Friday, February 24, 2006
Photo shows: The Sphinx, that's me, 2nd camel from the right
This brief episode relies largely on my Diary notes and starts after our stay near Rome.
Thursday 13th. July 1944
Div flashes taken off us, kit packed and on lorry ready for train journey to Taranto. Rumours seem to bank on Egypt.
Friday 14th. July 1944
Left area at 1230, 30 men and kit to a cattle truck. Heat terrific and not feeling too well. Hope it passes over. Larry in same truck.
Saturday 15th. July 1944
Not much sleep, passing all the old places. San Angelo, Cassino, Mignano, Caserta. Life in truck is pretty hectic and dirty! Arrived Barletta.
Sunday 16th. July 1944
Arrived in Taranto at 2 o'clock. 5 mile march to Div. area with most of equipment. Blazing sun made it pretty grim. Changed all my gear and handed in Big Pack.
Tuesday 18th. July 1944
Marched to docks, seven miles, on board "S.S.Empires Pride" by 12 o'clock. Sailed at 1 o'clock. Boys call the ship "The Altmark" due to the excessive heat and discipline. Slept naked in hammock.
Wednesday 19th. July 1944
Heat still deadly. Boat drill lasted over an hour. Action stations when plane was fired at. Sleeping on deck tonight. Queued for hour in NAAFI.
Thursday 20th. July 1944
Violent stomach cramp due to food. All the lads on my deck the same. Boat drill deadly as usual. Won 10/- at Housey. Passing coast, believe it to be Libya. Sleeping below tonight. Handed money (Lira) in.
Friday 21st. July 1944
No lifeboat drill. Met Syd Bofkin ( a friend from my boy’s club days0 on deck. On ships guard 6-8 p.m. and 12-2 am. Writing this whilst guarding Armoury. Docking on morrow.
Saturday 22nd. July 1944
Last to disembark at Alexandria. Trucks took us to transit (camp) near Mersa Matru. First sight and taste of desert (in Egypt anyway) . Pretty whacked.
Following my visit to Rome the rumours of a "big move" came to be founded on fact, and on July l8th we found ourselves at sea on the S.S. Empire’s Pride and our destination turned out to be Alexandria in Egypt. We were there for just over a month to re-equip, retrain and have some leave in the fleshpots of Cairo. Whilst we were there the 78 Div Infantry set about making a mess of Cairo because of the excessive ‘bull****’ that was imposed, maily by the Redcaps (Military Police)
In my Album is a snap is of Bob Dunne and I in Alexandria with bananas which were then non-existant at home!
As we were out of the line I was able to get off the wireless for a whole month, but instead found myself roped in as a jeep driver to the C.O., one Major Mouland. This was fun, and I was able to dash about the desert between Alexandria and Cairo at speeds of over a hundred miles per hour with the windscreen down to get the maximum cooling effect.
Monday 31st. July 1944
Left camp at 0730 arrived Cairo at 1230. Visited Jewish clubs, ate Kosher Food for first time in years!. Bed and Breakfast for 35 piastres. First impressions of Cairo O.K.
Of my week's leave in Cairo I most vividly remember a day trip to the Pyramids and the Sphinx and the pleasant days we spent swimming at the pool at Heliopolis. In my Album is the standard photo of me on a camel in front of the Pyramids.
On the l6th of August l944 I celebrated my 2lst birthday by having a drink with an American seaman in a bar in Cairo.
I had just dropped the C.O. off in the city and was killing time before picking him up for the trip back to camp at Ishmalia. By one of those remarkable coincidences that used to occur in wartime, the seaman at the bar, a John Merry of 383O North Carmac St Philadelphia, U.S.A., happened to be a crew member of a Liberty ship called the SS Homer Lee. When at the end of our stay in Egypt we boarded ship for our return to Italy the ship turned out to be, yes, you have guessed it, the afore-mentioned Homer Lee and as a result I had the pleasure of access to the crews' quarters and some smashing food.
By September we were on our way back to Italy.
Friday 1st. September 1944
Swimming in an adjacent dock, very enjoyable. Read and finished "Crowthers of Bankdam" by Thomas Armstrong. Very little discipline on board. Wrote letter to folks. Heat pretty deadly, stripped to the waist.
Saturday 2nd. September 1944
Ship still in docks. Last night whilst I was on 4-6 stag there was a bit of trouble and the ship was 'boarded' by U.S. Military Police, the ship's carpenter was taken off. Swimming was very oily today. Handed in 85 Piastres.
Sunday 3rd. September 1944
Ship sailed out of Alexandria at 9.30 am. Balloon was brought out to us by motor boat, already inflated! Convoy formed up about 5 miles out. Our present course is N.W.
We actually set sail on September 3rd, five years to the day that war broke out, and I must have remembered with irony, Mum, G-d rest her soul, saying in the kitchen in Boreham Street, "At least Ronnie won't have to go!"
Monday 4th. September 1944
Sea still calm. Course West. Infantry officer held quiz and to my astonishment I came 6th and won a bar of soap! Concert (of sorts) in the afternoon. In the evening Jack Merry took us to his cabin and showed us various 'souvenirs'.
Tuesday 5th. September 1944
Course N.W, obviously heading for Italy. A bit of action stations and boat drill. Another quiz but no luck this time. The ship is doing quite a bit of rolling but so far I feel OK. Jack Merry is a very good friend in need.
Wednesday 6th. September 1944
Heading for Sicily. The sea is the calmest I've ever seen. My first sight of flying fish. Played Solo Whist all day, lost 5/-. At 1130 pm battle stations sounded but nothing happened.
Thursday 7th. September 1944
Convoy split up about 4 pm, half joined another Gibraltar bound convoy. Steamed into Augusta at 6 pm and anchored a mile off shore. After dinner did a bit of swimming off the side of the ship. Grand!
Friday 8th. September 1944
Left Augusta at 9 am and hugged the coast going North all day. Played cards the greater part of the day. In the evening a storm blew up and we nearly lost our hatch tarpaulin Not much sleep.
Saturday 9th. September 1944
Following the coast round all day. At 6pm entered Taranto harbour and anchored alongside an Italian cruiser of pretty heavy armament. It is still uncertain as to whether or not we disembark here.
Sunday 10th. September 1944
At 9 am disembarked and hung around waiting for my truck to be unloaded. At 6pm a 3 tonner took us to the Div. area where we met the advance party. Dumped kit and came back to Taranto for a show. Met Nat Krieger. (A friend since my Boreham Street days)
By the end of September we were 'back in business' in the Pescara area and our days in Egypt were as though they had never been