Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Saturday 27th December 1941

There was a sudden panic this afternoon (perhaps because of the reported massing of German troops on the Turkish frontier!) and instead of a small party of libertymen being sent into Alex, as planned, a huge crowd went, including myself. When we got there a few of us grouped together and had the thrill of a haircut, shave and shampoo at once.

Ling, Grant and a fellow named Webb then went to Toc H for a bath. Jimmie James and I arrived later by gharri, and found the bath-rooms all occupied, so we first slipped into the dining room for a cup of tea – ah! sublime luxuries of town! - and chain smoked many excellent cigarettes. Sometimes we've thought “Wog” Woodbines a luxury, but now we had lots of Players, Gold Flake and Craven “A”, with no danger of the supply becoming exhausted.

Then – we wallowed in hot, soapy baths! The others were waiting and we all had a hell of an appetite. So we went into the Hotel Baudrot, nearby, and waded through a meal of many courses and varied tastes, which lasted two hours. “My God, they're still eating,” we heard an amazed Naval officer at the next table say to his companion, when the forth course commenced. Lager beer – what a thirst the hors-d-oeuvre (especially the anchovies!) gave us! The price of the dinner – with beer – was 73pts. each. Well worth it, to desert soldiers with large credits.

When we were sated (it was tragic to have to turn away some of the second helpings offered to us) we all went into the bar and bought a cigar apiece and more cigarettes and John Haigs. This didn't seem very strong after the neat rum we'd been drinking lately, so after a few John Haigs, we had a round of Vodka, just to see what it was like. The bottle was labelled with mystic characters and “WODKA” and in large figures, “50%”.

There was of course, a good deal of merriment and joviality by this time, and the conversation flowed freely, as indeed it had right from the time when we entered the hairdressers shop. We met Pop Parker of 414 here. He had been saved from a draft to 107 RHA at the last minute. Even his news, that the advance party had already left camp to proceed to Palestine, failed to damp us. “Ha! It's Russian alright! Another round of Vodka, boys!” “Yes, get used to it, what?” “Cheerio!” “Mud in your eye.”

Gharri to the square where the lorries were parked in teeming rain. There were still a few minutes before they were due to start, so Jimmie (laughing like hell) and Basil and I, hurried round the corner for a quick beer and to obtain a few bottles for the morning-after thirst. (Forethought, that!)

The journey back, when harassed sergeants and officers had finished sorting us out, was quite a jolly one. I felt fine and thought I was very witty and that everyone appreciated my humour fully. Gayler and Stevens were there, very sober, and Scott lay inert on the floor. Every now and then I'd check up on his condition “Is Scott there?” “Oy,Oy!” would come a voice from my feet. “Alright, old boy?” “OK Steve. Still breathing.”

Jimmie was hilarious, a friend to all, handing his cigarettes around constantly. In passing the cookhouse, after we'd reached camp, he collected a tin of evaporated milk and a tin of jam. Even when he was being sick, later on, he kept his gay spirit. “There goes the soup course, Steve,” he cried once, disconsolately merry outside the tent, in the rain. “Hold on Jim, keep the rest!” I urged him, (from between warm blankets within) “Yes! 73 piastres! Can't waste it...”


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