My Dearest Olive,
Long before you receive this, I hope you will have had several air mail letters from me but I am writing this as I promised to give you some greater details.
Our sea voyage ended on Wednesday. We sailed near the North Africa coast for a day, passing Algiers. Unfortunately, we would not land there. We finally landed at a pleasant port.
The houses are built on the side of a hill, all shining white and the streets were full of French and Arabs. It was intensely hot and the disembarking was a wearisome business. Finally, we got into transports and were driven to this camp. I had a momentary shock when the truck swung onto the right hand side of the road and then realised that all driving is, of course, on the right hand side. Finally, we reached the camp and had a hot and dusty march carrying full equipment, that is a large back pack on the back with blankets inside and the men carrying their kit bags and I carried my case. We were all well nigh exhausted when we reached the end.
As I told you in my air mail, this place is pretty grim. Never have I known such heat but what makes matters worse is the dust and flies. The sand gets into everything, all my stuff is covered with sand, everything I touch has a dirty, gritty touch and the flies are simply appalling. It seems impossible to obtain any relief from them. At night comes the menace of the mosquito – everyone is very malaria conscious and one takes great care to see that the mosquito net is well and securely in place. Fortunately, the nights are very much cooler, the period about sunset is quite pleasant and it is possible to sleep fairly well. Unfortunately, I have lost my camp bed. It came on the boat and I saw it when I went down to the hold to open my valise but when everything else arrived, the camp bed was missing. Damned annoying to put it mildly but I am afraid it is a common occurrence out here. Fortunately, on making a claim to the War Office, they will compensate up to 75% but the difficulty is going to be securing another one. They are absolutely impossible to obtain here and, from all reports, very difficult anywhere. It is quite comfortable sleeping on the ground here but may not be so good elsewhere although up in the front line, one will not have much use for them.
The Company, to which we are temporarily attached, is a base for the Irish Brigade. New drafts come here as well as men returning from wounds, sickness etc. Quite a number of ‘Faughs’ I have known are here and have come up and had a chat with me. Sergeant Fairbrother, who was my corporal at the RAF ….. and eventually went to the 1st. He was wounded and has just recently returned to duty. My corporal clerk in ‘F’ Coy is another and a fusilier, who I could not quite place, came up and seemed very pleased to see me. He was in Ballykinler, but I still do not know his name. He said, ‘How is Mrs. Vaile, Sir? Has she still got the dogs?’. I have just heard that Sgt Tom met with a very bad accident at Omagh. He was demonstrating grenade training and a grenade exploded, with the result that he has lost an arm and an eye. Dreadfully back luck but he was lucky to get away with his life under the circumstances.
Bathing in the Mediterranean is extremely pleasant. The water is beautifully warm and the beaches wide and firm. The danger is, of course, lying too long in the hot sun, one sees some magnificent torsoes but they are usually the result of some months’ work. Excessive sunbathing is regarded as a punishable offence with the ordinary soldier.
The Arabs, we have seen, are a very low type. They are wrapped up in old rags and live in the most appalling hovels in indescribable filth. I am not altogether surprised that Frank, when he first arrived out here, wrote home that he had no idea such people existed.
Discipline at this camp is very good. The CO is very strict but seems very capable. He has a fine Alsatian which follows him everywhere. It makes me quite homesick to look at the dog. All the same he’s not as good as Sadi or Silva. Francs are 200 to £1 so we do quite well on the exchange. I am hoping that at last we will succeed in saving quite a good deal. I hope your affairs are alright now, darling. I am very anxious to hear from you and to know how things are progressing, precious.
We have a daily newspaper, the ‘Union Jack’, which is published in North Africa and is fairly good under the circumstances.The Irish Brigade has been fighting in Sicily and the 1st Bttn apparently put up a fine show but took some hard knocks. Maybe they will be given time to reorganise now as they have had a hard time since they landed here.
Look after yourself dear heart, all my love and kisses to you and my sweet Valerie.
Your adoring husband