My trip home – Eric Vast

When the war had finished in Europe only our crystal section, Valve repairers and Radar people were really busy. We ran various educational classes for the others and ‘PYTHON’ was slowly taking people with long service back to the UK.

After three years and seven months on Egypt I became eligible for repatriation. Actually they ought to have subtracted the six weeks or so the I had spent in the UK just before D-Day. I did not remind them. I told my Chief of my impending departure. He somewhat unexpectedly announced he was flying back for a conference about then and he would get me on the same plane. There was at that time a considerable movement of troops by air. However odd planes not on the main list used to arrive every few days arid our local air movements man used to fill them up with locals such as my boss and myself, who had a very low priority. His excuse was that he did not have time to look for those In transit with higher priorities.

Accordingly, when the day arrived, I went down to the old Turkish Barracks with my baggage and a tin of anti-lice powder as the old building was known to be full of bugs. The staff could never get rid of the pests because the thick walls were built of rubble and them the monsters hid.

On arrival I found the place full of very young Captains and a few Lieutenants to had it seem, been deposited there after being turned off two big planes while in transit from India to Britain. They had been stuck here for three weeks and were most unhappy. There was a rather unpleasant young man who had appointed himself spokesman of the party. I had mildly enquired as to whether they would like me to organise tours of Cairo, but it seems they were not allowed to leave the compound. The spokesman asked me what was my air priority. I had a look. It was D.  I was promptly assured  the group were all priority A. I would be there for at least six months. Every few hours a cry was raised. “Chaps. The old Major is still here”. This caused a few smiles. I nearly suggested a bet on who would leave first but thought better of it.

After a couple of days I got a message to be ready at six in the morning and transport would appear. This duly took place but we headed for the Egyptian base of Helmeih, a civilian airport. It seems the Egyptians we worried about the amount of gold objects and antiques that we being taken out of the country, and had got our Authorities to agree that such flights would pass through customs. They had not told us and a fine old panic was going on. Those with gold watches subscribed a few quid each and the Customs let the whole lot through. Well. We were in the Middle East. Soon we were winging north over the barracks. I missed the discovery of my departure of course. Then one and all paid tribute to the ancient jest as to the finest sight in Egypt This is generally considered to be the lighthouse on the breakwater at Alexandria falling a way In the distance.

The Greek Islands were golden set in a vivid blue sea. We came down at Athens, were fed and spent the next three hours watching unfortunates leaving for The Far East. After an interval our Dakota took oft for Italy giving us a good distant view of the Acropolis. We hit the heel of Italy near Bari and landed at a large American Airfield covered with hundreds of Flying Fortresses. There we stopped for a day. Our lodgings had been a school wash-rooms, toilet and baths. But not a drop of piped water, just pails and jugs. The whole area was the same, little filthy cottages daubed with fascist slogans whose toilets were the front garden. No wonder the Northerners described such people as ‘White Savages”. Alter a bathe in the Adriatic we were away and later had a good look at the ships sunk by the Germans In Naples harbour.  About midnight we landed at lstres, which landing provoked a very loud noise. The ground, part of the Rhone delta was pebbles the size of cricket balls.

Away again northwards, when west of Paris the plane hit very turbulent air at which point some wit said we must be nearly home as we had just met the English summer.

Soon after, one of the crew came back and announced that due to an engine fault we would be diverted from Lyneham. There was no fault but a few weeks before the crew had been done for smuggling at Lyneham and were trying again. We came down at Down Ampney, which I always was the name of a hymn tune. Here again they got caught. It seems there had been an enormous party here. Hundreds of jugs of beer all still holding substantial amounts of Liquor were resting on tables. This sight deeply shocked our party. Coming from a thirsty land such waste was wicked.

Next a dispute broke out as to the rate of exchange of our one pound Egyptian note. It should have been one pound and sixpence Sterling. This took a long time to settle with London. At this stage it was decided to send us to Taunton where it was thought that a plane to London was more likely.  At this airfield we found a Wing Commander trying to get clearance as a gale of wind had blown up. In the end we set off following the Great Western railway line to London. He had quite a struggle and the sweat dripped off him. He was not very good at spotting tunnels. Once he had located the EM building at Hayes he timed left for Northolt where we landed. I was conveyed by car to one of the more obscure stations of London of London underground after a couple of changes was soon sitting comfortable at home.

However at the corner of my eye I noticed some movement I nearly had a fit? There ambling along the back of the sofa was a fine specimen of a bug, which I suppose has thumbed a lift all the way from Cairo. It was liquidated and the wife never noticed, thank God. I reckon I was within at ace of being sent back!

Eric Vast – March 1997.

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