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War Around the World

North Africa / Middle East





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War Around 
the World
North Africa / Middle East
Progress Report dated 
January 10, 1944


Dec 28 - To Office 0830. After some telephoning find it difficult if not impossible to fly to Cairo, Egypt, by Navy. If I wait for transportation by sea with the British it will not be until Jan 15, plus two or three weeks at sea. Therefore I have decided to use my own initiative and ask friends of mine in the Army to fly me and my two hundred and some pounds of gear. 1200 Colonel Bradley took me to Major Girard of A.T.C. and in a short time I am all clear to fly. Take both Army officers out to a very good lunch. 1400 call on Lieutenant Robertson, USNR, to show orders and so as not to bypass Navy. Get pass to Air Transport Command. To Pay Office and get R.R. warrant for First Class sleeper, and leave with A.T.C. Work on and finish report No. 2, and secure at 1745.

Dec 29 - Office 0900 and turn in Report No. 2 for typing. Office business. To British Admiralty to pay respects, thank them, and to say Army will fly me to Egypt. Get typed report, sign and mail it via pouch. To Tower of London with Lieutenant Shepler. Tower Bridge and long walk through that part of London. 

Dec 30 - Make sketch of London subject. Write long censored letter.

Dec 31 - 0900 waiting on Admiral Kirk. He gives me personal letter to carry to Admiral, the Lord Mountbatten. Call on Major Girard and he gives me letter to priority Air Officer in Cairo so that I can fly with heavy gear to India if I wish. Lt. Shepler and I take Mrs. Carter of O.W.I. to lunch to discuss forthcoming exhibition at the national Gallery in London and to plug "The Navy at War" book. Writing censored letter. Officers of the office have New Year's Eve party to see the new year in for victory.

Jan 1 1944 - New Year. Write letters of thanks to people in London and say goodbye to officers at office. They are off on a short mission in the south if England. Write censored letter until 2330.

Jan 2 - 0900 Sunday. Check with A.T.C. at their office. Post report and pack up all gear. Last night in old London.

Jan 3 - 0900 to Personnel Office and get orders dated and cleared. Get per diem. To A.T.C. To Hotel Gorning. Check out and deliver gear to A.T.C. gets me First Class sleeper for Newquay and I leave 2330.

Jan 4 - Awake rolling through Cornwall country. Narrow winding lanes between high hedges. Stone town nestling in the hills, blue mist and breakfast smoke melting in the dim morning light. 0900 Sun arose over the round hills. Newquay is near Land's End. Army, a grand host, meets me and hauls all gear, to Great Western Hotel, and has good breakfast ready. View from lounge windows stunning. Sea, really blue, breaking on clean flat beach below sheer cliffs. Grey rock, moss, green grass and sunshine. One feels escaped from vast dreary London that almost gave one claustrophobia. One felt one couldn't escape from the miles of streets, disappearing in the envelope of fog, and lined with stone buildings oozing water; always curving, always changing names. Here in the bright warm light were crying gulls, white breakers, life in the sparkling air. Explore town, harbor of haven and fishing boats. Good lunch by Army. While waiting for the word to fly, make rough sketch, and post report. Airborne at 2000 in bright light from half moon. Very cold, but comfortable seat. Pass over the moonlit line of white breakers that have charged England's rocky Cornish coast for centuries. Then high we rise into moonlit fleecy clouds, bound for Marrakech, French Morocco. Wrapped snugly in bridge coat and sweater.

Jan 5 - 0600 - a light shows here and there, and to starboard the dark contour of the Atlas Mountains, far far below in the blackness lies the Dark Continent. Land 0645 at the airport of Marrakech. The night is bitter cold. To field mess, where soldiers over fires in the field ovens draw out envy as the building is very chilly. Italian prisoners washing dishes. Grapefruit! The first fruit in a month. Hot cakes, Spam, and Java taste good after a 2,000 - mile flight. Outside three Arabs crouch around a fire, heads hooded. Drive to Ma Nonoina Hotel, the mist beautiful in North Africa. Dawn bright behind Atlas Mountains, flooding pink hotel in rosy light and sparkling the inset tile decorations. Second breakfast of two fried eggs, first in five weeks. Walk in Surheib gardens, trees laden with tangerines, stately date palms, and the hotel covered with the brilliant Bougainvillea flowers flaming their red against the deep blue of the African sky. Arabs begging for cigarrettes as we walked to handsome Mosque, orange against the sky. Beginning of the Near East- - fezzes, turbans, or the big hood. Arabs' filthy blankets rot away in time and they simply add another which in time follows suit. One might tell their age my the worn rings of blankets, like an old, gnarled tree. Women big, shapeless masses of cloths, faces covered, eyes like animals under the hood over the head. Camels and tiny, overloaded donkeys, always being beaten. French girls sitting in the splashes of sun and dancing shadows of the lush hotel garden, showing bare legs almost all the way. Bold of look and chic of pose. Two regular Army colonels and Major and I hire carriages with two mules and drive through French town. Barter with Arabs and have "red ink" at Café. Have picture taken with Arab boy and two trained monkeys. Colonel looking at picture of us said it was hard to tell which was man or monkey. Work passes plane will not take off until morning. All take off clothes and sun on Hotel balcony. Atlas Mountains, snow covered, lovely in distance. Seven of us have dinner for 525 francs.

