicle had to call there, but afterwards it broke down near the Arab town of Ramleh. Being stranded, we slept in the Palestine Police Barracks there, where we were made very welcome.

23rd October. The Battle of Alamein started at 2140 hours.

November. On one day this month I went with a lorry to Tel Aviv to collect a load of paper. It was a fine journey down through the mountains to the coastal plain with its miles of orange groves. Tel Aviv is a very modern Jewish city and seaside resort but, as we had to get back the same day, we hadn’t much time to look around.

29th November. We usually get one day a week off from work here, and this day I took the opportunity of having a look round the old city of Jerusalem. New Jerusalem is quite modern, but the old town, encircled by the ancient wall, has very narrow streets – passages in fact – full of strange bazaars and tiny shops. It can rival the worst parts of Cairo for strange smells! There we saw the Wailing Wall and afterwards went into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built on top of what was once the Hill of Calvary. Our guide pointed out the place of the Crucifixion and also the spot where Jesus is said to have been buried. Just outside the walls of the Old City, at the foot of the Mount of Olives, is the Garden of Gethsemane. The Verger kindly showed us round it.

24th December. We intended to go to the Church of the Nativity at Bethlehem but, as all the buses were packed, we started walking in that direction. We got tired and turned back, going instead to a dance in the Menorah Club in Jerusalem. Christmas Day 1942 we spent quietly – apart from eating a lot!

31st December. On New Year’s Eve, Jack Hancock and I enjoyed a dance in the Garrison N.A.A.F.I. Club, where Jack finished up doing a snake dance across the floor. When I returned to our hut, Ian Mackay brought out a bottle of cherry brandy to celebrate Hogmanay which, together with a few more contributions, made everybody happy!

2nd January 1943. By bus to Bethlehem and back with Ian Mackay. Visited the Church of the Nativity, in which the guide pointed out the birthplace of Jesus and the spot where the manger is supposed to have been. We also saw the famous Bells of Bethlehem which are heard on the radio every Christmas. Had the ‘feared’ TAB and TT injections today. You had to stand in the queue and, reaching the end, the M.O stabbed your backside with this great instrument. Meals were taken standing up for a time!

10th January. Walked with Ian over Mount Scopus and across the Mount of Olives, and back to Jerusalem.

26th January. Capt. Lewis gave a farewell party at the Pygmalion Club on his posting to England, plenty of drinks being supplied by our local contractors; Capt. Scarfe took over from him. There was a bit of a perk for us here. John Burling was the typewriter mechanic. There was the odd typewriter which was a write-off. It was not unknown for John to cannibalise several and build a working machine which the contractors took. He was a typewriter mechanic in civilian life.

29th/30th January. It started snowing and we had snow, sleet or rain both days. It was just like an English winter but it was my day off, so I spent most of the morning in bed and the rest of the day round the fire in our room. The room at Allenby Barracks was a large Nissen-type hut with a combustion stove and it could be made quite comfortable.

6th February. Went with Jack Hancock and had a look around the Citadel, an ancient fortress just inside the old city.

7th February. Walked with Ian Mackay through Talpiot and across country to Bethlehem. This was very rough going including a lot of scrambling up and down the olive terraces.

6th March. Jack Hancock left for Haifa, posted to a unit there.

14th March. Day off. Went with Ian Mackay to watch my first rugby match – Wales 13 Ireland 0 – but didn’t think much of the game. Turned and watched a soccer match for some of the time. Ian, being a Melrose supporter, did his best to convert me!

27th March. Football match at Jerusalem. One of the players was Tom Finney, later Sir Tom, who played for Preston North End.

3rd April. Walk through country with Ian Mackay, passing through several Arab villages, where we seemed to cause considerable consternation!

11th April. Some Palestine A.T.S. girls started in the office. One of them, Tamar, didn’t last long. She took ill and had to be admitted to hospital.

