On Leave after the Battle









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By early July 1942 Jim was able to report the arrival of letter cards and photographs from Pip; also some cash, for which he had been waiting without too much hope of ever seeing it.  He made several references to recent army activity.

Western Desert, 5 July 1942

“I’m afraid Jerry has rather interfered with letter writing lately and in sooth I have not felt at all like writing – it is rather difficult to write when all one’s wits (assuming possession) are on other more deadly things… I know you will understand the big gaps.”

“Your cards and letter have cheered me up immensely particularly the snap of you and D. J… you look far better than in the earlier snaps in one or two of which there were signs of strain I didn’t like to see.”

“You know of course what has happened out here – the old 8th Army has had a pretty sticky time – it’s not over yet though and maybe won’t work out as bad as things looked at one time… Ah Well! To date Lucky Jim is still whole and unharmed which is very very important from his point of view – what happens next isn’t in the least in his control.”

Shortly after this letter was written the 44th were in action again at Alamein station some 60 miles west of Alexandria. The Regimental History has this to say about the experiences of the newly reinforced regiment that had suffered so badly in the battle for the Gazala Line and the escape from 150 Box.

"A few days later 'C' Squadron came up. At first they did not join 'B' Squadron but were sent into action by themselves. These were very difficult times for all, officers and men fresh from England going into battle within days of arriving in the country, with men they barely knew, commanded by men whom some of them never even saw. They did not have the benefit of troop or squadron training and knew little or nothing of the conditions peculiar to the desert. Mistakes were made and several tanks and their crews were lost in an ill-organised sweep southwards from the area of the station, but necessity is a quick teacher and they gave a good account of themselves before many days were out."

Jim added "Here S. of Alamein station Fred and I went out with the padre to bring in the body of a gunner from one of our knocked out tanks. Standing upright on the turret in full view of Jerry whilst the padre put a rope round the body for Fred and I to pull him out made one feel very exposed. Tank full of flies - very, very nasty."



Brew-up in July 1942

On the back of this photo Jim wrote:

"A brew-up at Alamein July '42.

Back row: P. Bristowe, B.A. Camb.; H. Marshall (The Bull); S. Cattermole.

Front: Bed Down Briggs; Jack Davis.

The hole was useful as Jerry was shelling."

On 11 July Jim sent an airgraph hoping it would arrive in time for a double celebration on the 20th of their third wedding anniversary and their son David’s first birthday. He tried again on 12 July with this telegram.







It appears that Jim used the coded texts 74 and 34 shown on the reverse of the telegram to generate his message, although the first code is less clearly the 45 needed for the word 'Well'.







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Reverse of telegram

The next letter refers to their anniversary again and also other key dates: Jim's birthday on 25 June and his brother's birthday on 28 May, which was also the day mentioned on the previous page when a near miss 'blew the front off' his truck with a 500 pound bomb. He also expressed his frustration with newspaper reports of industrial action.

Western Desert, 26 July 1942

“We are out of it all at the moment and I’m writing this on a pukka writing desk… July 20th was a fortunate day for me – curious n’est-ce pas? So was 25th June whilst 28th May – Dave’s birthday – found me nearer to ‘non-est’ than I ever hope to be again – in fact any nearer would mean fait accompli – it likethed me not – decidedly – No! Still it’s a long while ago now.”

“How many Blighty folk really feel this war? We read of strikes in aircraft factories, coal mines, docks, etc. – always money, money, money. We’d like to straighten a few of them out when we read of them, we’ve bags of ammo.”


'C' Squadron was withdrawn from Alamein towards the end of July and returned to Sidi Bishr before, in August, the whole battalion moved to a tented camp at Khatatba, north-west of Cairo, and a much more relaxed atmosphere.

Western Desert, 4 August 1942

“Fred at present is umpiring a cricket match – temp about 120 degrees in the shade. Cricket matches and wars seem rather far apart I must admit but there it is – ‘tis a weird and wonderful world. My feet as I mentioned some three months ago are definitely going back on me. I went to the M.O. this morning and he informed me that the arches are gone and nothing can be done. So delightfully simple but it doesn’t solve the problem of my feet does it? Yet how typically Army in the attitude!”

Western Desert, 10 August 1942

“We are living these days a (comparatively) civilised and sequestered existence. I can if I wish have ten showers a day, imbibe any quantity of refreshment providing I can pay for it. I can even go to the cinema – the same being a somewhat Heath Robinson affair consisting of four walls of tapestries extremely ancient and hole-ridden, no roof and wooden seats. Last night I saw Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs…”

Jim's next letter confirmed the impression that he had gone on leave and was able to relax for once, giving him the time and opportunity to expand on a number of topics. The very thin paper was supplied by one of the support organisations for troops abroad.

