When after the war a man is asked what he did
PRIME MINISTER WINSTON CHURCHILL'S
WE WERE a raunchy transient bunch of inmates at "Photographers' Villa" in Algiers, in a backwash of war, in September of 1943. Our villa had a beautiful view and it also had fleas. Like our villa we had fleas too, but unlike it, our view of Algiers was dim, not beautiful.
In various degrees of depression and frustration all of us were sweating out military travel orders which would take us, as representatives of the press, to where we could see the war rather than the daily communiqué. Most of us spent most of the daylight hours bumming jeep and truck rides to a drab office in town where we regularly waited and were regularly told our orders weren't out yet. After a real hard day at the office, we would drift back to the ineluctable luxury of our flea trap on the Algerian hill, to await another day.
Our villa boasted of a cadaverous Arab named Achille. He wore a somewhat battered fez. He could cook a little and he could also demonstrate some pretty fair connections with the local black market. To escape the GI chow at the Transient Mess in town, we would occasionally commission our man Achille to come not only with the standing order for enough bottles of Algerian red to last the evening, but with something to eat.
One rainy evening Achille arrived carrying a kind of dark limp thing he said was a fresh leg of mutton. He cooked it garnished with tomatoes and green peppers, and after we had taken care of a good deal of the red, and Achille had fortified the entree with cans of C ration, we dined. Then Elmer Lower, a former inmate just returned from Cairo, blew in; we sent our accomplished Achille out for more wine. Elmer brought a friend along and introduced him. His name was Cliff Saber.
Saber had been a volunteer American ambulance driver with the British 8th Army. He had seen ten months of desert fighting, until one night in March at the Mareth Line he suffered a very grave shrapnel wound in the head. Just out of six months' hospital, he was on his way home to the States. He was still banged up and he was a very good guy.
He was also a gifted painter. During the 8th's hard push across Africa, Saber in the midst of his other duties had tenaciously managed to keep a graphic record of what he saw. He did not have his paintings with him that night in Algiers, but the experience that had created those paintings was most vividly present by his very presence. We talked and drank late. I made a pencil drawing of his war-shadowed face long after midnight and gave him that page from my sketch book. We met again in New York, when the war was over.
This volume is the harvest of an experience in combat on the sandy reaches of the North African desert more than a decade ago. As a war artist Cliff Saber did it the hard way. He did it because he wanted to do it. He did it with honesty and he did it with skill. These pictures were made of more than paint and paper. They were created from more important materials: a sensitive eye, a stout heart, a steady hand. Here they are and I am glad.
PAINTING IN THE FIELD
(Courtesy of Life Magazine)
THIS BOOK aims to accomplish little more than its title suggests, which is to say that it primarily is a pictorial record I kept under imposed limitations. It makes no claim to being a complete history of the whole desert campaign in North Africa, although it can be used as a reference. Its purpose is to depict the everyday life of the British 8th Army soldier (or Desert Rat), with whom I lived and worked. Paintings and narrative together cannot possibly give a full account of the sacrifices and the hell the 8th Army went through. That task will be recorded by historians. But this book does claim to offer a quick reminder for those whose memories may have waned over the past decade and a half, and who are likely to forget still more.
ALTHOUGH I mentioned the timely efforts in my behalf of William D. Schorger, Allan Bowron, and the RAMC surgical team of Doctors Eden, Gillingham, and Mackenzie in my original sketch-book introduction, I want to say, sixteen years later, that my gratitude to them has grown with time.
I want to express my thanks to the 8th Army and its many and varied units for their friendliness and hospitality; without them these sketches would never have been done.
My thanks, too, to Stephen Galatti, director general, and Larry Barretto of the American Field Service. Since a soldier never chooses his own battlefield, I am particularly indebted to them for sending me to the land of my forefathers, the Middle East. Looking back, I am confirmed in my belief that this area, more than any other, aptly demonstrates the mingling of splendor and horror in human history and illustrates the slow and painful way that lies ahead for the member countries of the United Nations.
