Army Mechanic 1948

As a truck driver in the Canal Zone of Egypt in 1948, Billy’s duties involved delivering yeast to the small mobile bakeries in the desert from the garrison at Moascar, which was situated roughly in the middle of the Suez Canal.

That year Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Syria attacked Israel and some of the Egyptians became very hostile towards the British troops. Stories about vehicles leaving the garrison and not returning started to circulate, and some of the civilian workers refused to leave the garrison with their horses and wagons, because the Egyptian military were supposedly confiscating all transportation and placing it on trains going to the front. Turmoil was the order of the day.

As hostilities increased, word came down for Billy to select a weapon suitable for his duties and he was surprised by the informality of the procedure. He was handed a key and given directions to a small hut not much larger than an outhouse, which they called the company armoury. It was filled with all kinds of guns and ammunition, including rifles, automatic Bren guns, Sten guns and Thompson Sub- machine guns also revolvers in all shapes and sizes. At first glance he favoured the Thompson, but thought he would look rather silly walking around like Al Capone or J. Edgar in the desert. He then drifted towards the Luger revolver, which was a nice looking side arm, but was finally attracted to the Colt 35 and 48, because they came with cowboy holsters and Mexican type bandoliers, which he always wanted, but never received as a kid. He finally selected the colt 35, because it was smaller and lighter than the 45, however it probably didn’t make much difference, because he was never trained in the use of revolvers anyway.

For a period of time his deliveries in the desert went without incident and Billy returned to the garrison as many times as he left. There were a few occasions when small boys contrived to stop his vehicle, but they didn’t succeed, because by that time he was aware of their tricks. For the most part they just wanted to stop vehicles and steal the contents, because anything and everything in Egypt was saleable at the time.

With the impressive looking Colt in its holster hanging at the hip and the bandolier full of bullets over his chest, Billy was a sight to behold. A soldier to be reckoned with who felt that his appearance alone would probably frighten away the average adversary. The day he was secretly dreading finally arrived and just as he was driving through a small mud village on his way back to the garrison, the engine failed and the truck came to an abrupt halt. Within seconds as he attempted to restart the engine, the truck was surrounded by a large group of local Arabs in their traditional long white night shirts and little round hats. Aware that the crowd was mainly on one side of the truck, Billy ejected himself through the door on the other side and realized why the crowd wasn’t there, as he landed at the bottom of a large size hole in the sand. Looking up from his disadvantaged position in an embarrassing predicament, he observed the mob scurrying all over the truck, like they had discovered a new toy. The frightened soldier scrambled out of the hole on his hands and knees expecting to do battle, with absolutely no idea how to handle the situation.

On ground level Billy looked up and down the road for other military vehicles expecting the cavalry to arrive, which was his only reference to the situation. That’s the way it was in the movies, which was his only experience of such things. He smelled the bitter sweat of fear as he considered drawing his shiny revolver, but could not come to terms with the image of standing in front of the large mob and threatening them with a gun, particularly one he was unfamiliar with. The throng was also growing in size, making it difficult to be on the outside of them. Everything happened so quickly, or so it appeared and he noticed that the bonnet on the truck was up and a man with overalls was doing something with the engine.

In their frenzied attempt to investigate the vehicle, no one was paying any attention to Billy, which was a strange feeling as if he was invisible, or perhaps ‘he was already dead and didn’t know it,’ he thought. Or maybe it was one of those realistic dreams, but no such luck this time. Under the circumstances he did not wish to bring attention to himself and kept the holster flap buttoned over the gun, but his hand never far away in case someone attempted to grab it. At that point he gave serious consideration to whether the gun was an asset or a liability, but before panic set in, the mechanic who was working on the engine started it up and beckoned him to return to the truck. Billy leapt into the drivers seat without missing a beat and thanked the mechanic profusely as he drove away in haste, with little Arab urchins jumping off the vehicle as it increased speed.

Down the road Billy breathed a sigh of relief and decided that he must stop at the village the next day to take a little something for the mechanic to show his appreciation, but how would he find him amongst all those white night shirts and did he really want to tempt fate a second time. The answer was a resounding no!