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Title: Coming of Age: 1939-1946
Author: Cox, John
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Copyright (C) 2004 by John Cox.




(Please see the HTML version of this eBook for 19 photographs)



Rumours of War.  March 1939-1940________________________________1

Plymouth.  March 1940-July 1942________________________________10

Bowden Battery.  July 1942-August-1942 ________________________14

Oxshott.  July 1942-August 1942________________________________34

Aldershot.  August 1942-December 1942__________________________37

Going South.  January 1943-April 1943__________________________42

India.  May 1943-June 1943_____________________________________53

Iraq.  June 1943-August 1944 __________________________________57

No. 5 Advanced Base Workshops.  June 1943-August 1944__________63

Desert Life.  June 1943-August 1944____________________________68

No. 1 Base Workshops.  August 1944-August 1945_________________74

Tel-el-Kebir.  August 1945-January 1946________________________93

In the End.  January 1946_____________________________________105


Now that the Second World War is some 60 years past this would seem to
be a good time to collate all the various chapters that I've written
over the last few years and present them as an entity.  No war can
really be described as a "good" war especially by the families of those
who didn't return or by those who returned maimed but in the sense that
I went through it from the start until the finish and emerged
unscratched I suppose that mine could be called a "good" war.

Though I spent just under three years in the Middle East in Iraq and
Egypt I was never engaged in any action and what follows in these pages
describes the more mundane side of military life.  I didn't start
writing these chapters until about 50 years after the war and have
relied heavily on memory, with some photographs but no diaries; the
content is substantially accurate.  Dates are included in the Contents
page; the starting and ending dates are true and the intervening dates
are not more than a month out.

John Cox
Ottawa, Canada March 2004


It was 1938 and the Spanish civil war was still in progress; Germany was
flexing her muscles having effected an Anschluss with Austria and having
out-manoeuvred Britain and France over the matter of Czechoslovakia.  It
was obvious that a war was coming but Britain had allowed her forces and
armaments to run down and was in no position to engage in one.  At that
time I was 20 years old and was working as a draughtsman in an
engineering firm; I believe conscription had started though I'm not
certain exactly when and there was always a possibility that my job
would be classified as a reserved occupation.  To this day I don't know
whether or not I would have been called up because together with my
school friend I joined the Territorial Army.

With war looming closer and closer new units were being formed
everywhere and No. 2 Company of the 5th AA Divisional Signals was born
at The Wayfarers Club on Worral Road near the top of Blackboy Hill in
Bristol.  My friend and I had been very interested in radio or wireless
as it was called in those days and it seemed to us that a signal unit
would fit in well with our hobby, we might even be of some use to the
army. Many others had the same idea especially employees of the Post
Office which was at that time the sole legal agency in Britain for all
communications, so the recruiting hall was full of potential soldiers on
the night we went to sound things out.  Among the dozens there we found
many of our old school friends and some of the members of our church.
We didn't join up that night but thought things over for a day or two
saying nothing to our parents who might have raised objections then made
a second trip to enlist.

Some lads we knew were already commissioned and were to interview us
before we signed on the dotted line.  Our commitment to the force
obliged us to attend for drill on two nights a week and to spend two
weeks at camp each year; our employers were compelled by law to give us
the two weeks off from work with no penalties To start with it was a
case of the myopes leading the blind, true there were a few ex-WWI
veterans and others who had been members of their school Cadet Corps but
we could hardly be called a highly disciplined group.  We didn't enquire
too deeply into the nature of our duties or what exactly we were getting
ourselves into but were content to let life unfold in its own way.

After answering a few perfunctory questions the swearing-in followed
with our right hands on a bible; some jokers later told us that we were
not really soldiers because we had been sworn-in on a dictionary but
that was a tale I heard many many times.  Then came the issue of
equipment, this was rather sparse, all of it being of WWI vintage or
earlier, khaki tunics with brass buttons, drainpipe trousers,
second-hand boots and what seemed quite remarkable brown leather
bandoliers for the 50 rounds of .303 ammunition with which we were never
issued.  Were we then to be cavalry?  A tin hat, forage cap, webbing
belt with bayonet frog, bayonet and scabbard completed our equipment
though later on we were given collar badges and brass letters to affix
to our epaulets proclaiming us to be Royal Signals.

My parents when told of my enlistment had different reactions, father
said little, probably thinking of his experiences in WWI but mother who
would not let me join the Boy Scouts or the school Cadet Corps because
they were too militaristic said, "you're a fool!" At the time I
thought that was a bit hard but six months into the war and I had to
admit she had a point.

One or two with recent military experience gave us rifle drill with the
two SMLE (short model Lee-Enfield) rifles allocated to our unit and we
did a bit of marching and saluting.  Our CO, Captain Sommerville, told
us that our saluting resembled that of a disgruntled taxi driver giving
thanks for a small tip but we did improve.  After a few weeks of
desultory drilling we were told to report to The General Post Office in
Small Street to get acquainted with teleprinters.  Good, we thought, now
we'll get our hands on some electro-mechanical equipment and learn the
inner workings of the Creed machines only to be disappointed to find
that the primary purpose of our being there was to learn to type.  The
Creed teleprinters were only capable of transmitting 66 words a minute
but this was academic because we didn't advance much beyond the
"hunt-and-peck" stage.

About this time the regulations were changed somewhat; our two weeks at
camp were extended to four weeks and I was due to go to Southsea Castle
on September 3rd 1939.  I think it was about August 28th that the
Territorial Army was embodied (that was their term for mobilisation).
At 4-30 am father was awakened from his slumber with a knock at the door
and Corporal Reg Pinnel stood outside with the engine of his motor-bike
combination still running to tell me to get up to HQ right away; then
off he sped to awaken others.  I dressed hurriedly, had a cup of tea and
a bite and then walked up to Worral Road, walked because it was too
early for the bus service to start its daily routine.

When I got there it was a bit of a shambles really with dozens of men
milling around trying to sort themselves out and generally getting
themselves organised.  At about 9am I walked along to the end of Worral
Road to the bank of phone boxes then existing near the top of Blackboy
Hill and phoned my office to tell them that I would not be in that day
nor in the foreseeable future; that was a little prophetic because I
didn't return there to work for six-and-a-half years.

In the first few days we learned a little of the set-up; HQ was to be
the gun operations room, the GOR, from which the AA guns surrounding
Bristol would be directed.  Some of us would be GOR personnel, others
would form the Line Section maintaining communications with the gun
sites, while a few would be responsible for the Quartermaster's stores
and general clerical work.  How many of us there were I can only guess,
probably upwards of two hundred because we also had to supply similar
groups to our detachments at Plymouth and Portland.

To get some experience of aircraft plotting six of us including me were
sent to the RAF at Filton where we were housed in splendid isolation in
an otherwise empty vast hanger; daily we reported to the Operations Room
where we became acquainted with the strange jargon of the RAF, Angels,
Bandits, Red Leader, Tally-Ho and the like as mock raids and
interceptions were practised.  If we had been on duty for the night
shift we found sleep very hard to come by the next morning because
fighter planes were constantly taking off and landing, even when they
were stationary their engines were ticking over.  For some reason or
other there was an Avro Anson attached to the station that took off and
landed periodically; it once caught fire as it landed but the fire was
quickly extinguished.

Guard duties were carried out when I was there by members of The
Gloucester Regiment, the "Glosters", regulars and we used to mingle with
them in the canteen in our off-duty periods, being introduced to army
songs that we joined in with gusto as a pianist accompanied us.  As the
beer flowed the pianist was treated to the odd pint and occasionally the
lid of the piano was raised so that it could join in the jollity and a
pint poured over its strings to the shout of "and one for the
piano." Life was exciting, we were free from parental control and we
were on the verge of something big though in the background there was
this little niggle of apprehension about the future.

Early on my inadequacy as a teleprinter operator was discovered by an
RAF corporal whom I had last seen as a 13 year old when he lived a
couple of doors away from me, but only he and I knew.  On September 3th
the rumours of war changed to reality; I was in the canteen when the
news came over the wireless that war had been declared on Germany and in
our ignorance we waited for the bombs to drop but of course nothing
really happened for a few months apart from the odd reconnaissance
sortie.  Winter was coming on and we still didn't have greatcoats though
at great expense we had added swagger canes to our wardrobes to assist
in our deportment and keep our hands out of our pockets.  Something had
to be done so we were issued with dark blue greatcoats that had
originally been destined for the Royal Navy or Air Raid Wardens. Gloves
had not been issued either so we used our own and a right motley crew we
looked when we appeared in public places, khaki uniforms, blue
greatcoats, black boots and brown leather gloves.

Perhaps this would be a good time to mention that as Territorials we
were expected to supply some personal items of kit.  If we provided boot
brushes, hair brushes, comb, button stick, housewife (hussive),
underclothes and some other odds-and-sods to take with us to the annual
camp we would be rewarded with the magnificent sum of ten shillings.
Until 1942 I was never issued with a complete kit but over that period I
was given some replacements of personal items; we also changed our WWI
uniforms for battle dress.  We didn't lose our leather bandoliers
however and we were supplied with the Royal Navy's black leather
gaiters.  We were still not sartorially attractive.

But to get back to August 1938; the round-up of civilians who were now
to be embodied was not without its humour, in the early hours of the
morning Reg Pinnel happened to meet one of his flock in the Kingsdown
area and told him of the situation.  Len was on his rounds delivering
milk; his milk float was of a new type, battery driven at a walking pace
it allowed the roundsmen to walk by its side starting and stopping as
necessary and obviating any muscular effort on his part.  Len took his
orders literally, left his milk float where it was in the road, went
home, changed into his uniform and reported to HQ.  Then he phoned his
employer and told him where he could find the milk float leaving it up
to the employer to mollify all the irate customers.

In December 1939 I returned from Filton to Worral Road and for three
months became a member of a GOR shift.  We had no plotting table but
instead a map of south-east England hung on one wall, we of course were
south-west but I suppose that south-east was better than nothing.
Coloured pins were used to mark the position of planes.  Information on
aircraft activity was given to us over a permanently manned phone line
connected to No.11 Fighter Group at Uxbridge and the lucky man who was
given the job of listening sat in the middle of the room on an office
type swivel chair wearing a telephonist's head-and-breast-set doing
nothing but waiting.  As soon as the ringing assailed his ears he
answered, "Bristol," and then yelled to the rest of the group,
"Operations," at which they were supposed to get ready to relay
any incoming information to the gun sites by phone.  While I was there I
don't recall any plots coming from Uxbridge that concerned our area.
The shout of, "Operations" was also supposed to alert the Gun
Control Officer, GCO, of the Royal Artillery who then stood by his wall
map, coloured pins at the ready, waiting to give some relevant
information to the gun sites; however this was the time of the "phony
war" and the boredom was considerable.


I think it was in the early days just after we were embodied that we
were given our medicals, it was a bit of a joke really, a cursory
once-over with the stethoscope and an eyesight test on a standard eye
chart at a range of five or six feet; for a hearing test the MO stuck a
pocket watch in my left ear, "Can you hear that?" "Yes," I
replied, then in my right ear, "and that?" "Yes."
"OK." And I had passed.  And apart from the time of my final
discharge from the army when they were trying to make sure that I
couldn't make any post-war claims for incapacity and the times when I
was discharged from hospital that was the only medical examination I
ever had.

One possible advantage of being stationed in Bristol was that I could go
home when I was not on duty but home was a fourpenny bus ride from
Worral Road and this double journey together with ten Woodbine
cigarettes cost me a day's allowance (I was getting two shillings a day
but was allotting one shilling a day to my mother who incidentally never
spent it but saved it up for my return).  I usually went home after a
night shift and so was rather tired and not very good company; after a
month or so of this routine I decided that I would be better off away
from Bristol and applied for a transfer to Plymouth.

 The war was not very old before the Post Office started to get
concerned over the loss of some of their key personnel to the forces; it
was one thing to have their employees playing at soldiers in their own
time but quite another matter to lose some of their qualified staff on a
semi-permanent basis.  So just before I went to Plymouth an arrangement
was made that allowed the Post Office to claim back all their employees
who did not have an army trade.  The army could see all their
Territorial signal units being drastically reduced and took swift
action.  In a blanket approach army trade ratings were given to as many
members of my company as possible, not only Post Office employees; I was
called before Captain Sommerville.

"You are?"

I identified myself

"I believe you've been spending your drill nights at the Post Office,
is that correct?"

"Sah!" (I was now learning the lingo).

"On teleprinters?"

"Sah!" There was a short pause as he looked over the papers in
front of him and then,

"You are now a teleprinter operator class III.  Dismiss."  A smart
salute, about turn, quick march and I was out of the Company Office with
an extra shilling a day but there was now no way my employers could
claim me back even if they wanted to.

About this time a new face appeared on the scene, a real live regular
soldier, Sergeant Millen, an infantry regular I believe but from what
regiment I don't know and he was going to change us into an efficient
military unit.  He was always perfectly turned out, his uniform
spotless, creased where it should be but otherwise creaseless.  He was a
disciplinarian and he certainly made a difference to us but one thing
always intrigued me -- his facial expression.  I never saw him smile or
laugh, in fact I could never detect the slightest change in his
expression that would denote any emotion.  Later in the war I believe he
earned a commission; perhaps he enjoyed life and had some fun but one
could never tell.

I'm not certain how many vehicles made up our transport section, I know
we had Morris and Austin utility vans, a five ton lorry and some 30cwt
Bedford lorries whose gearboxes had a peculiar and distinctive whine.
The Bedfords were usually the workhorses of the Line Section while the
utilities were the general runabouts used for work and pleasure.  We had
one officer, a major, who was over-fond of his liquor, he used to
frequent The Mauritania in Park Street; late at night he would phone and
in a slurred voice demand that a utility van and driver be sent to pick
him up.  This happened on many occasions and one night when he arrived
back at HQ he staggered into the guard room and with a drawn hand gun
proceeded to hold up the guard.  He was disarmed and a report made out.
The sequel?  I don't know, we didn't see him again.

Originally we had all signed on for home service but after the war
started we were asked to agree to serve overseas, this we all did,
signing to this effect.  Looking back I don't suppose it would have made
any difference had we declined, after all those who were conscripted
were not given the choice but it was a nice gesture on our parts.
Having now become reasonably proficient in those military essentials,
marching, saluting and rifle drill the next step was to go on a range
and fire a few rounds.  The nearest rifle range was at Bristol
University and a group of about 12 of us was taken there on a most
unmilitary vehicle, a soft drinks lorry.  This had no tailboard or
sideboards to speak of and we all stood up on the flat bed, the front
row holding on to the back of the cab and the rest holding on to each
other.  We made the double journey without losing anyone.  The rifle
range was indoors and we fired .22 rimfire from a standard .303 rifle
fitted with a Morris tube.  I believe we only fired 10 rounds each, with
moderate success, but that was the only time I fired a rifle until 1942.


The journey down to Plymouth was the longest rail trip that I had ever
taken alone and I was eager and excited about it.  I was travelling with
all my kit of course and I was learning how to stow it without
interfering with other passengers.  As we pulled away to the south-west
from Temple Meads station the familiar scenes around Bristol gave way to
the flatter country of north Somerset and later on to the red soil of
Devon.  At Plymouth North Road station I detrained but I have no memory
now of how I reached South Raglan Barracks in Devonport.  The barracks
were typically army, grey, spartan, uninviting and ugly; my spirits
sank.  I was allocated quarters in a small room together with six or
eight others; beds consisted of three bed-boards on two low wooden
trestles augmented with three "biscuits" for comfort and the whole
ensemble was completed with four blankets.

I was directed to join a GOR team and shown the ropes as it were.  The
GOR was located on Mount Wise in the end room of Hamoaze House.  A large
map of the south-west of England had been painted on an expanse of dark
blue linoleum, this formed the plotting table in the centre of the room;
to one side a dais accommodated the GCO and also the naval anti-aircraft
liaison officer (NAALO) for this was a combined operations room.  We
signalmen sat around the plotting table waiting for something to happen.
Assorted naval petty-officers, Royal Artillery gunners and bombardiers
made up an eight-hour shift.

As in Bristol one signalman sat with a head-and-breast-set permanently
connected to No.11 Fighter Group at Uxbridge and the routine was much
the same.  Those doing the plotting made up wooden blocks with plastic
chips of letters and numbers to indicate the identity, size and height
of a particular plot adjacent to a coloured arrow, green for friendly,
red for hostile, showing the location and direction of the aircraft.
This was quite an improvement on Bristol's coloured pins.  There was
another improvement too, the Post Office type switchboard was replaced
by two wooden desk mounted units, each fitted with 10 switches and
indicator lights.  Every switch and light combination was connected to a
gun site or a searchlight station and any combination of sites could be
called individually or simultaneously.  Each site acknowledged receipt
of a message by pressing a button, this caused the appropriate light to
glow in the GOR.  In this way messages could be broadcast to all sites
at once; those sites whose lights did not glow were contacted again
individually and the message repeated. Frequently in the heat of the
moment gunners would forget to acknowledge causing some irritation and
on one occasion an exasperated GCO ordered me to reprimand the
miscreant.  Having got the official blessing I proceeded to do just
that, translating his order into the vernacular most effectively; I was
rewarded with most obsequious apologies elevating my rank to that of
"sir".  Later I discovered that my correspondent was a major, outranking
our GCO, fortunately he didn't know who I was.

These tasks were performed in the RAF by WAAF's and we were told from
the beginning that we would be replaced eventually by the ATS but by the
time I left Plymouth in 1942 they still hadn't taken over.  It was quite
a boring job at times and most of us hoped for something more

The Line Section's work was a little better, they went out daily,
running more lines and repairing those damaged in air raids; in our
detachment there was no establishment for a draughtsman but the Line
Section wanted a record of the routes of all their lines and so I
drifted into the job.  Armed with a one-inch-to-the-mile Ordnance Survey
map I produced the necessary drawings; it was also alleged that I marked
the locations of all the coffee shops in the area but there's no truth
to it.  Phone lines across the country followed whatever path was most
suitable, using twisted Don8 cable that was attached to any convenient
feature, trees telegraph poles or buildings. In the case of the line to
Fort Tregantle I spent a day with others on a fatigue party digging a
trench across the road in which the cable was to be buried.  A call went
out to the local populace asking for empty cotton reels; these were to
be used not specifically as insulators but rather as attachment points
offering less fretting to the cable than a nail alone would do.

The GCO's varied in rank but I don't remember seeing anyone above the
rank of captain, on the other hand two of the NAALO's were
lieutenant-commanders, a couple were lieutenants in the "wavy navy" and
one was a Canadian, a lieutenant in their "wavy navy".  He was a breath
of spring, light hearted and humorous and compared to our lot relatively
undisciplined.  Commander Bond was, I think, a serving officer but
Commander Staples had been recalled from retirement; he was a gentle,
polite father figure, at least that's how he appeared to me.  One
lieutenant was Viscount Trapraine who was responsible for producing the
plotting table map.  I heard of him after the war as being a member of
the crew of a square-rigged sailing ship.  Another lieutenant was Vivian
Ellis, composer of Bless the Bride.

Plymouth was ringed around with anti-aircraft guns, Rame, Down Thomas,
Wembury, Crownhill and Tregantle come to mind as being equipped with
3.7's, while other sites such as Bovisand and Staddon Heights were more
lightly armed.  The GOR had lines to all of them as well as lines to
some searchlight stations.  In addition to the army sites the navy
augmented the fire power with the guns on Breakwater Fort and the guns
of any ship that may have been in dock at the time.  The cruiser
Newcastle seemed to be in the area for an unusually long time and she
had a Walrus flying boat, a most ungainly craft with a pusher propeller.
In the early days we took advantage of the lack of action by organising
mock air raids for the benefit of the Plymouth air defences.  Orders
would go out to all the guns, "This is a mock air raid, repeat, this
is a mock air raid," and the Walrus would be sent aloft to add a
degree of realism to the exercise and coordinates would be broadcast for
the preparation of a box barrage.  On one occasion while the exercise
was in progress the GOR received a hostile plot from Uxbridge and
hastily a new order was given out to all the gun sites, "Cancel mock
air raid, real raid in progress, repeat, cancel mock air raid, real raid
in progress," and we waited for further information to come from
Uxbridge.  The guns however were restive and took action on their own,
their target was the unmistakeable lumbering Walrus. I wasn't on duty at
the time, I was in the barracks; I heard the sirens and the shell bursts
and looking out of the window saw the Walrus high-tailing it up
country. It made Roborough aerodrome safely though the real raid never
materialised. Later on real raids did materialise but by that time we
had moved our billets to Bowden Battery, near Crownhill though for a few
months we were ferried to and from Hamoaze House by lorry.

