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A Lighter Shade of Pale Blue, Chapter 13 Pt 2.

by Reg O'Neil MBE

Contributed by 
Reg O'Neil MBE
People in story: 
16004 AMES RAF
Location of story: 
Uk to Malta
Background to story: 
Royal Air Force
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
09 July 2005

We did not enter the harbour, but lay off whilst a tender came out to take off the mail we had brought. At 02.00hrs Wednesday morning we 'up-anchored' and headed east into the Mediterranean in company with another destroyer and arrived in Algiers 24 hrs. Later. We still had no idea where we were bound for but following breakfast, we received instructions to disembark for transfer to another mode of transport that would convey us to the beleaguered island of Malta. But first we must go to a transit camp to await further instructions.
On arrival in North Africa we were transported to the transit camp some 3 miles to the east of Algiers named 'Hussein D'Hei'. It was a tented camp spread out over a stretch of sand dunes that reached out into the sea, in which we were told we must not enter due to sewerage outfalls. The camp was inhabited by hundreds of all ranks of the RAF. Squadron Leaders down to AC2's all awaiting posting instructions. In the centre of this encampment stood a structure of timber surmounted by a small cabin in which sat a Corporal, armed with binoculars and a microphone attached to a P.A. system. Those who had spent several days here informed us that the Corporal was mad! His rank seemed to fluctuate from Sergeant to Corporal every other week due to complaints about the way he treated all visitors. He spent most of each day shouting orders to the occupants of the tents, which were clearly numbered. Such commands as: "Fall in the occupants of tents numbers 1 to 10, collect brooms and sweep the camp out". Imagine, sweeping sand! And this was done twice a day! He would watch and if no one emerged from one of the tents, he would cry "Tent (numbe 9umber of a tent, I know you are in there, come out at once or you will be on a charge", and out would possibly creep four officers! He had no regard for rank at all, everyone was a 'prisoner' to him, or that was how it appeared. If any man was hated, He was without a shadow of doubt, way in the lead of all others. Some suggested that he had been too long in the dessert and no Commanding Officer would accept him in his command! He had been sentenced to 'Life' running this transit camp. I would imagine that most every airman who had spent time in the Algiers area would know who this man was. We were to meet up with him again many months later at another transit camp in Algiers.
We spent a week dodging the commands of the mad corporal; we quickly learned to be anywhere excepting in a tent during the day. We were free to leave the camp in the evenings unless one was caught for a guard duty. One evening we walked into Algiers itself and took in the sights. We had been advised not to walk anywhere alone but to keep together in groups. We were also warned against the common habit of carrying ones 'irons' (Knife, fork and spoon) in the back trouser pocket, several cases of members of the allied troops being knifed in the back with their own 'irons' had been reported. The food on this camp was terrible, a complete change from the Naval rations we had lived on for the past weeks. One evening a group of us walked into a nearby village although we were supposed to be on a 12-hour's standby for movement, we found an hotel and took dinner. A four-course meal, with wine, at the cost of 25 francs (2/6d) each. We couldn't linger too long over this luxury in case our call should come up. We had been told that we were to be flown across to Malta when aircraft were available, or possibly be taken over in a submarine as many had done before us. The Western Mediterranean was still a hazardous area at that time. The following morning eight of our draft, including some radar mechs were flown out at a moments notice and the remainder were to be at a ten minutes readiness, just as the mad corporal decided that we were to go on a 24 hrs. Guard duty at a petrol dump some twenty miles away! We were saved by the bell as we were transported down to the docks and split between two 'Hunt' class destroyers, the 'Lauderdale' and the 'Waddon'.

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