- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Robert Eric Hill
- Location of story:
- England, France, North Africa, Persia, India
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 31 October 2003
Joining up and off to France.
I joined the Army on the 17th of October 1939 as a Sapper (Private) R.E.
The Town Hall had always seemed to be out of bounds. It belonged to the Mayor, who I imagined sat in his parlour, resplendent in his robes and chain of office. The stone steps were the nearest I had ever been to the entrance and then only to be told by the municipal cleaner to "Op-it!" Along with several other young fellows we pushed through the doors and climbed the maroon carpeted stairs to the recruiting office.
The time had come for me to have a medical, swear an oath and receive the "King's shilling". War had been declared two weeks before. When I told my Mother and father my decision a few days after Prime Minister Chamberlain had spoken on the radio declaring war on Germany they took my news calmly.
The first thing Father asked was, "What regiment are you joining?"
When I said I had not given it much thought he was alarmed at my immature approach. He asked me not to do anything until he had a chance to talk to someone. I did as I was bid and told only Owen Thomas, as he had to know because I had to give him notice.
The next day after lunch my father advised me to join either the Engineers or the Pay Corps.
"I've been talking to Harry Payling, (my old senior master) and he tells me you should join the Engineers. He says you will find a niche there to suit your talents, so tell the recruiting sergeant you wish to join the Engineering Services of the Royal Engineers."
Which I did, and I was.
It was as difficult to say goodbye to the small staff at Thomas's as it was to say goodbye to my family. Owen Thomas was non too pleased to see me go. He worried how they would carry on. I handed over to Laurence Brindley, the apprentice, then only seventeen years old. He would be able to cope with the day-to-day work for the cinemas and the occasional poster after which he would be in at the deep end. He did well, so well in fact, he left Thomas's and went to work for Foremans of Nottingham at a huge salary until he joined the Fleet Air Arm.
The London Midland railway still operated from Mansfield in 1939 and I remember saying goodbye to my Father at the station. We were both so choked with emotion that the farewell was perfunctory - it was not until the train was well out of the station I felt the full force of my recent decision. I also found the Treasury note he had put into my hand. It was the first time I had owned a large white fiver.
The journey to Pembroke military barracks in Chatham by way of London was void of incident yet full of surprise. Although I had spent some time in Devon I had never been to London or the South East.
Chatham was a shock. I expected change and I got it. I found myself in one of six large hutments on the edge of a huge square, overshadowed by an imposing military barrack block and the School of Military Engineering. We were six squads each of about fifty men. The huts accommodated twenty-four beds in one section. The middle of the hut held the ablutions and the toilets and the second part of the hut had a further twenty-four beds. There were also two tiny rooms at that end, for the sergeant and for the orderly corporal. Our squad sergeant was an old hand. At first he appeared cold and harsh but we soon found he was a softy at heart. The more intelligent of us realised he could not afford to be, so we played up to him and smartened up. Those unwilling to learn were plucked out and placed in another squad.
Square bashing took a turn for the better when eventually we were kitted out with full uniform. After a week or two we were given world war one rifles and bayonets. They seemed unwieldy and incongruous when marching about in civilian suits and stamping on tar-macadam in shoes more suitable for dancing. My first pair of 'ammunition' boots weighed a ton, but they were a godsend when the snow and ice descended upon us.
Up at six in the morning, one had to be quick off the mark when forty-eight men share eight washbasins. Breakfast at seven, taking one's own plate, knife fork and spoon. Back to the hut to "kit-up" and on station at seven fifty five for eight o'clock parade. The orderly corporal who took the roll call amused us with his aspirated cockney. He was a runt of a fellow, cocky, shrill and sometimes unconsciously funny, yet likeable. We were kitted out firstly with greatcoats for which we were thankful, for it was damned cold. At least they covered the motley collection of suits. After two weeks we were a squad of not unruly but not yet fully drilled soldiers. That took ten weeks more until we had been through the full training course.
I suppose I was lucky doing only two guard duties during my time there. The first was quite early when I had been there only a few days. To challenge someone on a cold dark night at the half closed gates of Chatham barracks armed with a pickaxe handle and to realise he was a major with a crown on his shoulder as he strutted past was to stammer:
"Pass Sir! Sorry Sir!"
To which he replied, testily: "Don't we have a PASSWORD?"
"Oh yes Sir", which password I then told HIM.
"Good God." he groaned, "God help us!" With which he moved on without more ado.
Two days later the sergeant instructed us how to behave on guard duty. The next time I was on guard duty I stopped everyone and upset some of my pals who said," Bugger Off, you know US!” I was on a charge twice, once with three others for walking across a corner of the square instead of round the edge. For that crime we had to scrub the floor of the sergeants' mess. At the time we thought it a bit of a bind but as the mess sergeant gave us a slap-up eleven's of hot sausages and tea we scored better than the rest of the squad who were out in the cold square bashing. The second time I was caught out was when a pal and I walked to Gillingham. By then we were to be N. C. Os - Lance Corporals. One Sunday in February we were told there would be no parade. There was and we were absent from the roll call. Strange to say the Adjutant let us off with only a warning. Maybe this was because we were soon to go overseas again.
Speaking amongst ourselves we more or less knew which of us in the squad were going to be certain of joining Engineering Services. One day early in December we were rudely awakened when twenty of us were posted to Trafford Park Hall, Manchester to join No. 111 Workshop and Park Unit. We were given sets of single stripes and told to sew them on our uniforms during the journey. During the several weeks we were at Trafford Park Hall we attended three lectures and spent the rest of time in Manchester either in pubs, cafes or cinemas.
Christmas loomed on the horizon. We were handed "five day" passes and told to get off home and report back on time. Within two days of returning from leave we were posted down to Chatham, back to were we started, only this time to have ten weeks intensive training at the School of Military Engineering.
The second time round we were not in the huts on the square but in the old barrack block. No big deal. The huts were warmer; the ablutions newer; and at worst in the huts one could see to shave. The ablutions in the old Victorian block were always short of light bulbs and many were the time we shaved in the shadow of a distant electric light. We were worked hard this second time at Chatham. Studying at the S. M. E. I learnt much of value, except typing. I had been used to working in my own fashion on my father's old Underwood standard typewriter. At the S. M. E we had to use "Oliver" typewriters of World War One vintage. They were ugly designed machines. The lower and upper case each had their own set of keys. It was agony to type. To those who had never used a standard machine, to be taught on an Oliver seemed easy. I never mastered it without much effort and cursing.
There were times when the routine was varied and we had periods of physical exercise for which we marched to the gymnasium on the hill. We learnt a useful dodge and were not found out the four or five times we used it. If we knew from the 'roneoed' timetable the orderly corporal left lying around that last period in the morning was to be spent at the gym three of us we manage to fall in to be at the end of the squad. As we marched off the squad had to negotiate the steep hill and dangerous bend to the gymnasium. The N. C. O. in charge, on the Adjutant's strict order, would always move to the head of the squad as we approached the bend to ensure we were safe from traffic thundering down the very steep hill. Half way up the hill at the bottom of the bend was a road to the left leading to the Seaman's Hostel. At the right time, knowing the N. C. O. could not see us, we would peel off and proceed smartly to the Seaman's Hostel to a warm fire and char and wad.
We were once thwarted when the N. C. O. brought the squad to attention gave a command "About Turn!" and we three found ourselves in the front rank marching all way round the square before starting up the hill to the gym.
Life at Chatham was not unpleasant; one was thrown into a whole new way of life and philosophy. One had to learn new tricks and adapt. One survived. At last the time came at the end of February to learn I was posted along with some of the chaps with whom I had trained to join C. R. E. No. 2 Airfields, Advanced Air Striking Force.
We moved to Aldershot to embark for France. We sailed from Calais on the Ben McCrea, a paddle steamer, which we were told, had plied between Liverpool and Isle of Man. Never a good sailor I made the best of it. It was not a bad crossing but the paddleboat wallowed enough to set me thinking about the owl and the pussycat and the pea green boat.
Our convoy of about eighty people ended up at Troyes. The Commander Royal Engineers, Lieutenant Colonel Heaton-Armstrong had a strength of about sixteen in his H. Q. The three Works Sections each about twenty-four strong were headed by Garrison Engineers. I was a lowly lance corporal and assigned to No 78 Works Section headed by Captain Tolhurst. In civilian life he had practised as an architect. We were never up to full strength the five years I spent in C. R. E. 2.
Life at the little chateau in Troyes was very cosy if cramped and after a few days No. 78 W. S. moved out to the small village of Anglure in the Aube. I spent two or three nights sleeping on a large hardwood bench-desk in a small silk stocking factory we had taken over. Then moving into the local cafe estaminet sharing a room with the staff sergeant. I moved from there rather quickly as I didn't care for his habits and was lucky enough to find accommodation with a family of three in the High Street, the one street of the village.
Captain Tolhurst the G. E. was billeted with two old dears in the largest house in the village a few doors away. My main task was to organise the factory into a store.
A few days after we moved in three loads of grass seed arrived at the store. I was given a squad of Pioneer labourers in the charge of a 'full' corporal to move the machinery to one side and then stack the grass seed. The lads were good-hearted Geordies from Tyneside. However they looked upon the whole thing as a bit of a lark. In larking around they ripped and spilt bags of seed. Fed up, I asked the corporal into the quiet of the office. I put to him that they could do as they liked for all I cared, I didn't give a f**k, but they would not be released until the Garrison Engineer returned. The Captain would decide on the mess they had made and their progress.
The corporal was a good chap and he flashed his pale blue Geordie eyes and said:
"Ooh ya bugger, y'wudna do thaaat wud theee. Don't ye mind maaan, I'll lick 'em into shaape."
Which he did and thereafter I had no trouble. The bales were stacked so neatly the corporal earned praise from the Garrison Engineer.
Each Sunday morning I was pleased to be sent on the matchless motorcycle to Troyes to collect the mail. A glorious ride through the country side on an early spring morning, a lunch and chat with the fellows at H.Q. a quick drink in a local bar with a couple of pals and then back to Anglure with the mail. What a phoney war. Dunkirk happened in May. We knew nothing of it. There was a lot of strange activity to get the air strips operational and as suddenly we were packing up, saying sad fare-wells to our friends we had made in the village, we could give them no explanation or information of recent events - we had none. Nos 76, 77, 78 Works Sections pulled in to Troyes and formed up with H. Q. In tight convoy we moved west to Orleans where we stayed a few days.
I recall the dear old Adjutant, Captain Dennison asking me would I be so kind to accompany him to the Cafe de la Gare for dinner. I had spoken with him seldom but I agreed to go, at the time it seemed a strange invitation when he had brother officers to go with. We knew the French military custom and saluted the whole restaurant, mostly officers and a few ladies and made our way to a table under heavy scrutiny. The meal was excellent, it was so pleasant to have good service and enjoy the ambience. I remember so well the selection of cheeses offered on a four-tier dish. Heady on wine I remember too the dear old boy almost in tears as he explained why he had invited me. I reminded him somewhat of his own son who had recently been shot down over the channel. It was a sombre walk back to the billets.
Signs of panic showed as we travelled down the Loire valley to Tours and Angers. At one cross roads out of Blois we were held up by streams of citizens in cars, in carts, on foot pushing perambulators, pulling barrows and trucks. We were told that the Germans were pushing into Belgium and we were landing more troops on the French coast. Somewhat wide of the truth we were to learn later.
We seemed to take a long time to reach Angers. Some officers and other ranks went off to reconnoitre sites for landing strips but I can't recall much was accomplished. We eventually reached Nantes where we backed up against thousands of others, Air Force personnel as well as Army. After two or three nights bivouacking outside the town we destroyed the G.1098 stores sabotaged any unnecessary machinery and marched in convoy to the port of St. Nazaire. We arrived on the 17th June at ten o'clock, having marched seven miles many of us in new boots taken from the G.1098 before it went up in smoke. We were tired, grumbling yet knowing nothing of the heroics that had been happening at Dunkirk a month before. At eleven o’clock we went aboard the Cunard's Lancastria, grousing and grumbling at being among the last to board. We were assigned places on "A" deck aft.
About two o'clock, very hungry we went below and had a jolly good lunch of bangers and mash and hot tea, all the better enjoying silver service by uniformed waiters. Up on top again out in the warm sun, I took off my boots, which were torturing my feet and popped on my 'plimsolls'. I rested on my kit bag we had been allowed to bring with us. Teddy Perfect said, "Why the hell don't we get cracking and weigh anchor we're a sitting duck waiting here". Several agreed but each seemed lost in his own thoughts to develop more conversation. Time dragged on. It had been obvious the last few days that we were escaping out of France. We had no news of any kind - just rumours. One of the French troops guarding St. Nazaire had spat at the feet of one of our officers when he wished them goodbye and good luck. With hind sight not a sensible thing to do.
At four o'clock in the afternoon several Stukas flew over. One dropped his bombs and missed by fifty yards, we cheered, and the gunners began to bang away with their ineffective popguns. Another Stuka flew in from the sun on portside. It zoomed low over the ship. We ducked down automatically, a confused chatter of guns a great bang and a smell of cordite. We straightened up and began to yell, "GOT the BASTARD!!” But he had got us. Amidships. Straight down the main staircase. No chance at all for those down there. Within several minutes the Lancastria began to tilt to starboard. We were wearing life belts, or had lifebelts. I wore mine. Shouts of "OVER THE SIDE”!!! "EVERY MAN FOR HIMSELF”!!! Large rafts were heaved over the side, I helped and waited until most had gone over, anyone in the water with one of them thrown on top would have no chance. A rope ladder was now over the side I got on that and went down as fast as I could boots and feet banging on my head, and one time trapping my hand. By this time the ship was at a terribly steep angle. It is said one sees ones life flash in front of one like a movie. Not so. I was too busy working out what to do and where to go.
By now the sea was full of swimming, paddling, struggling men. I pushed out for a life raft some yards away that was moving away from me faster than I could paddle. I was not a good swimmer. I had the support of the buoyant life jacket yet I did not seem to be able to reach the raft. The ship was towering above me. Spotting a raft surrounded with bobbing heads that seemed to be nearer I struck out for that and eventually grabbed a loop of rope. I was dragged along, next I was paddling with my right hand, then almost pushed down under the raft as it turned in the water. This went on for a very long time.
Temporarily safe I began to think of my family and friends. By now we were sufficiently away from the ship to take stock. The Lancastria had turned over completely with her bottom above the water. Men were scrambling about on her upturned hull. It was uncanny. Would she go down completely or was enough air trapped inside to keep her like that to save the men before they were sucked down. Oil was everywhere. To get far away from the ship to land was everyone's goal. I was getting tired. A tiny rowing boat painted yellow slid alongside the raft taking people off. I would not let go until I was sure I was ready to get into the boat. In the end I was helped into it by someone grabbing the seat of my trousers as I grabbed the side and missed through sheer exhaustion.
The rowboat put us on to a French trawler; I stripped off my jacket to get dry. A frigate, HMS Havelock, hailed the trawler. As we scrambled up nets to get aboard I lost my jacket. A sailor had taken it from me indicating he would throw it up after me. He did, I missed catching it as the swell was so great the stern end of the trawler dipped down too much as he swung it up to the level of the Havelock deck. It missed by three feet and sank between the screws of both ships.
Gone forever were my papers except for a photograph that was in my shirt pocket tucked behind a metal mirror.
Someone propelled me to the petty officers wardroom. We were fed hot tea and biscuits. We were well out at sea sailing for England when the ship's 'tannoy' broadcast a message that the French Army had given up and Petain had signed the Vichy Agreement. We had little to say. It seemed we had run away. The relief of being alive over rode the gloom and sense of shame. It was all very daunting.
We drew into Davenport. As we tied alongside some well wishers on the dock had little sense. They threw tins of 'bully' and other food up to the deck with such vigour we were under a bombardment for a few minutes. One poor fellow having escaped unharmed had his head cut open with a tin of bully. Whilst on the Havelock I had taken off my sodden trousers, someone had taken them away to dry and I couldn't get them back. I was given a ship's blanket that I wrapped round me to go ashore. Going down the gangplank I trod on the trailing blanket, tripped and was grabbed by two Wren nurses at the bottom of the gangway. They were going to whip me away in an old world war one, canvas tilted, ambulance. The more I resisted the more convinced they seemed I was a 'shock" case. I got away and followed the rest to the barrack block close at hand.
Whilst resting for a couple of days we received an issue of fresh uniform and basic gear. After we had been sorted out and our unit or regiment informed, I and a few others of the unit who fetched up at Davenport were detailed to report to Leeds. I telephoned my parents who were delighted. No leave was forthcoming. We were told that would be sorted once we reported to our unit. Leeds Town Hall a magnificent building. We bedded everywhere. I found a space on the stage near the organ console. Joy and sadness abound -ed as members of C. R. E. No.2 found each other. We learned nine personnel had been lost. One was dear old Captain Dennison. The staff sergeant had gone.
Another chap we all missed was 'Mate' a driver in H.Q. He had been friendly with all officers, NCOs, and the O. Rs. He was an incorrigible wag. At Nantes he had found some pornographic drawings, exquisitely drafted and beautifully coloured. They were works of art, e'en if very naughty. They were shown to all who wished to see and he had tucked them in his jacket swearing he would give them up to no one. Poor old 'Matey' with his pictures at the bottom of the sea. Teddy Perfect who I had last seen going down a rope over the side was his cheerful jolly self other than having both hands bandaged. He had burnt the skin off sliding down the rope.
We shared a posh billet. Our new headquarters were in a large house in Allerton Park. We were billeted in houses nearby. The excitement of going on 'survivor' leave was too much. Everyone wanted to know details of the road back from France. My story of the escape after Dunkirk of which people knew little seemed dramatic. The story of the Lancastria seemed a bit over the top. I stopped talking about it other than saying we came out down the Loire valley. "Oh, weren't you at Dunkirk?" they asked, and lost interest when I said I came out of France at St. Nazaire. The disaster, the biggest loss of life at sea ever, almost 3,000 were lost. Churchill who thought it would be bad for morale suppressed news of the event. It was published seven years later
In the early days of the war in 1939 my time spent at the School of Military Engineering at Chatham did not include driving mechanical transport, using it, yes, whenever I could to relieve the incessant marching and walking when we were not in class. The first time I was able to ride again was in France in March 1940. Our tiny works section, a Garrison Engineering Unit was allocated a Matchless motorbike. Of course at each opportunity yours truly volunteered for any errand. One day Captain Tolhurst suggested I go for a spin into Troyes some forty kilometres away to take and collect the mail and also buy him various items in the town. 'Twist', for we called him that when he was not present, seldom, if ever gave a direct order, when he did it was apologetic in tone, went on to remind me not to stay too long in Troyes for everyone was looking forward to their mail. Having had a good lunch and a chat with the chaps at the headquarters the smell of the countryside and the open road seduced me to head the bike in a wide detour back to Anglure. To shorten a long story suffice to say I found myself miles in the wrong direction and when I was stopped by a military police truck they said in no uncertain terms, "You're bloody miles away from Anglure - its way back over there", - pointing wildly in a westerly direction. The Matchless machines were good workhorses; I rode several of them many long miles in the Western Desert.
Back in England, after escaping from France on 17th June, the day before Vichy was declared by Petain, with now, thank God, no vivid nightmares of the sinking Lancastria, we reformed as a group in Leeds and I found myself stationed at Lincoln, still with C. R. E. 2 Airfields and still with Captain Tolhurst's unit. He now promoted Major, me still a corporal. I was only forty miles from my home. 'Twist' the new D. C. R. E. had gone to London by train to rescue items from his house in Wimbledon. Now was my chance to borrow the almost newly allocated Austin "run-about". A field officer's staff car, a tiny Austin 8 smeared in camouflage paint and fitted with a soft top. The car was kept in the garage of the house we used as a headquarters, No. 96 Yarborough Road overlooking the racecourse. Making sure it had a full tank the night before I made an early start on the Sunday morning and arrived home in time for lunch.
I had telephoned to home from the office before I set out, so they were expecting me but not in such fine style. However I evaded searching questions. I was in Lincoln by early evening and eager to get the car back in the garage I pranged the front wing on the garage doorjamb. Up early on Monday morning I drove the car to the barracks at the top of Yarborough Road, saw the "Q” there, begged some paint and with a bit of stick pushed back the dent in the mudguard and using the same stick slapped paint on the bruised area. No problem.
The Major did find out. He said nothing at the time but I found myself delivering a motorcycle combination down to the Peterborough Garrison Engineer's office and to wait for instructions. He had phoned his G. E. and told him to put me to work on quantities (which I hated), and keep me there for ten days. Driving a motorcycle with sidecar attached is quite hairy especially for the first time. I had some idea that one leaned over the sidecar when steering to the right - the sidecar being on the left - however I soon learned. Always eager to push on at speed I had several narrow escapes from "cock - ups " that day!
Back in Blighty.
On return from leave I found I was still in No. 78 R. E. W. S. with Tolhurst in command. Heaton-Armstrong, the C. R. E. was posted and replaced by Lieut. Col. Christian Chevis, very different from his predecessor. H. Q. and the units were being made up to strength. I made friends with new chaps in the drawing office, Larry Wakefield from Lancashire, Leonard Smith-Dobson, a cheerful snub-nosed lance corporal from Jesmondene, Darlington. Alan Glegg another draughtsman all lorded over by a staff sergeant regular who knew so little and a Cornishman, 'Taala' Hennah. Bob Fawcett soon to rise in rank.
The new adjutant, a brevet Major had been a senior Warrant Officer as Chief draughtsman at the S. M. E. Foster the Staff Sergeant had been his pupil and liked to let us know. He and Fawcett palled up together.
