The Suez Veterans Association

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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.


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Re: My suez experience again. - by John Grant - Feb 20, 2017 8:37pm
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