FROM EGYPT TO SICILY
March to July 1943
On 21st March we disembarked. The "Arundel Castle" was out in the bay and we were ferried ashore in lighters, which at times were a little hair-raising even though the water in the harbour was smooth. We took a last look at the liner which had been our home for ten weeks and set foot most of us for the first time, on Egyptian soil.
Our regular exercise around the deks in boots now paid off, for to get from the dockside to the assembly area where we were to entrain we had a 7 mile route march. By the time we reached the end of the march we were very hungry but there was a "cookhouse" of sorts which produced food to fill our mess-tins, a good and nourishing meat stew which was still known by the name of its inventor in World War One "Maconochies"
The accommodation for the night was a series of tents, something like small marquees without sides, the latter being in a small building a few hundred yards away but it was hot, we were in the desert where people die from the heat, so why bother??
By 0200 hrs we had learned lesson No 1- we were frozen!!
The train rumbled on over the desert with frequent stops at each of which men left their carriages and headed for the locomotive with billy-cans and with luck obtained some hot water for a brew of tea, the liquid with wich the British Army is fuelled.
Aproaching a town or city in England can be quite depressing but the approach to Cairo was nauseating, Goats-Hens-Donkeys-Camels and People all living in the utmost squalor. While on the move it was not too bad but at the frequent stops we had the smells and the heat to contend with and seemingly millions of flies. Boys in their "nightshirts" boarded us at every oppertuinity entreating us to but oranges and eggs-Aranches ecks a bread they called but there were few takers.
When we reached the city a short march took us to the tram terminus where a few trams had been allocated to us. It was a good job they had been reserved or we would never have got aboard. There was no discipline amongs the civilians as everybody pushed and shoved and when it was full they hung on anywhere they could. Eventually there were more passengers outside the trams than on the inside. At the end of the line some eight miles out, we found ourselves near the Pyramids and opposite the very plush Mena House Hotel but we were much too tired to care.
At last a convoy of trucks appeared and took us to our new home for the next 2&half months, Beni Yusef Camp, some miles into the desert.
It was quite depressing, just a few wooden buildings and our sleeping tents. Next day, a large NAFFI canteen was found and also a wooden cinema
(we heard long afterwards when we were far from Egypt that British troops had burnt it down in appreciation of the tenth rate films shown there and of the many times the projector broke down).
After we had settled into camp we were heavily engaged in training for what was obviously a return to Europe. The Germans had gone and we were having to pretend that the desert had become a green and pleasant land with olive groves, vineyards, pastures and flocks of sheep and goats - very hard to do. Most of all, our camouflage nets for Guns and Vehicles were decorated with scrim (strips of coloured hessian) in most unsuitable colours for the desert and they stood out like sore thumbs. The training was hard and we learned to put up with the heat by day and the bitter cold of the nights.
It wa not all work however and many of us got passes to visit Cairo (there were lots of officially approved B&B houses) where we saw the Blue Mosque, many other interesting buildings and of course the night life. On one occasion we went to a cricket match at the Gezira Club between the RAF (the side skippered by Wally Hammond of England and Gloucestershire) and the Eighth Army which included Hedley Verity of England & Yorkshire and the Green Howards. The latter sadly, was killed in action in Sicily.
We did many tourist visits too, to the nearby Pyramids and further afield to the Step Pyramid at Sakkara, the tomb of Te and to the tomb of the Sacred Bulls - all very interesting. Militarily the Regiment was the first unit to form part of the 6th Army Group RA, which came under 13th Corps of 8th Army. We were later joined by 75th Medium the Shropshire Yeomanry and by 80th Medium The Scottish Horse and a variety of Field Regiments and at times a Heavy Regiment. Then came the time to move and the whole Regiment went to a tranasit camp at El Shatt on the east bank of the Suez Canal. Here we were visited by the Army Commander and all of the work put in on "BULL" went by the board when Maj Gen Montgomery drove up, stood up in his vehicle and said in the deep silence "Gather round you chaps" and everything vanished in a cloud of dust.
A few days later we left El Shatt and sailed up the Suez Canal, our Guns and vehicles did not go with us but moved off in convoy to we heard Beruit. Afterwards they told us that the journey across the burning desert was enjoyable as also was the greenness of Palestine but the job to be done in Beruit was far from pleasant. The two batteries Guns and trucks were loaded on seperate 10,000 ton Liberty ships as each Battery had a different timing for disembarkation in Sicily (now confirmed as our target). the guns and vehicles of 228 Bty were loaded on the "William Paterson" but the name of the vessel used for 227Bty is no longer recalled.
For security reasons our men were sealed off from the city in the dock area where conditions were poor, the heat was terrific and the flies the worst seen to date. In due course all were delighted to be at sea again.
Meanwhile at suez 227 Bty embarked on a Norwegian vessel the "Bergensford" and sailed up to Port Said and after a few days left to join the invasion fleet. RHQ and 228Bty embarked on the Royal Belgian Lines "Leopoldville" a luxury liner where the catering for all ranks was done by the Belgian chefs and was fantastic. Leopoldville sailed round to Alexandria and as we were due to arrive in Sicily at a later date than 227 Bty we all landed for a few enjoyable days on the Beach.
On 10th July (D-Day) the Norwegian vessel was standing off Sicily and 227 Bty landed from LCI,s at Avola. On the 11th they were still waiting but the Guns arrived on the 12th and they went straight into action. North of Syracuse the Guns and vehicles of 228 Bty were held up when they arrived (rumour said casualties among the stevedores) and their equipment finally came off on D-Day+3 the 13th July.
So we were all back in Europe ready to wrest it from the Germans (or as we were to call them from now on the "Tedeschi" or more familiarly "Old Ted".
Copyright © 2003, Chris Dunham . All Rights Reserved