Fawcett shot to fame as a staff sergeant in no time. I was happy to be alive and enjoyed being in Leeds. I also found a billet with another family, this time on my own where the lady of the house did not bring us tea in bed. But this was not so easy either. I used to return late from the cinema and sometimes had to walk if I missed a tramcar. I slept in the bedroom of the soldier son who, poor lad, was roughing it somewhere in a tent. The daughter stayed up and having made me cocoa expected to be rewarded on the sofa in front of a dwindling fire. This was all very cosy but I became wary when she started hinting and got possessive. I moved yet again. This time to a pleasant Jewish family whose two grown up sons were managers of Marks and Spencer, one at Leeds the other at Sheffield. I used the room of the manager in Sheffield. They were too good to me feeding me smoked salmon for breakfast.
C. R. E. 2 Airfields was allocated to work in North Eastern command. H. Q. stayed in Leeds, 76 and 77 R. E. Works Sections had areas in the north whilst No. 78 R. E. W. S. under Tolhurst made their H. Q. at Lincoln. We took in Lincolnshire and Peterborough. Every one was promoted on the reshuffle. The C. R. E. remained a Lieut. Col. with three deputies, now majors. The title R. E. Works Section became D. C. R. E. Unit (or so we called it) and garrison engineers were now assistants to the D. C. R. Es. Warrant Officers Dixon and Palgrave with No. 78 in France did not return to the unit. Two new W. Os were appointed but they worked out on airfields in the area. Few staff were left at the small office at No. 96 Yarborough Road, Lincoln. Taala Hennah and I were now two stripe full corporals, Wakefield also had two stripes (unpaid) the major's driver/batman Redfern drove a brand new open Austin 10 the D. C. R. E's field officer's staff car, fitted with a soft top and smeared in camouflage paint. One weekend Major Tolhurst went by train to rescue items and secure his house in Wimbledon that had been bomb damaged.
He was also bringing his own car back to Lincoln where his wife and child now lived. Redfern was given four days leave to go to his home in Sheffield. I took a chance and decided to 'borrow' the staff car, which was garaged at the back of the Yarborough Road house. With the major in London, Redfern in Sheffield the coast was clear. Making sure the tank was full of petrol I made an early start on the Sunday morning arriving home thirty-five miles away in good time. Having telephoned home from the office before setting out I was expected but not in such fine style. Evading searching questions I enjoyed a good lunch and arrived back by early evening. Eager to get the car back into the garage I pranged a front wing on the garage doorjamb.
A brisk walk to the Regimental Barracks at the top of Yarborough Road and a quiet talk with the quartermaster won me a tin of khaki paint. On returning I went in by the back gate and left the paint in the garage. When the coast was clear I pushed back the small dent with a large stick and using the same stick did a fine bit of camouflage painting with the khaki paint and a bit of black earth. No problem, except to hide the paint. Where? Between the garage and the old brick garden wall. I wonder who ever found it?
Tolhurst came back that evening in his private car stacked with stuff. He stopped outside the office to offload gear he couldn't fit into his flat. Johnny Hennah and I were helping him; Redfern had not yet reported back, 'Twist' was none too pleased. Hennah was moving a small case from the back seat when a shot rang out. I was halfway up the path to the house and Tolhurst rushed past me. I turned and went back, Johnny was white with shock.
A "38" bullet had pierced the lapel of his greatcoat and singed the tip of his nose. The Major looked ashen and apprehensive. Johnny swore quietly yet effectively not sparing the "bloody fool who would be idiot enough to leave a cocked and loaded revolver on the back seat!!!!" Hennah recovered more quickly than the Major who was apologetic and contrite. His nose was not damaged; the shock and smell of the explosion hurt him more than a singed hooter.
Nothing was said to Redfern when he reported late next morning. The paint was dry. I seemed in the clear, yet somehow, Twist got to know of my escapade. I was given a motorcycle and sidecar combination to deliver to our Garrison Engineer at Peterborough and wait there for his instructions. He 'phoned Captain Chettoe and told him to put me on working out quantities for a couple of weeks. Driving a motorcycle with sidecar attached is quite hairy especially for the first time. I had some idea that one leaned over the sidecar when steering to the right, or is it to the left? - the sidecar being on the left, to keep one's balance. I soon learned, but eager to push on at speed I had several narrow escapes from "cock-ups" that day.
Back in Lincoln I was free to find a fresh billet. I had previously lived with a delightful family, the master of the house worked for Ruston Bucyrus his wife served splendid meals and the daughter who was my age brought me tea to bed. She too became so possessive she tore up my sister’s photograph recently sent to me. The trip to Peterborough had been a good excuse for the change.
Time to move on. After the New Year we returned to Leeds. We spent time bringing the strength up to date, completing the G. 1098 stores, being issued with personal kit and mosquito nets and topees which where withdrawn and placed back in the G. 1098. We made the most of our days and nights. Pubs cinemas, the music hall, seeing girls home from dances, a nice family billet a steady time at Headquarters, and plenty of time to explore Leeds.
Teddy Perfect and I teamed up together as going out pals. We scoured the middle of Leeds for places to go. We haunted the City Varieties music hall because it was colourful, cheap and had a bar in which we (or at least I) felt sophisticated and comfortable. The entrance was up a little side cul-de-sac. Our other main attraction was Whitelocks City Luncheon Bar a very posh and well patronised place where one rubbed shoulders with city gentlemen, reporters, officers with plenty of pips on their shoulders and a few of us other ranks for it was a cosmopolitan set-up e'en though appearing so much of the 'establishment' environment. The food was excellent and the atmosphere so wonderful to we young soldiers. Being stationed in Roundhay Park and now billeted just close by in Chapel Town it was easy to jump on a tramcar and be carried in a dozy, drowsy, semi drunken state to bed. We were not heavy drinkers and anything over a pint could be relied upon to make us appear tipsy. We lead a happy and carefree life. I knew that at one billet I stayed at I could be almost certain of a fumble and tumble even if not always the real thing - however un-lovely-with the smelly girl of the family with whom I lived. I must have been smelly too for there was seldom any hot water, not enough for good bath. That is how I learnt to wash down in the bath (there was no shower equipment) using a shallow bowl.
The first billet I had was with a very up-market family beautiful house evidently well off.
Within two weeks we were sent on home leave for a few days. On return that billet was in use by an officer so we had to split up and I went to a Jewish family. Mother and father and two sons. One was at the Marks and Spencer emporium in Leeds and the younger was a manager at the Sheffield Marks and Sparks. I used his bedroom. They were delightful people - gave me smoked salmon for breakfast. I again had a week end leave to home and when I came back on the Sunday evening I brought my attaché case. When I returned on the Monday evening the whole house was ablaze with candles. Dozens of them all over the house.
I asked the son was a festival was being celebrated. He looked solemn and then smiled a broad smile "Well I'll tell you, I hope you will not be offended. My Mother found some ham sandwiches in your bedside drawer. Perhaps you don't know our habits but to bring "PIG" into the house is pollution. I'm sorry your obviously didn't know but that is why all the candles are out to rid the house of the pollution. We are orthodox Jews you see. I could not apologise enough and said I would apologise to his parents. He asked me not to do so - just let it go and when I insisted so he said he would pass on my apologies...
After sometime - several weeks I moved again into a new billet this time with an English family. Very Yorkshire working class people. The place was such a difference from my other billets. I had the bedroom attic at the top of the house where the eldest son had slept. Poor lad he was in a tent somewhere in the U.K. I had his bed. Not that it was great pickings. It was a hard mattress single bed in a cold draughty attic with old worn blankets as bed covers. But there were other extras.
The young unmarried daughter who lived at home and helped her ma used to wait up for me and let me in when I came home late from my wanderings in Leeds city. She would make me a mug of hot sweet cocoa and then snuggle down with me on the sagging sofa in front of a dying coal fire and try to get me interested in making love. Some nights I felt like it, some I didn't. When I did it was fun although a somewhat sweaty performance for she was a hefty lass and needed a bath, but then I suppose, so did I. I was happy.
Then the unit was put on alert for overseas.
Egypt & the 8th Army.
We had more embarkation leave and I was relieved when we went to Scotland and at Gurrock boarded the Louis Pasteur - a liner built for a French line but never delivered. I had begun to get agitated when several friends to whom I had stupidly bragged - ribbed me about paternity proceedings ... being on a large liner out in the Atlantic gave me a sense of freedom ... until the first huge storm - it was then dark and dismal February sobered me up and made me think of the months ahead. A new adventure ... a new life.... action.
We sailed for weeks and weeks until we eventually put in at Cape Town. We stayed five days and were right royally treated when we went ashore.
News rumoured we were on the move. But where to? No one knew.
After being given embarkation leave we found ourselves in Gurrock, at the mouth of the Clyde going aboard the Louis Pasteur, a liner of respectable size, which had been brought into service as a troop ship. We were allocated space between decks some in hammocks some on palliasses on the mess tables some on the mess deck. Men everywhere. We spent a great deal of time playing cards. In bad weather we were paraded up on deck stations.
Soon after we had passed the Azores out in the Atlantic one stormy day in March 1941, we paraded at the beginning of a particularly severe storm and were kept there until it abated. Our station was on a closed deck aft on the starboard side. I was in the second row. From time to time we were allowed to "sit at ease". Then recalled to attention, to give us something to take our minds away from the rolling green wall of water that at times appeared to be ready to swamp the stern. I was too ill to be sick, which I find is worse than being sick. Many days later after we had passed the equator the weather improved and we enjoyed being released in batches on the open deck. Most nights as the weather grew warmer three of us slept on deck under the stars
The news that Cape Town loomed ahead created great excitement. It took two days before we eventually docked. We were told that we were allowed to be entertained by the local population. Teddy Perfect and I had palled up together on the trip. Our idea was to find two girls and have a good time with them. At the foot of the gangway local white South Africans awaited to carry off their catch for the day.
A middle age executive type accompanied by a young lady of some twenty years greeted Ted and me. "Would we like to be shown around Cape Town and have lunch with them?"
I looked at Ted, he, like me, weighed up the situation in split seconds. If we passed this up we would probably be left to our own devices; we both said, "Yes, thank you very much."
We had a wonderful day out, a car trip around the town and afterwards taken back to their opulent apartment for tea. He was an editor of the Cape Argus. The next day five of us went down the gangway together and were met by two youngish Jewish couples. They were related and each had similar cars and we split up between them. They gave us a delightful day out, we were not allowed to spend one penny of our own. On the third day we were not allowed ashore as we were due to sail.
Next stop Port Tewfic, Egypt and the canal. Eight weeks and four days since leaving Gurrock, Scotland. We were in tents in Moascar, the Arabic word for camp. Surrounded by sand, sand, flapping E. P. I. P. tents, standpipes and open showers on concrete plinths. Sand. Indifferent food, sand, too much time on our hands. Heat, sand, no water out of the taps, sand and more sand. An escape to the pleasant greenery of Ismailia be it illegal without a pass did not worry us, we needed to spend some money on food served in pleasant circumstances. We enjoyed the comparative quiet of that little pleasant town.
We made the best of what we had; we understood we would soon be advancing into the desert. An unknown quantity that spelt adventure and danger, I remembered the words of Walter Rowland, my art instructor and employer:
"When you get the chance you must go to Venice, I guarantee you'll fall in love with it. But if you can visit Egypt you will be more than charmed and wish to return there to live."
We were now part of the Eighth Army. We put up our flashes. We were soon to become ‘Desert Rats’, but this term had not reached common usage.
After being accustomed to Egyptian heat and flies, particularly flies, we set out for the 'front' by driving up to Wadi Natrun some few miles near 'Kilo 40'. Here we settled down to construct many small air strips, clearing patches in the scrub sufficient to accommodate a squadron of light defensive 'planes. We employed several hundred casual labourers gathered from God knows where, a medley of odds and sods who we shaped into gangs choosing the best men as gang leaders, the best one I recall being an Idrissi - from Libya.
I was still in Captain Tolhurst's 78 R. E. W. S. works section as I had been when in France. We had sticky relationship; back in Lincoln he had treated me well. I had even 'baby sat' in their super flat overlooking the racecourse on odd occasions. He had caught me out borrowing his little staff car when he was away on buckshee leave in London and posted me away to Peterborough for three weeks as punishment. We had our spats and moments and spent no little time semi-apologising to each other.
The exercise we carried out at Kilo 40 was a gentle grounding to the months ahead being part of the first 'push' in the Western Desert under the command of Major A. J. M. Tolhurst.
Having been conditioned to the heat smells and flies of Egypt at Moascar on the Canal No. 76
R. E. Works Section (Airfields) under the command of Major A. J. M. Tolhurst D. C. R. E. some 24 personnel, moved up to Mari Bet half way between Cairo and Amaria a few miles in to the desert. Here we made camp. We received three decrepit civilian three ton lorries, crammed packed with thirty five labourers in each truck, roughly 100 in all - we never did pin down all of them, some sloped off to do their own thing as the mood took them (they were casual labourers, and they treated their job casually). We lived under tents; I shared mine with L/Cpl. Nelson, 'Horatio' - my clerk assistant. The labourers lived down wind some hundred yards away also in tents. The idea was we would be building airstrips - clearing runways in the desert to accommodate defence fighters in case of an attack on the capital city Cairo or Alexandria.
I spent much of my time on a motor cycle checking the names of each man - this became awkward until I made one hundred 1½ inch squares of plywood which I painted with numbers 1 to 110 for each man to have (and carry -under pain of no wages and present on site - checked against my lists. By lunchtime I gave them to Horatio in the office tent to write up the payroll. In the afternoon Corporal Petersen went out and did an afternoon call. Some days he did the morning shift whilst I attended to any mail or office work that needed to be done, I would make a cursory ride out in the afternoon on spot checks.
At first I was strict and marked men absent if not found. I soon learned to be less strict, so many shrill arguments on pay days caused so much hassle that provided the 'rais' assured me the man was working and had only slipped off to a call of nature (where?) a distant spot in the desert - py dog or a shimmering cairn of stones... provided the work was being done and the desert cleared of stones and bush, I learned to live with it.
Adzes, shovels and hands did all the work. The labourers worked at their own Cairene pace they were always short of water, we had two civilian lorries, when they arrived in camp they were attacked by a rush of thirsty men and on one occasion the lorry was almost turned over and the water lost. After that the adjutant deputed Petersen to be taken out to meet the water lorry at the main road and ride 'shot gun' with his rifle cocked and escort the water tanker to the rationing point, firing a shot in the air if things got out of hand. I enjoyed the time we spent at Mari Bet I learnt a lot; how to deal with men; how to think on a wider scale - to sense a bigger picture of what war was to be about. I was soon to learn as we prepared to proceed into the desert just three or four days behind the battle line.
Up to now we - the lower orders - had little knowledge of what was happening I knew we were soon to be attached to 13th Corps and move into ‘action’ Being at Mari Bet was a doddle. We had been strafed only once we did not know by whom, we suspected a CR 42 but the dust and haze when he zoomed away and disappeared into the blue gave us no indication of what plane it was. We were flat on the deck.
Lieutenant Colonel Christian Chevis R.E headed the C. R. E. No. 2 Airfields.
The Adjutant being a Major whose name I have forgotten. He was a brevet major, a nice bloke; he had been the senior warrant officer at the School of Military Engineering, Chatham.
The personnel muster to be 18 Officers and all ranks.
No. 76 Works Section Muster Roll 24 personnel all ranks
Major E. D. Kassell Deputy Commander Royal Engineers
Captain Hutchison Garrison Engineer
Q. M. S. Clerk of Works
No. 77 Works Section Muster Roll 24 personnel all ranks
Major Richard Chettoe Deputy Commander Royal Engineers
Captain Garrison Engineer
Q. M. S. Clerk of Works
Other ranks etc.
No. 78 Works Section Muster Roll 24 personnel all ranks
Major A. J. M. Tolhurst R.E. Deputy Commander Royal Engineers.
Captain Wood R.E. Garrison Engineer
Q. M. S Baker Clerk of Works
Other ranks etc.
Ninety Personnel in all.
Commanders I met:
Brigadier Keish Chief Engineer 8th Army:
Brigadier Briggs 7th Indian Brigade.
Brigadier C. D. L. Guessens C. E. 13th Corps.
Leaving Cairo was a wrench. I was leaving behind a good friend — Richard Campbell Herod a Flight Sergeant in the Canadian Air Force. We were stationed in the same Hotel and shared a room with two others. Although I knew he was soon to be posted to Takaradi in North Africa I was unhappy to leave Cairo at that time, we had formed a strong relationship, he was just the type of fellow I would have liked to have as a brother. Richard and I were together for about seven weeks and in that time we saw much of Cairo, riding out from the centre swaying and jangling along in Cairene tramcars, being given royal treatment by some of the passengers who obviously did not know what to make of us and earning strange looks and mutterings from others. We rattled on past strange, sometimes forbidding suburbs until we reached the terminus. If we like what we saw we wandered around for a while but not too far from the terminus as, one time, we became lost and were pestered by young local youths who asked for baksheesh and became some-what nasty when we told them to "imshi".
We learnt a lot about Cairo and it was very cheap way to pass the afternoons. Neither of us drank much, we were quite happy to spend time in Groppi's taking afternoon tea for I think both of us missed the more gentle things after the harsh conditions of the desert. A couple of light pilsners and a visit to the cinema or an evening in our room at the hotel when the other two had gone out led to an exchange of views, reminiscences and talk of home. He Canada, me England.
Richard was a delightful person, witty, knowledgeable and a grand fellow to know. We corresponded as best we could, letters made a circuitous route of the Middle East and Africa and in the end my last letter after the war to his address in Hamilton, Ontario failed to find him.
On Monday 29th September 1941, we learned that we were to advance forward. Big push. Our advance party to be the D. C. R. E. Major Tolhurst, the Garrison Engineer, Captain Wood, Warrant Officer II Baker, Corporal Hill, Sapper Miller (cook) Driver Redfern and Driver Hall. Orders were issued by the D. C. R. E. Major A. J. M. Tolhurst R. E. to prepare lists of all stores etc and have every-thing ready to hand over to Lt. Leach by Wednesday 1st October.
The list of personnel in the forward recce party to be:
Major Tolhurst D. C. R. E.
Captain Woods Garrison Eng.,
Q. M. S. Baker Clerk of Works
Cpl. Hill Eng. Clerk
Sapper Millar Cook
Driver Redfern Driver
Driver Hall Driver
In the event only four of us made up the party. The D. C. R. E. Major Tolhurst, Warrant Officer Baker, myself and Redfern the driver. I spent two days getting as much of the paper work done as I could but didn't complete it. At 9.30 on the morning of the 2nd October the Major had us away. The Major and I in Utility Ford, Doughy Baker following behind on a Matchless motorcycle and Redfern driving the 15cwt truck. I had left a note for Captain Hutchinson, the Adjutant explaining the position of the uncompleted work as best I could in the two minutes I had before the peremptory command from Twist (Tolhurst) to get a move on. Luckily I had written a note to Horatio (Nelson) who would have to deal with what I had not been able to complete and I left my bed and mattress in his care.
We called in at Daba and saw Mr. Leach, George Dalgetty and Sappers Burrows Petersen and Marriott. Dining in the sergeant's mess I met Sergeant Major Palmer. We left at 5.15 for Bagush arriving at 7.40 in time for the evening meal. Saw Lloyd first, nice chap, then Ted Perfect, just the same old Ted, and Harry Owen. Owen approached me and said he wished to take my place. Cheeky sod, I said he could do as he liked but I was going anyway. I heard later he did speak to Tolhurst but got a short snub. I was disappointed, Dobbie was not around, within five minutes the smiling' snub nosed young Geordie draughtsman, Leonard Smith-Dobson appeared. I was so pleased to see him. He, of course was not going with us but just seeing him made me happy.
Thursday 2nd October 1941. Major Tolhurst came at 9.30 and off we went to pack up truck for our long journey. All the office work and list was left undone as at that point in time. I left a note to Captain Hutchison the acting Adjutant explaining the position as best I could in the two minutes I had - luckily I had written a note to Horatio my L/Cpl. Clerk the night before explaining matters and I left my bed and mattress in Cpl. Nelson's care. We left Burg el Arab at 10.30 called in at Daba, saw Mr. Leach, Cpl. Dalgetty and two Scots laddies. Met Burrows, Petersen and Marriott; dined in the Sergeants Mess met S/Major Palmer and left at 5.15 for Bagush arriving at 7.40. Saw Lloyd first, then Ted and Harry Owen. Owen wished to take my place on this trip - nothing doing. Saw Dobbie, now a probationer draughtsman.
Friday 3rd October 1941. Left Bagush at about 9.30 Major and self in utility Ford, Baker and Redfern following on motorcycle and 15 cwt truck. We called at the officer's shop at Matruh where Major Tolhurst tried to buy goggles for all of us. None in stock. We search around for a NAAFI and after a lot of trouble eventually came upon a Y. M. C. A. van tucked away in a little Arab courtyard. We bought a few things, not that we needed them it was just the idea of stocking up on tooth paste and odds and ends just because they were there, in the desert.
Saturday 4th October 1941. We had arrived at the R. A. F. Squadron campsite at 5 o’clock yesterday after noon. We had gone down to the beach about five miles across the desert and pitched camp near to the Indian Pioneer Force that were to become our source of labour.
We had all found ourselves little dugouts and fixed our bivouacs over the top. Italians had previously occupied these dugouts before they gave up. Many of their old wrecks lay around still. The Major awoke us at 7.30 and we all drove off in the utility wagon at 8, a hell of a way and found no breakfast left at the RAF Camp; the cook fixed up with sausages which we ate standing around the best way we could.
