Hugh Reid, a Brit who now lives in Calgary, Canada, sent me this photo and the story below about the famous Lady of Garian painted by Cliff Saber, an American volunteer  with the British 8th Army in North Africa during WWII.  When Saber’s unit was housed in barracks in the city of Garian (or Gharyan), he decided to paint murals to cheer up his fellow servicemen. After drawing the nude pinup, he realized she looked like the coast of Libya, so, as Hugh said, “He turned her into a map. Kind of. Notice how Cairo is the nipple.” Hugh was a teenager when his family lived in Tripoli in the 1950s, around the time I lived there. He went to  St. Edwards College, a private school in Malta, during that time. He keeps in touch with former British friends and loves to share photos of Tripoli from that time period and earlier, usually asking his friends to identify certain objects in the photos and answer historical questions as well.


Cliff Saber wrote about his artwork in the Desert Rat Sketchbook in 1959.  He told readers the book was “primarily a pictorial record…which makes no claim to being a complete history of the whole desert campaign in North Africa, although it can be used as a reference. Its purpose is to depict the everyday life of the British 8th Army soldier (or Desert Rat), with whom I lived and worked. Paintings and narrative together cannot possibly give a full account of the sacrifices and the hell the 8th Army went through. That task will be recorded by historians.”

For the recreation room at Garian, I decided upon a super-duper nude encompassing the entire wall, 30 x 15 feet. Usually when a muralist works, he uses a scale pattern of a small sketch or a photograph of the sketch projected onto the wall. He carefully traces this, insuring his proportions. In this case I had neither the time to make this sketch nor the means of projecting it. And to top it all – no scaffolding. I managed to get up by means of boxes, but this meant that my nose was rarely more than six inches away from the wall. Starting from the head, I worked down to the feet on this beautiful virgin wall. To this day I don’t know how I kept the figure in proportion. When I stood back to inspect the completed figure, I found that the top outline of her body ironically coincided with the coastal line of North Africa. I marked her off as the Middle East from Tripoli (Lebanon) to Tripoli (Libya) and named parts of her body for nonexistent wadis: Wadi you hiding? Wadi you doing? Wadi you say? Wadi you know? Superimposed on her from Syria to Tunis were Lilliputian figures of the units, men, and doings of the 8th Army. Somewhere near the midriff is a blown-out German tank with the string of old boots tied behind and a caption on the back, ‘Just Married.’ Above her soared the RAF and American 9th Air Force whose eager men were parachuting onto her. Along with the confusion of armored cars, convoys, and slit-trench digging on her terrain was a key figure similar to the Kilroy of the U.S. Army. It was a little Tommy in a sitting position holding the inevitable stretched-out newspaper and shovel. He was among the parachutists, the infantry, the armored units, and even at chow call. Such was life in the desert.



  1. Thanks for your interest. Victoria

  2. Linda says:

    I went to see garian lady through school lived in Libya from about 1963 to 1965 . Interested to hear about it.

  3. Thanks, Kenneth, for your extra info and for reading my blog. Victoria

  4. Kenneth D Summers says:

    I w as stationed at Wheelus AB in Tripoli, Libya from Dec 1964 to July 1966. I had the occasion twice to visit Garian (or Gharyan). At that time, we were told the area where the rec center and “The Lady of Garian” resided was a former German POW camp where British and American soldiers were incarcerated. Furthermore, we were told she, and two nearby drawings of orgies were drawn with the blood of the POWs. I like my story but certainly believe Cliff Saber’s version and don’t want to take anything away from his accomplishment. I think he did a marvelous job.

  5. I also hope to see you soon on our website

  6. Nice to know it lasted that long, Ronald, and thanks for letting me know. The Middle East is a fascinating place. Too bad there’s so much violence. Victoria

  7. Ronald Salinger says:

    I took cine and still photos in about 1976 when I was working in Tripoli for Howard Humphreys drainage consultants. The mural was in fair condition but starting to deteriorate. I still have the cine film

  8. We had Libyan men as bus drivers. During the Suez Crisis they were on strike. We had an Italian maid but she spoke good English. Victoria

  9. Gary Griffin says:

    I was 7 when we arrived in March 1958 and 9 when we returned stateside in March 1960. Remember the Italian lady who was our school bus monitor? She spoke no English but her kindness didn’t need translating!

  10. How old were you then, Gary? I was 13-15. I published that route a while ago, but I can find it again. There are some blogs now from Wheelus servicemen on Facebook, and I’m on Facebook.

  11. Gary Griffin says:

    Why did you stop blogging? I miss it.
    I am also still waiting for a jpg of that old mimeographed Wheelus school bus route you wrote about! I lived around the corner from you on the 24th of December Boulevard and we rode the same bus.
    Your Garden City neighbor,

  12. I remember hearing from you before, Tony, and I posted one of the photos on a Wheelus AFB site on Facebook. There was a lot of interest. Thanks for sharing. Victoria

  13. Tony Curzon says:

    I photographed the Gharyan murals in the early sixties when most of the camp had been destroyed, leaving the hut with the murals the only one largely intact. It was sort of guarded by an elderly arab gentleman who gave us coffee and allowed me to take many pictures with cameras owned by naval personnel stationed near Tripoli and teaching the then Libyan Navy to form a squadron. I would be happy to share these with anyone interested.

  14. Hi Lizzie, Sorry I didn’t check my blog site over the holidays. What a lovely letter you wrote. Good luck on your books. I’m sure they’ll be fascinating. Keep me posted. Victoria

  15. Hello Victoria,
    You do know Hugh lived in Calgary and died a few months ago? I looked him up thinking (I live in Calgary too) I could ask for his assistance with Libya material for my forthcoming books on the British Army in Tripolitania during the 50s and 60s … and found his obituaries, including one on LinkedIn. I also discovered he had no military links! RIP Hugh.
    I was a schoolgirl at the British Army Childrens School in Homs, 75 miles East of Tripoli during 1959-62. My father was a Warrant Officer in the Workshops of the Royal Electrical & Mechanical Engineers attached to the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment. Halcyon days for all, especially being on the beach everyday in the summer, even after school (finished at 13.00) with picnic lunches.
    I have now around 2,000 wonderful images of many things Tripolitanian, soldiers at work, rest and play, families, Arabs, barracks, buildings, scenes from film sets (six major films, all with input from the British Army), tanks, armoured and soft-skin vehicles, Roman ruins, ships and planes …. and much more. Help too, from around 40 Veterans ‘who were there’. Focus of first three books will be on Homs and three British regiments that were based there (there were others earlier on but finding material and surviving Veterans is somewhat difficult), 3 Royal Horse Artillery, 6 Royal Tank Regiment and 2 Royal Tank Regiment. Therafter, a move over to Sabratha to cover the 4/7 Dragoons, the 14/20 Hussars and then, the Queen’s Bays. Then, units in Tripoli itself and the old Italian camps at Garian and Tarhuna.
    I have US, UK and Italian military maps of Tripoli and can pinpoint all the ‘old’ landmarks, housing areas, farms, villages, barracks, streets, buildings of note and so on.
    I do enjoy reading your writings of your time in Tripoli …. more please!
    Kind regards,

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