Letter heading


Western Desert, 17 August 1942

“Woman Dear,

This is I think going to be a nice long letter and you most certainly deserve one. The pen is a new one price 32 piastres – 6/8d so it should at least last the letter out. I’m in the middle of my second leave in the Middle East – the last if you remember was in February, no January last. Actually it has come round more rapidly than it ought to have done as our ranks are sadly thinned and many a good bloke won’t be needing any leave any more… This noble city with its romantic name is the same as it was seven months ago. I’m staying at the same hotel and Mac is with me once more – old Spud Murphy who was with us last time is I hope languishing in a prisoner of war camp being one of those who did not return to his Base… The heat seems to have got the best of both armies at present for as you doubtless know all is ‘quiet’ – a comparative word I assure you.”

“The room I am writing in is very posh – the South Africans do everything in a big way and with a very open heart. I’ve had many kindnesses from men of all ranks of the S. A. in the desert and when in a jamb never have had to ask twice nor once very often. I wish I could say the same about some of the British troops or Australians. When this war is over the Tommy will be remembered as a grouser who seldom if ever lets his centre down and can fight with the best, the Australian as a really tough fighter and boaster, the New Zealander as a tough fighter too but without the bombast, the Indian as a warrior and the Maori as the perfect fighting machine. The South African is a gentleman.”

“No one will ever succeed in making a soldier out of me… I’m human enough to feel satisfied at a good job of work – as one of our gunners said after sniping an Italian sniper with a two-pounder shell – the said sniper having just sniped our new M. O. – but somehow I cannot ‘hate’. We are told to do so in the newspapers but I’ve not met any who do except the Aussies and they hate everyone on principle. The Jerry doesn’t hate us in spite of all newspaper propaganda – he’s not a bad chap at all when you meet him personally…”

“I must admit however that I’m slowly swinging round to the belief that this Nazism is a really bad thing which the world would be well rid of. In the earlier days I regarded it more as a mere alternative form of government for society which had like everything else pros and cons. When we read of the black atrocities of Nazism how many people remember reading a few years ago of the same things about Communism?”

“Yesterday I went to the zoo – quite a spacious affair and rated I believe as one of the finest in the world… Amongst other things I discovered that I once treated a viper rather negligently carrying him or her about by the tail – I didn’t know it was a viper of course!”

 Esbekiah Gardens Cairo

Esbekiah Gardens, Cairo, July 1942

Jim is seated on the right nearest the camera

“The environs of the city are very pretty with their semi-tropical vegetation luxuriating as only semi-tropical stuff can. Some of the roads are a mass of scarlet blossom on huge trees – the leaves cannot be seen at all – there are climbers of all hues but I notice the absence of the delicate pastel shades of the more temperate climes. There are some nice spots then in Egypt but on the whole it is a rotten place… The streets are depositories for all the filth of the village and in many cases are three or four feet higher than the house foundations as a result flies, flies, flies, crawling diseased children abound with eyes ears noses and mouths bunged up with flies... The life of a donkey or horse is one of unmitigated misery – grossly overloaded, grossly underfed, they stagger about their business urged on continuously by being constantly slapped with a big leather strap…”

Village in the Nile Delta

A village in the Nile Delta in July 1942

“Some of the things I’ve eaten here would probably make your mouth water. Eggs, chicken and tomatoes are of course the staple diet here and one gets sick of eating them. Never does one get less than three eggs often six if one orders let us say egg and chips in a small place. I’ve had – let me see – roast beef, pork, veal, ham, salads of all sorts, eggs, sausages, mixed grills, chops, cutlets, fish various, pâté de fois gras, chicken brains, caviar, umpteen types of boloney in particular I liked one which is I believe a Polish concoction – at least I first met it when feeding with a Polish mob. The finest meal I had was in Alexandria about five weeks ago when I ate in a Greek restaurant – the food and service was absolutely perfect in every detail – even the price. After months of desert fare and iron rations you can appreciate what it means to get decent food for a change.”

“We bought a live chicken… during the Push last year. I remember it vividly… It poured rain in periodic heavy showers… The crowning insult was a Heinkel which persisted in appearing… circling round at about 2000 feet dropping sticks of three and then treating us to a display of shallow dives while his front and rear gunners did target practice… We murdered the chicken or rather the cooks did on Xmas Eve and it boiled all day but proved uneatable.”


Egyptian policeman

“I’m sending along some snaps of ordinary things one sees every day out here (in civilised parts) and also two poor snaps of Fred and myself taken last March. The spot they were taken in was the scene of some of the bitterest fighting this last Push – part of the so-called Devil’s Cauldron although the area is of course a huge one.”






Jim wrote on the reverse:

"Meet Abdul the Policeman. He wouldn't pose unless he got baksheesh of two cigarettes in advance."



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