US Army Life

LADY OF GARIAN – LIBYA WWII

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.

DESERT RAT SKETCHBOOK

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.

 

MILITARY BRAT – WHEELUS AFB IN TRIPOLI, LIBYA

Wheelus Field Dependents School

As I get older and being a writer and editor, I think back to the adventurous days of being a military brat and living in exotic places like Tripoli, Libya. The Middle East seemed to be changing for the better in the 1950s. Libya was ruled by King Idris and there was great potential of finding oil in the desert.  Tripoli was a small but international city of various nationalities besides native Libyans. There were Italians, British and Americans from the Air Force, Army, State Department and oil companies. Memories of those unique times will always be with me.

I’ve been writing my blog: Words on My Mind for over five years but had to stop recently   because of spinal surgery. It was a challenging time but I’m healing nicely. My mind still needs some challenges and the blog has brought me new friends and reconnections to old friends from Tripoli. It was an alluring and unusual place to learn more about the world: Roman ruins, the gorgeous Mediterranean, the Sahara desert, camels, gazelles, Libyan women almost totally hidden by Barracans.

While in Tripoli, Libya, Air Force personnel and their dependents  lived in Wheelus Air Force Base housing for the most part, but the families of men who worked for the State Department and some of its agencies, or for oil companies searching for black gold, lived in many different areas of Tripoli from Garden City to Georgimpopoli, a coastal area on the western edges of the city. My school bus, one of many that picked up American children all over the city, traveled down Sciarra Ben Asciur on its eight-mile journey to the base after picking me up in Garden City. I still have a very tattered mimeographed copy of my school bus route. It did help me identify my old home on Google Earth.

During the rainy season, from November to March, all busses faced the possible flooding in the tiny town of Suk el Guima, (Friday market in Arabic), which was near the base gate on the only route to Wheelus. Although the town’s street was paved, there were no gutters or drainage systems. When it rained, it generally flooded, and the street could be as deep as three feet in some spots. The Libyans took it in stride, but the Air Force didn’t. Servicemen would be up to their knees in water and armed with water pumps whenever they were needed. Others have since told me the little town had quite an odor because of a tannery, but I never noticed the smell.

Enrolled in eighth grade when my family arrived, I joined a class of forty students. Wheelus High had an enrollment of only 170 students, from seventh to twelfth grade. The entire class of 1956 consisted of a mere four seniors. There were twelve in the junior class, fifteen sophomores and thirty-two freshmen! We underlings were by far the most populous, and I was considered practically a high school student. One alumnus remarked that because it was such a small school there was more intermingling among students;  younger students weren’t treated as much like outsiders. The following year, we new freshmen had to suffer the indignities of freshman initiation. As I recall, wearing clothes backward was one ritual.

A class on the Arabic language was a requirement for all students, but few took the class seriously, especially the friendly, eager-to-please teacher, Haj Ali (pronounced Hi Jolly). I can still count to ten in Arabic and learned a few phrases, hopefully accurate, such as molish (who cares), bahi (good),  ana nagra (I am reading) and baksheesh (free). I was told that zup meant the same as fuck. What inquisitive American teen didn’t learn that word and its equivalent in other languages! The boys probably knew a few more.

I had an opportunity to see the difference between American and European educational systems. Our freshman high school class visited Lecio, Tripoli’s Italian high school. In contrast to our casual attire, the boys dressed mostly in suits, the girls wore black smocks. Italian students acted as our guides and took small groups of us into various classrooms.

Practicing international relations with two Lecio students at my school bus stop

In drawing class students were copying Roman columns, an appropriate theme because of the nearby Roman ruins of Leptis Magna and Sabratha. Since most of their students studied French, I tried out my decidedly novice abilities with a young man. His French was impeccable; I wish I could have said the same for mine. In an entirely male physics class I was asked to put an algebra problem on the board. A volunteer student worked it immediately and returned the favor. Algebra, or should I say math in general, was not my strong suit. I called for Karen, one of my classmates to help, but we were both stumped. The class laughed good-naturedly at us, delighted to prove their male superiority while gawking at American girls.

Miss Gobi teaches French at Wheelus High–Fantastique! C’est si bon!

The Italians were even better at basketball. From my young viewpoint, I had always assumed it was an American game played more adeptly by Americans. Our high school team played Lecio every year and were continually trounced. Of course Wheelus High didn’t exactly have a huge talent pool from which to draw.