Without the invaluable help and thoughtfulness of Bill Schorger (again), who rescued my work from the field, and then buried my bloodstained cap with military honors, these sketches might never have been kept intact. The further help of Elmer Lower, who received them from Bill and safeguarded them at base, enabled me to bring them home. For Elmer's kindness in taking care of my personal affairs, despite his pressing duties at the Office of War Information, and for his friendly visits to me in the hospital, I am most grateful. He helped me through the worst time of my life.
I should also like to thank Ben Stern, now a Public Relations Consultant of Washington, D. C., who, as a Marine major, generously brought some of the first paintings back for an exhibition.
I am grateful to Tom Lea of El Paso, Texas, for his foreword. Tom's pen and brush record of the war, in both the Pacific and the Atlantic theaters, far exceeds this humble effort.
I especially wish to thank the following for their kind assistance: Cora Alice Taylor, for reading the manuscript and making innumerable suggestions; Polly Chill, for same, and for skillful editorial help; Jean M. Luetzow, for proofreading; D. J. Raymond and George Carnegie, for detailed publishing information; and Charles Mannberger, for invaluable production assistance.
Most of all, I owe a debt to Madeline Truslow for her wonderful understanding and patience during the three years I labored over the preparation of this book and who, in the intervals between her own work, contrived somehow to type what I wrote and to improve it through criticism.
And finally, this book was made possible by the generous financial assistance of three friends: Vincent Garvey, whose foresight, faith, and imagination have been a great bulwark; George Cowan, a war buddy who came to my rescue in time of need; and, most important, Reginald B. Taylor, a veteran of two world wars, who provided the means for publishing this book and to whom I am profoundly thankful.
THE MIDDLE EAST
|If Hitler was to accomplish his plan for world conquest, he had to conquer the Middle East. Not only did that area contain oil badly needed for Nazi tanks, planes and transports, but control of the Suez Canal was the key to full encirclement of his wanted-world. North Africa, whose terrain had seen historical conquest in the past, now witnessed the development of a new form of warfare - complete motorized mobility.|
THE 8th ARMY
|In the early summer of 1942, after two years of back-and-forth desert fighting in slit trenches and amidst thick-coming sandstorms for control of Libya, the British were forced to retreat before Rommel's Africa Korps to the line at El Alamein, seventy miles from Alexandria and dangerously close to Cairo, Egypt. Here they stood at a narrow sixty-mile front in the desert, flanked on its left, in the south, by the impassable quicksands of the Qattara Depression and on its right, in the north, by the Mediterranean seacoast.|
THE SUPPLY LINES FROM
|Then --- across a fantastic sea-supply route from England and America, around the Cape of Good Hope, through the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea to Suez, the 8th Army was re-created. Its hitting power was strengthened with fresh infantry and tank divisions from the United Kingdom, new equipment (including British Churchill and American Sherman tanks), and the RAF which was reinforced with squadrons from the American air force. General Alexander replaced General Auchinleck as Middle East commander-in-chief, and General Montgomery replaced General Ritchie as commander of the 8th Army.|
|On the moonlit night of October 23, 1942, the usual quiet evening routine of ack-ack and gunfire was shattered at precisely 9:40 P.M. by the first Montgomery barrage. The front was saturated with guns. For six miles along the northern end there was a gun for every twenty-five yards. They all let loose at once and roared all night. After laboring hazardously for weeks clearing passages through the mine fields, the Royal Engineer sappers now taped a mine-free path. Shortly after the barrage started, the infantry went in to clear the way for tanks to come and followed up the attack.|
THE TIDE TURNS THE CHASE IN EGYPT
|Rommel's Africa Korps gave way, retreating along the coast road and desert tracks 1,500 miles in fifteen weeks --- losing Tripoli and finally taking a stand within the Mareth Line in Tunisia. It was the beginning of the first decisive offensive and permanent land defeat to be inflicted on the Axis: and one of the most remarkable retreats and pursuits in all history. The tide had turned!|
