I was looking forward to Gibraltar, and entering the Mediterranean, but we came up to Gibraltar and sailed through the Straits in the night. Next day in in the Mediterranean Sea, I was a disappointed. I had expected blue instead of grey, but all around the rough, grey sea confronted me in the cold. What was exciting was two continents in view, Europe and Africa. To port the high snow covered Sierra Nevada in Spain towered, and to starboard the Atlas Mountains in Algeria were visible.
Across the Mediterranean we sailed seeing at night many brightly lit towns along the Algerian and Moroccan shores. We saw Malta on the northerly horizon and other islands the names of which were familiar from the War, and passed Cape Bon in Tunisia. On the far horizons we also saw land from time to time and other ships. Our voyage across this Sea was not up to my expectations for I was expecting to find much more in the way of warmer weather, blue skies and a blue sea. It did nevertheless become bluer as we got further eastward, and I felt a little more satisfied with it.
Evening Entertainment on the Devonshire
About this time we had our first evening entertainment of a film. We sat to watch it on the open deck, the condition of the sea permitting, with all the ship and sea noises drowning the sound track. If it rained, these films often came to a sudden end. Every other night, we watched, and apart from one ‘amateur night’ this was the only entertainment offered to us the whole voyage. Ribald comments on the films from wits in the audience was the best part of this entertainment.
Port of Call – Port Said
Port Said in Egypt, the entry to the Suez Canal linking the Mediterranean with the Red Sea, was to be our first port of call. The Canal again separates Africa from Asia. We entered the Roads and moored in the afternoon of Friday, February 3, eight days from Liverpool. We then warped alongside a quay and some troops dis-embarked to a posting in the Canal Zone; regarded as one of the worst there could be. Little but sand, flies and boredom was all they could look forward to. And some came on board who were going to Aden.
We were to stop for a few hours so the ship could wait its place to join the convoy forming to go eastward. But as the ship was late there was no time to go ashore. Whilst there, we joined our fellow squaddies lining the rails, and watching and enjoying the actions of the vendors in the hosts of ‘bum-boats’ below offering their wares. No wogs – soldier’s slang of long standing and well before the days of political correctness, Wily Oriental Gentlemen – were allowed aboard. All prices were negotiable. Goods were offered and the money tendered through baskets on lines thrown up by the merchants and lowered by us. We enjoyed the experience, but there was a good deal of cheating on both sides.
Among the goods being offered were tinned and fresh fruits like bunches of bananas, pineapples and oranges. We looked at this in some amazement for we had left rationed Britain behind where items like this were not available. The experienced soldiers bought fresh and tinned fruit and we wondered why. We soon learnt when they spurned the Devonshire duff and feasted on the fruit instead.