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Harry Blood's War Part 4 - Serving in North Africa, 1942

by Stockport Libraries

Contributed by 
Stockport Libraries
People in story: 
Harry Blood
Location of story: 
Cairo, Luxor, Moascar, Western Desert
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
23 June 2004

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

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

Fred Kennington
March 2002.

“3rd January 1942. Arrived at Abbassia Barracks, Cairo, after a long journey during which we re-crossed the border at Misheifa then on by rail, sleeping in a goods van. We are able to get into Cairo most evenings from here and it is a great change for us to have all these cinemas and restaurants to go to. Between 10th and 15th January I met Alec Burslem, from Hazel Grove, now stationed with 7th A.D. and also Jimmy Wood in the restaurant at the Salvation Army Hostel near Ezbekhish Gardens.
Cairo could be interesting! You had to hang on very tightly to your possessions as the locals were happy to separate them and you. Maybe this is where ‘imshi!’ came into its own! We used the tram to travel back and forward to the Barracks and, naturally, they were extremely busy. There was a sharp lesson for one of the lads one day. We were on a tram with the window open when a hand came in through the open window and snatched an army forage cap off his head. The loser had to pay for the lost cap.

21st January. Lady Lampson, wife of Sir Miles Lampson, the Governor-General, is running a scheme giving parties of soldiers from the Desert a very cheap trip to Luxor, several hundred miles up the Nile Valley. Ernie Webster and myself were lucky to have our names picked out of a hat and went on this trip, leaving Cairo by train at 7pm, and getting to Luxor the next morning. We were met at the station and taken in gharries to the Luxor Hotel, a very fine place. This area is famous for ancient temples, mainly on this, the east, side of the Nile. Across on the west side are tombs and mortuary temples many of which we visited with a Sudanese guide speaking perfect English. It was in Luxor that I bought a Kodak box camera and took many snaps of the ruins. We arrived in Luxor on Wednesday morning and left late on Friday – two nights and three days. I saw the Temple of Luxor, overlooked by the hotel and the Karnak Temple. Crossing over the Nile we saw the Colossi of Memnon; the Remesseum; the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut, built into the side of high cliffs, and in the Valley of Kings we went into the tombs of Tutankahmen and Rameses II. I was never interested in Egyptology before going to Luxor – although I did have interest in later life – the best thing at the time was to have the luxury of a hot bath!

26th January. Returned to Cairo by train and back to Abbassia Barracks again. The charge for the whole trip was about £1/3/6d!! The food and the service in Luxor Hotel, compared with desert life, were almost unbelievable!

7th February. Went to Moascar, in the Gulf Zone, near Ismailia for a month’s course at the R.A.S.C. Clerks’ School. Made several friends here including a Singhalese lad, Magi Abwam Pilsi, a Tamil actually, with whom I spent a weekend leave at Port Said and a train journey from Ismailia and back.

7th March. I returned to Abbassi Barracks at the end of my course. A few days later we, the 7th Armoured Division left again in the same old lorries, back to the Desert. Stuck to the road through Amiriya, passing through Burg el Arab, Fuka, Dab’a as well as up the Sollum Pass and on to Alamein, although I never saw Alamein. The Sollum Pass was very steep, rough and the drop on the seaward side was alarming. Most of us either walked or hung on to the running boards ready to jump! Later we got to a position south of Bir Hacheim, the south end of the so-called ‘Gazala Line’.

In our absence the enemy started an attack on 19th January, took Benghazi on 28th January and by the second week of February reached the ‘Gazala Line’ and halted.

May. Summer is here now, it is very hot again and the sandstorms are dying down. In late April I had one day at a little bay, which is being turned into a ‘Rest Camp’ for our Division (not for long!). The journey was very rough and dusty, but the sea bathing was fine.

26th May. The 7th Armoured Division moved more than ten miles south of Fort Capuzzo, immediately south of Tobruk.

27th May. The enemy broke through and, though we had been expecting to move, it was a shock when an officer in a jeep came at speed into the camp, waving his arms and shouting something like, ’move – get out – tanks!’ We looked in the direction he had indicated and could see vehicles coming in our direction. Fortunately much equipment was already loaded and there was a mad scramble over many tailboards and we scattered in all directions. Even so, we heard later that the ordnance lorry got a hole right through its side. The Advance H.Q. 7th A.D. had been unluckier still as several of the clerks were taken prisoner. Some officers, also, I believe, were captured including General Messervy. He took off all his General’s insignia and mixed with the other ranks and soon escaped, no doubt with the help of the others. Maybe the Germans were not too bothered and didn’t wonder why there was a fifty-year-old private in the melee. Amongst those captured were, I believe, S.S.M Blissett and Pte. Gerry Giltrow.
Having got away, our trucks just went anywhere as fast as we could. We broke down after some miles, but we were lucky enough to be picked up and towed on by an ambulance lorry which was going our way. We moved back to Gambut, where we managed to rejoin some of the other trucks, going on forward to a point south of El Adem. Not long after that the general move back started and we went through the wire once more at Maddelena and then right back to the southern sector of what was later to be the Alamein Line."

El Adem fell on 16th June; Tobruk on 21st June; Mersa Matruh, 140 miles east of Tobruk on 29th June.

"1st July. Rommel pushed, starting the first battle of Alamein. The 7th A.D. was near where the ‘Barrel Track’ turns north towards Alamein – just south of Qarat el Himeimat and well south of Ruweisat Bridge.

10th July. Went with a truck to Mena, near the Pyramids, for some supplies. On the way we passed through a very strange part of the Desert, well to the south, where there are many fossilised trees. We had two days at Mena awaiting supplies, so I had the chance to play tennis in Mena Hotel grounds, and have an evening visit to Cairo. Probably this trip was made along the ‘Barrel Track’ which ran from Fuka towards Cairo.

13th July. Back to the Desert with supplies as required. The Front seems static again now, both sides seem to be ‘digging in’ for a while. There is only a forty mile gap between the Mediterranean and the Qattara Depression.

27th July. Had a tooth out in a novel fashion, the cocaine being injected, while I was sitting on the running board of a lorry and the tooth extracted, while sitting on the other running board!

‘Monty’ took over 8th Army 13th August 1942.

Through July and August the first Battle of Alamein took place. The main attack was at 2300 on 30th August at the south end of the line – our end! By 6th September the enemy had failed to take Alam Halfa Ridge.”

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Siege of Tobruk 1941 Category
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