There are more adventures in Tripoli in many other blogs on this site.

 

 

SUEZ CANAL CRISIS in 1950s

Crisis is an old word but it may never wear out its usefulness considering how often TV, the Internet, newspapers, radio, etc. use it. Just this week was another crisis, which took place in Las Vegas–so far 59 have died and  at least 500 injured. For a short word, crisis inspires the appropriate emotion.

My first knowledge of the word probably came in Tripoli, Libya, during the Suez Crisis of 1956. Although it affected Egypt more than Libya, it was a point of honor for a measure of self-rule for the Arab world.

Gamal Abdel Nasser, then President of Egypt, had taken control of the Suez Canal. Why should Britain and France control the canal that ran through Egypt, he reasoned? He wanted the tolls to help Egypt build the Aswan High Dam. It marked the spread of Arab nationalism, though Libya was late to that game, and Gadaffi didn’t seize power until 1969. According to some reports, the young Gadaffi took part in the riots in Libya. Good practice for his takeover later?

I’m going to share the comments from others who lived through the Crisis in Tripoli during those days. It was certainly nothing compared to Libya’s recent upheaval getting rid of Gadaffi’s government. Becky Rizek said: “I remember our house boy, Calipha, coming to work with bandages on his head and forehead. He said he was beaten because he was loyal to his American employers. He wanted to come to the States with us, which was impossible because he had at least one wife and three children. But for us, it was a day off from school. The kids on the base got to go to the Officers Club and wait on tables since the Arab waiters could not come in to work. I remember the MATS transports lined up on the runway at the base airport, ready to evacuate the American dependents should we have to go. I was all of thirteen and never forgot it.”

Elaine Frank recalled, “My dad’s car was stoned when he would come home from the base. We lived out on Homs Road and we lived in a duplex with a British family next door. They were shipped back (to the UK) and left in the middle of the night. We didn’t know what happened to them, but they eventually did return several months later. Like you said, this was just the way of life living in the military. We had to leave Morocco because of the French and Arab conflict in 1954/55, and we were in Japan during the Korean War. Kids just took it all with a grain of salt. People back in the States were scared for us but we were fine; it was just that the British and Americans looked alike, and that is why they would throw rocks at his car.”

“I recall the Suez Crisis, with machine guns on British and French embassies and King Idris’ guards beating heads with truncheons,” Mike Harris commented.

The Palace of King Idris long ago

 

Riots took place in front of the French and British embassies, and a couple of small bombs a day were set off in various areas of the city. It wasn’t a full-scale insurrection, but with the heat on, the British evacuated their women and children, flying them home to England.

Americans within Tripoli were put on a 6 p.m. nightly curfew and were told to have a bag with the barest necessities packed in case of evacuation. Gates and doors were to be locked and shades pulled down. We were all instructed not to venture into the old city. My mother got caught on the edges of a small demonstration near a friend’s house several blocks away. It scared her, but she was in our car and managed to leave without incident.

When you’re young, political situations don’t seem to matter. It was all just extra excitement and a chance to miss a couple of days of school. The curfew was moved to 9 p.m. within a week, and several weeks later, as things cooled off, life was back to normal. British families, however, did not return for several months.

Considering the turmoil in the Middle East since then, the Suez Crisis was a mild insurrection!

 

 

 

 

WHEELUS HIGH, TRIPOLI, LIBYA – Long Ago & Far Away

Wheelus Field Dependents School

As I get older and being a writer and editor, I think back to the adventurous days of being a military brat and living in exotic places like Tripoli, Libya. The Middle East seemed to be changing for the better in the 1950s. Libya was ruled by King Idris and there was great potential of finding oil in the desert.  Tripoli was a small but international city of various nationalities besides native Libyans. There were Italians, British and Americans from the Air Force, Army, State Department and oil companies. Memories of those unique times will always be with me.

I’ve been writing my blog: Words on My Mind for over five years but had to stop for a few months this summer because of having spinal surgery. It was a challenging time but I’m healing nicely. My mind still needs some challenges and the blog has brought me new friends and reconnections to old friends from Tripoli. It was an alluring and unusual place to learn more about the world: Roman ruins, the gorgeous Mediterranean, the Sahara desert, camels, gazelles, Libyan women almost totally hidden by Barracans.

