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War Around the World

North Africa / Middle East





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War Around 
the World

North Africa / Middle East
page 4

The date links will take you to a page with maps and/or pictures to give a little context for that day's events.

Feb 19 - As I hoped, clear and sunny. 0745 to docks in damp jeep and work hard on two sketches for paintings while Snow makes some shots elsewhere. Secure and take the road once more running South paralleling the lines of breakers that wash this East ending of the Mediterranean. Sea grey green. Country rich, growing oranges, bananas, wheat. High cactus used for fencing fields. Women's costumes spotless, as they pass us carrying huge loads on their heads. Same fine horses and riders with carbines slung. Wall of mountains inland. Damur Sedon. Tyre with ancient fort out in the sea, and another on the hill above. Acre and then into Haifa. Old names, sun and sea. B Oil storage tanks, refineries, end of oil line that comes all the way from Baghdad. Long streets, clean and orderly, docks and ships. Lunch British officers' club. Many British, Police posts, and ships. Cross border at Leom, Syria into Palestine. Mt. Carmel, Athlit, Zikhron Ya'agov, Caesarea and Hadera. We move rapidly through history in our jeep, and are now entering the long suburbs of Tel Aviv. Here money from American, and England poured in to make this large Jewish town, all built in the last thirty years. Hundreds of people, couples with baby carriages, old and young dressed in Sunday clothes, are strolling, much like parts of Brooklyn. For this is Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, It is peaceful and sunny. Into the city. Light yellow, box-like modern stucco houses, cut on every floor with square balconies. Streets lined with grey evergreens. City neat and clean. Find Hotel Gat-Rimmon. Sit on large balcony outside over big room and post report in the warm sun's last rays. Overlooking handsome stone "board walk" with the breakers' tumbling foam on the beach below. Hundreds of people strolling, having drinks on terraced hotel. Sure I am in some New Jersey sea resort. Can't believe Jerusalem is just back over hills. Stroll along stone promenade and watch red sun drown over the Western horizon. Stone Promenade far superior to Atlantic City's famed boardwalk. Rows of small trees down center of its broad surface. Stone balustrades, along the sea, grass plots on inboard side, terraces and grass landscaping beyond. The crowds are all in mufti, very much the type one sees on 14th Street, New York, or the Bronx. Seem very pleased and wear a Christian Science smile. From the way they stare at my uniform, must be little of our Navy ever here. Hundreds of British troops as this is a leave center. Many women with their price. See one U.S. soldier. These people supply thousands of "WACS" (ATS girls) to the Egyptian area, and soldiers, too. The grey yellow sea front house moves in a long diminishing curve to the South, misty in spray - ending about three miles distant in the high promontory of ancient Jaffa, terminating to seaward with old stone fort. Stone walls and houses cluster on hill, masts of caiques below. Dine NAAFI, British Club. Hindu officer at single table, leaves, and his place is taken by a Pole. Jack and I observing this fine looking crowd of British can't help but feel that were they to move out how much at the tender mercy of the Arabs this town would be. Hate to think that might happen. "Never, no peace," says Jack. English officer joins us, Captain Nesbitt. Married to Philadelphia girl on Main Line. Rushes upstairs and comes back with photograph of her and baby. Homesick, like we, for America. Turn in and lulled to sleep by the surf's pleasant sound. City in complete blackness.

