January 1st 1941 New year’s day, we begin to explore and learn the geography of our camp and its surroundings. There were three small hills to the south and the surveyors of the Royal Engineers had bestowed upon them the names of “Pip” “Squeak” and “Wilfred.” The camp consisted of several wooden buildings, namely the NAAFI, cookhouse, dining halls, various offices, and a few small shops. Everyone slept under canvas. In our tent were the following:- Sgt. Ted Marshall (i.c.) Bdr. Smith, Gunners Beausang, Gillies, Birkett, Wood, and moi.
After 10-00hours the sun became rather warm, much too warm for battle dress. Parades were few, from lack of stores not yet to hand. There were also frequent medical inspections. Later we were confined to camp owing to an outbreak of Typhus in Beni Yusef. Many villagers died and we were searched daily for Lice. Topics of conversation, the war in the western Desert with the Italians retreating towards Benghazi, the dashing “Aussies” and British Troops in hot pursuit. When were we going into action? One of our survey troops was however up in the “Blue” as they called the Desert. Having left the Question of “going into action” to our betters we discussed ways and means of getting into Cairo, in order to spend our small pile of Piastres on “Wine, Women, and Song.”
January 11th 1941 My first visit to Cairo took place on this day. We embarked upon a brief survey of the “Oriental mysteries” of this large City. The city centre is a hive of industry, with many modern shops and offices. The main streets were often tree lined, but always dusty. We paid a visit to the Abdin Palace but were not impressed. Along the line there began that love hate relationship with Cairo. As regards the “Wine.Women. and Song” there was plenty of Stella Beer, but very little chance of any success with the female sex (unless you were foolish enough to seek out a brothel) We had already received lectures on the Perils of V.D. including rather nasty pictorial evidence.
January 19th 1941 Today saw us at the Great Pyramids at Giza – Gigantic in mass, some single blocks measuring 16feet by 6feet and weighing many tons. We also visited the inscrutable Sphinx with its clipped nose, attributed to the cannon of Napoleon Bonuoparte in the Battle of Egypt all those years ago. There is a Roman altar stone between its Paws. (Many, many years later I showed a small boy a photograph of me in front of the Great Pyramid asking him what it was. Received the reply “Toblerone”)
During this period we had our first route march under the command of Lt. Kemsley otherwise known as “Jeeps.” We made a dashing march to the famous step Pyramid at Sakkara, some 6 miles from our camp. The going was hard and often we went up to our knees in soft sand, but it was all free and easy and very enjoyable despite the discomforture of battle dress. The step Pyramid was built in the reign of King Zozer some 4000 years B.C. We also visited the tomb of Ti once a high priest and chief engineer to the Pharaoh. Also visited the tomb of Phatotep and also the catacombs where the sacred bulls had been buried in huge Sarcophagi. Finally we were shown a mummy of a young girl some 18 years old but born 3000 years ago.
The march back was almost forced in our eagerness to get back to camp for pay parade.
The remaining weeks of January saw us being acclimatised and recovering from “Gypto tummy.” The stores had arrived at last and so brought our easy time to a full stop. Stores were unpacked and sorted and repaired, some much the worse for wear. We then launched forth onto a variety of sound ranging schemes, i.e. locating enemy guns, disguised as hefty slabs of gun cotton, which the lads on AP set off in various parts of the desert. The longest scheme was at Helwan on the other side of the Nile, and some miles downstream from Cairo. We had as yet no transport of our own and had to borrow from the New Zealanders who were stationed at Helwan which lies in the Arabian desert, rocks and sand. This was our last scheme and an end to only playing at sound ranging.
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