While in Tripoli, Libya, Air Force personnel and their dependents  lived in Wheelus Air Force Base housing for the most part, but the families of men who worked for the State Department and some of its agencies, or for oil companies searching for black gold, lived in many different areas of Tripoli from Garden City to Georgimpopoli, a coastal area on the western edges of the city. My school bus, one of many that picked up American children all over the city, traveled down Sciarra Ben Asciur on its eight-mile journey to the base after picking me up in Garden City. I still have a very tattered mimeographed copy of my school bus route. It did help me identify my old home on Google Earth.

During the rainy season, from November to March, all busses faced the possible flooding in the tiny town of Suk el Guima, (Friday market in Arabic), which was near the base gate on the only route to Wheelus. Although the town’s street was paved, there were no gutters or drainage systems. When it rained, it generally flooded, and the street could be as deep as three feet in some spots. The Libyans took it in stride, but the Air Force didn’t. Servicemen would be up to their knees in water and armed with water pumps whenever they were needed. Others have since told me the little town had quite an odor because of a tannery, but I never noticed the smell.

Enrolled in eighth grade when my family arrived, I joined a class of forty students. Wheelus High had an enrollment of only 170 students, from seventh to twelfth grade. The entire class of 1956 consisted of a mere four seniors. There were twelve in the junior class, fifteen sophomores and thirty-two freshmen! We underlings were by far the most populous, and I was considered practically a high school student. One alumnus remarked that because it was such a small school there was more intermingling among students;  younger students weren’t treated as much like outsiders. The following year, we new freshmen had to suffer the indignities of freshman initiation. As I recall, wearing clothes backward was one ritual.

A class on the Arabic language was a requirement for all students, but few took the class seriously, especially the friendly, eager-to-please teacher, Haj Ali (pronounced Hi Jolly). I can still count to ten in Arabic and learned a few phrases, hopefully accurate, such as molish (who cares), bahi (good),  ana nagra (I am reading) and baksheesh (free). I was told that zup meant the same as fuck. What inquisitive American teen didn’t learn that word and its equivalent in other languages! The boys probably knew a few more.

I had an opportunity to see the difference between American and European educational systems. Our freshman high school class visited Lecio, Tripoli’s Italian high school. In contrast to our casual attire, the boys dressed mostly in suits, the girls wore black smocks. Italian students acted as our guides and took small groups of us into various classrooms.

Practicing international relations with two Lecio students at my school bus stop

In drawing class students were copying Roman columns, an appropriate theme because of the nearby Roman ruins of Leptis Magna and Sabratha. Since most of their students studied French, I tried out my decidedly novice abilities with a young man. His French was impeccable; I wish I could have said the same for mine. In an entirely male physics class I was asked to put an algebra problem on the board. A volunteer student worked it immediately and returned the favor. Algebra, or should I say math in general, was not my strong suit. I called for Karen, one of my classmates to help, but we were both stumped. The class laughed good-naturedly at us, delighted to prove their male superiority while gawking at American girls.

Miss Gobi teaches French at Wheelus High–Fantastique! C’est si bon!

The Italians were even better at basketball. From my young viewpoint, I had always assumed it was an American game played more adeptly by Americans. Our high school team played Lecio every year and were continually trounced. Of course Wheelus High didn’t exactly have a huge talent pool from which to draw.

I’ll share more adventures in Tripoli in upcoming blogs.

 

 

TRIPOLI’S BARBARY PIRATE FORT

Tripoli’s Bashaw Castle also known as Barbary Pirate Fort

 

 

 

The past can be very nebulous – one day it will seem like centuries ago, other days it was only yesterday in my mind. I looked for perceptive quotes about the past and found two intriguing ones. The first is a Chinese proverb: Consider the past and you shall know the future. The other comes from American author William Faulker: The past is not dead, in fact it’s not even past. I think both quotes apply to current life.

The Internet can easily make sure you don’t forget the past. I’ve been blessed by the adventures I had as an Army brat growing up, and the current continual growth of my connections with other military brats and citizens from around the world because of my Words on My Mind blog. Many of these connections have come from my three years living in Tripoli, Libya, in the mid 1950s.

