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To War With The Bays: 43 - A Nice Idea

...On 11 November, 1943, we had an Armistice Day parade in Blida. We marched along the decorated main streets with bands playing, to much hand-clapping, and flag-waving. It all went down very well with the local population...

After being engaged in historic battles, Jack Merewood and his colleagues are still in North Africa, awaiting further orders. While there Jack receives a surprising proposal.

I was seeing Ronnie quite regularly. He had use of his squadron pick-up truck and came over to visit me from time to time. Sometimes I would be in charge of a party going into Algiers, and so would Ronnie. We'd try to arrange this duty on the same day, go in and park our lorries next to each other, and spend the day together.

On one of these trips I bought a bunch of roses for Marie. Nobody had ever given her flowers before, and it was worth the price I paid for them just to see the look on her face.

After one trip to Algiers our truck wouldn't start. Twelve of us pushed and got it going, but it stopped again, and after another couple of efforts we pushed it into a garage, where we stayed all night - sleeping uncomfortably in some taxis. Next morning we got the truck started but it only went a mile or two before giving up the ghost again; so eight of us hitchhiked back to the squadron, arriving in the early afternoon. Some men from the REME eventually diagnosed the trouble: it was an electrical fault.

On 11 November, 1943, we had an Armistice Day parade in Blida. We marched along the decorated main streets with bands playing, to much hand-clapping, and flag-waving. It all went down very well with the local population.

It was getting colder now and the snow was creeping down the mountain sides. We scavenged around to collect all the wood we could to keep a good fire going. Once Dave and I were chased off by the Frenchman who owned the land. But we had to have wood.

One day Ronnie came over to tell me he had been promoted and was moving to Maison Carree, a town about twenty miles east on the coast, where he would be working in an office building. After he had moved, he hitchhiked over to see me, and said he hated the place. I couldn't get to Maison Carree and he didn't have a pick-up now, so from here on we unfortunately saw less of each other.

Into December. The Regiment were playing the 10th Hussars at football in Boufarik. There was also to be a dance that night. Practically all our troop, dressed in our best, went to the match and then to the dance afterwards. Ronnie was playing for the Regiment. It was a good match, ending in a 2-2 draw, and the evening at the dance afterwards was a big success.

Marie's parents had sent her out to work in service in Chebli, but she came home on Sundays. Bachir and I often spent some time together on Sunday afternoons. It was a unique experience to be learning Arabic from him in French, then translating it to myself in English.

One afternoon Marie poked her head round the door and asked if she could join us. Naturally we said she could. We sat and talked over some wine and this became a regular Sunday afternoon occurrence.

My French improved by leaps and bounds. They wanted to know all about the war, about England, my family, our way ofn life, so unbelievably different from theirs. They also wanted me to teach them English words. Marie asked if she could look at my 'book' (my diary). She couldn't read what it said but liked to see her name there.

One afternoon Bachir said: 'M'sieur Jackie, I have an idea.'

'What idea is this?' I asked.

'Why don't you marry Marie and stay here?'

I said it was a very nice idea, but I felt that Marie, being only fourteen, was perhaps a little young. In any case I couldn't leave the Army, and what about my family at home?

He was disappointed that his idea wouldn't work, but hoped at least I'd go back and see him when the war was over. I said that I would, and that I'd bring my sister too. At the time I really meant it, but he said sadly: 'M'sieur Jackie you'll never come back.'

He was right. I never did go back, but I often wished I had, if only to surprise him.

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