The first group of airmen to arrive in Egypt following the First Provisional Group was known only as #6084 pp. This highly trained Group of men had sailed from Newport News, Va. on December 20, 1942, South to Rio and were restricted to ship while we took on supplies for our long voyage. We sailed for Freetown and never made it, because of German submarines. Thus we continued south near the Antarctic then around The Cape of Good Hope through the Indian Ocean to the Red Sea all the way to Suez. We were quite lucky for our ship had been the Matson Line's Classic Ship, Mariposa. Quite a number of us; because of our knowledge of cannons were chosen as gunners aboard ship and served two hours on duty and four off for the entire time. Others ware not so lucky and were given some nasty jobs such as shoveling rotten potatoes from the ship's hold and into the Red Sea.
It took over 40 thrilling days to reach this stinking port of Suez. The smell was horrible for so very long we had enjoyed the purest air on earth. We soon boarded a train for Fayid, Egypt, which smelled just half as bad. Fayid was at this time a limited service RAF Base. On the field was the first B-24 we had ever seen, Black Jack and in her nose was the bomb sight for all to see. The desert nights were quite cold and with the tropical contrast soma slept with their clothes on most nights.
A few of us were sent out by train almost at once to The Great Western Desert, referred to by our British neighbors as The Blue. We were on trains again, my how much we wanted to fly. To sleep on this train was not at all possible, there was nowhere to lie down. All was complete darkness, scary and the unending noise of track and wheels. Daylight came and El Alamein was our first fair view of what desert war had been, destruction, wreckage, munitions, waste death, land mines.
From this moment on we all eyed our Springfields with greater respect. Armorer, Dean Snodgrass had carved his rifle stock skillfully at Fayid and we all wanted ours to be that wonderful. The rail lines ended and we proceeded via truck to the heart breaking city of Tobruk where we tented for the night. This was our introduction to water rationing. We were issued by the British a typewritten slip of paper 1/4 x 3/4" with the word WATER typed upon it. Each day you exchanged the slip for a canteen full of water and were issued a new slip. This water was indescribably horrid and I only drank tea while at Tobruk. (I carry the water rationing slip in my wallet to this day)
At this base we were surrounded by death, destruction, munitions, bomb craters, blown-up tanks, sunken ships, wounded, but working soldiers. They were expecting a bombing attack at any minute as more than 20 barrage balloons were flying over the harbor. We resumed our journey of continued flies, crashed aircraft, Italian, German and British, Tanks, land mines by the millions, bombs, craters, sand and more flies and extreme desert heat, followed by a mighty cold night. We soon learned that cold C rations were most gaseous. Lord, how we longed for the comforts of America. We did have good Salvation Army tea. That fine organization never gets proper credit for anything and we were not asked to pay for it like the Red Cross does.
The British SA sure did care, they called their tea Chi. We were sure that our thrilling trip was at end as we came to Benghazi where we camped for the night. On the trip we had seen aircraft, but they must have been protecting us as there was no action. It had been a great trip and we were now on the edge of the Mediterranean (henceforth referred to as the Med.) where if I am able to swim would make life much better. Other than ~looking like a wartime junkyard with a cathedral and several large buildings, Benghazi was passable. More surprises, this is not to be our home for the present for the next morning we took off further to the South, to the bombed out desert post of Soluch a nearly waterless hole that had been an Italian Colonization center.
At Soluch all major buildings had been shelled or bombed. Only the Senussi Arabs live here now. We are the 376th Bombardment Group (H) and this must serve as our base. These Arabs deal fairly and I find they hate only Italians. We were issued a white British desert tent with a double flap top. The underside of the top flap is blue to reflect the sun's heat. This tent, just half as high as the American brown job, rarely blew down. By digging the tent a few feet into the ground it was far more comfortable than we ever thought it could be. We did our own hard digging and were told by the Arabs that no Germans ever did their own work and they were surprised by us doing ours.
My cotton hair had them fooled; they thought I was a German. The British called the natives, WOGS, as the Prince of Whales had said they were without graces. We also called them WOGS, Western Oriental Gentlemen. The only trouble I ever had with them was one night in town I ran head on into Noseless Tillie and she dropped her veil and laughed hysterically, damn near putting me into panic. Her nose had been publicly cut off to teach the natives that stealing would not be tolerated. It had been the work of Italian soldiers.
We advance armorers had been put to work loading bombs, fining and fusing and modifying armament on new B-24's coming in to our base. This was great; we worked hard with very little water but finally knew that we were helping fight the war. Bomboogie B-24 #31, was assigned to me and I was real happy and put her out on five bombing missions and all went well.