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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 
February 8, 1944


Jan 25 - Up 0600. Courier car with pouches 0700. Drive near great pyramids, orange against blue sky and turn north. Out across desert, road like a black pen line across brown paper. Convoy after convoy of British lories going both ways. Many empty oil drums on road shoulder and off the road we would be stuck in sand. Bleak, empty, circling away to horizon, very cold with chill breeze. Past air-fields with many planes. After three hours, past great salvage yards of cars, trucks, tanks, planes, guns, etc. Through squalor of out skirts of Alexandria. See large beacon, or range masher, look to port, and sure enough glimpse of salt water and ships! Men squatting on pavement being shaved by barber squatting opposite him. Barber picks up kit and walks on until he catches another victim. Loads of sugarcane, men sucking same. Drive along beautiful sea-front street curving for twenty miles along city's fore-shore. Sea lovely greens and soft blues. Drive flanked with endless row of flats, pastel tans and yellows, every room a balcony. Past great west harbor with crowded shipping. Past fortress castle, past east harbor to Headquarters and deliver pouches to Lt. Frank Kane and log in. After lunch, he drives is to yacht club, commanding view of while crowded basin. Yachts, merchant and combat ships, beautiful scene in bright sunlight and dancing water. Forgotten how much I missed the salt water. Many caiques, felucca, and local small boats. Drive down and around docks, see Liberty Ship flying our flag which gives us a "kick". Methods of loading as old as Egypt and as modern as American. Men loading by hand under the shadows of big cranes. Guards everywhere, red fez and British bonnet. Show passes many times. Drive down canal connecting Alexandria with Cairo. Many Markeb Sherai with tall curving lateen yards. Cooking fires burning on deck as cook crouches over them. Great logs for tillers, rudders like canal boats. Men with long poles walking slowly aft as craft moves at snail pace through stinking water. People washing in filthy water. Streets of old quarter filled with sketches. To Villa Beirlacqua where I am quest of Captain James Faskett SOP for my stay here. Lt. Frank Kane other Mess-Mate.

Jan 26 - To office and posted report. Given car and driver. Off to make notes of motifs. Back to villa for lunch as Captain Gale Morgan flew in. Served under him in Newfoundland in 1941. He talked to my wife just one week before in New York and had messages. This is a pay-off. Weather foul this afternoon, wrote long censored letter. Villa modern in everyway including furniture, all very attractive. Captain Foskett and Kane charming officers and have arranged at least three parties every night this week so that I may see social life in the houses and flats of Alexandria.

Jan 27 - 0900 drive out and make sketch. Turn back for second and man snatches my pocket knife from jeep seat. Give chase and he drops my pencils, but escapes up alley with knife that I have carried on all my voyages. To quay and work on sketch for second painting. 1700 post report. 1800 with messmates to Miss Ruth Risher's flat. She is head American Red Cross here. Captain gives big dinner at Union Bar and back to villa for dancing. Admiral Alechandris of Greek Navy and other Naval Officers and ladies. Making notes on character of social life which is gay and cosmopolitan, tinged deeply with French, Greeks and British.

Jan 28- Drive off to work. 1100 Admiral Alescandris has three striper take me in Admiral's Barge (American gift) to Greek destroyer with bow blown right aft to bridge. No. two turret standing up right on after end with guns pointing skyward like spar buoys. Went aboard and over ship. N way back to villa, Tommy's in lorries ahead of us swerve wrong way hitting Egyptian Cop in motorcycle. One dead Wog, probability - reckless driver, Tommies. Lunch at villa. Excellent Wog chef. 1430 sketching. 1730 post report. 1800 secured - another interesting evening.

Jan 29 - 0900 given launch with two seamen. Went around entire harbor and saw every ship. Colors of many nations snapping in the breeze. Worked rest of day on motifs around the docks. Secured 1830. To tea with Judge and Mrs. Jasper Brinton. He has for many years held distinguished seat on bench in Egypt. Great friends of my family. On to two or three more parties and interesting talk with Comdr. Baltazzi (Greek) and his charming wife who just escaped from Greece. Haunted eyes that have seem too much. All Greeks look foremost to Americans for salvation. 