The Major, Q. M. S. and Jimmy went off at 10 o'clock taking their bedding and bully and biscuits. They said they would be back the next day. I was left on my own. Nothing to do, I tidied up the camp and decided to get plenty of water. I took the truck, begged some petrol from Mr. Head of the Indian Pioneer Corps and drove to the well a mile away. I felt like Rebecca lowering the bucket tediously filling the empty petrol cans - it was a long job almost lasted until lunch time
Then went over in the truck for a bite to eat at the R. A. F. taking with me a chit I obtained from Mr. Head (can’t say I like the fellow - damned unsociable chappy he acts like a real "pukka" sahib to draw some planks from his store. Whilst sitting in the truck eating lunch bully, bread and tea, a Gerry came along but a bit of ack-ack from the R. A. F. camp drove him off. Back at our little camp I did more work on the dugout we already had. It took so many sand bags and I grew tired, went off to the ack-ack battery to beg a bit of dinner. Too late; all gone, settled for bully and biscuits but their tea was good.
By the way it is the worst bit of sandbagging I've done or seen yet, Twist will explode when he sees it but ma'arlish, working in the moonlight is no joke and my back aches. It is very lonely not a soul around and no noise but the gentle swish of the sea. I took a stroll to ease my back, yet I had not gone far when two Indian guards challenged me. It took ages for me to explain who I was.
Sunday 5th October 1941. Awoke at 8.45 feeling stiff all over. Too late to get breakfast from ack-ack so lit primus and settled for tea and biscuits. Expensive business this camping out I have spent more than fifteen shillings on food since I left Burg el Arab.
On my own still. Major and others not yet back Took a walk around camp saw lorry in distance went over and found a chap from the R. A. S. C. here on his own on detachment to the Indian Pioneers.
Monday 6th October 1941. Awoke, watch had stopped overnight went across to R. A. S. C. chap and had breakfast sausages and eggs with him. It was fine the tea was perfect! Major and crowd not yet back give them another day and then contact R. A. F. O. C. Washing a two hour job, blankets out to air, darn socks; fold up laundry; wash plates clean shoes; time flies. Gerry over twice very high. Went for a scout around on motor cycle found quite a lot of angle iron and stuff for dug-outs, Had lunch with the R. A. S. C. chap, name Kenneth Cook. Got back to camp just before arrival of the C. R. E, and Captain Wood. D. C. R. E. and Co returned but a few minutes before the C. R. E had left. Busy preparing meals for hungry Q. M. S. and Jimmy. Major ate little. I went down to bathe in moon light sea at 8 p.m.
Tuesday 7th October 1941. Today we cook our own rations. Fifteen Indian pioneers and two L/Cpls. turned up to dig in our tents etc. Head had refused me when I asked for help. ... I had no rank to impress him. The pioneers left at 4 o'clock Q. M. S. and I finished off Captain Woods tent then mine then the Major's it was 10.30 when we turned in. Major and Jimmy not yet back from Bagush where they went early this morning.
Wednesday 8th October 1941. Awoke at 8.30 just as Q came to kick me out of bed. Washed looked out of dugout noticed Major had returned with Captain Wood’s batman. Heard we may move today after spending all yesterday digging in and camouflaging the tents. The Indian Pioneer Corps moved out too. Cooking our own meals is great fun but it takes up time.
A strange thing happened yesterday, I must record it. Whilst driving around with Ken the R. A. S. C. driver looking for booty we came across a fellow all by himself, guarding a dump of tents. He was a squat dark complexioned tussled headed chappy and as we stopped the truck he ambled over. When I am greeting Greeks or Cypriots I usually ask:
"Do you speak English?" This I did and was taken aback by its effect.
"Blimey Guv'nor in a rich cockney accent "You don't take me for a bleeding wog, d'yur..." I more or less apologised and chatted with him for quite some time as Cockneys are rare in these parts.
Friday 10th October 1941. Up early this morning, had time to shave before breakfast; Postcard from Mother; finished off a list of stores with Major T. he signed sheets and they were sent off to C. R. E. for action.
Sunday 12th October 1941. Up early. We move today. Captain Wood off to Bagush. I went for a dip before breakfast. Tolhurst was in the water, he murmured "Morning" and then got out. Frank and I had another dip midmorning afterwards going for a long stroll on the seashore. Noon and a quick lunch then move to the next campsite in the dunes a little lower down the road. Delighted with the situation chosen. Camel thorn a few wild fruits dotted around a single palm struggling for existence. The sand reminds me of my favourite walk to Lady Evelyn Maudes house except the silver beeches were missing. Thoughts of Sherwood Forest remind me too much of the pleasant days with Laurence, Eileen, Tessy, Barbara and Oliver. What a happy crowd we were. Sherwood afforded much fun for gay youngsters as we were. Q. had dug us in fine. Dugouts cut into sand dunes, well protected, sandbagged and very cosy. Captain Wood brought Gray back as cook. We started a canteen. A drink of beer was real treat.
Tuesday 14th October 1941. The C. R. E. is due to pay us a visit. A rush around this morning to get the cookhouse finished and the camp reasonably straight. I did the supervision of the cookhouse for Q. Twist nailed on the C. G. I. sheets and knocked up his thumb; he is as happy as a kid when he has a hammer in his hand. We were just having lunch when the old man arrived. He did not know Gray, I doubt he had ever seen him. Colonel went after lunch after seeing Scot Lt. Colonel of the Indian Labour Group. It started spotting rain, sky overcast and growing cold.
Wednesday 15th October 1941. Working in Major's tent, he has gone to Matruh. "Said straighten up my tent and if you like you can work in it." Life very easy... it suits me. Paid today; all went for bathe, very rough.
Thursday 16th October 1941. Major and Captain away at H. Q. back tomorrow; Sky very black and overcast. Straightened up Major's tent; sand had covered much of it. Jimmy Redfern couldn't give a damn; I shall ask him for half his batman fee. D. C. R. E. and Garrison Engineer are due back on Saturday.
Saturday 18th October 1941. No water for washing until after breakfast. The C. R. E. and G. E returned as I was washing. G. E. chatted away when I went to his tent to collect his mess subscription. He remarked he lived in Teignmouth in the summer months and asked what I did in Civvy Street. He said he had a small interest in the Brunswick Press in Teignmouth and seemed to know John Payne. I wonder if it the same John Payne that Wal. R. introduced me to at the Seacroft Hotel. If so he is a pretty poor specimen; I did not like him at all. Peter Wood seemed to know the Oaksfords although I don't imagine Bert Oaksford would cut much ice in Teignmouth. I did not mention the Wards. Peter's father is connected financially with the ice works at the back of the cinema. Wood has some good ideas about the redundancy of the C. R. E. Aerodromes out here which seemed sensible but also he has fixed ideas (or as borrowed them) that after this war the Air Force should split and the R. A. F. as we know it continues with it's own programme based principally on economic warfare.
The Brigadier and the Colonel arrived; we scrounged up some lunch and I had to act, half way through as waiter carrying dishes that Tolhurst wanted. I received a letter from Lollie B. written the day that Laurence went away to join the Fleet Air Arm. Although a cheerful effort it betrayed in the last few lines how much she missed him.
Sunday 19th October 1941 and Monday 20th October 1941. Much the same except I had haircut on Monday by the Indian barber who charged me one piastre - I gave him three, it was worth it.
Tuesday 21st October 1941. Major gained a new Dodge truck. Met Dalgetty near aerodrome. Saw Lt. Leach who went up in the air about "missing" tools, I said Captain Wood had signed for them; that took the wind from his sails. Learnt George D. had lost his newly born son. That Lloyd had gone to Syria and had lost his wife and child who were on their way home from Vichy to England via Portugal. What a bloody war. That Edwin had gone to Daba; that Larry had a bomb and crown and Foster was acting as foreman of works. Left with a tank and bibcock; no beer or baccy at N. A. A. F. I. - back at Kilo 111 at 3 o'clock - Ken had gone for rations. Bit of excitement this afternoon, half a dozen planes came over swerving, zooming and diving. When red-hot bullets began to fly I lay flat on the deck until they had gone.
Wednesday 22nd October 1941. The end of Ramadan and the Indians had some-thing to celebrate. The Major and his driver/batman Redfern being away left six of us, Captain Wood, Warrant Officer Baker, self, driver Hall and the cook, Sapper Gray and driver Cooke. The Indian section invited us to lunch. We all trooped across with some complaining they had misgivings about curry. Thanks to Captain Wood despite Doughie Baker's remarks we had a pleasant meal.
Thursday 23rd October 1941. My head aches and my nose is all stuffed up. If only I could get my nose to bleed the hammering; hammering; hammering might go. I swilled my wristwatch out with petrol, the dirt and grime that came out was amazing. It started up on it's own and sounded like a traction engine.
Friday 24th October 1941. Spent a wretched night too weak to undress, flopped down on my bed and pulled a blanket over me. This morning Doctor came across from R. A. F. and took my temperature. I had only a slight temperature but he examined my back and my kidneys. Result - I am to stay in bed and diet!? Major came back today he has been flying over Libya. He was indignant over a lack of change of clothes. For ten days the R. A. F. laundry has held up the washing. I wish my headache would go.
Saturday 25th October 1941. Much better today. Nothing much happened. I read: Charlton autobiography; Now East Now West, Susan Erst; Ragged Banners by Ethel Mannin. I ate lunch and a little dinner, I slept well. I also had a pair of desert boots given to me by the Major; the next minute I had a row with him in our quiet and wordless manner.
Sunday 26th October 1941. Feeling much better. Major and Jimmy went off on another recce in the "blue". Funny how we use Air Force terms for our own ends. "Out into the blue"; "Cheesed off instead of browned off". "Gen" meaning the 'low-down' (intelligence). I must write home.
Tuesday. Lettered box for Captain Wood. Read book and chatted with Indian Doctor on Mohammedanism and Christianity. Doctor quite entertaining.
Friday 31st October 1941. Major Tolhurst made a new fireplace and then he cooked the dinner. Gray is rather hopeless and never seems to organise his cookhouse.
Sunday 2nd November 1941. Hot khamsin blowing all day. Escaped down to sea to bathe. No water to wash. Unbearable weather, feel tired and weary. Marvellous moonlight night. I decided to go for a stroll. I buckled on my revolver in case I met one of those wild dogs, big as wolves they are, and I explored the back of the camp. It was truly exhilarating, so quiet, so peaceful, so lovely. Back in my tent I sat quietly and read and so to bed.
Thursday 6th November 1941. Wrote to Oliver, read, became bored, nose bleed freely, cold in head. Lamp had humorous fit so couldn't read. Went to bed, arose and went to lat. On way back surprised by three desert py-dogs. When I came back with my gun they had slunk off.
Sunday 9th November 1941. Captain returned back from H. Q. and learnt Major gone to Cairo and would be away for five or six days. Peter nonchalantly announced one parcel and three letters for me. Parcel contained birthday cake from Laura Brindley in excellent condition. I am so glad but will it keep another eleven days? As he had brought back some beer we had a merry evening. Everyone appeared very happy dreaming of home and reading over in their minds bits of their letters they had received. I was probably the greatest offender......... "Soldiers are dreamers; when the guns begin they think of fire lit homes, clean beds and wives"...
Monday 10th November 1941. I awoke this morning feeling good; the beer had had its effect. I raced 'Q' to the latrine but came in second. Sketched and did no work. Mainly writing to Laurence B. Laurence had written to me about his engagement to Olga; July 13th.
Wednesday 12th November 1941. Pleasant days when one can read, write letters and listen to yarns and tales. Found books belonging to Peter, "The House at Pooh Corner", “Now We are Six.” Reminds me of Pat and I and our little Christopher FitzGerald at Marnham on Trent. I shall remember the many happy hours we spent on that river.
I think to myself, I play to myself,
And nobody knows what I say to myself;
Here I am in the dark alone,
What is it going to be?
I can think whatever I like to think,
I can play whatever I like to play,
I can laugh whatever I like to laugh,
There's nobody here but me.
Saturday 15th November 1941. A very unusual day and a very interesting one. Frank Hall nearly altered it. He almost forgot to give me a letter from Frank Williams. All the time I have been out here I have been trying to contact him. Frank Williams offered me the management of the Scala cinema after this lot is over. I wrote back and accepted. It has settled my future for me, it will keep me whilst I am organising Illustra once more. Three or four years at the Scala will get me down to earth again and give me a base and salary to plan my future.
Sunday 16th November 1941. Capt. Wood, Driver Hall, Staff Sergeant Perham and Corporal Owen left on their Part 1 or opening act of their 'show'. Ken Cooke went back to his Company and we have two R. A. S. C. chap pies here now. Lieut. Little took over the construction of the landing strip. Same old tale no time to hand over anything. Away and leave all to the bloke who follows. I was to pack and be ready by 7.30 in the morning.
Monday 17th November 1941. At 8 o'clock we set off for Bagush with 2nd Lieut. Kilbey and 50 men. Had tea and meal 7 miles beyond Matruh. Slept in old dugouts at old camp. Terrific electrical storm and it rained like hell.
Tuesday 18th November 1941. 18 kilometres today. Spent day at Barrani bogged down. Couldn't find a way across anywhere. Tried to build a causeway. Auto patrols (graders) got stuck themselves. Mr. Silk, Australian press photographer, joined our convoy he took shots of bogged down tractor.
Wednesday 19th November 1941. We struck camp at 9 o'clock and went into desert further down the coast. I rode my motorcycle. We came across an ambulance, which we pulled from a bad patch they had been stuck in for 5 days. One R. A. S. C. driver and two patients had been stuck there; they had run out of rations. We gave then some tins of soup and fruit etc. We struck another bad patch and turned in at Burg-el-Arab by the telegraph wire and pitched tents there.
Thursday 20th November 1941. Passed Bir Khamsa. Reached B. H. Q. and pushed forward at dusk; pitched camp just inside border a few miles from our muster point.
Saturday 22nd November 1941. Lieut. Kilbey shot a gazelle after chasing it for almost a mile on a motorbike.
Tuesday 23rd November 1941. Today is my birthday I am 24 years old. Nothing to celebrate with; no booze, only stewed gazelle. I keep the fact of my birthday to my self. I don't feel like celebrating...
Tuesday 25th November 1941. Went on a trip with Captain Taylor, Q. M. S. Baker and Sapper Wagstaff to Fort Madelina a couple of miles away across the wire fence. Built by the Italians to keep in check the ever-harassing Sinussi tribesmen. The area had been destroyed by shellfire. Saw two lorry loads of No.1 Party. Lance Corporal Petersen and the South African Cabuche among them. Witnessed a gruesome sight. A hurried burial of two Italians. One in a nine-inch deep grave and the other lying on a stretcher where he had died covered over with a smattering of earth. The skull and the feet partly exposed. In the afternoon I was tricked into playing one-hour football in the heat of the sun. I was utterly useless - out of wind after the first ten minutes. About six p.m. got NEWS of advance of about thirty German tanks. A Lysander plane touched down on salt patch near to us and we were told to make back for cover of a larger unit. We packed up and leisurely ambled back many of the chaps grumbling about the "push" but they soon realised we were moving back to form a larger concentration. Saw nothing of Captain Wood's crowd. Spent night sitting in cramped position in back of Major's truck. Just after midnight I awoke from a dozing sleep and felt I was choking to death. My nose and throat were burning and I had an "asthma" attack again.
Wednesday 26th November 1941. Pitched camp at B. H. Q. away from station and dug ourselves in. Heard Brigadier Stokes was coming next morning. Captain Taylor went back to Bagush as liaison officer.
Thursday 27th November 1941. Nothing much happened. Captain Wood and party turned up. They had been as far front as Bir Khamsa, said they had been chased by Gerry tanks. Redfern said he was really 'browned off' and was applying for a transfer.
Friday 28th November 1941. Brigadier Stokes turned up with Major Tolhurst. He asked me what my job was. Said quite nicely with a faint suggestion of sarcasm he was glad to see no papers strewn around. So there it is; I should be ten times more use back at Bagush doing something worthwhile.
Saturday 29th November 1941. Major Tolhurst and Redfern off on trip. I left behind in orderly room tent with 'nowt to do'. Major came back and spent all afternoon in the back of his truck writing out report and doing all the office work. What the hell use am I? Here I am doing no good in any way; one more to ration in the middle of a battlefield witnessing or hearing of everyday instances of heroism or blind stupidity and feeling very small, very ashamed and very idle. I asked the D. C. R. E. if he needed me for office work. He said "NO" there is none to do.
I asked for a job of work to do. He said he couldn't give me one. I asked him to send me back to Bagush if he had no use for my services. He agreed on condition I went back "ill” I said NO. Although I have been unwell I am able to carry on and not sit idle. If I go back I go back to work and the reason for going back should be that I have no job here. He decided to send me back to H. Q. and said he would write to the C. R. E. on the subject. This seems a gamble but it is one I now have to take. Back at H. Q., I shall suffer the jibes of all my contemporaries and even the officers. They may think that I have become frightened of the battle area and have not one ounce of courage, in plain words that I am "yellow". Perhaps the Colonel and the Adjutant will see it the wrong way too. Although I think they will realise the true state of affairs. I have never worked in H. Q. I seem to be disliked by the staff there, or so I think. They think I have a cushy number because Tolhurst has always looked after me since France; we have been seen to argue. Redfern his driver once said to me, "He thinks I'm joking when I sometimes tell him what I think when he comes all over in his la-di-dah manner". You seem to get away with blue murder by just looking at him. If I didn’t know better I'd think there were somat between yer".
Monday 1st December 1941. Surely December at home is not much colder than this. There was frost on the tent this morning.
Tuesday 2nd December 1941. Twist lost himself and the sappers for at least three hours. As it grew dark I went out on motor cycle looking for them, occasionally flashing light like I used to do when he went out to dinner and came back late at Mari Bet (Wadi Natrun). After about an hour and half Sergeant Medley commanded a hill top and flashed with a torch and received a signal and continued for ten minutes only. "What luck! Good show Sgt. Medley,” said Tolhurst when he turned up at camp. "I saw your light one hour ago and steered by it". Medley said nothing. However Porter and Liptrott were still out in Kilbey's wagon, so I went out again to look for them. They turned up next morning after using 15 gallons of petrol. Liptrott had found a Sub's valise full of kit that may have fallen off a lorry.
Wednesday 3rd December 1941. Visited Group Captain with despatch. Took reply tried to locate Major Tolhurst. No joy, hopeless so came back tried to listen to news at L. G. office; atmospherics interfered with reception.
Thursday 4th December 1941. Went and had breakfast, literally freezing icy cold wind. No shave for four days and no wash either. Two pints of moir per day each man. Q. became pally and asked me to sample his whisky. Very nice it was too and kept out the cold. Bread instead of biscuits makes a change. Major T. went ahead with Redfern and "A" Section with auto patrol to mark out a new location for airstrip. We follow tomorrow to Sidi Omar. Packed and started to new location at 0900 hours. I rode in Cook's lorry as Major had motorcycle with advance party. Passed wrecks of various aircraft on the way - ours. Kilbey set a hell of a pace one puncture to 3 ton Chevvy, and main leaf bust on Bedford water cart. Met Major at 12 o'clock as prearranged. Wreck of burnt out bomber, our placed out of bounds. Tomorrow burial party will bury the four dead. Burnt out remains of five German tanks on skyline. Artillery fire incessantly about six miles away.
Saturday 6th December 1941. Obtained permission from Major to inspect German tanks. Rode over on m/c; found five burnt out shells of Mk. 1V (I believe) German tanks. Also found four graves of the gun and tank crew with little wooden crosses made by our chaps who had buried them. I paid my respects to the fallen. As I stood there I could not but help myself - I thought of four happy, laughing, blond blue eyed German soldiers - I wondered what they were like, were they as brutal, vicious and uncivilised as we are taught, or were they good hearted cheerful and good natured lads? I could not but wonder - for there is "good in the worst of us bad in the best of us". However "c’est la guerre" and such questions are not permissible until peace reigns again. What a crazy mad world we live in. Cpl Stone and several Sappers volunteered to bury the airmen. Major and Mr. Kilbey and Q went over. Two more were found under the wreckage making a total of six. Three badly burnt were buried in one grave. Of the others one of whom was identified as E. A. Lowther R. A. F. one a Sergeant and one an officer had separate graves. A rather sordid business, Cpl. Stone however seemed unaffected by the job. They are still bombarding away at Gerry — who are said to be only three or four miles from us in a pocket. I have a wash and shave!
Sunday 7th December 1941. Still busy on works — I have nothing at all to do, all day to myself. The D. C. R. E. must have something in mind. I find a job! Sapper made four crosses and I lettered them:
Monday 8th December 1941. I visited the four graves of the six airmen and paid my respects to the fallen. We are getting 16 gallons of water per day for 60 men! Guns still bashing away to the North.
Tuesday 9th December 1941. Q had a little trouble with “Tiny” Pickard & Sapper Johnson — pity Johnson has not a little more sense — I rather like him, he has a jolly sense of humour and at heart is quite a good character. Tiny is just a bone-idle loafer with an inferiority complex, which seems incongruous, compared with his bulk! (Tiny has improved).
Wednesday December 9th 1941. Date but no entry.
From now on until Xmas (Boxing day I am writing this) I am unable to give dates or a proper account of the full action for we have been continually pushing and moving and working all the time that I have had no time to keep this up.
10/12/41 — 12/12/41.
We left Sidi Omar the same day that Gerry bombed it and proceeded to Sidi Reseck. It was here that we first saw the battlefield. What a gruesome site. Dead lay around — South Africans, our own lads, German and Italian. Equipment of both sides, guns of all types, hand grenades, molotoff cocktails and all manner of things.
The battle had raged for several days and must have been very fierce.
We buried as many dead as we could while we were there — more Italians and Germans than we did our own chaps, for quite a lot of our lads had been buried. Q found a Luger and case and 1,000 rounds for it.
Rout found two Tommy guns and I soon had them working. Major had one and Kilbey the other.
After Sidi Reseck we moved on to El Adam and awaited orders. Next day we moved to Gazala and camp only seven miles from the fighting. (Brand and C. S. M. came to Gazala with the mail). As soon as the place was free we did the job — three and R. A. F. moved in. Each day I had a sixty-mile DR run back to the 13 Corps to C. E. It was on this run that the Enfield packed up — 2 broken rings after 800 miles.