|On November 8, sixteen days after Montgomery's chase began, the BBC revealed a part of a grand Allied Plan. The biggest amphibious expedition the world had ever seen, at that time, had landed General Eisenhower's Anglo-American army on the shores of French North Africa. The whole of Vichy-held Morocco and Algeria were quickly occupied by British and American forces, and German troops began pouring into Tunisia. But with the armies of the two Allied nations advancing from the east and the west, the retreat was stopped and the squeeze of the Axis was at hand.|
|Hitler, apparently confident that he could still beat the British and unseasoned American troops, who were handicapped by long supply lines and a lack of airfields, poured supplies and reinforcements into Tunis and Bizerte. Here and in the mountains of Tunisia, the Nazis were well lodged, and Marshal Rommel reorganized his Afrika Korps behind the Mareth Line.|
MEETING THE AMERICANS
|On March 28, 1943, Montgomery's 8th Army smashed the Mareth Line with a stroke around the southwest end. At the same time American forces under General Patton moved southeast toward Gabes. On April 7 some armored car Desert Rat patrols working along the Gabes Road from Wadi Akarit had the long-awaited experience of meeting and joyously greeting American patrols working from El Guettar. The two Allied armies, advancing from opposite directions, finally joined on the Gapa-Gabes road, formed a single front down the whole length of Tunisia, and drove the Nazis before them into a pocket.|
THE ALLIED COMMAND
|General Montgomery and the 8th Army were now under the Supreme Allied Command of General Eisenhower, and General Alexander was made Eisenhower's deputy. General Eisenhower created a unique pattern of unity for the nations that was to bring tremendous success to the Allies. This pattern was soon to be adopted in other theaters of war under other Allied commanders.|
BATTLE OF TUNISIA AND AXIS EXPULSION
|Rommel was forced west from the Mareth Line on March 29, out into the open plains to Tunis, with the 8th Army on his back and the British and Americans coming in on his flank; Sfax was captured on April 10, Sousse on April 12, the American forces took Bizerte on May 7 and on the same day British forces took the city of Tunis. The Nazi elite had prepared for a long siege on Cape Bon, but their defensive positions were cut up into pockets before they could use them. Mass surrenders became the order of the day. The most important person to be taken was General Von Arnim. The Desert Fox was nowhere to be found; Hitler had recalled him shortly before the battle of the Mareth. The 8th Army's drive ended on May 13, 1943, when all resistance ceased.|
8th ARMY END OF THE DRIVE
|It was the first time in World War II that American and British Allies, turning to the offensive, had won a victory over the Nazis; Africa was rid of the Axis and the stage was set for the assault on Europe.|
AMONG THE smaller outfits in the 8th Army not featured in public dispatches were the American Field Service Volunteer Ambulance Units. The AFS, as it is better known, started with the French in 1914, when volunteer drivers were maintained at their own expense and that of public-spirited Americans. Again in World War II they started with the French, in 1939, got out after the collapse of France, and came to the Middle East of their own free will, without pay, well before the U.S.A. entered the war.
These volunteers represented America at her best. Among them were college students, sons of AFS men of 1914-17, writers, artists, and religious workers who wanted to do their part. Some were disabled and could not be accepted by an army medical board. Some were overage. The directors of the AFS in this war had been officers in the last.
They shared the risks and discomforts of life with the desert army to care for the wounded entirely. They supplied the 8th Army with some 500 ambulance drivers and ambulances. The latter were quite distinctive in that they were the AFS's own American four-wheel-drive Dodges, with the cocky Eagle emblem painted on the doors. They proved their worth when one company alone carried 4,000 patients in 66 ambulances in one month. During the Alamein battle and subsequent weeks the AFS carried 7,000 patients. It did the entire corps work for the 8th Army.
The AFS has also had its casualties. When Tobruck fell, it lost 10 per cent of its personnel. One unit had 100 per cent casualties at Bir Hacheim, when the surrounded Free French refused to surrender, after sixteen days of Axis shelling and bombing. The Free French fought their way out of the pocket, carrying their wounded with them to safety. More than one third of their ambulances had battle scars of one form or another.
