The main aim of the Association is to re-kindle and promote a spirit of comradeship amongst those who served in the
Suez Canal Zone, Egypt.
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Suez Veterans Association.
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In a thread on here I see the Suez area being described as a hellhole. This was not my experience.
Hell to me was some days at the Guards Depot, but the reward was that bearing that training and completing it made me part of a group of men who from 1642 have represented the Regiment Scots Guards.
My second meeting with hell was in February 1953, when I spent my eighteenth birthday on a seawall at Canvey Island filling sandbags to counter breaches in the seawall. Detailed to be on the seawall in the middle of the night, freezing cold, and not adequately dressed for the circumstances freezing cold, tired and just totally miserable, was indeed hell.
My Suez experience started with an exciting trip in a Hermes aircraft, my first ever flight, with destination unknown. I was able to see Paris from the air all bright lights, the Alps, and later a stop in Malta for a lovely breakfast. Rejoining our refuelled aircraft we had some sleep before landing in Fayid Egypt. Trucks to Port Said and arrival at 1st Bn Scots Guards camp. All tent accommodation and quite comfortable, of course the bright hot sunshine, lovely desert were refreshing after cold damp Edinburgh.
Our camp was excellent, of course being the Guards there was a large parade square, we had good medical facilities, an RAMC doctor, and numerous small shops owned and manned by friendly helpful Egyptians. We had a NAAFI, a soccer field, cricket pitch and running track, and a basketball court, I used all at some time. Our food was supplied by Regimental cooks eaten in a large tented dining area. We carried our own knife fork and spoon, plates and mug.
Our duties were pretty routine, we were more than prepared for anything after our intense fourteen week infantry combat training at Pirbright, and our duties were in truth basic considering the extent of our training. Guards of course were routine, escorts were a change, and allowed one to see much of the Canal Zone area. Training was ever present and schemes were held at all levels up to Brigade.
Our relationship with the Egyptians was good, they provided laundry services, and were expert at well starched K.D. the test being that the shorts if placed so would stand on their own. There was a barber, and a small store that sold Assis a cold drink, and other candy and stuff that teenage boys would enjoy.
When times were quiet we were allowed to walk out in threes in civilian clothes.For an eighteen year old it was an exciting experience to walk into Port Said, hear the calls from the minarets, see the laundry hanging outside the homes, and hear the Arab music playing from the homes. We also on occasion would walk down to the ferry and cross the harbour to Port Fouad, swimming from the beautiful beaches, being allowed from a distance because we were seen to be uncultured guardsmen and not members of some of the perceived to be more gentlemanly units but hey we saw women in bathing suits from a distance and that was fine.
I saw most of the Zone, done guards at El Firdan, TEK, and as said earlier escorts. One particular escort was to an airfield, it was a good distance .from Port Said and we got there at lunch time. The N.C.O we liased with about the supplies told us lunch would be served in the airmans dining room. We were somewhat lost because we had not brought any eating tools with us, and were totally amazed when we got our food and found the tools were already provided. I cannot recall the meal, but do recall our surprise when the custard that was served with the dessert was sweet, and had flavour, not something we were used to. Fortunately we were used to the looks of in some cases contempt as if we were something the camp dogs had brought in, but as guardsmen this was not unusual, and was put down by us as envy. We were young enough to believe everyone wanted to aspire to being a Guardsman. Ah youth.
There were times when it was not all good, times when someone had been killed, quite often when innocently enjoying the social practise of walking out and being abducted and killed, we were then put on full alert, and were prepared if available to extract a price for the act. Burying one of our own in Moascar was one of these incidents.
We did move to Moascar in 1954, much different to Port Said, literally hundreds of servicemen, in our area you had to listen for the Battalion bugle notes to ensure you only answered the unit calls. I am sure everyone knows that each unit had there own trill to the traditional calls so that you knewe that it was your unit calling.