As part of the 5th AA division our shoulder flashes, issued about that
time, were about two inches square with a sky blue background; pointing
downwards was a black four-engined bomber in silhouette with red flames
coming from the four engines and one from the tail.  Very pretty and


In the mid-1800's with Trafalgar and Waterloo not too far in the past
and with French intentions uncertain it was decided to fortify
vulnerable portions of Britain's south coast.  The minister responsible
for this was Lord Palmerston, also known affectionately or otherwise as
Lord Pumicestone.  I think it was when he was Prime Minister that he
arranged for the building of strong points around Portsmouth and
Plymouth.  Those forts around Portsmouth are not known to me except for
Southsea Castle but I'm more familiar with the ones around Plymouth.
Forts were erected to the west, north and east of the city centre and
the Citadel dominated the entrance to Plymouth Sound.  To the west there
was Fort Tregantle, to the north Crownhill, then on the east came Bowden
Battery and Fort Austin, while in the Sound there was Drake's Island and
Breakwater Fort.

Bowden Battery was built on the side of a slope that fell away to
Crownhill on the north; on the south side it was walled and moated but
it was considered to be protected elsewhere by the commanding view it
had over the valley.  The other three sides were partially walled with
low banks of earth.  Within these confines the floor was of earth with
grass sprouting in the patches not heavily travelled.  The cookhouse
backed on to the southern wall; it was a shed type with a corrugated
iron roof and outside there were two boilers for water.  All the
habitable buildings were Nissen huts.  Entry from the road, Fort Austin
Avenue, was by way of a drawbridge, over the moat which was dry in those
days, then through the eight-foot high corrugated iron gates.  The
drawbridge was never raised, I sometimes wondered if it ever had been,
it seemed fixed.

Just inside the gates on the western side came the Company Office while
a little further west was the CO's hut.  Three buildings that were not
Nissen huts were the shed type ablutions and, at the extreme eastern
end, the latrines, one for the other ranks and one for the ATS. Overhead
traversing the length of the fort were the high tension cables of the
electricity grid system and on damp days touching the metal parts of
vehicles parked beneath them would produce a mild shock.

On the northern side two tunnels, maybe 75 feet long, had been cut, one
at each end, going downwards following the slope of the hill and ending
in small rooms each commanding a view over the valley.  In the small
room at the end of the western tunnel the Instrument Mechanics, Len
Elliott, Cyril Smythe and Johnny Barker had their workshop where they
repaired phones and radios and where they detected faults on the phone

Nissen huts for our accommodation were dotted around. We were fairly
comfortable in our upper and lower bunk beds though the huts could have
been better heated; the tortoise stoves were not really up to it when
the daily ration of coal was mainly small coal or 'slack".  To persuade
a stove full of slack to come to life someone opened the top of the
stove and added a half cup of petrol, nothing happened for a moment or
two as the petrol seeped down to the glowing embers at the bottom and
then there was an almighty bang.  All the stove's apertures flew open
and a bewildered soldier came in to inspect the damage as he had seen a
10-foot flame emerge from our chimney, however nobody was hurt.

I've heard it said that we had AA guns at Bowden Battery but that is not
true, certainly not up to the time that I left in 1942; true there were
some concrete slabs but these were bases for guns or mortars intended to
repel a land based attack of the 19th century, well before aircraft had
been invented.  The only troops there in my time were of the Royal Corps
of Signals, the odd Royal Artillery gunner or bombardier and some Royal
Ulster Rifles doing guard duties.  Initially the GOR shifts were taken
to Hamoaze House by lorry but after a while the GOR was moved to Fort
Austin though we always knew this fort as Egg Buckland Keep.

For this new location we were to have a new plotting table and it fell
my lot to make it.  This time we used green lino; the main coastal
features were in white paint as were the large grid squares but for the
grid sub-divisions I used a ruling pen and white ink, this made fine
straight lines more easily but they had to be renewed occasionally due
to the rubbing of the plotting blocks.  In this new location we required
no transport but marched to and fro, a relatively short distance.

Shortages of many items were now beginning to make themselves felt in
Britain, army boots and leather for their repairs for one thing and
somebody realised that lying idle throughout the country were the shoes
belonging to the men who had been called up.  It must have caused a
severe shock to all the Colonel Blimps but it was decreed that the other
ranks would now be permitted to wear shoes when off duty.  There was one
proviso however, they had to be black, just in case the other ranks got
confused with their betters.  Another shortage concerned watches or
rather watch glasses. Unbreakable types were not in general use at that
time and all types were difficult to obtain.  I got over this by using a
draughtsman's ink spring-bows to which a snapped portion of a razor
blade had been attached.  Circles were scribed out on the transparent
material of goggles anti-gas and then broken out.  Since the QM and a
lieutenant both had watches needing glasses I had no difficulty in
getting a few goggles anti-gas diverted from the QM store.  Nearly all
of us smoked in those days and our favourite brands were not always
available; matches were also in short supply so we doubled our stock by
splitting them lengthwise with a razor blade.  Swan Vestas were the
easiest to split.

A sentry was stationed at the drawbridge; during daylight hours he was
armed with a stick but at night he had a rifle and fixed bayonet, the
rifle though had no ammunition.  The total Signals complement, GOR, Line
Section, assorted clerks, QM stores personnel and others amounted to
about 80 I guess and for this number we had six rifles, two SMLE's, a
couple of Canadian Ross rifles and two American .300's made in
Springfield.  All ammunition was very limited.  However, later, probably
sometime in 1941, someone at a higher level decided that we should not
be defenceless and a blueprint arrived one day showing how to make raid
party truncheons.  There were two types, the first consisted of an
18-inch length of stirrup pump hose loaded at one end with concrete and
fitted with a thong at the other.  The second type was more lethal if
one could get near enough to the enemy; it used an 18-inch length of
electrical conduit to the end of which was welded a discarded gear, any
old gear would do as long as it was sharp, heavy and pointy; in fact we
were now armed with maces reminiscent of the middle ages and
chronologically more in keeping with our Victorian surroundings.  The
blueprint had arrived at the same time as a length of stirrup pump hose
and no time was lost in manufacturing type number one only to discover
later that it was intended for incendiary purposes and not raid party
truncheons.  Too late, we couldn't put it back together again but we did
have some fun out of the exercise by trying out the effect of the first
type of truncheon on our tin hats; after a few blows the concrete
cracked and fell out while the tin hats emerged unscathed.  We didn't
risk trying out the second type.  A friend of mine in the RAF told me
that on one station the ground crew were similarly equipped though in
their case the bayonets were welded on to 5-foot lengths of electrical
conduit; he said that when they came on parade it looked like the
Monmouth Rebellion all over again.

I don't recall much about our meals, with one exception only.  Every
Thursday over a long period a new cook came to us.  She didn't appear to
be ATS and I would do her no injustice if I guessed her age as being
between 30 and 40, older than the rest of the cookhouse staff.  I found
out very little about her except that she was Cornish but she made the
most delicious cornish pasties, the real thing and they were so large
that one was quite sufficient for any growing lad.  We only ever saw her
on Thursdays and we all looked forward to those days.  The regular
cookhouse staff came under "Jackie", Corporal Jackson and she and her
girls were billeted in a private house nearly opposite Bowden Battery in
a road running parallel with Fort Austin Avenue.  There were about eight
of them I think, of whom Mary, Ginger and Minnie from South Wales, Kitty
from Cornwall and Sylvia from Dewsbury are the ones who stay in my mind.
Jackie was very solicitous for her charges and she meticulously recorded
the dates and times of their social engagements together with the names
of their escorts.

In the early days we were instructed in the various do's and don't's of
army life and introduced to the Army Act and King's Regulations.  We
were told that "barrack-room lawyers" were not permitted to quote from
these.  Complaints could be made only through official channels and it
was forbidden to contact our Members of Parliament with our gripes
though of course they couldn't prevent our parents from doing it for us.
Forbidden also was the singing of Irish nationalist songs or whistling
The Dead March; likewise engaging in discussions likely to cause "alarm
and despondency" was also ruled out.  All of this together with a bit of
regimental training was gradually converting us into obedient little

Plymouth and Devonport were primarily navy-oriented, true there was the
RAF station at Mountbatten with its Sunderland flying boats and there
were assorted army units scattered around but essentially the navy was
supreme.  Being a peace-time garrison area the civilian population was
used to the presence of the forces and was not particularly hospitable,
a vast contrast to the friendly treatment meted out by the Scots when
for a month or so I was billeted in a distillery in Wishaw.

Fore Street Devonport was at one time full of public houses and other
establishments catering to the needs of sailors and in an effort to
provide alternative entertainment, one, Agnes Weston, opened the
premises in Fore Street known as Aggie Weston's.  Here one could sit and
read or talk, take a bath at sixpence a time, enjoy a film or otherwise
relax and unwind.  It was here that having paid my dues by singing a
hymn and listening to a short sermon I was given a cup of tea and a bun
while I watched the film The Citadel based on Cronin's novel of the same

When we were on duty at Hamoaze House and when there was little or no
activity some members of the GOR shift were permitted to sun themselves
for short periods on the green slope of Mount Wise, within hailing
distance should air activity commence.  From this vantage point near the
Scott memorial we watched the panorama unfold, ships of the Royal Navy,
the aircraft carrier Illustrious for one, steaming down the Hamoaze into
the Sound and beyond while the Cremyll ferry kept up its routine of
to-ing and fro-ing across the river.  The summer of 1940 was very hot
and many of us quickly browned, life was still unchallenging and boring,
however there was plenty of entertainment available to us.  At the Forum
in Devonport I saw Balalaika with Ilona Massey and later The Wizard of
Oz with Judy Garland.  Plymouth had many cinemas but I can remember the
name of only one, The Royal but I do remember the theatre, The Palace,
near the Octagon, where I saw several variety shows and a couple of
Gilbert and Sullivan operettas.  For The Yeomen of the Guard I could
only get a seat in the second row from the front on the right-hand side
and as a result got the full benefit of the big drum.

Usually we went as a party of four or five, first to get a bite to eat,
often at Goodbody's and then off to a show.  Sometime after the air
raids had started in earnest five of us went to the Alhambra in
Devonport to see a strip show, the main attraction being Phyllis Dixie;
I was surprised to see sailors taking their girl friends in with them,
remember this was in the early 1940's and the mores were a little
restrictive then.  The performance followed the usual pattern for a
variety show of that period, several acts in the first half, an
interval, then a similar number of acts in the second half.  The lesser
performers would appear only once while the principals would appear in
both halves.  Phyllis Dixie's earlier performances had caused a few
eyebrows to be raised and the Lord Chamberlain who at that time had
control of those things banned parts of her routine, a fact exploited by
her when she appeared, clothed, in the first half and recited a little
piece titled The Girl the Lord Chamberlain Banned.  It was a clever
piece really but the suspense was too great for one restive matelot who
stood up at the back and yelled, "Fer Chrissakes get them clothes off
before the bloody siren goes." She was quite unfazed by this and
continued with her patter but obliged him in her own good time, in the
second half.  The show was quite innocuous by present day standards, a
little risqué perhaps but not sordid.  That sailor probably had
second sight because in a later raid a German bomb flattened the

During the winter months the heavy rains turned Bowden Battery into a
quagmire and we all went round in rubber boots.  Some intelligent being
among us thought that a trench dug all along the centre of the battery
would drain off all the surplus water, unfortunately the trench had
closed ends and once it was filled the ground again became a miniature
lake but now with an additional hazard; if you didn't watch your step
you would be up to your knee in water as you put your foot in the
trench.  In some of the more unpleasant weather it was decided to
dispense with the armed sentry at night and the high gates would be
locked.  To cater to those brave souls who had gone out and wished to
return to the fold a bell-push was fitted outside the gates and a
moveable bell installed in whichever hut the duty gateman resided and he
was supposed to answer the call.  Often the evening's entertainment was
gambling, pontoon usually and if the gateman was involved it became a
bit of a nuisance for him to have to break away from the game just to
let someone in, and so one dark and rainy night, fed up with the
constant interruptions, he disabled the ball and sat back to enjoy a
quiet game.  One returnee getting no response to his repeated bell
pushing hammered so loud and long on the corrugated iron gates that
somebody not on duty went out into that foul night to let him in.  The
returnee, in high dudgeon strode down to find the gateman and in the
process put his foot in the trench.  He was our CO and he wasn't very
happy.  The excuse given was, I believe, faulty wiring.

After an air raid the Line Section would go out to effect repairs, to
get communications going again and at the same time the lads would pick
up anything that appeared to belong to nobody and that could be of
possible use to the army; done by civilians that would be called
looting.  In this way we became the recipients of bricks, breeze blocks,
I-beams and other odds-and-ends.  Having acquired these what use could
be made of them?  Someone had a bright idea and suggested that as we had
no inspection pit for our vehicles perhaps we could build an
above-ground structure that would serve the same purpose.  The job was
given to the man who could use a pencil and who had some engineering
experience, me I prepared a design that consisted mainly of two
horizontal I-beams surmounted on two low brick piers with two longer
I-beams leading up from the ground level to the piers.  Since the track
would be fixed this would only be suitable for one type of vehicle so it
was designed for our utility vans.  To get down to load-bearing earth
the low earthen wall on the north side was to be excavated locally where
the piers were to be built down to the level of the battery floor.  The
design was pigeon-holed.

Many months later when this had slipped from all memories I found myself
when the morning parade had been dismissed to be a member of a fatigue
party.  A signalman who had been a tailor in Glasgow was put in charge
and we were ordered to report to the QM stores and draw picks and
shovels, then we were marched up to the low earthen wall and told to
dig. Exactly where and how far to dig nobody seemed to know.  After a
while the penny dropped and I realised that this was to be the
preparatory work for the vehicle inspection structure.  I told our
ex-tailor, "There are drawings of this somewhere." He made
enquiries and sure enough the drawings were found; there was one snag
however, he couldn't read a drawing and I had to explain.  The work was
not finished by our shift and the next day another fatigue party had the
pleasure of swinging the picks and shovelling.  Work on this project was
stopped for a long period and in the meantime the western part of the
ground was surfaced with asphalt the hard standing so beloved by drill
sergeants and their superiors, now their charges could stamp their boots
audibly instead of squelching silently in the mud.

Much later just before I left Bowden Battery work was resumed on the
structure but by this time officers had come and gone and I was standing
by the latest Two-pips as he surveyed the two long I-beams. "sergeant!"
he snapped." "Sah," answered Three-stripes.  "These I-beams," said
Two-pips, "are too long, I will not have them intruding into my parade
ground, get me a ruler and some chalk." Just listen to the man, he had
two pips on each epaulet, he'd only been there a couple of weeks and
already he owned the joint, my parade ground indeed.  Three-stripes
obliged with alacrity and Two-pips said, "I want them both shortened by
three feet." He took the ruler, no fool he, he knew that three feet
equalled 36 inches so he measured in 18 inches from each end of both
I-beams and chalked lines.  "Get these down to Ordnance," he said, "and
get them to cut off the four ends."

Whether the installation was ever completed I don't know.  I left
shortly afterwards but 44 years later when I re-visited the site Bowden
Battery had been turned into a garden centre, the moat had been filled
in and converted into a car park and I could see no sign of the
excavations or much of anything else that would tell of the wartime

With the fall of France Germany had access to her assets though Britain
forestalled their use by attacking French naval units in Toulon and
Dakar but Germany still had the use of the bases and three of her ships
were in French ports.  These were the Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Prinz
Eugen.  The first two were nicknamed by NAALO's petty officers as Salmon
and Gluckstein after a local store in Plymouth.  Germany wanted to get
them back to the relative safety of a German port and Britain was
equally determined that they should stay where they were, where they
could be attacked.  Fortuitously Germany picked a day when the weather
was thick and wet and under this cover the three ships, hugging the
French coast, slipped eastwards past their enemy up the English Channel
to find sanctuary.  Though we were only onlookers we were able to follow
the action to some extent as information was given to us by NAALO.

We had teleprinter links between Plymouth, Portsmouth, Bristol and
Reading and apart from any other correspondence there were the daily
rituals; firstly the "colours of the day", given to us by NAALO were
broadcast to all the gun sites so that friendly aircraft would not be
fired upon, and secondly each night an ammunition report would be sent
by the three companies to Reading.  We were all able to see what the
others had sent. Almost invariably the ammunition report would state
"nil expenditure" but one Sunday night there was an exception; Bristol
reported "Bristol the subject of a heavy air attack, ammunition report
will follow."  As Bristolians we became very anxious; not much news
filtered through that night but the next day we gleaned from various
sources little bits of information.  One informant said that amongst
other targets they had dropped four bombs on Bristol Bridge; that was
not strictly accurate but from the damage done it was fairly true.  They
had hit our home town, the war was getting serious.  Bristol's suffering
was just beginning.

We were expecting a visit from some top brass, presumably to give the
place the once-over, to convince us that indeed we were not forgotten
and to show us some faces to match the names that would appear from time
to time on orders.  In order to impress them with the skill and
expertise of our Line Section it was decided to replace the twisted Don8
cable between Bowden Battery and Egg Buckland Keep with an air line,
that is bare copper wire on short telegraph posts.  This was finished
just before the top brass arrived but when the phones were connected all
that could be heard was a loud 50 cycle hum; the wires had been placed
beneath and almost parallel with the overhead grid system cables.
"Oh, well," they said, "we'll say it was never intended to be
used, it was only done to show our ability to run an air line."

I suppose it was the same bright individual who had the storm trench dug
who thought of the idea of burying a pipe to carry away the cookhouse
effluent down into the eastern hillside tunnel.  I found this out by
accident.  Having seen Fantasia the previous night and admiring Mickey
Mouse's jaunty swagger I hummed the melody of Ducas' The Sorcerer's
Apprentice as I swaggered down into the dark tunnel; I stopped abruptly
when the fluid was over the tops of my gaiters; my humming stopped and
my language was not nice at all.

From the mess hut one lunch time, gazing at nothing in particular but
looking towards the north side of the camp, I became aware of a
disturbance in the taller grasses on top of the low earth bank.  I
wondered why as the movement was not general as one would expect with
wind gusts but was quite localised.  While I mused over this a loud
yelling came from that spot and immediately some 20 or 30 khaki clad
figures emerged carrying rifles and with their faces blackened.  This
armed group charged across the battery, still yelling as they went out
through the gate, past the stick sentry; he watched stupefied, head
turning from side to side as they disappeared into Fort Austin Avenue.
He had only ever expected unauthorised entry from without, never from
within.  By the time we had collected our thoughts and looked outside
there was no sign of the intruders and we never saw them again.  This
was I believe an early training exercise of a commando unit.

At that time we were a fairly close knit group, our common bond being
that we were all Bristolians and volunteers.  There was virtually no
crime apart from petty offences against military law, in fact the
reverse was often the case as was demonstrated when one pay day I had to
dash off from pay parade, dump my pay and pay-book on my unmade bed and
rush to catch the lorry going into town to see a show.  When I returned
late at night my bed had been made and my pay and pay-book were placed
neatly on my bed, by whom I never found out.

Military offences were few and usually petty but in the eyes of
authority charges had to be laid and these were heard in the Company
Office, the Nissen hut just inside the entrance gate.  This hut was
divided in half, the front portion being occupied by the clerical staff
and their paraphernalia, while the rear part was further divided into
two.  The innermost portion was the private retreat of the CO and the
rearmost portion, not very large, was where charges were laid, pleas
were heard and punishments meted out.  In accordance with military
procedure a prisoner, hatless, had to be escorted in to face the CO.  I
was once detailed to be one of the escorts; we with the prisoner,
assembled in front of the hut.  "Prisoner and escort," barked the
CSM who was about as unpopular as any of his rank, "fall in." We
did, with the prisoner sandwiched between us.  "Prisoner and escort,
'shun." We sprang smartly to attention.  He strode up to the prisoner
and snatched off his hat and, "Prisoner and escort, right turn, quick
march." I was the leading escort and I could see before me the open
door of the little room, in fact all the doors were open and daylight
streamed in from the far end of the hut.  We quick marched, the CSM
following a short way behind us; there was only space enough for our
trio and I knew that we ought to mark time once we were inside, however
that was not what the military had impressed on us so I led our little
group right into the CO's inner sanctum; out of the corner of my eye I
saw the bemused look on his face as we passed by.  Onwards we went
looking straight ahead, right through the hut; surprised clerks watched
us as we emerged into the open air again.  I was happy that in obeying
the last order as laid down by he military I had upset the routine and
what was more enjoyable I had upset the CSM.  He made no attempt to
follow us through the hut but ran along outside to catch up with us as
we strode out into the distance.  "Halt!" he yelled and we did;
and for a while that was all he could say, his cheeks turned puce and I
thought he was on the verge of apoplexy. Gradually he calmed down,
berated us, marched us back to our starting point, then gave us more
precise orders.  In we went again.  I can't remember what the charge was
nor what punishment was awarded but I do know that the CO carried on as
if nothing untoward had happened.

