Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Monday 29th and Tuesday 30th December 1941

We moved from the rest camp on Sunday night. 414 marched down gaily, minus their packs this time, as well as their bed-rolls. We had to hump our packs however and were in bad temper by the time we completed the 2 mile march. Our greatcoats made us all hot and clammy and there was angry muttering when we were made to mark time inordinately near the station, also when we came to the train and found 414 men already comfortably seated therein. Jimmie James had gone down earlier, with the baggage party and had nobly looked after our interests. He'd obtained chocolates, cakes and beer from a NAAFI, which he shared among his cronies (all faint from hunger) on their arrival.

I slept on the floor between two seats on which Naden and James lay. One of my blankets covered the three of us. My feet curled around Golding's back as he crouched in the gangway and ended by Pawsey's head just beyond. as soon as I put my head on my haversack, near the floor, I became conscious of the terrifically soothing rhythm of the wheels: drub-drub-drub,di,di,drub,drub,drub. It put me instantly to sleep.

When I awoke the train was still and someone was saying “Yes, this is Cairo station...” I slept again and awoke in the grey dawn light, when we were far to the east of Cairo.

We crossed Suez about 9a.m. and within a few minutes were having an amazingly good and well organised breakfast at Qantara East. No muddling and no waiting! The meal was tea, potato mash and four tinned sausages. Subsequently we waited about five hours for the north bound train. We were crowded and HQ was dismally mixed up with A and B this time.

The Sinai Desert, hour after hour. No miredam, no wadi. Just long, ragged sand dunes and little green clumps of palm or eucalyptus – two trees around each small station. We reached El Arish Oasis, of happy convalescent memories, after dark, and stayed there some time. I slept as before, but very uncomfortably on this occasion for some reason, waking up several times with pains in the back and cramped legs.

However, when we all finally awoke the desert was gone, and the train was standing in green Lydda station. Eventually it crawled on, through orange groves and wet ploughed land, past eucalyptus and olive trees, past little farm houses. Strange and lovely to see it again. Palestine! What a good land after being in blasted Egypt! Here was neither desert or forced and irrigated land, but fertility – and the sun shining above the misty line of hills to the eastward!

Sarafand Camp. Vast town of huts. We were quickly off the train and detailed to our huts – there are about 50 in this, belonging to the headquarter troops of 339 and 414. Search, being in the advance party, had got good places for Naden, Stevens, Motley, Ling and the rest of us.. Search says that the division to which we are now attached (it is mainly the old 1st Cavalry Division to which we originally belonged) has a high opinion of us. They certainly have looked after us well; the meals are excellent and well served too. This is a transit camp. We shall not remain here long. However one thing does seem certain – we are in a different Army now and probably will not go to the Western Desert again. This is a very good thing! Any front but that!

It is now 8:15p.m. We are all shaved and bathed and fed. Most of the day has been taken up with the tedious but necessary duties connected with settling in.

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