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PETER GRAY: New role gave me access to railway station

By Herald Express  |  Posted: May 30, 2014

SHUNTING: Still in GWR livery, 2-6-2T No 4582 is preparing to shunt a few wagon loads of coal up to the coal stage at Newton Abbot on November 4, 1950 P W GRAY

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MY THIRD Christmas in the army was something of a non-event. Usually it is the dinner on Christmas Day which is the star of the show.

But how do you improve on day-to-day excellence? I noted at the time that my first army Christmas dinner at Northampton had been the best, probably because it was such a contrast with what had gone before.

Now, with excellent food every day, only minor improvements could be made for Christmas, which went almost unnoticed.

Purely, I can assure you, by being in the right place at the right time, before leaving Iraq, I had managed to acquire the two stripes of a corporal, and now doing stints in the camp orderly room at Port Said did not seem to measure up to a corporal's duties.

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So I was delighted to be told, soon after Christmas, that as from next Monday I was to take over from Sergeant Green, who was in charge of the BID.

We all knew Sgt Green operated the Bulk Issue depot, which kept the three officers' and three sergeants' messes in the camp topped-up with booze and fags, but beyond this we had no idea what he actually did.

Here I should explain not only was there the expectation of further promotion, but this job was one which took the incumbent outside the confines of 156 Transit Camp, and into parts of Port Said town which were normally 'out of bounds' to anyone not 'on duty'. And those parts included the railway station!

The 'within bounds' area of Port Said available to off-duty personnel was only a small portion of the town, consisting of the three streets running nearest to, and parallel with, the canal, which were the main shopping streets.

My job was to receive orders from the six messes, then to go out with a three ton truck to the NAAFI bulk depot, return any empties, collect the beer ordered, then move on to the Egyptian Aerated Water Co for the lemonade and to the Coca-Cola bottler for their product.

The officers' messes were more up-market in their demands, and completing their orders would mean a visit to several of the shops in town, where one would be invited to sit down with the proprietor, and negotiate a price over a cup of Egyptian coffee. The sort you can stand the spoon up in.

If you think this is rather a lot of work for one person, you'd be right — I had the assistance of three German PoWs, who came with the BID, and did all the hard work, Alphonse, Albert and another, whose name I never did decypher.

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