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Divisional Cavalry

CHAPTER 2 — Maadi - Garawla - Baggush - Daba

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Maadi - Garawla - Baggush - Daba

The maadi camp that greeted the First Echelon was still being formed. Until reinforcements began to arrive and training depots were organised, the camp was only a fraction of that which existed later.

The Division's Advanced Party, less those detailed for courses of instruction, had been attached to 7 Hussars in the next-door camp at Digla. They had come over daily from that regiment with working parties to erect tents and to take delivery of stores.

The main road through the camp had been formed and the beginnings of the side roads. Water had been laid on to each area for ablution benches and cookhouses, but for the first few days, shower-houses were not in operation.

The Divisional Cavalry lines jutted out to the north of the general rectangular shape of the camp in the area which was later occupied by the Artillery Training Depot.

All ranks were accommodated in tents, one EPIP tent to eight men and one bell tent to two officers. Huts were being built and, in a week or so, there were sufficient of these for messing and administration. For a parade ground 4 Field Regiment shared with Divisional Cavalry the space between their areas and the two units also shared a common Naafi.1

The sun in February was dangerous rather than hot and bare backs were strictly forbidden. The first route marches in shorts produced some ugly sunburnt knees which bore out the wisdom of this prohibition. As it was, the regiment's first loss was caused by the sun when, on 19 June, Trooper Thompson2 was struck down with meningitis and died very suddenly.

In comparison with the days, the nights were surprisingly cold. Within minutes of the sun setting it was dark; a little chilly wind rose and whispered across the sand. On one morning in the first week, the early risers found a thin film of ice on the ablution benches.

coloured map of Egypt

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In such a climate the chill of the nights was as dangerous as the rays of the sun. Serge uniforms were compulsory in the evenings.

Equipment began to trickle in, beginning with sufficient transport to make the regiment mobile and independent, as well as a number of motor-cycles. During March the first AFVs3 arrived: twelve Bren carriers and five old Mark III tanks. Carriers are well enough known, but the tanks, ancient as they were, do merit some description. They had armour and suspension somewhat similar to Bren carriers. The power units were beautiful Rolls-Royce motors with pre-selector gears. The turrets had a full traverse but they were without armament. In most cases the steering equipment showed signs of wear. These tanks could be decidedly temperamental, so that quite an understanding had to develop between man and machine before a tank could be persuaded to advance or, for that matter, retire on any given course.

There was one tank in particular known as ‘Cappy's Pride’ which had a personality truly original, and which showed those capricious, whimsical habits which suggest that far back in her ancestry—notwithstanding the impossibility of posterity attributed to that obstinate animal—there had existed a most contrary mule. Her best claim to fame amongst the ranks of the Divisional Cavalry was firstly, a determined bid, thwarted just in time, to climb a tree in the streets of Maadi. Unsuccessful, she lulled her driver into a sense of false security by impeccable behaviour for a mile or so. Her next skittish prank therefore caught him unawares when she answered to the right steering lever by lurching headlong to the left, down a bank, and into the filthiest canal in Egypt. No one ever really broke ‘Cappy's Pride’ of her habits. On her final trip to Abbassia, condemned for steering mechanism beyond repair, she obeyed a last whim while passing a cartload of garlic. Her driver found it necessary to pull up suddenly. He trod hard on clutch and footbrake and pulled back both sticks to engage the steering brakes as well. Instead of coming to a quick and graceful halt, as any good-mannered tank should do, her reaction was to spin round sideways, skid a yard or so until square on, and plunge headlong into the cart, smashing it to matchwood against a brick wall. And there she stood—innocent, purring contentedly —in an atmosphere fetid with curses in four languages and rank with the smell of garlic.

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Weapon training was done on the range at the end of the camp; for tank gunnery practice, squadrons were taken to the pellet range at Abbassia.

