Sunday, 26 April 2015

TESSERAE - 11 - The Province of Ravenna

Piadine Romagnole.....





We stay at Il Palazzo, just outside Brisighella, surrounded by peach and cherry blossom and roads that crumble into ravines of gypsum. Brisighella is a medieval village, in the Province of Ravenna, half way between that city and Florence. Adriana and Ettore, who have run this azienda agrituristica biologica for almost thirty years, provide us with delicious local and home-produced food, and excellent sangiovese, trebbiano and chardonnay to go with it.



As the President of the Local Council, Elena Bianchi, says: Travelling to Brisighella you will discover a village and its land, lost in a natural and still untouched scenery, a delight for the eyes, a place to love, forever.  High from above a Fortress, a Church and a Tower like watchmen look after her. She appears in the glitter of the surfacing chalk, shows herself through the soft hues of the old houses and lives it up in her festivals, captivating you, our guest, with and unforgettable experience.....


Il Palazzo is in the middle, part hidden by trees

Brisighella dominates the valley of the river Lamone, and lies at the eastern end of a vein of gypsum that stretches twenty-five kilometres toward Bologna, and which now is largely protected by the Parco Regionale Vena del Gesso Romagnolo.  The area has spectacular cliffs, is riddled with over two hundred caves, and is home to rare species of plants, animals and birds such as the Cheilanthes persica (felcetta persiana) fern, mediterranean horsehoe bats, cave salamanders, yellow-bellied toads and Eagle Owls.  Natural woodlands of downy, Turkey and holm oaks, field maples and manna ash  mix with hornbeam and service trees, and in the undergrowth and on the grassy slopes there are helleborine orchids,  wood anemones, larkspur, cyclamen and snowdrops.


In times past, gypsum was mined here, as it had many uses, including as a mortar or plaster in building, as a constituent of agricultural fertilisers, and, when mixed with powdered white lead, as gesso - then gilded with gold - for medieval illuminated manuscripts.  In Brisighella there is a raised street, unique in the world, known as Via del Borgo, or Via degli Asini (Donkey Street), along which miners brought their beasts into the first storey rooms of the houses which rose steeply out of the rock .....


The town is served by the Treno di Dante, which winds from Florence to Ravenna, which also calls at the ceramic capital of Italy, Faenza.


Looking down on Brisighella from the Clock Tower, the houses of the Via degli Asini at the bottom

If that service had been available in 1300, Dante himself might have taken it, as he was exiled from his beloved Florence, and never returned, eventually dying, at the age of 56, in Ravenna, in 1321.



Alabaster - another use of gypsum - windows in the Mausoleum of Galla Placida, Ravenna

Of course, we visit Ravenna too..... Once capital of the Western Roman Empire (402 - 476 AD), then the Ostrogoth capital (until 540), then Byzantine capital of the Eastern Roman Empire and the Exarchate of Ravenna, then (from 751) principal city of the Lombard Kingdom, until it came under papal rule..... under which it remained, apart from occupation by the Venetians and the French, until the unification of Italy in 1861.

All of which is to say that Ravenna has had a chequered history!


Emperor Augustus, founder of the Port of Classe

Ravenna's glory lies in the eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites that are found here.... which include, the octagonal Basilica di S Vitale, which was consecrated in the year 548:


Ravenna's fame rests largely on the skills of unknown artists who created a series of stunning mosaics, and the mosaics in S Vitale date from the second quarter of the sixth century. They portray the Evangelists and Prophets, scenes from the old Testament:


And show S Vitale himself (on the left) alongside his Redeemer, with Bishop Ecclesio (on the right) in the Apse:





Next to this monumental brick basilica is the tiny Mausoleo di Galla Placida:


which was constructed in the middle of the fifth century and which is decorated with mosaics which are probably the oldest in the city (and which would already have been over eight hundred years old when Dante saw them....)




Almost contemporary with this is the Battistero Neoniano, which takes its name from Bishop Neone in the mid fifth century.....  The mosaics here show Jesus being baptised in the Jordan, surrounded by the Apostles.




Some fifty years after these two buildings, Theodoric (Patriarch of the Eastern Roman Empire, and Regent of the Visigoths from 511 - 526) built the Basilica of S Apollinare Nuovo.  The mosaics here are almost a century younger than those of the Mausoleum and the Baptistery, and with their golds and greens seem almost new.....



And the figures seem to step right off the walls with their grace and energy:





But for me, at least, the jewel in Ravenna's crown lies outside the city walls, in peaceful isolation nearer the sea.  




This is the Basilica di S Apollinare in Classe, which was consecrated in 549. The mosaics, however, date from various periods in the sixth and seventh centuries and, with their natural scenes and allegorical images, they startle you with their freshness..... 







In 1873 Henry James visited Ravenna, and recorded these impressions in Italian Hours: Between the city and the forest, in the midst of malarious rice-swamps, stands the finest of the Ravennese churches, the stately temple of San Apollinare in Classe. The Emperor Augustus constructed hereabouts a harbour for fleets, which the ages have choked up, and which survives only in the title of this ancient church. Its extreme loneliness makes it doubly impressive. They opened the great doors for me, and let a shaft of heated air go wander up the beautiful nave between the twenty-four lustrous, pearly columns of cipollino marble, and mount the wide staircase of the choir and spend itself beneath the mosaics of the vault. I passed a memorable half-hour sitting in this wave of tempered light, looking down the cool grey avenue of the nave, out of the open door, at the vivid green swamps, and listening to the melancholy stillness.




Ravenna is a treasure chest full of rich delight.  But it is also a lively and thriving city.  The Piazza del Popolo, with its Venetian Columns (1483) and the medieval Palazzo del Comune, is the centre of the action, and here you can while away the time sampling the local speciality - the Piada (or Piadina), which is a round flatbread filled with cheese and ham, or virtually anything you fancy (which is really what this Province is like itself!)  So, under a bright blue sky, with a glass of Albana (bianco) or Sangiovese (rosso DOC) di Romagna, this is how you should appreciate La Provincia di Ravenna.....




