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To War With The Bays: 47 - An Alternative Leave

Jack Merewood is given leave to return to Aumale to stay with his friends on the farm.

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

My mother and sister had written earlier in the year to say they'd had their fortunes told and were assured that I would be coming home on 30 April. I put four crosses around that date in my diary. But - as with Paddy Flanagan's predictions - the date came and went, the crosses faded into the past, and we were still in North Africa.

I spent a fortnight going over to A Squadron to teach a class of thirteen new recruits about the 75 mm gun. At least this was something different, but it was the end of April, the weather was already getting warm, and my pupils and myself found it hard to concentrate. I'm sure they were as glad as I was when the lessons were over. But at least Bachir was his usual happy self again. His wife had returned. Even so, I couldn't have known if he hadn't told me, because I never saw her.

On 4 May some of our tanks were to be taken to the docks. Then the following day it was officially announced that in the near future we would be moving to Italy, but before doing so, the squadron were to be given a week's 'holiday' at a rest camp by the sea near Algiers. We saw on the cinema news that Mount Vesuvius was erupting, and we knew that before long we wouldn't be far from there.

I asked our Troop Leader, Lieutenant Saunders, for permission to have an interview with the Squadron Leader, Major Hibbert. This was granted.

On the appointed day I entered his office, with some apprehension, for he was rather a stern man, though I had a great deal of respect for him.

"What is it, Corporal Merewood?" he asked.

"I understand, sir, that we are to spend a week at a rest camp near Algiers."

"Yes - that is true. So?"

"Well - er - I wonder if it would be at all possible that instead of going to the camp I could - er - have a pass to spend the week at Aumale?"

He looked at me rather quizzically, but I saw a twinkle in his eye as he said, "What's the matter? Have they got a pretty girl up there?"

"Well, sir... Yes."

"Right," he said. "You can have a pass; go and enjoy yourself."

I thanked him profusely, and I think I floated out of his office.

My pass was from the 8th to the 14th of May and I still have it.

I went to the QM and asked for a new shirt. 7 May: ' ... Did some sewing, all buttons on my new shirt blinkin' well hanging off.'

Next day I left on what proved to be a hazardous journey to Aumale. I rode into Chebli on one of our trucks, then hitched a ride to Boufarik where I was to catch a train.

The train was two hours late, which didn't surprise me, but as a result I missed my connection at Maison Carree. I had three different lifts from American soldiers, the final one dropping me off at the station at Menerville. 'Had terrible sandwich (which I couldn't eat) at canteen, and horrible cup of coffee which I couldn't drink.'

From there I caught the train to Bouira, the nearest station to Aumale, this time riding in a carriage, not a cattle truck, having bought a ticket.

I had left the farm at about 8.30 a.m. and when I finally arrived at Bouira it was midnight. The only person at the station was the station master (le chef). It was a very cold night, I had no overcoat, but he had a big fire going in his office. He invited me to stay there, offered me some coffee, and I made myself as comfortable as I could.

I hardly slept, and at 6.30 a.m., as it started to come daylight, I thanked him for his hospitality and set off on the road to Aumale - still over twenty miles away.

After a short while I flagged down a ramshackle old truck piled high with vegetables, and the Arab driver picked me up. A couple of miles later he stopped and got out with a can in his hand. I thought he was going to fill up with petrol, but instead he opened the bonnet to reveal fountains of water coming out of the radiator in every direction. He calmly filled the radiator, then we were off again.

At 7.45 a.m. he dropped me off at the gate leading up to the farm - and charged me fifty francs!


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