The pellet range was most ingenious and elaborate. Replicas of various tank turrets had been built and mounted the appropriate guns. On these were attached air rifles fired from the guns' triggers. The range itself was a large sand-table with moving targets which were operated electrically. By turning on other switches the turrets would swing a little from side to side and oscillate back and forth irregularly to produce the effect of shooting from a moving tank. Pellet range days were always followed by evenings that were noisier than usual in the Naafi because they had afforded opportunities for side wagers—debts payable in beer that night. For technical training in such subjects as wireless, gunnery, and driving and maintenance quite a proportion of all ranks went to Abbassia. Personnel from the tank troops were attached to 6 Battalion, Royal Tank Regiment, and from carrier troops to 60 King's Royal Rifles.

General training started at a modest level and gradually grew more ambitious as each step was properly mastered. The regiment devised its own exercises and argued out its own problems one by one and, from the very early days, unobtrusively formed a system of tactics which enabled it later to build up a reputation for reliability, and to work at a surprisingly low casualty rate.

Little by little the exercises developed into manoeuvres both by day and night. Squadrons were often set tasks opposing one another. Sometimes these battles extended for days and raged up and down the hills at the back of Wadi Digla. There were furious races to gain points of vantage, and by night, raids on foot which often ended in a stand-up fight or a shower of stones. Strangely enough nobody ever seemed to get hurt in these, though many a tin hat came home with a patch of paint missing.

By way of change from ordinary routine the regiment took occasional days off to hold picnics at various places in and about Cairo. These picnics were most enjoyable as they afforded the pleasure of being able to sit and lie about on the grass in the shade of green trees.

By the middle of April the regiment was well prepared to assume its natural role in the brigade manoeuvres at El Saff. For three days the squadrons were kept at full pressure doing reconnaissance or covering movements of infantry and artillery. page 19 The going was soft and most of the work had to be done in wheeled vehicles at a speed that should only be expected of tracked ones. The drivers earned and deserved great praise for skill and daring in the way they handled their trucks, and the General sorted out for particular praise the regiment's DRs4 upon whom fell the task of maintaining communication between troops and their headquarters. This they achieved against soft sand, jutting rocks, hills and stony wadis: difficulties almost insuperable, but they never lost touch, day or night, and all this in contravention of the theory that the motor-cycle is useless in the desert.

During the middle of June advanced elements of 7 Armoured Division captured an Italian General. The story has it that on the way back to the Delta he was so surprised to see no troops about that he finally burst out in indignation, asking where were all the enormous reserves of armour that his Intelligence had led him to believe the British had in reserve. The incident arose from the fact that 6 Field Company, New Zealand Engineers, were suddenly ordered to produce a large number of dummy tanks. They enlisted the help of their neighbours, among others the Div Cav, and the job was carried out at high pressure, working in shifts from 6 a.m. until 11.30 p.m. The bulk of the work was done on one very hot day, 20 June, completed on the next two days, and on the 24th some Div Cav transport was detailed to carry part of the completed work to Mersa Matruh. This task was the regiment's first direct connection with the actual fighting of the war.

By the end of June the regiment had received 12 Bren carriers and 10 tanks. The additional AFVs helped a long way towards making the training interesting to men who were beginning to feel the enervating effect of their first Egyptian summer. Most of the training was now done in the early morning and at night.

The heat was really making itself felt. Good Friday had been an exceptionally hot day. At 9.30 a.m. a thermometer hanging two feet above a bucket of water inside the RAP5 had registered 125 degrees. By the middle of June temperatures of 105 to 110 degrees in the shade were not exceptional. It was the season of the khamseens. Dust-storms arrived suddenly out of an atmosphere ominously still and brazenly hot. The mosquito had caused a few cases of malaria in the camp and the fly had page 20 earned for ever the hate of every man. Siesta, without a mosquito net to keep out these persistent pests, was a relentless purgatory. Zeers, large porous vessels which stood in the tent-lines to keep drinking water cool, were issued to all units and each tent was issued with a canvas bag for the same purpose. By night, however, these were put to a different use by any leave personnel returning from carousals in Cairo. They soon found that the bags, given a sharp punch, would spurt water up to the tent roof to shower down upon the snoring bodies below.

When Italy declared war on 10 June, the whole camp was dispersed to double its width. It could expand only one way, and many were the complaints from Div Cav who, living on the outer side, had to move well out into the desert to make room; but had the men been able to visualise the extent of the camp in later times, they would have remained silently grateful for the position they now occupied.