And then, of course, there is gelato to follow......







L'ombra sua torna, ch'era dipartite.....

Sunday, 19 April 2015

TESSERAE - 10 - Spag. Bol.

Ragù Alla Bolognese




There’s no such thing as Spaghetti Bolognese!  Or at least not in Bologna…..  Spag Bol is one of those things, like Shepherd’s Pie, Cheddar Cheese, and Madras Curry, which has taken on an identity that denies its birthright.  Great food, perhaps, but never quite the ‘real thing’…..  


Here’s Jamie Oliver on his website:

Oliver's Twist Recipe

Spaghetti Bolognese is a classic. You don't need a lot of ingredients to create a really tasty dish and cooking it in the oven means you get great depth of flavour. It's a perfect meal for kids – don't be worried about the wine as the alcohol cooks away.


Ingredients
olive oil
  • 6 rashers higher-welfare dry-cured smoked streaky bacon, sliced 1cm thick
  • 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary, leaves picked and finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely sliced
  • 1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 500 g quality British beef mince
  • 200 ml red wine
  • 1 x 280 g jar of sun-dried tomatoes
  • 2 x 400 g tins of plum tomatoes
  • 500 g dried spaghetti
  • Parmesan cheese
  • extra virgin olive oil


The official version, however, goes like this….. Questa è la ricetta ”attualizzata” del vero Ragù alla bolognese, depositata il 17 ottobre 1982 dalla delegazione bolognese dell'Accademia italiana della cucina presso la Camera di Commercio di Bologna.  [This is the up-to-date true recipe for Bolognese Sauce, as delivered to the Bologna Chamber of Commerce on the 17th October 1982, by Bolognese delegates of the Italian Academy of Cuisine.]


Ragù Alla Bolognese

Ingredienti: 
300 g di polpa di manzo (cartella o pancia o fesone di spalla o fusello) macinata grossa, 150 g di pancetta di maiale, 50 g di carota gialla, 50 g di costa di sedano, 50 g di cipolla, 300 g di passata di pomodoro o pelati, ½ bicchiere di vino bianco secco, ½ bicchiere di latte intero, poco brodo, olio d’oliva o burro, sale, pepe,½ bicchiere di panna liquida da montare (facoltativa)

Principal differences from Jamie being – no garlic, but carrot and celery; less tomato, but some milk (and even cream).


Preparazione: 

Sciogliere, in un tegame possibilmente di terracotta o di alluminio spesso, di circa 20 cm, la pancetta tagliata prima a dadini e poi tritata fine con la mezzaluna. Unire 3 cucchiai d’olio o 50 g di burro e gli odori tritati fini e far appassire dolcemente. Unire la carne macinata e mescolare bene con un mestolo facendola rosolare finché non “sfrigola”. Bagnare con il vino e mescolare delicatamente sino a quando non sarà completamente evaporato. Unire la passata o i pelati, coprire e far sobbollire lentamente per circa 2 ore aggiungendo, quando occorre, del brodo, verso la fine unire il latte per smorzare l’acidità del pomodoro. Aggiustare di sale e di pepe. Alla fine, quando il ragù è pronto, secondo l’uso bolognese, si usa aggiungere la panna se si tratta di condire paste secche.
Per le tagliatelle il suo uso è da escludere.


Delicious!  But you won’t find it on spaghetti...... tagliatelle, oh yes!



However, however, there’s much more to Bologna than meat sauce.  Ragù (from French, ragôut, from ragôuter, to restore the appetite) is Italian for a seasoned meat sauce, but there are many other delights in Bolognese food – tortelloni stuffed with mozzarella di bufala and Parma ham, for example, or the classic tortellini in brodo (little pasta parcels stuffed with veal, or ham, mortadella or cheese, served in delicate meat broth), minestra di paradiso (egg and breadcrumbs in stock), and cotolette alla Bolognese (veal cutlets with ham, cheese and truffles).  Yum!  And perhaps accompanied by a bottle of Pignoletto frizzante, local white wine served cool and lightly fizzy…..



Bologna is known as la Dotta, la Grassa, la Rossa, which refer to its history as a university city (dotta means learned; the university is the world’s oldest, being founded in 1088), its gastronomic traditions (grassa means fat) and both its red tiles and bricks and its post-war association with the left wing (rossa is red), and these entwined traits contribute to a character quite individual among Italian cities, the seventh largest in Italy (population c1 million).


It’s a city of arcades – protecting its perambulating public from sun, snow and showers.  


It’s a city of churches – with the cavernous Basilica of San Petronio (1390 – 1659) dominating the Piazza Maggiore; 


the cathedral of San Pietro; churches dedicated to San Francesco, San Domenico (containing Nicolo Pisano’s sublime tomb of St Dominic


as well as that of St Thomas Aquinas), the medieval complex of Santo Stefano; and, outside the city walls, the Monastery of San Michele in Bosco with its echoing hospital corridors and nested cloisters…..



We were in Bologna over Easter, and the churches were packed both on the Saturday night and on the Sunday.  The lighting of the Paschal Candle by the Archbishop, 77 year old Carlo Caffarra, was a dramatic expression of springtime and rebirth within the huge dark space of the cathedral. 


Mass on Easter Sunday in the Church of the Crucifix was a more intimate, almost familiar affair, wreathed in incense and flowers.


