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War Around the World

North Africa / Middle East





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War Around 
the World

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


Lieut. Comdr Griffith Baily Coale, U.S.N.R.

JICAME (Naval Section),
c/o Postmaster, New York, N.Y.
22 February 1944.

Captain Leland P. Lovette
Director of Public Relations
Navy Department
Washington 25, D.C.

My dear Captain:

The following is my fortnightly report on the progress of my duty:

Feb 9 - 0900 Working in room. 1030 drive with Lt. Comdr. Oakes out to see his Yeoman 1c, Jochem, who is sick in Army hospital. Take him some fruit, candy, etc., and cheerful talk. His illness accounts for my last badly typed report. 1200 lunch. 1300-1900 working in room.

Feb 10 - 0830 Working in room until 1730. Drive up, after dinner, with Colonel West to northern suburban native town. Walk through dark streets, hearing murmuring of people through port-like windows, down foul lane to Nile, still and mystic in flood of moonlight. Not a wise thing to do, perhaps, but one felt back in the dim past in ancient moonshine.

Feb 11 - 0830-1200 Working in room. 1330 drive in Jeep to Army supply base, some distance out. Draw Army blanket, musette bag, and other gear for trip to Suez, Port Said, and Holy Land. 1700 sort gear and pack. Dine with Capt. Thornton, USNR, at Shepheards.

Feb 12 - 0900 Pack up "U.S.S. JEEP 111180". Canteens filled, box of food, musette bags and pistol belts strapped fast to sides of car. Driver--Photographer's Mate 2c--and a Lt. Comdr. who wished to observe certain things, as a guest. Give orders to weigh 1000 and off we move, three jeep-mates on a cruise. Last night the Captain said, "You have got to be tough to take a rough trip of 1300 miles in an open jeep in winter. You take a terrific banging and the springs will stick up through the thin seat covering. The sun will burn your face in the desert, and the wind on the snow-covered passes of the mountains will cut through like a knife. You'll cross the pass at 5,000 feet, when a day or so before you were sweltering 1,300 feet below sea level. If you break down in the desert, put on your pistol belts, for presently Arabs will appear from nowhere and be all around you. Take water and food and get those German gas cans made fast to the car, you may need them. Take plenty of American cigarettes--you'll get none where you are going, and they are worth a lot of money and can be used for barter. Watch out for your petrol points--you'll get gas nowhere else. I know you'll get some swell pictures for the Navy at Beirut and elsewhere. Good luck, Griff!" Out of dusty Cairo with the air laden with donkey-, horse-, and camel-dung dust. We roll out across the colorless Sinai Desert bound for Suez, ninety miles to the Eastward. Pass many convoys of lorries. Distance dim, sky pale and misty. Last hour 3,000-foot high desert hills on the starboard hand. We three, gay with going. 1230 ships' masts and spars showing above the rolling sand. Over causeway through quaint squalor of Suez. Over second causeway to Port Tewfick. Look back and see town upside down in still waters. Down Suez Canal to its southern end, to Navy office at the head of the Red Sea. Canal bright blues and dancing greens. Lt. Robert Johnston comes out to greet us. Eastern experience, fine officer. He's No. 1. Three officers and three men at this Naval observation post. Sit in his fine office as big Dutch tanker northbound and feluccas pass his window. To French Club on terrace overlooking Canal, for pink gin. To his villa for lunch with his mess, Lts.(jg) Tarrant and Newell, and American Consul. Newell drives me through U.S. Army camp at Ataka, and around head of Red Sea to the Adabiya Dock. Here the high, bare mountains come right down with their dry sand to the very salty water. Out of this desert juts suddenly a modern dock with big, self-propelling cranes, loading four large ships. Very unexpected. Spend night at villa and from my floor bed can see the Sinai mountains looming large across the water in the misty moonlight.

