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By train from Tel el Kebir to Sarafand

Thursday, 27th May 1941, Ken Brown's diary entry

"We were on and off parades all morning, but by 3.00 pm we were ready to move off - embarking on a train at the sidings. This line was the main line to the Western Desert. Thankfully, we were going in the opposite direction. Our route took us back through Zagazig, heading for El Kantara on the Suez Canal. Here we crossed the canal by lighter, and after a good meal of sausage, mash and peas we had a rest until 3.00 am when we assembled with a full kit, etc, to proceed to the loading sheds. Twenty men were allocated to each goods van, with a corporal in charge. The officers enjoyed a carriage at the front of the train. In charge of our van was Corporal Walker, quite a jovial character. We eventually moved off at a slow speed across the Sinai Desert. The single line track ran on through the desert, with an occasional loop line at various stages. We took turns for three of us to sit in the open van doorway, the rest either sleeping or playing cards.

About midday, Jim Wade, Walter Speck and myself were sitting in the open doorway. I was awake, the other two dozing when, drawn by the horizon, I fell from the train!

It was lucky that I fell into soft sand. I looked back towards the track only to see the guard's van pass. With only KD shorts, no topee, no money and only my army knife and feeling very drowsy I set off to follow the train in the hope that my disappearance had been noticed. After walking a couple of miles I was suddenly surrounded by five or six Arabs who came along and caught hold of my arms. This, for a 20-year-old novice, alarmed me. However, later on I found that they were checking to see if I had broken any bones. It would seem that my absence from the van had been noticed and Corporal Walker had fired his rifle to alert the driver of the engine - to no avail. But the Arabs had seen this and picked up the spent cartridges which they showed me. This working party then put me on a line trolley and proceeded up the line towards El Arish.

About an hour later we heard the whistle of an engine and pulled off the track. It was the engine from the train with three officers on board. The MO, a major from the Australian Army, together with the Adjutant, Captain Whiting, and another officer. The engine driver was most concerned - he would have to report this to his employers, the Palestine Railways, to account for lost time. I was assisted to the engine which returned to the train, held up on a loop line. The CO had cleared a long bench seat in the officers' carriage where I was put down. The MO proceeded to wash my face and gave my eyes a good examination. I was told to rest, with a dose of Sal Volatile. Further treatment came along with cups of tea and some sandwiches, by which time we had reached El Arish station. The train halted for some time to take on water and I again received treatment from the MO, apparently to see if I was still suffering from shock.

After leaving El Arish the CO came to see if I had recovered. I assured him that I was feeling much better, so he provided some books for me to read. The first book I opened, Tolstoy's War and Peace was not a very good subject at that time!

We eventually crossed the border from Egypt to Palestine and on to the peacetime garrison at Sarafand where we detrained. We moved on to our billets, Salamanca Barracks, and deposited our gear into Hut No.5. The garrison MO gave further treatment and inspected my eyes which were still smarting, after which I was told to report in three days time."

Source: 'Forgotten Conscripts', Eric Lowe.