In July the regiment lost some personnel to the newly-formed Long Range Patrol.6 They were marched out to Abbassia in three drafts, and by the end of the month three officers, Lieutenants Ballantyne, Sutherland7 and McQueen,8 and about fifty other ranks had gone.

Training in the summer heat, together with the general impatience to be doing some fighting, was by now definitely showing its mark on the men. A gradually lengthening crime list is usually a reliable barometer to record dissatisfaction in a unit, and Div Cav was no exception. The increasing number of defaulters alone indicated that the men felt themselves unfairly held back from helping to win the war.

Another indication of this impatience came at about that time. Volunteers were called for the formation of a parachute force and something else unnamed—rumour fluctuated between ski-troops and commandos. By this time every man had a very conscious pride in his regiment and in belonging to it. Yet there were cases where complete troops volunteered. There was, too, bitter disappointment, and even jealousy, on the part of some men who saw others chosen for the LRP. This was not of course eased by the romantic rumours that crept out concerning the Patrol's task.

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Fortunately something happened at this time to ease the tension. The New Zealand troops were ordered to proceed to the Western Desert to build part of the Mersa Matruh defences. All units were divided into roughly two equal parts and formed into composite battalions. A camp site was allotted at Garawla, on the coast about four and a half miles east of the Matruh defences. The task was to dig the outer anti-tank ditch along Wadi Naghamish, which soon became familiarly known as the Kiwi Canal.

All ranks, officers included, set to and dug with enthusiasm. Strangely enough, here the sun was not too dangerous, even though it was midsummer, for men to work stripped to the waist.

General O'Connor came one day to inspect the work. He stood on the parapet looking down the line to spot someone in charge of the job whom he could congratulate on the way the men were toiling. Unable to pick anyone, he asked of the nearest man where he could find the officer in charge. A face with little rivulets of sweat running down through the dust, looked up and said: ‘That's me, Sir.’ The General controlled his surprise, said his say, and wandered along the line to the next party, this time being careful to watch for the colour of the men's boots—the only distinctive mark between officer and man.

The results of all the hard work did not last very long. Three years later, passing by on the way back from Tunisia, the men saw their canal, now completely filled by drifting sand, once again an inconspicuous contour.

Vehicles went in daily to Matruh for supplies. At the second defence line there was a check-post manned by the Egyptian Army. Here a password was necessary, but it mattered little if any driver left camp without being given one. The guards were only too pleased to supply it in exchange for a cigarette.

During the first week there was sign of enemy action: some high-altitude bombing about two miles from the camp. This was far from enough to satisfy the troops' keenness, for a special report on the task reads: ‘… at times it would appear that the men were anxious to fire at anything including our own planes if necessary.’

The work and the nature of the camp site had a wonderful tonic effect on all ranks. They rose early each morning and were taken to work in lorries. Lunch was brought out and they worked until two o'clock, toiling in the bottom of the trench page 22 with no breeze to temper the heat of the sun. Then they marched home again and the remainder of the day was free.

Immediately on dismissal the men rushed to their tents, discarding clothes as they went, and raced for the sea. The water was crystal clear, lapping gently on the beach, and at almost blood heat. The aches of toil were washed from their bodies by its smooth caress; the hazy dullness infused into their minds by the monotony of the march home was wooed away by the tinkle of water in their ears,

Sweet, as to the toil-worn man,
The far off sound of rippling river

water which caressed the skin almost sensuously, as softly as thistledown, and made them glory in their life and youth. To swim with open eyes in its lambent depths was to dismiss completely the common world, for under the water the swimmer would be absorbed with wonder and admiration. Brown arms pushed past in long easy sweeps, the hands magnified, with every vein and sinew showing, the fingers cupped to catch the water. At each stroke myriads of little silver bubbles like globules of mercury seemed to fight and struggle for the inside position or come shooting upwards past his face, desperate to get to the surface. Beyond all this and deep down through the limpid water was a world of simple beauty. Strewn on a silver-white bed were rocks clad in green and brown and purple leaves; and in and out of their waving fronds were thousands of silver sparkles where the tiny bodies of sardines caught the deflected light of the sun. And on returning to worldly realities, there in the eye of the man swimming alongside—who too had been absorbing beauty—was that peace of mind which can salve every physical and mental pain.

