« When It's All Said | Main | Stop, You're Going Too Fast »

To War With The Bays: 30 - A Marvelous Christmas Dinner

...Herschel was just the opposite to Jacobs, always bright and cheerful. Once when we came across a knocked-out German tank he got into it wearing a German helmet (there were a lot of them about) and Jacobs took a series of three photographs, one with Herschel looking out of the side of the tank giving the Nazi salute, one with Paddy Flanagan wearing an English helmet standing on top of the tank and hitting him on the head with a rifle butt, and the third, Colin, Ron Grist and myself dragging him out of the tank...

After the battle of El Alamain there was time for fun and games, as Jack Merewood recalls.

To read earlier chapter's of Jack's vivid narrative of his wartime experiences please click on To War With The Bays in the menu on this page.

Before Christmas we dug two long trenches about six feet apart. Out of the sides of the trenches we dug down so that it left them like long seats. The six-foot raised area left in the middle was the table.

Our Christmas fare arrived in a wagon load, said to have come from Alexandria, 500 miles away. We sat on our home-made seats and true to tradition were served our Christmas dinner by the officers and sergeants.
You couldn't have wished for a better meal, the cooks had done a marvellous job. Turkey, pork, Christmas pudding, beer .. . and afterwards we all cheerfully joined in a sing-song.

We had two Jewish boys in our troop, Jacobs and Herschel Schneiderman. I sat next to Jacobs, and as I didn't like turkey I swapped him my turkey for his pork.

Jacobs was a strange sort of boy. He wore glasses, had black curly hair, and would spend hours sitting, elbows on knees, head bent and resting on his knuckles, deep in thought. He had very little to say, never took part in games or social activities and was the butt of much teasing which sometimes I thought went too far. I felt sorry for him.

He did have a camera though, and was responsible for taking the few pictures we had of life in the desert. Once when he sent a parcel of negatives back to Cairo, they were lost. He was most upset and it was a tragedy for all of us.

Herschel was just the opposite to Jacobs, always bright and cheerful. Once when we came across a knocked-out German tank he got into it wearing a German helmet (there were a lot of them about) and Jacobs took a series of three photographs, one with Herschel looking out of the side of the tank giving the Nazi salute, one with Paddy Flanagan wearing an English helmet standing on top of the tank and hitting him on the head with a rifle butt, and the third, Colin, Ron Grist and myself dragging him out of the tank.

Herschel was a keen card player too, but when playing three card brag you could always tell when he had a good hand. He'd pick up the cards, put them down nonchalantly (with shaking hands) and say, with an attempt at further nonchalance, 'I'll brag.' Every few seconds he would nervously pick up the three cards again, glance at them furtively, and brag again. As others dropped out, he looked at his cards more often and became more agitated - you knew he had a good hand. He was hopeless .. . but a real good sport.

Paddy was from Barry in South Wales, a real tough guy with a bristling moustache, always ready for a fight if anyone wanted one. I really liked him though, and we got on well with each other as most of us did. I can only think of one or two men I wasn't keen on. The comradeship between all of us was a real strength; I've never known anything like it before or since. Perhaps it was because of the situations and conditions we had to endure together.

Christmas Day had been cold but sunny. On Boxing Day the heavens opened, and we suffered the worst deluge yet. Our Christmas Day trenches were flooded, the sand turned to mud, and we thanked our stars that this hadn't happened the day before.

Sometimes the officers attended conferences to be briefed on what was happening and what was expected to happen next. They in turn passed on some of the information. But there were always rumours going around, generally that we were moving tomorrow, or next week 'Blue lights' we called them. They came to nothing. 1942 ended and we were still in the same camp.

Ted Wanless had been sent back to Cairo on a course and I'd asked him to send me a new diary from there. It arrived just before the end of the year and my first entry on 1 January 1943 was: 'Well, here is the New Year, all being well it will be the year which sees us home ...' It wasn't.

Occasionally Arabs came drifting by. We'd see two or three, sometimes with a camel or two, miles away. They'd come up to our tent and we'd pass the time of day. At least we would use the few Arabic words we had picked up, phonetically: 'Saeeda.' ('How do you do?') And they would answer: 'Salama-leekum.' ('Peace be with you.')

There were no apparent tracks or paths, and we'd wonder just where they had come from, and as they disappeared in the distance, where they were going.

It took us a couple of days to put up a big entertainments tent. It was a little late really - we had after all been here about two months - but it served as a mess-hall, on Sundays as a church, and a place to spend some time in the evenings. Someone conjured up some housey-housey (bingo) cards so we held regular housey sessions.

Around the time of El Alamein we were told that the Americans would be landing in Algeria at Oran and Algiers. They were to move east and then push south, and we, moving west, would join up with them in Tripoli. But now Tripoli had been taken, and the Americans were still bogged down east of Algiers.

There was heavy fighting going on west of Tripoli and on 18 February, 1943, we were told to be ready to move next day. So on the 19th we took down the tent (we weren't going to leave that behind), fastened it on to a tank, and loaded the tanks on to transporters for the long journey ahead.

A thousand miles to Tripoli.

Categories

Creative Commons License
This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License.