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Extract from: "The Diary of a Desert Rat"

[An excellent diary of life in the desert, from a soldier's view-point.]

- By R. L. Crimp (Ed: Alex Bowlby) - Pan Books (1974)

042010
WESTERN DESERT, EGYPT.  SEPT. 1942.  FLIES ARE ONE OF THE GREATEST CURSES OF THE DESERT.
JUDGING BY THE EXPRESSION OF THE MAN, WHO IS SERVING WITH THE 9TH AUSTRALIAN
DIVISION NEAR EL ALAMEIN, AT LEAST A FEW FLIES ARE GOING TO MEET A STICKY END. 
[AWM
042010
]

Just lately I've been feeling a bit browned off.  There's a sort of psychological complaint some chaps get after long exposure, called 'desert weariness', though I can hardly claim to have reached that yet.  But for months now we've been cut off from nearly every aspect of civilised life, and every day has been cast in the same monotonous mould.  

The desert, omnipresent, so saturates consciousness that it makes the mind as sterile as itself.  It's only now you realise how much you normally live through the senses.  Here there's nothing for them.  Nothing in the landscape to rest or distract the eye; nothing to hear but roaring truck-engines; and nothing to smell but carbon exhaust-fumes and the reek of petrol.  Even food tastes insipid, because of the heat, which stultifies appetite.  The sexual urge, with nothing to stir it, is completely dormant, and there's nothing either to encourage its sublimation (except, perhaps, this crackpot journal).

Then over and above the physical factors, there's the total lack of change - or relaxation.  Nothing really certain even to look forward to, that after a term of such vacuum-living, would make it tolerable.  In civvy-street, when day's work's done, there's always an hour or two watching Rita Hayworth, a couple of drinks at the 'Spread Eagle', a chair by the fire and a Queen's Hall prom, or a weekend's hike on the North Downs.  But here there's no respite or getting away from it all.  For weeks more, probably months, we shall have to go on bearing an unbroken succession of empty, ugly, insipid days.

Perhaps, eventually, by chance we come of a few days' leave in Cairo, but that's too vague and remote to be worth setting tangible hopes upon. Anything might happen in the meanwhile.  But the one thing that keeps the chaps going, that gives them a sort of dogged persistence in living through these interim days, is the thought of Home.

The immediate present effect, however, is extreme mental sluggishness, sheer physical apathy, and a vast aversion to exertion in every form.  The most trivial actions, such as cleaning the sand off weapons, making a fire for a brew, or, when you're lying down by the truck, moving position into the patch of shade that the sun has shifted, seem utterly not worthwhile and require a tremendous effort to perform.  It all seems so futile.

Then, of course, there are the flies.  Lord Almighty, that such pests should ever have been created!  Bad enough in any climate, the Egyptian sort are militant in the extreme, almost a different type, imbued with a frenzied determination to settle on human flesh. This may be due to the aridity of the terrain and to the fact that the only moisture available is human sweat. Soon after sunrise they arrive in hordes from nowhere, then plague us with malign persistence all through the day, swarming and buzzing round, trying desperately to land on our faces, in our eyes, ears and nostrils, on our arms, hands, knees and necks.  And once settled, they bite hard.  Desert sores, oases of succulence, draw them like magnets.  In fact everything unwholesome, filthy and putrefied is manna to them.  hat's why we have to make our latrines completely sealed and burn out our refuse dumps with petrol daily.  It's the devil's own job keeping our food from their clutches, and as soon as a meal's on the plates they always get the first nibble.  At the moment of writing this there are five crawling over my hands and I'm spitting as many again away from my mouth.  You can whack them a hundred times, and still they'll come back.  It's a blessed relief at sunset when, as at some secret signal, they all simultaneously disappear.

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