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To War With The Bays: 44 - Blue Lights

...On 24 December we trimmed up the mess-hall and gave a party for the local children. They enjoyed themselves eating, drinking and singing (a mixture of French and Arabic), and all went home with a little present. They had a happy time and it was fun to entertain them....

The Bays are still in North Africa, awaiting a posting to a war front. Jack Merewood continues his war memoirs. To read earlier chapters please click on To War With The Bays in the menu on this page.

All this time 'blue lights' were flashing. One young man by the name of Archer told them so often that he earned himself the name of 'Blue Light Archer'. He had always overheard a conversation, or seen a letter in the squadron office, or 'had it on good authority' that we were going home 'soon', or 'next week', or 'next month' - but definitely by Christmas.

All his predictions came to nothing. Christmas came, and we were still on the farm. Our third Christmas in North Africa. Meanwhile, with some trepidation, we followed the progress of the fighting in Italy.

On 23 December a group of us went into Algiers to do the rounds of the cinemas. In the afternoon we saw Three Cheers for Miss Bishop, after tea Betty Grable in Springtime in the Rockies, and then to yet another cinema to see Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland in Strike up the Band. Betty Grable, Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney - they really brightened up our monotonous lives.

On 24 December we trimmed up the mess-hall and gave a party for the local children. They enjoyed themselves eating, drinking and singing (a mixture of French and Arabic), and all went home with a little present. They had a happy time and it was fun to entertain them.

Christmas Day started with a church parade for the whole Regiment, held at B Squadron. We sang carols and thought of home. After church parade it was back to our own squadron for Christmas dinner. There was no turkey this year; they were apparently in short supply, which didn't worry me. But we had everything else, and as usual the cooks did a first-class job. As usual too, the officers and sergeants served us at the tables, and the wine flowed freely.

In the evening M. Ferrando invited me into the house where I had a meal with him and his family - and naturally more wine. Fortunately Boxing Day was a holiday, for most of it was spent getting over Christmas Day. Ronnie missed the Christmas Day church parade but had got hold of a pick-up truck, and I was delighted to see him turn up on Boxing Day and stay a few hours.

I had asked my parents to send me a new diary. It arrived on 31 December, just in time for me to christen it on 1 January, 1944, with a New Year resolution - to write more legibly. This was in the days before ballpoint pens, which meant I wrote with pen and ink. Merely trying to keep a supply of ink was a problem, but I also wasn't helped by the fact that my pen nib was damaged and I had to locate a new one. However, my resolution held for a while.

As we still showed no signs of moving, an entertainments committee was formed. I was elected chairman, which meant I had a pick-up at my disposal to go round to the other squadrons and regiments, arranging football and rugby matches and other events. I ran a football sweep, organised whist drives, darts competitions and concerts. Sometimes I took our indoor games team to other regiments. We had some good evenings and there was always plenty of wine. It was essential to have something to do during our spare time.

Another trip to the boxing matches, and this time we took Bachir with us. Oh, he thought this was great, and how he enjoyed himself.

The pig was growing big and fat on the waste from the cookhouse. Killer still took it for walks, but now someone decided we should have pork for dinner. So one morning the poor thing, with its back feet tied together, was hung head down from a hook in a lean-to outside. I ran a sweep on how much it would weigh once it had been killed and cleaned.

'Kipper' Herring had been a butcher so was given the deed to do. Mme Ferrando asked if she could collect the blood in a bowl. The poor pig screamed as Kipper cut its throat and I left, not wishing to see the rest of the operation. Next morning when I went for breakfast I saw half of its head in a bucket of water and felt sorry for it. Killer was quite upset. The pork was good, but because of the circumstances perhaps not quite so appetising as it might have been.

Nineteen new recruits joined our squadron, three of them to our troop. It fell to me to go over the guns with them, answer their questions, teach them how to T. & A. sights etc. On 8 February, 1944, I was awarded my second stripe and became a paid lance-corporal.

Some of the boys decided to print a squadron newspaper and I became sports correspondent, writing up articles on rugby, football, darts etc. The Good Timer came out every two or three weeks. The paper was really quite good, and I sent copies home occasionally, though unfortunately not one of them has survived.

M. Ferrando invited me into the house quite frequently and sometimes I stayed for supper. When the Regimental Band came over to give a concert, the Ferrando family and Bachir and a few of the Arab workers would be invited.

The dress had arrived for Marie, and one Sunday afternoon I gave it to her. From my diary: ' ... after dinner I gave her the dress. Oh dear, what a commotion and was she delighted, to put it mildly.' Marie asked me to write a letter to Jessie for her, thanking her. I did so, and she signed it.

The weather had turned very cold now; we had heavy rain and hailstones, and there was more snow on the mountains. Dave came back from a conference, to say that it was to the mountains we should soon be heading.

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