Stephen Dawson had endured the siege of Tobruk. He had been evacuated out when he fell ill and then returned to the besieged garrison to take part in the final battle. Now his unit were given a brief respite – on Christmas Day they had spent 15 hours in a cold smelly goods wagon crossing the desert back to Egypt. Now they enjoyed a ‘rest camp’ for a few days and a night out in Alexandria:
[We] first slipped into the dining room for a cup of tea – ah! sublime luxuries of town! – and chain smoked many excellent cigarettes. Sometimes we’ve thought “Wog” Woodbines a luxury, but now we had lots of Players, Gold Flake and Craven “A”, with no danger of the supply becoming exhausted.
Then – we wallowed in hot, soapy baths! The others were waiting and we all had a hell of an appetite. So we went into the Hotel Baudrot, nearby, and waded through a meal of many courses and varied tastes, which lasted two hours.
“My God, they’re still eating,” we heard an amazed Naval officer at the next table say to his companion, when the fourth course commenced. Lager beer – what a thirst the hors-d-oeuvre (especially the anchovies!) gave us! The price of the dinner – with beer – was 73pts. each. Well worth it, to desert soldiers with large credits.
It was not to last long, they were soon given orders to move again. His diary gives a good summary of the current war situation:
Sunday 28th December 1941
Apparently we shall move, Palestine-wards, tonight, but there is no panic whatever! It’s so simple when there’s no equipment, only our personal kits!
The Japs are doing fine in the Pacific. Hong Kong has fallen, but we still hold Singapore, and USA still have the Philippines. There have been heavy naval losses on our side, although no real battle has taken place. We’ve occupied Portuguese Timor, which was within bombing range of Aussie.
Apparently whilst we’ve been out of touch, several if not all of the South American states have declared war on the Axis powers.
The other news, is quite good. The Jerries in Russia are still falling back (it seems incredible that they should contemplate an attack on Turkey or Spain at this time) and the British order in Libya for Christmas Day was “ATTACK AND PURSUE”. Benghasi has been taken, with 27,000 prisoners, and some of our forces are at Agedabia, whilst the German and Iti rearguard has been cut off around Barce, in the green region.
Even though he was in Alexandria he remained unaware of the disaster that had so recently befallen the Royal Navy eastern mediterrannean fleet, based there.