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COPYRIGHT - Noel harrower 2015 3.                                                LETTERS FROM EGYPT Dear Mother and Dad, We disembarked from the “Empire Medway” at about 10.30 in the morning. A wave of heat hit us, as we carried all our luggage in two packs on our backs, and two kit bags, one on the shoulder and one under the arm. We climbed down a ladder to the landing craft, which took us ashore. That was a bit tricky, as you can imagine. We saw little or nothing of Port Said, because we were marched immediately to a dockside train. We waited for about half an hour, and all that time street vendors were clamouring round the windows, trying to sell us anything and everything. We bypassed the town, crossed pools of water, and stretches of desert, with the Suez Canal on our left. We passed through several native shanty towns and by one or two primitive looking army camps, and whenever we stopped, more hawkers appeared with trays of trashy goods. One soldier who leant out to speak, had his beret whipped from his head. Ismailia was the first real town we reached, about fifty miles down the line. It seemed to appear out of the desert. The European quarter looked a model new town with palm tree boulevards, modern blocks of flats, parks and gardens. We were happy to leave the train here at the first sign of any civilisation. We boarded army wagons from the RASC School at Buller camp, about six miles out of town. The camp was easily the best one I had yet seen. We were taken straight to the dining hall for lunch. So this is where I am now comfortably based, awaiting my posting to a permanent station. There is a lakeside swimming pool, which I sampled early this afternoon, and while we lazed on the beach, we watched several large ships sailing through the canal. I would like to get a job in this camp. Today, I became a Methodist, but it came about in a very funny way. We all had to go into a room where a tally printed to hang round our necks, showing our name, army number and religion. I think this must be in case we get killed while we are out here. I told the man who hammered out the lettering that I was a Christian Scientist, he said “You can’t be. I’ve got the religions down here. You must be either R.C. or Meth or if you don’t know what you are, you’re C of E.” I decided to be a Meth.   Saturday, 7 April 1951 Dear All,                                                                                                                                                                                                        P. and L, Directorate                                                                                      At last I have a posting and a permanent address. I have been appointed to the Pioneer and Labour Directorate in the big headquarters at Fayid, which lies on the Great Bitter Lake half-way between Port Said and Suez The Ship Canal goes right through this substantial lake, I am the only army clerk in this head office for the Pioneer Corps in the Middle East. The top man is a Colonel. There are also three other officers, a Lieutenant Colonel, a Major, and a Captain. The clerical staff consists of a Sergeant, who is the chief clerk, two military wives and a Greek shorthand typist called Kitty Topolopolio or something similar– so I am in interesting company. There is a vacancy for an office orderly. This means that, until an appointment is made, I have to act as a runner, delivering messages by bicycle. Every morning, I have to go to the army post office, which like all the buildings here, is a nissen hut, collect the mail, open and register it all and distribute it to the appropriate members of staff. Towards the end of the day I collect all the outgoing mail, stamp and register it and take it to the post office. Between these tasks, I have bookwork and some typing to do. I also make cups of tea, which I have to take round to the officers each morning. It’s difficult to do this without spilling some, because the officers are in another hut, and I have to walk through the sand to get there and that means stepping up onto a veranda, which makes the saucer wobble. The major was very cross yesterday, because some spilt tea had left a mark on the cup. I sleep in a tent with three other lads. I am in Number 2 Company in a large tented camp. All the men here are clerks in the HQ. Some tents are for sergeants, but the corporals are mixed in with us, and are usually the tent commanders, responsible for cleanliness etc. We eat in a big cookhouse; the food is quite good. Yesterday, someone who had recognised me there came over to my table. It was Arthur Rimmer, who used to live next door to Auntie Clare. When the war started, I went to school with him, whilst I was living in Southport because of the bombing expected in Manchester. That didn’t last long did it?  I was back home again in time for the blitz.   Anyway, it was good to see a friend I knew and Arthur has introduced me to some others, who go to a place called the MMG, which stands for Mission to Mediterranean Garrisons. It’s a sort of NAAFI, with Christian activities tacked on. Arthur has become very religious and I think he wants to save my soul! It gets sweltering hot in the afternoons, so in the summer we don’t work then.  After lunch, we usually either have a sleep or go swimming at the Lido. Some nights We have to do an evening shift. It depends how busy we are. The evenings and the early mornings are the best times of day. There are a lot of guard duties to do at night. In the afternoons, on these days, we have to collect rifles and clean them and all our kit as well. There’s an inspection parade before the guard starts and another when it finishes. We usually patrol the perimeter fence in twos for a couple of hours, and then have four hours off. Normally we do two patrols. Occasionally. we go out by ourselves. Most lads hate that. They prefer to have a mate. I don’t mind it actually. It gives me a chance to think. I’m surrounded by people all day, and a stretch on my own helps. There are wonderful starlight nights our here because of the lack of clouds and it gives me a quiet time in which to take stock of things. Very occasionally, we have to patrol an area where there are some Egyptians working for us, a cookhouse area for example. Then we might have an Egyptian on guard with us. Usually they say very little, and most of the lads hate having to go on patrol with what they call a “wog”. I find it quite interesting. The other night a young man who was patrolling with me told me he was a student at Cairo university, doing a holiday job to earn some money. He surprised me by suddenly saying that he wished he could read the Bible in English. It was good that he said it to me. Most of the lads would have laughed at him, but it turned out that he was a Coptic Christian. I told him I could easily get him a New Testament because they were free for us at the MMG. I arranged to meet him that week in the shopping centre, and when I gave it to him, he insisted on buying me a present. I explained that I did not have to pay for the book, but he was so insistent that I let him buy me a photo album. Most of the local people around here are illiterate and many of them are dubious characters, but it is good to meet an educated one. There is a shanty town nearby, and a local market where you can barter over trinkets. A week last Sunday, a procession of them went dancing by, all dressed up, with musical instruments. Somebody told me it was because they were celebrating King Farouk’s new bride. There was chanting and singing the whole night through. Dear Mother and Dad,                                                                                       10 March ….We had a Khamsin here last Thursday. It is very late in the year for these sudden sandstorms. Everywhere went completely dark, and the wind was very strong. It was agony to try and walk in the thick of it. The flying sand gets everywhere. All over tables and chairs, in your barrack boxes, into your food and drink. Small whirlwinds occur in the midst of them. Several tents were nearly brought down and the wooden roof was completely blown off the lavatories in the GHQ. The storm lasted from half- past one to half past five. I’m told it was quite a moderate affair really. It took an hour’s solid dusting in the office on Friday to clear up the mess. By the way, do you remember those Mauritanian prisoners who were aboard the troopship I travelled in? Well, I know more about them now. I have found a report about the incidents, which led to their arrest. Apparently there had been some bullying going on in the Pioneer camp they were working in Libya, and there was a rebellion by some of the soldiers. One of the officers was killed, but at the trial the charge of murder was reduced to manslaughter. How strange that, having been one of the temporary guards, I should end up in the office where the official record of it all was held.  Dear All,                                                                                                 Friday, 15/8/51 Thank you for the letters and the newspapers. Most welcome. On August Bank Holiday, we went on a trip with people from the MMG to Kabrit Point, at the southern end of the Great Bitter Lake. There is a grove of palm trees on a promontory, which makes an excellent place for a picnic. It took us about an hour in the wagon. We had a dip, followed by lunch, and an open-air service. I was one of three lads who were baptised that afternoon, in the Bitter Lake. We arrived back at the MMG around seven in the evening.   The whole outing only cost 10 piasters (about 2 shillings.)
Letters from EGYPT - part 1
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