We strolled along the porticoed streets; delved into richly decorated churches (the frescoed oratory of Santa Cecilia attached to S. Giacomo Maggiore was a special treat); climbed the 97.6 metre high (478 steps) Torre degli Asinelli, 


which leans 2.23 metres from the vertical (Goethe believed this was deliberate - perpendicular towers being too commonplace!); relaxed on Easter Monday with the rest of the population in the Giardini Margherita; 


trawled the overflowing shops of the market quarter; 


and danced to the Harley Davison Rock of Beppe Maniglia (local hero - 70+ and still got grit) by the fountain of Neptune.




Bologna is not such a beautiful place as some – damaged in WWII as Siena and Florence were not – and it lacks green spaces and trees in its centre to give it freshness and elegance, but it has a personality all its own.  


Lucio Dalla, one of Italy’s best known singer songwriters in recent times (until his early death in 2012) was a native of the city.  In 1972, with his collaborator Rosalino Cellamare (better known as Ron), he set words by Gianfranco Baldazzi to music in a song entitled Piazza Grande, which perhaps reflects Piazza Cavour, where Dalla lived.  The song describes the thoughts of a homeless person watching the world pass by ‘his’ piazza.



Piazza Grande
  
Lenzuola bianche per coprirci non ne ho
sotto le stelle in Piazza Grande,
e se la vita non ha sogni io li ho e te li do.

E se non ci sarà più gente come me
voglio morire in Piazza Grande,
tra i gatti che non han padrone come me attorno a me

[White sheets to cover me I do not have
Beneath the stars in Piazza Grande
And if your life has no dreams, I have, and I will give you them

And if there are no more people like me
I wish to die in Piazza Grande
Amongst the cats that have no masters, like me]




There may be no such thing as Spaghetti Bolognese, but Bologna, la Dotta, la Grassa, la Rossa, has plenty else to offer…..


e piangendo gli viene da ridere
ballo anch'io se balli tu




Monday, 13 April 2015

North Africa 1943 - The Road to Algiers

Convoy WS 31/KMF.17


Convoy off Casablanca - US Army Photo

Introduction

June/July 1943

Imagine you are 19.  Imagine you are happily at university but your country is involved in a catastrophic war.  Imagine you are in love…..  

For a more general account of my father’s experience in the Second World War, please see http://www.richardpgibbs.org/2013/02/a-war-in-italy.html but what follows is a diary of his actual experience between June 18th and August 10th 1943.  He had enlisted in the RAF in September 1942, and was a Radar Technical Officer attached to a Mobile Signals Servicing Unit with the rank of Flight Lieutenant.  He was barely 19 when he signed up, but by the following summer he turned twenty in the dust of North Africa, just three days before the invasion of Sicily.



What follows is an edited version of the text of a notebook which somehow survived his travels and the years.  Not every word is decipherable, but, as he would have said, You’ll get the gist….  The text covers his journey to Algiers aboard USAT Santa Rosa and then the first few weeks of his experience in North Africa.  It is a remarkably calm and everyday account of what to us today is extraordinary.  Names and events come and go, and have all now passed into dust, but the words convey a vulnerable determination to cope with the adversities that life presented then.


The War in Europe had become a World War in December 1941, and troop convoys to sustain India were necessary, and until the defeat of the Axis in North Africa the only way was via South Africa.  Troop convoys were known as WS (Winston Specials – which were bound for Asia), KMF (UK to Mediterranean Fast) and later (after the securing of the Suez Canal) AB (Aden to Bombay) At the time of my father’s voyage the WS and KMF convoys started together in the Clyde (the only basin large, and safe, enough to hold sufficient vessels) and then assembled near Oversay before heading into the Atlantic and then south to where they separated before the KMF units headed for the Straits of Gibraltar.


USAT Santa Rosa

F/Lt P C Gibbs was aboard the USAT (formerly SS) Santa Rosa, which had taken its maiden voyage in 1932 (and had been designed by William Francis Gibbs – no relation).  Like many troopships this was built as a commercial liner, and even had a dining room which could be opened to the sky.  She weighed 9,135 tons, had a top speed of 19 knots and took 2,426 passengers.  After the war she was refitted and went back into cruising service with the Grace Line before being sold to Greek owners in 1961 (who renamed her Athinai and used her for fortnightly cruises out of Venice before their arrest following a ferry disaster in 1966).  She then ended her career by playing a bit part in Raise the Titanic before being broken up in 1988.  She was an elegant ship for her time, and an eye-witness account gave her a glowing report…..  Further down and across the dock, the Grace Line passenger ship SS Santa Rosa, also lay waiting. She was painted wartime gray but she still flaunted her nubile twin funnels, sweeping bow and long, beautiful lines; She exuded an aura of speed, luxury, and moonlight tropical nights. The SS Santa Rosa was sexier than Rita Hayworth in a travel poster...


Convoys were not luxury travel, however.  The pace was set to the slowest vessel, which might have been about 12 knots, and with zig-zag evasive tactics progress was limited to no more than 250 miles a day, so the voyage from the Clyde to Algiers took nine days. 

Total figures for troops lifted in troop convoys are not easily calculable, but the ships involved normally carried between 2,000 and 4,000 troops apiece, which will give some idea of the effort involved. Furthermore, the convoys were not simply a transport of soldiers; each WS convoy conveyed a complete military formation of many thousands of troops plus their personal baggage and equipment, stores, MT, artillery, armour etc so that the entire force, on arrival, formed a complete fighting unit at Divisional level. Royal Air Force personnel, in large numbers, were also lifted both to Egypt and to India; Royal Navy drafts were, at the time of WS convoys, in the minority. The later KMF convoys, which were to supplement existing formations, tended not to be accompanied by the MT ships. Overall, it is probable that well in excess of 2,000,000 Servicemen took passage in the WS and KMF convoy sequences between 1940 and 1945.