Jan 6 - Room phone 0530. Take off 0800, cold dawn pale behind dark mountains. There is more light here before sunrise than in London at noon. Below, not inlike Arizona. 0900. The sun bursts fiercely over the mountains, a brilliant blazing African sun. In the tunnel shaped fuselage are lashed large packing crates right up to the overhead. We few officers sit abaft this pile as we roar aloft bound for Cairo, 2600 miles away. The West Pointers are air officers and have their charts which is just what a sailor likes. The close packed town of Makneo below, and Casablanca a distant blur to port. Later our shadow, a small moving spot, passes over Fez, the religious capitol, a mile above sea level. We are still rising to clear 7,000 - foot pass. Hills and mountains, browns, yellows, and grey green patches. The darker tone of many orchards. A few fleecy clouds begin to creep over the earth far below, shortly multiplying into solid fields of sunlit white, blanking out all the earth save for the peaks to starboard. Now and then a river appears, winding like a golden serpent, here bright sparkling scales, there the quiet undulations. Now the Mediterranean to port, soft blue against the foreground of crimson red fields, relieving the dull green and brown. Marnai and over the border to Algeria. Marnai red-roofed and orderly, with bit cathedral, a small model room this height that makes charming toy or towns. Over a long lake separated from the sea by highlands, and then Oran with big ships lying at anchor outside the jetty, protecting its crowded harbor. Up over rugged mountains, wild and beautiful, bounding and bucking on the varying currents. Calm again as we pass over a valley of rich farms and large buildings, clean, peaceful, and wet. The sun races with us through the pools and sluices, disappears under a fields, becomes a blinding flash in a pond, divides the fields with liquid fire, is gone, leaps up at us on every curve of winding brook. The surface of the land appears as thin a paper. Around we glide, down and around to Algiers, subdued white against the sea, her buildings in close formation marching up the hills, the sea and ships at her feet. We step down from the big Douglas "Skymaster" into mud and dust of the field. Climb over the tailboard of a covered truck and on the board seats running fore-and-aft bang and jingle in the dust of our own bouncing to the mess. Here we put up 100 Francs to use the metal cup, knife, fork, and spoon and stand in line for Army chow. We don't steal them, and get back our deposit, climb aboard and lumber back past barbed wired fields and hangars. 1402 I am made Courier for the Army of three Confidential pouches and we roar away at 200 m.p.h., out over the Mediterranean. We are heavily laden now, for we not only still look like the inside of a boxcar, but we have a number of French Marines and have to sit three in a seat. The man wedged against me smells strongly of garlic and cheap hair tonic. A convoy bound west, and later another standing north. An hour or more and we pass from the rich green sea with its dark blue cloud shadows over the bronze land, patched with lush green farms, and spotted with becoming yellow patterns. Over Tunis, the new city rich, and neatly laid out, the houses and larger buildings beautiful in the momentary sunlight. The ancient city compactly clustered on higher ground. Banking down we sweep over shell holes and wrecked planes left by the Germans, out over the lagoon with its long walled channel running a mile or more to the Port city with its shipping. Out we step into an icy wind, mud and a sudden torrent of rain, and run for shelter, splashing through puddles. Hot java, sandwiches, and a long talk with French Officer about Paris. He is taking the garlic boys off here. I am made courier for two more pouches and see they are all stowed safely together and get wet feet and mud splashes to the knees in so doing. The Army seems to have great confidence in the Navy - - the only Navy aboard. It is now sleeting horizontally, biting the face hard. We unload our heavy freight, replace space with new passengers and I say goodbye to my West Pointers. Good shipmates they! 1730 and getting dusk. Sleeting hard. "Let's get the Hell out of this damned hole," says the Captain, and we take off for Cairo. Out over the great neat city that surrounds its ancient mother, the old city is a gargantuan block of white plaster, solid except where divided by narrow cuts. These streets appear to be cut with a thin, sharp knife blade in the white surface. A few courts, squares, and domes are molded in the vast flat mass, mystic in the gathering night. A few stars twinkle up from the roofs and then it vanishes, and we bang and bump into clouds and rattling sleet heard above the motors' roar. A glimpse of rugged, wedge shaped hills, and we smash into the clouds and night and storm. Now and then we see the moon flying fast through the ragged scud. My wet feet ache with numbing cold, but wrapped in my bridge coat I am filled with interest in this nine hour night flight from Tunis to Egypt over the Inland Sea. The dark plane is filled to capacity with French provincial troop, a few Tommies, and two Canadian R.A.F. Three hours later the R.A.F and I kneel on our seats to get our frozen feet off the metal deck. We play verbal games and would pay any amount for food, hot coffee, and a smoke. Finally all sleep but me, and I am left watching out of my little port for the land of Egypt, from the sky. Much later the waste of water gives way to the waste of sand. Still later, at 2300, I see the cold blue light of the moon flood over the rolling hills and sudden sandy precipices of tremendous depth. We have just run out of an electric storm with bright flashes of lightning, the thunder drowned by our motors roar. The outboard engine housing rises in a slow curve from the forward slanting surface of the wind like a dolphin, the round head, caped with a fin. One small red light gleams like an eye. The terror of the desert grips me. Endless and naked its long ridges, hills and valleys roll away in the eerie cold night and melt into distance and sky. Frighteningly and relentlessly for eons this dry sea of sand has drowned all living creatures lost in the pitiless encircling horizon. My mind easily envisions the slow caravans, the hooded men and the plodding ships of the desert, their camels. But now it is absolutely empty and lit with the reflected light from that other desert, the moon. A tiny red light blinks at intervals from far below, a modern guide to the metal bird aloft, but should she fall into the merciless sands and be not quickly found, the ship and her surviving company would soon be covered and become an ancient relic in time, with all the other countless victims of centuries. Suddenly the sands go dark in the moonlight and dim markings show cultivation. And then the Nile, giver of life, a narrow sliver winding snake. The waters move north through the sands so hot by day, so cold at night. I think of the countless lives born along your hundreds of miles of wanderings, and how many have perished beneath your unanswering surface. Have you ever seen the great pyramids for the first time from the moonlit sky? One solid surface alight, the other deep in mystery, casting their pointed shadows by the Luna directing? Lights appear ahead in the confusing moonbeams where there is no distance and all is distance. We sweep over the tiny toys with minute twinkling lights. With each downward turn the increasing scale, and so out of the sky so alight from the dead satellites rays, roll over the desert sands and are on Egypt's land. Cairo's modern airport near the Nile of the Pharaohs. The passengers awakened by the bump of the landing have seen nothing and are surprised to find it 0145. I am the first out, find my Army officer, and after the sleepy services have shuffled out I turn over the five pouches and get my receipt. Dirty, muddy and unshaven I order three bowls of coffee and three orders of fried eggs for the two Canadians, which we pile into. 0200: While waiting to have my gear brought ashore I saw an Army Major looking at me. "Never saw a muddy sailor before, did you?" said I. We fall into conversation, and it seems he knows my name in New York, from whence he hails, and said he would put me up as it is impossible to get hotel rooms at this hour. Finally get gear in his car at 0230 and drive to 39 Kaser-el-Nil, in Cairo, where the Army gives me a stiff nightcap. 0530 to 0300 is quite a day, especially with all the quick sights of a 2,600- mile flight, Marrakech to Cairo.