Feb 20 - Sunday 0830 shove off to sketch at near by Jaffa. Lose two hours trying to find Petrol Point that finally turns up 25 miles from town on road to Beersheba. This very trying as we haven't time to go back, as I have promised to return the jeep in eight days and have planned to sketch in Port Said, which of course is much more important. Head for Gaza through Er Ram El Majdal. On outskirts of Beersheba, find many camels kneeling and donkeys tethered for the market day. Just like the lines of buggies in the old days in small American towns. Down "Main Street" lined with small open-cell-like shops. Street and shops packed with people bargaining and bartering. Turbans and gowns as many-colored, as Joseph's. More parked camels on other side of town, one roaring hoarsely like a big sea lion. Take some shots of old water wheels. All the drive to Beersheba and beyond through rich land, miles of very green winter wheat, hundreds of women with usual water jar on head. Fine carriage accentuated by up and down broad stripes in the spotless costumes. Purple and white predominating. Man plowing, camels and oxen, always the same primitive stick. Many mud towns and houses, neatly built with only opening the door. Bright grass flourishing from sod on roofs. This is a new one. Arabs are stalwart after slack, and rather smug, Hebrew Haven. Look up hill and see eight camels, equal distance apart, all plowing in a -perfectly straight formation, driven by a line of men in immaculate white robes. Gradually the land gets more sparse, dry earth shoeing through thinning grass, like a man who is getting bald. 1430 recross border after usual investigation, into Egypt's Sinai province. Think as we leave Palestine of the profusion of big grey-yellow police stations we have seen throughout the land. All the same pattern, all British, always the machine-gun ports, barred windows, heavy doors and wireless. Jew, Mohammedan, Arab, Syrian, all ancient enemies. Tank traps, barricades, barbed wire. Tanks, guns, planes, armed guards-lorries, lorries. The French to the North, the British holding the whole complicated situation together. Now the desert begins again, with 126 miles of hard going, for the storm has drifted sand like snow across the road in many places. I am growing more and more fascinated by the desert. Like the sea, it has its ever-changing moods, its defying horizon. Now the cloud mass warm against warm sand, deep blue zenith. We watch the forms of sand, dark brown with violet shadows against the sun. High cream yellow with green shadows, brilliantly luminous on the other hand. Faces burning, our tired bodies continually banging and bumping - this is rugged fun. Have lunch in mid-desert at a British petrol point. Choice of Scotch, rye, or gin. Incredible, the British! Finally the electric blue water of the Suez. Ferry broken down, so have to drive north to bridge. Show orders, cards again. Enter Ismailia. Every place filled. Hunt for hour and finally get huge bare room, full of strange odors, in sloppy Hotel Royal. Secure Snow and jeep here, too. There's one dirty bathroom for all guests after passing through the dreariest lobby I have ever seen. The owner, a Greek, is poor. A few patched up chairs and spotted sofa lean forlornly against the walls. The floor is dusty, perfectly bare. The blare of an amplified victrola in a night club right back of us fills our room with a deafening din. We flee to the French Club for dinner, thinking the noise will have ceased by our return. Return at 2100, after walk around black town, dead tired. For two hours, flat on our weary backs in bed, our exhausted minds fight that overwhelming brazen ear-splitting racket. A second's silence, please. Then so strong is the amplifier that we hear the lift of the arm, the scratch of the needle, and another dated American tune crashes into our room. We wait, cursing, for it to end - a second -scratch - another shattering explosion. Limp with defeat it suddenly ceases at 2310.We wait in agony - then roar with laughter - for it has really been a funny experience in a rather awful way. Beds as hard as a jeep seat, but to our surprise nothing bites us.