One surprising fact about these convoys is that there were remarkably few casualties, though only days after the Santa Rosa docked in Algiers, on the night of the 11th July, Convoy Faith was attacked by German Focke-Wulf Condor bombers when three hundred miles off the Portuguese coast.  As a result two troopships were lost and 115 men perished.

http://www.naval-history.net/xAH-WSConvoys06-1943.htm has the detail of my father’s convoy:

Sailing in company with KMF 17, the convoy assembled off Oversay 21.6.43 as below:

11L
LARGS BAY

21L
BRITANNIC

31C
SANTA ROSA

12C
J W McANDREW

22C
CRISTOBAL

32L
SAMARIA


23L
SILVERTEAK

33A
TAMAROA


being KMF 17 forming columns 1 to 3.

41C
STRATHEDEN

51C
GEN GEORGE W GOETHALS

61L
CITY OF LINCOLN

42C
JOHN ERICSSON

52L
RANGITIKI

62L
CLAN MACAULAY

43C
CLAN MACARTHUR




being WS 31 forming columns 4 to 6.

Commodore of the joint convoys, and WS 31, was in STRATHEDEN, Vice Commodore of WS 31 in RANGITIKI.

When the convoys divided on 26.6, WS 31 retained the same formation, numeration becoming columns 1 to 3.

Escort from Oversay to 26.6 was the cruiser UGANDA and destroyers ARROW, BLANKNEY, BLENCATHRA, BRECON, BRISSENDEN, HAMBLEDON, LEDBURY, MENDIP, VICEROY, WALLACE, WITHERINGTON and WOOLSTON relieved from Gibraltar by AMAZON, BLACKMORE, BULLDOG and FOXHOUND which escorted to Freetown where the convoy arrived 4.7.43. French armed merchant cruiser QUERCY joined on 1.7 for Freetown. 




The second half of this diary concerns my father’s efforts to use his skills and training in the field.  The Northwest African Coastal Air Force (NACAF) had been created in January 1943 at the Casablanca conference (following the successful invasion of Morocco and Algeria by British and American forces in November 1942) and was under the command of Air Vice-Marshal Sir Hugh Lloyd.  However, as F/Lt P C Gibbs tells it was not all plain sailing…… 





---


There are light moments!  One of the references that may need explanation these days is to Fred Karno’s Army.  A popular song of the time explains:

We are Fred Karno's Army,

What bloody use are we?

We cannot fight, we cannot shoot,

So we joined the infantry.

But when we get to Berlin,

The Kaiser he will say,
"Hoch! Hoch! Mein Gott,
What a jolly fine lot
Are the ragtime infantry!"

We are Fred Karno's Army,
A Jolly lot are we,
Fred Karno is our Captain,
Charlie Chaplin our O.C.
But when we get to Berlin,
The Kaiser he will say,
"Hoch! Hoch! Mein Gott,
What a jolly fine lot
Are the boys of company C!"

We are Fred Karno's Army,
What bloody use are we?
We cannot fight, we cannot shoot,
So we joined the infantry.
But when we get to Berlin,
The Kaiser he will say,
Hoch! Hoch! Mein Gott,
What a jolly fine lot
Are the ragtime infantry!" 



---

 


The very first page of the notebook has been torn out, and then there are eight pages of various jottings, then another page is missing.  Among the notes are:

Rations from NAAFI

4
tins P.A. 
White
2
tins P.A. 
Moor
7
2’s biscuits

2
Pastilles 
Broadbridge
2
               
Riley
2
           
Gibbs



2
Peps       
Riley



40
Players

1 Carton
Chesterfields

Chesterfields

6
Matches    
Carl

    Choc.







Friday, June 18th

0400 We crack with the dawn.  Last Blackpool breakfast 0430.  0515. On parade 0645.  Steam out of B.pool 1030 (by train – Ed.)  Carlisle feeds us like lords on meat pies and tea.  1445 Gourock.  Scotland having waved us on our way we board the King Edward tender for the Santa Rosa.  W.V.S. do great work with scones.



Berthed in A20 with 3 medical types, Riley, Snelling and Shapiro, two other tech types from Canada, Carl Roach Broadbridge, an Art Dawson and Engineer Moor.  We have our first American meal this evening and thoroughly enjoy ourselves on tomato salad, soup with ‘noodles’ real white bread, apple pie and apples.  Trouble is no more food till 7 a.m. tomorrow.  This two meal a day racket is no piece of cake.


The C.O. introduces himself in the men’s black hole – S/Ldr Forbes Mitchell or versa vice.  Seems a vigorous type and fosters a good ‘up the R.A.F.’ spirit.

Sleep comes easily this night after a very long day.

These bunk gaffs are quite nifty

Wrote green envelope mail for the family, Ann (WAAF Anna McMullin, later to become Mrs Gibbs – Ed.), & the Aunts.


Saturday 0600

First conscious thoughts.  Food!  & oh boy what food.  Fruit juice, cornflakes, white toasted bread & do we stuff.

Washing is the problem as though there is so much H2O about there’s not a drop to drink or wash in. Doing the daily chores is relief from the unchanging view.  A final inspection of the ship was threatened & we stood by for one hour but no one arrives to praise our little floating home.

We think about food & make wishful orders for stores but at 1400 panic starts.  Very shaky fire drills & boat drills are held.  Maybe it’s good for morale not to bid too much about these things but it is obvious that boat & fire stations should be more clearly defined.

More bodies come aboard & in the evening time naval RAF & U.S. launches fuss around.  Movement is in the air, & sure enough at approx 2030 we weigh anchor & break up a pontoon game just to watch Clyde side slipping by.

 


The weather today was iffish & I’m glad, as to see those hills, in their full glory of sunshine & shadow, fade out of recognition would I think have been hard.

Tonight we have to sleep fully dressed but that’s not difficult for me even though it is my first night at sea.

Sunday Again 0600 first thoughts food & again what food!  Grapefruit, two eggs & bacon gives the inner man something to work on.

On deck at 0800 we find we are steaming well within sight of Ireland & Scotland, in line ahead, due North.