In December 1954 we embarked on the SS Gorgia for the return to the U.K. On arrival home I was so proud to go to my Fathers work place and meet him, some of the other men were there. He and I were so proud, his boy had returned from overseas, he was now a corporal in the Scots Guards, on his left arm was a two year good conduct stripe, marksman on the rifle badge, LMG marksman badge, two stripes, 3rd infantry d
I done an edit and lost my last couple of lines, as I appreciate the masses on the forum will be anticipating my conclusion with bated breath here goes.
I enjoyed my time in Suez, it was not a luxury trip, but did round out my military experience. I never felt there was or even now feel that in anyway I was used inapropriately. It was probably a political error, but I done the duty I signed on for. I was proud to serve in a proud Regiment, I was treated well, discipline was harsh,but that was what made the group what they are part of Britains elite. I cannot understand anyone not being proud of their service and being unfairly critical of their unit. One thing I am thankful for from my Suez experience is my love for the desert which I have been able to fulfil here in North America.
Hi Robert/ Lads,
In the Canal Zone it depended where you where, in my tented camp there were no barbers, NAAFI (Regimental Canteen) washing collected my ROAC for weekly washing, no Egyptian personnel except for swill bin collectors who came in under armed guard, cinema was a hessian surround with bench's for seats, we did go into town in pairs armed, so I consider you lucky, I did spend some time Tel I kebir where things were entirely different, but only had a fortnight, we to had work to do assisting to built a road over The Flea, but also had our parades where there was plenty of spit and polish, double when it came to Coronation Parade and GOC's 24 hour guard, where I learnt how to present with a Sten Gun, all our cooking was by Regimental cooks uder ACC Sergeant, I also visited the RAF Fayid where my friend was stationed a stayed for dinner, he was surprised when I went for KFS plates a mug, said no need, and there was three choices of meals at a table with a tablecloth on, I invited him to our camp for a meal, but when I said two choices of meals, take it or leave it and bring your own utensils, he politely declined, althoughI I can't understand why, so as I said it depended where you were, my daughter in laws father was in the Welsh Guards at El Ballah and he told the same story as you.
Cheers Rod Sapper
Rod, I agree totally with your points, there is no doubt location and function were factors in our experience. As usual I have to prattle on about the Guards, but they were a wee bit different. In the days we are discussing all our officers were from the aristocracy or ultra wealthty. Titles such as Earl, Duke etc. were not unusual. Officers batmen were known as officers servants, the gulf between the men and the officers was wide. Because of the background though the officers used to having "servants" also realised the value of maintaining a feeling of contentment in the men, food, conditions, recreation were all kept at a good standard for the sake of morale. They also respected the training and loyalty of the men who they knew would give everything including their lives if the need arose.
On one occasion we arrived at TEK to take over guard duties there, we were relieving an English County Regiment detachment, our officer as was protocol checked the inventory, ammunition etc. and the tents we would occupy when taking over. There were deficiencies in the inventory, and the tents were deemed in bad order, he refused to take over until these things were corrected. We actually felt bad for the other soldiers as the swept out tents and washed some items, but that is just how it was.
Like everything in life there are some who suffered more than others, that was not the case for me.
Thank you for a sensible reply and hope all is well with you in Canada.
Hallo Bob, Rod,
I was an airman, so naturally went to Egypt on a troop-ship - H.M.T. Empire Fowey. After a sometimes-bumpy trip through the bay, past Gib, Cadiz, over the site of the Battle of Trafalgar, past Pantelleria, we reached Port Said.
Breakfast at 5 a.m., usual long wait, then about mid-day our R.M.P. and R.A.F.P. tour-guides shouted us into our transport – a sand-beige coach, bound for R.A.F. Fayid. We set off, our escort twitchily clutching his Sten every time we passed civilians. We soon learned why – he’d only been “in Zone” a fortnight, so was nearly as green as us. At Fayid, because we weren’t expected(!) we were billeted in a church a few yards from the main gate.