On December 20th I went with Major Tolhurst to Tunimi and he saw C. E. 13th (Brigadier Guessens) the C. E. changed his plans and I had to go to Matuba and Derna on a motor cycle.
I got to Matuba that night and stayed with Indian Sapper Company. C. S. M. and Q. M. S. were English and Anglo Indian respectively. I dined with them and left for Derna the next morning, 21st. I got to Derna the next morning about 9.30 and went to brigade H. Q. I had all day to wait so explored the whole of Derna.
In the afternoon I met a fellow called Lyman in the R. as and I was with him when an air raid was on. I also had a good night with the R. As in their canteen. I slept on the canteen table with a couple of borrowed blankets.
Next morning I reported to B/HQ and saw Brigadier Briggs, 7th Arm. Dv.
I went back to Tunisia and saw Brigadier Keish. C. E. 8th Army and I followed his car and his staff Major on to Mechele after 15 miles we hit stony ground I could not keep the pace/staff major’s 15 cwt broke front spring so Brigadier went on alone. I was to go back with Major White. At that moment Mr Preston Bowls along with his ration truck behind.
I put B. S. A. up in lorry and rode behind. We went a hell of a pace over Rocky ground and I got mixed with the motorcycle & a forty-gallon drum of petrol and got off with a crushed big toe. We made Mechele at dusk. I was in pain with my toe.
Harry Owen was at Mechele with Captain Taylor going back to Bagush - I was not told why.
We set off on Tuesday morning Dec 23rd to go to Redegvous and arrived 20 miles from it that night. There was Mr Preston & a C. S. M. of Royal Artillery who Preston was giving a lift back to his unit. There was Smith Johnson & Shorter in “Eric”. (“Little by little” Ford) Brown (Preston Driver). Brown & Leedham & Boshoff, and I in Bedford and Boshoff’s ford.
We were lost until Xmas day - living on bully and biscuits and dirty water - and precious little of that.
On Xmas afternoon we met a convoy and followed it to Msus and arrived there mid afternoon and found no. 2 party (Mine). I handed over dispatch from C. E. 8th Army to C. E. 13 corps (rather late) and met Capt Wood talking to the Major. I told him in reply to his query that the Iti diesel was lost the first day out from Mechele - sump knocked clean away.
I had a wash and shave and Major sent me to have my toe dressed. He told me he was sending me back to Bagush with a New Zealander we had with us via R. A. S. C Convoy.
I had to Bivouac with New Zealander because Q hadn’t put tent up. I found the New Zealander was quite a nice fellow - he was handing over the mine detector to major and going back. He had alperman bivouac - I found it was easy to erect and was very warm. He was pleasant company - and from what he said I found out that he was English - only had his Pater - mother died when he was four. Had three other brothers - all in New Zealand - farming. His name was Jim Locke - his father in civvy R. N. (store keeper job). When 16 went to Bermuda - could not settle so joined his bros in N/Zealand, chucked up farming at 19 and became chippy - joined N. R. E’s on outbreak of war and came to England.
He said there was no money in farming and was glad that he became a carpenter. Also that he would not advise a fellow to go to colony to take up farming - one can farm in England and be more happy.
Boxing Day morning I went to Major and asked what was happening to me/he hit the ceiling and asked how the hell did I expect to go back. I turned away from him/I said goodbye to Kiwi - for I had got to like him even during our v/short acquaintance (He had intelligence and a gentle and quiet manner, and made a pleasant companion). Twist said he was sorry - I said it didn’t matter as I was quite looking forward to keeping with the section except that I wanted to be somewhere where I could have my toe dressed.
We set off to Fort Antelat and await orders. Meanwhile make an extension to drone.
My foot hurts. Move camp to drone at 3.30. Dominic came over at 4 but did nothing.
Sunday 28th December: Still at camp at Antelat awaiting instructions to move forward.
Heard from Q that 2 of our lads had heard on Radio that hellfire Pass Sollum & Bardia were still hanging out. Whee! And 40 miles away rages the frontline. I reckoned up how far we are from Bagush and find almost 600 miles across the blue/no wonder Taylor didn’t want to go back. Designed a stencil for No 2 Section.
Monday 29th December: Wrote more signs for R. A. F. DROMES. Major in bad temper.
Q. made a faux pas and got in bad books with whole section.
Tuesday 30th December: Wrote more signs. Read in evening. My toe is no better it hurts considerably when I have to walk on it.
Wednesday 31st December: New Year’s Eve - still no sign of C. S. M. of 658. A poor Xmas we have had. Wrote to Lawrence & Frank W. Packed at 10.00 and went back to Msus. Pitched camp at Msus.
Thursday New Year’s Day 1st January 1942: A very ordinary day. Bully diet continues.
No tea tonight - no water to be had. Asked Major Tolhurst just before he went back to find a new road to Mechele if he wanted me to go back when C. S. M. Palmer came he replied that he would rather I stay on.
Friday 2nd January 1942: Wrote an air graph home. Cut 2 stencils & Johnson & I stencilled 60 signboards.
Saturday 3rd January 1942: Did another 46 signs making 106 in all. (Mechele - Msus). Major returned from Mechele at 9pm. Bully for all meals! Major returned.
Sunday 4th January 1942: Still no sign of Taylor or C. S. M. We are still at Msus and seem likely to stay here for a short time. I wrote another two large signboards today - I seem to have changed my vocation. Oh Yeah?
Monday 5th January 1942: Q. with a section off to Mechele with all notice boards. We stop here.
Tuesday 6th January 1942: And still more signs.
Wednesday 7th January 1942: At 5.30 we start off for Antelat. We go ten kilometres
Thursday 8th January 1942: Q. catches us up - but has to leave our lorry behind — broken.
We arrive at Agadabia.
Friday 9th January 1942: We stop at Agadabia.
Saturday 10th January 1942: Seven C. R. 42 came over and bombed the drome. Five logs over five minutes after strafing - no damage.
Sunday 11th January 1942: We start off at 8 o’clock back to Antelat - Major Tolhurst invited me to ride in his lodge - for the first time for many weeks he was amiable once more. We came back thro’ two minefields - and across one which we were not sure about - it was indeed a sensation riding in front of a convoy - not knowing whether the next moment would be ones last - for the lodge had plenty of explosives in the back - hit a landmine and we should go sky high.
Ten miles from Antelat we met Sab Porter returning bringing along with him Captain Taylor and Major Brand - Driver Wagg now drives for the Major of 658.
It never rains but what it pours they say - here was Captain Taylor with N. A. A. F. I. stores & what should we meet two miles further on than a Mobile Canteen - Major Tolhurst spent 12 on Cigs: for the lads I bought 1’s worth.
Back at Antelat - we received our mail. Parcel - of last August from Wentworth. Air graphs from Mother, Eileen J. A. C, Hilda, and one from Sydney. Letter from mother & Lollie .B.
Major told me that I was going back to C. R. E. H. Q. I received notification that I was now full corporal w.e.f. last November 12th.
We were due to move tomorrow but Captain Taylor has yet to find Corps.
Gin Party - Q. Porter & I supped a bottle of gin.
Monday 12th January: Hanging around expecting to go back with Capt Taylor. Delayed until tomorrow. At dinnertime - 5.30. Colonel Chevis arrives and I make a poor impression - so I think. My fate hangs in the balance - heard Major had some bad news.
Tuesday 13th January: Major Tolhurst saw me before breakfast and told me I was going back - and that I had a chance of a third - that Fawcett was coming back to C. R. E. as Chief Clerk - Q. M. S. Rank. I learn Pickard is going back and know that Spr. Walls wishes to go back.
I must have an interview with the Colonel
Major lost his mother and so I am leaving this party to go on its way - beyond Agadabia - Assiat. I believe I am to go back to El Adam and find myself once more.
Wednesday 14th January 1942: Pickard doesn’t want to go back and is staying. We start off at 2 o’clock - the Colonel and Major Bavistock - driven by Worley and Durlord and self in Captain Taylor’s truck - captain Taylor riding behind with Major Brand - Puncture to mend
We push onto Soluch aerodrome and make Bengasi at 6 o’clock. Stay the night at R. A. Barracks. 2nd Puncture to mend.
Thursday 15th January 1942: All morning around Bengasi. Push onto Barce - passing thro’ lovely wooded country. For the first time I saw the Italian colonization - wonderbar! Reached Barce at nightfall. Puncture no 3.
Friday 16th January 1942: Colonel & Bavy go on alone. We follow - they make El Adam. By 6 o’clock - we only did 50 miles Spend night at Cirene - Lovely place - Old Roman ruins - in wonderful state of preservation. Seen from the top of hill. (Appolonia). Petrol trouble - it rained like hell all night - I had a most marvellous meal - Rissole, - potats, sauerkraut and sauce - rice pudding and tea -
Saturday 17th January 1942: Battery flat - had to tow 2 miles to start “Ballerina”. Got back to head quarters at 6 o’clock. Ballerina just made it. Four letters awaiting me when I got back.
Sunday 18th January 1942: Met almost everyone - nice to be back - nice to have decent food once more.
Monday 19th January 1942: Went to Q’s. He took nail from left great toe - much easier now.
Heard I am to work in office.
Here unfortunately is a break - due to the fact that the war is going all wrong in this part of the world.
So today is February 5th! What has gone before - tie up with El Adam! Well here it is - we left that godforsaken place two days ago. Feb. 3rd it would be. And journeyed back to Barrani.
On the night of the 1st or was it the 31st? Jerry or Jim came over and bomb and strafed us - rather an uncomfortable night for an hour but soon went to sleep again. Continued working in office and went to M. O. for Chest treatment.
Two pages deleted - synopsis:
From Barrain to Moascar in February - we set up an office.
Dobbie and I pay visits to town.
Dobbie of to Kilo 40 to Capt Chettoe.
Dick and I off to town.
Messing in sappers’ mess not so good.
Dobbie - Mahmond - N. A. A. F. I. and two rascals of waiters.
Three stripes and off to Cairo as Colonel’s clerk - very poor welcome from Q. M. S. Rees, he is certainly no gentleman.
Billet led at Abbassia I said that I would rather return.
Back once as Corporal.
Bob Fawcett returns as C/Clerk
Cinema at Moascar
A. S. C Coops joins unit.
Office moves to Kilo 40
Happy days in 658 mess. A day in Cairo every week.
Ray Dick Dobbie & I into town every weekend.
Cairo. At H. Q.
Richard Campbell Herod, Sgt Pilot Royal Canadian Air Force.
(Pieces cut out by me and censor.)
Transport interlude two.
My longest, and perhaps loneliest ride was in l941 in the Western Desert when I acted as a dispatch rider. The works section was camped between Mechele and Msus. Tolhurst, the
D. C. R. E. sent me with a dispatch to the Chief Engineer Advanced Air Striking Force, Brigadier Kisch, said to be stationed at or near Benghazi. It was the first "push", the first time the Eighth Army had captured thousands of Italians and had the German Army on the run. It appeared Twist wanted to know what the hell to do next, we were sat in the desert without any orders. Off I set on one of the two Company Matchless 350s. Wearing greatcoat, peaked hat, with leather revolver holster packing a spare company 38 with only six bullets, my rifle slung over my back with ten rounds in my pocket and a few biscuits and a tin of bully. Thus clad and mounted, I checked again the letter in my inside pocket and rode away into the desert in the general direction of Derna.
The machine behaved well. Towards evening, near Matuba, I stopped at the camp of a squad of Indian Sappers of 4th Ind. Div. They were delighted to feed me and seemed reluctant to wave me on my way. Next day in the late afternoon I rode into Derna to be greeted by air raid sirens I sat astride the bike in a once splendid tree lined avenue with large apartment buildings looking out on to a park.
A voice yelled from a second story window: "There's a shelter in the park just behind you". When I found it I wished I hadn't. The previous occupants had used it as a latrine. It was quite late when I eventually found the H.Q. and delivered my 'dispatch'.
That night, trying to sleep on a borrowed blanket on the floor of the sergeants' mess I thought of the journey that day. Of the utter loneliness of the situation, miles away on my own, on a motorbike in the Western Desert with Gerry and the Eyrie’s a few miles over the horizon. What would I have done had I come across a pocket of them left behind? Would they have surrendered to me or shot me out of hand to keep their position secret? With these thoughts in mind I dozed off.
The next morning the staff officer informed me that there would be no reply for me to take back. I was to follow the Brigadier's staff car - they were going over to see the D. C. R. E. Off we went. At first all went well, except I kept a respectable distance behind so as not to suffocate in the fine dust thrown up by the car. Miles later we reached an outcrop of rock, huge wedged shaped slabs angled one into the other to form a formidable surface of angled steps stretching on either side as far as the eye could see. The huge balloon tyres on the staff car allowed it to bounce slowly over the obstacle course. The Matchless bucked and bounced until it sat down on the edge of one great slab of rock from which position I had to wrestle it. This went on more times than I care to remember.
I sat there temporarily exhausted, watching the car drive off. I had just cleared the causeway when the staff car turned back and on reaching me Major White the S. O. yelled:
"Just a little, Sir, - had to pull the bike across that lot."
"O.K. just follow on as fast as you can, we must get on" and they drove away like greased lightning.
I didn't like his tone, I didn't really know why, so I muttered to my self, " I'll bet YOUR arse isn’t sore and YOUR balls don't ache!! "
A few miles further on we met the section truck returning with water barrels. It was arranged to put the bike on the truck. I got up to steady it. A mile or so later the truck struck a bad patch and one of the water barrels rose in the air and came crashing down on my toe. Alas I was wearing forbidden desert boots, we all did, but they didn't help save my toenail. I had a crushed toe for weeks after.
I had several more brushes with Army transport, once driving a three tonner belonging to the R. A. S. C. unit allocated to us for ration purposes I persuaded the driver to let me have a go. Always eager to put my foot down I got her underway and made the stupid mistake of steering across deeply rutted tracks in very deep sand near the beach at Sidi Barrani where we had a tiny camp. Going full pelt across such a hazard nearly upset us. We bounced so high in the air I lost control of the wheel the rations in the back were thrown out and the R. A. S. C. driver threatened to do the same to me. It was his truck and he made a meal of inspecting it, damn near every nut and bolt until I felt knee high to a worm.
In 1942 we were pulled out of the desert and the whole C. R. E. 2 Airfields organisation was posted to PAIFORCE in Persia. Before going the Adjutant managed to wangle a "buckshee” three ton truck and rather than allow the Brigadier to see it in the line up ready for the farewell salute Sergeant Foster and two others were detailed to drive out five miles on the canal road and wait for the convoy. Foster was known to the Brigadier and he actually asked where Foster was! Hurried excuses where made and the Brigadier was not fooled so easily, he sent his condolences and hoped he would soon be out of hospital!
Packed on the truck under tarpaulins were three motorbikes, yes you've guessed it, the three Matchless machines from 76, 77 and 78 Units.
As soon as we got across the canal we reached the new "ribbon " road recently constructed. I volunteered to ride one of the bikes all the way to Haifa. A thoroughly happy carefree ride. We had instruction not to halt on the road, as it was possible the weight of the heavy vehicles could punch through the very thin layer of bitumen mix laid as a carpet over deep sand. The next several days I had painful sores from sun blisters as large as half-crowns on the top centre of each thigh, which were not covered by my shorts.
After we left Haifa to wend our way across the lava desert into the Holy Land the bikes found their way on to the back of each section truck. The next slice of drama was the crossing of the old bridge across the Euphrates. I found myself in the cab of "waltzing matilda"
Transport was scarce in Persia; the three motorbikes were taken over by the officers as their trucks had been withdrawn. We walked in our spare time or used horse drawn "droshkies" to get us back to the billet at night.
By the time we moved in convoy down to Bushire and Ahvaz to enship for India I had learned not to volunteer my driving skills and travelled in comfort by the side of a driver in a solid three tonner.
We travelled across the Sind desert by train, a glorious journey that took ten days, and camped in commandeered rail coaches in Sialdah station at Calcutta eventually reaching Tripura, an enclave state in Bengal and set up shop. I had access to plenty of transport. Third line jeeps and clapped out A. J. S motorbikes were available all the time but there was no place to go. The only hairy experience I had was driving back to Agatarla one evening from the R. A. F. mess on the airfield I was coasting along driving by the light of a cloud shrouded moon - the headlights of the Jeep were covered in tin plates with a letter box hole cut in them - when suddenly I sensed something strange ahead. I rolled to a stop; thank God I did; I was drunk on Pabst beer and a few gins but not too cut to realise I had missed driving into ten feet of nothing. The heavy monsoon rains had swirled down a wadi and washed away forty feet of road.
In 1942 we had orders to transfer to PAIFORCE. This meant the whole C. R. E. 2 Airfields organisation mustering in Cairo and travelling by road convoy across the Suez Canal and making our way up the Sanii desert to Palestine into Jordan and Iraq and across into Persia. A really adventurous journey.
Before going the Adjutant managed to "wangle" a buckshee three-ton truck. As there was to be a send off parade and farewell salute in front of the Brigadier the Adjutant detailed Sergeant Foster and two others together with the three motor-bikes which were also to be smuggled out of Egypt under a tarpaulin on the three tonner to drive out miles on the canal road and await the convoy.
Sergeant Foster an old hand was known to the Brigadier as a boy soldier from the pre-war days in Chatham. He actually asked where he was. The Adjutant a brevet Major also from the same crowd mumbled hurried excuses. The Brigadier was not fooled so easily, he sent his condolences and hoped Foster would soon be well and out of hospital. As soon as we crossed the Canal we reached the new 'ribbon' road recently constructed. I volunteered to ride one of the motorbikes all the way to Haifa. A thoroughly happy carefree ride under the scorching sun. We had instructions not to halt on the road, as it was possible the weight of the heavy vehicles could punch through the very thin layer of bitumen mix laid as a carpet over deep sand. The next several days I had painful sores from sun blisters as large as half-crowns on the top centre of each thigh, which had not been covered by my shorts.
After we left Haifa to wend our way across the lava desert in to the Holy Land the bikes found their way into the back of each section truck.
We passed through Jerusalem, saw the cave where Christ was said to be buried/entombed after his crucifixion, Visited Nazareth and generally took a lazy time driving through the Holy Land, The officers were very intent on seeing as much as they could and this was all right with us.
The weird and wonderful drive through the maze of tracks through the desert of lava rock was an experience I shall always remember. The next slice of drama was crossing the old bridge of boats across the Euphrates. I found myself in the cab of "waltzing matilda "the Chevrolet tilt truck. The driver was a young chap, Clampton from Brum. A nice lad but a poor driver and very naive. The truck got its name because it roamed all over the place; the steering had a sick headache. The method for crossing the bridge was to drive slowly up to a ramp and drive over wooden sleepers placed on boats that had been lashed together. As each pontoon boat was reached it sank alarmingly under the weight of the vehicle. One had to keep a steady speed to allow for the seesaw motion of the pontoons as they took the weight of the vehicle in front. We were in the middle of the convoy and all seemed to be going well though we all must have felt apprehensive at crossing so great and wide a river in such a strange manner.
Young Clapton drove up the ramp, lined up the truck with great difficulty and then froze. He just sat there and I could appreciate how he felt. A vast expanse of swirling muddy brown water below, a rickety bridge with no parapet, only wooden 'sleepers' on a swaying pontoon bridge on which to drive; the other side of the river seemed miles away across that deep, deep dark water. " You drive Sarge,” he begged. I realised then he couldn't do it. But could I? I had to. He would not get out of the truck to change over. He was too scared to move. I had to clamber over him and push him back in to the passenger seat. I suffer from vertigo but there was no time to think of such things. I drove across with precision, at the right speed and scraped the wooden guide rail of the bridge not too often. I did it because it had to be done.
We had a good look around Baghdad but did not stay long, The Rashid troubles in Habbaniyia, the large Royal Air Force base in Iraq that had so recently seen a coup/rebellion made us move into Persia more urgently than we need have done. The whole convoy crossed into Persia at the border town of Kanahquin and moved up into Kermanshah where we parted company with 76 Section under Captain Chattoe, the rest of the convoy moving on to Hamadan (the old Echbatana of the bible). It was in Hamadan that we made our headquarters for the C. R. E. and where No. 78 Works Section under Captain Kassell staying in the area with the Lieut. Colonel Chevis the Commander Royal Engineers headquarters. The third works section No. 77 headed by Captain Tolhurst moved on to Takistan. It was during the journey in to Persia that we saw the marvellous rock carving of Bisitun, the work of King Darius the Persian warrior who was out manoeuvred by Alexander the Great and who lost the Persian Empire to Alexander.
THE PERSIAN ADVENTURE
Reza Khan, later to be called Reza Shah Pahlevi staged a coup in 1921 with British help to over throw the Qajar Dynasty, which had ruled Persia for several generations since the eighteenth century. Reza Khan had been a sergeant under the Army Commander His Highness Prince Abdul Hossain Mirza Farman-Farma.
In the early nineteen hundreds the Prince Commander acquired a German maxim machine gun - a prized possession. He needed someone to be in charge of this heavy weapon and cast his eye on a six-foot three huge illiterate sergeant serving in his household guard.
The Qajar Army Commander Prince promoted this saturnine man of savage temper and great ambition as an officer. He was known among the troops as Reza Khan-i-Maximi.
Over the years Reza Khan proved himself a brave and ambitious man. He was greatly feared but respected by the Royal Palace Guard regiment - he was also full of ambitious ideas for himself and for Persia.
In the autumn of 1920 the provinces were in disorder and the Qajar Shahs in disarray. In the north the New Soviet Union was gaining influence and the British Government needed to keep a grip on her interests in the oil rich country. Realising the army was a real power in Persia, Britain sent a famous soldier General Ironside to Tehran to find a candidate for the role of puppet dictator from amongst the military. General Ironside found his man, now a six-foot-three Colonel towering above his fellow officers in the superior classic Palace Guards, Reza Khan.
