Forces Reunited

Members Memories

Suez in 1953
written by John Williams

My Memories Of The Suez Canal Zone Fifty Years On. My first impression of Egypt was. Isnt it hot! I had flown out from UK in an RAF troop plane ,a York. After a one hour stopover in Malta we landed at Fayid at two in the morning after a thirteen hour flight. This was October 1953 and was something of a shock for someone who had never been out of the country before, as no doubt it was for many young national servicemen. When the aircraft doors were opened, we were hit by a blast of hot air which reminded me of the sort of blast you get when you open the oven door whilst cooking Sunday dinner. As it turned out that was comparatively cool compared with what was to come. We disembarked and after collecting our kit we piled on to transport to travel down the Treaty Rd a few miles to El Hamra .There we were put into open sided tents so we could get a few hours kip before being sent on to our various postings. Mine was to be Kabrit,a well set up station compared to some in the zone.There were proper billet blocks built on concrete rafts holding about forty men,built in a square surrounding the parade ground.There were more billets behind them and between them shower and toilet facilities. The main working area ,workshops, hangers, stores etc in fact all the usual buildings one would expect to find on any U.K. air field.Beyond the working area was the perimeter fence and beyond that was the airfield itself. The eastern edge of the airfield ran parallel with the canal. The northern side of camp bordered the Great Bitter Lake. There were two cinemas, one indoors and one out. I cant recall a naafi as such, but there was a good substitute in another club alongthe same lines as Naafi, once again my memory lets me down,I cant recall its name. The real saving grace of Kabrit was that it had the Bitter Lake on its door step.We spent most afternoons swimming there. Another bonus as far asI personally was concerned was the proximity of the canal. We often relieved the boredom of Sunday mornings by walking across the airfield about a mile down to the Little Bitter Lake canal station. There if we were lucky and got our timing right we could see the convoys going through. This was of particular interest to me as I often saw ships I had worked on in the ship repair industry at home on Merseyside. I didn’t know it then of course but I would be on one of those ship a few years later as a crew member seeing the view from the other side.But that’s another story.One of the worst features of life at Kabrit was the guard duties ,which came around far too frequently for comfort. The frequency varied from sometimes every third night to every couple of weeks.There was a small choice of which duty you would do whilst on guard from patrolling a given route, to manning a searchlight, of which there were were five.Most guard commanders tried to accommodate your choice. My own favourite was to patrol the edge of the lake. It was peaceful and quiet there except for the gentle lapping of the water against the sand or the occasional splash of a fish leaping out of the water.With a sky full of stars it was easy to imagine what an ancient land it is and actually getting a feeling of history. I stayed at Kabrit from October 53 until about July 54 when I was placed on detachment with the Royal Engineers at Port Said. The R.Es had a squadron known as the Inland Water Squadron[I.W.S.] which ran a number of small tank landing craft known as Z craft.These were used mainly for ferrying stores up and down the canal and also for dumping bombs in the Med. After a month in the REs workshops in Port Said I was sent to the Sea Mechanist and we sailed her down the canal to Fanara Wharf on the Great Bitter Lake. The Sea Mechanist was a Z craft which had been converted into a floating workshop complete with lathes drilling machines welding equipment most of the usual workshop equipment.Iwasnt the only airman on this detachment there were at least two others I can remember .One was Jock McQueen from Glasgow and the other was Dave Hollins or Hollings I think from Sheffield. We enjoyed our time on the Sea Mech not only because of the time we could spend swimming,just a case of diving over the side,but because our routine was a lot more relaxed after the regimentation of life on a big station.It was while Iwas with theR.Es inOctober of 54 that I remember seeing come up on routine orders that as from the end of Oct we would no longer be on active service. After that things became a little more relaxed, so much so that we were able to travel to Cairo on Xmas Day and do the sights. Early in the new year about February 55 all us airmen were posted back to the RAF .I dont know where the others went but I finished up at RAF El Firdan, a place that is really best forgotten. The accommodation was basic to say the least, consisting of holes dug into the sand with the walls plastered and painted and a tent thrown over the the top. My work consisted of helping the stores wallahs to pack up crates for return to UK. Fortunatly Iwas only here for maybe three months and Iwas on my way again, this time to RAF Abyad. Here as at ElFirdan every thing was in the process of being packed up. Within a couple of days of my arrival I found myself on guard duty again,how ever I didn’t do guard duty that night as I went down with sand fly fever,and spent the next few days in the hospital. Just as at my previous station every thing was being run down preparatory to our leaving the zone. As many of the men whose time was up were leaving for home and not being replaced the hated guard duties came round faster than ever. However it had its compensations as even on a camp as big as Abyad the usual routines were being relaxed and apart from guard duty life became a little easier. It was at this time that two or three of us airmen were invited to tea at one of our sergeants married quarters ,the reason being it was November 5th a bon fire night without the fireworks. After a nice home cooked meal we relaxed with a few beers and spent the rest of the night talking of our adventures. It was while we were chatting I realized with something of a shock that Mrs McEwen was the first woman I had spoken to in just over two years. Although there were WAAFs on some stations and service families on others I had not come into contact with them. In early December I was informedIwas on my way home and would be home in time for Xmas. SoIwas off to PortSaid to pick up the trooper Lancashire ,a ship I knew well from my pre forces days. After disembarkation at Liverpool I had to travel down to RAF Innesworth for demob ,not even being allowed to go home first even though I could almost see my house from the ship. After the formalities of being demobbed and receiving a few items of civilian clothing I was sent home at last on demob leave until my official demob date 28 January 56. Although Iwas placed on class “E” of the reserves for two & a half years my time with the RAF was at an end.

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