Jan 7 - Reported to Captain Thomas A. Thornton and turned in orders for endorsements. Captain will take me on trips, when I am settled. Lt. Comdr. Oakes gives me place in safe for reports and papers, and use of his yeoman for typing. Get money exchanged. Back to Major McGinley, and post report, 1800 dine with Colonel West at Shepheard's Hotel. He will help me get a place.

Jan 8 - To H.Q. at 0900. Make record of time, etc., for orders. To Col. West's. He had General aboard. Take walk down Nile embankment looking for motifs to paint. Lunch with four young naval officers who give me bearings on subjects. Arrange to get car to carry painting gear. Posting report for typing. To dinner and night club with Major, to get flavor of Cairo.

Jan 9 - Sunday. Spent morning walking about and getting lost, find two swell motifs to paint, and take bearings on same. Write steadily all afternoon and almost finish report by 1730

Jan 10 - To office trying to find place to live. This is worse than London as regards living quarters. Can stay here a few more days if necessary, but three Army officers who couldn't be better hosts make it crowded with no room to unpack. Get order all squared away and per diem working. Get shot for the plague which is very bad in Suez. Paid call in Lt. Comdr. Harding, Naval Attaché. Met Lt. Frank B. Kane, who will put me up at his villa at Alexandria. This is a break, as I want to spend at least a week there doing Naval activities. He will send his car for me. Try several hotels, offering handsome tips to get in, but no. 

I got the word just before leaving London that you were getting a cruiser, Captain. I know how happy this will make you, and I congratulate you, Sir. At the same time we five Combat Artists can't help but feel badly in losing you as our Captain. I do hope I may serve under you in your new ship, next voyage.

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