Some predecessors had left the camp site dirty and the flies were more numerous and determined than any they had met elsewhere. But such a triviality is now slight and transient against the memory of the cool breezes and the tender caress of the sea. That memory will remain with the men for ever.

So the change of air and the change of work had had its effect. They had been necessary, too, as shown by an item of Routine Orders of 11 July: ‘The attention of all ranks is drawn to the seriousness of the offence of a sentry or a picquet sleeping at his post. At the present time this offence is occurring far too frequently in this Division. Future cases of this offence will be dealt with most seriously.’

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The glowing reports by the first half of the regiment, when they returned to Maadi, were reflected in the spirit of the others as they left to continue the work. The war diary for that day reports: ‘… a very jovial and enthusiastic spirit being noticeable amongst the men.’

This second draft had the distinction of being the first Div Cav men to open fire against the enemy. Full moon in August was from the 12th to the 16th and was marked by intensified bombing at Mersa Matruh. At midnight on 14–15 August the enemy bombed the Naafi dump and, three hours later, a single bomber flew over the camp at Garawla, its target being possibly the railway station. The regiment's AA posts opened fire and appeared to put the bomber off his target, as his bombs— incendiaries—were unloaded on a piece of unoccupied ground a mile to the east of the camp.

The excitement proved enough to put the posts well on their guard and they became very keen to shoot. Four nights later they opened fire again on a plane that failed to drop identification flares. But it was later learned that this craft was a Blenheim limping home on one engine.

About this time the regiment received orders for another digging task. It was to move to Baggush and there to prepare part of a defensive box similar to that at Mersa Matruh. Notification was received on 23 August and preparations were immediately put in hand. Leave was withheld while the area was tidied. Base kits were packed and sent to store and cameras collected to be left at Base. The officers' mess held a dinner and party in honour of the New Zealand nursing sisters at Helwan.

Half the regiment was still at Garawla and, on the morning of the 27th, it left for Maadi, while the other half set off in the other direction. Both broke their journeys at Burg el Arab to bivouac for the night. The Baggush party arrived at three o'clock the next day. The others spent two days in Maadi and rejoined the regiment as A Squadron on 1 September. The tanks and carriers arrived two days later, having gone by rail from Tura to Sidi Haneish.

The camp area was on some high ground a little east of Baggush and half-way between the main road and the sea. Areas were allotted immediately and squadrons set about digging in their tents and setting up AA posts. The weather was now cooler and the nights produced some heavy dews, which caused difficulty in disguising vehicles because they shone in the moonlight.

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On 2 September the regiment started its task, the construction of defences at Maaten Baggush and, in conjunction with 4 Field Regiment, at Maaten Burbeita.

Bathing was, of course, a feature of the daily routine and all ranks were taken to the beach. Since there were strong currents here the bathers were ringed at all times by the stronger swimmers, who were detailed to float about in the deeper water to keep watch inshore. There was no difficulty in choosing these men as the regiment had held swimming sports at Maadi not long before the move.

As at Garawla the men worked with a will at their digging, but this time they were soon to regret their keenness. Within a week they had completed their allotment and were warned to move back to take over Line-of-Communication duties at Daba. This news was received with disgust as none relished leaving the camp that they were just making comfortable.

Someone has aptly observed that warfare consists of long periods of intense boredom interspersed with short periods of intense activity. The next four months, doing L of C duty under command of the Western Desert Force, can well be described as of the former. No other four months of the regiment's life were ever so long. Morale, compared with the particularly high standard which had existed, fell back a little. Food was dull and uninteresting, the diet not sufficiently well balanced to maintain perfect health. Desert sores became prevalent, nasty festers, hard to heal, which formed on every bit of grazed skin. The issue of clothing was unsuitable. The weather was now definitely cold but there was no battledress available; yet strangely enough, in November when the warm uniforms would have been particularly welcome, all the base kits were brought up from Maadi especially for the men to take out their serge uniforms and hand them in to the Quartermaster.