Jan 30 - Sunday 0900 wild storm, black sky, wind and driving rain. Terrific crash of thunder rattling tall French windows. Working all day in room with cotton-seed fire blazing cheerily in little open fire place. Secured at dusk, electric lights quite dim. Told driver when he reported this morning he could secure for the day because of weather. On his way back stopped for traffic. Had a camera with him, strap about his arm. Wog made a snatch for it and he deftly caught him a smart blow over the mouth. Man screamed, driver sped off still holding camera. Alexandria is blacked-out as London. Pitch dark streets, center of town streets filled with boisterous sailors and troops, drunk and singing. Stealthy shadowy natives slink and slip through the murk, ready to mug or murder for a few piasters. No on ever goes alone, always in two's or threes or groups. This night Captain took me to the largest private house in Alexandria for cocktails and afterwards to the swankiest apartment in town. Made many notes when I got back to out Villa, before stowing for the night. 

Jan 31 - 0830 Working out doors. 1100 with Lt. Frank Kane in car, we have many mutual friends in states and have cruised in yachts in the same eastern waters, to Abu Qir. Drive through rich farm lands of the Delta. People living in dreadful poverty in tiny one room adobe hovels. Some not more than 6 ft x 6 ft. Washing in irrigation ditches with water-buffalo. Both share it as a head and drinking water. To Prince's old summer harem. Down steps to beach. Fishermen hauling boats just beyond surf by cleverly rigging bridle bent to line to shore. Watch them get boats in and out of surf and make a number of shots and notes. Sweeps have big square looms working in single thole pin with becket, and very narrow blades. Watch them haul nets. They crowd around for cigarettes and piasters. Sturdy and gay. Sea very handsome braking on sunny beach. Abu Qir lovely clear calm days one can sail over and easily see the bones of the sunken French ships. Grey skeletons reminders of a great Nelsonian victory. As we leave, fisherman good naturedly mob us anew for cigarettes, some begging tips. Drive to Abu Qir. Through narrow streets to beach. Long pond inside beach reflects quaint shapes of fisherman's houses. Along breakers lacey ending, stretched a long neat line of fishing boats, a hundred or more, punctuated by gracefully draped nets, falling in dark curves from the supporting poles. Squatting men with hard rapidly moving hands mend the mesh as fishermen always have done through the long corridors of time. Sky and sea vast, moving planes of stimulating color. Back along the curving sea drives with rows of bathing shacks, hotels and beaches that are so festive in summer. Posted report and worked on notes till 1800. To an English artist's for tea with the Captain and then in Kane's car to dine alone with Lt. And Mrs. Lucas Benachi, Greek Naval Reserve, who has one of the finest collections of pottery lamps, from ancient times down the ages through the Christian era. He can hardly wait for the delicious dinner to end and with coffee in hand, we begin to go through the long rows of glass cases that line his swank flat. He has several fine Greek heads and an extraordinary collection of ancient carved bone inlay for furniture. Kane sends his car for me at 0000, and I drive back through the noisy streets as the driver tells me that a British Major was mugged and robbed of his wallet while paying his taxi right in front of the Union Bar this evening. 

