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To War With The Bays: 28 - Desert Sports

...Our squadrons were just a few minutes' walk from each other, so Ronnie and I would visit one another regularly, to talk and play cards. It was decided we should make a squadron football pitch (later we also made a regimental one). The desert took a bit of straightening out, but when finished the pitch wasn't too bad, just a few rough places...

After intense fighting in the North African desert there was time for football and other games, as Jack Merewood recalls.

To read earlier chapters of Jack's vivid war memoir please click on To War With The Bays in the menu on this page.

We had finally arrived where we were going to stay for a while. The rest of the Division also moved into the area - 9th Lancers, 10th Hussars, and even a Free French regiment.

We set to work as usual to make the place as comfortable as we could. The Germans and Italians had left equipment everywhere. Our troop salvaged a big German tent.

My diary of 19 November: 'Very windy today and raining too. Cold. Buck, Bals, Colin, Nobby and me pitched the tent - big enough for the whole troop. Hard work but got plenty of laughs out of it with this strong wind. However, finally got it up and it proves to be a very good tent.'

It was strong heavy canvas and good protection against the wind and rain. We rigged up different kinds of beds; I had found an Italian one which turned out to be very comfortable, and we also found some Italian tables and chairs.

Our squadrons were just a few minutes' walk from each other, so Ronnie and I would visit one another regularly, to talk and play cards. It was decided we should make a squadron football pitch (later we also made a regimental one). The desert took a bit of straightening out, but when finished the pitch wasn't too bad, just a few rough places.

Matches between troops were arranged. I played for our troop, though not regularly as I had the occasional leg problem. Games between squadrons were good to watch, and our troop was well represented in the squadron team, sometimes supplying no less than six players, including Nobby, Bob Buckland and Ted Wanless. Jimmy was also in the team. Ronnie played for 'B' Squadron and for the Regiment too. When the regiments played each other there was always a crowd to cheer the sides on.

I have notes about the matches. 27 November 1942: ' . . . 'C playing 'B' Squadron in semi-final of knock-out ... Ronnie played well, and Jimmy and Ted excelled themselves and we won 2-1!'

A few days later we played 'HQ' in the final, an exciting match which we won 1-0. I also remember the sergeants taking on the officers and, to our delight, beating them 8-0.

Besides football we played baseball, basketball (though our version was more like rugby), and did some cross-country running. Boxing matches were arranged and Dave Beauchamp, our troop corporal, who had been an amateur boxer, took part in them. Dave looked like a boxer, a real bruiser with a broken nose, and he was no mean fighter either. He spoke slowly with a thick Cockney accent. When he was fighting we'd all go along to cheer him on.

One boxer from the Royal Horse Artillery, another regiment in the area, had the name of Garland; his nickname was not surprisingly 'Judy', though standing at the side of a boxing ring shouting 'Come on Judy' did seem a bit ludicrous.

Some more new recruits had joined the Regiment and two of them to come to our troop were Jack Ryder from Rochdale and Stan Tatlow from Solihull near Birmingham. Stan was a very quiet likeable boy and he and I got on well together. Jack was a really good card player so he fitted in nicely with our games of solo, and sometimes bridge.

Card schools were going on all the time in our leisure hours, and if it wasn't solo or bridge there were always games of brag in progress. Playing three card brag you had to be careful if two mates wanted to join the school, for it was easy for them to brag everybody out, so that they were the only two left. One would then 'see' the other, or he might even 'pack' and give the other the kitty, but there was the suspicion that afterwards they would share the spoils. So these mates were carefully watched and would often be refused entry into a game. Sometimes arguments arose.

I spent many hours writing letters to friends, relatives, Bob's wife Len, Jimmy's girl Doreen, and regularly to Emily. I wrote home every two or three days when I had the chance, and my mother and sister wrote as often. Their letters were always eagerly awaited.

Our letters were censored by one of the officers and anything written pertaining to the Army was blocked out. One of the boys, a big stubborn Welshman named Humphries, insisted on writing his letters in Welsh. When ordered to write in English he refused, but finally his Welsh letters were allowed to go through.

It wasn't all card playing, letter-writing and football. We regularly had drill parades, talks, lectures and PT. On Sundays there were church parades which were held out in the open. One Sunday it poured with rain, we were all soaked, and the service was abandoned.

Sunday 29 November 1942: ' . . . after Church Parade Nobby got some flour and baking powder and I had a go at making some cakes. (Nobby made an oven.) They didn't come out too badly.'

Nobby, besides being our troop sergeant, was also our barber, so now we all had haircuts. I couldn't remember the last time I'd had one.

Some days we were on 'regimental runner' duty. This meant going over to 'HQ' Squadron to be there to take messages to our own squadron if necessary.

A typical day from my diary:'... washed and shaved, on regimental runner at 8 a.m. Very cold wind. Monotonous job this. Came over to our Squadron about 4.30 for pay parade. Got 1. Back to 'HQ' and finished runner about 8 p.m.'

There were quite a few books being passed around, and when on this duty I'd take one with me. One book I enjoyed immensely was Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca.

Occasionally we were given 'comfort parcels' which were much appreciated. An example: 'Ten Gold Flake [cigarettes], packet of Bachelor Buttons, an egg, cake and books.' I also had another wonderful parcel from Cape Town.

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