In 1951 the destroyers and frigates of the Royal Navy’s Mediterranean Fleet were rostered for the Middle East Patrol which was based on a requirement to have a ship within a day’s steaming of Aqaba.
WHEN MY SHIP, the frigate HMS Mermaid‘s turn came up I was left behind in Malta as Gunnery Officers were required to take part in the ceremony of the presentation of the King’s Colour to the Fleet by Her Royal Highness, the Princess Elizabeth. I was to fly out to Aqaba to rejoin my ship on conclusion.
After training assiduously as Officer in Charge of the Escort to the Old Colour, I suffered an attack of the ‘Malta Dog’ and on the day of the ceremony watched from the sidelines.
On the morning following I flew out from the airfield at Luqa in a RAF Valetta transport after breakfasting on chips and eggs. Our first leg landed us at Castel Benito in Libya where we had another meal of – Chips and Eggs. Our next leg took us across the Libyan Desert to Benina where had a lunch of Chips and Eggs! Here our plane went unserviceable and we kicked up our heels for hours in the heat and dust. In due course we were airborne again and we arrived at El Adem, the airfield for Tobruk after dark and were regaled with a meal of Chips and Eggs!!
Our final leg took us into Fayid, in the Canal Zone where I spent the night after being offered another meal of Chips and Eggs!! and after a good sleep I arose early and after the mandatory breakfast joined another Valleta as the sole passenger to Aqaba.
Some years later I discovered that RAF Transport Command had done a lot of research on the ideal menu for troops travelling by air and had come up with several menus which took into consideration such things as not overloading the planes’ toilets and being economical but sustaining. These menus were offered as a questionnaire to troops and other passengers travelling for them to indicate their preferences and they came down solidly for Chips and Eggs!
A Royal Australian Air Force friend who did exchange service with RAF Transport Command assured the writer that flying between Lyneham, UK, and Tokyo he consumed 52 eggs! This run was well known as the ‘Chips and Eggs Route’.
After flying interminably over sandy wastes the Valleta lost height and flew over Mermaid anchored off Aqaba and landed on the airstrip. A boat was waiting for me and I reported to the First Lieutenant, the Captain having gone to Amman for Jordan’s Army Day.
At 4.30 I was back at the airstrip playing hockey for the ship against the RAF Airfield Detachment in the boiling sun. The airstrip was surrounded by vestiges of scrub and beyond it the white desert shimmered away to the North. This was the Wadi Araba which separated Israel from Jordan and extended from the Gulf of Aqaba to the Dead Sea and was called by some ‘the Valley of the Moon‘. To the eastward and behind Aqaba itself, the desert rose toward a range of brick-red hills which ran northward flanking the Wadi Araba. These are the mountains from which Lawrence looked down on Aqaba before taking it. Later, I was able to stand in his trenches, which were still there.
The mountain of this group which is nearest to Aqaba rose sheer and red from the sands of the plain – a red pyramid without a trace of vegetation at the summit of which was displayed a huge flaming grenade with the letters L and F – the badge of the Lancashire Fusiliers.
Apparently, the Regimental Drum- Major thought it would be a good task for the regiment’s Boy Drummers to put the regimental escutcheon in such a prominent (and historic) place. So about twenty youths repeatedly scaled the monstrous slope back-packing jerry cans of water and packs of lime up about two thousand feet up in searing heat. They then had to mark out the huge badge, mix the whitewash and then paint it onto the rocks. Such was regimental pride!
After the hockey match, we retired on board bringing the RAF hockey team with us. Then the First Lieutenant informed me that before the Captain left for Amman, he gave orders that on return to the ship from Malta, I was to carry out a landing exercise against the Forward Company of the Lancashire Fusiliers scheduled for the following morning.