Oliver Perks' Wartime Blog 2 - 1941
July 1941: Arrival in Suez
When we arrived at Suez it was rather hot and we were all disembarked into the lighters in the harbour. When the Colonel eventually found his turn to come down the companionway, we were all feeling a bit abandoned and like a load of sheep. So somebody started to make the noise 'Baaaa', whereupon everybody in the entire regiment were all going 'Baaaa' at the top of their voices. This was just as the Colonel was coming down the companion way. He thought that we were taking the mickey out of him, which was not the truth at all. So he was miffed, distinctly, whereas we hadn't meant any disrespect to him at all; it was just a general feeling of boredom and relief, a feeling of liberation realy.
Anyway, we were then put into trucks and driven off up the Cairo road to a tented camp in the desert at a place called Quassassin, about halfway between Suez and Cairo, where we sorted ourselves out. We were there for some time during which most of us bought Egyptian-type fly whisks and tried to acclimatise ourselves. I can't remember whether our guns arrived.
Travelling to Cyprus from Alexandria on HMNZS Leander
When we had been there a week or two (it must have been during the Crete battles - things had been going very badly in Crete at that time), it was assumed that Cyprus was going to be invaded by the Germans at any moment. So the division was sent off at very short notice to Cyprus, where at the time the Garrison apparently consisted of the Squadron of the Fourth Hussars with obsolete tanks, accompanied by the Sherwood Foresters. That was the defence of Cyprus at the time, which wouldn't have got very far if the Germans had attacked. Anyway, the whole of 50th Division went over there to garrison it and be prepared to reject any attacks the Germans might make.
We had a wonderful day because we were taken to Alexandria where we were put on board HMNZS Leander, a fairly modern light cruiser, which presented certain problems going down the narrow companionways with our boots and rifles. But when we eventually settled we then had a marvellous trip at high speed across the Med in bright sunshine to Famagusta. That was where we had one of the best days food we had in the Army because the Navy had never had anything but butter and the New Zealand ship had an abundance of it, so we fed very well that day.
Cyprus (Larnaca, one star whisky, sea swimming with the battery)
We eventually arrived at Famagusta, which at the time was being labeled in British newspapers as a naval base. But in fact it wasn't big enough to take a naval cruiser. We had to go onto a destroyer to go into Famagusta. We were there very briefly and then our troop went off down to Larnaca. Our battery, troop I think actually, was established on the outskirts of Larnaca on what was then known as Larnaca aerodrome which was a field, quite different from what Larnaca aerodrome is now. We were meant to defend it against any incoming parachutists. Our military duties were not very severe and we spent most of the time bathing and patronising the shops in Larnaca, which was a little white Greek village where Cyprus brandy, One Star, was available at nine pence a bottle. I never actually knew whether I had excess of that or Sandfly fever, but I was quite ill for a few days.
Anyway, after some weeks there, we consolidated with the rest of the regiment. I forget the name of the place now but it wasn't very far from Nicosia, and we used to have trips there now and again. The old city of Famagusta, which was interesting and had a cathedral, which had become a mosque, was out of bounds. But what was called Othello's castle, which was a fine medieval fortress by the harbour, accommodated the NAAFI, so we were able to drink our beer in the great hall of the castle, which was rather impressive.
We used to do exercises charging all round Cyprus, the idea being that if the Germans landed somewhere we would be quickly there to drive them out again. At the end of each of these exercises we always went and had lunch at a beach somewhere. On one memorable occasion, we went to a beach, a rocky beach on the north of the island. There the problem of getting into the water was rather difficult because there were lots of large rounded boulders covered in green weed. So the only way to get into the water was for the battery to go in on all fours until they were in deep enough water to be able to swim. This was a rather hilarious sight, which was not recorded on film, of the entire battery lead by the Major on all fours, starkers, going into the water. It was quite memorable.
Egypt (gas course, Cairo)
We had quite a time in Cyprus. Then two or three of us were notified that we had to go and attend a course on gas in Egypt. This involved going on a rather horrible little Egyptian steamer called 'The Fouardieh', which took us across in rather poor weather. By now it was getting on for Christmas. It was very uncomfortable. We then proceeded to barracks in Cairo where we thought we would be able to spend some money and buy something in the NAFFI. But we only had Cyprus money and the proprietors of the NAFFI in Abassia barracks where we were lodged didn't want to know it. But for the fact of the Scottish mafia, we wouldn't have had anything. One of our small party was a Scottish Sergeant from the 8th Durhams. Because the Quarter Master Sergeant in the barracks was another Scot they came to some accommodation and we were able to get ourselves a beer and a cup of coffee or something. Later on the following day we went into Cairo, where we had to change money at a bank in central Cairo. We then went down to Helmieh, where we attended the gas course, which was quite interesting.
At that time it was thought quite likely that the Germans would use gas. They never did fortunately. I remember there were a number of Australians on the course. One of the lecturers had been on about the dangers to the troops if liquid mustard gas had been sprayed during the night. If they walked out from their bivvies with bare feet, they would get mustard gas burns on their soles. The instructor described this and then asked for questions. A Sergeant from Queensland put his arm up and the instructor said, "Yes, Sergeant" and the Sergeant said "They don't go out of their bivvies in the night, they just use their boot!". "Right, thank you Sergeant".
November 1941: Port Said
Eventually, the course finished and we went to Port Fouad, which was located across the Suez Canal from Port Said, and waited our turn, because in the meantime, the Division had been brought back from Cyprus and had gone up to Palestine. So we were stuck in this transit camp for several days, awaiting instructions as to where to re-join the regiment, with nothing to do. There were several cinemas in Port Said but the only film that was showing at the time was Judy Garland in 'The Luck of the Irish', so for the lack of anything better we saw that about three times. Eventually we got a train and went through the desert up to Palestine, and re-joined our battery just outside Haifa, which was where they'd been moved from Cyprus.