Looking over the drawbridge into the dry moat Denis Cleese saw a group
of fox cubs, two or three were dead but one was still alive and the
vixen was nowhere to be seen so Denis climbed down and rescued the
survivor, adopted him one might say.  How the cub was fed I don't recall
but he lived mainly in our hut and became quite tame.  He travelled to
Bristol in Denis' battledress blouse and was duly shown family and
friends.  He was still quite young and played happily with the troops
though at night he used to steal our socks and shred them; he stayed
with us some time but one day he disappeared and the sentry who had been
on duty the previous night said that he had seen the vixen on top of the
cookhouse roof so perhaps she had found her son and reclaimed him.

We were kept busy one way or another but not always fairly.  Denis
Cleese complained that over the previous 10 days he had averaged only
four hours of sleep per night; this was obviously due to
mal-administration.  The officer hearing the complaint brushed it off,
saying that fours hours of sleep was enough for any man.  Later the duty
rosters were reorganised.  The army hated to see soldiers with too much
spare time; whitewashing border stones or blacking the soles of boots
really served no useful purpose except as make-work projects designed to
keep us out of mischief.  In keeping with this idea various little
schemes were thought out to keep us occupied and sometimes bribes were
offered such as being excused duties or being eligible for late night
passes.  So it was that late night passes were offered to the members of
the hut that provided the best turned out soldier for guard duty.  I
regret to say that our principles had sunk so low that we all entered
into the spirit of this with gusto.  Some polished boots to a
mirror-like shine not forgetting to blacken the soles and count the
hobnails before metal polishing them; others pressed trousers and
brushed the uniform of our protégé.  Brasses were polished to an
unbelievable lustre, then, as we were about to present our man we looked
outside and saw the rain pouring down and the mud beginning to form.
Not to be beaten we stood him on a short plank; with a soldier at each
end of the plank and another behind to provide stability we carried him
to the appointed place on the parade ground and deposited an immaculate
Bert Hickman ready for the inspection of the guard. We won.

I think it was in 1941 that the GOR was relocated once again, this time
to Area Combined Headquarters (ACH), somewhere in Plymouth; we were
driven there for our shifts daily by lorry but I have no idea where it
was exactly and I couldn't find it today even if I tried.

Anticipating the arrival of our ATS replacements the military had taken
over some small houses facing the southern entrance to South Raglan
Barracks; these were quite empty except for quantities of bedding (the
girls were to be much more pampered than we were) and of course the
houses required fire-watching at night.  This duty was not so onerous as
might be thought.  Much in the manner of the fairy story The Princess
and the Pea we piled up mattress upon mattress upon mattress until a
normal bed height was achieved and the addition of clean sheets and
pillows completed the ensemble At no time when I was there fire-watching
was there ever an air raid, or if there was I slept through it.  With
the coming of the dawn I replaced all the bedding just in case a snap
inspection was called, then I caught the lorry back to Bowden Battery
where I was granted the morning off to compensate for my exhausting
night duty.

There were many air raids on Plymouth, some were minor but there were
also some major ones.  I seem to remember four but I was never down in
the centre of town for these; for many raids I was in the GOR but for
two I was in a pub, The George in Crownhill; I recall the noise of the
planes and of the exploding bombs and shells and seeing the fires over
the city with the occasional brighter redder flare-ups as planes
crashed. Walking back to our billets one could see some damage and some
of the houses in Fort Austin Avenue were burning but the city centre and
the docks area bore the brunt of the action.  AA fire was credited with
the downing of 16 planes in the major raids, other "kills" being
credited to the RAF.  Going into the city after a heavy raid was a
rather sickening experience, smouldering ruins and desolation and the
knowledge of untold deaths and misery.  Before I left Plymouth in 1942
the guns at Rame and Down Thomas were either replaced by or augmented
with rockets ("Z" batteries).

Around this period Bristol became the HQ of the 8th AA Divisional
Signals and Plymouth became the No2 Company.  Our shoulder flashes now
changed, the red flames were extinguished and were replaced by an
8-pointed red star smack in the middle of the bomber; still very pretty
and prophetic.

Of the many thousands of characters whom I encountered during my
six-and-a-half years of army life most have drifted into obscurity but
some are still with me; such a one was Brigadier Barbary of 55
Brigade. Without my knowing for sure rumour had it that he had a firm in
Cornwall and I assumed that it was an engineering firm; I also assumed
because of this that he was a Territorial Army officer.  He was a
shortish almost portly figure with a definite bearing.  His articulation
was not exactly that of the BBC but he had a pleasing Cornish accent and
over the many times I saw him he never appeared to have the aloofness of
rank.  Occasionally he would visit our GOR and having discussed things
at a higher level would exchange a few words with the other ranks.
During a lull in operations I was seated at the plotting table reading a
not very intellectual magazine when I became aware of his presence; I
sprang to my feet.  "No, no," he said, "sit down." I obeyed.
"What's that you're reading?" he asked.  I gave him the magazine
which he scrutinised.  "What's your job in civvy street?" he
enquired.  I told him. "Then you don't want to read trash like this,
get some technical magazines to read, if you don't keep up with things
you'll finish up with an addled brain." Then wishing to speak with
Exeter he said to a telephone operator, "Gimme my brigade."

In the days when our GOR was in Hamoaze House one of our signalmen, Bill
Lambert, had to take a message into another room where a meeting of some
top brass was in progress; assorted crowns and pips were there together
with their ATS drivers.  The meeting was about to break up and Brigadier
Barbary picked up his baton and asked, "Where's me 'at?" Up jumped his
ATS driver and said, "Here I am, Sir." :"No, no, not you dear," said the
brigadier, "I means the 'at wot I wears on me 'ead." Many years later
this story was confirmed, word for word, by an ex-colonel who had also
been present.

Other unusual characters often come to mind when I recall those days;
one lad arrived alone one morning wearing khaki but sporting an RAF
pilot's wings on his chest.  He had been transferred from the RAF and he
told us bits of his story but never the reason for his transfer and we
assumed because of his nervousness and his habit of constantly looking
back over his shoulder that it was LMF.  He told us that with others he
had been ordered to machine-gun soldiers, presumably enemy, on the beach
near Brighton and offered to bring in his log book but we didn't press
the matter.

Derek was a different type; he also arrived alone.  He was about 19 and
this was the first time he had ever been away from home.  He was a quiet
retiring lad, one could almost say not quite of this world and what was
unusual was that he couldn't shave himself, up to that time his mother
had always shaved him; adapting to the army life was a real challenge
for him but I suppose the army was happy to have another warm body.

Bob was near my age, maybe a year or so older and before the army got
hold of him he was a school teacher.  He found life just as boring as
the rest of us but he surprised us all when he announced that he was
going to apply for a commission.  We enquired in what branch and he said
that the only commissions available then were in the infantry. Our
further enquiries elicited the following; he and his wife had a fairly
large circle of friends and when they entertained their hallstand became
full of uniforms, all with pips, crowns or rings.  His wife pointed out
that all Bob could rustle up was a standard army greatcoat without even
a lance-corporal's stripe, so Bob decided to remedy the situation.
Well, good luck, Bob, I thought, if you don't make it, as you probably
won't, your wife can always hang your posthumous medals on the hallstand
together with all the bowler hats.

In the early part of 1942 in bitterly cold weather I was on daytime
guard duty at the gate (what else is new?); I was bundled up in my
greatcoat and a leather jerkin, one of the more acceptable pieces of
equipment supplied by the army, when the duty sergeant approached
"you're to go up to the GOR and take a teleprinter test this
afternoon," he said, "teleprinter operators are required for an
overseas draft and so far four from different units have been found to
be inefficient, it's your turn to try." Not having touched a
teleprinter for a couple of years I said, "It's no use, sarge, I'll
fail, it's a waste of time." He was a regular soldier and he found it
difficult to understand that anyone would voluntarily drop in pay.
"You mean you're prepared to forfeit your trade pay without even
giving it a try? you'll revert to general duties." An idea had begun
to form in my mind, if I were to revert to general duties then I would
be free to apply for a transfer to another branch of the services to a
trade more in line with my civilian job, possibly into the Royal
Engineers or the Royal Army Ordnance Corps and I told the sergeant so.
He thought about it for a moment and then agreed, he went into the
Company Office, saw the CO and returned within half-an-hour with the
necessary papers for a transfer application.

A few days later I was at Devonport railway station awaiting a Southern
Railway train bound for Salisbury.  On arrival there I found my way to
the private house where I was to be interviewed. I forget the officer's
rank, he was probably a major but it was an informal affair, one-on-one.
I suppose that my answers to his semi-technical questions were
satisfactory and eventually he asked, "Have you ever thought of a
commission?" Now in this world there are leaders and there are
followers and in matters concerning the life or death of others I come
in the second category.  "No, Sir." I replied.  "You could be
compelled to." he said.  I was non-committal and we left it at that.
Back in Bowden Battery I was called in front of a visiting officer,
Captain Barbary, son of the brigadier. Apparently certain selected
individuals were to be sent on an intensive physical training course to
develop their full potential and Barbary was there to sort out those
most likely to benefit from the scheme.  Reflex actions and the speed
thereof were checked and I suppose that a general assessment of physique
was made, anyway a couple of days later I was bound for Westward Ho on
the north coast of Devon with all my kit.  My destination was a pre-war
holiday camp, taken over by the military but the holiday spirit was gone
and the conditions were spartan.  However before my course really got
started I was ordered to get moving once more, this time to Tidworth to
take a trade test.

I had only ever heard of the place before as being the site of the
Tidworth Tattoo and I wasn't quite prepared for the fact that it
appeared to be in the middle of nowhere and that the railway tracks
finished there; my spirits sank.  The one redeeming thing was that I
would only be there for a couple of days.  Military personnel of all
corps and regiments seemed to be there and it had an atmosphere of
bustle, squads marching and counter-marching, urged on by the
drill-pigs, little dictators strutting their stuff.  There were military
vehicles also including a few tanks, probably the only ones Britain
possessed at that time and pips and crowns abounded together with some
red tabs.  But there was one little haven of relative peace, the Drawing
Office where I took my trade test and for two days I could shut off the
military world.  When it was all over I returned to Bowden Battery as it
was too late to re-join the intensive physical training course.

Some days later I was ordered to go to a holding battalion at Oxshott.
Once again I gathered up all my kit and headed east, this time as a
private in the RAOC, a draughtsman class III.  I detrained at Oxshott
station and plodded up the hill to the holding battalion that was in a
large private house set in a very large garden on the road between
Leatherhead and Esher.  It was about five o'clock when I got there and
the first thing to do after reporting in was to get something to eat.
This done I next went to the QM stores to get my kit sorted out. I
exchanged my leather bandolier and black leather gaiters for webbing
bren gun pouches and gaiters all in pieces and in different shades of
khaki.  I also exchanged my gas mask for an identical one which seemed
silly to me but I still didn't have a complete issue of army equipment.


It was Saturday.  I was shown to my billet and started to get settled
in, finding out the lay of the land, questioning my new companions.
Were conditions very strict?  No, not really, I was assured. What about
Sunday, was there a church parade?  Well, yes but you don't have to
attend, many don't.  My sister and her husband lived in Surbiton, close
to a bus route passing through Esher and Esher was within walking
distance from Oxshott, so on Sunday I set forth, catching a bus at Esher
and spending a pleasant day with them.  Arriving back just before
midnight I assembled all my new webbing equipment and then slept well.
In the morning my new companions informed me that there was to be a
sergeant-major's parade at eight o'clock, in shirt-sleeve order and I
felt a little apprehensive because I now had no time to blanco my
equipment; there was nothing for it but to go on parade multi-coloured.
Since we were not wearing battledress blouses I had another little
problem.  The previous Christmas one of my sisters had given me a pair
of braces (suspenders in North America), very patriotic, in red, white
and blue stripes and these didn't improve my appearance either.  We
assembled in the roadway not far from the big house and with the rest I
fell in, waiting for the axe to fall.

The sergeant-major came down the lines, inspecting his charges.  When he
reached me he paused for a second or two as if he couldn't believe his
eyes.  He looked me up and down and then launched into a long tirade
concerning my appearance.  He drew my attention to the lad next to me
and informed me that he had come all the way from Cyprus just to fight
for Britain and just look at him, how soldierly he was.  Without turning
my head I looked out of the corner of my eye and took in this exemplar;
in all honesty I had to admit to myself that there was no comparison
between us but of the two I thought I was the better looking.  Mentally
I told myself that I had come all the way from Bristol via Filton,
Plymouth, Westward Ho and Tidworth with the same idea but I had been in
the army long enough to know that it was impossible to win an argument
with a higher rank so I put on my wooden soldier's expression and stared
straight ahead.  Eventually he ran out of steam as I knew he would; he
took my name and number and charged me with being improperly dressed.
Fortunately for me the officer hearing the charge was not so impetuous
and gave me the opportunity to explain that as a territorial I had never
been fully kitted out; he dismissed the charge.

But Sergeant-major McCullom had seen his little fish slip through his
fingers and I was now introduced to one of the meaner, petty characters
that the army had seen fit to elevate.  I was ordered to blanco my
equipment immediately in the approved khaki colour and had to treat my
gas mask cover with the mandated blanco, Pickering's khaki-green No.3.
I often wondered who were the major shareholders in these blanco
companies, most units required slightly different shades, but perhaps
I'm being a bit cynical.  Unfortunately the new gas mask cover had a
flaw, it had a large grease spot that refused to take the blanco.  The
orderly sergeant said, "Do it again." I did.  The results were the
same, as were the third, fourth and fifth try.  These orderly sergeants,
there were two of them, now had a victim; at no time did either of them
offer any suggestions or watch me as I assiduously blancoed away at that
confounded gas mask cover.  Eventually the truth must have dawned on
them and I had the cover exchanged but from then on my name was the
first one to come into their little minds when an unpleasant task came
up or one invented especially for me and for three weeks I had
practically no free time for myself.

One other incident stays with me from those days, a sad one really.  A
young lad of about 19, infantry I believe, was in quite a state.  He
told me that his mother was a widow and that he was the youngest of
three sons.  One brother had been killed in North Africa and he had
heard that very morning that his other brother had been killed in a
training accident; he himself was waiting for a posting to Lord knows
where.  I believe the army has been known in such cases to discharge a
lone survivor but this lad was not to be consoled.  I don't know the

Oxshott does not evoke very happy memories in my mind and for a long
time afterwards I harboured thoughts of meeting those three after the
war, on more equal terms or on terms more favourable to me but now I
can't even remember what they looked like.  The future became a little
brighter when on a later postings parade my name was called out and I
was en route to Aldershot, to Parson's Barracks.


Accommodation in Parson's Barracks was in the comparatively new spider
huts, six corridors emanating from a common hub terminating in our
sleeping quarters.  Again the beds consisted of three bed boards on
wooden trestles and three biscuits; Four blankets completed the
ensemble.  I think that we were there just filling in time before we
were sent on an overseas draft and each morning we paraded in front of
the Company Office for roll call before being marched off to the
Ordnance Workshops, there to be split up into our various trades.
Initially I was sent to a fitting bench where my main unofficial job was
to convert an English penny into a spitfire brooch for my sister.  Later
I was transferred to the Drawing Office.  I don't recall exactly what I
worked on, nothing earth-shattering but this was to be the pattern of
things for the next couple of months.

This was a peacetime undertaking employing mainly civilians both in the
offices and workshops and supplemented during the war by army tradesmen.
There were relics of a bygone age when time was not of the essence; on
the walls were some drawings on thick cartridge paper of weaponry with
the various metals indicated by colour washes, blue for steel and yellow
for brass while some drawings were in ink on tracing linen.  Current
drawings however were in pencil on tracing paper.

It was not all office work because we were also given some military
training including physical exercises, running around a battle course
though not under live firing as some poor souls were.  Additionally we
were instructed in unarmed combat but it was nowhere near as intensive
as infantry training.  Also on Sundays we had church parades, marching
up the main street behind a band to have our souls saved.  With others I
objected to this religious nonsense and asked to be exempt.  I was
offered two alternatives, either march to the church and stand to
attention for the duration of the service or opt for fatigue duties;
twice I chose the former but then decided that peeling potatoes gave me
the opportunity to vent my frustrations on the poor tubers, slicing them
into cubes or sculpting faces on them.  I thought that my best move
would be to approach the padre and ask to change my religious
designation.  "To what?" he enquired.  "To agnostic," I answered, "it
means I don't know." "I'm well aware of what it means," he said "but the
army doesn't recognise agnostics and since you say that you don't know
then keep coming to church and we'll teach you to believe." I realised
at that moment why so many of the soldiers' bawdy songs are sung to hymn
tunes, sung quietly to themselves it let them feel that although the
army had control of them physically it could not tame their thinking.

About this time, having been in the army for more than three years I
sewed the dog's hind leg, an inverted chevron, on my blouse cuff.  This
lasted until one evening when on guard duty the guard commander didn't
turn up.  "Who's the senior soldier?" asked the orderly sergeant.  He
looked around and espied my chevron and "All right, you, you're now the
acting guard commander.  March them off.  I did.  The next day I removed
the chevron.  It was then that I decided not to volunteer for anything,
nor try to evade anything, I would let life unfold as it would.  My
rationale was that if ever I found myself in a tough spot I could always
blame the system, never myself for being such a fool.  I had volunteered
twice, once when I joined up and again when I applied for a transfer out
of the Royal Signals and I decided that was enough.

In the mess hall there were soldiers from an assortment of units, some
being new intake; at one mealtime the Orderly Officer accompanied by the
Orderly Sergeant arrived.  The Orderly Sergeant yelled out, "Any
complaints?" "Yes." came a voice.  The pair approached the voice and the
officer asked, "Yes, my man and what is your complaint?" "This tea."
"What's the matter with it?"  "It's 'orrible." "Let me taste it," said
the officer as he bravely sipped from the far side of the mug, "there's
nothing wrong with tea, it's as good as I get at home." "Hmm, bloody
fine 'ome you comes from then!" There was a stunned silence; this was
beginning to look interesting.  "Take his name and number, sergeant,"
said the officer, "and charge him." I believe some leniency was shown
because this lad was very new to the army and the army had not yet had
time to drill the lively civilian spirit out of him.

I was on three overseas drafts, for the first one I was "waiting man";
that meant that if any man were to be taken off the draft then I would
replace him.  I had seven days embarkation leave but the draft was
complete without me.  Again for the second draft I had seven days
embarkation leave and I set off on the Southern Railway bound for
Reading where I would change to the Great Western Railway.  I was a bit
like a Sherpa porter as in addition to all my normal gear I also had a
kitbag with my tropical kit.  On the first leg of the journey I was
chatting to another soldier who was going on his normal leave to his
South Wales home; he also would have to change trains at Reading but
would be catching a different one.  Seeing me struggling with all my
gear he offered to carry some for me; I gave him my heavier kitbag.  He
got off the train before me and disappeared into the crowd and that was
the last I saw of him.  I searched the platforms and reported the
episode to the RTO but there was no sign of my property.  Disillusioned,
I went on with my journey determined to enjoy my seven days at home.
When I got back to Aldershot I had to report my loss which consisted not
only of army property but also a lot of my personal stuff; I had to
repay the army, however I was able to tell the authorities the man's
unit, rank, South Wales destination, train time and date, and they
traced him for me.  He didn't dispute the facts but said that as he was
in a hurry to catch his train he left my kitbag on a platform. He was
lying of course but we couldn't prove anything and I had learned a
costly lesson.  The draft was cancelled.

By this time many of us had been transferred from the RAOC into the
newly formed Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, REME, changing
our ranks from privates to craftsmen, this sounded good but we were
still at the bottom of the totem pole.  Towards the end of 1942 I was on
my third draft, identified as RDGFA which some wags said stood for "REME
draft going far away".  We gathered at Ramillies Barracks in Aldershot
filling in time with some regimental training under a Canadian corporal
who, disregarding our medical groupings for we were a very mixed bunch,
proceded to run us around a battle course that included an eight-foot
high jump.  He was pretty tough himself; with one wrist in a plaster
cast he led us in traversing across a gap by means of a horizontal rope.

At this time I began to ponder the future, weighing my chances of
surviving unscathed, surviving maimed or not surviving at all.  I had no
sound data to base my reasoning on but knew that Germany, seemingly
invincible, had taken over three years to advance well into Russia and
North Africa and that the Allies would take at least that time to
reverse the situation; surviving unscathed appeared to be a remote
possibility but one could always hope.