The duties of this L of C area were heavy enough to engage a full-strength battalion. The Divisional Cavalry carried them out with a depleted regiment as C Squadron was still in England.

The camp was in a dust-bowl and it was only a matter of weeks before the whole area was cut by wheels and churned by tracks into a powder so fine that it could be felt ‘squelching’ under the feet like water. When wind raised the dust, men were sometimes reduced to such a state that they would not even go to mess, but just sat miserably in their tents wearing their respirators to get some breathable air.

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As much of the regimental funds as possible was spent in buying fresh vegetables and fruit for the messes, and—one redeeming feature—the Medical Officer, Captain McQuilkin,9 had recommended, to keep the blood in order under these conditions, as much beer as could be consumed. This came from Alexandria in apparently unlimited quantity. It was weak and tasted more of onions than of hops, but it was beer and there was plenty. There were some uproarious nights in the squadron canteen tents which produced unexpected talent to surprise even the performers.

One famous impromptu monologue looked forty years into the future. It depicted also the attitude of the men at the time. It was a story of a party of sightseers passing through to Mersa Matruh, who saw grey old men in tattered uniforms tumble out of the ragged remains of a tent to form a quarter-guard. When he was asked, ‘Who might those be?’, the guide replied: ‘Those men are the Forgotten Legion. They were the New Zealand Divisional Cavalry who were left here by mistake. Those spectral figures are the old soldiers that never die. They are gradually fading away—The Forgotten Legion.’

Centred round Daba was a ring of six defensive positions. One squadron had the job of manning these and of supplying a guard on an ammunition dump and two troops on light AA duties on the aerodrome of 211 Squadron, RAF, a few miles up the road. The other fighting squadron acted as a mobile column, with one troop as inlying picket. As well as all this a quarter-guard had to be supplied on the main road and AA posts manned within the camp area.

Fortunately, towards the end of the first month, the Egyptian Army took over five of the defensive posts, relieving the pressure somewhat. But soon after, requests were made to the Div Cav for nightly pickets on a neighbouring supply dump.

Altogether the demands on the men were high and no one could envy the squadron SMs their job of allotting duties. Some troop officers earned the everlasting respect and gratitude of their men when they voluntarily turned out and gave a spell on these monotonous duties.

Above all this there was, eating into the heart of every man, impatience to be in the fighting line, and that impatience was mixed with the feeling that nobody seemed interested in moving them past garrisoning and guard duties.

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Most impatient of all was a little man with a big heart, Lieutenant-Colonel Pierce; and he was a sick man. Doggedly he concealed his illness whilst, inwardly, he fought a losing battle to keep going until the time when he could lead his beloved command into action. As ill health gained power over him so was his command affected. Dully did each man feel that there was something wrong in the regiment. They felt their morale lowering. They were conscious of petty quarrels coming between squadrons. They knew there was a vague something missing. Somehow the head of their happy family had lost his power to bind them: but not a soul knew why. No one knew of the Colonel's secret struggle. All the while this brave man fought against fate to keep them together. But he must have known that his was a losing battle; and the knowledge must have wrung his heart.

Some of the officers were lucky. Lieutenant Robinson10 was taken on a liaison trip with the Navy. He did an extensive patrol of the Eastern Mediterranean and was present at the bombarding of Sollum on the night of 17 September. Captain Wallace, too, went on a month's visit to 7 Armoured Division and, whilst there, on the night of 22 August, went out on a fighting patrol with the Coldstream Guards against an Italian working party at Bardia.

The regiment suffered its first casualty from enemy activity on the last day of October. In an air raid on Qasaba, near Baggush, the Regimental Quartermaster, Captain Foster,11 suffered numerous superficial wounds from bomb splinters. He had the added misfortune to be involved in a motor accident on the way to the CCS12 but escaped without further injury.

On the 18th of the same month one of the DRs, Trooper Winsor,13 was involved in a head-on collision with the car of the CRE,14 Western Desert Force, and was killed.

