- Contributed by
- BBC Scotland
- People in story:
- Robert Salmond
- Location of story:
- Middle East
- Background to story:
- Royal Air Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 15 June 2005
This story was submitted to the People's War site by Nadine from the People's War team on behalf of Robert Salmond and has been added to the site with his permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.
As an AC1 transport mechanic with 46 Squadron Royal Air Force, we set sail from Glasgow one day in April 1941, and six horrendous weeks later on the troopship "SS Almanzora" via a stop-over in Durban, disembarked at Kasfereet and onwards to a peacetime RAF station - Abou-sueir, where we were billeted under canvas in the environs of the camp.
Unfortunately for us, Abou-sueir and Ismalia had been getting a lot of attention from the Luftwaffe, and in particular the screaming Stukas were very nasty that all personnel evacuated the camp at the going down of the sun, marching two miles into the "blue" with full sleeping kit, and returning at sun-up.
A few days later we were given the bad news - we were a fighter squadron without planes - lost at sea, lying at the bottom of the Mediterranean. The air-crews, somehow got to Malta and did their job in defence of the George Cross Island.
We, the ground-crew moved to kilo 17 near Mena on the Alexandria Road, and having no aircraft to maintain, became very vulnerable to detailed volunteering!
And so it came to pass, without my knowledge of what was afoot, twelve men, eleven drivers and a mechanic, with Cpl Brown i/c, embarked on a very ancient Valencia bi-plane, fixed undercarriage, patched fabric, without engine-cowlings or armaments. A very frightening sight. Everyone on board was a believer! The flight was very, very scary, gut-churning, tossed around white-knuckle terror, which landed at Port Said, where our objective became clear.
The Free French had been forming a corps to do battle alongside the Allies in the Middle East. Our detachment were to supply them with vehicles, which we collected at MT Transit. Ten 5 ton Chevrolets and convoyed off to find this fort in the desert. Somewhere north of Damascus we left the main road moving eastwards following the Free French Insignia markers, and there on the horizon was the fairy-tale looking fort as seen in the film Beau Geste. Rolling hills of sand, parapets and a drawbridge. The French troops, resembling Apaches, gave us a rousing welcome. And why not? Now they had transport.
It was near midday, time for tiffin. We were ushered into a whitewashed room, in which stood a white-scrubbed table, forms on either side on which we sat and were served bully-beef, onions and Egyptian potatoes. No shay. Instead, a large pitcher of red wine, a heady brew was placed on the table. We had our own mugs and quickly sampled the wine. I made enquiries in the chuffie language that the beverage was free, and two more litres were plonked down on the table. What joy, oh indeed this was the happy hour! Ho-Ho-Ho.
This was around two in the afternoon, it was hot, and having drunk copious amounts of wine, the effects were now oh-oh-oh-you know? Simultaneously a great need for the bog was crucial. Where was it? We were all drunk, disorientated, becoming ill and in need of a bit more than a desert-lily! In dire need, and having no French communication was worrying.
Venturing outside, the lavatory aroma was brought to our senses, giving direction to a building 200 yards away - a formidable distance. the need to run was overwhelming, but dangerous. Two tried with sodden results. On closer inspection, the structure was a 10 foot high, 20 foot square bricked building, no roof, one door. There was no mistaking its purpose. Opening the door revealed a concrete floor, sloping to a centre grating. As the flushing system depended on rainwater, th flies were feasting. Two steel bars, two inches in diameter, two feet apart were slung across two walls over the grating, ten foot high. The simplicity of this construction was terrifying and clear. Remove shorts, leap up, grasp the bars, evacuate, and dismount. Miss the bars, and you may not wish to try again! The smell was choking, it was very hot and the flies were thick all around. The thought of failure was awesome.
Consider the scenario, ten drunken airmen trying this acrobatic stunt amid the heat, the flies, the smell and the vomit. Some were very unfortunate. There was no happy ending, the hangovers saw to that in the back of a 5 ton Chevrolet back to base, driven by an Apache.
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