gallery Egypt 1936 – 1938

Kasr-El-Nil Barracks, Cairo, from the airWhen we arrived in Egypt the battalion was stationed at Kasr-el-Nil barracks, Cairo. Our days commenced with the performance of a brand new ritual. Promptly, after the last notes of reveille died away, stentorian voices from the barrack square would bellow "Outside for your gargle", and we would dash out clutching mugs to receive a quantity of a pink liquid, I believe it was a solution of Condy's fluid, the gargling of which was designed to afford us some protection against the multitude of Cairene bugs floating around and above the 'limpid' waters of the Nile. Though this didn't save me from contracting a very painful throat infection at one period.

Cairo - In the Gezira Gardens Previously I have mentioned the daily routines of barrack life at Caterham. Most of those activities, drill, fatigues, etc, are part and parcel of everyday army life, and continued at Kasr-el-Nil as at Caterham. It is taken for granted that the Guards regiments practise a strict code of discipline. However, as trained guardsmen we were not subjected to the same chivvying and chasing as when we were recruits, with one exception, fall foul of the 'code', and you could receive a confined to barracks plus extra drills and, as the saying goes, 'your heels didn't touch the ground' as you flew up and down the barrack square.

When off duty we were quite free to go into Cairo, for we Brits were not an occupying power, Egypt was a free and independent country, and I never experienced any hostility. I assume we were there by agreement, possibly to do with the protection of the Suez Canal. Cairo had little to offer in the way of entertainment for a soldier. There were no dance halls in which to meet girls, no pubs selling Tetley's or John Smiths draught bitter, and unlike the G.I's during the 1940's in the United Kingdom, no kindly chap in a pub who would invite one round to tea to meet the wife and kids.

Alexandria: The French Gardens However, there was one alien custom not encountered at home. If one did decide to venture out, somewhere along the route it was quite possible that a small boy would charmingly offer the services of his sister, 'virgin, very clean, very cheap'. However, we received a hair-raising lecture from the M.O. and were taken on a visit to an establishment called the Institute of Tropical Diseases where, in lurid Madam Tussauds waxworks detail we gazed upon the horrendous symptoms on display that could befall the unwise and unwary. After this the small boy's invitation to sample the erotic delights of his 'virginal sister' was one that, contra The Godfather, was not difficult to refuse.

We therefore relied to large extent upon in-house entertainment. Kasr-el-Nil had an open-air swimming pool, not too salubrious as I recall, an open-air cinema which always provided a wide variety of films for an entry fee of a few piastres, and throughout the performance local vendors would be offering, from their baskets, tangerines etc, all remarkably cheap.

Cairo - In the Gezira Gardens - March 1938 The Army Education Corps ran daytime classes, and it was through attending these that I obtained my First Class Certificate of Education. This brought me two advantages, immediately, a small increase to my basic pay of Two Shillings – old money, per day. This subsequently stood me in good stead when, after demob, I applied for teacher training, in the Emergency Teacher Training Scheme, instituted to replenish the teacher pool after the war.

There were organised trips too. The Pyramids, one of which I climbed, I wouldn't – couldn't manage to clamber up the first block today. A sail up the Nile on a boat just like the one Hercule Poirot is on in the film 'Death on the Nile'. I remember being awe-struck looking at exhibits in the Egyptian Museum at Tahrir Square, and it was always pleasant to stroll in the Gezira Gardens across the Nile.

Alexandria: El Attarine Mosque. Periodically, the battalion would pack up its bags and we'd head off into the Western Desert on training exercises. Tramping in full kit across endless miles of featureless sand is about as interesting as – as the saying goes, watching paint dry. But I do have one abiding memory of a rather portly Major, arriving alongside our column on horseback cheerfully urging us on. As he cantered off spreading his good cheer one could sense a collective wave of ill-will pursuing him towards the horizon, wishing heartily that he might fall of his horse.

We were now into 1938 and an uprising was brewing in Palestine, and in July the Battalion was despatched to that troubled land for security operations.

But I did have one piece of luck, I'd already had my week's leave in Alexandria, not in a five star hotel, but a camp where one could run across the golden sands and plunge into warm clear water. I carried the memory to the rocky sun-baked hills ahead.

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