In the subsequent theaters of war, more than a million casualties were moved from the front lines to first-aid stations and hospitals by these auxiliary troopers, 2,196 volunteers. They saved innumerable lives and their own casualties included 36 dead, 68 wounded, and 13 prisoners of war. They were praised and decorated by the commanding officers of all the Allied armies, as well as by the war leaders.
Although today their war work has long since been over, they have continued their operations as a peacetime organization with an international student exchange program. The outfit did a fine job in the war and the voluntary service it is doing for peace and good international relations is as brave and useful as the work it performed under enemy fire.
CLIFF SABER'S art and keen observation gives a unique portrait of the 8th Army campaign.
The American Field Service, in which Cliff served as a volunteer, played its part in this army.
Cliff has portrayed the spectacular campaign with the vividness and reality which only one who took an active part could have done.
Seriously wounded himself ---- he has depicted the saving of lives under the difficult conditions of the Western Desert in a unique portrayal.
A brilliant piece of work by a true artist and a very brave and gallant man.
Director General, American Field Service
Foreword by Tom Lea
THE BACKDROP of the whole war was the battle to keep open the sea lanes between the United States and Great Britain --- the battle of the Atlantic. On the outcome of this battle all else depended.
The German's main weapon was the U-boat, which came into its own with a vengeance after the fall of France. Germany then controlled the whole 2,000-mile coast of Europe, including the French ports in the Bay of Biscay --- ideal bases for U-boat attacks against Atlantic convoys.
With America's entry into the war in the winter of 1941-42 the U-boats concentrated their efforts in the Caribbean and on the Atlantic seaboard. Tremendous battles took place with sometimes thirty U-boats attacking a single convoy and killer groups of destroyers, frigates, corvettes, and air craft hunting them down. The U-boats failed to halt the vast movement of troops and arms from the United States to Britain. The battle of the Atlantic was won although it flared up several times before Germany finally surrendered.
MY ACQUAINTANCE with the American Field Service began in 1940 when I worked with a group of nationally known mural painters to raise funds for an AFS ambulance to be manned by volunteers in France. We had secured commissions to decorate the walls of the Café Français and the English Grill at Rockefeller Center, and we worked each night after closing time until the dining rooms were opened for lunch the following day. It was the first time such a group of professionals collaborated and worked side by side.
When the murals were completed a "Vive La France" Benefit unveiling was held on June 25 at the Promenade Café. Motion picture and television star Robert Montgomery spoke of the war overseas --- he had just returned from France where he had been an American Field Service driver --- and Lily Pons capped the festivities by singing the Marseillaise. It is ironic that France capitulated to Germany as Miss Pons was singing.
Six months later I was called to the colors, one of the first under Selective Service. I served eight months with the 29th Infantry, the guinea-pig regiment of the Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia. The type of training we received was far superior to and more rigorous than that which the regular army was then undergoing.
The army war-artists program had not yet been developed, but during my training period I saw the opportunities for reportorial painting. As a proving ground for the idea, I was soon executing countless portraits of draftees --- pen-and-ink as well as water-color sketches --- and these were exhibited at Atlanta, Georgia. I also developed a streamlined kit to use on maneuvers.
Under regulations in force before Pearl Harbor I could, if I wished, apply for temporary release from service. Before induction I had done experiments with lacquers, plastics, and batik dyes while engaged in mural work, and the experience had prompted me to write a thesis on camouflage. This, along with an application, I now sent through army channels to the Camouflage Division in Washington. At the request of Captain Russell Jenna, during the last few weeks before my actual release, I was able to decorate Company C's recreation room, with a mural and large water-color cartoons lampooning army life. Also, General Hazelitt, then colonel of the regiment, asked me to depict in murals the history of the regiment from its founding in the Philippines to its then status as a motorized division. I was able to paint two of these mural panels for the Fort's main recreation room during time off from regular duty.
Colonel Hazelitt had already recommended me for officers' training school, but I realized it would be nigh impossible as a commissioned infantry officer to transfer into camouflage or to become an army correspondent, at either of which jobs I felt better qualified to serve. Therefore, before Colonel Hazelitt's recommendation could be acted upon, I decided to accept a temporary release so that I might be free to establish myself along the lines I had been developing.
