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A personal memoir of the Second World War

By Herbert (Henry) P. Hall

(Continued - 4)

We did not see any of the action as all troops were immediately confined below decks and the gunfire seemed at a fairly safe distance. It transpired later that our naval escort consisting of the cruisers Berwick, Bonaventure and Dunedin drove the Germans off and only a little damage had been caused to one of the troopships which put into Gibraltar for repairs.

At that time, Freetown with its immense harbour (one of the largest in the world), was a main convoy assembly port, and our three radar stations were to be deployed to give advance warning of the approach of any German reconnaissance aircraft. Several had previously been seen and it was presumed they had come from Dakar in Senegal which was then controlled by the Vichy French who were suspected of active collaboration with the Germans. There was some initial problem in erecting the 105ft high masts of our radar station, due to over enthusiastic assistance of a detachment of Royal Engineers who had been asked by our Commanding Officer to assist in my absence as I was temporarily sick in hospital. When I returned and affected repairs to the masts we became operational by February 1941 and we did detect and plot some enemy aircraft and these were chased away by our locally deployed RAF Spitfires.

Our three radar stations only remained in Sierra Leone a few weeks for the threat of enemy reconnaissance aircraft was kept in bounds, and the need for reinforcements in the Middle East was more pressing. So we were on our way again round the Cape of Good Hope to Suez. We enjoyed the first leg of that voyage very much as we were fortunate in being allocated passage on one of the few fare-paying passenger ships still operating, the "Largs Bay", which was carrying out families to Australia. Thus we were free from the regimentation of a regular troopship and were treated by the crew the same as the civilian passengers and had a run of all the amenities. At Capetown though it was a different story as we had to transfer to the Orcades which had been converted to being a troopship and hence we were again under service discipline until we reached Port Tewfiq at the southern end of the Suez Canal. By the time we arrived in May 1941, the military situation in the Western Desert had improved somewhat by the defeat of the Italian forces from Tripolitania and their replacement by mainly German troops had not then taken place. Thus we found ourselves completely unemployed and we idled away several months in various transit camps in the Suez Canal area and later at 103 Maintenance Unit at Abouqir near Alexandria. It was a most depressing time but at least we had the time to be able to go into Cairo on one occasion to view the Pyramids and to Alexandria on others to sample the "delights" of city life.

It was with some relief then that in September 1941 we reformed into other mobile radar units and I joined no.264 M.R.U. as Senior Technical NCO, and we embarked from Suez bound for Bombay, India. Here we spent two weeks in another transit camp awaiting another convoy to take us northwest to the Persian Gulf with final disembarkation at Basra in Iraq. Basra is Iraq's only port and is on the Shatt-el-Arab, the name given to the combined rivers Tigris and Euphrates before they flow together into the Gulf. We arrived early in October and here I was to remain for the next 18 months, setting up our radar station in the featureless desert near the Iraqi village of Zubair some 20 miles west of Basra. Our purpose was to provide some air protection to the sole oil refinery in the Middle East at Abadan, some 25 miles away on the Iranian side of the Shatt-el-Arab river. At this time the German invasion of the Soviet Union had succeeded to such an extent that there was every prospect of them reaching the Caucasian mountain range and then breaking through to the plains of Iran and Iraq with the intention of reaching the Persian Gulf and the vital Abadan oil fields and refinery. Of course, as events turned out the German advance was halted by the Russians at Stalingrad, but there still remained the possibility of German air strikes to our region, and/or another Russian defeat, so we had to sit it out against these possible threats.

It was the most desolate and unrewarding 18 months I spent during the war. There was no enemy air activity to watch for and little purpose that we could see in assisting the war effort. We were an isolated group miles away from any comforts, living in tents which gave little protection from both the heat (up to and over l20oF) and the sandstorms, trying to keep fit on a monotonous staple diet of bully beef, rice and dates.


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Constructed by Dick Barrett

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ęCopyright 2000 - 2002 Dick Barrett

The right of Dick Barrett to be identified as author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.