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To Arms!
In which Roy joins a convoy from Liverpool crossing the Atlantic before reaching Egypt via The Cape
Convoy 1942
A further two weeks of sweating it out on the Orduna introduced us to the delights (?) of Egypt. We were transported by train to Quassassin to be installed in a very large tented camp in the desert. Our company transport having been sunk off the west coast of Africa, we had to hang around until new vehicles were allotted to us. Apart from the usual Morris, Bedford, and Ford 15cwt trucks, we were introduced to White scout cars (armoured vehicles) and 3 ton 4X4 Karrier trucks. I was issued with a 350cc Matchless, a pleasant change from the side-valve BSAs and Nortons.
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The company left Liverpool in August on board the RMSP Orduna, a decrepit and run-down old liner of the Pacific Steam Navigation company, formerly on the South America run. This mechanical marvel was shared with, among others, the London Irish Rifles plus their pipe band. We joined up with a large convoy of some 25 ships and destroyer escorts in the Firth of Clyde and set sail, complete with tropical kit and pith helmets and no idea of our destination. Accommodation on board was not luxurious; sixteen men to a mess; that is one table and benches with hooks above to hang sixteen hammocks. Plus, of course, ones kit-bags etc., which also had to be stored in the area. Meals were collected by Mess orderlies, appointed daily by the NCO i/c Mess (in this case - me), from the galley and dished out at the table. This simple task usually led to strong words and veiled threats, but all was soon forgotten - until the next meal!
There was little to do, apart from life-boat drill, PT., lectures, bingo and sleeping on deck - when we sailed into warmer climes. The first four weeks were spent zig-zagging across the Atlantic until we made landfall at Freetown on the West African coast, where we spent the days sweating in the steamy heat and swearing at the natives trying to sell us their goods from their boats alongside. Two weeks later saw us in Cape Town where the company split up and the sappers went on to Bombay whilst, after two or three days enjoying the hospitality of Cape Towners, the transport personnel went off to Port Tewfik at the southern end of the Suez Canal. Going ashore at Cape Town was like entering another world - bananas, unseen since 1939, were consumed by the ton, as also were the other foods. A memorable interlude.
One of my colleagues, Dan Waters, has written his own war memoirs. He has given me permission to use an extract of it to give another perspective of part of my own story. He was on the Orduna and the trek to Kirkuk and back to North Africa. Read Dr. Waters’s version of the story here:
A Ford 15cwt
A White Scout Car
Relaxing by the Nile