While waiting to hear from the Camouflage Division, I remembered the volunteer American Field Service which had been authorized by the War and State Departments and was operating with the British 8th Army in the Middle East. Through Larry Barretto, Joan Belmont, and Director General Stephen Galatti I was accepted in the AFS and now had the opportunity for which I had sought and waited so long.
Compared to the peacetime air of the city in 1941, a trip to the AFS headquarters in New York transplanted one to the war itself. Men in and out of uniform were rushing about. Some were discussing the exploits of units then with the British and Free French; others were relating their experiences during the sinking of the Zam Zam, which had been torpedoed by a German sub; still others, myself among them, were anxiously preparing to ship out for the first time --- having protective shots, getting papers in order, and sweating out the final word.
It was wonderful luck that I was assigned to Egypt for I knew something of the Arabs and spoke the language quite fluently. As a child I had learned it from my grandmother who came from Lebanon, and I was eager to put it to use. Although they were a bit rusty, I also had a fairly workable knowledge of school-taught French and German.
At the office of Bill Chessman, art editor for Collier's magazine, I met Frank Gervasi, a war correspondent who had successfully covered the Italian African campaigns and Il Duce's exploits. The meeting was arranged by a former art editor of Collier's, Major Stuart Benson of the Field Service, whose aide-de-camp I later became while on board ship. It was decided that I would do a series of paintings of the convoy en route and that I would contact either Gervasi or Quentin Reynolds, whichever one was in Cairo when I arrived.
The 16th American Field Service Unit sailed in a large convoy from Brooklyn, New York, in June 1942. Our boat, the Selandia, was a small but fast Danish cargo cruiser which was to take us as far as Capetown, South Africa. Here we were to board a second vessel, the Nieuw Amsterdam, a large luxury liner converted to an overcrowded troopship which had miraculously escaped a Jap attack at Singapore. It was sixty-eight days before we actually reached Port Tewfik, Egypt, our destination point.
Bayard Tuckerman of Boston was officer in charge and had as his assistant officers Major Stuart Benson and Captain Dunbar Hinricks, author and veteran of the AFS in World War I. There were ninety-six volunteers, mostly college men. We wore Anglo-American uniforms, had identification bracelets showing our blood types, and carried passports and Geneva cards.
Among the volunteers many men either had or were to experience severe hardships. Seventeen of them had already been on ships torpedoed twice in attempts to cross the Atlantic. One, Charlie Perkins, was taken prisoner in North Africa and shipped to Italy where he finally was exchanged as a prisoner of war. Six of the men, including myself, were wounded, and Caleb Mime and Henry Lamer lost their lives in the line of duty.
Also aboard were Al Clemons, a Canadian-American teacher; Major Benjamin Stern, USMC, heading a group of civilians --- two American State Department radio installation specialists; Byron Guerin; Herbert Davis; Dave Edwards; and two tight-lipped mysterious Yugoslavs, Tony and Vido. In Cairo I learned that Tony and Vido were guerrilla fighters and that Vido was the brother of Draza Milhajlovia, leader of the Chetniks.
Captain Vearing was skipper of the Selandia and was accompanied by his wife. She was rarely seen, however, and kept to herself in the captain's quarters on a veranda behind the bridge. It was unusual for a captain's wife to be aboard on such a trip, but she had signed on as secretary in order to meet war regulations. She was attractive, rather tall and slender, with brown hair and eyes, and the type of woman who could make a home wherever she found herself. On her veranda, which was shielded and surrounded by potted tropical plants and a palm tree, she had a dachshund and a bird cage with two canaries. By request I did a portrait of her.