Starting to thrive after the bloody North African fighting during WWII, in 1951 Libya was granted by the United Nations the status of Arab Kingdom, an independent state to be ruled by King Sayed Mohamed Idris el Senussi. I was there to witness the early blossoming, and so were a lot of Americans. Several of them, including me, have written about their experiences and had them published. I’ve read and will report on some of these books concerning Libya.

Tripoli has a tumultuous past that goes back to the Phoenicians and the Romans, and it was part of the Ottoman Empire for several centuries. Libyan Fadel Eswedi sent his friend Giuseppe Scalora (an Italian born in Libya) a fascinating book about Tripoli in the 18th century when the Turks still ruled Libya. Tully’s Letters was written by a Miss Tully, a young British woman who was part of the British consulate and wrote about her life experiences in Tripoli.

Reading the introduction page tells a great deal. The story comes from “letters written during a ten years’ residence at the Court of Tripoli, published from the originals in the possession of the family of the late Richard Tully, Esq., the British Consul, and it contains authentic memoirs and anecdotes of the reigning Bashaw (a high official in countries ruled by Turkey, as in the Ottoman Empire, which existed from 1299-1923).” It is also an account of the domestic manners of the Moors, Arabs and Turks.

According to this book, “Tripoli’s importance was derived from its link with Egypt and its geographical position on the great Hajj route from the west to Mecca, and the trade routes between Africa and Europe.” Miss Tully’s life in Tripoli began in 1783 during the time of the pirates, a famine and then a plague. As the book introduction quotes the reigning Bashaw’s words to the British, Dutch and French consuls who protested a Venetian ship that had been seized: “The Barbary Corsairs are born pirates, and not able to subsist by any other means; it is therefore the Christian’s business to be always on their guard, even in times of peace.” It doesn’t seem that much has changed in the world!

The famous old castle those of us who lived in Tripoli easily recognize was a dominant feature in the 18th century city. There were courtyards, and passages on different levels separated by heavy iron doors. The Bashaw lived there with his staff, his guards, his wives and his concubines, who lived in a harem in the depths of the castle. He had two sons with their families who also lived in separate guarded quarters within the castle.

Tripoli in those days had a slave market that sold off Christian slaves, and primarily Neopolitans, Spaniards, and Blacks from Fezzan and Bornu. A city of 25,000 population, 5,000 of them Sephardic Jewish refugees from the Spanish Inquisition, it was a rough and rowdy. According to the intro, the city was “a rabbit-warren of narrow lanes, arched bazaars and overhanging buildings.” Very few windows faced the street. Despite about 20 mosques, Tripoli wasn’t peaceful; those wealthy enough hired guards for their protection from the brutality.

On a positive note, east of the castle and extending along the bay for 10 miles was Menschia, a narrow green oasis full of palms, vegetables and peppers and gardens of apricot, orange and pomegranate trees. This area was the location for the summer homes of Tripoli notables. In modern times, and in the years I lived there, I will always remember the lovely bougainvillea vines that seemed to grow from every flat rooftop.

My thanks to Fadel Eswedi of Tripoli and Giuseppe Scalora, once a Tripoli resident and now a citizen of Los Angeles, for the use of this fascinating book. It was first published in 1846 and then again in 2002 in London. For those interested, the ISBN number is: 1850779279. Darf Publishers in London published the current edition.

MEDITERRANEAN MOONLIGHT MADNESS – PART 2

A Mediterranean boat trip takes guts and imagination, especially on a winter night in a makeshift boat never tested before: just ask Art Arrowsmith and Eric Norby, who tried this escapade in the 1950s. These students of Wheelus Air Force Base High School in Tripoli, Libya, were determined to complete their proposed 15-mile boating adventure from Wheelus to Georgimpopoli—despite the cold February night, the howling wind and icy water, their lack of experience, and Eric’s very limited swimming skills.

A Libyan Dhow would have been a reasonable choice.

A Libyan Dhow would have been a reasonable choice.