Lights out, and “trust us – we know” older airmen, one a signals S.A.C. with Navigator brevet and WW2 ribbons, lulled us to sleep with dark stories of lost vehicles, ambushes and cut throats, then about 1 a.m., all hell was let loose – bellowing and scuffling. Our navigator-hero had captured an intruder – dark-skinned, khaki-drill clothing, white webbing-belt, R.A.F.-blue beret and white metal R.A.F.-ish badge. A gate policeman (or was it the guard commander?) appeared and sternly made him give up his prey – an indignant Sudanese police auxiliary. Red faces all round.
Next morning we started “arriving” – a chore familiar to all airmen, marching from section to section with a big blue card, being signed onto the strength – bedding store, equipment store, catering office and so on. I was one of four accounts clerks standing in front of the senior accounts officer. “I only need three of you” and mentioned another job, something to do with buses. Two of the others were old mates and wanted to stay together, the other guy didn’t fancy the number, so ignoring Dad’s old-sweat advice, I volunteered and got the job.
So out came the blue card, all round the houses again, “leave” R.A.F. Fayid, new blue card, “arrive” R.A.F. Abyad and H.Q. 205 Group, flop into a billet and settle into the job, learning/taking over from Jim Savin, who’d done it during the rough times. Trained on airmen’s pay, I had to “learn” double-entry book-keeping; profit and loss accounts and balance sheets, capital depreciation etc., all in about ten days.
Oi! You! – you’re on a G.C.T. course” – probably about a month later, a group of us moon-men drew rifles and fell into the hands of two fatherly R.A.F. Regiment WW2-veteran flight-sergeants, who re-trained us in rifle and Bren – firing about 80 rounds a day, and giving us refresher basic infantry training. All our rifles were zero’d to our sighting peculiarities, and again on every (six monthly?) refresher course. No. 4 rifle Abyad No. 603 was “my” rifle for the rest of my tour. The training was good (reckon I could still field-strip and reassemble a Bren), but I never kidded myself that we reached anywhere near the standards of the elite regiments and corps.
That “something to do with buses” job turned out to be a cracker. My line boss was Flt.Lt. Putt (D.S.O., D.F.C.), who’d a number of welfare jobs (I remember two; Married Quarters roster, U.K. Leave Scheme), and I answered to him for the accounts and admin of a 23-vehicle bus service (two destroyed in the Ismailia riots of ’51). You could liken it to a branch of Aldershot and District Transport – its own accounts maintenance and spares purchasing, even with locally-employed civilian drivers, conductors and mechanics.
I certainly never found the boundaries of the job. Sometimes I was “doing the books” other times playing with spares manifests, others I’d ride shotgun in the boss’s jeep as he drove it thither and yon – often gave me the willies, he’d done S.O.E. time, so stuck up two fingers to danger.
After leaving the billet I lived in the bus depot for a bit, then H.Q. 205 Group tent-lines – then back to the depot for the final year or so. Two of us kipped there, not bothered by the thought that we were about 20ft from a store of fuel, lubricants and cellulose – we’d have been fried to a crisp.
The Army ran a similar non-public bus service to ours – the Canal Army Bus Service, staffed mostly by R.A.S.C. men, plus conductors and inspectors drawn from other disciplines – vaguely remember a couple of Air Freight Handler shoulder badges. They were a great bunch, ever-cheerful company when we met them “on the road”, and it is my shame that I never took the time to visit their depot, I believe close to John Marrs’ place of work – 51 Coy R.A.S.C.?
At the end of my tour, 2½ years, military logic won – fly home? No chance - a troopship, still the Empire Fowey. On the first day “hallo mate” from a guy in Korean greens – an old school-mate. I was token Royal Sussex for the rest of the trip.
and then - as if the foregoing had not been boring enough - some bright spark decided that my Station Defence role was to be as No. 2 in Bren-gun team. My No. 1, Jock McFarlane, was a great guy, full of laughter, superb at his job. I carried the ammunition, changed the barrel when told, but Jock was the key man. Popular with the ladies too.