During the voyage the crew was constantly on the alert - -at the helm, in the engine room, and at the guns---for the safety of all depended on this as well as their skill and courage. The convoy was a large one, stretching out as far as the eye could see. The speed of the convoy was set by that of its slowest-moving ship, and its route hugged the Atlantic coast to Trinidad. Along the way were many red-flagged buoys marking half-sunken hulls of torpedoed ships. U. S. destroyers and Canadian corvettes interlaced the many Liberty cargo ships, tankers, and the Selandia. Now and then the sound of released depth charges could be heard and, if you were watching, their geyser sprays were easy to see. Occasionally a navy patrol blimp or seaplane soared vigilantly overhead. The ship's radio bulletin kept us informed of submarine activities around us and one time advised that we were in waters infested with enemy wolf packs. Not long after we passed this spot a ship actually was torpedoed there.
We stayed two days in Trinidad and then continued southward. Off the coast of Brazil we left the protection of the convoy and zigzagged our way alone across the Atlantic. We heard later over the wireless that an enemy raider had attacked and shelled the convoy shortly after we left it.
During this portion of the trip we drilled constantly to achieve efficiency in meeting any emergency with calmness. Divided into squads, we rotated watches, patrolling the blacked-out decks at night and squinting for periscopes during the day. In the event of an attack those on guard were to waken lifeboat captains who in turn were responsible for those assigned to their boats. Everyone carried his life jacket at all times and kept a small getaway bag with valuables and necessities handy.
En route I painted portraits of every AFS man on board and of other passengers. I had the men supply their own biographical sketches. In addition, I did a number of activity sketches which meant that I might paint at any hour and at any place, though I tried to do most of these in the afternoons or evenings.
Mornings were devoted to work, gunnery practice, lifeboat drill, first aid, map reading, language classes, and on Sundays --- church. The latter lasted about an hour and was most impressive as it was conducted jointly by a Quaker, a Jew, a Baptist, a Moslem, an Episcopalian, and a Christian Scientist.
After lunch each day I taught an hour-long class in colloquial Arabic, with the aid of a book by DeLacy O'Leary and the secretarial help of "Boo Boo" Reynolds. In the desert I was elated to hear some of my former students putting their Arabic lessons to good use in bartering with and questioning the nomads.
Evening lectures were given during the voyage too. Major Stern spoke on the Marine Corps; Major Benson discussed the Field Service; the ship's South African doctor, Coenraad Pieters, gave us the do's and don't's in Capetown; and Vido talked on guerrilla warfare, demonstrating the art of killing a man at close range.
The uninterrupted normal routine on shipboard helped to ease the tension of the voyage and keep morale high. At times the voyage was reminiscent of a peacetime cruise. We had the run of the boat, food was excellent and plentiful, the weather pleasant enough for swimming and sunbathing, and there were sufficient entertaining activities. To top this, the bar opened on the evening of the third day and Jimmy McCarty, chief of the gun crew, became bartender. He kept his tin helmet under the bar with the glasses. Prices, too, were very reasonable: Scotch, 17 cents; beer, 10 cents; martinis, 10 cents; and cigarettes, 10 cents.
Off duty we sang every song we knew, played cards and deck tennis, and had the portable juke box playing hit records of the day: 'Jingle, jangle, Jingle," "I Don't Want to Walk Without You, Baby," and "Yours."
A group of us who played poker regularly became known as the "Dead-End Kids"; we were to remain together throughout the Western Desert campaign. There were Allan "Bull" Bowron, William "Wee Wee" Schorger, John "Babe" Lurid, Henry "Boo Boo" Reynolds, John "Spike" Himmel, Charles "Junior" Bachman, Hazen "Hazy" Hinman, Tom "Annie" Smith, and myself -popularly known as "Cue Ball." Upon request I sometimes did extra portraits of men to pay off my losses in the game.
At one o'clock on one of the blackest nights, while I was engrossed in a five-card stud poker game with Al, Hazy, Spike, Major Stern, Grafton Fay, and Ed Koenig, the torpedo alarm sounded. There was the sound of running feet on deck, and a deathly silence gripped us for a second as we looked at one another in bewilderment. Then Ed, the dealer, picked up the cards, dashed down to his cabin, grabbed his musette bag, trench coat, typewriter, file case, blanket roll, and life belt. The rest of us followed quickly, for everyone thought the ship had been hit. Twenty dollars remained forgotten on the table as we fled.