This photo above depicts some fellow Wheelus High students on a Libyan Dhow at a beach party I gave about 1957.
Nevertheless, Art and Eric had managed to push their makeshift catamaran, crafted partially from an F-86 airplane fuel tank by Air Force airmen, into the ocean. They were headed toward a reef and then planned to sail west. Here’s the rest of the story in Art’s words:

As we approached the reef we came out of the shelter provided by the cove we were in. The wind increased, screaming in our ears and whipping up the crashing white water. Stinging foam sprayed our faces, burning our eyes. Crosscurrents caused by the swirling waters hurled from the breakers as they crashed over the reef and made it nearly impossible to steer. The closer we got to the reef, the higher the waves grew. Soon they were high enough to breach the gunwale of the boat. We were desperate to keep the craft pointed into the frothing waves, which worked for a few minutes with both of us paddling, but when we began taking on water, with no bailing tools, our fate was sealed. We had to turn back.

As the bow of the boat turned away from the breakers and we became broadside to their foaming fury, icy water streamed into the boat, rapidly filling it. We had barely completed our turn and headed to the beach, 70 yards away, when the boat sank. Eric clung to one of the 50 gallon barrels. As soon as the boat sank, my dad’s flight jacket filled with very cold water. My arms moved like I was swimming in a vat of syrup as I treaded water and worked on taking off my jacket.

I shouted over the wind to Eric that I would come to get him and felt confident that I could get us back to the beach. Over the years my dad had insisted all the children in our family take swimming lessons at the YMCA or at the base pool. Life-saving lessons were always a part of these courses. My real concern, however, was whether I had the stamina to rescue us both. Fortunately, I was very familiar with the cove we were in, and was able to estimate the depth of the water. I yelled at Eric to hold his breath and dog paddle, which he knew how to do, while I tried to touch the bottom. My plan was to drop feet first to the sandy bottom and push off in the direction of the beach, snagging Eric as I went. I trusted the moon would give enough light under water for me to see his form above me. Meanwhile, he would be dog paddling. And it worked!

It was past midnight when the shivering teens snuck into Art’s house. Luckily for the adventurers, Art’s mother had a good sense of humor when she discovered what they’d done the next morning. She was grateful the boys were safe, and Art’s father, who was on a trip at the time, never asked what had happened to his flight jacket. Art concluded that he and Eric had learned some serious lessons about the fragility of life, the weight of responsibility and the strength of teamwork.

TRIPOLI & THE OTTOMAN BASHAW

Tripoli's Bashaw Castle

Tripoli’s Bashaw Castle also known as Barbary Pirate Fort

The past can be very nebulous – one day it will seem like centuries ago, other days it was only yesterday in my mind. I looked for perceptive quotes about the past and found two intriguing ones. The first is a Chinese proverb: Consider the past and you shall know the future. The other comes from American author William Faulker: The past is not dead, in fact it’s not even past. I think both quotes apply to current life.

The Internet can easily make sure you don’t forget the past. I’ve been blessed by the adventures I had as an Army brat growing up, and the current continual growth of my connections with other military brats and citizens from around the world because of my Words on My Mind blog. Many of these connections have come from my three years living in Tripoli, Libya, in the mid 1950s.

Starting to thrive after the bloody North African fighting during WWII, in 1951 Libya was granted by the United Nations the status of Arab Kingdom, an independent state to be ruled by King Sayed Mohamed Idris el Senussi. I was there to witness the early blossoming, and so were a lot of Americans. Several of them, including me, have written about their experiences and had them published. I’ve read and will report on some of these books concerning Libya.

Tripoli has a tumultuous past that goes back to the Phoenicians and the Romans, and it was part of the Ottoman Empire for several centuries. Libyan Fadel Eswedi sent his friend Giuseppe Scalora (an Italian born in Libya) a fascinating book about Tripoli in the 18th century when the Turks still ruled Libya. Tully’s Letters was written by a Miss Tully, a young British woman who was part of the British consulate and wrote about her life experiences in Tripoli.

Reading the introduction page tells a great deal. The story comes from “letters written during a ten years’ residence at the Court of Tripoli, published from the originals in the possession of the family of the late Richard Tully, Esq., the British Consul, and it contains authentic memoirs and anecdotes of the reigning Bashaw (a high official in countries ruled by Turkey, as in the Ottoman Empire, which existed from 1299-1923).” It is also an account of the domestic manners of the Moors, Arabs and Turks.