Feb 13 - Sunday 0830 to Navy office. Turn in my .32 automatic for issue of .38 revolver and fifty rounds. Impossible to get ammunition for the other. This with blankets, canteens, and knives, makes us very warlike. Shove off and drive North through desert inboard of high, colorless sand mounds along Canal. "Port Said!", I order. "Aye, aye. Port Said," answers driver. I don't believe it! Pass Bitter Lake, on to Great Bitter Lake, where I find the two Italian battlewagons I am looking for, "eating humble pie" in Bitter Lake. Sweating like a horse, I waste an hour or more trying to get Wog guard and a strange albino to open gate and let me get out on end of mile long oil jetty for sketch. No British officer about, so have to give up. Drive to Lido officers' club and sit at table. Served coffee by Italian prisoners and make sketch in hot sun of "Italia" and "Vittorio Veneto" for painting. Drive on to Ismailia. Enter town along small canal filled with feluccas. One small boy leaning forward stiff and rigid, rigged to line, slowly moves one tub. Mite of little sister pushes her butterfly weight against big log tiller. Father with hood overhead sleeps on deck. Take some shots of boats and locks. To Cercle Francaise. Loud blare of band. Poles, French, Greeks, and English. Playing "Hearts and Flowers" and American jazz. Lunch, and think of those two pathetic tots working that barge-like felucca. City sizeable, clean, and full of character. On North along Canal. See British tanker with red lead on stern, gray hull against pink mauve sky, bright sand and deep green water. Roar ahead to stop, work on sketch, take shots, roar head, and repeat three times as she is moving fast. Officers on bridge, with glasses on us, think we are crazy. Maybe we are. I am going to put camel in foreground of painting. Titles "Ships of the Desert." Approaching Port Said see observation balloon fall in fire and long trail of smoke. Past dock and ships to Navy office 1530; up dark stains in dilapidated building. Can't get room in Casino Palace Hotel--a big Egyptian convention on. Like Elks in fezzes. Lt. John M. Bowie, No. 2 of three observation officers, says he is giving dinner party for us and will put us up. Drives us all about harbor. Sea brilliant to North, Take ancient chain, ferry to Asia Minor, Port Fouad. Back, and drive by Kipling's "hellhole of Arab quarters." Plague here, and out of bounds. We to leeward of town-odor like pigsty. Houses at all angles leaning confidingly on each other, like house of cards. Take bearing all about as I am returning here to sketch on way back. See driver is secured in decent place, as I always do, and give him orders to report 0800. Lt. Bowie, blue-eyed and pink-cheeked, neat and trimly rigged. Spliced three weeks ago to pretty little English girl, born in Port Said. Her father handles coal business for port, for English. They show us some dozen or more wedding pictures, all exactly alike, and we admire each anew. To see this clean young couple in this disease and vice infested port is indeed, a contrast. The skipper, Lt. Edward Skinner, and Lt. (jg) Robert Gore, together with Lt.(jg) John Gray, make up the dinner party. Gray in borrowed Khaki, on way home from being torpedoed in Indian Ocean. Afloat four days in small boat didn't bother him, but he bemoans the loss of a fine American ship and her millions in cargo. Commanded gun crew. We have the usual Middle East wait for dinner, from 1900 to 2200. Hard on my guest, who is like many here infected with "Gyppy Tummy".

