THE THREE WISE MEN (from the East) BEARING GIFTS by Jim Uney
Being away from home at Christmas time is no joy for anyone, especially for the first time, add being in a foreign land, and this was the situation which I found myself in sixty years ago this Christmas.
The Land of the Pharaohs was not at that time the most pleasant place to visit, the Suez Canal Zone was no exception, but that was where HM Government had decided was the ideal spot for me (and thousands like me) to complete my National Service.
I was stationed at Fayid with 35 Field Engineer Regt., Royal Engineers. The boredom was unbelievable; endless guard duties coupled with schemes, lousy food, lousy flies, sandstorms, jabs for this, jabs for that, lack of mail from home – it was snail mail at that time! – plus somebody pinched our set of goal posts.
Hull’s own David Whitfield was soon to be singing about “See the Pyramids along the Nile”, Yeah I wish! All we saw was Army Camps and sand. I happened to be on a high spot in the Sinai Desert reading a copy of our local paper from home, one advert by a local company said “Sand and Gravel Delivered Anywhere”. We had to laugh, we were looking at about 23,500 square miles of it!
On morning parade on Christmas Eve 1952, I was told by SSM (Bunker) Hill that I appeared to be in serious trouble as there were two SIB (Special Investigation Branch) Corporals of the RAF Police waiting at the guardroom to interview me. I was quickly joined by two escorts and “doubled” off the square to meet them.
The two flat-capped, ramrod straight corporals, with the peaks of their caps shielding their eyes, informed me that I was to be interviewed at El Hambra RAF camp for a period not exceeding 72 hours. I was amazed to realize that I knew the one who was doing all the talking, he used to live at a farm near Boreas Hill, Paull, I think it was named Oxgoddes. With one finger to his lips he suggested to me to say nothing, but asked me to go to my tent for a change of clothing, toiletries and civvies (if I had any) before instructing the driver of the (Landrover) patrol vehicle to move off.
Driving along the Treaty Road towards El Hamra, we had to pass many tented Army camps. At Keren Camp, Fanara, we turned into the main gateway to await meeting another lad who I went to Paull Primary School with. He also had been told that the SIB wanted to interview him. His worried expression changed when he realised what it was all about, and he quickly gathered some kit and jumped in the Landrover with us.
I am unsure of whether El Hamra is east of Fayid, but to me it was Three Wise Men bearing gifts! OK maybe one was a jerry-can full of deisel which must have been obtained somehow, to carry out this escapade, and the offer of accommodation, Food and Drink over Christmas were brilliant, all of which were gifts, plus all the trouble which they had gone to in tracking two army personnel down, although helped no doubt, by being in the business.
We were made welcome with a meal at El Hamra RAF camp before getting changed into civvies as we were invited to attend a “Darnce” (Dress Informal), “eat your heart out Strictly”. Entering in the customary raffle as a matter of manners so to speak, it wasn’t long before I won a large green bottle of Gordons Dry Gin. Then somebody else in the party also won the same, buying orange juice watered it down a little, but the mixture also drank with decent amounts of “Stella” beer is not to be recommended! I still have the original invitation card from this event.
Spending Christmas at El Hamra with ex-schoolmates had been first class, we had been made very welcome all the time and that is why I remember it so well after all these years. After the usual photos, we were returned to our camps several miles away. I failed to find out how it had all been set up, but I was certainly not complaining and nothing more was said about the matter.
I did not get any chance to see the lads again as I was posted to Cyprus early in the New Year 1953, to experience earthquakes on the islands of Zakynthos (Zante), and Cephalonia, and one in Paphos (Cyprus) before early nasty disagreements with EOKA (The union with Greece) organisation – but that’s another story!
Merry Christmas, Jim Uney, Hedon
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