In the early hours of 21st February 1921 Reza Khan now promoted to the rank of general rode into Tehran with three thousand men. He was not resisted. He arrested the entire cabinet, confronted the young frightened Qajar King, Ahmad Shah, to appoint him commander of the armed forces. He installed a new prime minister, a liberal journalist named Sayyid Ziya Tabatabai, who had been pro-royalist during the civil war, pro-German in the Great War and by now opportunistically on the side of the British.
This new prime minister cockily started arresting many of the prolific Qajar nobles against whom he had a grudge. He arrested the eldest son of the Army Commander Prince Abdul Hossain Mirza, who had previously promoted Raza Khan from a sergeant to an officer. When the Prince went to Shiraz to Raza Khan's headquarters to plead for the release of his son Prince Nosratdoleh the new prime minister Sayyid Ziya was also present and arranged for the now old Commander Prince Abdul Hossain Mirza to be thrown into prison too.
The antics of Sayyid Ziya displeased Reza Khan and horrified the British by arresting too many highly placed Qajars who could not at this time be dispensed with; they were needed to assist Reza Khan to run the country and sort out the chaos that still existed in the provinces. Reza Khan asked the weak young Shah to appoint him War Minister and three months after the coup Sayyid Ziya was politely advised to resign and was given refuge in (British) Palestine.
The once ambitious army sergeant Reza Khan Maximi had other ideas. Now he wished to be the top man in Persia. In 1923 the ruling Shah, Ahmad Shah Qajar, at the request of the Majilis appointed Reza Khan Prime Minister, packed his bags and travelled to France in abdication, thus ending a century and a half of Qajar Rule.
Two years later in 1925 the Majilis set up a bill to end the Qajar dynasty and give the former gunner sergeant dictatorial powers. There was little opposition, only five members dared to protest against giving the prime minister supreme power. One was the nephew of the Commander Prince Addul Hossain Mirza Farman-Farma, a Dr. Mossadegh.
By the year 1926 Reza Khan took the surname "Pahlevi" and elevated himself by crowning himself as Reza Shah Pahlevi and sitting on the Peacock Throne.
From then on Reza Shah began building a strong army and establishing a firm base. He also established a large fortune and confiscated huge land holdings from the Qajar nobles. He also brought in legislation to modernise Persia and the people. In this he did much good and modernised Persia / Iran over the years up to the Second World War. The Government in London had been fairly pleased with their dealings with him in British interests in the oil fields around Abadan. As the European war moved towards the east, Germany invaded the Soviet Union in early 1941. The Persian government - Reza Shah - assured the Allies of his neutrality. Britain and Russia did not trust him to safeguard their oil supplies nor to guarantee Russia's supply route through Persia would not be cut off. In the early light of 25th August 1941 the Allies invaded Persia from the north and from the south.
The great new national Persian army that had been built up with vast amounts of money over the years Reza Shah had been in power, started to fall apart. By September Russian and Allied troops were strolling on the streets of the major cities. The Persian Army melted into the countryside and home. On the 16th September 1941 Reza Shah signed his rights away abdicating in favour of his son. He disappeared from the scene. The son. Mohammed Reza Shah was sworn in before the Majilis. The Allies installed themselves in major strategic Cities in Persia and Mohammed Reza Shah made every effort to placate their recommendations.
Thus was the state of affairs when we arrived in Hamadan in 1942.
Persia and India 1943.
Friday January 1st 1943: New Years day finds us still at Hamadan, 6,000 feet above sea level and a cold winter here and a much colder one ahead. It has been snowing a little and the day was cold.
To work as usual; almost a bad start because signals came along and started to install a telephone but eventually came back again and dismantled all their work.
Had very quiet evening in the mess: all the N. C. Os except Foster went to the Cinema in town and the remainder sat around the stove reading and listening to the Radio. I started a good book called Spanish House and am anxious to finish it. Listened to some good continental music for a short time. Owen returned from Kermanshah the day before and stays here until Captain Chettoe or his F. 0. F. W. returns back to Takistan.
Saturday January 2nd 1943: Not quite so cold today. A little official mail from Teheran. Received a letter from Alan telling me what a hell of a place and what a shower 21 Corps seemed to be too much of a change for him. Rather a dirty trick on A. J. R. Hill’s part.
The pond is frozen over (the pond en face to the office) and Dobby, having tested it well for the past few days decided to slide across it. It held quite firm and everyone became more brave and dared to walk across it.
Read more of “Spanish House” - getting quite interesting.
Sunday January 3rd 1943: Today very busy in the office in the morning. Imprest Account, Strength Returns, Field Returns, Despatching - all make one very busy. Frisbach gave me a calendar diary - then said to Kenneth that he had intended it for the drawing office - thus causing a certain amount of bad feeling - I must “see” friend Frisbach in the morning.
Saw Frisbach and obtained a further calendar memo pad - he seemed only too willing!
Wrote letter to Frank and to Campbell Herod in afternoon. Have to bed very early.
Monday January 4th 1943: Still very busy at work. Plenty to do. Arrange to go to see Josephine in the evening. Preparations many and varied: shave: spruce up: collect photographs to show the family.
Leonard and I arrive at Josephine’s house, and enjoy a merry evening. Dance to the gramophone (each dancing in turn with José or dancing with Sandy). Play bridge afterwards. Jose’ partnered Dobbie and I Sandy who was relieved by his mother. We won the three games played.
Returned home at 11 o’clock. Everyone in bed. Doors locked! For 15 or 16 minutes we throw snow balls packed with twigs at the window. Richard (who claims to be a light sleeper is fast asleep) damn! At last by repeated efforts at the Sapper’s window we wake up Bill Blyth who lets us in.
A very nice evening.
Tuesday January 5th 1943: Still very busy at work: long report on progress. Typed without one error!
Mess meeting in evening. Rather short. Dalgelty becomes mess caterer. Taala becomes Bar Caterer.
Read book by Stacpoole. Off to bed at 9.30. Stove going very well. Wind has changed direction.
Wednesday 6th January 1943: Not quite so bust at work. Heard we may get 6 No. M. T.
R. A. F. Drivers.
Evening to cinema. First we all three Richard Dobbie and self have our haircut: the hairdresser didn’t make a very good job of it. Late for cinema, but saw main part of feature - a Russian film about Lenin and the last war and Russian Revolution. Russian dialogue of course. Some of the shots were real good and the characterisation of beer drinkers in a beer cellar were excellently done. The montage effects were perhaps a little slow and “laboured” but one certainly has to hand it to the Russians who seem to have a technique of their own.
We came back with Q. M. S. Fawcett, Ken Foster and George Dalgelty: we remembered that on passing the IRAN Hotel there were vehicles outside and guarded by two Yankee swadees who seemed to take the patrol seriously they prowled over the convoy with loaded Tommy guns. We decided on a little “bull shit” the six of us marched in perfect step past the convoy. Just before we reached it however, we past three Indians who seemed to enter in the spirit of the affair and fell in behind - we knew but the three seniors in front didn’t and so we marched most of the way past the convoy in good style. At last Ken looked round and was disgusted when he realised what had happened and he immediately fell out to the edge of the road - we were convulsed with laughter.
Much warmer tonight. Had a double whiskey and lime and fell to sleep in a chair: awoke and went to bed.
Thursday January 7th 1943: Fairly steady day at work; at 3.30 I roamed down town and took my shoes to be repaired; my gloves to be repaired - three days time - for tomorrow Hamadan Census takes place and all business will be at a stand still.
It was quite a change to go down Hamadan on one’s own - the town seemed quieter somehow - the weather looked threatening and it was slushy and muddy underfoot. A drink in the coffee shop and so home to dinner.
Finished H. de Vere Stacpoole’s book and so to bed.
Friday January 8th 1943: Very little to report: very ordinary day - except weather looks a little more threatening.
Saturday January 9th 1943: Busy enough day. To town in the evening to have a bath. No hot water so the 3 of us adjourn to the coffee shop to await the water getting hot. We go back in half an hour and then have to wait for almost another hour until the water gets hot. Quite warm walking back although it is trying hard to snow.
Sunday January 10th 1943: A good deal of snow fell during the night - 8 or 9”. Not on duty at work - so off down town to fetch shoes from repair and also gloves. Dobbie and I go down together. Very slushy under foot coming back. Evening in mess - trying to read: early to bed.
Monday January 11th 1943: Ordinary day at work: Wind blowing very hard - snow still here and fairly cold. Six RAF MT drivers arrived in afternoon - they stayed and Rest camp and it was arranged for them to put up in the billet tomorrow. Read a little in the evening - could not get interested in the book - watched ‘em play bridge - Richard went five hearts and lost five tricks - doubled! No mail today. Two whiskies and so to bed.
Tuesday January 12th 1943: Strong wind blowing - reaches gale force - windows rattle and snow drifts across the fields - biting wind and flurrying snow make walking difficult and unpleasant. No mail again. Six RAF blokes have interview with Colonel. Area Commander goes round to billet with C. R. E. and Q. M. S. Fawcett to inspect - everything O.K. although the old man tells Bob that the billet could be more tidy - said it looked “scruffy”. We have two R. A. F. fellows in our room.
Wednesday January 13th 1943: This evening Leonard and I go to Josephine’s. We were rated for not going before and made very welcome. Usual tea and cakes and afterwards we danced until eleven o’clock.
The Dr.’s wife asked me to call on George Penman and Victor Nickolas and ask them if they would like to join a party on January 23rd. We said we would call on Sunday the 17th and let them know on Tuesday the 19th. It was arranged to ask Mr. Villum Hausen (our Aerodrome Section Engineer) and his wife and also Mr. Hormstäätt (Colonel Hill’s Section Engineer) & his wife. We look forward to a very nice supper party on Saturday 23rd January. We were not locked out this time.
Thursday January 14th 1943: Busy at work. Making out Pay etc. To town in evening to take a bath. The Colshon baths are closed and the other bath looks much too dirty. Coffee and cakes. And finish up playing dominoes and listening to the Radio in the Shafagh Hotel.
Friday January 15th 1943: Town out of bounds from 5 o'clock tonight as the locals start making whoopee beginning their local “Xmas”. They are Mohammedans and it is said they run amok, tearing their hair and clothes and scratching themselves and when they get really worked up - stabbing the nearest person to them - preferably a Christian if they can lay their hands on one.
[Little did I know about the Shiah]
Read “No Walls of Jasper”. by Joanna Cannan and drank two whiskies and so to bed.
About 12.30 I was awaken by Richard who came to bed. We talked for a little while and he got into bed and didn’t say much more so I presumed he was tired (he was violently sick ½ hour afterwards. 1/3 of a bottle of whiskey was the cause).
Saturday January 16th 1943: Town still out of bounds. One drink and so to bed.
Sunday January 17th 1943: Afternoon off. Richard, Dobbie and I decided to settle our argument about water running up hill.
We finished dinner (on Sundays we have dinner at noon) and went around to the office - collected the level - (dumpy) and the staff. Five minutes brought us to the cause of the argument and we set out the doings. The level was not quite correct - (very difficult to set, the bed on the tripod was not true) but it was not sufficient to cause any real variation; far too infinitesimal. Richard took the first reading Leonard holding the staff on the surface of the water from point “A”.
I checked the reading, which was 16.60cms. Leonard then proceeded to point “B” and the reading was 24.60cms. The next reading from C was 23.40cms, which I also checked. Dick accused Leonard of holding the staff up side down and so I took the staff to point “B” and we obtained a similar reading because Leonard had the staff the right way up after all - (he should have - he’s a draughts man).
Dick began to work it out and attempted to Bamboozle me on figures - saying that it rose - 1 yard in the 60 that I had paced from A to B - (I took 68 paces, but as I don’t pace quite a yard I considered it would be nearer 60). Eventually we worked out the figures, which resulted in a decision that the river-stream actually dropped a 1 yard in 60.
I won fifty rials that I had gambled with Leonard and bought drinks to the tune of 48 of it.
Water does not run uphill.
This testing the water business took about half an hour, after which we took the tackle back to the office and I visited C. R. E. 115 mess (now C. R. E. 29).
Here I had a great surprise I went to invite Penman and Nickolas to Dr. Khanashu’s for supper on Saturday evening. I found that Penman was away in Teheran. This is what Nickolas told me: “Penman went to Teheran early in the New Year and went into the continental “blotto”. He insulted an officer who dealt with him leniently at first but who put him under close arrest when Penman repeated his insults. On January 9th Penman was court-martialled and the finding was that he remained Q. M. S. (W. O. II) but the date of probation started from January 9th i.e. He has nine mouths to do before he becomes war sub again. Called on Endy who was out; left a note to say I would call in the week.
Monday January 18th 1943: Went down town for a bath. Coffee shop as usual. Cinema closed. Home to bed at 9.30.
Tuesday January 19th 1943: To Josephine’s tonight. Cliff gave me a letter (sent from Kermanshah) to give her. Took ½ kilo of chocolates Played bridge for an hour then danced. It was decided that José would ring up on Friday and say if Saturday night was O.K.
Wednesday January 20th 1943: Night in mess - off to bed early. Stove burns well these days.
Thursday January 21st 1943: Down town for a haircut. Bought various items - hair lotion - boot polish - then coffee in the Mina café.
Left Dick and Dobbie and called on Endy who was in the library - busy. We talked business for half an hour and then I breached the subject of a dance for our boys. Endy said she would approach the Hammands, Barister, Hormstäätts etc and get all the gen on the Persian club. And let me know next Thursday. She invited me round on Friday evening to minced meat pies and coffee but I had to refuse. O. C Hamadan and Chavarin people were to be there. I didn’t feel in a very sociable mood.
Friday January 22nd 1943: Slack at the office. Sent a note to Clifford Coops. Dick, Dobbie and self down for a bath; a quick one & straight to the cinema - cowboy serial - I expected it would be a bore but somehow it was so ridiculous but packed with action that it held an interest somewhat.
Met Youska who looked half starved ten rials made him much happier.
Called on Jose on way back.
Invited for tomorrow evening although the others were not expected to be there
Very strong wind blowing and very difficult to walk up main road. I was tired out when I had struggled almost the two miles to the mess.
A single and orange and so to bed.
Saturday January 23rd 1943: Lazy day in office. Heard that Full Sergeant should come off O.K. Dobbie and I went to Josephine’s. Nickolas rang to say he couldn’t get due to pressure of work (now poor young Holden has gone, then Penman, he is having more work to do than he has ever done before).
Played bridge for an hour - lost the rubber - want three hearts & was 3 down, my partner put me up to 2 hearts on the bare 7!!!
Dancing in rubber shoes was very hard on the Persian carpet. Discussed the possibility of organising a dance for the Sergeants. Rather tired and almost glad when I got into bed.
Sunday January 24th 1943: Busy morning: Afternoon on duty; feel too idle to write letters. Messed around and sketched.
Monday January 25th 1943: Busy day in the office. Heard that my “Sergeant” had come through but I couldn’t be made up until posted to a works section. Wrote to Cliff about records.
Early to bed.
Tuesday January 26th 1943: Still busy in office. Josephine rang today asking when we could go down to see her again - promised to go on Saturday night. George not yet back from Kms.
Wednesday January 27th 1943: Down town to night to get out of the mess a little - want to see Endie & got a letter of introduction: still busy at work: Fellows coming in from O/S: mess now full of people. - George brought me ten records back from Kermanshah. Taylor sent up 10 and asked 350 for the lot. Looking forward to Saturday night
Thursday January 28th 1943: Asked for 600 rials this week nearly had a row over it. Went to Cinema saw the same blasted film! However we shall go next week.
Friday January 29th 1943: Still no mail, as busy as busy can be in office. To town; Richard bought a watch. “Chronometer” which the watchmaker insisted no cleaning while we waited.
Had a bath.
Dobbie in better mood.
Saturday January 30th 1943: To Josephine’s; took her the records. Only 4 are a real success. Two are lousy! Had a very nice evening. Came away at 11.30, to go again next Saturday.
Chatted with Dobbie all the way up. Some walk! Very tired and so to bed. Had a letter from Alan.
Sunday January 31st 1943: Very busy morning; always is. Richard & Dobbie went to church.
Busy all afternoon on conservancy, sewing on buttons, mended my bed, did all manner of small jobs. Town out of bounds from today until next Thursday! Something on? Turkey?
Heard about Roosevelt & Churchill meeting at Casablanca!
Read and so to bed.
Monday February 1st 1943: Heard Dobbie gets full Corporal when I get my Sgt. but still no news.
Tuesday February 2nd 1943: Went to Endie’s. Lt. Colonel Stafford; Signals and his major also to dinner. The officers “unbent” after a time and we all had a very nice evening.
Wednesday February 3rd 1943: Busy at work. Looking forward to C. E. Lath Army giving the O.K. for my promotion.
Thursday February 4th 1943: To Cinema to see 3rd episode of “The Lone Ranger”.
Friday February 5th 1943: Put my three tapes up on my overcoat and B/Blouse. Full sergeant. Write home to mother a letter card.
Saturday February 6th 1943: To Josephine’s tonight. Dobbie and I first went to the hospital to see part of the cinema show - full so walked round to Josés. Played bridge - won 4 hands - José and I played José’s mother and Leonard.
They didn’t recognise we had been promoted until we started dancing.
Home at 11 59 hrs exactly. Very tired.
Sunday February 7th 1943: Up a little later. Gave Cook implicit instructions of how to make teacakes for Sunday tea. Cook balled ‘em up - made a sponge cake mixture.
To town in evening. Bath and spent an hour over a bottle of dry wine in the Rashwan Hotel.
Wrote to Alan about his move.
Wrote to Pat - three pages - but it must not be posted for four days.
Monday February 8th 1943: Should have afternoon off but John (Taala) Hennah had to go to Sultanabad with a lorry load of wheat so have tomorrow off instead.
Tuesday February 9th 1943: Busy in office.
Wednesday February 10th 1943: Went to Josephine’s at night: Had a real wonderful time. Arrange to go on Saturday Feb. 20th as Jose is off to Teheran for a holiday.
Thursday February 11th 1943: To town this afternoon. Shopping. Walked through miles of Bazaars - real Persian bargains. To Endie’s in the evening - tete á tete.
Friday February 12th 1943: To town. Bath. Cinema (free - no one in pay box to take money). Freude und Arbeit.
Saturday February 13th 1943: Started darts match. (Freude und Arbeit)
Sunday February 14th 1943: Town out of bounds so just talked in mess. Dobbie repaired his bed.
Monday February 15th. Wrote to Peter Clark and to J. A. C. Six tins of State express tobacco arrived.
Move into room with John Hennah and Tom Cook. Dobbie in with Ken and Bob. Whilst our room has the floor repaired.
Tuesday February 16th 1943: Only a few of us in the mess these days. Works on the bedrooms floors going well; Mr. Strong making big improvements.
Lively arguments in the mess - enjoyable. Stanley Williams is lucky enough to get a trip down to Cairo with the Colonel and the adjutant.
At 12.45 Tuesday, Captain Hatcher came in to wish us goodbye, he said he would make the best of the job in Cairo - (he will get his majority out of it) and that he hated leaving 2 C. R. E. after being with it so long (3 years). We in turn said that we hated him going, and I said that I hoped to see him again soon. He shook hands in turn and it was agony for him to not show emotion - and the same for us!
Wednesday February 17th 1943: Colonel Chevis, Captain Hatcher, S/Sgt. Williams, Driver Blyth & Driver Cowburn set off for Cairo via Baghdad.
In the evening we made a folding chair to Ken Foster design. Jack Strong proved what he knew about carpentry - made a good show. Tommy Cook put up some shelves and to me, it seemed that he has been a rather rougher type of worker than Sgt. Major Strong.
Wrote to John.
Thursday February 18th 1943: Dobbie is going on the trip to Basra in Ken Foster’s place, lucky young devil - I could have gone if there had been more clerks in the office. I should have enjoyed the trip.
Dozed off on evening - wrote a draft to Frank and went to bed. Wrote to Eileen.
Friday February 19th 1943: Moved into Reg Brice’s old room - the floor isn’t quite hard yet but I put hessian on the floor and we put our beds on 8” brick squares. - 64 square inches will not make the floor as would iron feet of my bed and the pointed feet of Dobbie’s bed. Very comfortable. Bath in evening. (Freude and Arbeit)
Saturday February 20th 1943: Reg Brice returned last night with the three drivers and two trucks. Only one egg for Breakfast: Stan Pickford forgot to purchase me 50 eggs yesterday.
Sgt. Major Strong, Cpt. Dobson, Driver, LAC Caldicott and Driver Clephan left for Basra, picking up L. A. C Hadingham at Kms.
Bob Fawcett and Ken moved in with me whilst the floor of their room is re-muttied
Sunday February 21st 1943: Went down town in afternoon with Ken and Bob. They went for a bath while I looked around shops. Went shopping in Bazaar. Called for Hats but only George Dalgelty’s was finished - not a bad effort.
In evening after tea decided to go to cinema - showing a Russian film (war) quite a good effort. About 8 o’clock I was sat in the cinema when two M. Ps told me the town was out of bounds to all troops. They had my name and number & unit but as I told them we had no notification they implied that I should hear no more about it.
Called on C. R. E. 29. Sergeants on the way home. They had reinforcements in that very day. Notchy Knight, Bailey, Hickman, are the only original members. Nickolas has gone to Kermanshah to Major Reed. Q. M. S. Hill now taken over. Lance Sgt. Robertson is in
D. C. R. E.! (Dexter) office. They have two Lance Corporal clerks and two more staff sergeants - one a friend of Mc Neil’s.
Bailey told me that he expected a direct commission within a couple of weeks and that Penman may get posted to 111th workshop and Park Coy C. E! My first company!