Again we were issued with a second kitbag and tropical uniforms.  Where
were we going?  None of us knew and with the army's art of deception we
could have been going to a cold place.  After a further seven days
embarkation leave we returned to Aldershot, regrouped and took a train
to London.  From there we boarded a troop train and headed north on the
old LNER line stopping at last at a transit camp at Cottingham near
Hull.  Lugging our two kits around was a bit of a chore.  We were due to
leave again the following day so a couple of us went into Hull that
evening to a cinema along with two NAAFI lasses.  The incongruity of the
situation struck me when we came out; it was too late to get anything to
eat or to get a bus back to camp.  Outside the cinema a man was selling
hot chestnuts and these were our only nourishment but we went back to
camp in grand style, we took a taxi.

The next day we entrained again this time bound for Glasgow but we
didn't know it.  At the docks we saw our floating home, His Majesty's
Transport Antenor.  At first sight HMT Antenor seemed to be not unlike
my early childish drawings of ships, high fo'castle, a low forward
well-deck, high superstructure, a low aft well-deck and a high stern
structure.  Both well-decks had raised hatch covers that gave access to
the lower decks and the centre superstructure carried the lone funnel.
We were told that she was part of the Blue Funnel Line that normally
operated in the far-eastern waters carrying passengers and freight.  In
single file, wearing our webbing and with our kitbags slung over our
shoulders we slowly mounted the gangplank.  At the top of the gangplank
we were directed to our quarters, draft RDGFA went aft to the lowest
deck; although there were portholes on that level the actual deck was
just below the water-line and the portholes were sealed shut.  Mess
tables covered the deck, they were all of a similar pattern with
attached bench seats but varying in length to conform to the contours of
the ship.  Overhead was a multiplicity of hooks to accommodate the
hammocks with which we would soon be issued.  Kapok life-jackets were
given out with strict instructions not to use them as pillows but we
were not told how long they could remain in the water before they became
waterlogged.  Soon we settled in.


One of the initial joys of being aboard ship was to be supplied with
soft white bread and ample amounts of butter, things that were
unobtainable in wartime Britain.  The ship still carried passengers and
freight, the commissioned ranks were the passengers while the other
ranks were freight; eggs were served daily to the former, sometimes
returned uneaten but with a cigarette butt stabbed through their yolks
but nary an egg was seen at our tables We had jam and marmalade in
plenty, coming in seven-pound tins, some of it from South Africa,
apfelkoos confit that I believe was apricot jam, that's what it tasted
like anyway.  We were really quite well fed but being young and healthy
we could always manage more; occasionally after dark the cookhouse would
be raided and the raw carrots and turnips that had been prepared for the
following day would be added to our diets.

It was not long before the army had us all organised into mess
orderlies, guards, fatigue parties and anything else that would keep us
out of mischief.  Soon the engines rumbled and we were off or so we
thought but the excitement was short lived, we moved down the Clyde and
stopped off Gourock, in Loch Long.  The wise ones among us said that we
had to wait for a convoy to form but we waited there for two weeks while
other ships and convoys came and went; it was a frustrating experience
in a confined space.

Of the many ships around one was pointed out to us, the Queen Elizabeth
(the first one), she had never seen passenger service having been
completed during the war, now in the distance we could see her, painted
in battleship grey, serving as a troopship.  One night or early morning
when we were nicely tucked up in our hammocks we were awakened by the
rumble of the engines again and we sensed motion; action at last, HMT
Antenor was under way, going down the Clyde.  With the coming of the
dawn we could see other ships in the convoy, merchant ships and our
naval escort.  We passed Arran and entered the North Channel and that
was as far as our schoolday geography took us.  Speculation was rife as
to our eventual destination but there was no shortage of opinion amongst
our amateur navigators who tried to calculate speed, distance and
direction as we moved into the open waters.  As time went by the seas
became more and more disturbed and the good ship Antenor pitched and
rolled with them; it would later transpire that we were entering the
tail end of one of the worst North Atlantic storms of the season.
Life-lines were fitted to facilitate a safe passage on deck.  Down below
we listened and watched with mounting concern as she creaked and
strained, as she pitched the screw would come out of the water and the
engines would race; all this was a new experience to us land-lubbers.
At the end of each roll she seemed to pause for a second or two -- would
she recover?  She always did and then she took about 15 seconds to reach
the other extreme and pause again.  Up on deck clutching at life-lines
or anything else secure one could wonder at the strength of the ship as
she rode on the crest of a wave and then plunged to the depths of a
trough; crew members rated them as 40-foot waves and we didn't disagree
with them.

Resulting from this roller-coaster action many of us had queasy stomachs
and were not very happy though it was heartening to see that all ranks
were treated equally by the elements.  As the days passed the seas
became less turbulent but other ships in the convoy, merchant and naval
alike could still be lost to sight as they wallowed in the troughs.  At
intervals of time our course would change and on the third day out our
escorts began changing their positions; "whoop, whoop, whoop" went
their hooters; depth charges were dropped What surprised me was the
speed of sound in water, no sooner did we see a plume of water rise than
a resounding boom bounced off our ship's hull.  These antics went on for
some time then later things returned to normal for a while; about four
o'clock in the afternoon HMT Antenor started to make smoke and fall back
in the formation; not to worry advised our intelligent ones, it's all
part of the plan.  We went below and had a bite to eat then came back on
deck 30 minutes later.  Where was the convoy?  We looked around but all
that could be seen were faint smoke smudges on the horizon and what's
more we were now silent and stationary.  Our intelligent ones were
nonplussed and our amateur navigators determined that we were probably
west of Brest off the west coast of France; that together with the
knowledge of the U-boat action earlier in the day didn't improve our
contentment.  At six o'clock a lone plane appeared from the west, going
east; it passed over us fairly low but none of us identified it.  Our
resident gunners took up their positions at our only gun, a four-inch,
designed I imagine for naval engagements and probably unable to elevate
sufficiently to engage an aircraft.  We assumed the plane to be hostile
and that it would report our position and static condition and we
waited.  Darkness came and we wallowed helplessly.  I decided that I
didn't feel like going to my deck below the water line waiting for a
torpedo to come bursting through the side, I wanted to have a reasonable
chance of getting off the ship if she were going down so I stacked out
on the hatch cover of an intermediate deck and slept fitfully with my
head upon my kapok pillow.

Dawn came and we were still without engines; we were told that the
storm's buffeting had unseated one of the boilers and that a similar
event had caused our departure from Loch Long to be delayed by two
weeks.  In the forenoon the engines started to rumble, a most welcome
sound and we limped into motion.  We must have been very fortunate
because we took a long three days to reach the relative safety of
Glasgow at dusk, having made the return journey without seeing anything
more than a couple of small fishing boats.

I forget the details but we disembarked and were whisked off to various
destinations; our draft together with some others was sent to a disused
distillery in Wishaw.  We sorted ourselves out and bedded down for the
rest of the night.  Next morning, Sunday, we looked around the town and
were amazed at the friendliness and hospitality shown us.  Our stay
lasted about three weeks or a month while HMT Antenor underwent surgery,
transplants and general re-conditioning.  At intervals during this
period small groups of us were given a few days leave at home but all
the time we were in Wishaw we were well looked after by the local
population; one businessman took out parties of us for a meal (was it at
Green's?) then on to a cinema show; this happened on many occasions.
Some of the lads were more or less adopted and lived out most of the
time there only looking in at the distillery to find out when our next
move was due.  In the forces I always got on well with all the Scots I
met but our reception at Wishaw was something else, it stays firmly in
my mind and I have a very soft spot for the Scots and Scotland.

All good things must come to an end of course and we had to return to
Glasgow to re-start our travels.  Waiting for us at the dock was our
troopship HMT Antenor, well repaired we hoped.  This time there was
little delay, soon we were steaming down the Clyde to form up with a
convoy; again we had a naval escort on our flanks and although the seas
were not as rough as before the screw still came out of the water and
the engines raced.  Day followed day uneventfully and we seemed to be on
the same course as before according to our amateur navigators; for many
of us this was the first time we had been so far from our island home
and we were quite excited.

In order to keep up our spirits and inform us of the progress of the war
the BBC news was frequently broadcast.  These newscasts were usually
preceded by a recording of Rule Britannia and while joining in mentally
with the remembered words I reached the phrase Britons never, never,
never, shall be slaves; I recalled the definition of a slave as being
one who received little or no remuneration for his services and who
could never voluntarily escape his predicament.  I made the comparison.

I can still remember my first sight of a lone palm tree emerging from
the early morning mist just before we made Freetown.  Some ships of the
convoy entered Freetown but we lay off and paused for a while a half
mile from the coast; we believed that mosquitoes couldn't make that
distance but just to be on the safe side we tried out our
mosquito-repellent ointment. The air was hot and very humid and soon we
decided that we preferred mosquito bites to the discomfort of trapped
perspiration.  By this time we had changed into our tropical uniforms
and this did nothing to improve our appearance; our cork topees were
reminiscent of those worn during the Boer War and were probably surplus
to that conflict.  There was nothing remarkable about our shirts but the
shorts were something else; worn in their extended form they reached
down to mid-calf, the lower hems were fitted with three buttonholes
while at mid-thigh there were three buttons.  The idea was that in the
bright sunlight hours they would be buttoned up to let our knees feel
the breeze and get tanned but in the evening they would be worn at full
length to frustrate the mosquitoes.  To economise in footwear the army
supplied knitted hose-tops, tubes, near khaki in colour that covered the
socks just above the ankle while the tops were turned down just below
the knee.  Webbing gaiters covered the junction of boots and hose-tops;
whether the gaiters were aesthetic or functional I don't know, either
way they were two more items to be blancoed; perhaps they would deter an
aggressive snake.

Duties on board were no different than before but there were free
periods when we could indulge in the only gambling game permitted by the
army, Housey, or Bingo as it is more usually called today. We spent a
lot of hours gazing out to sea, I didn't find that boring, there was
always something fresh to see, even when looking at nothing in
particular there was the ever-changing pattern of the waves, not unlike
the changing patterns in a glowing coal fire.  For the first time we saw
Portuguese men-of-war, jellyfish, with their little sails unfurled, and
flying fish played around the ship.  At night time another phenomenon
was revealed, looking over the side the phosphorescent creatures
disturbed by the ship's passage brightly illuminated the ship's hull, so
much so that we thought the portholes were unshielded; it made a mockery
of our strict instructions not to show any light.  In this context I put
my foot in it once again; seeing a flashlight beam waving about the deck
on a black night I yelled, "Put that light out." "Who said
that?" asked flashlight.  "Who are you?" I countered.  "I am
the Orderly Officer," said flashlight, "what's your name and
number?" somewhat chastened I obliged and realised once again that
even when you're right you can't win an argument when you're outranked.

The ship carried only limited amounts of potable water and the only
water available for keeping clean was salt water; true we had showers
and could purchase salt-water soap but this was not very effective and
rinsing off was difficult; the end result was not satisfactory
particularly when trying to get one's hair squeaky clean.  This fact was
brought home to me when one mealtime a soldier paused behind me as he
spoke to a pal on the next table; we were in the tropics and it was very
warm.  He was holding a seven-pound tin of marmalade above my head;
engrossed in conversation he allowed the tin to tilt -- need I say more?

I had started a head cold just before we left Glasgow and after a day or
so at sea I did what was very unusual for me, I reported sick.  The army
had three or four standard remedies to cover most situations and I was
dosed with one of them, mist.expec seems to be the abbreviation that
stays in my memory; several doses brought no relief so again I reported
sick.  I was now coughing badly and felt quite ill.  Same medicine, same
result; I really should have been admitted to the sick bay but was
not. Reporting sick for the third time brought accusations of
malingering; at no time had I seen either of the two doctors on board,
the diagnosis had been made by an NCO of the RAMC, so I soldiered on.

I don't know how far west we passed into the Atlantic but the crew told
us when we were nearer to Walvis Bay, eventually we pulled into Cape
Town in South Africa, the "tablecloth" of cloud had settled over Table
Mountain for us.  Some of our convoy separated from us and docked there.
After a short stop in the bay we moved on to Durban and as we came into
the dock area we saw a little group on the quayside waiting to greet us.
The central figure was "The Lady in White" as she came to be known.  She
was a trained singer and made it her duty to meet all the troopships;
armed with a megaphone (this was 1943) she sang patriotic and nostalgic
songs to cheer up the lads who were bound for unknown parts.  It was a
nice warm welcome to South Africa.

For our last night on board I was picked for guard duty.  Why?  Perhaps
they thought that someone would run off with the ship. Next morning we
disembarked and marched up to our new billets on Clairwood Race Course,
I was quite weak and unable to carry all my kit, some of my pals carried
my rifle and pack for me.  I was feeling very groggy but that didn't
stop me from being picked for guard duty again that night.  I got the
last shift and when I was awakened at 4am I rebelled and said the
waiting man could do my turn.  Later in the morning I reported sick once
more, this time to Clairwood Hospital where I was examined by a South
African army doctor.  When he had finished he gave me a chit that said,
"Admit hospital, resolving pneumonia" and I spent the best part of the
next three weeks there, two weeks in bed and a couple of days up and
about.  I believe I slept for the first 30 hours.

It was an army hospital run on army lines but there were some civilian
staff mixed in with the nursing sisters and MO's.  The food was very
good and I was surprised to find chicken on the menu quite often; iced
water or a lemon drink was kept at the bedside in a little jug covered
with a lace cloth to keep the flies off but there were no mosquito nets.
At first I didn't realise what the high pitched buzz in my ears was
until I had had a few bites.  I recall two nurses, one was a Canadian,
an army nursing sister whose name had a Ukrainian ring to it and the
other was a South African civilian, Nurse Anderson.  The latter who was
probably a little bit older than I was prophetically gave us some words
of wisdom.  The ward cleaning staff was composed of black African men
and the British not being particularly racist used to talk to them and
give them cigarettes, something that they didn't from the South African
whites.  Nurse Anderson said, "You British are spoiling them, when
the war is over you'll be going back to your own country and we'll be
left with the consequences of your actions." Military discipline was
upheld in the wards and when the MO and his following retinue of nurses
came on the rounds those who could were told to stand to attention by
their beds and those who could not stand were told to lie to attention.
More stupidity.

One hospital orderly amused me with his line of thinking; judging by his
accent I asked him, "You are an Afrikaner?" "No, no, he replied, "I'm
Dutch." "Surely not," I said, "the people of Holland are Dutch." "No,
no," he said again, "they are Hollanders, I'm Dutch."

On discharge from hospital I was sent to King's House in Durban for
convalescence and was duly fitted out with hospital blues and a red tie.
I remember being there for Good Friday and for another couple of days
and enjoyed the time touring the city; it was a beautiful place, this
was the end of March 1943, their autumn, the right time of the year and
the vegetation was lush I was just settling down to a short spell of
doing nothing; I wasn't looking too smart, I used to have my hair cut
every two weeks and it was now seven weeks long, additionally the
pneumonia had left me with three boils on my face.  My convalescence was
short lived because I was ordered to report to a hospital, not
Clairwood, to be examined to determine if I was fit enough to re-join
draft RGDFA.  An ambulance arrived and I occupied a stretcher on the
upper of two berths, the man on the lower was going to the same
hospital.  Our ambulance bounced along over dirt roads, it was a very
rough ride and after one huge bump my stretcher collapsed and I landed
on the fellow below; he wasn't very pleased with me and I finished the
journey sitting down, listening to his constant griping.  After a
cursory examination by the doctor I was pronounced fit enough to re-join
draft RDGFA.  He must have known where we were going and he must have
known that troops with lung problems were not supposed to be sent there,
but there, that's the military.  I suppose that after the war these
three doctors, this one and the two on the Antenor, were let loose on
the civilian population of Britain, I'm glad I wasn't one of their

Most of our group had a good time in Durban and were very well treated
by the South Africans, when we expressed our thanks they said, "Oh,
you should have been here before the Australians came, they nearly
wrecked the place."

Back on the docks we saw our next floating hotel, HMT Aronda; she was
much more modern, lighter in build and with finer lines than the old
Antenor.  Once on board we got into our new routine.  The ship had a
permanent army officer, OC Troops who, I presume stayed with her on all
her voyages.  We also had another luxury on board, a real live bugler;
his job was to sound off at various periods of the day to announce some
activity or other.

As with the Antenor this ship was fitted out with mess tables and
attached benches.  Early on we had to report to stores and draw hammocks
because the sleeping arrangements were similar as well.  On the Antenor
we had been issued with bottles of fortified lime juice (shades of
Captain Cook) but now we were to be issued with bottles of carbonated
drinks. We soon set forth, destination still unknown; we were all
assigned boat stations and each morning we assembled on deck waiting to
be inspected by our betters, looking a little ridiculous in our "Bombay
bowlers" and our Bombay bloomers".  The inspection was quite a formal
affair as an entourage consisting of the ship's captain, OC Troops and
various others of decreasing rank, a lance-corporal as the caboose,
traversed the ship.  However leading this group and heralding its
approach was the bugler; at each station he paused, stood smartly to
attention, put the bugle to his lips and sounded four "G's" then off he
went to the next station to repeat his performance; he was a pain.

When the waters were calm and the nights were clear we sometimes lay on
deck looking upwards to the heavens because in the southern hemisphere
different star constellations were visible, the Southern Cross for one.
As the ship pitched and rolled ever so gently the tip of a mast would
trace slow little circles in the near black sky; it was half an hour of
peace.  We knew that we were moving in a north-easterly direction and we
had a general knowledge of the local geography but we couldn't determine
whether we passed to the west or the east of Madagascar.  The first bit
of excitement came when I perched on a box and, surrounded by a group of
interested onlookers, had my locks shorn.  I felt much lighter but my
face still had its three boils, they were to stay with me a while
longer.  The Aronda was alone, not in convoy and I remember one morning
well, I had gone up on deck early, sunrise comes suddenly at about 6am
in those latitudes; there was the gentle throbbing of the engines but
complete silence otherwise, the Indian Ocean was grey and more tranquil
than I had ever seen water before , or since.  All around the water was
flat and mirror-like except at the stern where our wake, a thin white
streak stretched out into the distance.  I celebrated my 25th birthday
in the middle of the Indian Ocean.

On board we had a public address system, installed presumably to impart
words of wisdom like, "splice the mainbrace" or "Abandon ship" or
something but in fact it was used to play records to keep up our morale.
Where the control room was situated I never did find out but whoever was
responsible for the choice of records must have been a fan of Deanna
Durbin; hour after hour the strains of One Fine Day came over the
speakers, there were other records of course but even today when I hear
One Fine Day I am transported back in time to the Indian Ocean.  There
are a few other incidents that stay in my mind from that period.  One
man put on a charge for some minor offence thought the punishment
awarded was too excessive so he kicked the escort and fled; of course he
couldn't get very far on a ship, a fact he should have thought of
beforehand.  We saw him running round the decks with three PT
instructors in hot pursuit; he gave them a good run for their money but
nevertheless he finished up in the ship's brig.  As usual the military
required guards to be posted during the night and in the interests of
convenience and fairness each draft took turns to supply the men.  For a
change my services were not required on that voyage but one night it
fell upon the Royal Army Service Corps to stand guard.  Since he had to
be up early in the morning to sound "reveille" the bugler slept in the
guard room to be awakened in good time.  He also slept with his bugle,
with the fancy cord around his neck.  As I said before he was a pain and
the RASC decided to do us a favour; while he was asleep the cord was
cut, the bugle removed and dumped overboard.  We knew something was
amiss in the morning when no bugle call aroused us and we waited to see
what would transpire.  We assembled at our boat stations.  By-and-by the
bugler came into view, stopped at our station, stood to attention and
"Peep, peep, peep, peep." he went.  The military was not to be
denied, they had given him a referee's whistle.  That was the same
occasion when the ship's liquor store was broached and some of the
guards were the worse for wear. We never heard any more about this
episode, perhaps some were punished, we were never told.

Attempts were made to keep us occupied, unofficially cards were played
and money changed hands, usually from mine into someone else's.  Housey
was often played and at times shows were put on consisting of stand-up
comedy, solo singing and sing-songs where we all joined in.  One lad
stood on the make-shift stage and recited,

            "Do you remember an inn, Miranda,

             Do you remember an inn?



            "And the shouts and the jeers

             Of the young muleteers,



             Do you remember an inn?"

He struggled manfully to the end, ignoring all the ribald remarks coming
from some quarters and when he had finished he acknowledged the sparse
applause; definitely not the sort of poetry expected by the licentious

Days came and went, I don't recall how many but the time came when the
sea birds arrived on the scene and we knew that landfall was not too far
distant.  The brighter ones among us told us that we were nearing Bombay
and for once they were right.