According to this book, “Tripoli’s importance was derived from its link with Egypt and its geographical position on the great Hajj route from the west to Mecca, and the trade routes between Africa and Europe.” Miss Tully’s life in Tripoli began in 1783 during the time of the pirates, a famine and then a plague. As the book introduction quotes the reigning Bashaw’s words to the British, Dutch and French consuls who protested a Venetian ship that had been seized: “The Barbary Corsairs are born pirates, and not able to subsist by any other means; it is therefore the Christian’s business to be always on their guard, even in times of peace.” It doesn’t seem that much has changed in the world!

The famous old castle those of us who lived in Tripoli easily recognize was a dominant feature in the 18th century city. There were courtyards, and passages on different levels separated by heavy iron doors. The Bashaw lived there with his staff, his guards, his wives and his concubines, who lived in a harem in the depths of the castle. He had two sons with their families who also lived in separate guarded quarters within the castle.

Tripoli in those days had a slave market that sold off Christian slaves, and primarily Neopolitans, Spaniards, and Blacks from Fezzan and Bornu. A city of 25,000 population, 5,000 of them Sephardic Jewish refugees from the Spanish Inquisition, it was a rough and rowdy. According to the intro, the city was “a rabbit-warren of narrow lanes, arched bazaars and overhanging buildings.” Very few windows faced the street. Despite about 20 mosques, Tripoli wasn’t peaceful; those wealthy enough hired guards for their protection from the brutality.

On a positive note, east of the castle and extending along the bay for 10 miles was Menschia, a narrow green oasis full of palms, vegetables and peppers and gardens of apricot, orange and pomegranate trees. This area was the location for the summer homes of Tripoli notables. In modern times, and in the years I lived there, I will always remember the lovely bougainvillea vines that seemed to grow from every flat rooftop.

My thanks to Fadel Eswedi of Tripoli and Giuseppe Scalora, once a Tripoli resident and now a citizen of Los Angeles, for the use of this fascinating book. It was first published in 1846 and then again in 2002 in London. For those interested, the ISBN number is: 1850779279. Darf Publishers in London published the current edition.

MAKING MOVIES IN LIBYA – THE BLACK TENT

A couple of years ago, Terence Sharkey, who had been a teenage British actor in the 1950s, sent me an entertaining story of his adventure at Wheelus Air Force Base in 1955. He meant it as a Comment, but it was too long and too interesting not to include it as a blog, and I’m publishing the story again. I made a few minor changes (like American spelling) for clarity.

Terry told me: I was a guest at Wheelus almost sixty years ago and I still recall the warmth of the welcome which matched the 90 degree heat everywhere. In 1955 food-rationing from WWII in England had only just ceased, and for an English youth, my eyes had popped out at steak sizes I’d never seen, breakfast portions undreamed of, and chocolate bars in abundance. (I’d never heard of Hershey bars –but I soon learned). Suddenly England seemed even more austere when I saw the goods on offer in the commissary.

Terence Sharkey, teenage British actor

Terence Sharkey, teenage British actor, with actor Donald Sinden.

I was sixteen and had gone to Libya as a young actor for desert location scenes for a movie (The Black Tent) we were making at Pinewood Studios back in England. A couple of days after my arrival at Idris airport, the once daily flight from London’s Heathrow ended in tragedy when a BOAC DC4 Argonaut crashed in flames on landing, killing fifteen and badly injuring many of the forty-seven on board. Idris facilities were about what you’d expect of one of the world’s poorest nations with an international terminal that looked like it was the film set from Bogart’s “Casablanca,” and the boys and girls at Wheelus had mobilised immediately, with helicopters ferrying the injured to the military hospital.

A few days later, at a break in the filming schedule, I visited the base with Rosemarie, a young woman survivor of the crash. American helicopter pilots honored her with a bouquet. Their tears turned to laughter when Rosemarie discovered the bouquet was swarming with ants, which had joined the consignment somewhere locally. (Where had they had come up with fresh roses in such a desert?).

The base was enormous. I had been fearful that the sight of aircraft so soon after the tragedy at Idris airport on the other side of the city would be upsetting, but my companion was enjoying the tour as much as I was. At one stage our jeep rattled its way over the tarmac beside twenty or more very business-like looking fighter jets with US Air Force emblazoned on each silver fuselage together with the big white star. “F-86 Saber jets” our driver told us proudly. “See them swept-back wings? They’ll take on anything those Commie bastards can throw at us – they’ll out-maneuver any of Joe Stalin’s boys.”
Stalin had died two years before and his successor, Nikita Kruschev, had appeared to adopt a more conciliatory attitude towards the West in an attempt to end the Cold War. Our driver, if he knew of the demise of the despot, cared little for the changes and continued to extol the superior virtues of the Saber jets over the Russian MiG-15s, which he told us he had seen in dogfights in the Korean War a couple of years before.