During September some pleasure was gained by all ranks at the arrival of eleven new scout carriers. They had an added value, too, in giving the impression that the Divisional Cavalry were not entirely forgotten and that some equipment was at page 27 last coming along. These were followed the next month by nine Vickers guns for training and, in December, by two more carriers and two Mark III tanks, fully equipped. Though training was naturally limited by their duties, this equipment did at least stimulate the waning interest of the men. Permission was also given for the limited use of wireless sets, which allowed the training of some driver-operators. In the middle of December the first issue of Ford V8 trucks arrived. These were 15-cwt vehicles to replace the 8- and 15-cwt Morris's then on issue.

At nights the enemy had been busy dropping booby traps along the Line of Communication. Warnings were given against touching such things as cakes of Lifebuoy soap—which would blow the hands off when wetted—and cakes of chocolate or fountain pens, for these would explode when handled. The B Squadron men were walking back from mess one day when a crowd gathered circumspectly round a small black object on the ground. It looked remarkably like a fountain pen. Indeed, it looked even more like one when its owner arrived, picked it up, and marched on.

The booby traps were not all false, however. The Division's first casualty, killed in action, was claimed by a ‘Thermos bomb’. These became alive on hitting the ground. The next time they were disturbed they exploded. Numbers had been dropped round Daba and a demolition squad was detailed to explode them. They did this by rolling them over with LMG15 fire or with a wire rope strung between two vehicles.

It was significant that, as soon as the regiment was detailed to supply pickets on the food dump, the meals in the messes became more varied. New Zealanders are discriminating looters and the Div Cav men were not slow to appreciate that it was impossible to prevent the Arabs from sneaking in from the open desert to pilfer. At the same time the men had their scruples. If a case of tinned milk or tomatoes or sausages—shame on the good Moslems that got the blame—was spirited away on the picket truck, it went straight to the squadron mess; but, if the case were found to contain something unsuitable, it was sent back the next night with full instructions as to where it was to be replaced.

Small wonder then, that the RASC officer in charge of the dump was praying for an air raid as being the only way to account for his losses. But those were the days when New Zealanders were trusted with rations!

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By September the weather had become cool enough to think of football. Some games were played, but the desert was rough and hard, and the men's resistance to infection was so low that the inevitable grazed knees and knuckles turned into desert sores, and football had to be abandoned. Hockey was then introduced and the men turned to this with enthusiasm and several teams were made up in each squadron.

A windfall arrived about this time in the form of a shipload of apples, Sturmers from home: lovely, juicy and plentiful. Most valuable they were towards general health, and for once in history men were encouraged to eat even while standing on parades.

At the end of October 1 Battalion, Infanterie de Marine, took over the last of the six defensive positions. They borrowed a few personnel to give instruction on Bren-gun and carriers. All this had to be carried out through interpreters, but any trouble to the lucky few was more than made up to them by the enthusiasm and hospitality of their pupils.

With some of the daytime duties relieved by the French, more training could be done. Courses were arranged for the driver-operators and some of the driver-mechanics. Musketry and machine-gun practices were fired and squadrons found time for a few manoeuvres. Sun-compasses had been issued, but each time a manoeuvre was arranged to try them out, the day became overcast.

In the middle of November, the moon being suitable, enemy air activity increased. Fuka got most of the attention but Daba had plenty of alarms. These were caused, it would seem, because the headland nearby, Ras el Daba, was being used as a navigational point. One night, 16 October, Daba also came in for attention. Bombs were dropped but caused neither damage nor casualties as the nearest one landed 400 yards from the tent-lines.

The Wavell offensive opened on 9 December 1940 with attacks on the line of camps south of Sidi Barrani. The Italians were surprised and at Nibeiwa a large number of M11 tanks were taken more or less intact. The Divisional Cavalry was called on to salvage these, and on 15 December Lieutenant H. A. Robinson took a party of twenty-five other ranks up there for the task.

