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A personal memoir of the Second World War

By Herbert (Henry) P. Hall

(Continued - 5)

Needless to say morale was very low, and our two officers completely uninspiring. Our drinking and washing water came by towed bowsers from the RAF air base of Shaibah about 6 miles away, where we occasionally visited to enjoy proper showers and the odd open-air cinema. One of my technical friends Len Gilmour was distantly related to Lady Ward, wife of Sir John Ward, the General Manager of the Basra Port Authority. They lived in a lovely home set in beautiful gardens in the Basra suburb of Margil, and Lady Ward took pity on Len and invited him with some of his friends, which fortunately always included me, to come for a meal and enjoy her swimming pool. Naturally we enjoyed these outings very much as they reminded us of the elegant civilised world we had left behind, and were such a contrast to our nomadic life in the desert. It was at one of these visits that we had the pleasure and honour of meeting the young Prince Faisal, heir to the Iraqi throne, and we played games and swam with him during that day. Sir John Ward had been instrumental in saving the young Prince's life and that of his uncle the Regent Abdul Illah sometime earlier when the rebel and German sympathizer Rashid Ali, had temporarily seized power until the British Army had come to restore the democratic monarchy. Unfortunately both Faisal, then King, and his uncle were murdered in another coup d'etat in 1958.

Later that year of 1942 I was recommended by our Commanding Officer for a commission which entailed flying to the large RAF base at Habbaniyah, some 60 miles west of Baghdad, for the necessary interviews and medical examinations. I felt confident in passing them but had to wait for official confirmation. I spent Christmas at Habbaniyah so was able to enjoy an excellent Christmas turkey dinner, although I must admit I missed the company of the chaps at our radar station with whom I had become very friendly over the past year and a quarter.

Before my commission came through I was to make one more move, so in February 1943 I left 264 MRU and this time traveled by truck right across the Iraqi and Syrian deserts through Palestine to Egypt, where I was posted to another remote radar station in the Sinai peninsular with the increased rank of flight sergeant. Here at no. 259 MRU morale was high despite the isolation, as everyone pulled their weight to make living as comfortable and entertaining as possible. We had our own theatre and tennis courts, and rations came on the trans-Sinai train which passed a few miles away around midnight. Once or twice I went into Port Said by pick-up truck fitted with large balloon tyres to allow travel over the sandy wastes. It was a hair-raising trip as one had to travel at fairly high speed to avoid getting stuck in the loose sand and one never knew what one might find as we hurtled over one sand dune after another!

My formal commissioning as a Pilot Officer, no. 143480, came through on 29 May 1943, and in accordance with the established practice I was immediately posted away from 259 MRU. I was sorry in a way to leave that happy unit but new opportunities awaited me in Cairo where I was able to purchase my new uniform and kit. Apart from a short spell with yet another mobile radar unit, no. 261 MRU in the Nile Delta region, I spent my final 18 months in the Middle East based at no. 1 Radio Installation and Maintenance Unit at Tura, some 12 miles south of Cairo, and where I arrived on 26th July. Here in modernised caves in the limestone hills were well equipped workshops of every kind and where all types of radar equipments could be completely overhauled in comparatively cool comfort and safe from any possible enemy air raids. These caves had been originally dug out by the ancient Egyptians to provide stone for the building of the Pyramids at Giza and elsewhere. Evidence of this still existed as there were marks made on the walls by the stone masons of the day and several ancient crude tools had been found some years before my arrival. We lived in tents a mile or so away down the valley and there was a stone-built officers' mess and a church which I attended when on station, and we were within easy reach of the Cairo metropolis by a frequent electric train service.

Most of my work at no. 1 R.I. & M.U. consisted of the building up of new radar formations and also taking base maintenance teams around the existing stations in the Middle East. I was thus often on the road by truck or jeep and got to know many parts of Lower Egypt, Palestine. Lebanon and Syria.


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Constructed by Dick Barrett

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ęCopyright 2000 - 2002 Dick Barrett

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