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4th and 6th Reserve Mechanical Transport Companies

CHAPTER 15 — To Maadi

page 278

To Maadi

ABOUT—turn! Head east. Cairo. Get going. Two thousand miles to go: London to well past MoscowWashington to Greenland—Wellington to AdelaideChristchurch to Fiji.

Two thousand miles to go. Two thousand miles of film run backwards. Play around with that if you like, but don't forget that lives go forward.

And all those names. Names of men, names of places too. Strange names. Places where men bled and died. The funny men over the radio will make good jokes about these places when the war ends. Strange names. ‘They pass like a muffled roll of battledrums,’ wrote one man. ‘Darned glad to see the last of the blasted dumps,’ said another.

Some are singing:

Down beside the main gate near the barrack square

Stands a lonely street light, will you my love be there?

Each little while I wait for you

In reveries of love we knew.

Return to me once more, Marlene,

Return to me, Marlene.

There are 3109 vehicles carrying 12,801 New Zealanders all the way back to Maadi, a fortnight's trip, counting two days' spell. The Division is moving in two groups, refuelling on the way, doing about 120 miles a day, moving east, moving back, moving past Wadi Akarit, Ben Gardane, Tripoli, Misurata, Buerat, Nofilia, Marble Arch, El Agheila, Agedabia, Benghazi, El Adem, Bardia, Capuzzo, Mersa Matruh, El Daba, Amiriya.

Bugler please don't call me back to camp again

Till I've said goodbye to my sweetheart Marlene.

Goodbye my love: though we must part

I'll keep you always in my heart,

I'll keep you in my heart, Marlene,

Forever my Marlene.

page 279

Said Monty, to ‘you all, my soldiers’:

…. I would say to you that we can have today only one thought, and that is to see this thing through to the end; and then we will be able to return to our families, honourable men.

Therefore let us think of the future in this way.

And what ever it may bring to us, I wish each one of you the very best of luck, good hunting in the battles that are yet to come and which we will fight together.

Together, You And I, We Will See This Thing Through To The End.

In the fog our shadows blended and were hid.

We were oh so happy, loving as we did.

Now when the fog swirls round anew

I want to be there, dear, with you

As once, Marlene, with you I stood,

As once with you, Marlene.

The old tires are wearing thin. The old engines have stood up to a hammering1—but they are old and tired and straining now. No pension, no ribbons, no green pastures for an old oil-burner. No mention in despatches for all the gallant old parts which did not bust, crack, split, or burn…. Yet of the 3109 vehicles only 13 pack up en route and are dumped; only 14 limp into Maadi on tow. The 6th RMT recorded no breakdowns; 4 RMT vehicles (two engines replaced) all entered Maadi under their own power, 3 Platoon with a mere nine tires replaced over the 2000 miles.

I cherish still the rose that you wore in your hair,

And I'll always keep it with me everywhere.

Even though our parting brings you pain,

Some day, I know, you'll smile again

When I come back to you, Marlene,

When I come back, Marlene.

Small villages—rough tracks—fair tracks—good roads—repairs—desert—dust—Tunisian money changed for Egyptian page 280 —tire pressures—Kiwi Concert Party—neat white stone farmhouses under bluegums—desert—maintenance—LAD flat out —55 miles by night, headlights, and mile after mile of twinkling lights—old Mines—Keep OUT signs—Mobile Cinema screens a punk comedy, ‘Jailbirds’. Hot showers, fresh vegetables, more beer near Benghazi—slogans still on walls: Duce Vincemo (The Duce Will Win), and the brave Afrika Korps' Wir Kommen Wieder (We Come Again)—never again, brother, never again. Advancing clocks—scrub like manuka near Barce—vast wreckheaps and junk-heaps by the road—an Alamein of white crosses.2 Cairo coming up—signs and flags appear on the trucks—no welcome, a few citizens spit, a few curse, a few shake fists, the rest ignore the victors—Maadi. That night, 31 May, commanding officers read out names of Echelon men, 6000 in all, who with three months leave are going home.

When I close my eyes your face appears so bright

Bringing back the memories of that old street light.

And through the night I dream again

The war is ended and the pain

And I am coming back to you,

I'm coming back, Marlene.

1 Their engine had taken two drivers, Ray Ross and R. R. ‘Scotty’ Reid, of 6 RMT, 25,512 miles through five countries in less than two years. This may be the record mileage for one driving team in one truck with the same engine, and also a record for a 2 NZEF three-tonner motor. The mileage began when 6 RMT was formed, and ended with the Division's return to Maadi in May 1943. Scotty did the maintenance, and Ray ‘could drive anywhere indefinitely’. Not until nearing Tripoli did the engine show its first signs of wear and tear—a tribute to both men.

2 ‘They were on a road along which they would never go west again,’ wrote Dan Davin in For the Rest of Our Lives (Nicholson and Watson). ‘Alamein was behind them, and the ghosts wandering as lonely as whirlwinds over all the battlefields between Agedabia and Alamein and calling on the memories of lost comrades. In times to come men would hear those voices and suddenly put down their knives and forks or wake at night in sheets beside their wives and think for a moment of old Bob or Bill or Jack and then shrug and begin to chew or sleep again. Till with their own deaths the ghosts were laid.’