As HMT Aronda approached Bombay we eagerly scanned the coastline and
almost at once discerned that imposing arch The Gateway to India but
there was not too much time to spend sightseeing as we had to prepare to
disembark.  The ship docked and a little later we were making our way
down the gangplank.  Partway down I could see a commotion on the
quayside; three military policemen were holding down a prone figure;
though his face was flat where it was being pressed against the quay I
recognised him as being the prisoner from the ship's brig.  He had
attempted to escape custody once more but again he had failed; I think
he didn't like the army very much.  We fell into position by drafts and
waited and waited; it was mid-day and getting very hot.  We stood in
formation for about an hour, eventually our guide arrived to lead us to
our billets; he was Indian Army, somewhere around five feet tall and he
set off at a blistering pace.  We quick marched behind him and when I
say quick I mean it, with his short legs he had a short stride and we
longer-legged ones kept up with difficulty.  After a mile or so we
entered Colaba Camp, this was to be our home for a while.

Now started our introduction to things Indian.  The teeming masses and
the number of people sleeping in the streets surprised me as did the
apparent disregard for personal safety amongst the traffic.  New words
came into our vocabularies the origins of which sometimes go back to the
many countries that British forces have garrisoned over the last three
centuries.  Some military personnel must obviously have become
proficient in the local languages but for the most part the British
soldier was and still is linguistically lazy, content to adopt and
sometimes anglicise foreign words and phrases to suit the occasion.
Strangely enough using some English mixed with some foreign phrases and
body language the soldiers usually made themselves understood by the
locals who probably thought that all the words were English.  At times
it led to some interesting exchanges.

However at this stage we were introduced to mainly Indian words,
charpoys for rope beds, chatties for unglazed urns, pani for water,
jaldi for quick and many, many more.  We met some of the regular army
characters who had spent years in India and gleaned snippets of
information from them.  Were there any poisonous creatures around?
Well, yes, scorpions for one thing.  What about snakes?  There are
several different sorts here.  Very poisonous?  Yes, especially the hoop
snake.  Hoop snakes? never heard of them.  Oh, they are very fast but if
they can't catch up with you by wriggling they put their tails in their
mouths and bowl themselves along like hoops.  Our legs were often pulled
like this until we became in turn the seasoned leg-pullers of the new

The camp CO used to ride around on a white horse and occasionally he
would give us a pep talk; to those of us who were getting a bit too
boisterous he said, "Most of you before the war were law abiding
citizens but once you've put on a uniform and moved away from home you
think you've become licensed buccaneers.  Behave yourselves." There
was a fair amount of spare time before we expected to move again and we
spent a lot of it looking over this main port of The British Raj.  The
Gateway to India that we had earlier glimpsed as we steamed into dock
was the first thing to see and we were duly impressed.  Then there was
the centre of Bombay, we wandered along Hornby Street to the Kodak shop
where I bought a film for my vest-pocket Kodak. Unfortunately the camera
had developed a pinhole in the bellows and most of my pictures were
spoiled.  A couple of evenings were spent at the cinemas, watching
Hollywood films that were about two years old.  We also visited a zoo
(Victoria?) where strangely, amongst other creatures, we saw in
captivity English sparrows Other unexpected sights included cows
wandering unhindered through the streets and carts drawn by camels.  In
one of the main streets my attention was caught by the sight of a
turbaned Indian who was sitting cross-legged putting on a show, pitting
a cobra against a mongoose.  I didn't feel like staying for the finale,
I guess he had to separate the combatants or else go looking for a new

Our stay in India was not very long, a matter of a couple of weeks or so
but long enough to give us a feel for the country. Under the British Raj
there didn't seem to be much evidence of the inter-religious hostility
that would result in such a blood bath at Independence and partition in
1948.  Political struggle there was and some anti-British sentiment but
it didn't seem pervasive to us.  Little booklets were issued to us that
outlined the history and customs of India, (the term India was
all-inclusive in those days, both Hindu and Moslem) and listed
population densities together with a glossary of useful words and
phrases.  Other words and phrases not in the booklet we picked up from
contact with the older and more experienced soldiers.  At that time we
also learned that the Indian Army was entirely separate from the
British, with its own Viceroy commissioned officers whom we did not have
to salute, and the ranks of Subahdar, Jemadar and Havildar were added to
our vocabularies.  During our short stay draft RDGFA suffered its first
casualty, Cfn Love was whisked off to hospital and later succumbed to a
brain tumour.

Our accommodation was in long huts that in memory appeared to be
permanent; we found the charpoys quite comfortable and the bell-shaped
mosquito nets that dangled from the ceiling gave us uninterrupted
nights.  Food was sufficient, plenty of rice in various guises and
frequent curries that despite the warm weather seemed to cool one
down. There was also the usual NAAFI store and fresh fruit could be
purchased daily.

Too soon the time came to move on and we rejoined HMT Aronda; we got
aboard and were assigned our places, immediately I was given some task
to perform, I forget what but while I was so engaged the stores were
opened and everyone drew hammocks; by the time I had finished the stores
had closed.  Ah, well, I was now used to roughing it so I elected to
sleep on the bench seat of a mess table, a plank about one foot wide;
again my life-jacket became my pillow and I slept like a babe.  I never
did draw my hammock.

The seas were calm as we steamed away from Bombay on a north-westerly
course, we lost sight of land but now we had an idea of where we were
going.  The skies were cloudless and the sun blazed down on us for 12
hours every day; thick canvas awnings were erected over the passageways
on each side of the ship.  "Keep wearing your topees," we were
told, "harmful rays can penetrate the awnings." I believe we took
four days or more to reach our destination passing from the Arabian Sea
into the Persian Gulf; the journey was quite uneventful, we spent the
days doing very little, looking at the water, playing cards, eating,
dozing and listening to even more of Deanna Durbin over the inter-com.
With faint memories of maps in our minds we tried to identify Bandar
Shapur and Bandar Abbas on the starboard side with uncertain success. In
the afternoon of the last day we entered the Shatt-el-Arab and headed
for Basra; now there was a little more to see.  The waterway was
relatively narrow and we passed through the dense groves of the palm
trees that lined both banks, however at intervals we came to small
inlets intended no doubt to give access inland and here the effect of
water upon plant life became apparent.  The tall palms at the river's
edge gave way to more stunted ones further inland and a couple of
hundred yards from the river the desert began.

It was past midnight when we docked at Marquil, we disembarked and got
ourselves sorted out.  Then we loaded our bits and pieces and ourselves
on to waiting lorries and set forth towards our new temporary home,
No.15 Reinforcement Transit Camp, a tented camp.  We were now members of
PAIFORCE, the Persia and Iraq force.


Our arrival at the transit camp was in the early hours of the morning
and we didn't try to get organised but being young and tired we slept
well, nevertheless we woke with the dawn at about 6am and then surveyed
the scene.  There were a dozen or so bell tents including ours set in
the middle of nothingness, flat vacant desert all around us; true there
was some sign of activity a quarter of a mile away that turned out to be
the local brickworks but otherwise nothing.  We asked the name of this
God-forsaken spot and were told Shaiba.

 It was still May and the days were getting hotter.  We had to be
initiated into the ways of desert life; topees to be worn at all times
in the sun, shirt sleeves rolled down and slacks to be worn after 6pm
when it was the mosquitoes turn to be around and about, copious amounts
of water to be drunk and two salt tablets taken daily.

To get us into condition after the inactive period at sea we were
exercised gently.  Small groups were marched along to the brickworks, a
somewhat over stated term, where some Arabs were mixing up a dough-like
slurry that was then put into wooden moulds, something that had been
done by their forbears for the last three or four millenia.  The moulds
consisted of four sides and a bottom; the open face of a filled mould
was smoothed off by hand and the brick turned out to dry and bake in the
sun.  I never measured them but they seemed to be near enough the same
size as standard English ones.  Bricks made this way were called
plano-convex because five faces were flat and the sixth convex; each
bore the imprint of a thumb on the convex face, formed as the brick was
ejected from the mould.  Similar bricks were used in the building of the
Sumerian city of Ur several thousands of years ago.

From a pile of bricks we each had to pick up two and march back to the
camp, dump them then return for two more; 10 or 12 such trips gave us
the exercise we needed and acclimatised us to the dry heat.  What was
unexpected was the blowing sand that seemed to get everywhere, in one's
eyes and ears and sticking like a film to any exposed sweaty flesh; some
relief came by eating one's food in the relative shelter of the tent but
even so sand could find any chink to gain entrance.  Ignorantly after
dinner one day, mindful of instructions, I swallowed the two obligatory
salt tablets; later I felt a little strange and then discovered the
emetic properties of salt.  Ever afterwards I took my salt in small
quantities with plenty of water.

As its name implied the camp was only intended to hold troops until they
could be dispersed to their various units; there were no recreational
amenities available though we could purchase a local brand of cigarettes
called Red Bird in packets of five for five fils (about one farthing
each, old currency).  We slept 10 to a tent, feet at the central pole
and bodies radiating outwards; early on without being taught we learned
how to dig a recess for our hips and over this area we spread our
groundsheets. Though a bit firm our small packs served as pillows.
After dark the only source of light came from a hurricane lamp, this was
not always effective in which case it was swapped for a useable one from
another tent when nobody was looking, standard army practice.

I forget how long we stayed there, maybe a week but then the draft was
split up and dispersed and I was posted to Al Musayyib, some 40 miles
south of Baghdad.  However before I started the army wanted to get some
useful work out of me and so with three others I acted as escort to an
ammunition train going up as far as Mosul near the biblical city of
Nineveh.  We were supplied with canned and dry rations sufficient for
the journey and joined the train in the evening with rifles, some
ammunition for them, side arms and all our kit.  An empty wagon served
as our mobile quarters, empty that is except for straw or similar
material to soften the hard wagon floor and we slept uncomfortably in
shifts.  On the first morning we awoke itching, sand flies had feasted
on us as we slept fitfully; I think they really enjoyed fresh caucasian
blood and we spent a while scratching and slapping.

With the start of the day deficiencies were discovered in our equipment,
while we had tea, sugar and dried milk we hadn't any water or the means
of containing or boiling it.  One difficulty was overcome when we
bartered cigarettes for a petrol can from some railside Arabs.  Funny
really because it was once part of British stores; it was a tall
square-sectioned metal can from which the top had been removed; at the
top a wooden bar stretched from side to side to form a carrying handle;
it appeared to be clean and we assumed that it was.  The problem of
boiling water was solved when we asked the locomotive driver to blow
some out from his steed.  I learned years later that this was definitely
not recommended healthwise but that's what we did many times and we

The train stopped at various towns and villages on the way, As Samawa,
Ad Diwaniyah, Baghdad, Samarra and lastly outside Mosul.  At no stop did
we venture far from the train we were guarding.  The journey was
interesting; except for the towns the land was light brown and mostly
barren; in the open country flocks of sheep roamed with their attendant
shepherds and this presented an almost biblical scene.  To our western
eyes there was one noticeable difference however, in the west the
shepherd would be behind his flock, driving them but here he was in
front, leading.  Perhaps in this land of sparse vegetation the sheep
relied on him to find the best grazing.  We reached Mosul in the evening
and our train drew up alongside an army camp, the lads there were
enjoying a movie; the translucent screen lay between us and the audience
and from our wagon we saw one hour of Mrs Miniver, back to front and

Discharged from our escort duty we boarded a passenger train heading for
Baghdad and enjoyed the luxury of slatted wooden seats.  I was quite
excited with the anticipation of what lay ahead and could hardly wait to
see more of the mystic land of the Caliphs.  The train drew into Baghdad
and as it slowed we could see more of the city, fine buildings mixed
with mud brick homes, the Ishtar Gate and the minarets of mosques, the
strange clothes, music discordant to my ears, porters bent double with
unbelievable loads on their backs and the smells.  At that time I had to
be content with a passing impression because I was bound for Al
Musayyib, to No.5 Advanced Base Workshops.  That designation in the
middle of Iraq puzzled me and it was not until many years after the war
that I discovered the reason for it and the reason for my being there.

The workshops were some 40 miles south of Baghdad and a mile or so from
the Arab town; the town was out of bounds to us but a metalled road from
there passed between our camp and the workshops; we only ever saw
military traffic on it.  Both camp and workshop compound were separately
surrounded with barbed wire, three coil dannert and apron was the
official name for it.  Individual shops were scattered within the
compound, seemingly haphazardly and they contained equipment for which
any contemporary British engineering firm would kill for.

Accommodation within the camp consisted of huts similar in design to
Nissen huts but were built of local materials with low brick walls and
pre-cast arches supporting curved roofs of straw reinforced baked
mud. The floors were of course bare earth.  Outside the end doors of
each hut stood a large urn of unglazed earthenware, a chatty, kept full
of water laced with salt to make sure we took our daily dose to ward off
heat exhaustion. The water was cooled by the evaporation of the small
quantity of water that seeped through to the outside of the chatty and
it was very pleasant to drink.  Non-potable water for ablutions and
laundry was brought in through underground pipes from a source unknown
to me, the river Euphrates perhaps, anyway the pipes could not have been
buried very far beneath the surface because in the summer the water was
quite hot.  Again, using local materials, the screens around the
unroofed showers and latrines were made of woven palm leaves.

We started work early in the morning, reveille was sounded by an Arab
bugler (we didn't have one) at 6am, we marched off to start work by 7am,
finishing at 2-30pm to take advantage of the cooler part of the day.
Most of us were classed as tradesmen though we were constantly reminded
that we were soldiers first and tradesmen second.  Except for mounting
guard at the officer's quarters we were exempt from guard duties, these
were carried out by Indian troops within the workshops compound and by
the Royal Sussex Regiment around the workshops and camp environs.  At
night they patrolled the streets in lorries equipped with twin Bren
guns.  One report had it that they once fired on one of their own
corporals, hitting him in the legs.  Often we would see them in the
morning marching back from their duties whistling or singing Sussex by
the Sea.  Venturing into the workshop compound at night in pitch
darkness as we were sometimes required to do was a different matter,
quite an eerie experience in fact; the Indian guards were silent and one
never knew exactly where they were though their presence could be
detected by the faint clinking sound of the chain that attached their
rifles to them To ensure that we were not mistaken for intruders we
tended to announce ourselves by whistling.  One would think that with
all these guards the place would be impregnable.  Not so.  Frequently at
night when we were at the mobile cinema sounds of gunfire would be heard
coming from the workshops and sometimes there were bodies.

Heat I think was our greatest problem followed by sandstorms.  The
highest official shade temperature I remember seeing was recorded in
Baghdad, 121°F, though inside the workshops I've seen the mercury
register 128°F but this was enervating and little work was done then.
In severe sandstorms we protected our eyes with goggles but exposed
flesh was stung by blowing sand; although the lenses of the goggles were
not tinted it was like viewing the world through the yellowish amber of
Golden Syrup.  In 1943 or perhaps it was 1944 I saw the nearly total
solar eclipse through a sandstorm, with goggles but with no other eye

During the summer months the prevailing winds came from the north-east,
sweeping in over the Iranian plains, by the time they reached us they
were bone dry, this was a good thing really because we sweated profusely
in that heat and were rapidly cooled by evaporation.  Occasionally for a
couple of short periods in the summer humid winds would blow in from the
Persian Gulf and then it was most uncomfortable, shirts would be sodden
and dark with sweat and if they dried before being washed they would be
stained white with salt.  We had our laundry done twice a week by the
dhobi but that was inadequate so we did our own in between times; in the
bone dry air a pair of slacks could be worn 15 minutes after washing.
One of our lads, mimicking the dhobi by bashing wet laundry on a flat
stone was put on a charge for damaging government property; he was
acquitted after enlightening the officer who obviously had never done
his own laundry.

One piece of equipment supplied by the army for which I was very
grateful was the chargul, a water bottle made of a coarse canvas similar
to fire hose canvas that worked on the same principle as the chatty.
Drawn new from the QM stores it would not hold water but had to be
soaked until the canvas had swollen; filled with water and hung outside
in the air it provided a beautifully cold drink in a fairly short time.
This evaporation principle was also adopted to lower the temperature
inside ambulances by means of a cuscus tatty; this consisted of a
four-sided wooden frame with chicken wire front and rear, the cavity was
filled with what we called camel thorn.  Water was pumped up from a tank
and sprayed over the unit; air passing through the moist camel thorn was
then directed into the body of the ambulance to cool the interior.


The compound covered quite a large area the exact size of which I can't
say but it was spread out over a vast expanse of desert with the various
workshops located in no apparent order.  There were no metalled roads
but between the buildings a hard travelling surface was obtained by
putting discarded engine oil over the loose sand and traffic soon firmed
this up For heavier loads a two-foot gauge Decauville track was laid
between the main buildings and trucks were hauled by a Lister powered
locomotive.  For off-loading really heavy equipment within the compound
a metre-gauge spur line branched off from the main line linking Turkey
with Basra.

When we first arrived the conversation centred around two topics,
firstly there was the recent flea infestation that fortunately for us
had now subsided; apparently this had occurred quite suddenly, lasted
for a brief period and then unaccountably it was over.  Perhaps Keatings
had something to do with their departure.  Secondly there was the tyre
scandal.  I was told unofficially that with the shortage of tyres
amongst the Iraqi civilians some had been diverted from the British
stores in exchange for cash and sentences had now been pronounced.

In those early days no master plan existed showing the layout of the
installation and to remedy this deficiency I was quickly instructed in
plane table surveying, a subject in which I had no previous experience.
Jim and I spent weeks and weeks out in the sun wearing the pith helmets
that had now replaced our cork topees, getting browner by the day as we
toiled away with plane table, tripod, sighting rule and chain (well, we
didn't have a chain but we managed with a 100-foot steel tape),
gradually building up a map of the camp to our superiors' satisfaction.
Just before this project was complete I was taken off for some other
drawing office work.  Not a great deal of real engineering work was done
in the DO, mainly modifications to drawings to implement changes to
armoured equipment; the six wheeled Staghound seems to be the one
vehicle I recall.  But one must not forget the other onerous duties,
keeping up to date all the pretty coloured charts and graphs in the
Company Office so that the clerical staff could see how many soldiers
they had, where they were and how many were sick.  We also had the task
of addressing the parcels that the commissioned ranks sent home to their
families as we could print more neatly than they could and anyway it was
beneath their dignity to do anything so menial.

I suppose that now would be a good time to explain the reason for our
existence in that area.  Between the two world wars Britain had been
awarded by the League of Nations the mandate to govern Iraq and had
military forces in the country, notably the RAF in its permanent station
at Habbaniyah; naturally some Iraqis objected to this arrangement and
caused a bit of trouble but their big chance came when Britain declared
war on Germany. Under their leader Rashid Ali they tried to drive the
British forces out.  A major engagement occurred at Habbaniyah but the
RAF personnel successfully resisted them.  The early part of the war had
not gone too well for the Allies and by 1942 Germany had advanced in
North Africa to the borders of Egypt and in the east was on the road to
Tiflis (now Tiblisi).  It seemed that unless these advances were stopped
which at that time appeared doubtful the two armies would join somewhere
in northern Iraq and drive southwards taking control of the oilfields of
Persia and Iraq.  This would have had serious consequences for the

There existed at this time in Shaiba a very large ordnance
establishment, No.1 Base Workshops which besides being well equipped to
service tanks, guns and other military hardware also stored vast amounts
of everything else an army required.  For this reason it was decided to
interpose No.5 Advanced Base Workshops between Shaiba and the advancing
Germans.  That's why I was there.  Fortunately the German armies were
halted at El Alamein and Stalingrad so the personnel of No.5 ABW were
later relocated.

Anyone who has worked in an engineering shop will recognise some of the
sounds associated with various operations, for example a bench
grindstone on being started up has a peculiar whine, very high pitched
when top speed has been achieved; this is followed by a clatter as metal
is presented to the stone.  I heard this whine and then nothing.  Why?
I went over to this grindstone and saw a man grinding away at the sole
of his gym shoe.  The QM had issued an edict to the effect that no gym
shoes (or shoes, canvas) would be replaced unless the soles were worn
through.  These shoes like so many other pieces of army equipment had
been stored over a long period in the open air in the blazing sun and
consequently their uppers had rotted.  This lad had been left with a
pair of fairly good soles but hardly any useful uppers and not wishing
to fight the stupid edict, knowing he could not win, decided that he
could beat the system.

