Saturday, April 23, 2011

Glimpses of War - December 1940

My grandfather, Pat Nidd, wrote many letters during his time away for World World II.  He had beautiful writing.  Unfortunately his letters all appear to have been destroyed.  

Photo of Pat Nidd in uniform

Thankfully, the Ellesmere Guardian reported upon one of the letters Pat sent to his father in December 1940.  The article, which appeared in the Guardian on 11 December of that year, reads:


Interesting glimpses of life and conditions in Egypt are contained in a letter which Mr W.M. Nidd, of Southbridge, has received from his son, Lieut. W.T. Nidd, N.Z.E.F.

Lieut Nidd mentioned that the force spent a week or two at a destination en route, during which time some of the officers were billeted at hotels.  He was detailed to the largest hotel in the city, from the top storey of which a fine view of the city was obtained.  Taxis in the city were cheap, so the New Zealanders were able to see a good deal of the city, in which there were some beautiful buildings.  Writing of the native population, he said that some of the poorer classes slept on the streets, in doorways, or anywhere at all.  he did not have a high opinion of the back streets of the city or of the native quarter, but the civic authorities were doing their utmost to improve sanitation and were building marvellous blocks of flats.

In Egypt
The force eventually arrived at its destination in Egypt after an uneventful trip.  Going through the Red Sea no sign was seen of the Italians, and there was no doubt in the world that the British Navy had charge there.  The New Zealanders were fortunate in reaching their destination in winter, but even so the days were as hot as the hottest summer's day in New Zealand.  as soon as the sun set the temperature fell rapidly and during the night it was bitterly cold.  The change in temperature was so sudden that one could easily catch a chill. 

Lieut. Nidd stated that he had been on a number of trips around Cairo and had visited all the sights and world-renowned places; had climbed the Pyramid of Cheops, the Great Pyramid and incidentally the largest building in the world, had explored the ruins in the vicinity of the Sphinx at the foot of the pyramid; had been through the passages and galleries in it leading to the tomb of Cheops and they had taken some climbing.  The base of the pyramid was 560ft. square and it was 481 feet high.  It was built of blocks of granite 4ft. square brought down from Assawa, some hundreds of miles up the river Nile, which was a feat in itself.  There were still to be seen the marks of French bullets on the Sphinx, done when Napoleon tried to conquer Egypt and when he ordered his troops to fire on it.  A visit was also paid to the Step Pyramid, about 20 miles further south.  This was the oldest building in the world - 5000 years B.C., while in the tombs nearby had been found some interesting relics of Egyptian kings.

Among the mosques visited, of which there were some remarkable and beautiful structures, each with a tradition, was one run by Albanian Mahommedan priests.  The head was 105 year old and bed ridden, but the next in command showed the party round. Through an interpreter he told the New Zealanders how pleased he was to see them; that he and all priests prayed that the British would drive the Italians out of Egypt and out of Albania and invade Italy, which would be utterly conquered, he said, for Allah had decreed it.  Relations between British troops and the Egyptians had to be carefully balanced, for while they were strongly pro-British they were still neutral.  The British, however, were great friends with the Greeks.

Plight of the Italians
The Australian and New Zealand troops were only a speck in the ocean in numbers compared to the rest of the British troops.  The British Navy had complete control of the Mediterranean.  "What we saw in the Red Sea made us realise the strength of the Navy and made us laugh at the absurd claims of the Italians," wrote Lieut. Nidd.  "The Italians in Abyssinia must be having an awful time as they are absolutely cut off from Italy in every way and it is only a matter of time.  Anyone who says Abyssinia is a wonderful country, able to feed millions should think again.   Beyond the fertile plateau it is scarcely fit to live in.  It is only a matter of time before the Italians there must give in with very little fighting, owing to shortages of everything they need.  The Italians will also get a shock here in Egypt if they start anything.  We all think their position is precarious."

Lieut. Nidd mentioned several soldiers known in the Southbridge district - Goulden, Thompson, Paddy Minogue, Jackson, Max Gordon, Ron Dyce, Robin Armstrong.  Doug Suckling, who was with the Australians, he had also met.

Guarding the Health
One trouble which was prevalent among those new to Egypt, was what was called "Gippy Tummy."  Its symptoms were severe pains in the stomach and dysentry; the trouble was said to be due to the water.  Most careful sanitary precautions were taken, especially with food, and by strict control the British authorities had reduced the disease problem to a minimum.  

The place where the New Zealanders were camped in the last war was now built upon - Zeitoun and Heliopolis - and the men who camped there would not know the place.  By means of irrigation some wonderful suburbs had been built on the banks of the Nile.  The valley of this river was a wonderful area.  Two or three miles on each bank had been irrigated and grew all manner of crops, but beyond there was nothing but sand.

Races in Egypt
Races - gallops - were held every Sunday and were well run.  Double and treble totes and a tote in Cairo were run, also one in Alexandria, 100 miles away, so those not at the races could have their bets.  The favouritism was different on each tote.  The sums places on each were known at the course before the race was run.  The troops reckoned it was more efficient than Riccarton.  The times were slower than in New Zealand but it was almost impossible to pick a winner.

Lieut. Nidd mentioned that the troops had just been inspected by Mr Anthony Eden.  He was a remarkable man and extremely well liked.  The British were getting Allies everywhere in the East.  The Arabs were anti-Italian and there was some talk of a Holy War against the Italians.

Pat would have mentioned the races, as his father was a keen racehorse owner and race attendee.  

Anthony Eden, 1st Earl of Avon, was the British Foreign Secretary during WWII and was to become British Prime Minister between 1955 and 1957.

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