The Suez Veterans Association

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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Re: My suez experience again.

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.

Re: My suez experience again.

Hi Robert,

Thank you for a sensible reply and hope all is well with you in Canada.

Cheers Rod,

Re: My suez experience again.

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.

John

Re: My suez experience again.

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.