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Dear Mother and Dad                                                                            September 1951                                                                      I have been transferred to another post. I am now in the Statscentre. This is one of the largest units in the GHQ. We hold records here of all the military vehicles held by British Forces across the whole of the Middle East. My job is rather boring though. It involves processing and preparing information for a punch card system. We have a card for every motor-bike, car, truck, lorry and tank, and the records show any breakdown, accident, and repair and trace the movements of every vehicle from one camp to another. The good side of it is that the atmosphere here is more relaxed than it was with all those P and L officers and the pernickety chief clerk. Major Judge, who is in charge, is a friendly type of officer, although our chief clerk is a sergeant major who is a martinet for discipline, if there are any slips. You asked how I dry clothes after washing them. This is easy, we just put them low down on the tent roof, and they are bone dry in minutes, because the sun is so hot here. When I go for a shower or swim, I don’t need to use a towel. The main problem is the swarms of flies that pester us everywhere.   I will shortly be entitled to some leave. Most lads go to Cyprus and bring back glowing reports of what it’s like, but as I am in Egypt I want to see some of the sights here – the pyramids, for example.  Yesterday, I applied to go on a study tour to Luxor and the Valley of the Kings. It is organised by the YMCA, and a party of ten of us from the MMG hope to join it for a week in a few month’s time. …..That holiday I told you about has had to be cancelled. Things are getting tense down here – political trouble, and we can’t spend leave in Egypt outside the Canal Zone. Probably you’ve read something about this in the papers. I’m very disappointed – to have come all this way and be confined to a narrow strip of land by the canal. We can see a hill from here and beyond that everything is desert. 16 October 1951 Last Thursday, the Egyptian government suddenly startled everyone here in the Canal Zone by abrogating the treaty, which allows British troops to be in Egypt. We had no idea what that would mean for us, and the whole camp was alive with rumours. I even heard some people say that the UK had declared war on Egypt. This morning, Major Judge suddenly walked into the office and announced that a state of emergency had been declared. Instructions had been issued by General Erskine, our Commander-in- Chief, that we must carry on working, but no-one must leave the GHQ until further instructions had been received. After work we locked up the offices and lined up outside. The major then made a short speech saying that now we were about to learn what soldiering was all about. Up to now we had been playing at it. This was the real thing. About half an hour later, the C-in-C’s runner came cycling round with duplicated lists of instructions. The orders were read to us by the sergeant major. All leave was now cancelled, we were to stay in bounds, and were only allowed to go out of the camps in groups of four or more. After about an hour’s wait, an army truck arrived accompanied by an armed guard and we were all driven back to our tents. That evening a party of us went down to St. Mark’s Church, where we were rehearsing for a play. Everywhere was deserted. The few people we passed were all armed. The padre was surprised to see us. He told us that most of the cast were confined to barracks and said that probably people were taking things too seriously, but then a fire-engine went clanging by, and there were the screaming sirens of military police cars. Later that evening we all assembled in the cookhouse, to hear General Erskine’s radio broadcast to the troops. All Egyptian workers are being dismissed, and the tasks they have been doing, the laundry work and cleaning the toilets will have to be done by soldiers.                        -------------------------------------------------------------------- 4.                                              STATE OF EMERGENCY Sunday, 19th October On Friday, we started a night-time security picket in the GHQ offices. I was in it and when I returned to the camp on Saturday morning, we  were all  issued  with rifles and ammunition, and given special instructions. We have to clean the guns daily and sleep with them under the mattress at night, with the ammunition under the pillow. We must take the rifles everywhere we go, including even the lavatory. We have to take turns at digging deep trenches to create a new chemical toilet. Today, I went to the morning service at St. Mark’s, - the first I have ever attended where all the worshippers carried guns. It was especially memorable because it was the harvest festival, and the church was beautifully decorated. Monday, 20 th  October Today, we had to watch a demonstration, which they called self-protection, but it sent shivers down my back. We were shown what to do if we were attacked by someone with a knife. It’s important to learn self defence, of course, but what I couldn’t stomach was that the commando, who showed us these techniques, said that if we were threatened we had to lash out and hate the “filthy bastards”. A few days ago, we had Egyptians doing jobs for us in the camp. They were good workers with amazing memories, the dhobi man for example, who never wrote anything down, but remembered everything we had left to be washed and always had it ready for us in time. Overnight. these people were to be feared or despised as enemies. During the last few days they have been bringing evacuated wives and children here from outlying stations, so it must be considered fairly safe in Fayid. Some of them are being put in our camp. There is a new line of tents near us, and the families are being brought here in army trucks. It must be awful to have to leave a furnished home, and come to live in a tent with a minimum of belongings. They have taken over the Corporals’ Naafi as their dining hall, and the corporals have to muck in with us. Dear Mother and Dad,                                                  