Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Saturday 19th December 1942

I was standing in the usual long queue in the district's sole NAAFI at break-time this forenoon, when the man just behind me blurted out suddenly, “What do you think of going to Syria?” I'd never seen the fellow before in my life, so, mindful of “careless talk” said cautiously, “Why? What lot are you in?” “84th Anti-tank,” he replied, “We're going on the 29th. And so are you” “How do you know?” “Well you're in the 10th Armoured Div., aren't you?” “Don't know” “Surely you know what division you're in?”

“No,” I said firmly. “Well,anyway,” said my confident, “The whole Div. is moving up on the 29th. I've just come back from Syria myself. It's terrible up there”
“You want to be careful what you say, above div. moves, matey,” said a 519 man beside me. “Certainly!” I said, “We might be fifth columnists. You don't know us, do you?” “Ah, that's alright, you're soldiers,” said the anti-tank man confidently. “We look like soldiers,” said the 519 man, in a sinister fashion. “Yeah,” I added, “We might have mass U-boats waiting for you in the Suez Canal, as you cross over, with mass torpedoes!”

“Still, what's it like in Syria?” asked the 519 man, relenting. “Bloody awful!” said our informant cheerlessly. “Sand, mass snow, howling winds – colder than Blighty! Before it got so cold, there were lots of mosquitoes and sandfly too. Bags of malaria. Most of the troops are in huts. They can't stand the cold in tents...”

Today, following a request received from Bob Dewhurst, I went to see Major Jones, who has just returned from leave. Everything went with miraculous smoothness. The Major kept me waiting about 15 seconds. Then I went into his office and told him there was a bombardier at the Base, on a gunnery course, who was anxious to join us. I knew we were full up, so tried, quite desperately - “And he's an Essex man, sir. Used to be in our second line, 146th RA, before he was drafted to ME” This obviously made a big difference. “Where'd he live, in Essex?” asked the Major, reaching for a pen. “Stock,” I said glibly, “Knew him slightly, before the war.” “Stock!” (another strong point, for some reason!) The pen was dipped. “Do you vouch for his good character?” “Oh,yes sir,” I replied (thinking, “I hope the old boy behaves himself when he gets into a proper unit!”) “Well, I'll send a note to the Adjutant,” said the Major, beginning to write. “Can't promise anything, but there may be room in 339, if not here.”

Five minutes later, the Orderly Bombardier Johnnie Richardson, who knew Bob in peace time came out of the Battery office with a startled look, “Steve, you sod,” he began, “I've just seen a note to RHQ...” “Don't tell me!” I interrupted, “Now I must get a message to Bob quickly, with the story he is to tell. But how?” (Cairo is out of bounds this week-end, because of the Moslem festival of Courban Bairam). I went to RHQ to make a risky phone call and found a special lorry was just leaving for the Base Depot. I was on that lorry and in Cairo within half an hour, amazed at my luck! The truck went to the Training Wing office. “Have you a Bob Dewhurst here – gunnery course?” The clerk glanced at his files, “Dewhurst finished his course yesterday and went to “E” Depot Battery” “OK!”

I went to “E” Battery Office. It was full of clerks. My luck still good, I went to the one clerk who knew the answer. “Can I see Bob Dewhurst, please? He came here from Training Wing yesterday.” And my run of good luck ended! “Bdr. Dewhurst has gone,” said the clerk at once, “He went on draft this morning” “What Regiment?” I asked in hollow accents. “Actually, he's gone to a forward movement control, perhaps on convoy work...” “Where's their office?” “Alexandria area,” answered the clerk.
“I think my Regiment was going to claim him,” I said disconsolately.
“Oh, hard lines! Well he may come back here – in a month's time.” “We shall be gone by then, I expect,” I said sorrowfully.

The truck was still outside. We came back through the town half an hour later. Bairam was being celebrated all right. The city was full of Wogs – never seen such crowds, - but there were hardly any soldiers about. It was long past tea-time, so we stopped in a quiet street and had a meal at a cafe where there were tables on the pavement, so that we could keep an eye on the lorry.

Arrived back in camp about 6:30p.m. and had lost 4/- in a game of brag at 8p.m. I then went up to the YMCA and had a quiet game of chess with Jock Forbes.

Which brings to an end, Starshine of 1942

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