On the first Christmas Eve overseas, the CO and his RHQ officers embarked on a ‘goodwill’ tour of the regiment. Having escaped from the sergeants' mess, they set out round the squad- page 29 ron canteens. The CO had little to say as his conversation everywhere was limited to practically one remark: ‘No, I've still got this one, thanks.’ The following morning, at the Christmas service, the hymns were sung with plenty of vigour even if, here and there, the tune was completely ignored. At the regimental parade afterwards, the Colonel added to his Christmas wish the comment that he considered that the ‘Merry Christmas’ had been in full swing the night before.

On the whole, Div Cav did not like Daba. Certainly Daba did not like Div Cav. The year ended with a show of hatefulness by the weather. Throughout 30 December the wind blew from the west, strong and very cold. It raised the dust till visibility was nil. Men went to ground in their tents. They often crawled, fully clad, into their blankets for warmth. Exercise was impossible. There they sat in abject misery, watching with apprehension the tent roof as it bellied lower and lower with the weight of dust that accumulated, whilst the stout bamboo poles groaned under the load.

Suddenly, towards evening, all was still. Rain began to fall. The desert weather never does things by halves. On 26 November there had been a downpour like a cataract which had flooded tents, weapon pits, everything. This time it fell as heavily, but not for so long. Only enough rain fell to turn everything to a sea of mud: horrible, thick, creamy mud that could have drowned a man.

On 12 January the same spiteful weather rose to a farewell climax. Again from the west came the punishing wind and the dust to imprison every man in his tent. The penetrating power of that dust is hard to imagine. That day the dust, quantities of it, blew into everything. It was impossible for men to go to mess. It had been impossible anyhow for the cooks to prepare a meal. In their tents the men opened the first tins of Christmas cake they had ever had from home: and it can well be believed that those cakes were precious. Time after time a cake tin with a soldered lid was opened and the contents found to be packed tight with dust, which had not only blown through the crimped seams of the tins but had impregnated the very cakes themselves.

There were men out in all this, for the wheeled vehicles were on their way to Helwan. After passing Amiriya, the convoy was held up for two hours with visibility nil and the men had to sit out the storm as best they could. To get breathable air they wrapped woollen scarves round and round their heads. page 30 Noses became blocked with dust, and all the while a layer of thirsty, arid dust stole precious moisture from their lips.

In any of the regiment's moves the DRs suffered most, as witness the war diary for that day, which reads: ‘… and at one place when one of them had a slight collision with the back of a vehicle, ten others piled up on top of him. Luckily no one was hurt and all were surprised to find how close they had been to each other.’

Few of the original regiment will forget Daba's farewell of hate.

1 Navy, Army and Air Force Institute.

2 Tpr V. W. Thompson; born NZ 16 Mar 1907; motor driver; died on active service 19 Jun 1940.

3 Armoured Fighting Vehicles.

4 Despatch Riders.

5 Regimental Aid Post.

6 This became the Long Range Desert Group on 31 Dec 1940.

7 Lt-Col J. H. Sutherland, MC; Masterton; born Taieri, 10 Dec 1903; stock inspector; CO Div Cav Oct 1942-Jan 1943.

8 Lt-Col R. B. McQueen, m.i.d.; born Henderson, 3 Jan 1907; farmer; CO Div Cav (J Force) 3 May-1 Sep 1947.

9 Lt-Col J. P. McQuilkin; Christchurch; born Ashburton, 18 Jul 1900; medical practitioner; CO 5 Fd Amb Jan 1942-Dec 1943.

10 Brig H. A. Robinson, DSO, MC, ED, m.i.d.; Waipukurau; born New Plymouth, 29 Sep 1912; farmhand; Div Cav 1939–44; CO 18 Armd Regt Mar-Jul 1944; 20 Armd Regt Mar-Oct 1945; twice wounded.

11 Capt W. J. Foster, ED; Te Kauwhata; born Te Akatea, 21 Oct 1890; farmer; wounded 31 Oct 1940.

12 Casualty Clearing Station.

13 Tpr W. Winsor; born Sydney, 6 Jul 1909; fencing contractor; died on active service 18 Oct 1940.

14 Commander Royal Engineers.

15 Light Machine Gun.