The workshop compound was fairly deserted at night but the Company
Office stood within it so night time pickets had to be supplied. The
duties were negligible apart from lowering the REME flag at dusk and
raising it again at dawn; there must have been a reason for this but it
escaped me.  The hours before bed were boring and lonely but looking
around the place and viewing some of the documents was interesting.
Apart from Army Council Instructions (ACI's) there were other papers
printed on yellow paper, applicable to Paiforce, whose title eludes me
now.  One item caught my eye, I can't recall the exact wording but in
essence it said, "If a soldier were to be executed then his next of kin
should be informed that he died while on active service".  Technically
correct I suppose but why not tell the truth?  To spare the family pain
and disgrace?  Or to protect he system and avoid answering awkward
questions?  As Churchill remarked, "Truth is the first casualty of

Drinking water supplied to the cooks was brought in daily in the evening
in a two wheeled trailer that was then parked adjacent to the cookhouse
ready for their early morning chores.  Breakfast and evening meals were
taken in the mess room in the camp but the mid-day hot meals were
delivered to the various workshops by lorry; they were kept hot by being
stored in "hay boxes" forerunners of the present day coolers and these
too were kept adjacent to the cookhouse.  I mentioned earlier that there
was a severe shortage of tyres among the Iraqis, many civilian lories
could be seen on the roads, well loaded and carrying as many Arabs as
could possibly hang on, with only on tyre on what should have been a
twin wheel.  The British had tyres and the Iraqis were envious.
Arriving early one morning the cooks discovered a hole in the perimeter
fence and the axle of the water trailer resting on two hay boxes.  The
two wheels and their tyres were missing.  The hay boxes had been placed
under the axle of the trailer and the sand scraped away beneath the
tyres until they could be freely removed.  We knew where the intruders
came from because there was a small Arab settlement a quarter of a mile
from our camp.

The gap in the fence was repaired and a watch kept; some days later
another gap appeared and expecting another attempt at stealing an ambush
was set up.  Two REME personnel (I was one of them) armed with our
SMLE's and two privates of the Royal Sussex Regiment armed with Bren
guns got into position after dark and waited for the intruders to
appear.  I wasn't too happy about this because it could be the first
time I had a human target in my sights.  Fortunately for me and the
possible intruders the Orderly Officer and the Orderly Sergeant came
along in their jeep, stopped by the gap, illuminated it with their
headlights, then got out and inspected it, thus warning any watching
Arabs that we were expecting them.  I was very glad when daylight came
and I still had five unused rounds in my rifle.

Not all nights passed so uneventfully however.  One unlucky guard on the
last shift of his duty going from the guard room to awaken the cooks
interrupted a robbery that was taking place in the cook's hut.  He was
set upon and stabbed several times, he survived but the robbers escaped.

We were allowed leave on occasion, the nearest site for any sort of
entertainment was Baghdad and we could take day trips there but could
not stay overnight.  When I first arrived there was still some residual
hostility towards British troops and we were instructed to go around in
twos and to wear side arms but this rule was later relaxed.  A lorry was
made available each Saturday and Sunday to make the somewhat
uncomfortable journey into town.

Adjacent to our camp a mobile cinema put on films twice a week, these
were mainly old ones that we had seen at home; with only one projector
there was a pause as the Arab operator changed reels.  Often he had
difficulty with the numbering of the reels and this led to some
interesting results, sometimes a murder would be solved before it had
been committed. When such a mix-up occurred the restive audience would
yell, "Get yer money ready, Shafto," harking back to similar situations
in WWI.  Waiting for an audience to arrive an Arab stood with his wares,
beautiful green grapes that he sold at 50 fils a pound, about the price
of ten good cigarettes.  Someone had obviously instructed him in
Imperial measures and, "One pow-und." he shouted as he weighed them on a
primitive hand held scale using a railway spike as the nearest thing to
a pound weight.

Besides being able to buy English cigarettes we could also get Canadian
ones, Sweet Caporal but not all favourite brands were available at all
times.  The army issued a free ration of Victory cigarettes, a
nondescript brand that were just about acceptable as a last resort and
which were often given away to Arab civilian employees.  We could get
Palestinian beer and Canadian Black Horse but I never saw any British
brands.  Beer was rationed of course, I think it was two bottles per man
per week and non-drinkers often used their rations for barter or for


The days passed slowly and routinely and the sweltering summer gave way
to winter.  Winter could not be described as being very cold but after
the high temperatures the contrast was palpable.  On six or so nights
the water in the chatties would freeze and then we piled everything
including our greatcoats on our beds and even then we sometimes
shivered.  Our huts were unheated but in some of the work huts primitive
fireplaces were made.  These consisted of two low brick walls 18 inches
high, three feet long and about one foot apart.  On top of these was a
steel plate that carried a funnel at its front and a flue pipe at its
rear; the funnel was fed through small pipes from two cans, one
containing water and the other containing discarded engine oil.  The two
fluids dropped through the funnel on to a piece of pipe which caused
them to splatter; oil soaked rags were used to start the combustion and
then the flames quickly roared along under the steel plate and up the
flue pipe.  The heat was controlled by adjusting the flow of the fluids
in the cans.  Our small Drawing Office was so heated.

The office was also home to ants (small, medium and large) and red ants,
mice, termites and temporarily to visiting hornets and scorpions.  The
termites built their tunnels of regurgitated wood fibre up one wall,
along the insulated electrical wires and down the central wooden roof
support to the nest that housed their queen.  She was a bloated white
creature.  They were constantly building, repairing and enlarging the
tunnels and nest.  Red ants contested possession of this area and we
watched the perpetual battles unfold.

Arab incursions into the workshop compound were a bit of a problem and
in order to combat them the sergeant-major announced that the perimeter
fence would be mined.  The mines were really hand grenades, not the
No.36 or Mills bomb but the No.69, a plastic cased type.  I suggested to
him that if he were to record their position then we could add the
information to our map of the camp or record it on a separate map.  He
agreed.  Off he went, several hours passed and then he and a couple of
his accomplices returned. "Gimme the map." he politely requested
and I did so.  Now the scale of the plan was such that the whole area
covered a sheet measuring about four feet by three feet.  He looked at
it for a bit and then stabbing at it with his stubby forefinger he said,
"We put one or two here, some about there and a few in this part ----
." Relative to the scale of the plan his stubby forefinger spanned
about 20 or 30 feet so his information was useless and we never did have
an accurate record of the disposition of the mines.  Presumably after
the passage of more than 50 years they have been discovered, probably to
the disadvantage of the discoverers.

Our OC had an unusual name, Bonallack that was often mispronounced as
bonny-lack and to remedy this gaffe a notice appeared on Daily Orders to
the effect that, "The Colonel wishes it to be known that in the
pronunciation of his name the accent should be placed upon the
penultimate syllable."  Uncomprehending soldiers stood around the
notice-board saying things like, "Wot's 'ee mean?" or "Wot the
'ell's a penultimate syllable?" The kinder more knowledgeable types
explained it to them.  Of course this lesson was purely academic for as
far as we lesser mortals were concerned we never had occasion to address
him as other than Colonel or Sir.

It fell my lot one moonlit night to stand guard on the Officers'
Quarters and I clicked for the 6-8 and the 12-2 shifts.  The first
period passed uneventfully and not much was happening on the second
shift; I was wandering about, looking at the moon and counting the
grains of sand and longing for my bed when I heard shots nearby.  Duty
called and I hastened to the spot where I believed they came from.  In
front of me stood, or rather swayed, a Scottish lieutenant; I assumed he
was Scottish as he was wearing trews but in the British army one can
never tell.  In the hand that he was slowly waving around was a smoking
Smith and Wesson.  "What's up, Sir?" I enquired He continued to
sway and wave.  'shnakes," he said, 'shnakes, there's shnakes
in my bed." and he pointed.  I followed his gaze to his bed that was
out in the open since it was a warm summer night; his batman had made it
nice and comfy for him complete with a tent type mosquito net.  With my
bayonet I gently raised the edge of the mosquito net and prodded the
apparent corpse of the serpent; there was no movement; gaining
confidence I approached closer to solve the mystery.  The snake was in
fact one of the tapes of the net, carelessly coiled on the pillow and he
had put three bullets into it.  I don't think he believed me as I
assured him that all was well, I left him gently swaying and went back
to looking at the moon and counting the grains of sand.

There were some lighter moments in the desert life, near Easter time a
day's entertainment was usually organised, not quite a fairground
atmosphere but something approaching it.  A few more talented types
showed of their skills on army motor cycles, some in trick riding and
others in racing. One such fanatic was Johnny Lockett who after the war
rode briefly for the Norton team until a crash involving a head injury
persuaded him to retire from racing.  The main event of the day however
was the Donkey Derby where steeds were hired from local Arabs to take
part in a series of races.  A sort of auction was held in which bids
were asked for various mounts; the successful bidders became the
jockeys.  Some sort of prizes, I forget what, went to the winners.


Humorous situations occurred as inexperienced soldiers tried to persuade
their mounts to greater efforts or in some cases even to start.  The
outcome of one race manifested itself when that good old standby of
military law Section 40 of King's Regulations was invoked; Daily Orders
informed us that one, No.732 Craftsman Smith, was charged with "conduct
prejudicial to good order and military discipline in that on the
occasion of the Donkey Derby he did wilfully and cruelly goad his mount
with a railway spike."  Needless to say he didn't win on either day.
The day's festivities were often rounded off with a concert given by the
Band of the Royal Sussex Regiment.  A civilian lady singer appeared so
frequently with the band that she was made an honorary sergeant.

We were more than a little incensed to read a report in one of the
British newspapers of one of the infrequent visits of an ENSA show.  A
female member was quoted as saying that "bacon and eggs are no luxury in
Paiforce."  Poor dear, she obviously had been a guest of the Officers'
Mess and didn't know any better.

Fairly near Al Musayyib was the ancient city of Ur of the Chaldees, the
reputed birthplace of Abraham.  It had been discovered and excavated in
the 1920's by Sir Leonard Woolley; as with most deserted habitations in
that land it first appeared to him as a Tel or hill, rising up above the
surrounding flat land.  I visited the site with a group led by our
padre.  Woolley excavated one half of the site down to below ground
level, carefully preserving and documenting all he found; below ground
level he found a layer of silt that he thought could only have been laid
by water and thus he concluded that it was evidence of the biblical
flood of Noah's time. I believe this theory has now been discounted.
Below this silt layer were pieces of broken pottery and I picked one up.
At that time it was quite a large part of the bottom of an unglazed
earthenware urn but due to an unfortunate accident when my kitbag fell
off a lorry I now have only a very small fragment.  We wandered along
the excavated streets that were bordered by low walls of sun baked
plano-convex bricks and marvelled at the state of preservation.
Although the Romans are generally credited with its introduction there
was, dating back to a much earlier period, a semi-circular arch still
existing.  In places one could see, outlined by bricks, the formation of
the rooms of houses.  In the nearby museum were plans showing how the
city was believed to have been laid out, dominated by the ziggurat.

A second trip of similar ancient historical interest was made to
Babylon, again organised by the padre; the excavations here seemed to be
on a much larger scale and had been made by German archaeologists at a
time when Germany was extending her political interests in the area.
They carted off quantities of the better preserved relics and displayed
them in the Berlin Museum; whether or not they survived the bombing of
WWI I don't know.  Again we were amazed at the skills of the ancient
artisans, building blocks fitting together with scarcely any visible
joints.  Bricks here were a bit different from those at Ur, they were
about one foot square by four inches thick made of sun baked straw
reinforced mud and in their centres many carried an imprint in cuniform
characters that I was told translated into This was built by King
Nebuchadnezzar.  I have a portion of such a brick, not in this case
purloined by me but given to me by another member of the group who got
tired of carrying it The site had its own interesting museum and the
whole was guarded by some smart Arab soldiers, members of the Arab
Legion that had been formed after WWI by the British and that was under
the command of Glubb Pahsa, an officer seconded for the job.

Iraq was a monarchy and the king at the time was a young boy, Feisal but
because of his age the de facto ruler was a Regent; both were to be
assassinated in the 1950's.  In the interests of public relations our
workshops made a model of an armoured car suitable for riding in and
also a model of a two wheeled water trailer; these were presented to
Feisal.  He was not over-pleased however because the armoured car was
not powered.

Quite a few Arab civilians were employed by the army in various
capacities, some clerical and some labouring depending upon their
abilities.  In general we got on well together though early on I learned
not to offer cigarettes from an open packet as ten would be accepted in
one grasp with profuse thanks, rather I found it more economical to hand
them out one at a time in which case I would have some left for myself.
There were Iraqis who showed an aptitude for our type of work, some
indeed who were smarter than we were and where possible they were
trained as tradesmen.  Some difficulties were encountered such as when a
sergeant-instructor was told by his pupil that there was no such thing
as the law of gravity, it was the pressure of air that kept things on
the earth.  Generally however the training was successful.  Life was not
without its humour, one trainee was given for his trade test two pieces
of green wood to weld together, and he tried.  After a minute the
instructor said, "How're you doing, Johnny?" "Thik hai, Sahib." replied
Johnny as clouds of acrid blue smoke enveloped him, smiling as he went
about his impossible job.  After a while he realised that he was being
teased and took the joke in good humour.  He was then given the real
test which he passed easily.

Eventually the time came for No.5 ABW to disband. There were no special
farewells but an informal parade took place at which we were thanked for
our services; after that we dispersed but not before we set fire to the
officers' latrines and enjoyed the sight of some tardy members fleeing
the flames.  I forget the actual details of our departure, we were split
up to some extent and I together with others boarded the train,
southward bound, heading for our new home, No.1 Base Workshops, Shaiba.


The name Shaiba covered an area in southern Iraq to the west of Basra,
of indeterminate boundaries as far as I could tell; in fact although
I've tried hard to locate it on several maps it doesn't seem to warrant
a mention but it was the address for our tented transit camp, for an RAF
station and for No.1 Base Workshops.  Again the army establishment was
in the middle of nowhere, flat empty barren desert all around; we knew
where the RAF station was located because we could see the planes just
as they appeared or disappeared below the horizon but we could not see
any of the buildings. We did at times go across there by lorry if a
visiting ENSA group was putting on a show, or to see a good film; I
remember seeing a production of No, No, Nannette on one occasion but I
didn't go there frequently.

The area covered by our workshops and accommodation was vast; I heard
but never verified that the perimeter fence exceeded four miles in
length.  The buildings, both workshops and billets, were much the same
as those at No.5 ABW but there were many more of them and they were
equipped to deal with the assembly and repair of all types of fighting
vehicles, guns and transport or any sort of engineering problem with
which we may have been confronted.  Working hours were set to coincide
with the coolest part of the day, reveille at 6am, marching off to start
work by 7am and knocking off at 2:30pm by which time the day's
temperature was at its highest.  Most sensible soldiers then stripped
off and lay on their charpoys doing nothing for a while to cool down but
there were some athletic types who decided to play soccer even though
the temperatures were well above 100°F and they didn't seem to suffer
from it.  This period of our doing nothing appeared to upset some of our
superiors who decided to put the concept of soldiers first and tradesmen
second into practice and inaugurated regimental training sessions that
took place later in the afternoons.  There was some resentment over this
order and this revealed itself in the reduction of workshop output, some
vehicles having GO SLOW chalked on them.  The hint was taken, regimental
training ceased and production returned to normal.


Of the vehicles sent to us for repair some were too far gone to be put
back into service though they were still driveable -- barely, and these
were used for internal transport, delivering hot meals for one thing.
Borrowing the word from India we called them gharries and Johnny Lockett
removed from his skilled occupation of precision grinder was able to
master his to the extent that he could drive around almost clutchless.

Our drawing office was six strong, one from an architectural firm, four
from engineering firms and one, a sergeant, a free-lance artist.  We had
ample supplies of drafting materials and were generally well equipped
though we had no print machine, only a glass frame for sun exposures and
a lead lined tank for the water developing and fixing of prints.
Besides cartridge paper and tracing paper there were plenty of rolls of
tracing linen that were rarely used for the designed purpose, once the
starch was washed out it made very nice bedsheets, a little narrow
perhaps but quite useable.  We had two types of print paper, one a
standard blueprint and the other a brown line; these were called in army
parlance ferro-prussiate and ferro-gallic respectively.

Insignias of rank do a lot to inflate egos and the Company Office WO
came in full of his importance and the superior status of clerks, he
demanded immediate attention and three prints of a particular drawing.

"What colour d'you want?" asked the sergeant.

"What d'you mean?"

"What colour d'you want?"

"What choice is there?"

"Ferro-prussiate or ferro-gallic."


"D'you want ferro-prussiate or ferro-gallic?"

"What's the difference?"

"Brown lines or white on blue?"

"I think it had better be the ferro-whatsit, white on blue." And
he departed, a little wiser and somewhat chastened.

Drafting skills and the associated engineering knowledge were not
generally appreciated; an Indian corporal, a Company Office clerk, a
baboo, looked in one day, viewed the work being done and said with an
air of complete confidence in his abilities, "You show me sergeant --
three days I do your job."

The DO was supplied with a bike, an army version, heavy and unwieldy.
Most bikes we were used to in Britain were equipped with two hand brakes
but this one had a coaster brake, trying to pedal backwards would apply
the brake to the back wheel.  Riding a bike in Iraq presented some
difficulties, the terrain was a mixture of hard ground and loose sand,
not always easy to tell apart, and loose sand would quickly bring you to
a halt.  One day before the hot weather began I was wearing battledress
but not gaiters; I rode off across the desert; almost simultaneously my
trouser leg got caught between the chain and the sprocket, the bike
found some loose sand and I fell off.  Lying on the ground attached to
the bike I tried to disentangle myself but with the coaster brake I
couldn't reverse the direction.  There was nothing for it but to wind my
trouser leg right around the sprocket, not an easy task when you're
lying on the ground attached to a heavy bike.  The trouser leg was not
badly damaged, some minor perforations but a lot of black grease.
Usually after that I walked.

  DO STAFF No.1BW, SHAIBA, 1944 Jim Parks Jack Walker
  Jock Pulsford John Village John Cox And that bike

As the warmer weather began we had to start sunbathing, for the first
couple of days stripped to the waist we spent five minutes in the sun;
the time in the sun was gradually increased until we eventually acquired
a healthy tan.

Near to our establishment was a prisoner-of-war camp housing Italians
who had been captured in the Western Desert battles; when Italy
capitulated they became, overnight, co-operators and were allotted
billets within our compound.  We fraternised and they were allowed to
use our facilities but could not buy beer which was rationed, though
occasionally a non-drinker's bottle would be surreptitiously diverted.
Over the bar was a sign that read Vietato per soldati Italiani the
translation having been provided by one of our cooks who had been a chef
in pre-war Italy.  Before the war a DO member had started to teach
himself Italian and had with him a vocabulary; this we used to bridge
the communication gap.  We supplemented this by recalling as best we
could our schoolday French and substituting what we believed to be a
corresponding Italian accent got along fairly well.

It was decreed that the mobile cinema showing old films would be
replaced by a permanent theatre that would also show old films.  It
would not be an Odeon but would be a more posh theatre and the design
job was given to the DO as we had some architectural experience at hand.
It was to have a sloping earth floor bounded by brick walls with a
little enclosure for the projectionist.  When the design was completed
the actual building task was given, using standard army intelligence, to
a pre-war cinema projectionist. The sand was bulldozed up to a wedge
shape and then the brick walls were added but instead of the bottom
course being laid on horizontal footings and stepped at intervals to
obtain the required increase in height the bricks were laid on the
sloping floor with the courses following the same angle.  How they
managed the coins beats me.

With the cinema in full swing the Italians naturally wanted to share in
the entertainment and to the army this presented a slight problem for
although they were regarded as co-operators complete integration was not
yet an official policy, memories of hostilities were still fresh.  As a
compromise someone thought up a great idea, the cinema would be divided
into two parts separated by a rope cordon, the front one third would be
for the Italians and the rear two thirds would be for the British.  I
think the Italians would have accepted this arrangement even though they
had been allocated the worst viewing positions had it not been for the
actions of a couple of Brits who started a call of "Baa, Baa,
Baa." This was soon taken up by the rest of the Brits until the place
sounded like a farmyard at shearing time.  One by one the Italians got
up and walked out and the Brits thought they had scored another victory
but two nights later they found that the cinema was still divided by a
cordon which this time ran from front to back so that the two groups now
sat side by side each having good, intermediate and poor viewing
positions.  Peace reigned.

As might be expected in the army, government items that should be within
the QM stores often found their way into other hands. Authorities found
that the easiest way of dealing with this problem was to announce that
on a particular time and day a kit inspection would be held, but that on
the previous night the QM stores would be open and all illegally held
items could be returned with no questions asked.  The kit inspection
would still be held but it would catch far fewer people and fewer
charges would be laid.  One fateful day the lieutenant and sergeant
appeared at my bed and turned out my kit.  "Ah, ha," said the
lieutenant as he extracted a steel rule, "government property."
Well he didn't actually say, "Ah, ha," but I gleaned that from the
expression on his face.  I assured him that it was my personal property
but he would have none of it.  I pointed out that it bore no bench mark
or other mark identifying it as being government property but he said,
"No, -- take his name and charge him, sergeant." They both passed
on through the hut and later the sergeant came back to take particulars;
in the meantime a thought struck me, I went through my wallet and as
luck would have it I found what I wanted.  I presented the sergeant with
a bill of sale from a shop in Aldershot registering the purchase of a
steel rule complete with its serial number.  He viewed this, mumbled
something and disappeared.  Did I ever get an apology for being accused
of stealing?  Pigs might fly.