Tuesday, November 27, 1951           Thank you for the newsy letter which I got on Monday, and for the parcel which followed. Homemade cakes are always popular. There are four lads in my tent and we share them round when we get one. The socks will be very useful. I can’t keep up with mending all the holes I get in them. I am now on another 24 hour guard. We are protecting the local sewage works. One of us has to stand sentry at the gate, and the other one on duty has to walk round the perimeter wire. There is a garden round the buildings – a wild, subtropical one. Patrolling it last night in the dark, it looked like a jungle, with bushes, flowering plants, cacti and two palm trees silhouetted against the starry night sky. The sweet water canal runs just outside the perimeter and we can hear the bull-frogs croaking all night long. This is a lonely place, and there had been some talk of the sewage works being the type of place that could be raided by natives, who wanted to create trouble. After I had finished my patrol, there was a sudden alarm. The man who had replaced me heard some voices coming from somewhere over the perimeter wire, and the corporal ordered us all to load our rifles, just in case. We were taken back to the place where the voices were heard, and all told to lie down on the ground, with the gun pointing towards the wire and told to shoot if we saw anything move. We lay there for about twenty minutes. It was quite eerie. I told myself that regardless of what we had been told to do, if I saw something I would not shoot straight away, and if a man loomed up, I would shoot at his legs rather then his chest, but thank God nothing happened and after a while, we were all stood down. Dear All, There is a good quality dramatic society here which meets in The Green Room Club, in GHQ. They are producing “The Important of Being Ernest”, and I am scene shifting for them. I have also taken part in some play readings; they hold these on Sunday evenings. The one they did last Sunday, was Oliver Goldsmith’s “She stoops to Conquer”. I read the part of Diggory, a comic servant, and gave him a Devon accent. The next one will be Shaw’s “Arms and the Man”. One of the things I do not like, though, is the fact that it is run much like an officer’s club. People in other ranks seldom get cast, unless there is a part for a country bumpkin. Some people call it the mutual admiration society, and that’s not far from the mark. On Saturday night the audience come in evening dress, and after the performance ends all the elite come up on stage and congratulate the cast. They seem to dribble praises, make small talk and sip wine for half the night, while the scene shifters have to stand by waiting to strike the set. How I would like one of our good old Manchester a shirt-sleeved stage managers to appear and send them all packing. Still, I shouldn’t complain because the officers are quite friendly towards the national service lads in the club. Everyone wears civvies and they never ask your rank. We even use Christian names and sometimes have intelligent conversations with them. Once we’re in uniforms, it’s a different story.     Dear Mother and Dad, Today we had an official parade at the same time as the funeral service for the King in Westminster Abbey. There was a march past with the commander-in-chief taking the salute. Before that, the Regimental Sergeant Major gave the order to stand at ease and take off our berets, whilst the Chief Padre read out the Lord’s Prayer, and then immediately after that came the command “Attention” and “Present arms” It seemed rather hypercritical to me to mix prayers and drill in this way.    Dear All,                                                                                                     7/6/52 Well, I have made my debut as a radio actor. Last night at 9pm East Africa time (8.0pm British Mean time) I played my part in “They Came up from the Sea”, a feature programme commemorating D. Day. The programme lasted three quarters of an hour. It was well written, half in prose and half in poetry, with many sound effects, music and recorded real voices. There were four narrators, and an assortment of voices of ordinary soldiers, people at home, Germans etc. Nine of us took part. A brigadier, a colonel and a major, who work in GHQ, together with the chief announcer at our forces radio station were the main narrators. The other voices were played by two RAF fellows, an officer’s wife, a Scots chap and myself. The play was produced by the chief programmes officer at the studios here. Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed it all. We had several rehearsals of course. My part was quite small- a north country soldier Who took part in the landings and saw several of his mates killed. I had two quite long speeches. I was surprised that I was invited to do it. There were over twenty five people auditioned at the Green Room Club and I was the only private amongst them all. Dear Mother and Dad, I’ve been thinking quite a lot recently, about what to do when I demobbed this summer. I’ve decided that I don’t want to go back to the library service. I rather try to take a university degree, like Roy has done. But my degree would be in English or in History. I’ve realised out here that it’s the ones with a good education who get on in life. I know this is may surprise you, because I was keen to leave school at sixteen, and may have never seemed to be the academic sort, but if I went to university I’d only have to do the subjects that I’m good at, My problem with school was that I did not like Maths and Science. That was why I struggled to get my School Certificate. Please let me know what you think about this? Dear Mother and Dad, Thanks for saying you would be willing to support me through university. It’s very good of you, because I know that money doesn’t grow on trees, and you have had a lot of expense through Roy going on with his education. I’m told that there are more grants available now though. Perhaps you could make some enquiries, Dad.   