Friday, September 05, 2008

Saturday 16th November 1940

We left our position last Thursday and bivouacked across the railway, near Sidihanaish Station. The 25th RHA moved in; and as we lay huddled in our blankets we chuckled – they were Regulars, but “shaky”. Each time an Iti plane's engine droned – and that was often – frantic alarm whistles sounded. We could imagine the 25th huddling into the slit trenches we'd dug, listening anxiously to that distant droning.

Friday night, bivouac in semi-fertile country near the Nile Delta. I didn't notice this patch of land on the way up, as I was asleep. I must have been asleep longer than I had thought! During the night there was a raid on Alexandria. We lay and watched the anti-aircraft shells bursting. This morning we came on again leaving that “Matruh” signpost behind us and taking the road marked “Le Caire”.

Stopped for lunch (the usual foul tea, hard biscuit and marmalade, with a small portion of tinned salmon) in the middle of the desert. Reached Cairo's outskirts in late afternoon and were met by an MP who ordered the convoy to get into close formation – about three yards between vehicles. This shook us, after all the 180 yards distance and dispersion which we'd become so proficient in.

Quite a triumphal procession through Cairo – dozens of guns and vehicles all dusty, and with unkempt -looking personnel. The convoy looked as though it had come from the Western Desert. However, as we turned south along the Nile and drew further away from Cairo, whilst it grew cold and dark, our spirits sank. About 25 miles it seemed to Helwan Camp, in a desolate, miniature desert. M1 ran down a bank and nearly turned over. M1 personnel were fed-up... But it was a camp of huts. There are 14 of us in this one tonight. Sleeping on bed boards on concrete floors... As soon as I'd got my kit in, I found the NAAFI and went over there with Tubby Cartwright. We were soon joined by Jack Chenery. Sat at a table and had six eggs, two helpings of mashed potatoes and three cups of marvellous tea – and two slices of bread and butter!

9p.m. I'll turn in now. And with this return to a semblance of civilisation, I end Twilight 1940.

It's been a short Twilight but then the twilight out here is very brief...

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