Feb 1 - Up early as usual, pack and drive to air port with Captain Foskett who has invited me to fly back to Cairo with him. Took off at 1000 in small two engine four sweater. Captain insists I sit in co-pilot's seat abaft the wheel in the small snubby nose giving me a wonderful view point. Captain instructs pilot to circle pyramids for me. Quite a different sensation from big ship. Level off at 1500 feet over lakes, canals, and stretches of water. Delta in texture like thick green squared of felt from pool table. Desert beyond a glowing golden yellow, Out over the desert, the sun pouring down through rifts in the clouds drenching the sand with light. Later the tops of the mounds are molded in browns with streaks of lake yellow running down their sides in textured design and color like a zebra's hide. Now the Nile in bold sweeping curves, the lush green nurtured from its water spreading out into the desert dyeing the sands deeply with its color. Dead ahead, the great pyramids of Gizeh dim in the distance, their shadowed silhouette atteshing the sun in our faces. Boats on the Nile and now the desert blushes dark in color as the pyramids become strong dark masses, and now we see the queens smaller pile. Below are row upon row of tents repeating in white miniature the same pointed planes. There is the long black pen line of the road we traveled up, turning into the sun and flashing like silver. We bank, and below my feet I see all I have got to know quite well in earth, revolve for my exalted inspection. The buildings, and dusty towns move around the great stone bases of the pyramids. Now the glowing faces of the southern side and they almost disappear into the desert by their sameness of glowing color. Ah, there's the Sphinx! But what a change from aloft. Instead of the shabby wreck I knew, it looks quite real and finished, its massive modeling carries up so well. Suddenly the big dark planes of the pyramids jump dark again, and we fly east over the pale yellow Cairo with the lighted surfaces sparkling bright. Over the Nile houseboats, streamers, the decks of feluccas, tops of bridges with crawling ant like traffic. Vast city merging into mist of sunlight and dust. Down to Pane Field, and slight bump and for me an unique forty-five minutes has ended. Wait an hour while Captain keeps dental appointment- drive back- logged in-get letter from Comdr. Long acknowledging report #1 and wishing me Merry Christmas. Un pack, pay respects to Captain Thornton, draw per diem and dine with Capt. Foskett at Colonel Toulmi's and Colonel West's flat.

Feb 2 - Woke up feeling sick, slight touch of a foul germ that haunts us here. 1200 to office and lunch. 1300 Lt. Comdr. Oakes, Comdr. Chipman, Lt. Lewellyn ask me to join them on afternoon trip to Memphis. Decide trudging over desert in sun will cure me with more profit then lying in bed and feeling sorry I am sick. Except. In car through grey mud covered villages under tall grey date palms. Along banks of putrid irragation canal where woman wades in filthy water and washes skirt. Men and boys bend over, heads few inches from foul flind, groping arm-pit deem for crabs clams or what not, in rotten ooze. Presently over sandy plains to site of the once vast ancient capitol of Egypt. Anywhere one digs there are relics to be uncovered. The great colusus of Rameses flat on his back. Grand simple modeling, still, handsome face full of calm beauty. Saved by being buried when temple was utterly destroyed, and discovered some hundred years ago. Over grey waste, past ponds and fragments of temple to companion colusus of highly polished granite, the part that's left weighing one hundred tons. As this one is housed over, we climb to balcony and look down on the serene face and have that elated sensation that only great art can give. Drive to Sakkara or step pyramid, the oldest building in the world. Has stood for longer at the time of Christ than in the ensuing two thousand years. Through ruins of surrounding temple down into rooms still intact to study fine low reliefs with bright color still clinging to the flat forms. Temple above slowly being reassembled. Columns earliest stone, carrying abound reed motif. Drive to the Sakkara Temple of the Sacred Bulls. Guards kissing and shaking hands oven gates and we descend into vast tunnel hewn out of the living rock. Down into the hot dust-laden air holding small lamps with out chimneys, we trudge through the retarding sand. It seems a long way down past twenty thick heavy stone coffins of immense weight. All robbed long ago of their bejeweled mummies of the chosen bull. Deep down at the end is the grate black granite tomb of a once distinguished Bull. Grope way back, shuffling through sand to the opening, fresh air and blinding sunlight. Mobbed everywhere for piasters and cigarettes. To our left the high sandy ridge that runs north from Memphis to Cairo. Rising suddenly from the lush yellow green of the delta. This was the vast burring ground of Memphis with many false and rubble pyramids between the "Step" and the great ones. 

Feb 3 - 0830 to 1715 working in room.

Feb 4 - 0830 to 1700 working in room.

Feb 5 - 0900 to 1700 working in room.

Feb 6 - Sunday 0900 working in room 1400-1900 writing long censored letter.

Feb 7 - 0830 working in room until 1700.

Feb 8 - 0830 to 1900 writing this report.

I am keeping well in mind the form of this whole duty. Saturday next, February 12, Captain Thornton is giving me a car and driver and I am going to Suez, sketch Italian Battleships in Great Bitter Lake. Then to Port Said, back to Ismailia up through the Holy Land and perhaps as far as Latakia by inland route. Returning down the shore ling through Tripoli, Beirut, Haifa, etc, to Cairo. Once back shall finish up work as quickly as possible and fly out to New Delhi.

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