Destroyers start dashing in amongst us & the convoy fans out & as we turn N.W. meets another section steaming south.  Cruisers & planes appear giving confidence. 


My confidence sinks with the contents of my stomach.

A strong swell set in & by 1300 I was decidedly dicky.  Singing hymns in the Yank manner relieved the situation slightly.

1600 Dinner
1605 No dinner

Should have been clapped in irons for leaving trail over the side!

1610 Bed
2000 Test of sea legs again.  Found wanting.
2030  Bed with a rumour that the clocks are to be changed during the night.


Consequently we wake on Monday 21st at 0457.  The dawn looks good & we find we are sailing due west.  Back to bed as the sea legs are still a trifle bandy.  But at 0700 a good breakfast is well & truly sunk.  This Yank system of a pep cup of fruit juice is certainly tasty.

We are now sailing south west with about ten other ships & fourteen destroyers & a cruiser possibly County Class.  Of my cabin mates White is still icky, Alex Shapiro is still horizontal & Doc Snelling is fighting hard but doesn’t give in.  Mental attitude towards this sickness has a great bearing on one’s condition.  The Docs have their theories of course: pressure on the stomach, solid food & little liquid.

The conversation varies from medicinal binding of a tropical type to another type of which we need say little. Dinner of boiled chicken.  A cinema show in the evening.  The 8th time I’ve seen Broadway Melody of 1940, but this time has more romance than any previous.


Clocks are set forward one hour to compensate for westward travel.  Consequently we lose an hour’s sleep but still rise at 0645 on Tuesday June 22nd to take a cup of grapefruit juice & a Mepacrine tablet which is due at the end of five days to turn us yellow (Mepacrine was given to counter malaria - Ed.)

The morning doesn’t promise much but the sky becomes cloudless & the sea deep blue by midday when we are sailing.  A whale is reported off the starboard bow by a M.O. Major – U.S. Army.  Personally I have no confirmation of this to offer and hae ma doots.  One or two sound bird types are seen during the day, however, including a gull & a Sunderland.


The black ball is hoisted at the mast head & a destroyer does one or two vicious curves while the convoy zigs to starboard & zags to port all evening general direction now being S & slightly east of S.


Gambling, it is laid down, is strictly taboo.  There’s a pleasant chink of cash from all over the ship & we’re no exception.  A Yank gunner from Illinois shows us how…..  A ship’s band sends strains of syrupy modern sentiment & jumping jive ricocheting over the wilful waters.

Thought for the day by an old sea dog (just weaned) This motion is positively binding…..

We go to bed rather forcibly reminded that this is no pleasure cruise as at sundown two of the destroyer escort suddenly turn tail & waterspouts form where depth charges are dropped.


During the night we run into a long swell & our tub behaves like a dancer from her native land & her whole body sways with a most exciting motion!

Wednesday June 23rd

This is now becoming a routine: -  eat, sleep, sit, eat, sleep.  Little activity means little to report.  Two Liberators are over during the morning & the captain looses off a few rounds for no reason at all at nothing in particular.  Boat drill is uneventful.


Thursday June 24th 

A vast inspection is carried our & as a consequence the whole ship is in disgrace.  Men confined to quarters until there is sufficient cleaning done to make the place ship-shape.  Otherwise an uneventful day save that orders are issued for the wearing of K.D. (Khaki Drill – Ed.), censorship of mail & changing of currency.  We are apparently nearing the end of our trip.

I see a film (in company with several others!) Almost Married.  An almost novel plot with come almost novel humour.  Almost top-hole!

I read The Great American Novel by Clyde Davis.  A diary of a would-be journalist & novelist, it has some interesting passages re dreams.  My ideas & Mr Davis’s seem at times similar, especially re his ‘girl friend.’


Sun sets at about 2200 hrs.

Friday June 25th

Sees me O.O (received wisdom suggests this is Orderly Officer, thanks John – Ed.) in company with brother Broadbridge F/O R.C.A.F. ‘Chow’ inspection seems to be our main bind.  I regret to have to remark that the average individual’s keenness for cleanliness must be pretty low judging by some of the bodies I witnessed today.

The convoy splits at about 1700 hrs; we now steam N.W. (it seems that PCG may have got his bearings wrong here, and perhaps elsewhere: they should have been steaming east at this point!  Ed.) hoping to sight Gib. At any moment; the others steam south and have the hell of a distance to go.

Letters to Johns B, & St A & H, T.O., D.E.F. despatched.  Screeds to Ann & home under way.

We see our first fishes.  Could be porpoises or sharks.

A fine dinner of pork which following the steak of the 25th makes us appreciate Chinese cooking.

Rumours are rampant concerning passage through the straits.  Gib. However is hidden from us by the shades of night as we slip by apparently at 0100 on Saturday June 26th when we rise as usual & eat, as usual, a very good breakfast.  The breakfast takes half the morning & the rest we spend getting gen on disembarkation.  Last English cash turning in for exchange.

The guns have fun during the morning pooping off all manner of projectiles, shells, rockets & parachutes.  Cabin A 20 looks like a tailor’s shop in the afternoon, pro. tem. adjustments being made ad. lib.

June 27th

For no reason at all this day turns out to be one of the most memorable in this history.  Rising at 0600 we flap into washing, packing, & skivvying before breakfast at 0700.  The African hills are within view before breakfast but I don’t get my view, a pretty dim one at that, until after the meal.  The mountain outline looks pretty foreboding as it pokes through the cloud.

Panic starts at about midday when it’s very hot.  The coastline then rather suddenly comes into full view, white flat-roofed houses, palms & pines.  It now looks not foreboding but attractive…

The convoy breaks into line ahead & zig zags violently for hours.  The heat is terrific & we spend the time (a) scrounging food (b) sitting in the cabin eating, (c) just waiting.

