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My Time in Khartoum

The barracks were glorified mud huts, made with a combination of rubble, straw, soil and camel dung.


Living and working in Khartoum in the late 1940s was, as you can imagine, very basic.  The country was so poor, but being near a river such as the Blue Nile could make life a lot easier.  For one thing the silt that washes down the river in flood makes for a very rich and fertile soil, on which all manner of things can grow, such as delicious vegetables and fruits.  All the time I lived there, there were never any shortages of food.  I enjoyed three substantial meals a day, breakfast, tiffin, which was taken at mid-day, and an evening meal which was taken between five and six o clock.

Accommodation was basic and included a bedside cabinet alongside an iron framed cot, with a basic mattress and sheets.  There were no blankets, there was no need for them.  The barracks were glorified mud huts, unbelievable as it may sound.  The walls and structure were made with a combination of rubble, straw, soil and camel dung.  Do not for one moment think that these dwelling places stunk to high heaven! They did not.  It was only when repairs were to be made that we had to put up with the smell.  When it dried there was no smell at all.

The remainder of my service was confined to Khartoum except for a fortnight spent on local leave in Eritrea, in a fairly large town called Asmara.  This proved to be a most satisfactory location because of the altitude, yes, it was much cooler here than sweltering Khartoum.  One incident comes to mind while exploring the sites and sounds of the town.  If we were to relax as we would on holiday why not enjoy the option of an indoor swimming pool?  It would cost about five shillings in English money but we thought it would be worth it.  What a mistake that turned out to be!  When we got changed and jumped in the pool the chill of the water took our breath away.  We couldn’t get out quick enough.  The Italian owner could not understand why we did not stay longer.

Just as my time as a conscript was coming to an end I was informed that unfortunately the President of Egypt, namely Nasser, was to take it upon himself to take over the Suez Canal.  This was an affront to both France and Britain and consequently your British soldier would stay-put for an extra three months.  Eventually I did get home on a troop ship that brought me to Liverpool, where I received my demob suit, trilby hat and a cash payment allowance for six weeks paid leave.  Now I was finally on my way home to North Shields.

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