After a few minutes we learned it was a false alarm and the activity subsided. It seemed a slamming door had awakened an officer who had been torpedoed once before with another AFS unit and he lost no time in rousing the whole ship. We gamblers returned to our table and calmly resumed our game --- same dealer, same cards, and same twenty dollars.
Carl Adams of Wisconsin, later company clerk and now with the Associated Press, started a ship's newspaper ---the Torpedo Times. He was its editor and George Lyon of Yale its publisher. However, it was not long before Carl lost his paper to Major Stern over a spurious libel suit involving an incident that had occurred in Trinidad. A mock trial was held with John Huntington of Boston and London as presiding judge. Major Stern presented his own case, assisted by Al Clemons; and William Elmslie, formerly attached to the British Embassy, was counsel for the defense. Adhering to strict legal procedure, the principals gave us a highly amusing evening. The major took over publication of the paper with leatherneck efficiency, set up an editorial staff, and appointed me art editor. On another evening a risqué musical extravaganza entitled Tuckerman Forbid was presented to a most enthusiastic audience, including the captain and his wife (the latter attended in the guise of a seaman). This costume production of skits and songs was co-authored by Ed Fenton, art expert and bookshop owner (later, on three separate occasions, he walked away unscathed from vehicles which had been blown up under him), and Arthur Jeffries, a survivor of the Zam Zam sinking.
It was winter when we arrived in Capetown, just the reverse of our own climate. As we entered the harbor we saw the red-roofed city nestled snugly amid imported semitropical vegetation against the rugged bare slopes of Table Mountain. This mesa overlooked a bay famous for its lobsters and now filled with gray-camouflaged ships whose launches droned like busy bees between the piers and the ships.
Some of us were based at the British military camp while others stayed at hotels in town. The South Africans, whose sons and husbands were up north fighting, were most hospitable and wined and dined transient soldiers in their homes. The homes were comfortable and well furnished, but lacked heating systems. Overcoats were worn indoors as well as out and, strange as it may seem, the South Africans rarely had colds.
While in Capetown I became acquainted for the first time with our Allied forces from New Zealand, India, South Africa, Ireland, Scotland, and England. Soldiers en route or on leave are alike the world over: confident, mischievous, and happy-go-lucky. In town they move from one night spot to another, but no spot ever satisfies them for long. Such places are always dark, dingy, and jammed with other soldiers drinking bad liquor at high prices. Also, the soldiers outnumbered the female population and men were often seen dancing with one another for lack of women partners.
Finally we sailed from Capetown aboard the Nieuw Amsterdam - --large, fast, and far too crowded. Life on board was a continuation of that on the Selandia, but on a larger scale and with more military restrictions. I still held my Arabic classes regularly but the class was reduced in number from seventy to thirty --- the men had new distractions and activities now. The only regular assemblies on shipboard were occasional lifeboat drills.
We stopped at the port of Durban, not to disembark but to take on James Ramsey Ullman's group of five AFS men who had been at sea aboard a freighter for three months and who were now joining our unit. Ullman was browned-off (slightly mad) from lying aboard ship five weeks off the coast of South Africa, but he began to fade to a more normal tone after a short period on this "luxury" liner.
We continued northward and through the Red Sea where the weather became unmercifully hot. The ship had 6,000 aboard and we were twelve men to a cabin. It was like sleeping in a boiler room, and many migrated to the overcrowded deck to catch a nap where they could.
Nick Parrino, World Wide News and OWl photographer, and I competed in recording activities on board. I painted portraits of Flight Commander Steele of the RAF; Captain Ole Oleson of Kansas, the oldest active pilot in the USAAF; Colonel Dassonville, Free French War Minister --- to mention a few. I also interviewed Colonel Dassonville with the help of "Boo Boo" Reynolds who took the comments down in shorthand.
On Sunday, September 6, 1942, we arrived at long last at Port Tewfik, Egypt, where East meets West. I had painted about two hundred pictures, many of which were given away, but 160 of which were prepared for shipment to the States.