Actually the three Docs & I go on the forbidden sun-deck & watch events.  The dock is crowded with all manner of craft & we pass an outgoing Yank invasion convoy.  Santa Rosa docks at about 1530 near Britannic & Cristobal.


We’re nearly last to leave the ship, however, Britannic being half empty before we start.

Quayside native labourers help to while away the slowly passing hours; one does his own inimitable can-can for a small tip, which I suppose we now call baksheesh,  & ceegarette.

When we finally debark the fun really begins.  Once more we form the good old threes again, Wing Co & S/L’s to the fore & valiantly march off the dockside into the unknown.  And Fred Karno’s Army in ranks wouldn’t have looked more à la mode.  We are to impress the natives we are told.  We do with the fact that the British are still a nation of shop keepers for I’m sure the uninitiated would fondly imagine we’re either a troupe of commercial travellers or shipwrecked survivors.


1 hr sees us somewhere near the smell of the dockside & still no RAF camp in view.  We pass Guards regiments & they counter-pass us when we wilt under the strain.  Passing transport is always very polite to us.  Soldiers even cheer us.  But the Yanks pass us in cold silent superiority.

2 hrs see us there.  First rude awakenings.  Destination DD doesn’t mean a thing.  Posting to A.M.E.S 895 (Air Ministry Experimental Station – Ed.) scrapped.  Now 304 M.S.S.U. (Mobile Signals Servicing Unit – Ed.)

A tented camp is now our home & Oh Ma am I going to miss your apple pie.  I live on a second storey bunk in a marquee with all the bad (?) types.  Moor is still with me. What should be wonderful grub isn’t so wonderful.  Some of the types binge till a.m. on June 28th when big things are expected.  Instead we get a pay-book issued.  Apart from that a visit to sample Algiers in the evening.  Le vin blanc revives the fainting spirit slightly mais nous sommes très fatigués.

I go to Philippeville perhaps some day?  The types also visit Algiers & pickle when they return, till a.m.

Tuesday June 29th

This day we are officially posted.  Then I am summonsed with others to the august presence of A.V.M. H.P. Lloyd – Hughie-Pughie –


who passes the buck to some S/Ldr S.P.O. type who in turn plays the old game & passes me on to Wing Co Swinney who is full of either the joy of life or vin français.  A very pleasant type who suggests I stay at H.Q. pending re-shuffle but finally decides P.Ville.

I scrounge grub having drunk at the Hotel Aletti, and been refused at Le Paris, at the mess of the Base Censors’ Office.


Wednesday June 30th

This camp is a bad spot.  The organisation bad, hygiene bad, dysentery rife among the troops – in short, no bar.  This question of hygiene is to be watched however.  The food is average but such things as bread are not dealt with correctly.  Bread cut is left lying in supposedly fly-proof covers which are in fact inefficient.  The cooking is up to scratch but presumably unimaginative on account of lack of variety.

No movements yet.  I raise shirts & socks & mug at stores.

Exploration of Algy l’après-midi reveals little.  Shops are practically empty; what is there is, if one wishes to buy, Il a défendu, m’sieur; il veut les pointes.  The military are also defended from buying vins or any refreshments before 1700 hrs. 

I go with White to Astaire and Rogers of old in a flick I don’t recognise under its French title.  Dix francs.  Then we trek to the edge of the native quarter.  Natives peddling all things from fruit to baked meats.  It smells!

At night we hear the tale of The Sphinx.  This sex business is a shaky do.

More Pickling.

Thursday July 1st

Breakfast not so bad.  0900 parade.  No gen.  Mail censored.  Washing done.  Airgraphs written.  Felt a wee bit dicky so didn’t exert myself all day.  Drank pints of liquid.  Sweated them out again.  The south-west dust-laden wind is here today & it’s bloody awful.  In the evening it clears though and we visit Hussein Dey, village of, for a French shampoo.  A haircut.  Very nice too.  All for 25 Fr. Then we examine the village & find good Mouscatel wine, coffee, & an Arab pedlar who is beaten down by Sherwood & a little influence on my part from 450 to 225 for a hand-bag! 


We find Doc Riley later giving les enfants rides on a roundabout.  Drunk sailors ask us to show us the way home.  They had had it poor devils!

I have moved to a three tent with F/O King, a cobber, & P/O Smallwood, a controller type. Welsh Wales is saluted in Tent J till the early hours & I still don’t sleep till late. Moor & Jim McGibbon, Niblett & one or two others have gone.

Friday July 2nd

Rise, feel better, breakfast.  0900 parade.  No gen.  Censor mail.  Still letters written on the boat.  If only these erks had sense.  Some write very nice letters but others give away most elementary security information.

Write airgraphs.  Go to Algy & inspect the bigger stores.  Bon Marché, Monoprix & Primavine.  Et je trouve rien du tout….

Sat. Jul 3.

No gen.  Mail censored.  Decide to get organised.  Visit M.U. 351 & discover have just missed truck to Pville.  One may be able to take me.  Then I crack round town visiting Air Transport, Base Movements, & thank my lucky stars I don’t get a strip torn off by S/Ldr o/c.  He instead puts me on to ASR people at NACAF (Northwest African Coastal Air Force – Ed.)  Contact the Admiral there who suggests vague possibility of trip to Bone.  In evening contact C.O. of boats who says Call again Monday.

Walk to Kouba Oasis with King in evening et nous trouvons rien du tout except a haze on top of the hill which dims a splendid view.



Sun Jul 4.

Little to indicate it is Sunday although somehow I sense it more than usual.  No gen.  Relax all day.  Sunbathe carefully.  Walk along beach in the evening & find French men & women at fun in tents.  Vast ammo train explosion at Maison Carrée (at El Harrach – Ed.)  Prisoners escape & camp guarded. 

Letter to Ann.