I have been given a big task. The chief clerk dropped the office copy of “The King’s Regulations” on my desk, and told me to go through it page by page and alter the word “King” to “Queen” instead and to change all the possessive pronouns from “His” to “Hers.” It is a big book, so this is quite a task, but as I skim through I am learning a lot about army affairs. Here’s an interesting morsel – “1f there is a Forces’ Radio Station operating, any serving soldier in the area who thinks he has some relevant skills, is entitled to send a C.V. to the Station Controller and request an interview. If the Controller has a vacancy in the studios it will normally take precedence over most other duties.” How extraordinary! If I’d known that earlier, I’d have had a go. It’s too late for me with only a few months service left. I could mention that to some of my friends in the Garrison Theatre Company. How about my civvy friend, Stephen Forster, who used to work with me in the libraries? He appeared out here the other week and he’s done quite a bit of acting in his time. (I mentioned this to Stephen. A few weeks later he had moved out of his tent into a bedsit in Headquarters and was in training to become a radio announcer. There was a sad end to this story. When the British pulled out some overseas countries, some months later, several BBC correspondents lost their jobs and were snapped up by Middle East Forces’ Radio, and Stephen was sent back to his old job in the army post office.)   Later, I came across a Queen’s regulation, which interested me even more. “ If, because of local circumstances, any soldier is unable to take his leave entitlement whilst serving overseas, he can either take that entitlement at home before his official leaving date, or request to begin the leave overseas and make his own way home, as long as he reports to his depot battalion in England on a specified date.” I noted the number of that regulation and shared it with John Collins, a friend of mine who was due to be released in my draft. John knew of a young officer who shared his demob date, and Second Lieutenant David Maybury, had a friend called Sefton Elsdale, a sergeant, who was in the same situation. We met together at the MMG and all agreed to write to our commanding officers quoting the regulation and saying that the four of us would like to spend our twenty four days leave, travelling from Egypt to England. I wrote a letter to my C.O. and delivered it to the clerk in the company office. I expected that he would ask to see me and query the wisdom of it, but I heard nothing more, so I assumed he just passed it on. A month later, the chief clerk told me that Major Judge wanted to see me. I wondered if I was in trouble and couldn’t think why, But when I reported to him, he startled me by saying, “Ah, Harrower, I’ve had a signal about you. It’s from the War Office. What’s all this about you making your own way home?” I told him how I had discovered the regulation and discussed it with my friends, and that I had joined the Youth Hostels Association and asked for information about hostels in Italy, Austria and Germany and had some replies. “Well, well,” he said.  “I’m due for repatriation soon. I think I’ll come and join you.” My face fell and he laughed. “Damn good idea of yours,” he said, ”but how are you getting out of Egypt. It’s a long way to Italy.” “Lieutenant Maybury’s organising that,” I told him “He’s got a RAF friend at the airport, and from the day our leave starts he’s promised to ring him as soon as a flight’s due to leave with empty seats.” “A flight to where?” asked the major. “Anywhere across the Mediterranean, sir. Rome, or Trieste would do us very well,” “Will they?” said the major, “You’ve got all of this well planned, but I haven’t told you yet what’s in the cable from the war office. It’s here on my desk. Can you imagine what it says?” “No, sir,” I said, and looked at him cautiously. “It reads, permission granted – subject to the approval of the commanding officer. Well, Harrower,  I‘ve thought about this, and….you have my approval.” Things did not go exactly according to plan.  On my last day of service in Egypt, I packed my uniform and belongings into my kitbag and, wearing my civvies, I handed it in at the Quarter Master’s stores, as instructed, so that it could be sent by plane to our depot battalion in England. I said goodbye to my friends and walked out of the camp, with a rucksack on my back containing all I needed for my journey home. I stayed for two night’s in the guest room at the MMG. It was a wonderful feeling to be free again. David telephoned me to say that he had been told there were seats available the very next day on a flight to Rome. A car picked me up and the four of us arrived at the  airport, only to be told, when we got there, that the seats had now been given to another draft of servicemen. We watched the plane take off, and I returned to the MMG a disappointed man. Three days later, I had a second call. There was a flight available to Malta, and David had booked us in. Great, after having lost the opportunity of going ashore there on the way out, there was a chance for me to explore the George Cross island after all, but there was another challenge. Now we had to find a way of getting from Malta to Italy. We left Egypt on the morning of ….the very day that the Egyptian army seized power, General Neguib was declared the new ruler and King Farouk fled in haste to an unknown destination. We knew nothing of this at the time of course. We learned the next day from the Maltese newspapers. This was my first experience of flying. I was a little apprehensive, but all went well.  I had a window seat, and saw miles and miles of desert stretching out below us, the roof tops of Cairo and beyond more miles of desert.  The military aircraft’s first stop was at Benghazi in Libya, where some soldiers left and others got on.  After this we were flew over the Mediterranean. I saw some ships, and what I realised was the shadow of our aeroplane reflected on blue waters below. Then a glimpse of Malta and  suddenly it loomed low beneath us. As we circled round, we saw the grand harbour, the town of Valletta, with fields beyond and then had a bumpy landing on the airstrip. We disembarked in a blaze of sunshine. My next adventure had begun.                               _______________________________________
Letters from EGYPT - part 2
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