Chapter 3 : Five Days in Cairo

Wednesday morning, at eight o'clock, and the train from the south had just pulled into Cairo station.

We alighted from the train and made our way to the main platform and the office of the leave accommodation centre, where we were recommended to stay at the Manchester Hostel.

Being weary after the long journey and in order to save time, we took a taxi there and booked in for a couple of days, as it was our intention to go on to Alexandria after that.

Sakara Road, Memphis, Cairo

Alongside the Sakara Road, Memphis, Cairo

On being shown to our room we found that there were already people in it, and they were just in the course of getting up.

The room looked very dingy, with all the windows shut, and when we opened them we found that one looked out onto a very dirty back street, while the other looked out onto a dark balcony on which were stacked old bedsteads, mattresses etc.

It seemed that everywhere else was full so we had to put up with it, but we were not any more pleased with it when we saw the state of the mattresses on the beds when the sheets were being changed, but it was at least good to know that the mattresses were changed.

Having washed and changed we went to the YMCA for some breakfast and then went across town to the shop of an Egyptian whose name Scotty had been given. He was a Mr. Ghaniem, who is a member of a wealthy family, and we saw him in a shop he has opposite Shepheards Hotel. He has another shop in the bazaar quarter of the town and we promised to call on his brother there before we left.

While going across town and back again we had a good look at the shops and I managed to do some shopping, such as the buying of a couple of films at 3/- each and some vests etc., which I need for the summer.

Our destination on the other side of town was the Fouad I University where a cousin of Michel was studying, and we got as far as the far bank of the Nile only to find that the bridge was closed to let boats through, so we went to the Alamein Club for some lunch, then continued our way to the university only to find that Khalil would not be there again that day.

We saw the Dean of the university and he told us where Khalil lived, but not knowing Cairo very well, and as it was on yet another side of the city, he lent us one of his servants to take us there.

Fallen granite statue, Memphis

Fallen granite statue, Memphis

Ken and Scotty wanted to see the zoo which I had already seen, so they went there while I tried to find Khalil.

There was great difficulty and although I found some friends of his, I had not been able to locate him by teatime. I promised to call on his friends later that evening, to see if they had been able to find him.

On our way across town in the morning I had called in to see Tom White only to find that he was not there, as he had been on drill parade all the morning.

I went back in the evening when the office opened and noticed an RAF chap standing outside, but did not take particular notice of him and did not recognise him.

On seeing Tom he told me that Les Alexander was waiting outside, so I said that must have been the RAF chap, but when I went outside he had gone, though Tom and I between us found him wandering up and down the street a short while afterwards.

In the meantime, I had also found Khalil and he came with me to meet Ken, Scotty and the others, but while I was seeing Tom he was chatting to them, and on my coming out of the office, they told me that Pip had just gone by so I dashed along the street and caught him up.

It appears that he was still waiting to go on the boat for home, so as we had both made other arrangements for that evening I arranged to 'phone him on Friday, then we could have an evening together if he was still around.

Khalil had to see some local people about his work at the university, so he left us and then when Tom had finished work we went to a cafe for some supper and then on to a cinema to see the film "Two Yanks Abroad".

There being four of us from Farnham together, you can be sure that there was plenty of gossip flying that evening, and all our acquaintances were brought before the court, and their activities during the past four years discussed.

So ended the first day, which was quite enjoyable, though the dashing from one side of town to the other was rather trying, but it was as well, for it gave us a good nights sleep in beds which we otherwise might have been kept awake by, if we had thought about their condition too much.

That Thursday morning we were up at eight and after breakfast we met Les Alexander at nine, just outside the hostel.

We did not stop to look in any shop windows that morning but made our way across town to the Cairo Museum which has not been very long open to the public, and we spent a very enjoyable two hours there looking at the many ancient relics from the cities of Egypt and especially in viewing the beautiful treasure from the tomb of Tutankhamen, which is beyond description and I'll not attempt to try and describe it here, for even one small piece of the jewellery could have many pages devoted to its description.

Seeing the tomb itself first, as we did, is by far the best way, for when you see the tremendous amount of treasure that came out of it, you wonder how it could have possibly all been put into such a small space, and how such tremendous wealth came to be left untouched by robbers over so many years. Nearly all the other tombs were stripped many centuries ago and only the tombs themselves remain as evidence, though even they have been badly mutilated in many cases.