Mon Jul 5th

Still no gen so contact 351 M.U. again & find LAC Barrow – Les – can take me to St Charles which is estimated to be some 20 miles from P.ville.  Arrange to get cracking 0800 tomorrow. 

During afternoon chase mail at APO.  They suggest contact 895.  Docks at Algy an impressive sight.

Meet Carl, Art, Jack et un autre outside the Officers’ Club which cannot accept further applications today.


painting by 
Mitchell Jamieson



Return to camp & relax pending movement.


Tuesday Jul. 6th

We’re on our way by nearly 0900, and bravely head out for Settif.  This Goddam Afric certainly is some spot.  I boil.  Nancy, our wagon, doesn’t feel well & her pulling to is very poor.

Arab egg sellers en route are given the indicative V sign.  We stop at some wayside café for Mouscatel, but apart from that nothing to report save stop for ropey lunch.  Next stop where a half native Scotsman filches tomatoes for us & we buy apples.  Meanwhile tanks filled.  Put in at a café in Mançur where we drink Mouscatel & converse with supposedly French lad who speaks very good English.

Bathing in the local water supply is very refreshing; the coolest water I’ve yet felt.

Then we organise sleeping accommodation at the ‘French’ lad’s house.  Shaken frigid when we learn he is an Arab of the highest caste.  We are very well entertained by him, Aziz, his brother, Cadour, a French boy, George, & un autre petit garço, l’ami du Cadour.  We eat, cheese & biscuits & Spam & have a good cup of tea & some Arab coffee.

Finally we are told his sister wishes to be presented which Les thinks is the shakiest performance ever, considering Arab customs.  An aperitif is provided by a display of her various costumes & also those of some of her ancestors.  Jealousy is awakened in me on behalf of all English girls especially when a diamond studded veste is produced.

Then the Queen of Algerian Araby appears & Les quakes: I too am dumb-struck.  We converse, but the atmosphere is strained: the poor girl is very shy & we don’t make it easier.  She is shortly to be married but we can’t get much ‘gen’ on that.

Bed at 0100 on My birthday, July 7th.

July 7th

Awake most of the night & try to get cracking early but we are entertained to breakfast by Aziz, eggs & coffee.  We finally move at about 0900 and make Settif about lunch time where we get plum duff & tea from ‘Rocky’.


Constantine is our next major objective & is as interesting as Settif was uninteresting.  The city is perched fairly high and is cleft by a ravine some hundreds of feet deep.  Just outside there are hot springs, too, where we bathed.


Then began the long climb out of Constantine up to 2000 or more feet.

Arrive at St Charles & it’s not long before I’m picked up by a brown truck which takes me to P.ville where I contact a Captain Hamilton RASC (Royal Army Service Corps), who takes great trouble in contacting MSSU (Mobile Signals Servicing Unit) for me.  Arrive at unit about 2000 hrs & contact P/O Crews who feeds me & shows me how all the comforts of home can be laid on.  Spaight the batman is introduced.

July 8th

An introductory tour of the camp.  W/O Barker, F/Sgt Martin give me the gen.  Ce soir the C.O. F/Lt Wright returns.  A business like air about him.

July 9th

I go to Bone to pay the detachment there.  W/O Barker, F/Sgt Hartley & Sgt Goodacre show me how to get well & truly dug in.  Stalk (M/T) cooks & cooks well.

They mess in a barn which is decorated in the manner of Cherchez la femme.

To Duzerville.  Contact S/Ldr Lewis.  A tour of Bone completes the journey.  We return over the hills, by-passing St Charles.  A tortuous route; the engineer must have had a twisted mind.


 July 10th

An ENSA show is the day’s highlight & very high too.  The company are depleted by the ravages of disease and injury but some RASC boys make the show:  one ‘Lofty’ Jimmy Day is a highspot.  We entertain les jolies dames to tea & very nice too.  They are accompanied by a C.S.M. as chaperone.

July 11th

Sunday & I still notice the atmosphere.  I am O.O. everybody’s stooge.  Afternoon I sunbathe & write A.M. (Anna McMullin – Ed.) & then visit 389 MRU to investigate W/T failure with C.O.

Mon. 12th

Weekly inspection: a thorough do.  Then we visit 389 & bathe in the Med.  Deliciously salty.  In afternoon met F/Lt M Olfman of 8003 & inspected station.  A shaky set up.

To tea & to my surprise, Goffins (possibly a colleague from Canvey Island – Ed.).  This was a great do to be able to reminisce about the joys of the island.

I write Ann in the evening shooting the full line of good news.

Tues 13th

Really start work & what happens?  Movement is organised to form 1 RDF Service Section c/o 892 AMES Djidjelli (Modern Jijel – Ed.) So we organise a move in something under six hours & arrive at Taher at 2030. First impression not to be trusted.


Wed 14th

Waiting for Claydon; F/O Warnes shows me the set-up; meet Elliot & Glaze.  See Djidjelli.  Go scrumping grapes and to flicks: Desert Victory in the evening- a flat do.


Thursday 15th

F/Lt Claydon arrives.  & blows off steam.  Seems a forceful type.  Go eating in the soir to the Casino.  Meet Doc Field Lt USAMC, a useful type.  A natter develops about V.D. & then becomes the total annihilation of the Jerries.  Glaze for erase.


Friday 16th

Strip.  Volkswagen.  Mess in Yanks place.  Swim.

Sat. 17th

The work progresses as junk arrives.  I natter with the farm foreman having scrounged wine from him hier soir.

The general atmosphere of 892 is strange but the men seem happy.  But to be told to fuck off and get spoons is not the way to address a batman even though slow.

Earth closets are lazy sanitary seats – dig holes wherever possible. The Yank mess kit cleaning should be adopted universally as here.

Sun 18th

Still feel it is Sunday but there is work to be done.  Watch French at play while we work.  Their motto C’est la guerre is too typical of their Ca ne fait rien attitude.