19th April. Issued with beds for the first time in Jerusalem, but……

20th April. Walked round Talpiot with Ian Mackay and Jerry, then went back and had ‘last supper’ as I am to be posted tomorrow.

21st April. Taffy Evans (Reg) and I packed ready to move and then missed the train, which gave us another couple of days in Jerusalem! Nice work! Mr. Jacobs (a contractor) gave me £2.0.0 as a parting gift – good job I missed my train.

23rd April. Taffy Evans and I caught the 2.15pm train from Jerusalem, changed at Lydda and got the long distance train for Egypt, having meals at Gaza and El Kantara. Arrived at Ismailia about 5am to be told that our objective, 9 A.S.D, is not here. We eventually found that it is attached to 4 Stationery Depot not far from Suez. After a walk round Ismailia we took the 11am train to Port Tewfik, from where a lorry took us to 4 Stationery Depot. It is about three or four miles outside Suez. It is built entirely on sand and all the boxes are in the open air, surrounded by a wire fence – known as Milads Camp. One of the first people I met here was Bert Oldfield, who I was with in the 7th Armoured Division.”

From here the diaries contain little other than routine matters relating to Harry’s work and have not been included.

“8th July. During May and June I have stuck to a routine, recently clerical work in the mornings, and in the afternoons, we usually go to bed to escape the great heat, first making sure that our mosquito nets are over us. We live in large tents – six to eight in each –each of us having a wooden bed we have made for ourselves. During this period, I went into Suez several times, sometimes to the cinema, and occasionally to Ataka for a sea bathe, otherwise just stayed in camp. An Arab was caught by the guard one night, but he escaped. He had been tied up, but had covered his body with grease so he got away!

9th/10th July. Started leave and caught a train in the afternoon from Tewfik, travelling the now well known route through Ismailia, El Kantara and Gaza, arriving next morning at Tulkarm. Here I caught a bus to Nathanya on the Palestine coast between Tel Aviv and Haifa. The camp is about twenty minutes walk from the village. The food here seems very good – plenty of salad, including tomatoes, lettuce, beetroot and eggs. The place is almost like a restful holiday camp!

14th July. Started out for Haifa, getting a lift in a lorry as far as Hadera and a bus to Haifa, where I looked up Jack Hancock. Stayed three nights in Haifa, went to a show, looked around the town, and spent one morning and afternoon on Mount Carmel from which there are some glorious views. Then, on the Saturday, hitch-hiked Haifa-Hadera-Nathanya, more hike than hitch! Had to walk most of the way from Hadera.

18th July. Bus from Nathanya via Beit Lit and Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Arrived about 4pm and booked into the Church Army hostel, after which I went to the Allenby Barracks for a reunion with Ian Mackay and Percy.

19th July. Went to my old office to see Tamar and the rest of them, then took tour to Jericho. Had a ‘swim’ in the Dead Sea and walked across Allenby Bridge into Trans-Jordan. Overlooking Jericho is the Mount of Temptation with the monastery perched high up on the side. On the return journey up the mountains towards Jerusalem, we halted at the ruins of ‘The Good Samaritans Inn’, said to be the inn the Good Samaritan took the sick and needy traveller to.

23rd July. Train from Tulkarm at 4pm over the old route via Gaza, Ismailia, etc., and then by lorry to 4 Stationery Depot, arriving about 2pm next day. I am now informed I am in a new depot just forming up here, to be known a ‘B’ A.S.D. Evening duty clerk after that!

26th July. Sgt. Major Shapland arrived – for ‘B' A.S.D. – that’s serious!”

During August the diaries note with some frequency the number of drill parades occasioned by the offending C.S.M. Shapland!

“1st September. We are now getting our first anti-malarial tablets (mepachrine).”

In the next days, Harry, and others succumbed to a mild form of dysentery. It did become much worse and he developed amoebic dysentery which was not diagnosed for a long time and with which he would be troubled all his life.

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