Monday February 22nd 1943: Town out of bounds so cannot see Josephine: not many in the mess so have a lazy and comfortable chair in which to read Robert. C. de Soe’s “The Devil Thumbs a ride” - very good little novel.
Tuesday February 23rd 1943: Town still out of bounds — again. I cannot go to see Josephine! Damn!
Dalgelty after humming and ‘arhring’ let me have a pair of battle mess trousers.
Not many in mess early to bed. Had to move the bed roof leaking like hell.
Wednesday February 24th 1943: Awoke to tune of drip-drip-drip. Roof leaking very badly. Had to dodge raindrops when washing and shaving. Each room upstairs exactly the same.
Got to office and found the G. E’s room “swimming” with water. Coming in two places in the general office; drawing office only in two places — C. R. E. room not a drop!
Damn these Persian builders, and their mutt flat, roofs!
Thursday February 25th 1943: McNeil - the S/Sgt. Mechanist turned up today with Captain Young from Sultanabad. Manchester is his home.
Piss up in the evening. Mac drank himself sick. Young Stevenson L. A. C. drank whiskey and port mixed neat, and in trebles! Johnnie Hennah tight for the first time for long time. Fos and I danced a minuet to the radio. (Had a letter from Alan.)
Went down town and had a bath. & m. Freude and Arbeit!
Friday February 26th 1943: The Colonel still away at Baghdad. Mr. Bryte paid us out today & read the riot act to us and also a pamphlet about conservation of rubber.
Saturday February 27th 1943: Went and saw Josephine in the evening - she had just returned from Teheran and was still travel stained when she met me she excused herself and came back looking gay and refreshed from her toilet. We sat talking for an hour - Sandy, got bored and sloped off and the doctor’s wife disappeared.
Jose and I had a lovely time dancing together for two hours - although we forgot to dance for a long time . . . . . . ..
A long way to come back very lovely walk but very inspiring.
Sunday February 28th 1943: On duty this afternoon. Wrote a long letter to Frank. (Copy kept). To town in evening with Bob to have a bath and a coffee. Found a new coffee shop, which is not well known yet as we spent a quite half hour without rowdy troops pouring in & out.
Monday March 1st 1943: Have a heck of a cold. Harry Owen came in from Takistan to work in H.Q.
Tuesday March 2nd 1943: Town again out of bounds. Learnt that S/Sgt. Hickman of C. R.E. 29 had died of Typhus (infection by lice) and was thoroughly startled and surprised.
Wednesday March 3rd 1943: Town still out of bounds. Talks and chats in mess
Thursday March 4th 1943: Town out of bounds. Radio - good music.
Friday March 5th 1943: Dobbie came back from Basra having lost his cap - and spoon - and looking fit & well but browned off.
Saturday March 6th 1943: Went to see Josephine with Leonard. The house servant told us they were not in and tried to inform us in Persian that they had all gone to the Baths. We went to the cinema and saw. Having a Jolly good Time. With Ginger Rogers & Douglas Fairbanks - junior. Came home somewhat disappointed.
Sunday March 7th 1943: Dobbie & I went to town in afternoon. Walked around and I went to see if I could find the sword stick in the Bazaar - I found the place all right but the Persian told me he would have one to show me in two days time.
We went for a bath but full of Levies - Dobbie would not wait but I had a bath and was half and hour late for tea, which was a good one.
Mess meeting in the evening. Ken Foster became Bar Caterer & Harry Owen took on mess Caterer.
Talked all evening and sat talking to Mac until 11.45.
Monday March 8th 1943: Went round to Endy’s place and had supper. Mrs. Hormstäätt was there, Miss Winckleman and Dr. Zeckler. John Michael Rippengald arrived about seven and although I didn’t recognise the name I wondered who he was and I suddenly realised who he really was!
Had a very interesting talk.
Rang up Amiri Garagazlon and arranged to see him some time on Wednesday. But I will ring him to fix exact time.
Tuesday March 9th 1943: Lazy day in the office nothing much to do. The Colonel is still away. Learnt that Colonel Hill has gone and that Trott has taken his place & become Lt Colonel. John Hennah is going out to S. T. B. with a section (76) very soon.
Wednesday March 10th 1943: A most momentous day!
Morning: - Carried blankets down to M. E. Coy and disinfestoned ‘em. Stopped down all the morning and helped Kenneth and Dobbie to do all the unit blankets. Felt particularly lousy after all this and required a bath.
Rang up Amiri and arranged to meet him.
Afternoon: Went and had a bath.
Called at the Governor’s house and saw Garagazlon. Had a long discussion which lasted all afternoon, Mr. Avonesk was called in and we arranged about the dance, the preliminary arrangements whereby we hire the Boshgar etc. were made.
Evening: S/M Strong and S/Sgt. Cook decided that it would be a good thing to initiate a “Cardinal Puff”. S/Sgt. Foster was the Senior Cardinal but as he was attending to the Bar he let Cook become chairman and S/M Strong as second Cardinal. He went through all the ritual and I volunteered to be first aspirant. I failed on several things but as I became tight - (I could feel myself getting drunk, each time a mistake is made one has to drink two whiskeys and pay for the Cardinal’s drinks.) I made stronger efforts to do the whole thing correctly and passed. I became very tight and almost got expelled from the Cardinal Puff circle I smashed the stew of my pipe and eventually went to bed.
Thursday March 11th 1943: Had a terrible morning. At eleven o' clock I felt quite ill and had a very bad hangover. Recovered in afternoon and felt better.
Friday March 12th 1943: Went to town. Bought a pair of brown shoes. 400 Rials! (£3/4/6). Had a bath and so home to bed.
Saturday March 13th 1943: Had a special mess meeting in the evening to decide the possibilities of running the dance. It was decided that a dance was the unanimous decision of all members. I informed the mess in general of what the Boshgar would cost and of the difficulties one had in inviting the Europeans and other nationalities to the same dance.
Sgt. Owen suggested inviting all American girls and as this suited my plans most admirably I recommended his motion - I shall invite the Hausens and José.
Called on Josephine in the evening she was in bed with a temperature with a doctor in attendance - who said she would be normal again in three or four days time.
Met Rippengald and had a short chat.
Home to bed at 9.45.
Sunday March 14th 1943: Snowing this morning. Mac went up on the roof in his pyjamas and fiddled about with the chimney. He came down and lit the stove and there was a roar and a flash of flame four feet long from the stove - the carbonious gases had collected in the stack pipe and thus the blowback covering the room with soot.
Monday March 15th 1943: Went to cinema with Dobbie. Saw a Buck Jones film. Went to fetch my brown shoes from the shoemaker’s
Had to sleep downstairs in living room water pouring in, in my bedroom. Dobbie had to sleep downstairs to and so did all the drivers.
Mac and Harry Owen stayed up in the bedroom but got very little sleep owing to the continual drip-drip, splash - splash - plonk - plonk of the water drips.
Freude und Arbeit.
Tuesday March 16th 1943: Not raining in the General Office; rain coming through the G. E’s room and in the drawing office. Cleared a little in afternoon and sun shone quite brilliantly.
Chatted with John Strong in the evening about design and interior decoration.
So bed upstairs.
Wednesday March 17th 1943: John Hennah left for Stb to join and actually form 76
R. E. W. S. Jasper let the cat out of the bag in talking about works sections G.1098 When he said it was possible Owen would be switched for me in 78 R. E. W. S.
What’s been going on? Has some one been “getting at” Jasper to try and get Owen into 78 section and put me with Twist again?
Went with Leonard to see Josephine who was up for the first time, the fever had left her with a pale face and she lacked the “joie de vivre” that she always had. We did not stay long but said we would go on Monday and José arranged to ring me up on Monday morning, and let me know it if was convenient; if not Tuesday evening.
Billet still leaking so slept in large mess room.
Thursday March 18th 1943: Had to move down into Simon’s office and the Colonel moved into Hausen’s office.
Had a row with Harry Owen who acted most childishly over my placing a chain near to his desk.
Type the Colonel a questionnaire paper - stencils (4) and duplicated 20 copies.
Friday March 19th 1943: Went to call on Garagazlon: not in - he had gone to Qom for the New Year festival.
Called on Anto next who was out too. Had a bath and went to Russian Café. Bill Blyth and
L. A. C. Curtis came in bought them their coffee - chatted for a while and came to home with them.
Saturday March 20th 1943: Cinema show at 20 B. S. S. Hospital. The three stooges and Joan Bennett and Franchote Tone in “She knew all the answers.” Good show. Bailey & Notchy Knight gave me a lift in their “droskhi”. Colonel and all the officers were there.
Sunday March 21st 1943: Busy morning. On duty in afternoon. Designed two air graph Birthday Greeting cards - one for mother and one for Sydney.
Monday evening, March 22nd 1943: Dobbie and I proceeded to Josephine’s: called in at the Boshgar on the way and saw the janitor (one Jon or John) and enquired of the vice-president.
Also remembered I had left my scarf and asked for it and Jon gave it to me.
Eventually found that Ameri was still here in Hamadan.
Called on Ameri: found Major Hobbins there, the governor of Hamadan and a third person - whose name I didn’t catch (probably some government official or large land owner - his opinion was sought in many matters). [This turned out to be “The Saad Akram”]
Finished of my business with Garagazlon and promised to see him later. Left them discussing price of bread.
Visited Josephine - Dr. Kuanishu came in and said good evening.
José is still weak and the fever has left her so thin. However she is looking forward to the dance at the Boshgar on Wednesday evening and hopes to go. Promised to go again on Saturday.
Slept downstairs in the mess room, as upstairs is still very damp and wet.
Monday evening & bed.
Tuesday March 23rd 1943: Wrote an air letter to mother. Sleeping downstairs in mess room again. Talked, drank, listened to John Strong shooting the line about Basra, Bahrein, Kuwait etc and went to bed.
Wednesday March 24th 1943: Had the afternoon of and went down town. Called on Avonesk but he was not in: took my pipe to be repaired but all the shops were shut: went to the bazaar to collect my sword - stick but all the bazaars were closed.
Decided to call on Madame Cohenga or (Cuenca) but didn’t know where she lived, decided to ask the Turk but his shop was closed; decided to ask Seinon or Ria in the Russian Café, but drew a blank; went and saw our friend the haymaker who was open and who sent his domestique to show me the way. Went at the back of all the bazaars and eventually came upon Madame Cuenca’s “L’Ecolo d’Israelite”.
Found her busy entertaining friends from Teheran, but amid conversation spasmodic though it was, I invited her to the dance, and, as neatly as possible, although it did seem very clumsy I managed to borrow her 20 records.
I made my adieus and left promising to ring her up later.
Pauline Navarro, her niece or protégé was much more charming, and was indeed rather amiable.
Had a coffee in the Mena Café and up to mess for dinner.
Dobbie and I to cinema in evening to see Russian film re Revolution last 1919. Jasper there - he stood at the back.
Called in the café en face to Mena for supper.
Thursday March 25th 1943: Busy in office all morning typing. Busy until three o’clock with class B account. It is now almost finished; at three Bob and Harry went up to mess to pistol practice.
At 3.55 Harry came to relieve me and I went and shot off 12 rounds. First 6 - full six. 2nd shot I was too eager to be fast on the draw and only got one bull.
In the evening instead of covering the lanterns, which Mac had made for the dance, I had to leave them because we decided not to use the paper streamers in the mess but purchase some down town. I came back to the office and had to knock knock-knock but could not get a reply. The two stupid old night watchmen were almost asleep and I climbed over the compound wall. - I climbed the tree outside the office gate and spread the branches over until they touched the wall I made my way across these and gained the wall and dropped down to the other side. I had to leave my jerkin behind but I nearly frightened the life out of the two chowkidars. Should have soundly chastised them had they have been younger men but I was in so bad a temper I just yelled and raved for a full minute and shook them into life by more abuse of bad language.
Friday March 26th 1943: To town. Bath night. Snowing like anything. Freude und Arbeit.
Saturday March 27th 1943: Night in the mess. Rather Dull - “no booze”
Sunday March 28th 1943: Went with S/M Strong and Dobbie to see Madame Cohenga at the L‘Ecole de’ Aliance only Pauline Navarro was at home - but she promised the loan of records and gramophone.
Called and saw if my swordstick was done - not done.
Tea at 5.
Owen elected to go to Basra to hand over truck to Major Kassell.
Monday March 29th 1943: Leonard came with me when I went to the consulate to invite Major Hobbins and his partner.
The A. C. O accepted but asked for an invite for Colonel Fletcher and for his A. D. C, Lieut. something or other. M/Hobbin’s also asked if we had invited Sadar Akram Garagazlon - the Governor of Hamadan.
I said I would send along an invitation.
Went to see Amiri Garagazlon he was not at home but we waited and in the meantime chatted to his partner. Amiri returned at 9 o’clock and we fixed up everything.
Went to Josephine’s and got scolded for being late: Dr. Kuanishu & Mrs. Kuanishu & Josephine accepted for the dance.
Passed 3 M. P. on the way home.
Tuesday 30th March 1943: Down town to see Avonesk: not in - to go tomorrow. Down town to have bath - Colshon Bath closed but another “Hammam” at the back of the Colshon on a side street was open.
Home at 9.30.
Wednesday 31st March 1943: Harry Owen let us down; he promised 20 partners for the dance but not one of them will now turn up.
Talk of cancelling the dance. Fawcett was agreeable to cancelling the dance there and then I refused to listen to such talk and immediately wrote to Endie and asked her to bring Gertrude - a rotten trick - very low, for I had not intended to invite her or Gertrude because we were having booze etc.
Sent off Sada Akram’s invitation.
S/M Strong fetched the records from the L’Ecole d’Aliance. Le de Israelite
Thursday April 1st 1943: Went to work, looking forward to the dance. Everyone feverishly preparing their toilet and making themselves look so very smart.
I got to the Bashgar about 7.20 and everything looked so very well. Mac. Had the radiogram fixed up and the spot light over the unit Crest. The hall looked very cosy and inviting.
Captain Routley arrived with Mrs. and Jean Bannister, Touiance (the manager of the Oil Company) brought his lady friend, and the Colonel arrived with Mrs. Hammond. I was beginning to get hot under the collar and eventually Jose and her mother and father (Dr. Kuanishu) arrived. Josephine looked charming and her mother looked very nice indeed have dressed her hair Edwardian Fashion (upwards).
Hobbins arrived with his stooge Lieut. Grouse & Sada Akram [Said Akhram] Garagazlon (The Governor of Hamadan). The Governor did not bring his wife and daughters and I was beginning to get upset. Endy and Gertrude did not turn up Madame Cohenga and Pauline Navorro did not turn up and I thought it was going to be a complete flop.
However Amiri Garagazlon and his uncle decided - upon the instigation and prompting of Dr. Kuanishu to fetch Mdme Garagazlon and her two daughters. They came - Blyth fetched them in the car and they had a good time.
Everyone was happy, but due to the fact that so few ladies were present a good many had a little more drink than was good for ‘em and Jasper Routles and Ken Foster were rather soaked. Tommy Cook was sozzled but behaved himself like a gentleman - in fact he was supporting Jasper half the time. Jasper went and knocked the stove pipes down - everyone had a good laugh.
The C. R. E was rather a sm’oggle at the end - no one did it correctly.
Leonard & I walked up home. Leonard - actually quite a little gentleman was rather disgusted with the end when one or two got too tight.
Friday April 2nd 1943: Everyone had hangovers. Some had to have T. A. B. re inoculations. The Colonel was in a good mood more over he said to Mr. Strong that we may run another dance.
Saturday April 3rd 1943: Leonard left for Takistan to take over from Perham while he has leave. A letter from Endy saying she was sorry she could not come to the party. Had an inoculation for T. A. B.
Lovely day - I think the snow has finished now - all the Persian have a holiday today to go picnicking - I am told that if they stay indoors they consider it to bring them bad luck.
Went a walk up the mountain with Frank Mc Neil.
Sunday April 4th 1943: Feeling rather groggy - I must have caught a chill at the dance and it has developed in my back and kidneys. However I feel a little better this afternoon.
We had dinner on the lawn. John had both dining tables put outside & the wireless was playing full blast. We had meat pie and rice balls with hot treacle for a sweet. The sun was very hot and the swimming pool look very inviting. Who would have thought there is a war on?
Monday April 5th 1943: Mess meeting.
Tuesday April 6th 1943: Busy at work. Went back after dinner and wrote a letter to Alan.
Wednesday April 7th 1943: Wet. Bath in new bath and off to bed
Thursday April 8th 1943: Walk with Frank and John Strong. Called in Persian club & had a vermouth & vodka. Called on Endy - she was entertaining six American officers - including ice cream! Locked out at 9.50! George let me in.
Friday April 9th 1943: Pay today - by Colonel Chevis, he enjoys paying out or censoring letters whenever he gets the chance. Reg Brice in a devil of a stew all over the Area Commander — Lt. Col. last telling him he was “the dirtiest British “Private” in the army”! Reg has since gone to work dress up to kill. Amenities arrived from Kms.
Saturday April 10th 1943: To hospital C. O. Matin to obtain more “cough cure” for my “Bronchitis”. To go again on Tuesday. Went for a walk in Evening. Wrote to Pat - green envelope.
Sunday April 11th 1943: Busy all morning in office. Not feeling too well. Jack Strong had a horse sent up for 2.15 - originally had 2 horses arranged and Mac decided to go with him. Maleesh arrangements to go walking with me! However only one horse came but Mac went walking by himself.
I walked up to the village right up at the back of the Elvand. I climbed about 800 feet and walked slowly back.
Sgt. Davies came in the evening and we had a shuyar booze up.
Village called Dareh Morad Beg.
Monday April 12th 1943: Still up in the mess, town out of bounds. Hopeless. Sat talking to John Strong, (R. S. M.) and Ken Foster until 12 o’clock and so to bed.
Tuesday April 13th 1943: A letter from Lawrence sent October 11th: How I wish this war over
and 1938 years forever with out the shadow of war. But that can never be!
Wednesday April 14th 1943: A letter from Peter Clark. A letter from Eileen & Sydney.
Thursday April 15th 1943: Leonard, Tom Cook, Q. M. S. Perham, Clephan arrived. Dobbie had had a day in Teheran. Mac & I walked to village of Dareh Mordad Beg, climbing about 1,000 feet. (7,000 feet AMSL).
Friday April 16th 1943: Endy called with Gertrude to see the Colonel about some Isfahan work she had ordered for him and asked him to call round tonight.
N. A. A. F. I. Stores arrived about 6pm and every one had good booze up. We had some crème de menthe (Palestinian) it was not over good any way it is a woman’s drink.
Saturday April 17th 1943: Major Kassell O.C.78 R. E. W. S. and Driver Abbott arrived at Hamadan from Kermanshah.
Sunday April 18th 1943: Had afternoon off. Conservancy. Darned all my socks. 6 pairs. Sorted out a little kit. Had a bath. Walked with Mac after tea to U. R. C. C and back and so to bed.
Monday April 19th 1943: Major Kassell had a little chat on moving section to Kms. He decided that I should go down on Monday April 25th with Lieut. Rowse, Stevenson & Curtis.
Had a chat with George on stores matters - George when he is in a good mood is really a decent and likeable fellow, but my God his dark moods are unbearable!
Went a walk with Mac and Eddie Hadingham up the mountain.
Drank a couple of crème de menthes and off to bed.
Had a letter from William
Tuesday April 20th 1943: Major Kassell went to Takistan intending to return on Wednesday evening April 21st.
Went a walk: read part of “And Life Goes on” by Vicki Baum.
Wednesday April 21st 1943: Major Kassell did not turn up at Hamadan neither did W. O. 1 Strong.
Went for a walk in the evening, alone, up the mountain a really wizard sight.
Came back and had a bath.
Read “And Life Goes on” until 10:30 and fell into a contented sleep.
Thursday April 22nd 1943: Designed and duplicated 25 invitation cards for the dance. Took all morning. Bob Fawcett had the afternoon off. Office very still and quiet. Wrote a letter card to Mother. Called on Endy and said Goodbye.
Friday April 23rd 1943: Bob Fawcett and Sergeant Major Strong went off on a short tour of Sultanabad & Qom with Major Kassell. I am acting Chief Clerk; had to do pay parade. Capt. Boyte off tomorrow to TTN.
Saturday April 24th 1943: A lazy day in office; sky overcast and cloudy, an electrical storm is hovering around the mountains; Harry Owen took the day off. Dobbie and I sat chatting in office, although I had much work to do in afternoon. Freude und Arbeit!
Wrote to The Manager Barclays Bank Mansfield re my account.
Sunday April 25th 1943: In office all morning, busy doing returns, packed and so to billet.
Afternoon spent in packing, bathing. Tea time: Tommy Cook, and Tommy Waters came in sozzled, they brought with them for tea, their host, one Fringee, with whom they had spent the entire afternoon, boozing. They went out again in evening down to the Dhobies. Ken Foster, Dobbie, Q. M. S. Brice, Cowburn and self all sat listening to the Radio, drinking more gin than was good for us. Dalgelty & Owen had also been to the Dhobies (Easter Sunday today) and came back rather merry. To bed at 12 o’clock.
Monday April 26th 1943: Up at 6.30. Packed up bed & bedding. Said goodbye to all, and down to yard. Went around to the office and packed up the stationery boxes and off to Kermanshah. Arrived at G. E’s Palatial Residence at 2.30. Had a wash and lunch and a little chat. Checked off G. 1098.
Evening spent in playing all Captain Taylor’s records. L. A. C’s Terry and Ronald, Ginger Caldicott & Cpl Cowburn came upstairs into the officer’s mess. To bed at 10.30.
Tuesday April 27th 1943: Checked all G. 1098 stores in morning. Afternoon in office. Col. Chevis and Col. Panet arriving tomorrow evening - they should have some “Gen”.
