Friday 28th Feb
Early shift 6 – 8. Clean guns shave head and massage with olive oil – good days sunshine – not nearly as severe as expected in Red Sea. Boys got stuck into the hops in the evening. Gary as full as a boot. Drunken singsong on stairs. Played 1d blind with JR, JF, FD and Len Earea – did the roll. Stubbed toe on steel plate – broke toenail halfway down.
Saturday 1st March
Glorious sunrise – beautiful sunny day – sunbaked all day – engines broke down – convoy moved ahead – we caught them up again about dusk. Finals of boxing in the afternoon – played Five Hundred in the evening.
Early shift (6 – 8) arguments etc on Theology, War, Colonies etc – a grey almost bleak day with the best sea we’ve seen since we turned the cape – not at all what was expected of the cauldron of Hell – the Red Sea. Most of the chaps wore shirts and tunics – coming down to tea stopped to listen to the Sunday afternoon hymn singing. It was very good – some of the nurses have lovely voices. It seems unreal that they should have any part in this business. In the evening we played cards.
Monday 3rd March
Another cold day. – played crib for beer – GW & self beat VA & JJD – won two beers each but haven’t collected – land on both sides – sand and rock – The promised land doesn’t look too promising – hundreds of ships in gulf of Suez – came to anchor in the evening. Port Suez lying away to starboard – ships galore – more than there were in Clyde or at Freetown – cards in the evening – got a caning – 1st issue iron rations – thousands of seagulls.
undated – ships list –
Left Clyde 12th Jan 41
Ships in convoy from Glasgow to Suez
Empress of Australia – Mombassa
“ “ Japan “
Athlone Castle (Flagship)
Cape Town “
Monarch of Bermuda
Duchess of Bedford
“ “ York
Highland Chieftain (left convoy)
Highland Princess (Durban)
Orbita & Nieu Holland joined convoy at Durban
Tuesday 4th March
1st anniversary of day we went into Brighton Camp. 1st shift on gun interesting couple of hours watching various types of craft in the water. Played two up on isolation deck – spun nine heads spinning for 3d a time – got 2/-. R Ross at big school spun 8 heads and won a fiver – news through English officer that canal is mined – Fish heads undecided whether to risk sending us to Haifa by sea or land – mine sweepers at work in canal – watched Tommies being unloaded from other ships into flat bottomed lighters – cards in the evening.
Wednesday 5th March
Bright sunny day – sun playing on cliffs and sand made pretty sight – every type of craft imaginable on the water – steam – motor outboard and numerous sailing craft (estimated 150 liners at anchor) more delicacies brought aboard for officers (crossed out) told the bananas was like Hobart in an off season – reply —————— Played Bridge in the evening with Tom Mead and Jock Roach (Tommy orderlies in isolation ward) and Dick Lewis.
Early shift – made tea, cleaned guns, played crib, lazed in sun and watched arabs bartering . Lecture in the evening by Mr Logan on Palestine – showed good form as an after dinner speaker but if his information is right the place is up to ———. Played Bridge again. Information about mail is good – got an officer to get some whisky (doubles 6d) – its a paradise for officers.
Glorious day – sunbaked, read and played cards on deck. Listened to oration from Tommy orderly named Rathbow on Buddhism – confirmed Buddhist – crude ideas – going to be B priest after war.
A lot of activity among ships several small freighters go up Canal – some light cruisers and big aircraft carrier also go – another convoy of troops arrive – Bomber with tremendous magnetised steel ring encircling the undercarriage and wings for exploding mines in canal flies over. Boatload of green vegetables and tomatoes brought aboard for officers. They live like Princes whilst the men live like pigs. Asked Burnett to get 2/6 whisky – said there wasn’t any in mess – like Hell. Played Bridge again – just going to bed when roused out to gun pits – air raid expected – officers like women in panic – alarm subsided – night relief took over – slept in isolation ward – got a cold. Ship got stuck on mud nearly rammed by another ship.
early shift – series of parades for rifles etc – uncertainty as to time of disembarkation. At eleven o’clock announced that disem was off for today then at 2 o’clock called immediate parade – our guns dismantled – railway unit took over Ac Ac with Lewis guns. Waiting on deck with full equipment till 10 o’clock. (insert – Community singing. B Burnett sang Murray Moon) – unloaded into lighters to accompaniment of sheep baas and sheep dog barking – sang Gundagai and Maori farewell as we left ship. Nurses and English Medical Officers waved us off – unloaded onto wharf at 12MN – dixie of tea and bun – hard as hobs (?) of hell.
left wharf by train at 1am – packed like sardines – very cramped but managed to sleep for couple of hours sitting up – 5.30 passed through Ismalia – train runs alongside canal – 6.30 at El Qantara West. 7.00 detrained crossed Suez Canal on punt. tea & biscuits – entrained again at 8.30 (Jewish money changers on station – Egyptians run round asking for Bakshees – miles and miles of sand – crossed the frontier from Egypt to Palestine about midday – getting into cultivated country. Arrived Gaza about 3.30 – about 1/2 mile march to camp – “Kilo 89” – worst 1/2 mile ever I marched in my life – pack & kit & equipment about 140lbs and awkward as hell. Camp brought memories of Brighton. Distribution of mail – one letter and one cable for me – had a drink of Carlton ale – lovely.
1st parade 7.00 – muster parade 9am. 10 o’clock more mail – got twenty letters and 6 cables (red letter day) many parcels mentioned but none arrived – story that they were all sunk sounds fantastic. Arabs very primitive people – plough with camels & single furrow wooden ploughs – mules & camels only means of transport – muster parade – talk by Major Cummings. Wrote airmail letter to mother. Slept on cage like arrangement made of bamboo – like sleeping on post and rail fence with a lot too many posts – very cold during night.
28 Feb – 1d blind is presumably ‘penny blind poker’
5 March – Reference to Hobart in an off season is to the fact the Hobart’s harbour (the Derwent estuary) can certainly accommodate a great fleet of ships. Presumably there were many jibes on various topics, from Queenslanders to Tasmanians, and Dad would have enjoyed the opportunity have a dig at them – ‘the bananas’ refers to men from Queensland (‘banana benders’)
7 March – for photos and descriptions of these mine-clearing bombers, see https://medium.com/war-is-boring/how-britain-beat-germanys-wwii-magnetic-sea-mines-bfec5558704c
7 March – food for the officers – Dick Lewis confirmed that it was indeed the case that they were fed like princes, compared to the men – who, according to The Footsoldiers always spoke scathingly in later years of their rations on board – ‘endless meals of salted kippers and potatoes’ (p21)
8th – 10th – Mostly covered in letters. I found a photo of the ‘bamboo beds’ in the book A Special Kind of Service – The Story of the 2/9 Australian General Hospital 1940 – 46 by Joan Crouch (1986)