Feb 14 - 0800 Climb in Jeep, secure gear, and shove off in the cool morning. Three hundred ninety miles to do today in this uncomfortable little boat. "Jerusalem, Snow!" "Jerusalem. Aye, aye. Sir!" I must be dreaming! Back down Suez Canal. Big ship made fast to bollards East side as large trans port filled with Indian troops passes her, followed by cargo vessel. Turn East north of Ismailia. Cross canal in chain-rigged ferry after showing orders and passes to English. Fill up at rare petrol point, get extra can of water, and start out on two hundred mile run across Sinai Desert. Two hundred miles of utter desolation. Funny picture: three sailors in small jeep cruising at 50 miles an hour into vast sea of sand. Wrap blankets around our legs, turn up collars, and bump and bang along over roller-coaster road into sand, sunshine, and silence. 1030, after two hours cold and stiff we pull over and stop. Shut off engine. We stand perfectly still. Can hear our hearts beat, feel the warm sun on our wind-burnt faces. Snow laughs like a small boy, "Gee, Sir, I don't like to listen to nothing." We have cheese and crackers, fruit juice from cans, and peanuts. Put peanut can on mound at fair distance and take turns hooting at it. No one hits it. The explosion of our .38s is flat. No echo; dead silence. I find a beautiful sea snail shell and stow it for my little girl's cabinet, back in  New York. Snow puts on his goggles, wraps our blankets tight about us, and we are off again at 55 m.p.h., all having the same unspoken feeling of wanting to Get the Hell out of here. Run through empty valley with high ranges of Sinai Mountains on either hand. Climbing all the time through the drifted wastes that some times sweep like tides across the black tarred road. 1430 reach the border of Palestine at El Auna Sbeita. Here the road is barred by black and white striped gate. Show orders and cards to sergeant. Smiling British officer in charge of Motor police comes up. Says his motor police cover whole desert and Holy Land. Warns us of thieves. He searches Arab tents, houses, towns. Finds enough pistols, guns, knives, for an army. Suggests we telephone King David hotel for reservations, which we do without charge. Then asks us to lift a sergeant who has been stuck here three hours, to Jerusalem, Pretty tight squeeze, together with gear, for my friend in back seat--but he has us. We bump away and I think I am entering the Promised Land of Milk and Honey--but after an hour find it just more desert, just deeper yellow. The road is rough, the turns sharp, as we climb. It is bitter cold now and the springs are working their way deep into the bouncing seats of our trousers. Up and up into round hills, the sand now lightly brushed over with gray-green. Camels, camels everywhere! Arabs very rich in color of costume, turban and face. Even sheep deep yellow and colorful. Donkeys glowing brown, goats a luminous black. People very sparsely scattered along the road. Around a rocky bend past an archway in which revolve two wooden waterwheels, and we pass through the narrow street lined with the open shops of Beersheba. Grey, fascinating stone town burnished by the lowering sun. Air clear and winter cold, "Reminds me of New Hampshire evenings," says Snow with a far-away look. Now, into a land of higher round hills built of ridges of stone. Just as if a huge comb had passed over they're hard sides leaving streaks of grey green furrows of grass against violet rock layers. Arabs still richer in light of eventide, unfriendly of look. Dangerous right angle turns with deep valleys below, the road we had left like a pale ribbon down there below, or looking up we see it crawling along the hillside high above us. Rook--gray, hard rock. Everywhere the hills are terraced by man now. Ancient terraces, present terraces, rise in steps one above the other, mounting the hills in girdles of gray. Here tumbling down, there rising into a house and marching on into other courses. Houses and hovels hard to see, melting into stone background, broken stone against another wall of rocks, up and down, on and on. Shepherds of the Holy Land tending their flocks, the sheep nibbling in the miniature stone valleys they follow like paths. The shepherds' long garments fluttering in the cold wind. Arabs plowing with a crooked stick rigged to a slowly plodding camel, holding stick always in one hand. All just as it was when Christ, traveled this land. Hebron, gray rock on high, bleak, wintry hills. Arabs' bold, proud, unfriendly stare, children screaming at us. Strong, small, wind-bowed trees, houses falling or rising anew, stone upon stone. A few green patches in the valley, or rich burnt Sienna of the camels' plowing. Numb with cold we bang along until I order a halt that is gratefully accepted. Stamp cold feet, rest sore bottoms, and smoke. Red of face and gay of spirit, I watch smoke rise from a hovel in the valley. It ascends quite high before it is caught all at once by sun's rays from behind the drab hill, and the harsh breeze sweeping through them pass. We pile in and wrap up quickly, for darkness is not far beyond theses hills. Leap forward and away. Wonderfully powerful, these little jeeps! Look! Bethlehem' s yellow and gray buildings in a high valley, hard by, to the East. Around and up and down our tired bodies swing with the car's fast turning on the winding road's sharp curves. Into the little town, so scattered and clean after Egypt's huddled houses, past the Church of the Nativity, and unlike Lot's wife, we never turn around, so hungry, cold, and stiff are we. When I shout this over my shoulder, my friend wedges tight against the English sergeant, saying through clenched teeth, "He's salty enough as it is." Past monasteries perched on high hilltops, and there, laid out before us, Jerusalem in the golden light of eventide. The sun lights brightly the gray and yellow separated buildings of the modern city, touches the high walls of the old city above on the hills. Drive to King David hotel, opposite the huge Y.M.C.A., one of the best in the world. Snow, who has driven like a begoggiec demon, without gloves, helps unroll our stiff and tortured bodies. Asks with a shy grin if we would care to drive about town this evening. British sergeant salutes and disappears. Snow says as soon as he has secured the car in the British pool he's going straight to the Y.M.C.A. and eat two dinners. We get big double rooms in this modern hotel, a superb tile bath, and the first steam heat since London. Have hot coffee as we look out over green garden with pool in center, and tall lean cedars rising dark against the background of the walls and fortress of old Jerusalem, stony gray and as flat as a backdrop against the sky's golden blush. As always, sit right down and post report, no matter how tired, while the impressions of day are fresh. Dinner is very meager, and as I have developed a horrid cold, with I am sure a bit of fever, I have two strong brandies (550 Mills.) take aspirin and fall in bed with a groan of pleasure. Tired mind reels with succession of scenes. See the last part of the Sinai Desert, still moving past, as delicate in light cream yellows as Georgia O'Keefe's tonal paintings. Serpentine walls, clean and flat, curving along the sandy hills by the wind's strong modeling. Think of the always present British troops with their great variety of colonials, races, faces, and uniforms. Moslems, Arabs, and Jews, each holding to their own, each hating the others and their ways. My friend mumbles from his bed, "Never, no Peace, and I spell it No." Right, I think. War on the sea and land all over the world. The fight for peace in the hovels, in the streets, on the Delta land, all through the Middle East. The fight to keep warm, the fight to keep clean from disease. All the way tank traps, troops, camp after camp. Learning English money, Morocco, Algerian, Egyptian, and now Palestinian, Syrian--always changing, never no peace. Then suddenly I find it in sleep only to awake choked with sniffling. Horrid night--no peace.

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