Evening spent in mess listening to Mr. Rowse expound “Christian Socialism.” & the State of England après la guere.
Lt. Rowse a member of Acland’s Commonwealth Party. The Intelligence Branch had a fat file on him! I liked Rowse and got on well with him.
Wednesday April 28th 1943: Morning spent in chasing D. A. D. Os. H. Q Sub Area - and going to N. A. A. F. I. Bought a sheet at N. A. A. F. I. 110 Rials. Colonel Panet and Colonel Chevis arrived at 3pm en route for Hamadan. Major Kassell and Driver Abbott arrived in utility about 1.30.
Evening spent in discussing post war reconstruction.
Thursday April 29th 1943: All day spent in office busy with everything. Colonel Panet &
C. R. E. inspected airfields and left for Hamadan at 2.10.
Evening spent in mess listening to O. C discussing the possibilities of a dance. A mess meeting to decide how we three new members, Major Kassell, Lieut. Rowse and self are to enter the mess.
To bed at 12.10.am.
Friday April 30th 1943: In morning out with O. C to D. A. D. O. S. getting contingent allowance soap & towels also camp kettles and two tyres & tubes. Afternoon busy in office.
We go into K. D. tomorrow. Went a walk with Clifford (who put his three stripes up today) in
K. D. shorts!
Saturday May 1st 1943: It is the day to go into K. D. in we go brave and bold into shorts. I contracted a very severe cold in the stomach and felt very ill indeed.
Sunday May 2nd 1943: Feeling very low spent a disturbed night, slept fit fully, had to leave my bed five times - went upstairs to mess in Battle dress.
Out for a walk in the afternoon with the two L. A. C’s.
Evening: to bed at 8.30.
Monday May 3rd 1943: Much better today: still wearing battle dress, wore slacks, feel better.
Dalgelty came for NAAFI stores.
Tuesday May 4th 1943: Dalgelty left at 1.30 for Hamadan. G. E Staff preparing feverishly for dance at Kms. Went to D. A. D. O. S., N. A. A. F. I., P. O. & M. E. Coy. Got a pain of B. D. trousers from M. E Coy.
Wednesday May 5th 1943: Party in mess; a dozen American, Assyrian and Persian girls turned up with only about half a dozen escorts. A real nice dance was had by all, plenty to drink, plenty to eat, and jolly good company. To bed at 2pm, very tired, but very happy.
Thursday May 6th 1943: Working until 12 o’clock. Off to Hamadan at 13.00 hours.
Major Kassell, Abbott, Coops and myself in utility, Terry Curtis and Ron Stevenson with all kit in the Fordson truck.
Uneventful journey up to Shah Pass, when having climbed about 1,700 feet we had a choked petrol lead. It took Abbott about an hour to fix it and we arrived in about 6.15. Up to mess at about 6.50 and had dinner, as all my K. D. was wet I put it out to dry more, and pressed it about 8 o’clock.
Arrived at the dance about nine o’clock, it was in full swing. Met Frank Lloyd, who was looking his old self again. Josephine had not arrived. Dobbie went for them in the car. Far too many officers were there, uninvited as usual. Had a good time; however Pickford & Wilson messed up the evening by becoming most objectionable.
All the officers returned to the mess to have a drink. Roultey as ever was out for the count.
Friday May 7th 1943: Up with the lark, at 8 o’clock! Not feeling too bad. Went round to the office and cleared up all outstanding matters. Went round to the stores and collected a bicycle and Emall stores.
Left Hamadan at 2.15 with L. A. C. driving Colonel Panet and Major Kassell in the C. E’s car. Myself - Abbott and Coops in the utility, & the two L. A. C’s with stores and kit bringing up the rear.
(Three people will not sit in the front of a truck so sayeth - Cheeves.)
Back at 6.10.
Colonel Panet most amusing in his after dinner chat about Indian rail roading days back in the 20’s.
To bed at 10 o’clock.
Saturday May 8th 1943: My Mater’s birthday today. Col. Panet left at 8.10 after shaking hands and saying goodbye. Busy morning. Kit inspection tomorrow. Heard that Tunis and Bizerta had fallen. Went up to American Mission to hear news but failed to get any good reception. A pleasant repast and after dinner chat.
The lights failed for an hour or so but have just come on again; a storm is blowing up outside.
And so to bed.
Sunday May 9th 1943: Walked round to American Hospital to listen to news. Bizerta and Tunis fell today!
Monday May 10th 1943: Capt. Shaw. Q. M. S. Perham & Driver Clephan arrived with Mr. Garton.
Tuesday May 11th 1943: To Ordnance to collect summer clothes and get gen on boot repairs.
Wednesday May 12th 1943: Lecture by M. O in senior mess at 3 o’clock on Anti Malaria Precautions and V. D.
Dance tomorrow night.
Thursday May 13th 1943: Dance, most of the usual crowd turned up. Except the two nurses from the American Mission. A. J. S. T. decided NOT to invite the junior mess as a reprisal. The dance proved a failure because of the lack of spirit due to the junior mess being left out.
Friday May 14th 1943: Lecture by Captain Shaw on the Thompson Sub-machine Gun. V/interesting I left early with Ron to do a round of the D. A. D. O. S. Sub area etc.
Saturday May 15th 1943: Played a football match against the Persian employees on the Aerodrome. We won 3 - 0, playing was not bad, but could have been better if one or two of us knew the game!
Sunday May 16th 1943: At 11.20 started off on a walk to the mountains at the “back” of Kermanshah.
Major Kassell, Capt. Shaw, Lieut. Rowse, Q. M. S. Perham, S/Sgt. Hindle, Sgt. Hill, Cpl. Coops, Driver Abbott and Driver Clephan made up the party.
Battle order, and revolvers were worn, water bottle, mess tin six sandwiches and ground sheet. After a steady walk we climbed to a height of eleven hundred feet. (1,100) above Kermanshah, (a.m.s.l.) 4,400; total 5,500.
The O. C. had two bad blisters on each foot and was forced to take off his boots and wrap his round his feet. Lieut. Rowse took a party on ahead, Capt. Shaw and I with Abbott stayed behind and walked slowly back with the Major, who showed “grit and guts” and walked the whole way back in his stocking feet!
Monday May 17th 1943: Major K. Capt. T. Hindle, Wakefield, Coops and Abbott and Clephan went to American mission for “Dessert”.
Tuesday May 18th 1943: Went for a walk in evening alongside of Persian Barracks, saw all the recruits doing a pukka German “goose - step”. A N. C. O of the Persian Army requested me to move on as my presence “un-nerved” his recruits. I responded with a smile and obliged him I did not wish to cause him any trouble, he seemed rather embarrassed at asking me to move at all.
Wednesday May 19th 1943: Major Kassell, Capt. Shaw and L/Cpl. Abbott left for a trip to Isfahan. Q. M. S. Perham, with Driver Clephan proceeded to Basra to collect 3 typewriters. Stores for Captain Boyte and various small tools for the section. Q. M. S. Perham took one dixie one two-gallon tin, and one small bivouac.
Thursday May 20th 1943: Captain Taylor ill in bed with a temperature. A busy day lettering 30 odd “open” files. Went to call on Endy and Miss Lamme at American mission met Dr. Bastiker and wife, Miss Foulton, Mr. Watson and two Americans who were passing the through to Hamadan.
Chatted in mess until 12 o’clock.
Friday May 21st 1943: Cleaned up all stores, cleaned drawing office tools and instruments. Went to see Endy at Miss Lamme’s
Saturday May 22nd 1943: L. A. C’s Terry and Ron were “browned off” at not being able to go to American Hospital - I gated them because they broke bounds.
Sunday May 23rd 1943: Major still away at Isfahan. Sgt. Philby of 4/5 Royal Sussex Regiment came after lunch to instruct us on Unarmed Combat and Bayonet Fighting - he is here for a week.
Monday May 24th 1943: Went to H. Q.31 Ind. Inf. Bgde. (old Sub Area) and got L. A. C’s shoes repaired - also indented for extra K. D. trousers. Sapper Jackson here out of hospital, waiting to be returned to Hamadan.
Tuesday May 25th 1943: Major and Captain Shaw Returned from Isfahan. Sgt. Philby still having a good time with us.
Wednesday May 26th 1943: Unarmed combat after tea. Coopy and I fall and tumble and get thrown all over the place. Heard Len has got his S/M/F/W thro!
Thursday May 27th 1943: Dance this evening. Pleasant affair. Jim Perham came back with Q. M. S. Walter and John Willie Young. Arrange for them to go back tomorrow. Miss Foulton brought her three little nurses, Mrs. Amiri, Jean and her gang were there. Good time by all.
Friday May 28th 1943: Ronald took Q. M. S. Walter and Staff Young and Jackson back to Hamadan. Returned at 6.10. Lectures finish on Bren Gun Boys Anti tank rifle as Philby is going back tonight. Philby stayed on to dinner and said a very short but heart touching few words of farewell - we gave him a big bunch of roses to take back to the Sergeant’s mess.
Saturday May 29th 1943: Started packing up stores. D helped and showed great interest. A damn nice fellow - so reliable - steady and so likeable.
Sunday May 30th 1943: Extremely busy at office - finished off most of the stores.
Monday May 31st 1943: Captain Shaw off to Hamadan with Clephan.
Tuesday June 1st 1943: Very busy with month ending correspondence. Oliver typewriter is working much better these days.
Wednesday June 2nd 1943: Went and saw Janet and had a chat with her regarding the juniors visiting her nurses.
Thursday June 3rd 1943: In office all morning could not get settled. Had an early lunch 12.15 and started for Rifle Range at Bisotun at 1 o’clock. Arrived at 2 o’clock: shot on 100, 200 and 300 ranges with rifle, grouping application and rapid fire. Did very poorly.
Next, fired Bren gun. - did a little better, very moderate with Tommy Guns. Fired five rounds from Boys Anti-tank gun, rather afraid of it at first, but after the first shot gained confidence. The mountains echoed and re-echoed from the continual banging, very much like a heavy thunderstorm.
Packed up all gear, returned it to 4/5th R. S. Bu and brought Philby back with us. Arrived back at 7.15. very tired. I was so brassed off and out of sorts with myself at the thoughts of another dance on top of this hard day that I went to bed and slept until 9.15. I woke feeling much better, and washed off all the grime and dirt - I still did not feel clean so I dashed into the Hammam and had a good hot shower.
I appeared at 10 o’clock feeling fresh and clean. By this time the party was in full swing - it had been flat until about 09.45 pm. The first person I saw was Neyem, she seemed to hang on to me all evening. We took a walk into the garden. - I met her downstairs. I had a very nice time; a good time was had by all. Party broke up at 3 o’clock.
Friday June 4th 1943: No money at the Bank! Not so very busy at office.
Saturday June 5th 1943: Colonel Chevis came through stayed the night. Major K. & Capt. Shaw returned. Mr. Gaston staying here for a time.
Sunday June 6th 1943: The Colonel pushed on to Baghdad with Blyth, hopes to come back with loads of gen.
Monday June 7th 1943: Section played football with 4/5 Sussex Bu; lost 3 - 1.
Tuesday June 8th 1943: Collected 35 2 gallon water cans from D. C. R. E. Kms.
Wednesday June 9th 1943: Dance tomorrow.
Thursday June 10th 1943: Mr. Rowse to No. 7 C. C. S. We held another party, quite a success.
Friday June 11th 1943: Feeling very blue, play all the good orchestral records after lunch. Feel browned off.
Saturday June 12th 1943: 2 Drivers arrived today from 2 Reinforcement and Training Centre. Drivers & Price J. L. & Masters, Leonard. W. Nearly all section went out on a walk; set off at 10.30. walked all the way up the valley had a really good time. Returned at 5 o’clock not nearly so tired as last time.
Played Bridge all evening.
Sunday June 13th 1943: Busy with “casualties” (* A casualty - referred to a W. O Form for posting - promotion, whatever) for Mr. Rowse and the two drivers.
Pay at 2.30 everyone mighty pleased to have some d’argent to pay their mass bills.
Tavikoli went to Bissitune.
Monday June 14th 1943: I went for a walk at 4.10 and walked to the back of Kermanshah. Stopped off in an orchard and spoke to the owner and stopped and chatted. His son, one, Sad t a rather intelligent youngster offered me small quince berries of which I ate a few. I tootled of down the orchard as the older fellow wished to be alone to pray, it was now about 5 o’clock p.m.
I came upon four Persians in a garden and stopped off to have a chat to them. I spoke as best I could with them for over an hour and they insisted that I had tea, Persian fashion. I left about six thirty and had almost reached the mills on my way back when I was hailed from a garden.
An half intoxicated pseudo Persian babbled about being half drunk and would I visit his party the sound of which rather intrigued me and I condescended. What a party! About twelve men and one woman. There was a Persian officer, and a Persian soldier, who played a violin, and was a good fellow. There was a small collection of small fry and one bright youth who spoke in French we got on rather well for he was not so tight and I could understand him and he, me. After drinking plenty of Zib bib and vodka and watching the dancing I had to come away in time for dinner.
I got back and had plenty of time to wash and change for the football match team had not come in from practice.
To 31 Ind. Inf. Bde. to take back mosquito nets and Bivouacs.
Section played soccer with local Persian team on airfield, came unfinished as one of the Persian fell in the goals and sustained concussion in the head. This local Persian team played rather dirty the score when the match was abandoned was 1 - 1.
Tuesday June 15th 1943: To Sub area to post parcels get N. A. A. F. I. chit altered and take boots to be repaired. Lt. (Q. M.) Clark now 0/1/0 stores at H. Q. came with Dalgelty driven by Hadingham. Colonel Chevis came back from A. H. Q and G. H. Q and told us of a small job we had on land before we moved. Move will not be for some time yet as far as I can see.
Wednesday June 16th 1943: Ahmed Tavikoli told Coopy he would call at 5 o’clock on Friday.
Thursday June 17th 1943: O. C. Recei‘d site.
Friday June 18th 1943: Leonard Smith Dobson - came down with Caldicott to stay for survey. Brought levels and instruments etc. Tavikoli called but O. C. kept at it all day!
Saturday June 19th 1943: Survey party up at 4.30 and out on sites. Lack of co-operation leads to some unpleasantness and ill will.
Sunday June 20th 1943: Coops to hospital - 7 C. C. S. Price came out of 7 C. C. S. - has 3 days convalescent. Survey parties out.
Freude und Arbeit.
Monday June 21st 1943: Parties out, coming in very tired.
Freude und Arbeit!!
Tuesday June 22nd 1943: Parties out, and worn out!
Freude und Arbeit!!!
Wednesday June 23rd 1943: All survey parties & O. C. stayed in to check levels. Major off to collect rations etc. W. J. C Aneino arrived at 12.45; flying visit to N. A. A. F. I.; seemed in happy mood, returned at 3.15. to Hamadan. Tavy called at 7.45! Len fell off his horse.
Thursday June 24th 1943: All parties out at 6 o’clock. Up at 4.30 am. Checked sandwiches and cook house staff. Busy but boring morning. Dressed Leonard’s arm and he reported sick and had T. T. inoculation.
Friday June 25th 1943: Up at 5 am. Breakfast, supervised sandwiches for surveying parties.
Had a cold shower, a little conservancy and up to lounge. Worked hard all morning. O. C put in a full day. Pay at 5.30. O. C. saw Webb - Price and master.
Saturday June 26th 1943: Tavakoli did not turn up. To Sub area collecting bits and pieces.
Tolhurst arrived with one Walcott (Capt.) to 77 Section.
Sunday June 27th 1943: Maydi brought his horse (a roan) around; I had a ride up the high street, and set her in a canter. The canter was too awkward and bumpy and so I put her into a gallop and she went flat out! With her filly neighing behind her! She took some pulling up, during which time I was wondering if I should fall off or remember a few points of horsemanship.
Hausen came and Denes goes back tomorrow. Hadingham and Caldicott brought Hausen?
Tolhurst called in on his way back to H. D. N.
Monday June 28th 1943: Len and I walked up to the Barracks to try and borrow two horses - we almost had ‘em too except that the Commandant referred us to Colonel Fletcher - to apply thro’ him. Survey party had a holiday.
Tuesday June 29th 1943: Survey parties off at 6 o’clock this morning. Q. M. S. Perham and Cyril Hindle took a tent 4 cans, a cooker and a lamp and camped out on the site.
Our new office (in Reves’ old room) is working admirably.
Substantive Rank today.
Wednesday June 30th 1943: Had notice to quit today!
Brigade Commander said we have to move to camp area at 31 Ind. Inf. Bde. Duggie went to see Col. last and low and behold he fixed it for us to stay! subject to the Brigadier’s approval.
Thursday July 1st 1943: Price took over in cookhouse; improvements taking place right and left. Every one seeming more happy junior mess had a P. U. and I couldn’t get to sleep until 12.30 - but they had a good time.
Friday July 2nd 1943: Got the Imprest account away. Cy Hindle and Jimmy Perham came in to stay over to-morrow. Everyone has a rest tomorrow.
Went to Hamadan.
Saturday July 3rd 1943: Everyone busy in office checking levels etc. Jimmy Perham told me he officially wishes to go the whole hog with his d/affair. Lieut. Garton, S/Major Strong, and four R. A. F. laddies came down at 1.30.
Ginger Caldicott, Eddie Hadingham and Cpl. Torrance are in the Rest camp awaiting to go back to Habbamya. Lieut. Garton returned to H. D. N. on same day at 3.15 in Twist’s R. A. F. truck with Twist’s L. A. C. Jack Strong is staying down here for some time.
Medical Inspection at 5.30.
Sunday July 4th 1943: Parties back on the survey. Had a chat with O. C. about Dobson etc.; which seemed the lesser of two evils; a very difficult state of affairs when juniors of long standing suddenly get promotion (i.e. Pickford etc.).
Monday July 5th 1943: Dashed around to D. C. K. E. 92. collected pastry board; saw Alf Murrell - he has now one pip up. To Sub Area in afternoon to collect lacramatory capsules and borrow Pay Regs from Chief Clerk.
Taylor, Strong and Wakefield a la ville saus khaki.
Tuesday July 6th 1943: On 24 hours notice! Made out plan of campaign, again
Wednesday July 7th 1943: George rolled up in afternoon with 3 tonner and two drivers. Preparing for party.
Went to see Tavikoli and asked him around at 6.45 - he arrived at 7.45 so asked him to stay to dinner. Worked from 9 to 11.15 pm on letter for O. C. 4 Tents returned to D. A. D. O. S.
Thursday July 8th 1943: Preparing for party. Helping Price to make sweets and prepare the supper - busy until 7.45. Janet brought five companions, four nurses and a niece of Busticker’s. Joseph brought Fannia; Neyem had a fever so could not come. Jean came along with Rosa and her sister Amiri brought Mrs. Amene. Cooper brought three people at the tail end of the dance. Good show. Everyone got almost tight. Good time had by all. Major to Hamadan and back in 10 hours.
Friday July 9th 1943: Busy in office. I was told that Leonard was to go back Hamadan! What a war; promises mean nothing at all! Now he has to go with Tolhurst. Rotten temper. What’s the use? This was the day I slammed the door in Duggie’s face!! He was taken aback!
Saturday July 10th 1943: Leonard off with Abbott at 7am. Said “Expect to see me back this evening” - but I knew he would not come. What’s the use?
Sunday July 11th 1943: Busy in office — Capt. Shaw returned from 7 C. C. S.
Monday July 12th 1943: Signalled H. Q. 2 C. R. E. arriving on Tuesday 13th July. Went to
D. A. D. O. S. had a chat to Dow.
Tuesday July 13th 1943: Busy in office seeing to work for Wednesday and Thursday. Went to N. A. A. F. I. (mobile Cinema) “Shipyard Sally”
Wednesday July 14th 1943: Up at 7 o’clock - off at 8.15 for Hamadan. Major Kassell driving. Capt. Shaw Abbott and self.
Delayed somewhat by the car behaving badly. Carburettor choked with dust and sand.
Arrived at about 1 o’clock.
Sgt’s have now a mess of their own. Saw Leonard: slept in Fawcett and Fosters room. Went to town in evening - full of Yankees; called in Mena Café had ice cream 40 Rials - cakes 10 rials in total 50 rials! Went round to office in afternoon.
Thursday July 15th 1943: Went round to office at 8.30. Had a chat - designed a house for Jack Strong! or rather a bungalow. Dobbie not coming back.
Friday July 16th 1943: Settle down to work - plenty to do.
Saturday July 17th 1943: Quick trip to ordnance in morning. Fetched repaired boots back.
Sunday July 18th 1943: Went for a quiet stroll. Not very far. Mess meeting - Capt. Shaw became mess caterer.
Monday July 19th 1943: Tolhurst’s Driver - L. A. C. arrived with the sapper from CRE who is returning to base. Ron and Terry go back tomorrow.
Tuesday July 20th 1943: Ron and Terry went back to Habb. Sorry to see them go for they seem so much part of the family now.
Wednesday July 21st 1943: Thomas Cook came from Hospital in Khanaqin. Staying until
O. C. goes up to H. Q. In with me.
Thursday July 22nd 1943: Preparations for dance. All new people invited. Juniors not coming - they went to Concert at C. C. S instead.
Friday July 23rd 1943: Nothing much to do. Busy doing nothing!
Saturday July 24th 1943: Went to see Desert Victory at the 7. C. C. S. Most of senior mess went: we took deck chairs and everyone had a comfortable seat. Came back and stayed up until 12.30 discussing the war.
Sunday July 25th 1943: Achmed Tavakoli invited me around to a small party he was throwing. Went along at 8.30. Nicholas was there from Kerind and Stevens of 92. Tavi’s friend and his sister a very charming little girl she is too; Tavi’s sister Nora as pleasant and pretty as ever. Had a nice time, Tavy played his gramophone and I danced with Nora.
