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Contributed by 
CSV Action Desk/BBC Radio Lincolnshire
People in story: 
Norman Elsdon
Location of story: 
Brazil
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A4518777
Contributed on: 
22 July 2005

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by a volunteer from Lincolnshire CSV Action Desk on behalf of Norman Elsdon and has been added to the site with his permission. Mr Elsdon fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.

After a dreary spell of training in England, I was eventually ordered to go abroad as part of the reinforcements of some army — I knew not where. We sailed from Liverpool in October 1942, up the Irish Sea, around the north of Ireland, and later we realised that we had crossed the Atlantic and had docked at Brazil.

Green masses of vegetation on steeply rising slopes, topped by multi-coloured building, from a distance offering a decrepit appearance; neutral tins as though faded under the influence of the sun’s heat. Churches in all directions — crosses on habitations standing out against the sky beyond — evidence, possibly of a Catholic domination of the power of thought. Uniforms of all descriptions, reminiscent of musical comedy, again mainly a natural hue, elaborate ensembles suggesting at least an Admiral of the Fleet, but probably cloaking some very minor rank.

On the first morning there was much throwing of money in exchange of fruit; there was much ‘head screwed on the right way-ness’ of the local populace. Then along sauntered the local inhabitants clad in coats of many colours or in spotless white. It was Sunday. They had come to view us; no doubt they thought the British were mad and a different species. There were natives passing on mules, others balancing baskets on their heads. Seemingly brand new American cars mingled with the leisure of the local atmosphere. Trams, mainly with no covered-in sides, passed by continually with many of the passengers clinging to the side. The church bells all rang out. It was so very different from what we were used to.

In the late afternoon we were allowed ashore — at least we were marched a couple of miles to a part where we were allowed to wander, but not beyond its confines, for a period of half an hour. Then we marched back to the ship. We set off through the cobbled streets, past the vendors of odds and ends. “Left-right, left-right” — a young negro who had familiarised himself with one of the Army’s stock expressions caused amusement. ‘Money’ and ‘shilling’ were also words which were very popular and showed how the locals were astute. We marched up steep hills, bathed in perspiration. Modern buildings alternated with poverty and squalor. There were black people, white people and those of a more Spanish appearance. There were priests with their monastic robes and strangely cut hair. I was reminded of a local hospital fete with double ranks of men, women and children through which we had to pass. Some were clapping and cheering. We had a ‘march past’, probably to impress some local dignitary and then we had a break.

There were many people selling mineral waters and local concoctions accompanied by much inconsistency in the rate of exchange, sixpence being looked upon doubtfully in one quarter and, in another, a halfpenny being readily accepted for the same article although, as a rule, they seemed to realise silver had more value. Then off we set again through the crowds; crowds that clapped and cheered and listened to songs which to them were beyond comprehension — “Tipperary”, “White Cliffs of Dover”, etc. We had glimpses of the brilliance inside churches; street lights, shop lights, neon signs flashed out their messages. It was the first sight of habitation without a blackout for over three years, I believe. And so, after this unaccustomed exercise, rather wearily we returned.

And that was Brazil — San Salvador, I believe. It was quite interesting to catch a glimpse of other places.

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