Alabaster statue, Memphis, Cairo

Alabaster statue, Memphis, Cairo

As Ken had not seen the pyramids, the others took him out there while I went to the army headquarters and obtained the authority to travel back by air at the end of our leave.

Everyone was most helpful and while I was there I went round the branches to see a few of the people I knew, including a Major who I was working with up here in another village about three years ago.

Naturally there was a lot to talk about, to all of them, and the morning was gone before I had got anywhere, but it was good to see some of the old faces again, and many of them are chaps who I hope to meet again at home after all this is over, for during the last four years I have made many good friends out here.

Khalil had arranged to meet me in the afternoon but I was a little late in getting to our meeting place, to find that he was not there, for I missed the trams as they were full up and had to walk. In case he had left early I went to his friends' house and their shop to try and find him but he was at neither of these places so I went to the YMCA to have some lunch and then spent the afternoon in writing a couple of letters.

It appears that Khalil was even later than I was, and so we were unable to meet at all that day, but as arranged I met Ken and the others for tea that evening, and then we called for Tom when he finished work, going on then to a very nice club called "Music for All" to have some supper and then to the best cinema in Cairo, the "Metro", to see the film "Lost Angel".

Now I come to Friday the 23rd. which was not quite such a hot day as the previous ones, in fact it was quite chilly, especially for Cairo, and one either had to keep moving out of doors or else wear an overcoat.

Not being very satisfied with our billet for the reasons I have already told you, and for others as well, we decided to move that day, and as we had also decided to take things a little easier and cut out Alexandria, we moved to the same billet, Alamein House, as we stayed in on our first night in Cairo.

Meeting Khalil and Les early in the morning we went across town again, this time to the old part where the bazaars are, and we called on the second Ghaniem brother in his shop.

There were many interesting things to see in these shops, in the way of presents of all kinds, but mostly of oriental design, and I'm sure that all of you could have spent days in looking at all these beautiful things that are on view in these places.

For some time I have been trying to get a particular little article, but have not been able to find one of good enough workmanship, until I asked about it in this shop, and they brought out the very thing that I wanted, and so I was thus able to solve one of my shopping difficulties fairly easily.

We spent a while there and then made our way back into town, having a good look at the shops on the way back, but eventually arriving at the "Lucky Restaurant" which is a Lebanese one, and Khalil insisted that we have lunch there with him in the Lebanese style.

For Les it was something new, though he enjoyed it, and afterwards we took a tram out to Khalil's lodgings, to see what they were like so that we could tell his people when we arrived home again, that is back here for it has become like a second home to us by now!

It was while on our way across town that I bought the leather camera case, which is a very nice one and very reasonable in price, at 14/-.

Leaving Khalil at his lodgings we went into town again and crossed right to the other side, to the barracks where we had a look at a full size wooden copy of the Portal House. I thought that it was quite good for what it was intended, that is, to be used for the period while proper houses were being built, as a temporary measure so that everyone had somewhere to live in reasonable comfort.

The air-conditioning, the refrigerator and kitchen equipment appealed to me in particular, as they are things that the average home before the war was not equipped with.

While the others went round the town again I did some writing in the YMCA and then at half past five we all gathered together there, that is Tom, Les, Ken, Scotty, Khalil, Pip and myself.

While Pip and myself went to book seats for the cinema the others went to "Music for All" and ordered our dinner, after which we went to the Opera cinema to see the film "Arsenic and Old Lace".

I forgot to mention before that the club, "Music for All", is the only services club where we can take civilians, and it is like a bigger edition of our club here, for it is open to all who are either stationed or on leave in Cairo.

There is a small entrance fee charged to keep out any undesirable element whose one idea of fun while on leave is to get gloriously drunk.

The food is good, and it is very nice to have somewhere like that where one can take civilian friends, for the ordinary civilian restaurants are usually away and above our means these days.

Our party that night consisted of two elements, one being of four chaps from Farnham who had lots to talk about and the other being of five from this village who also had lots in common.

Soon after midnight that night Pip left us to return to his depot and very shortly after that he was on his way home, but quite a fair time having passed since then he will be at home enjoying his leave now.

Getting up at the usual time on Saturday morning we went along to the Air Booking Centre first of all and had ourselves weighed in together with our kit. My weight complete with overcoat being 170 lbs.

