1943 A War Story: Leaving Egypt-1942 Ch.2.
War Story- 1942 -Egypt. (Chapter 2)
Standing on the deck of the ship in the harbor at Alexandria, I watch for Hub as the ship begins to move slowly from the dock. He had promised to try his very best to be here to see me off, but it seems as if the uncertainty of war has made that impossible. Is he lying in a wadi next to the dusty road from the front to the west, as enemy planes are strafing the troop carriers? Had he been called on to rush some troops to the town of Tobruk because re-enforcements were needed there as Rommel's tanks approach across the desert? Only some important war action would have kept him away. Would I ever see him again? Would he ever see the child growing in my womb? Would the child ever see its father? Was it going to be a boy or a girl? This was going to be the first of my parents’ grandchild that they would see growing up. My older sister Helen’s baby boy had died shortly after birth and the grave is under a Syringa tree on the farm near Pretoria – the farm I am returning to in Derdepoort. Named Fontienblou, after the area outside Paris that the Cilliers family came from. He bought this 55 morgan smallholding after he retired as a Colonel from the South African Police following a auspicious career as a detective and eventual head of the South African Railway Police..
There had been great excitement when Helen's child,,the first grandchild, was born and then the horror of his death. All this drama had taken place just before I left for Egypt. How will Helen feel when I return, with my first born expected in March? My mind is in turmoil; why must life be so complicated? Is it fair to bring a child into this war ridden world? Was Hitler going to be stopped? Questions, questions, questions, but no answers!
I hear moaning coming from one of the soldiers in a cabin nearby. The ship going back to South Africa is very different from the one in which we came. The journey from South Africa was one of excited expectation. There was fear in our hearts but at the same time we felt we were going to do something worthwhile.,After seeing the death and destruction at first hand the return the journey is now one of despair, apprehension and sometimes lost hope. Soldiers with serious wounds, lost limbs and gnawing doubt, fill the cabins and deck.The ship rocks gently in the swells as it moves out of the harbor and the growing child moves in my womb. They say that even in the womb a child is affected by what is happening to the mother. How will my feelings affect the child now growing inside me? I try to calm myself as I say a silent prayer.
The possibility is than we may not even make it back to our loved ones in South Africa? Reports of German U-boats sinking ships off the African East Coast strike fear into our hearts. There are a few women going back home for reasons other than mine. Some could not stand the pressure of the air raids, the news of tank battles in the desert, the anguish of loved ones lost in battle here, or in Europe. I however I wished I could have stayed to be with Hub, but due to my pregnancy I had to go home.
I wondered about my mother worrying about 4 children in the war zones. She, coming from Garies in Namaqualand, having married the good looking policeman who had come to work on the diamond fields. He had fought in the Boer War as a young boy (a “Penkop” as they were known). Now he is the retired head of the SA Railway Police and famous detective. We are all so proud of him and love him so much.He is such a caring parent and loving husband to our Mom. While I hated leaving Hub in Egypt I look forward to the safety of home on the farm near Pretoria.
As I move to my cabin that I share with Irene from Cape Town, going back on compassionate leave because her Dad had died, I wonder if I would be able to sleep much on the journey through the Suez Canal and southwards down the coast of East Africa. It seem like yesterday that we had sailed up the coast. How things had changed! Was this really happening to me? What about Hub somewhere in the North African desert?