Due to the very hot sandy dusty conditions in the country we were not
supposed to spend more than two summers in Iraq and to ease things for
us the army arranged that everyone would, at some time during that
period, be sent on a two week compulsory leave to Beirut.  Imagine,
compulsory leave!  The journey was taken in four stages and the
transport was a small convoy of army lorries with Indian drivers and
co-drivers.  We drove only on metalled roads and our first overnight
stop was at a place called Wadi Mahomadi where the only signs of
habitation were our huts.  After a good night's sleep we set off the
next morning for Rutbah which lay on an oil pipe line guarded by
Military Police but which seemed just as deserted.  We stayed there for
the night.  Our lorries held about eight of us and we lolled around in
the back; for comfort it was agreed that our army boots should be
removed.  Lafferty declined.  Ingram, a member of our boxing team
insisted. Lafferty's boots came off.  At this point as our lorry started
weaving we discovered that our co-driver was missing, there was only one
man in the cab, the driver, and he was dozing off.  Perhaps it had been
this way ever since the start of the journey but we weren't very happy
about the situation so we made the driver keep whistling; whenever the
whistling stopped someone would lean out and reach round into the cab
window and poke the driver to bring him round.

We passed through Dar'a in what was then called Trans-Jordan and our
third night's stop was at Damascus, one of the oldest continuously
occupied cities in the world and here things were much more civilised.
On the forth leg we crossed over the mountain range into Beirut.  The
road was serpentine; when we started out it was quite a hot day and we
were in tropical kit, we were told that at the crest, some nine thousand
feet up, we would feel the cold; I was a little doubtful about this but
at the higher points snow lay on the roadsides and I certainly did.
Mount Hermon was pointed out to us in the distance as we drove.
Descending from the crest Beirut and the curve of the Mediterranean
spread out before us, it was a wonderful sight, the beautiful blue sweep
of the sea contrasting with the brilliant white of the houses set in the
green of the trees.  However our attention was soon drawn away from this
scene as we realised that instead of changing down to negotiate the
winding road our driver either from ignorance or inability stayed in top
gear and drove on his brakes, and no amount of shouting or banging on
his cab persuaded him to pay any attention to us.  We got in to Beirut
without any further incident but I guess his drums and linings were in a
bit of a state.

Until this time right from the beginning of the war we had never been
allowed to wear civilian clothes or go about untidily dressed, there had
never been any respite from the feeling of being controlled, but now
within the camp we were allowed to spend the day in swimming trunks even
when going into the mess tent for meals though of course we dressed to
go into the city.  What a feeling of relief, we were human again.

It was a wonderful two weeks, thoroughly refreshing; most of the days
were spent on the beach swimming and breasting the breakers but we went
into the city as well.  It is sad to compare the beautiful Beirut of
those days, a most civilised place, with the devastated Beirut of the
1980's.  Civilised it was but they were also prepared for the influx of
rowdy soldiery; in one bar a wide shelf about seven feet off the floor
was fronted with chicken wire and on this shelf behind the chicken wire
a three piece band played away, protected from missiles hurled by
inebriated pongos.

This was the life; we could have got used to it but the day came when we
had to board the lorries again and head back to the desert. The trip,
otherwise uneventful, was marred by an accident; one of the lorries in
the convoy carrying the cooks and their utensils took a corner too fast
and overturned.  Two Indian cooks were killed.

During the next two years I was twice detached from Shaiba for short
periods.  First of all I was posted to Baghdad where I was billeted in a
camp but by day I was employed in a large private house in Mansoor
Street.  Military and local civilian staff worked there.  It was
interesting to see the Arab girls arrive daily in western dress and
watch as they left for home in the evening to not very attractive
accommodations where they changed into non-western dress. My original
task was not very important but as they now had a tame draughtsman on
hand other work was found for me and one whole day was taken up with
making small prints of some publication or other.  This involved taking
a print frame out in the sun for very short periods and because I would
only be exposed to the sun for seconds at a time I didn't wear my pith
helmet.  However during the course of the day the time spent in the sun
was cumulative and later I had to report sick.  Obviously I didn't
disclose my foolishness to the MO and so I was diagnosed as having
sand-fly fever, that good old stand-by when they didn't know what was
really wrong with you and I was sent to hospital.  I remember having a
temperature of 104°F and I vaguely remember going into and coming out
of delirium.  A few days later I started to improve but then contracted
dysentery and so spent another while in hospital. After discharge it was
decided to send me away for a couple of weeks convalescence; I hoped it
would be to the RAF at Habbaniyah where they had air conditioning but
no, I was sent to the YMCA in Baghdad and eventually returned to Shaiba.

The train trip back was interesting.  Theoretically I was on my own but
there were many other soldiers on that train and in order to keep
ourselves supplied with cool drinking water we all had our filled
charguls hanging outside the carriage windows using the train's movement
for quicker evaporation.  After many miles we came across an unusual
sight; there had been a derailment and rolling stock was strewed
everywhere, blocking the line.  A new track had been laid by-passing the
obstruction; as we slowly made our way along this loop most of the
passengers moved to the right side of the train to get a good look at
the damage.  When things returned to normal it was discovered that all
the charguls had been removed from the left hand side of the carriages,
railside Arabs knew that we would be occupied gawking and took advantage
of our distraction; they found charguls useful too.

My second posting was to an army assembly plant at An Nasiriyah where
the main job was the uncrating and assembly of those vehicles from the
USA that were to be forwarded to the fighting areas My task there was
insignificant and lasted only about three days.  The boss man was a
Colonel D'Albuquerque and he had arranged something that I thought novel
for the army; he set a daily quota for the output of vehicles and when
that target was reached then work finished for the day.  A window in his
office was fitted with a cuscus tatty, a poor man's air conditioner
similar to the units fitted to the ambulances; water had to be sprayed
over the unit and whenever his office became a little too warm he would
summon an Indian soldier and using the universal mixed language would
shout, "Pani, Pani, Pumpee, Pumpee," whereupon the Indian would grin and
start pumping.

While I was there a shortage of small springs became apparent and some
assemblies were held up; now the crates invariably held every last item
required to build the vehicles so a kit inspection was ordered; nothing
was found.  On further investigation an unusual bed was discovered; the
owner had decided to improve his creature comforts and had diverted the
springs and linked them together to provide a more luxurious charpoy for
himself; his pleasure didn't last very long however, the colonel saw to
that. I left before I could find out what punishment he got.

It was generally accepted that in the army a batman, an officer's
servant, was a volunteer who wanted a softer life and a little more
cash.  Not always true.  We had an officer who was so unpopular that
nobody wanted the job and since it was infra-dig for a commissioned man
to look after himself one soldier was ordered so to serve.  If you doubt
this then you should ask the aforementioned Lafferty who did his best to
get out of this chore but without success.  He tried to refuse to take
the cash but was ordered to accept it; he held this job until someone
else could be persuaded to take it on.  Of course Lafferty should have
thrown the money away or else given it to a deserving Arab.

At times we were taken off regular duties and given some military
instruction and exercises.  Various weapons were discussed, some were
demonstrated and others we had to practice with.  One which we only saw
intrigued me, it was a mortar that went by the name of Blacker Bombard,
it had a limited range and fired two types of bombs, smoke and high
explosive; what seemed strange to me was that the lethal range of the
high explosive bomb was greater than the distance that the bomb could be
hurled.  We didn't fire that one.  We did take our turns at firing a
two-inch mortar, both smoke and high explosive and when we all had had a
go there were a few bombs left over. The sergeant asked if anyone would
like to finish them off and the offer was taken up.  There's always one
in every crowd and this lad set the mortar as near vertical as he could
and dropped in a high explosive bomb.  The rest of us didn't wait around
but radiated outwards faster than we ever thought possible.  Fortunately
near vertical was not really vertical and no injuries ensued.

My rifle which in Britain had been extremely accurate was no longer so
when I retrieved it in Iraq, perhaps it had had a bad sea trip, got
banged around or otherwise warped but it was so much off that I checked
the serial number to be sure; it was mine.  To complete the course we
hurled a few Mills bombs, fired a Bren gun, marched around a bit and
behaved as soldiers were supposed to do and then we returned to our more
sedentary duties.  The commissioned ranks had also to be kept up to
scratch and a series of tactical exercises was introduced.  An assorted
collection of craftsmen, NCO's, a sergeant-major and a lieutenant was
assembled one day together with their vehicles and other paraphernalia;
they set off across the desert to a location that I believe was only a
map reference.  After two days the lieutenant had to admit that he was
completely lost and so were they all.  He was somewhat upset and said,
"I feel terrible, I ought to shoot myself." and the sergeant-major
enquired, "Then why don't you -- Sir?" The suggestion was not
taken however and a search party later led the group back to base.

Attempts were made to keep us occupied and clubs were formed.  There was
the musical appreciation group with its portable gramophone and limited
records, the photographic club again with equipment scarcities, a
current affairs program that naturally kept clear of politically
sensitive subjects, while anyone interested could learn to drive an army
lorry.  One enterprising officer tried to revive an interest in calculus
and actually collected a few members though how long the course lasted
is anyone's guess.

Attached to us were some Indian Army troops under British officers; the
make-up was a little unusual, many of the soldiers had been temporarily
released form prison on the understanding that if they served for the
duration of the war they would then become free men.  Most of their
crimes were of a political nature, some included murder.  They seemed to
have an intense loyalty towards their officers and I encountered them in
the following way; for our sports minded colleagues just kicking a
soccer ball around wasn't sufficiently satisfying, they wanted a
regulation sized pitch marked out.  The hard baked sand didn't take
paint very well but discarded engine oil could be used instead.  Since I
could measure with a steel tape and knew how to construct right angles
using the three, four, five principle and could count beyond 50 I was
given the pitch proportions and told to get on with it.  For help I was
put in charge of six Indians who would hack out the narrow shallow
channels with their picks along string lines that I had laid out and
these they would fill with oil producing very dark lines.  There were
six of them all armed with picks and only one of me armed with an empty
rifle. However I was told that they were quite harmless and could be
persuaded to behave under the threat of confiscating their pay books
which would have the effect of breaking their contracts resulting in
their going back to prison.  I had no trouble at all, in fact they were
a cheery group quite happy to work.

In the army I came across quite a cross section of humanity, running the
whole gamut of characters.  I am reminded of a sergeant-major, a peace
time regular, who discovered one day that things were missing from the
Company Office; he decided to do something about it.  In the office
there was a large wicker basket used for laundry and into this he
contorted himself pulling down the lid nearly shut so he could peep out
and identify the thieves. He waited and waited but nobody came in
because the word had got around; eventually he emerged very stiffly,
defeated.  Early one morning he had occasion to phone the captain; it
was a wall mounted instrument, he took the receiver off its hook and
stood rigidly to attention facing the mouthpiece; when the captain
answered he snapped a perfectly smart salute and said, "Good morning,
Sir -- I am now saluting you." And then he carried on with whatever
else he had to say.

I forget exactly how it came about but one time when I was in Baghdad I
got roped in for guard duty, this time it was to watch over a prisoner.
The prison was only a tent top surrounded with barbed wire and there was
only one prisoner.  It was all very informal, we chatted a bit and he
didn't seem to be at all concerned with his predicament.  I asked him
what he was doing there and he said that he was being charged with
theft.  "Of what?" I asked.  "A jeep," he replied.

Apparently he had acquired a jeep and sold it to an Arab.  "For how
much?"  I asked.  "Four hundred dinars." he answered.  At that time the
Iraqi dinar and the British pound were at par.  He seemed to be quite
happy, perhaps he had the money stashed away somewhere.

A new item was now added to our kit to improve our lot; to alleviate
some of the discomfort and soreness around our shirt collars due to
perspiration we were issued with scarves puggree, squares of light
cloth, khaki coloured.  This was the same material that was wound around
the crowns of our pith helmets; some lads, fashion conscious, decided
not to wear them in the accepted manner and this led to an order being
issued to the effect that 'scarves puggree will be worn loosely around
the neck and not in a triangular cowboy fashion."

Most of us were classified in one of many trades but there were a few
who were not tradesmen and they were classified as general duties and
they could be given any task not requiring any special skill. Three of
these were attached to the Company Office where their main duty seemed
to be making tea.  A vacancy occurred in one of the workshops for a
clerical type and I was ordered to take this job on a short term basis,
for about three weeks.  I didn't jump at the chance, actually I didn't
think much of the idea but I went.  The work was simple, checking parts
in and out of the shop and took in total less than 30 minutes a day and
it was boring, boring.  The three weeks stretched into six weeks and
eventually into ten weeks.  I complained several times that the job
could be easily done by a general duties type but was constantly fobbed
off.  After a while I asked to see the colonel and then the bureaucracy
slowly slipped into gear, my request went upwards from rank to rank
until at last an appointment was made for two weeks hence.  The very
morning that I was to see the colonel I was told to get back to the DO
again.  When I approached him after going through the rigmarole of
marching in, saluting smartly and agreeing that I was indeed the soldier
he thought I was he said,

"You have a complaint?"


"You want to return to the Drawing Office?"


"But I see you are back there already."

"Yessir, this morning"

"Then there doesn't seem to be any complaint now does there?"

"No Sir."

"Now don't think that your return has anything to do with your making
a complaint, it's purely coincidental."

"No Sir, certainly not, Sir." I lied.

"Dismiss." I did so, inwardly fuming at having to take part in
this farce that could have been settled weeks before at a lower level
and which would have saved the colonel from looking so foolish.

Opportunities sometimes allowed us to do something out of the ordinary
and two of us asked if we could spend our two weeks leave in Teheran, in
Iran.  Strangely enough permission was granted and we set off in the
evening crossing into Iran at Ahwaz.  The journey took about 20 hours
passing through Dizful, Khorramabad, Arak and Qum and countless numbers
of tunnels through the mountain ranges before reaching Teheran.  It was
an interesting trip carried out in upholstered luxury.  We were billeted
in an army camp but were left to our own devices day and night.  After
Shaiba Teheran was a lively bustling city; we did some window shopping
looking at the Russian made Leica cameras that were much cheaper than
but inferior to those made in Germany.  There was a plethora of uniforms
about of various branches of various forces of various countries not
counting the wonderful uniforms of the cinema doormen -- quite
confusing; I was saluted several times by Russian soldiers who were
probably just as uncertain as I was.

I was caught out by a British major when I failed to salute him; he
asked me where I was stationed and when I answered "Shaiba." he
enquired, "don't they salute officers there now?  They used to when I
was Provost Marshal." I had not worn my greatcoat for ages when I was
in Shaiba and had not polished the brass but it was much colder in
Teheran and I was now wearing it.  He eyed the green brass buttons of my
greatcoat with disapproval but let me off with a warning as he realised
that I was on leave from that God-forsaken spot; I think he felt sorry
for me.

We went to a cinema to see Bambi which I had seen before in England but
this was different; the sound track was in English with French
sub-titles and to one side a separate screen about seven feet square
carried the dialogue in Farsi.  It was just as well that I had seen it
before because those who could read explained the film to those who
could not and I could hardly hear the sound track for the constant

Compared to Shaiba the air was cool and crisp and my friend who was a
bit of an amateur astronomer said that under the right conditions the
planet Mercury could be seen with the naked eye and sure enough under a
cloudless sky just after sunset we saw it quite close to the sun's edge;
I've often looked for it but I've never seen it since.  The reason for
our choosing Teheran as a vacation centre was that another couple of
members of our group had gone there not long before and spoke of it
approvingly; they had stayed a little longer than we and had climbed, or
partially climbed, Mount Demavend that was about 19,000 feet high.  We
had no desire to copy them but spent the best part of a day walking
northwards from Teheran seeing the wide open spaces apparently
uninhabited apart from the occasional local who viewed us with interest
and suspicion as to our intent.  In the city one of the main sights was
the railway station, an architectural gem that had been built earlier by
the Germans.  Being a carpet weaving centre there were all shapes,
sizes, colours and patterns on display and also for sale, many laid out
on the sidewalks to be walked upon by passers-by which surprised us.  I
wasn't too certain about the sanitary arrangements but on many streets I
saw open gutters running between the sidewalk and the road and there
seemed to be ample water run-off from the northern highland.  All good
things have to come to an end and after two weeks we caught the train
back to Ahwaz and thence to Shaiba.

For entertainment we had radio programs relayed from Britain but we also
picked up programs emanating from Ahwaz which was under American
control.  Rum and Coca Cola sung by The Andrews Sisters was pounded out
at least three times daily.  Occasionally boxing was arranged between
ourselves and the Americans to what we would call amateur rules, three
three-minute rounds with a two-minute break between rounds, no referee
in the ring but with the contests bring controlled verbally by an
officer at ringside.  The styles of the two countries differed and we
considered ourselves lucky if we won three out of the ten bouts.
Naturally we cheered for our own boxers but were appreciative of any
American who adopted the more upright stance rather than the American
crouch.  There were frequent cinema shows and sometimes ENSA parties
visited us on their tours of army bases; twice I recall going to shows
given by touring Russian groups; though the language was unintelligible
to most of us the types of turns given did not require any great
understanding of Russian and their performances were first class.  I
usually went along fairly early to grab a reasonable seat and was
frequently annoyed when I was dispossessed by late arriving superiors;
on such occasions I sometimes returned to my billet to read a book or to
go to sleep; I was fairly content in my own company.

The army would not be the army if we did not have visitations at times
by the top brass.  I don't remember and I don't think I ever knew who
the officer was who came to inspect our installations; I wasn't much
interested.  However the Machine Shop was set up to display our talents
and virtually every machine was to be working, operators were called in
from other jobs where necessary and Johnny Lockett was one such lucky
one. Although he was a skilled man he had been put to work driving an
internal gharri around the base on trivial errands but now he was called
in to stand by a machine that was honing the bores of cylinder blocks
and he was doing just that when the top brass came by.  The machine had
been previously set up.

"And what's going on here?" asked top brass.

"Honing cylinder bores Sir".

"I see, and how metal are you removing?"

"Don't know, Sir."

"You don't know! then what are you doing here?"

"Watching, Sir."

"What's your trade?"

"Precision grinder, Sir."

"Precision grinder and you don't know how much metal you're

"No, Sir, I was just told to come here and stand by the machine.  I
don't think it's cutting anything." Johnny Lockett was not very
popular with his superiors after that and I believe he went back to
driving the internal gharri.

I think it was about July or August 1945 that I was transferred to
Egypt, anyway while we were in transit we read that the Americans had
dropped a super bomb on Japan and the consensus among us was, "There
they go, bragging again," and we put it out of our minds.

We travelled in style this time -- to start with.  After WWI two
Australians, seeing the potential, had acquired some vehicles and
started a company, Nairn Transport, to carry passengers and freight
across the Middle East and our party was put on two of their air
conditioned coaches to travel from Baghdad to Damascus.  The routes had
been well established by this time and the coaches left the metalled
roads and went across the desert in a fairly straight line from point A
to point B.  I was in the second coach following the leader and for a
while all went well; we kept a reasonable distance between us because
our passage stirred up a whirl of loose sand.  Of course it had to be
our coach that eventually broke down; our driver honked and honked until
he got the attention of the leader; consultations followed.  By-and-by a
tow chain was hitched to one of our front spring shackles and off we
went.  With no power we had no air conditioning and the heat became
unbearable so we opened the windows.  This was not a good idea because
we were following close, a tow chain's length, behind the other coach
and we were in the minor sandstorm of its wake.  Soon our sweaty bodies
were caked with sand and the only respite came when the front spring
shackle gave way and we ground to a halt.  Repairs were made and the tow
chain was re-attached, this time to the other front spring shackle.
Many miles farther on this one also gave up the ghost and there were no
more spare parts available for repairs, fortunately a small Arab
settlement was close at hand.  It was now night and we waited and waited
until a relief coach reached us and took us uneventfully into Damascus.
The next day we boarded the metre gauge railway train bound for Dar"a.
My memory now fails me; I remember passing the southern end of Lake
Tiberias and arriving at Haifa but I don't know how I got there.  From
Haifa we took a train along the coast into Egypt, crossing the Suez
Canal at El Qantara, finishing up eventually at another desolate spot,
No.2 Base Workshops at Tel-el-Kebir.


I remember my father telling me when I was a youngster that the battle
of Tel-el-Kebir was one of the last battles in which the British fought
in red coats.  I suppose that it stayed in his mind because it would
have been still in the news when he was a child, the battle having taken
place in 1882.  No.2 Base Workshops was in that general vicinity but as
usual it was in the wide open spaces; it was similar to Shaiba in size
and content and served the same purpose.  On one of my trips to Cairo I
passed through the town -- or was it too small to be so called -- and I
paused at the cemetery where the British dead of that battle were buried
and my thoughts went back to my father's tales.

