Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Wednesday 12th November 1941

I'm at some transit camp in the desert, between Alex and Cairo; or maybe it is between Alex and Mersa Matruh – I don't really know. There are 24 of us here for the 104th. In a little more than 7 hours (at 2:45a.m.) we assemble by the trucks and move off, quite obviously for the docks.

Everyone is a little apprehensive but quite high-spirited. The slight nervousness is natural; the papers call this 14 hour dash through Bomb Alley “the most dangerous sea trip in the world”.

We are absolutely loaded down with kit! When we paraded at 4p.m. for the rehearsal of mounting the lorries, each of us carried the following:-

1 kit bag
1 respirator
1 valise (containing 3 blankets and with 1 ground-sheet and another blanket outside)
1 haversack
1 water bottle
100 rounds .303 in a bandolier
1 rifle

We were each clad in battle dress, great coat, slippers and tin hat. When we embark we shall not march proudly up a gangway, with bands playing and our ladies waving good-bye. We shall scramble and stumble, hastily, in the dark!

After being warned for draft we still had several free evenings before us. Because they were our last, they were all the more enjoyable. Once, Steve and Wilbur Underhill and I went out. Another time, Steve, Claude Edwards, Bill Oxley and I all went to the Cairo Citadel to finally deposit those things which we'd be leaving behind. Into the kit bag with my Iti shell case and bayonet, went my precious diaries and love letters and my newly purchased slacks and shoes. Afterwards we went to the canteen with Pepper, the regimental storeman, and had beer and a discussion of the latest rumours – one of which is that the Regiment has been awarded the VC.

On my very last afternoon at the Base, I got special leave to go out into Cairo. This was so that I could go into a bookshop and copy out a poem by Brooke. I wasn't quite sure of the exact words and this worries me, so I had to write it all out -

“Is it the hour? We leave this resting place
Made fair by one another for a while...”

Afterwards, I posted some books to myself in Tobruch and then had a snack at a cafe. Russian salad and a cup of tea, whilst I read about desert warfare, in “The Parade”. This meal was all the more delicious as I realised it was probably my last cafe meal for some considerable time.

All next day we were in the train. For the first time in many years, I forgot to notice 11 o'clock of Remembrance Day. We were in the train somewhere; I was either asleep or playing “nap” I don't know. What a Remembrance Day for everyone though! “They died in war that we might live in peace”.

Here, I was in a tent with Evans, Oxley, Edwards and a few more. We all slept from 9p.m. to 6:30a.m. A grand sleep. We were playing cards all this forenoon; we didn't expect to be leaving this transit camp quite so soon. Well, everything is ready now. It is only a question of waiting, or dozing somewhere, until 2:45a.m.

Doubtless this will be my last entry in this diary in Egypt – for a while, at any rate.


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