Power line approx 2000 yds completed.  Volts drop no more than 15 on 2½ amp load.  (230v single phase of 20 KVA Lister).  Cable is 12 strand 18 gauge copper.  Capacity effect?  Giving voltage reading between live supply & ‘grounded’ cable.

All set to go.  So on Monday 19th we go via Bougie (now Béjaïa – Ed.) to Port Gueydon (now Azeffoun – Ed.) tp 8006 where we are entertained by a wild looking specimen who, poor devil, broke his pelvis on The Windsor Castle (At 0202 on March 23rd, 1943, K.M.F.11 was attacked by torpedo aircraft about 60 miles W.N.W. of Algiers. The Windsor Castle, 19,141 tons, carrying 2,500 troops, was torpedoed,and sank.  One life was lost – Ed.)

A good impression of the camp is obtained but technically he fair looks as though mauled about.  F/Lts Sanderson & Joyce introduced.  Then on via Dellys, a bright spot, to Algy the Albert (which may mean the Albert Hotel in Algiers – which was to be the US Embassy – Ed.)

20th

Then begins a very long wait, spent largely in churning out yards of bunff.  Big business to start with churning out vast quantities of A.P. 1914 re-scheduled for RSS’s.  Takes 2 or 3 days with the able assistance of Cpl Covington USAAC & LAC Selby, much sought after clerk G.D.  And so on Sunday July 25th the Wing Co asks me what I’m doing; so I tell him and he says, O.K. we’ll fix that, and he does.

I lead a semi-hermit like existence writing doleful letters home and elsewhere.  There is no joie de vivre except across the way on the balcony opposite.  But as usual I have not the brazen confidence necessary.  Success in life seems to depend largely on the possession of full self-confidence and ability to act with complete disregard for anybody’s feelings, even your own.  This may seem very obvious but if one records these feelings when they strike one so forcibly one may at a later date look back and laugh.  Very simply it hinges on this.  To be of real use with regard to general welfare an influential position is naturally helpful and to gain that position self-advancement is essential.  The main difficulty of course is that in self-advancement one tends to get so absorbed in the matter that the higher ideal is generally lost from sight in clouds of ruthless dealing and continuous hard driving which has dulled the senses. 

After that digression week beginning Mon 26th passes uneventfully but a good deal more pleasantly.  Carl Roach turns up, F/Lt (Ha) Moss is met and we have a fairly gay time, especially at the Franco-Plage on WednesdayCa va bien, when I walk Arlette home.  We go flicks several times & I begin to make contacts in the mess which all helps to make life easier.  A Canadian F/O Beau Sprache shares my room: a good bloke.  Then on Sunday 1st Aug I miss my date because the ruddy equipment is ready and there’s the dickens of a shambles in getting it off.  F/Lt Anderson (N.Z. 351 M.U.) is helpfully sympathetic.  S/L Scorfie (same joint) is bluntly pointed that he’s finished and S/L Mair’s patience is exhausted.  F/Sgt Burr & Buckley however proceed on Sunday to No 2.  F/Sgt Cox by air on Monday to No 1.  The vehicles turn up this day & I organise driving permit, drivers & then prepare to depart Tuesday at 0830.  We leave at 1100 and this being my first 15 cwt Dodge African drive ever we waste no time & don’t spare the gear box.

Sgt Wilkins, Cpl Dawes & two LACs complete the convoy.  We make Bougie at 0430 the only troubles being two blocked petrol feeds.  Then on to our little café with the oh so charming little English girl Adrienne Green.  Wizard cups of tea and Spam & jam sandwiches.  A charming spot is this.  Then we go on & swim en route, reaching Taher about 2100 in time to organise some grub and room for the night.  And so on Wednesday we get cracking, F/Sgt Cox doing all the work.  Sgt Harely, F/Sgt Martin & Wood E/Asst complete the gang.

8020 are there & have to be refitted.

F/O Sheridan & F/Lt Trett seem a decent pair.  Glaze is still tom Glaze & Elliot Bob Elliot.  Warnes seems steadily to be soaking.

Well then the bombshell.  Tommie Glaze is posted to 8620 so with the month’s ration of whisky just in there is every excuse for a binge Thurs; the night is far spent & spent badly by the morning when we retire.

Things seem to be working swell at the R.S.S.  Customers begin to call, even a mast crashes for our benefit.  S/O Shipton & Woodhead have a grand crowd & a grand swimming pool.  P/O Civil is as his name implies a very pleasant type.  More bodies arrive.  F/Sgts Curtis& Webster – Diesel Mech Elects 1.  A visit to Settif with Sgt Wilkins is grand.


The Arab kids on the way with their confusion over zig-zag certainly have their wits about them.  We call in at Adrienne’s again & have a wizard salad.

F/Sgt Cox moves off east on Monday & a signal comes telling me to move west on Tuesday (9th August 1943 – Ed.)

Sorry, very sorry, to go but we have a smashing trip.  Adrienne, the misses Sinclair & Clark’s place in Yakouren being the high-spots, all due to whetstone Sid F/Sgt.

I discover on return that in Mair’s opinion I am not a good type for the job.  I shall bring the name of the R.S.S. into disrepute.   Bitterness about it is the host feeling & then slow burning apathy & then a more sensible, almost what the hell! outlook.  Bad I know but then what the hell.

And a night in Algy with F/Sgt W: then off again with Claydon to Djid via 8002’s new site.  What a site!  A good Arab meal in Tizi & a wizard AMES tea at 8002 make the ride enjoyable

& By the way first mail from home

Ann (Bless her)

& Mum (Thank God for her too!)






(And I wonder if Dawson still owes dad 10d? - Ed.)






Many thanks for information and pictures gleaned from the Internet - If I have neglected to give credit where due, please let me know and I will amend accordingly.