The European war had finished and the American claim to have a super
bomb was no longer bragging, it was a reality.  The debate over the use
of the atomic bomb rages on but my opinion then and still today is that
it was justified in that it shortened the war and saved many 1000's of
lives, Japanese as well as Allied, maybe even mine.  It depends on whose
ox is being gored.  We were going in the right direction and demob was
in sight.

British forces in No.2 BW included quite a number of Jews who had every
reason to want Germany defeated; initially they were integrated with us,
they said they didn't want to be isolated in ghettos but as time went on
and as they absorbed more and more of military training and organisation
they felt large enough and competent enough to warrant separate status.
When I arrived at Tel-el Kebirs' camp, the Jewish camp, was an
accomplished fact.  I imagine that Haganah was born or nurtured there;
maybe Irgun also.

The DO staff was larger than that at Shaiba and included several Jews
one of whom became my friend; his parents had sent him to Palestine
before the war when things looked threatening in Austria and by the time
I met him all his family had perished in Dachau.  He was alone in the
world and he joined the British forces I sensed hostility on the part of
two other Jews, one male, one female; I don't know why, I hadn't done
anything to them, perhaps they thought the British were standing between
them and the creation of the Israeli state.

The office work was much the same as before, nothing very exciting; one
of the lads, Craftsman Edlin wishing to upgrade his draughtsman's rating
applied to be trade tested and was told to design a lawn mower for the
officers' quarters.  Since the lawn at the officers' quarters boasted
about 50 blades of grass per square foot this was a little silly.

  DO STAFF No.2 BASE WORKSHOPS TEL-EL-KEBIR Back row (l to r) George.  Sgt
  Madders.  Cfn Grey.  Cfn Pulgram . Sgt Wassel.  Cfn Brewster.  Cfn
  Edlin.  Cpl Johnsoon.  Faris Seated Sgt Simon.  S/Sgt Tudor.  Herta
  Weiskopfova.  Lt Hackman.  S/Sgt Rollason Squatting Tony

To control traffic in and out of the compound barriers were placed
across the roads at suitable places; these followed standard army
design, probably unchanged for a couple of centuries, a pole spanning
the width of the road, pivoted at one end and counterweighted.
Alongside the installation an Arab sat on a cushion on an upturned
petrol can, waiting for customers.  I don't believe he had any means of
identifying friend or foe but when he was satisfied he raised the pole
to allow a lorry through.  There was one drawback to this system
however, come quitting time he would pick up his cushion and off he
would go, back to the wife and kids, often leaving the pole neither
vertical nor horizontal but at about 45°.  An unsuspecting lorry
driver coming in after dark and seeing no horizontal barrier would
charge straight ahead and that would mean vehicle repairs and a
replacement pole.  To overcome this shortcoming design ideas were
solicited and I got busy with a matchbox, a penholder (the wooden rod
type, then current), paper clips and a light spring that I wound out of
some fine wire.  The principle I used was not original.  Simply put, the
operating lever in this case the bent paper clip due to spring action
would only stay in one of two extreme positions and the pole, in this
case the penholder would also only stay on one of two extreme positions.
I gave the model to the sergeant who seemed impressed and it was passed
up through the ranks, everyone trying to beat it.  Eventually it
finished up in the hands of Brigadier Butters; he seemed satisfied and
gave the go-ahead to modify one of the existing barriers.  The most
suitable one was close to the DO and this we decided to modify.  At this
stage it should be pointed out that design ideas are transformed into
finished products by means of engineering drawings, these really have
the status of legal documents to be followed precisely.  This is at
variance with the beliefs of some people who think that a drawing is
only a pretty picture of something that has already been made; more than
once I've been asked, "Where do you get the model you've copied?"
The barrier was duly examined and drawings prepared showing exactly what
had to be done to modify it to the new design and the drawings were
issued to the machine shop.

In charge of the machine shop were two Polish officers whose names to me
were both unpronounceable and unspellable and they oversaw the
modifications.  I believe their hearts were not in the job, they
resented being told what to do even via drawings by a lowly craftsman
but since the brigadier had ordained it they had to comply.  "Vy
don't ve do like in ze old country?" they asked, meaning that they
wanted to make a barrier operated by a pinion and quadrant, like in ze
old country that could be similarly be left up in the 45° position.
They took matters into their own hands and decided not to work on the
existing barrier but to start from scratch; they didn't even build it
across a road but selected a spot near the machine shop.  A steel tube
was used for the pole and metal strips dangled from it to simulate a
solid barrier when the pole was horizontal.  To balance the extra weight
of the strips the counterweight had to be increased and then the tube
began to bend so they rammed a solid bar inside the tube.  Two channel
sections were concreted into the ground to support the tube and the
pivot rod was beautifully mounted on ball bearings; the only thing was
the thing didn't work.  Ignored were all my design instructions
particularly regarding the relationship of the centre of gravity to the
pivot point that were detailed on my drawings and that had been approved
by the major in charge of the DO.  The springs and shock absorbers that
had been salvaged from scrapped vehicles were also not mounted where
they should have been.  In short the Poles had created something of a
dog's breakfast and they awaited the brigadier's inspection with some
concern.  He was not pleased.  The project was abandoned and when I left
to be demobbed some five months later it still stood in isolation in the
desert, a stark monument to false pride and stupidity.

With the end of the European war conditions had eased a little and I
took advantage of this to spend a couple of days in Cairo; I did the
usual tourist things, viewing the Sphinx and climbing a little way up
the Great Pyramid at Giza.  Coming down to earth again I found some
Arabs with their camels gathered at the base of the pyramid waiting for
people like me and of course I couldn't resist being photographed aboard
a static camel. Another half day was spent in the Cairo Museum where
Tutankhaman's historical artefacts were the main attraction.  We could
also go occasionally to a spot on the Suez Canal, Lake Timsah, for a
weekend where the army had established Ferry Point Leave Camp, where
tent tops were situated amongst pine trees and where discipline was
relaxed.  The trip by army lorry took us by Zagazig and the Sweet Water
Canal where to fall in meant a series of unpleasant injections by the
MO.  We lazed and swam and ate and sun bathed and for the first time saw
little sea horses I found that I could float in the canal whereas I
never could in fresh water but I also found that there were leeches in
the water and a couple attached themselves to me.


Sometimes we went into Ismailia, a nearby town for a change of pace,
perhaps to the open air cinema or to buy something to send home; I
remember sending packets of jordan almonds and dates back to Britain.
The war with Japan was now officially over but mopping-up would still
take some time and troopships of pink Brits were constantly passing; we
used to cheer them up by yelling, "Get yer knees brown, Pinky."
or, "Yer going the wrong way." Many of the old stagers among us
were fried to a deep brown and could easily pass for natives and some
used to swim out to the troopships and emulating the natives dive for
pennies thrown by the unsuspecting pink Brits.

The army had spent a lot of time over the years teaching us to do the
most uncivil things and now they attempted to re-humanise us; for this
purpose members of the Army Educational Corps were sent out to lecture
us on several subjects dealing mainly with the practical side of living,
buying houses, mortgages, how to deal with uncooperative neighbours, a
little applied psychology and the like; quite useful really.

With my Jewish friend I took the opportunity to go to Palestine; we
stayed in Haifa in the Hotel Mizpah on Hadar Harcarmel.  We did the
rounds there and then split up for a while as he had friends in the
area, later we went on to Jerusalem staying at the YMCA.  On my own I
wanted to see a bit of the city and as I was wandering around trying to
decide which way to go I was accosted by a self-appointed guide who
insisted on showing me the sights. I said, "No -- no -- NO" but I
couldn't shake him off, whichever way I turned he was there chatting
away and pointing out things that he thought I should see.  Actually he
spoilt my day and when the tour was over I felt obliged to give him
something, he told me his fee and I gave him half; that didn't please
him but he might have learned that "no" means "no."

I went on to Tel Aviv where I booked in at Toc H, Talbot House; wanting
to see as much as possible I parked my belongings on my bed and off I
went into town.  I don't remember too much of the place, I wasn't there
long enough.  It was a lovely sunny day and the brilliant whites of the
buildings stay in my mind -- and of course the beach.  Going back to my
room I discovered a letter on my bed, it was addressed to A British
soldier, somewhere In Israel and bore at its top right-hand corner what
purported to be a facsimile of an Israeli stamp though of course Israel
didn't exist at that time.  The gist of the message inside was to this
effect, "If you are ordered to open fire on Jews, disobey the order."
I carried this letter around with me for ages until after I was demobbed
when I put it aside with other memorabilia and although I've hunted and
hunted it has unfortunately disappeared.  After my stay in Tel Aviv I
returned to Jerusalem for a few days, looked around again, this time
without a guide and got set to go back to Haifa.  This was on November
11th 1945 and there had been some Israeli terrorist bombings.  The bus
company decided to go on strike but I managed to flag down a jeep and
hitch a ride all the way.  Arriving at Haifa the Military Police stopped
me from returning to the Hotel Mizpah as more bombings were expected and
I was forced to put up at The Union Jack Club near the waterfront.  The
accommodation was dormitory style, one floor up and my companions for
the night were all Jews, about six of them, members of the British
forces.  The conversation naturally turned to the unrest in the country
and I was given a comprehensive and detailed account of Jewish history
and of their aspirations.  I was told with some exaggeration of all the
famous people in the world who were Jews, some claims I knew to be true,
of others I was uncertain but I didn't argue.  After three-quarters of
an hour of this one said, "we're wasting our breath, he doesn't
believe us," and the conversation turned to more innocuous subjects
before we drifted off to sleep.  The next day I went along to the bus
station feeling a bit peeved to think that I was the owner of an unused
return half ticket and was prepared for a minor confrontation but to my
surprise the bus company offered me, without the slightest murmur, half
the cost of the original fare. The Military Police allowed me to go back
into my hotel to collect my belongings; I bought some Christmas cards
that had pressed flowers inside labelled Flowers from the Holy Land and
then with Louis I returned to No.2 Base Workshops.

Now that the war with Japan was over the steady homeward flow began of
those British civilians who had been their prisoners.  Some were to pass
through our area.  Our work was tending to wind down and thinking mainly
of the children one workshop was turned over to the manufacture of toys;
these were fairly simple ones generally in wood and although we didn't
have exactly a production line going we certainly made large quantities
and lots of wheeled ducks were painted by me.


The other main sights to see long before the creation of the Aswan Dam
and Lake Nasser were Luxor, Thebes and Karnak and together with Jock
Grey I went to Cairo and booked up a trip at the YMCA.  Our train
companions were an American, Howard Sorrel and an ATS girl whose name
now eludes me.  We stayed at the Hotel de Famille in Luxor on an upper
floor.  In the afternoon, hearing an unusual sound of human voices we
looked out of the window and saw a procession approaching at a jog trot;
this was an Arab funeral and the women were wailing.  The coffin was
carried shoulder high by six or eight bearers who changed places
frequently, it was open topped but covered with a green baize cloth and
the occupant was having a rough ride, bouncing around in keeping with
the jog trot.

Later we were given an extensive tour around the antiquities of Luxor
and Karnak; then crossing the river by dhow and going overland by estate
car we reached Thebes and The Valley of the Kings.  There we toured
several tombs including that of King Tutankhamen.


A small boy approached us surreptitiously and in return for a few
piastres offered to show us a mummified head; this was strictly illegal
of course but we paid and took some photographs.  Our guide took us back
to his house and showed us some of the antiques he had acquired; he gave
us all mint tea and then brought out more modern items for sale.  I
bought two small alabaster vases, others bought mementoes also but one
lad after asking the price of a particular object started to haggle not
realising that in his own house the guide felt obliged to sell for the
lower price.  Seeing the look of consternation on his face we tumbled to
his dilemma and made up the difference on later purchases.

Rummaging through the relics of those days I recently came across a
letter that I had sent to my mother back in 1945 and amongst the
scribble I found the corpse of the mosquito I had swatted in
mid-blood-suck and sent home; there was still a red stain on the letter.

Life drifted on.  Just before Christmas I had a cable from father
telling me that mother had had surgery and was seriously ill; I applied
for compassionate leave and travelled to Cairo for an interview in the
Hotel Semiramis.  The officer said that it could be arranged but since
my demob was imminent I would probably get home quicker if I let things
take their course.  I did.

Before we were demobbed we had to undergo a medical examination to
ensure that we couldn't make any post war claims for incapacity due to
our service; at the same time we were asked what medals we were entitled
to.  I said that I didn't want any medals, being only too glad to be
getting home again.  We were never actually discharged from the army but
placed on "Z reserve" and were instructed to report any change of
address to the authorities.  In January I was on the homeward stretch,
first to Qassassin by lorry then by train to Alexandria.  We assembled
at the quayside; "Right, lads," said the sergeant, "pick up
your monkeys and parrots and get fell in facing the boat." We wasted
no time boarding the Colorado Springs Victory.  She was American, a
welded Liberty Ship and naturally had an American crew.  The sleeping
arrangements were not hammocks like the British but were double decker
steel framed beds The route taken was known as Medloc; we steamed across
the Mediterranean between Italy and Sicily, passing a smoking Stromboli
as we headed for Toulon.  Being an American ship we didn't have oatmeal
for breakfast but were served what they called farina which many years
later I discovered to be cream of wheat.  The dock area of Toulon was a
bit of a shambles, bomb damage everywhere and sunken ships.  On our way
through the town we came across many roadside graves, bayoneted rifles
stuck in the ground surmounted with the German helmets of those who
didn't make it.

It was bitterly cold in Toulon and what was unusual for the south of
France there was snow everywhere.  Three of us filled in time by taking
a walk to the east of the town and when we had had enough we hitched a
lift back to camp.  A French jeep came by with two French sailor types,
they stopped for us and we jumped in the back only to find that it was
already partially filled with four Chinese and one dead sheep.  We
headed quickly in the direction of Marseilles where I think they were
going to board a ship and we were passing our camp at high speed;
thinking that we may be shanghaied we kicked up a rumpus and were
dropped off a couple of hundred yards west of the entrance.  Next day
our train journey took us up through a snow covered France to Dieppe
where more devastation was visible.  One more night in a camp, then on
to a ferry, The Maid of Orleans, to Newhaven.  It was not a smooth trip,
we were kept below deck and three hours later we emerged somewhat queasy
but glad to be back in Britain.

We went by train to Aldershot but I have no recollection of the journey
nor the name of the barracks to which we were sent, I was just happy to
be so close to freedom again.  Niggling thoughts about what I could
expect when I got to Bristol worried me.  I hadn't had any news since I
had father's cable but there was nothing I could do.  The morning after
our arrival we were sent in groups by lorry to Woking to get fitted out
with civilian clothes; we were allowed to keep our greatcoats, boots,
socks, tropical shirts and shorts and then we were let loose in this
large army clothing store. There was a huge selection to choose from and
I collected a raglan-sleeved overcoat, a brown two-piece suit, a shirt,
socks, a trilby hat and I believe some shoes, though I'm not certain
about the shoes.  Once I was outfitted I lost no time in collecting a
travel warrant and caught the trains for Bristol, changing from the
Southern Railway to the Great Western Railway at Ash.

As the only hats I had ever worn were those at school and in the army
both being compulsory I later gave the trilby to my uncle and the boots
also because things were still scarce in Britain and the boots came in
handy for work on his allotment garden.  The tropical kit I gave to my
neighbour as I vowed never to wear khaki again.


Father met me at the front door and the news was not good, perhaps I was
still naïve but I had never thought of losing any of my family, not
even during the air raids and I was shocked.  All the family rallied
round and mother was looked after at home, whatever could be done was
done but there was no future; she had awaited my return and gave me my
prized possession, an Omega watch, on Valentine's day; she died two
weeks afterwards.

The world now looked very different and the jubilation with which I had
anticipated my return to civilian life faded.  I decided to take stock,
contemplating the future and looking back over the past.  What
difference had the last six-and-a-half years made to me?  I believe that
the army life had hastened or indeed was responsible for my conversion
from a youthful naïve romantic into a mature cynic.  The grateful
country offered university education to its returning servicemen but I
was coming up to 28 and didn't fancy another four years on a meagre
income.  I was not earning much before the war and although I had trade
pay and an overseas allowance when I left the army, I was far from
wealthy.  Some firms made up their employees" pay to the level of their
civilian pay but mine didn't.  I opted to continue working initially
with my old firm and let the future unfold as it would but I was already
thinking of that beautiful country still in my memory, South Africa.  I
applied for a job there and was given an interview and a medical and I
was accepted.  However I was told to wait until a future date when I
would be contacted again with travelling arrangements.  Funnily enough
the representative's parting remark was, "I hope you're not like that
other Bristol chap I interviewed, when we contacted him he didn't
reply." However history did repeat itself, I met my future wife,
changed my address and forgot to advise him of the new one.

In the aftermath of the war I got to thinking and wondering; I had never
been in a tight spot and tested; true I had been in the Plymouth and
Bristol blitzes but so had 1000's of civilians.  I don't think I was any
more or less scared than others, probably I was average.  I would like
to have known just how I would have measured up had I been in a more
military action but fate decreed otherwise.  I shall never be certain
now but if I consider myself to be average I can always be persuaded
that I would have acquitted myself as well as anyone else.  I got to
wondering too why I had survived six-and-a-half years in the army and
emerged unscathed and in one piece when so many others who had joined
the forces long after me were now dead or maimed. This has often led to
slight feelings of guilt, particularly at armistice-day parades.

My country had been at war with three adversaries but the first Italian
I saw was a prisoner-of-war in Iraq; the first German I saw was a
prisoner-of-war in Alexandria just prior to my demob and I have never
yet seen a Japanese soldier.  However I did have some enemies, a few
real and many potential; anybody adorned with stripes, pips crowns or
rings could make trouble for me and a few did.  This does not mean that
I was anti-authority because I did encounter many whom because of their
leadership qualities I would have readily followed but there were others
on whom power did not sit well.  I didn't have much to do with RAF
personnel and can't comment on them but most of the Royal Navy types of
all ranks that I came across seemed to be rational beings.  Of the army
the peace-time regular officers with some years of service appeared to
be the most considerate of their charges but the wartime intake of
people unused to exercising authority produced some very objectionable

What had the army done for me and what had I done for the army?  I don't
really know.  I had gone where I had been told to go, done all the
things that I had been told to do, (with some minor glitches) but I
cannot assess what contribution I had made to the war effort Being part
of a team I was probably indirectly responsible for some enemy deaths,
even making the plotting table may have contributed but I'm not aware of
any and have no worries on that score.  Perhaps the army knows, I don't.
Then what had the army done for me?  When I left I was as physically fit
as anyone had the right to be, I had a short fuse and was perfectly
capable of looking after myself, very different from the lad who joined
the Territorials in 1939.  What skills had the army given me?  Well for
one thing I had demonstrated that on a lucky day I could, unarmed,
overpower an opponent charging with a fixed bayonet (the bayonet in a
scabbard of course), three times out of five actually, theoretically I
knew how to split a mouth from ear to ear (the lips tear like paper I
was told) and I knew that hobnailed boots rubbed down an opponent's shin
would stop him temporarily from whatever he was doing.  There were some
other party tricks too.  Additionally I had had some experience in plane
table surveying but none of these attributes had a place in the kind of
life I envisioned.  What the army had given me was a tour around many
parts of the world that I probably not have achieved otherwise but this
had to be paid for in loss of earning capacity and wasted hours.  I
quite enjoyed the camaraderie and I also appreciated the opportunity of
living communally 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for six-and-a-half
years.  Nobody can keep their guard up for that protracted period and I
was able to study uninhibited human behaviour first hand.  The group I
studied was almost infinite in number and thus I acquired an ability to
judge character that has stood me well over the years even if I did
become a little cynical.

Inevitably I suppose the question has to be asked, was it worth it,
would I do it again? And although I fretted at times under the
discipline the answer has to be a resounding "Yes", I wouldn't have
missed it for anything.

To end this tale we now pass on to 1952.  The Korean war was still going
on and I suppose that somebody thought of "Z reserve".  A small package
addressed to me arrived one day by registered post; inside was a
Territorial medal duly inscribed with my name and the words For
Efficient Service, complete with a length of the appropriate ribbon.  I
suppose I should have been pleased but I had already said that I didn't
want any medals.  A week or so later I had another letter, not a
particularly friendly one, berating me for not having advised the
authorities of my change of address; actually I had moved twice since
leaving Aldershot.  By getting my signature for the registered package
my latest address had been confirmed. Hurrah for military intelligence,
they had triumphed again.  I have moved three times since those days but
as I'm well into my 80's I don't imagine that tracking me down again
will be worth their while.

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Coming of Age: 1939-1946" ***

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