The Suez Canal
Later that night the Devonshire with a searchlight on the bow took its place in the convoy and next morning, the Saturday, we went on deck to see on either side of the quite narrow Canal, real palm trees, real camels, and real desert sand stretching away to the horizon. Along the Canal were small settlements. Some looked attractive with French Colonial architecture. We passed ramshackle native craft with their crews lolling about. To an extent it all looked quite biblical.
We came out of the Canal into the Gulf of Suez and into the Red Sea. By now it was beginning to get hot so as we approached the Tropic of Cancer we were instructed to change into our tropical gear, in our case our jungle greens. They were a lot more comfortable than the heavy serge.
Sun bathing too commenced in earnest, for we needed to ‘get our knees brown’. We approached this with caution for the sun was very hot and the sky clear. In those days no thought was ever given to skin cancers, sun block or cream. Being dark complexioned I did not have any trouble with developing my tan but some got horribly burnt. They got no sympathy. Instead, they were disciplining for causing ‘a self inflicted wound.’
The warmer weather brought a welcome relief in that we were allowed to sleep on deck. It got us away from and out of the crowded and unwholesome troop deck. No forced ventilation was available to the troop deck below, just canvas ventilation shafts that were hoisted and these supplied some fresher air down. Awnings were also placed over the open upper decks. Opening portholes to get a change of air was not a good idea. Even if the sea appeared calm on occasion large waves came along and the ship rolled all the while. Then through the porthole came a large dose of sea water with great force behind it swamping everything.
With this permission we took our hammocks and blanket and laid these on the deck with a bundle of clothes for a pillow. This was a luxury indeed. Except I have never known any thing as hard as a deck to rest upon. It really was a delight to lay back and enjoy the motion of the ship, look up at the stars, watch the mast perform gyrations against the night sky and feel a gentle sea breeze around one’s face. All accompanied by background of the soft noise of the sea, and regular ‘put-put’ of the ships diesel engines. We did this as often as the weather and sea conditions permitted for the rest of the voyage. Occasionally, a sudden shower of rain caused us to bolt below. We were woken early in the morning by the Lascars starting the ship’s routine of washing the decks down. They just started with no preliminaries so often it was a rude awakening.