Feb 21 - 0800 shove off for Port Said on this our last day in "U.S.S. JEEP 111180." North along Suez Canal. Passing big convoy going south all the way. Get some supplies for lunch at Lt. Bowie arranges for me to get on Egyptian float for two good studies I have picked. Start working on picture of Greek battleship Averoff and other interesting shipping across the stream. Halfway through the sketch, deep in concentration, I almost jump overboard when she suddenly opens up with ear-splitting sharp reports of all her 3-inch anti-aircraft. For half an hour she bangs away, bright bursts of flame flashing all along her topsides. Saffron puffs of smoke, dispelling quickly in the gentle breeze. This makes a nice addition to my picture, and I am grateful to the German JU-88, 30,000 feet aloft. With a convoy of this size coming through, Jerry wants some pretty photographs to tell his Japanese friends about, on the other end. Last time the Hun came over she unfortunately got a Spitfire, but this time Spitfire gets the JU-88, sending her on her last crazily tumbling dive into the sunny waters of the Mediterranean. Make another quick sketch looking South. Drive to station and have our pictures taken under sign "Port Said Station." Drive to edge of old town where houses in many hues and odors lean at crazy angles against each other, and make a sketch surrounded by many very dirty and equally curious natives. Decide to try to make way around North of delta by hard beach, as I was told it could be done, and would mean no retracing. Also, it would take us through the old town of Damietta and down through the rich delta country to Cairo. After 15 miles of beach driving along the yellow surf--some of it four-wheel drive business when the sand is soft--we suddenly come to a 75-foot saltwater channel cut right through the narrow spit. Send Snow in for soundings. At half a fathom he sinks deep into soft bottom, which is still falling away. Order him ashore, and ware-ship, wishing jeep were "Duck." Take photos of my defeat, and back to Port Said. From shore to horizon stretches the incoming convoy. Shoot out through old native town, smelling like old fashioned back-house, from end to end. Crowded by filthy, but policed and cleaned up compared with Kipling's time. Plague raging and out of bounds except for through traffic. Port Said houses are all colonnaded over pavements with balconies above, or porched over sidewalk, rising tier on tier. Down the Canal once more with the big, beautifully rigged signal masts at regular intervals, bollards every 100 feet, all the way to Ismailia, spaced a mile apart, an endless convoy of our Victory Ships, laden deep. We salute each colors as we bounce along overtaking them. We wave to our men on deck and the boys whistle, yell, and cheer. Very pleased to see a Jeep with Navy aboard. Repeat, this many times. Turn West at Ismailia and follow canal packed with feluccas past rich fields. Work our way through two convoys on the narrow road going in opposite directions. Eastbound, what seems to be a whole Indian Division of big tanks on many-wheeled trucks, hundreds of them. Many big mobile guns. Indians in turbans riding on top. Going west convoy of Poles in trucks, miles of them. Slow going. A short respite and again we bound along on wrong side of road for another polish outfit of over a hundred lorries. The sun is very hot, and we are very sore of bottom, for the road is rough. Our faces are aflame and my outboard cheek has two pretty blisters. Our blues, not meant for desert work, are covered with dust and spots, and we long for a bath and clean clothes. What a contrast, those modern convoys of Jeeps, tracks, tanks, and guns make with the teeming life on the canal below. Here is Egypt just as she has been, without change for thousands of years. No motorboats here. Boats moving very slowly under their immensely tall lateen yards bearing the huge sail. Or to windward, a line is made fast to the head of the Mizzenmast, runs forward to a pendant from the mainmast head, passing through eye-splice and forward in a long line to the shore. Bodies straight forward at a 45-degree angle, strain four men in tandem bent to the ling, slings passing around their chests, straining out their hearts for the short distance gained from dawn to dusk. Time is nothing, not money. How and then crude boats or big floating boxes with short pole in center with becket, through which passes a chain or rope. Men and boys, sweat heaving on this line propelling the crude ferry across the canal. Some are loaded with bored camels, heads disdainfully raised, whole pose as detached as a snobbish dowager. Or there is a load of donkeys, or women, or produce. Silent and a little grim we bang along our last 100 miles, pass all this poling, pushing, pulling mass of humanity punctuated by many women in dead black bearing the inevitable water jar. To the right mud towns, the brilliant yellow preen of the delta, the tall date palms, the flat footed camel, the deep rich black of the turned-up furrow. The seed and crops, for thousands of years. This is Egypt from ever to today. At last Cairo, vast, yellow, dusty, noisy, crowded, and over all the sickly odor of the dung of man and beast. Braying ass and braying huckster. Jingling trams with solid masses of unwashed humanity clinging to both sides and outboard end of rear platform. Cars, lorries, trucks, all honking at once. Fat rich Wog in red fez-ppor Wog in flannel nightgown and bare feet. Men and children asleep on the sidewalk oblivious of it all. Every native woman carrying child within and without. "Baksheesh! Baksheesh!" Beggars everywhere, one-legged, one-eyed, blind. Their poor filthy rags in color, odor, and texture, part of their dirty skin. Smart officers in many uniforms, all of a kind of a khaki hue, relieved by the vermilion fez of the well-to-do--filling the terrace of Shepheards, the Continetal. Traffic dashing around the big traffic circles, with the frightful statues anchored to the badly designed pedestals. Navy headquarters. We roll to a stop. "Let go!" "All gone, Sir." We are at anchor, the voyage--memory.

      The A.T.G. here is most cooperative end and have promised to fly me out to New Delhi with all my gear. I am working long hours to get secured here and shove off within a few days for India with my letters and messages to Admiral, The Lord Mountbatten.

      On my return I received a very fine letter from Comdr. Long acknowledging my report of January 10th and stating you were pleased, Sir, with my reports. I can't tell you how much this bucked me up. Also, much news of our office and suggestions that I have carefully noted. A mailing tube sent by Diplomatic Pouch inclosing two pages from "Victory at Midway" with covering letter from Comdr. Long, under date of February 12th, came same day, Feb. 22nd. I  autographed this to President Roosevelt, greatly honored, and returned immediately by Diplomatic Pouch as ordered.

      I trust that you have received your copy of my book and that it pleased you. Hoping that this finds you in good health, and that by now you have got your ship, I am, with warm regards,



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