(County Down)



(Documents, photos & more)

Family Trees


Contents and Site Map


They arrived at Suez on the 13th June, according to the Regimental History. Jim spent a few days in the Suez area before being ordered to join the SS Aronda which was sailing back to South Africa, so the next letter begins as follows:

At Sea, 27 June 1941

“It will doubtless surprise you to hear that I am still “At Sea” – the which has by now become very monotonous. As it is not permissible to say why or where I must content myself by saying that I am in part retracing my “steps”. As our tracks will land us eventually at the place where we had such a good time on the way out I don’t mind very much.”

“In my previous letters I have just about exhausted the sea as a topic and I have nothing to add to it except that a few nights ago whilst on guard I saw the finest display of phosphorescence that I have yet witnessed. The sea was perfectly smooth and when I say smooth I mean almost mirror-like – and black. The bow-wave was brilliant with occasional electric blue flashes. Fish startled by the ship were constantly darting away leaving trails of phosphorescence in the water many yards long. Several big fish – porpoises or blackfish – left big trails like torpedoes, in some cases 70 or 80 yards long.”

The next letter is on headed notepaper and the address confirms that the very hospitable port was Durban. Jim wondered whether he was a father yet - in fact his thoughts were a little ahead of events.

Victoria League Club For Servicemen
209 Pine Street

11 July 1941

“We had a quiet uneventful trip down here again – our only duties consisted of a 24 hr guard every two days. The cargo was quite docile and gave no trouble.”

“I hope you are receiving my letters OK also the cable I sent when I got here. I figured it would arrive just about the given date. I do wish I could be within reach sweetheart but if I am not there my thoughts are. I’m rather pen-tied about it – I usually am about such things… I can picture both of you – it’s a nice picture and it’s a lucky kid – on the maternal side of course!”

“Coincidences are surprising things really. Can you imagine two men at 2 am. in the middle of the Red Sea – almost strangers to one another – and as usual talking of home in low tones so as not to wake the cargo which is sprawling round about. He mentions he was born in Belfast – What part? – Off Ormeau Rd. – Where? – Delhi St! He was born in 21 Delhi – you remember Mrs McIlroy lives in 22… the one street I knew in Belfast!”

“It would be a revelation to those people who say that the Empire is dead to see this place for a few days. It is very much alive and to a staunch loyalty they add a tremendous admiration of the British people – it is a real tonic. Admittedly this is called the “English City” but I believe other parts of the Union are similar.”

One wonders what the "cargo" was: soldiers on leave perhaps, or wounded servicemen? An extract from Jim's service record explains all - they were escorting prisoners to South Africa, originally described as an "unknown destination".

Arriving at Suez and escorting prisoners

Jim then endured a long delay before they sailed north again and finally joined the Middle East Force. He commented in the margin of the Regimental History that there were 1500 Italian POWs and that he spent a month in Durban.

Durban 17 July 1941

“I have been taken for a South African so often that I’m quite inured to being addressed in Africaans. They tell me it’s because I’m so brown whilst most Blighty Boys are white when they get here.”

Durban 23 July 1941

“It costs 2/- to have a suit of Drill washed and that plus 3/6d for a week’s fares into town doesn’t leave much over out of 10/- per week. We’ve had a total pay of £4 extra since we got here and that plus my £2 which I had intact when I arrived has kept me going. Maintenant c’est fini. I am – as far as I can add up – some £5/10/0d in debt to His Majesty’s Army – and as soon as I rejoin the Unit will have to go about 6 months on 5/- a week to pay it back. Ye Gods! – can you imagine it! Weeks and weeks and weeks with not enough to buy a few fags.”

Durban 30 July 1941

“We have now been down here some three weeks and there is still no word of us moving. It seems a topsy-turvy world. Here it is difficult to realise that there is a war on at all and here as a soldier I am plonked.”

“In spite of all this I would gladly swap it all for the dark streets of old Liverpool – in imagination they sometimes take on the appearance of Paradise. One thing about them is that they are not as dusty as things here. Everything I have is now impregnated with a microscopically fine dirty dust arising from a pulverised earth. Every step raises a cloud of it – we sleep and eat in it – my hair and throat are full of it. My eating irons plate mug etc. coated with it – blankets are stiff with it and that necessitates at least one shower a day (the which are powerful and very cold). Flies thank heaven are not on the menu. Egypt on the other hand must contain most of the world’s supply of flies – there’s billions and billions and billions of them everywhere – they crawl all over one’s food in spite of every effort to stop them. They feast on Wog childrens’ eyes who don’t seem to mind in the least. I’ve had them sit on a lighted match as I lit a cigarette (and on the cigarette as well). They infest every scratch one gets until they nearly drive one insane. If one puts a patch on the scratch they crawl round the edges trying to get underneath. They’re everywhere in black clouds – I don’t like them.”

Durban, 2 August 1941

“This will be the last letter you will be getting from me here as we are moving off shortly.”

“I’m looking forward very much to getting whatever mail there is for me up with the Unit – there surely must be some there by now. It’s nearly four months now since I’ve heard anything at all – a long time Pip mine.”

Previous page Spacer20 Index to all letters pagesSpacer30 Next page



Top of Page