An international incident was narrowly avoided when this naïve British visitor took a photograph of his beautiful companion. I had not noticed that the background included some tents and several large aircraft. I still have the Zeiss camera, which I had bought cheaply a couple of days before, just a museum piece now in our age of digital photography, but I will always remember that day when I had to hand over the film to the fierce military policeman declaring us off limits.

Actually, he turned out to be quite an affable sort who, having executed his official task, seemed more than happy to assist my companion, who had discovered that the ants were now invading her blouse. Uncle Sam’s Military Police are clearly up to anything the day throws at them and the fellow produced some magic mosquito cream, which he applied liberally to her neck. His enthusiasm for the task knew no bounds and soon it was the turn of the female visitor to gently point out what was off limits.

Apart from the loss of my pictures it was a memorable day with hospitable hosts, an air-conditioned day that offered a welcome contrast to the sweltering Sahara filming days that lay ahead.
Happy days! More are captured at Terence Sharkey memoir-Love, Life & Moving Pictures

VICTORIA GIRAUD, AUTHOR

Mel book cover #1
What’s a girl going to do when she wants adventure in her life, and men have all the fun? Melaynie Morgan is an independent-minded young woman in Plymouth, England, but it’s the 16th century, and women are expected to dress elaborately and attend to womanly duties. Forget about doublets, swords and sailing ships.Melaynie refuses to let her conventional background deter her. She disguises herself as a captain’s boy and signs on with privateer Francis Drake to plunder Spanish treasure in the exotic Caribbean. In the chess game of Renaissance politics it’s an undeclared war of opposing religions, but Queen Elizabeth’s Protestant England and King Philip’s Catholic Spain are maintaining a guarded peace. Into that mix comes Plymouth’s Drake, waging his own private war with Spain.

Melaynie finds more than she bargained for during her year in the tropics serving Drake – from disease, death and danger to a romance with a Spaniard and a friendship with an ex-slave. She returns to England wiser but secretly pregnant. In volume 2, Melaynie’s daughter Joan grows up unaware of her true parentage until the Spanish Armada brings a bittersweet and surprising reunion. To order these books, go to Amazon: Victoria Giraud Books

An Army Brat in Libya Ebook cover

An Army Brat in Libya Ebook cover

An Army Brat in Libya is a memoir chronicling the adventures of living in Tripoli in the 1950s. World War II was over and the world could breathe again for a while. Libya was ruled by King Idris, and the US Military held sway at strategic Wheelus Air Force Base. Attending high school amidst sand and palm trees, camels and donkeys, in a small cosmopolitan city along the Mediterranean was about as unique and full of contrasts as an American teen could get in the mild 1950s.

American teenagers sported jeans while Libyan women were covered from head to foot. Americans brought their cars; most Libyans rode bicycles. Despite the differences, East and West cohabited peacefully for the most part. It’s a new century today, but the American military still has a presence in these exotic areas of the world.

Weird Dates and Strange Fates#1

Weird Dates and Strange Mates features two unusual but true short stories. Sandy’s blind date serves her brunch while wearing a French maid’s costume, a blond wig and 4-inch heels in A Single Girl’s Guide to Cross-Dressing. She’s even more puzzled when he changes to a G-string and a lacy negligee. In The Dark Side, Barbara meets her perfect man, but one day he disappears from his apartment, leaving a downloaded computer and all his business attire behind. She could hardly believe the secret he was hiding.

Pink Glasses#2dup

The divorcees in the chic Los Angeles bar/restaurant were attracted to Will’s spirited zaniness, which mixed well with his gentle nature. They had no idea what mental turmoil it masked. He was a Viet Nam vet, a Navy pilot, and far from rich. Will had to rent a room from one of his new friends, yet he bought a brand new Porsche and kept his old one. What was he concealing?

LADY OF GARIAN – WWII LIBYA

Lady Garian Clearest pic

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.

DESERT RAT SKETCHBOOK

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.

 

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