While the others were going around the shops and looking at the windows, I went to the YMCA and made an effort to keep my mail up to date. This time it was an airmail lettercard to Mum and Dad and it took up most of the time until twelve, when I left and went along to the army HQ to take some forms back there.

It is quite a fair way to walk and in both directions this time I was lucky in getting a tram by hanging on to a rail and standing on the step, but it was better and quicker than walking.

I returned to the air booking centre where I met Ken and Scotty, but we were unlucky for Sunday and so resigned ourselves to stay another night.

A short stroll from there was to the Victory Club where we met Tom White and had some lunch with him, going afterwards to his billet to get some photographs which we took back to the club and then sat down to look at and talk more scandal about our friends at home.

The afternoon wore on and the chap who I was waiting to see did not turn up, so I went to the photographic club and got the chemicals for our own. They were rather bulky and I had to split them up into three lots so that each of us could take some and get them into our packs for carrying.

We were just leaving the club when Sid, the chap I had been waiting for, turned up so we stayed a little longer chatting to him and discussing life up here as compared with that in Cairo.

By that time it was getting on and so we decided to stop on for tea.

By then it was time for Tom to leave us as he had some time before booked up for an ENSA show at the local barracks. We did not go with him as the show is sure to come our way before long and we wanted to see some of the films that were showing in Cairo at that time and which would not come our way for a long while, in fact if I am likely to come home before long they might not get to these parts in time for me to see them at all.

Going to the hostel we left the chemicals and, taking our overcoats with us, went across town again to the Tipperary Club where we had a look to see what films were on, but being Saturday night most of the best films were booked up, but we eventually found one at the "Royal" cinema called "Invisible Man's Revenge".

Having booked our seats we went back to the Tipperary Club and had some supper, staying there in the warm for a while until it was time for the cinema to start.

I very nearly fell asleep in the Tipperary for the atmosphere in there was very hot and close, with hundreds of chaps moving around, getting their tea etc.

The film was quite a good one but very much like the others of the same sort, and I think that once you have seen one of them, you have seen them all.

It was after midnight when we came out and we did not waste any time in getting across town again to our hostel and into bed.

The following morning, Sunday, we had a very big shock when we knew that the Egyptian premier had been shot while we were in the cinema, and not so far from where we were.

We were up much later that morning and took our time in getting ready for we had nothing very special to do, spending the morning in walking round the town, looking at the shops and pricing all kinds of things, mainly to compare them with prices back here, and we found that they were very much the same in most cases, two exceptions being very marked. In Cairo shoes were very much cheaper than they are here and on the other hand silk stockings were very much dearer in Cairo than they are here.

Our wandering during the morning eventually took us out to the Nile, across the bridge and into the Alamein Club where we had lunch, again taking our time over it.

Later we walked across the island to the other part of the Nile where the island cuts it into two, and sat down on a seat there for a while, watching the birds and boats on the water.

The time seemed to go all too quickly and eventually we made our way back to the air booking centre where we were told that there were no seats available for Monday either.

During the whole of the day we were warned by MPs not to go near any large gatherings of Egyptians because there was a certain amount of political feeling flowing on account of the shooting of their premier.

We managed to keep clear of that sort of thing, but when we found that there was no chance of getting through by air we decided that we would not stop in Cairo any longer, with the chance of there being some political riots, and also I wanted to make sure of being able to see Don, so we made up our minds to try and get out by train.

Normally we have to give two days notice to travel by train on that line, but I got on the 'phone to the RTO and asked him if it was possible for us to get away that night as we did not want to spend our leave in Cairo with all those restrictions in force.

Unfortunately we could not cross the town to the railway stations as part of the town was cordoned off for the funeral procession.

We went to our hostel, packed our backs and then took a taxi by a roundabout way to the station getting there without running into the procession at all.

We had to wait an hour at the station before we knew whether we would be able to get on the train or not, but eventually we got our tickets and found ourselves a hard wooden seat in the carriage.

Fortunately I got alongside a couple of very nice chaps and we had a chat for a long while at the beginning of the journey, helping to pass the time much better.

So started my journey back and I will leave this chapter here to pick up the story again in my next and last chapter which will tell you of my return journey and my meeting with Don.

Memphis, Cairo

Memphis, Cairo

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