She promised to come to our next dance. To see Tavy on Tuesday.
Back home at 11.45. Very tired.
Monday July 26th 1943: Major to Bank to collect money: came back with news that Mussolini had packed up and the little Victor Emmanuel and Bagdolie have now the reins.
Tuesday July 27th 1943: Little news of import. Over the radio Spent an hour in Bisitoun - met S/M of C. M. P. who had come to take over.
Wednesday July 28th 1943: Had a shoot with rifle in the morning. Not a good range: Master’s rifle completely u/s. (Poor Masters died in Burma of scrub typhus ’45.) Spent night in Bisitoun Hotel Borne loaned us a Radio, small short wave set. Met Nora and Tavy.
Thursday July 29th 1943: Went to visit Cpl Cooper of 77 who is at present in Kms. C. C. S.
Spent evening in Bisitoun. Henry Durrer came back from H. D. N. and I. R. N.
Friday July 30th 1943: Not feeling too well - difficult to breathe - indigestion trouble. Feeling generally low.
Saturday July 31st 1943: Very busy in office: end of month; all work finished before Major goes to Hamadan.
Sunday August 1st 1943: Still busy in office: Off to see Cpl. Cooper in afternoon at T. C. C. S. He’s ready to leave. (Communist propaganda?)
Riots in town stupid Persian agitators storming up the populace. Hooligans going round the Bazaar breaking up the shops and windows. Town out of bounds, trucks are “stoned” when proceeding up the main street. Abbott and I came through O.K.
Met Dalgelty outside C. C. S. Dalgelty and Lieut. Clark couldn’t get through because of riots; in the afternoon Dalgelty did eventually manage it, and he brought Hannaby who had been at the rest camp for three days!
Monday August 2nd 1943: Major Kassell, Captain Taylor, S/Sgts Hindle - Wakefield and Cook to Hamadan taking two young females from the American Mission and Tadwasian.
Not feeling very well.
Tuesday August 3rd 1943: Still feeling rather low: Webb in bed with suspected sandfly fever. Lunchtime Lieut. Rowse, Jimmy Perham, Micky and S/Sgt. Blackbourn (new, for 77) arrived. Blackbourn in my room.
Wednesday August 4th 1943: Went to D. A. D. O. S. who was a little difficult over question of W. E. T. (he had got out of bed the wrong way). Got what I wanted more or less. This fellow Blackbourn is rather untidy and really a bore on talking.
Thursday August 5th 1943: Made out Remittance for £50 to self (Bank). All the stationery arrived here and we got it in good time and good condition.
Friday August 6th 1943: Major, Taylor, & Abbott came back from Hamadan. No news. With Henry Durrer to party. Joan, Rosa and Ellen were there. Had a very pleasant but quiet evening. (This was a special party in American quarter of town out of bounds)
Saturday August 7th 1943: Hindle Wakefield, Jack Strong came back in afternoon from Hamadan. Captain Harris, Walters & Driver from Hamadan. Staying over. Signal re move: Warning order.
Sunday August 8th 1943: Hamadan people still here. Major makes some start of packing and ordering sequence of move. Busy Day.
Monday August 9th 1943: Balls up over kit inspection - Perham seemed to think it was a job for a “Sergeant Major”.
Tuesday August 10th 1943: Busy in office. To C. C. S in evening to see an English film Old Mother Riley’s Ghost.
Wednesday August 11th 1943: Received instructions to be at X, must be off at mid-day tomorrow. Bags of work to do before we can move. Working until 12.15 - then had to stop because the electricity was turned off.
Thursday August 12th 1943: Up at 6.30: packed - a heck of a rush to get all finished. Jim worked the miracle in packing all the stuff on to the three trucks. Finished at 2.30
All the servants heartbroken, Maunche, Mohamed Aly; Kaka and even Aly Hussain: Little Hussain looked very sad. (He will no doubt now have to do his Military Service).
Off to H. Q. at 3 o’clock a little trouble on the way - the oil feed to Price’s truck bust and swilled oil all over the place.
Arrived at Ham. At 11pm. they had Ohai and hot mocomnoay ready. Fixed up my bed under the old workshop and slept until reveille - 4 am. C. R. E. unit in quite a flap - really getting balls’d up. C. R. E. himself was very dismal.
Friday August 13th 1943: Packed a few things on board C. R. E. truck - kept a list. Started off at 6.15 to proceed to Khorramabad Captain Shaw became lost? Passed C. R. E. and pulled up at Petrol point.
C. R. E. more cheerful:
R. H. S will never live down his convoy leadership.
Major as importable as ever.
One of Twist’s trucks had to be towed. Seems to have been that the distributor wiring was incorrectly fixed - bad language as usual flying about.
Our Section quite happy and cheerful. - Why not?
Section had lunch and swim in river C. R. E and Twist’s section joined in together with Major Chettoe. C. R. E now almost happy - the seat of his pants torn right across - a real wide tear.
Arrived at Khorramabad and filled up: eight outside, beyond, we pitched camp. Hannaby, and Webb did guards.
Slept well: Reveille at 4.30 - the guard woke us at 5 a.m.
Saturday August 14th 1943: Capt. Shaw’s truck developed a knock (big end) and had to be towed by Q. M. S. Milne.
Very bad road for about a hundred miles - all mountain country - the country of Tamerlaine.
Stopped at filling station 2 way and had lunch and a bathe.
Started off at 2.45.
Very poor time: still mountain road.
Passed no 76 section:
They passed us:
Night at Andimesh.
Sunday August 15th 1943: 133° in shade! On to Ahwaz at 1 o’clock. All day in camp. Train party there. Shaw by train and some G. 1098 as well.
Monday August 16th 1943: Still at Ahwaz. Move to Khorramshahr at 9.15. A really good convoy quite pukka Douglas worked well.
Tuesday August 17th 1943: 133½° in shade. Arrived at Margil at 7.30. Had a shower and breakfast. Packed all G. 1098 to ship.
Wednesday August 18th 1943: All water cans and explosives to 7 B. O. D thro’ Fletcher. Working for Robert Fawcett all morning in the office. We are on board at 7 tonight. On board the Cap Turrain.
Thursday August19th 1943: Loaded ship with cordial typed and duplicated ships orders.
A hell of a day. Slept on Deck.
Friday August 20th 1943: Sailed from Basra/Margil at 05.00 hours. Sea v. smooth. Humidity terrific, never have I seen chaps sweat so much. Slept on Deck.
Saturday August 21st 1943: Len went sick. Everyone swelting in the humidity. It is deadly. Half way down Gulf. Slept on Deck.
Sunday August 22nd 1943: Felt quite ill on waking this morning - comes over me in fits and starts one minute I feel quite well and then suddenly very low I think I am going insane. At times this humidity is awful. A L/Cpl. (BOR) died early this morning - he was buried at 11.00 hours - poor fellow - to feed the sharks. Had to go below and rest, typewriter made me feel ill.
Monday August 23rd 1943: Waiting off Bahrein Island, for convoy to sail from. In hospital with heat exhaustion.
Tuesday August 24th 1943: Still waiting for convoy to sail. In the hottest and most humid place in all the world. Persian Gulf.
Wednesday August 25th 1943: Seasick.
Thursday August 26th 1943: A little better. Held down a little food.
Friday August 27th 1943: Still no sight of land but we dock tomorrow.
Saturday August 28th 1943: Reached Karachi India at 11.30. Disembarked at 3 p.m. Carrying off kit! Reached Bhustpore Transit Camp at 9.30.
Sunday August 29th 1943: Finding out all about ourselves. Leonard and I to Karachi city all evening - had a good meal and cinema.
Monday August 30th 1943: On guard over G.1098 all morning. To town with S. M. Strong and all the W. O’s in evening. Good meal and cinema. L/Cpl. Abbott to Hospital. Karachi
Tuesday August 31st 1943: To Hospital to see L/Cpl. Abbott this morning.
Wednesday August 1st 1943: Gen that we go to Ch. confirmed. To dentist - one back tooth drilled and filled - quite a large cavity - to go again on Saturday.
Thursday September 2nd 1943: Webb to Hospital. Masters to Hospital - Karachi. On guard on G.1098 in morning. To town.
Friday September 3rd 1943: To N. A. A. F. I. in evening - money running out. To bed early.
ANNIVERSARY OF FOUR YEARS OF WAR
Saturday September 4th 1943: To dentist to have another tooth drilled and filled. To go again on Tuesday 10 o’clock. To town but not to a cinema.
Sunday September 5th 1943: Out to town and restaurant each evening. S/Sgt. Wakefield to No 1 G. H. Karachi
Monday September 6th 1943: As above with variation.
Tuesday September 7th 1943: Ditto! Webb and Masters out of dock.
Wednesday September 8th 1943: Ditto!
Thursday September 9th 1943: Ditto!
Friday September 10th 1943: Ditto!
Saturday September 11th 1943: Left Karachi. Started at 19.00 hours. On board an American troop train in a compartment for Len - King and self.
To bed in bunks at 10 p.m. - no sleep until 12 p.m. - everyone, fooling around - plenty of clean fun. Passed thro’ scrub, semi desert, land. Slept fitfully.
Sunday September 12th 1943: Awoke to find the train travelling along at a respectable speed of about 40 miles an hour. Had a sore throat, gargled with Dettol. Had a wash in tin in bunk space.
Passed Gambat and made a dixie of “char” (tea) and enjoyed it, apples, an orange and bananas kept away hunger until about 11 o’clock when we stopped at Rohri Junction and had breakfast. American Ranks, B, O. R’s and B’officers all stood in line for breakfast of bacon, tea, bread, marmalade and fruit salad, - very good and filling. Still have sore throat.
Off at 2.30 o’clock after taking on ice and water and drinking cups of tea.
Reached Reti. At 4.45 pm. after travelling across scrub land under a hot sun.
Reached Khanpor Junction 20.00 hours! - Starving - our last meal at 11.00 hours this morning - eating every orange banana and melon we had.
Train very slow.
Reached at 1.30 pm on the 13th. My throat very sore - had a cup of tea when I awoke from a tea wallah just outside my bunk window at 2 in the morning. Garwood scalded his foot.
Monday September 13th 1943: Had breakfast at Montgomery at 10.30.am. Passed thro Okara. 12.15.
Passed thro Lahore Cantonment at 6.30 p.m. stopped messing about in siding for an hour and one half, it seems that we will not go into Lahore now.
Passed thro Sari - now very hungry. Two meals a day is stupid.
Stopped for a meal. Good - potatoes, bully, pickles and boiled onions, tea, bread, and cheese.
Heard we change trains on 16th.
Tuesday September 14th 1943: Awoke - to find we passed thro Amritsar - 07.45 hrs. Countryside very English. Luscious verdant fields dotted with trees, ditches half filled with water, telegraph lines, cattle.
Breakfast at Mustafabad— 09.00 to 10.00 hours - Bacon - tinned fish, tea. Not so good.
Thro’ Sahanap Ur at 11.45 hours passed through lovely countryside extremely rich and fertile.
We made a lunch of teacakes (which we bought at side stall and had tea cake and salmon - and tea and mixed fruit) at about 1.30 p.m.
Passed Ganges — near Balawali at 5 p.m. Previously we stopped in siding and picked up about a dozen coaches of R. A. F who are going to Calcutta. Our car stopped opposite a tap and most every one had a quick wash under it; a few of us did a little washing.
Dinner on a siding.
Sat on steps of car and watched the most beautiful cloud and sky effect I have seen for some time.
The train is now so long that the small engine will only pull out at a speed of about six to seven miles per hour about 750 yards long. 1/3 of a mile.
The yanks started to jump off and on the train. One fellow tried it and the train gathered a little speed and only by frantic effort did he manage to leap on the last coach.
Our Mr. Clarke tried it and fell flat on his back - lost his shoe - and had quite a time trying to get on.
Wednesday September 15th 1943: Awoke in station at “Baierly”? and washed under tap outside the car. Washed some underclothes and a towel. Had breakfast and left at about 10.30. Passing through fields and country side comparable with Ducal Estates and pasture woodland and parkland back home.
(“Sarahanpu”) check this spelling.)
Shahjajnapur reached by 13.15 hours.
Dinner at a siding — monkeys in woods feeding. Reached Lucknow at 21.00 hours and everyone swept into the Restaurant Room for a snack - a real mêlée.
Had a shower in the upstairs BOR quarters of Lucknow Station - but was so jittery about the train moving off that I finished off under a tap opposite the coach - nude on the platform.
Left Lucknow about 11.30. Made my bed down and slept well.
Thursday September 16th 1943: Awoke, train stationery - went to sleep again and awoke with train ‘moving’ - she stopped for breakfast at 8.30. in a siding, found I had a ‘dobie rash’ under crutch.
Breakfast rather poor. Soya bean sausages, Tea, Blackcurrant jam, Bread and Pineapple rings.
Still passing through marvellous countryside - a large number of old ruins now prevalent.
Friday September 17th 1943: Arrived Mokameh Ghat at 6 o’clock. Left train. Embarked on Benares Paddle Ship, crossed Ganges to Bawani Junction. Entrained on metre gauge.
Saturday September 18th 1943: Changed on to Broad Gange at Phabatipur.
Sunday September 19th 1943: Arrived at Se-aldah station at 3 o’clock. Calcutta.
Monday September 20th 1943: Calcutta. In the siding at Se-aldah Railway station.
Tuesday Sepember 21st 1943: 03.20 hours pulled out of Calcutta. On to steamer at Chandpur? Crossed Ganges.
Entrained again for “Argatala”.
Wednesday September 22nd 1943: 06.00 hours changed trains. Arrived at Ackhowra at 6 o’clock on Wed. 22. (See below).
Thursday September 23rd 1943: *Arrived at Ackhowra at 6 o’clock after a train journey from station of a few miles. Hung about until R. A. F. transport collected us. Placed in No. 6 Camp - (an Indian Camp) in Bamboo huts. Usual Balls up and moaning about the Officers looking after themselves first. Eventually sorted ourselves out. Hired a bearer between 3 of us. On guard with 3 of my section.
Friday September 24th 1943: The Parade this morning was:
H. Q. - 1 W. O as marker - 1 S/Sgt. 1 Cpl. 2 Sprs.
76 - 1 W. O “ “ - 1 S/Sgt. 1 Sgt. 1 L/Sgt. 2 Sprs
77 - 1 S/Sgt. “ “ - 1 Sgt. 1 Drv.
78 - 1 W. O. “ “ - 1 S/Sgt. 1 DVR.
I watched the parade from the window of my hut and almost laughed my sides off. Jasper didn’t even attend it: such a pity.
Perham told me he wants Pickford instead of Dobson and made no effort to show that he disliked Dobson because he had been in the C. R. E. drawing office. We shall see; we shall see.
Poor old Dobbie Downhearted and very cut and disappointed in Major Kassell for not keeping his word. But even more so am I. Dobbie will go to 76 I think.
Saturday September 25th 1943: Still browned off. Pickford will come to us as a Cpl.
Sunday September 26th 1943: All Suco’s helped to make a stove in cookhouse.
Monday September 27th 1943: Q. M. S. Perham admitted to R. A. F. Sick Bay.
Heard we go to Dacca. Haines staying back at H. Q. J. Strong coming with us.
Tuesday September 28th 1943: Check on hospital. Took Jimmies kit to R. A. F. Sick Bay.
Wednesday September 29th 1943: Q. Perham to Dacca to Hospital. Must check with
R. A. F. sick Bay. Price went sick and given M&D.
Thursday September 30th 1943: Sent letters ordering Forms and Books etc. Price admitted to R. A. F. sickbay with a temperature, suspected Malaria - now 40% casualties.
Friday October 1st 1943: Saw Price in hospital - he expects to come out very soon.
Saturday October 2nd 1943: Major Kassell, Lt. Rowse, W. O.1. Strong. S/Sgt. Hindle off to Decca on a Recce, expected back on 4th. Fell down 6ft slit trench and slightly sprained my right thumb. G.1098 arrived.
Sunday October 3rd 1943: Price came out of hospital. R. A. F. sick Quarters. Webb now working for me on typing.
Monday October 4th 1943: Still working hard on the R. A. F. Pamphlet: Did casualties for BORs. Went to opening of R. A. F. Cinema.
Tuesday October 5th 1943: Major not yet back. Finished off the R. A. F. Schedule and Scheme of works. Harry Owen put in his apply for Commission to Twist. Time opportune or in opportune?
Wrote to Elsie; to her Birthday.
Captain Harris and Q. Brice with 12 drivers went to Calcutta to collect transport.
Wednesday October 6th 1943: Major Kassell and S. Major Strong returned from Dacca.
Thursday October 7th 1943: Packed G. 1098 on 3 tonner. All kit and off to Dacca at 11.30. Arrived at 5.45. Mr. Rowse and Cyril with 3 x 3 tonnes but no labour. Packed up 3 Tonnes & came to camp. Lost our way in the dark and lorries got bogged. Eventually found camp and made ourselves a meal and unpacked.
Friday October 8th 1943: All day spent in settling in. Got the office ready.
Saturday October 9th 1943: Webb and I settle down to routine work. Hannaby on rations.
Sunday October 10th 1943: Major Kassell has had a temperature for 24 hours - still 102.9°.
Struggling thro’ work and trying to organise in spite of terrible weakness and bad feeling of futility.
Monday October 11th 1943: Major Kassell to hospital with temp. Suspect Malaria. (NO DENQUE.). Self to see M. O. re rash - suspect impetigo.
Tuesday October 12th 1943: Self to Hospital - 62 I. G. H. Dacca with Impetigo - hope to be out in a few days because I think I have checked this in time. Lackh’s of work to do.
Wednesday October 13th 1943: Had a good night’s rest. Jimmy Perham came over with S/Sgt. Hindle & Pickford Cyril brought me 30 chips. I am to go out on Friday.
Thursday October 14th 1943: This hospital will drive me mad. The system just isn’t typically Indian & we can’t change the system - not yet. Had inoculation for cholera.
Friday October 15th 1943: At 8.30 attended the “Colonel’s Parade” - discharged from 62.
I. G. H. (BT) DACCA. Arrived at 78 Camp and found things almost exactly as I had left them.
The future looks dark. I still have patches of impetigo, I am not fully cured but I will cure myself. Worked until 22.00 hours. Oh for the Major’s return!!
Saturday October 16th 1943: About 8.30 started work each turning unfolds a darker picture. Still plodding along.
Sunday October 17th 1943: Went and saw Major in hospital, obtained his signature. Tried to thrash out the method of paying the staff.
Monday October 18th 1943: To town still trying to trace the policy we must adopt. We shall have to write to C. E. Air Barrack pore for policy.
Tuesday October 19th 1943: To see Major again on question of policy.
Wednesday October 20th 1943: Trying - oh trying - oh trying.
Thursday October 21st 1943: Wrote letter on reorganisation.
Friday October 22nd 1943: Major Kassell from Hospital. 62 I. G. H. Getting down to it.
Lieut. Garton Captain Fletcher. F/Lt. Brydges from H. Q. 2 C. R. E.
Saturday October 23rd 1943: “Shorthand typists.”
Sunday October 24th 1943: Captain Fletcher and F/Lt. Brydges returned to Argatala.
Monday October 25th 1943: Colonel expected Lt (Q. M.) Clarke arrived in his stead he came on stores matters.
Tuesday October 26th 1943: As busy as hell. Mr. Clarke still here.
Wednesday October 27th 1943: Mr. Clarke still here. Busy as hell.
Thursday October 28th 1943: Col. Chevis arrived at 6.30 brought mail with him. Mr. Clarke returned to HQ.
Friday October 29th 1943: Colonel cleaned up many points.
Saturday October 30th 1943:
Sunday October 31st 1943: Quite busy. Things settling down somewhat. Mr. Clarke and S/Capt. called 8.30 pm.
Monday November 1st 1943: Had a hair cut.
Tuesday November 2nd 1943: Put up commission.
Wednesday November 3rd 1943: G.E. moved office into another Bashene.
Thursday November 4th 1943: Friday November 5th 1943: Saturday November 6th 1943: Sunday November 7th 1943: Monday November 8th 1943: Never have I worked, strained and devoted every hour of the day and night to loyal devotion to try and unwind this one glorious mess. And I get no thanks for it only a cold-shoulder because I asked for my commission to be put up.
Tuesday November 9th 1943: Hannaby to be Cpl. w.e.f. 21.6.43.
Wednesday November 10th 1943:
Thursday November 11th 1943:
Friday November 12th 1943:
Saturday November 13th 1943:
Sunday November 14 1943:
Monday November 15th 1943:
Tuesday November 16th1943: Hannaby made up to L/Sgt.
Wednesday November 17th 1943: Went to Cinema in Dacca with Peter Woodrow on m/cycle - made a midnight supper.
Thursday November 18th 1943: Granny Brice arrived here. Lt. Woodrow to H. Q. 2 C. R. E. to see Colonel.
Friday November 19th 1943: Went shopping bought a pair of K. D. trousers Rs25/ -! Lovely stuff! Ha. Ha.
Saturday November 20th 1943: Work.
Note: From here on these paper “cut” and destroyed by the censor. They refer to the time I spent in Delhi at Army H. Q working on Operation “BROWN”. The preparation for the construction of an airfield on the “Clunies Ross” Islands in the Indian Ocean. It was abortive anyway. Whilst we were scatting around putting it on Top Secret Paper the Americans moved in with then “Sea bees” bulldozers and built it! Anyway they had the equipment we didn’t have any at all. Douglas Kassell was made C. R. E. See papers in file. Afterwards I was posted back to C. R. E. 2 and ran the unit office as a W. O. II. until I was repatriated. These pages also had reference to 2 WEEKS glorious leave Dobbie & I had in Darjeeling & Sikkin in ‘45.
© Copyright of content contributed to this Archive rests with the author. Find out how you can use this.