When he sent this photograph back home to Sheffield, my father, Robert Douglas Bell, then a sergeant in a light anti-aircraft unit, stationed in the Western Desert, North Africa, wrote on the back:
‘The Egg Market (remember) taken in Feb. 1941’
Years later he told me about setting up this pop-up trading post. He’d been an accountant before his call-up and a keen sprinter and footballer, so he, and his unit, realised that the best way to barter with the locals was to be organised and scrupulously fair. Other units preferred to haggle and to try to get the better of the locals, so they soon found themselves sidelined and a queue formed at the packing-case desk that my father’s team operated.
My father is manning the desk and it looks as if he’s hung his shirt on the end of the bargeboard before getting down to business.
It’s amazing to have this photograph of ‘The Egg Market’, which my late mother thoughtfully added to a family history album.
On a Balcony in Cairo
The following year, in Cairo, my dad was transferred to the Military Police.
Thank you, father, that’s just the sort of nugget of information which will be so useful to future historians. He rose to be colour sergeant major in the Special Investigations Branch of the Corps of Military Police, Cairo. His beat included the Pyramids and the Sweet Water Canal (which was anything but, he told me) and he had some input into security for the November 1943 Cairo Conference, attended by Franklin D Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Chiang Kai-shek. Roosevelt and Churchill went on to meet up with Josef Stalin in Tehran two days later.
The Spoils of War
In my childhood years, we had a battered light-tan leather case which had been confiscated from hashish smugglers and I still have father’s sergeant’s baton. My mother used to keep it handy by the back door on top of the three coat-hooks in the porch, in case she ever had to beat off a doorstep attacker. Fortunately she never had cause to use it in anger. She could easily control us with a well-aimed tap with the back of the Hush Puppies brush.
My father was born one hundred years ago today on 29 October, 1918, just a couple of weeks before the end of World War I.
Corps of Military Police, Cairo, 1939 Sept.- 1940 Dec., The National Archives, Kew. Do records for 1942 – 1945 still exist? Please let me know if you’ve been researching the subject and you can point me in the right direction. I’d love to read some of my father’s case-notes, if they still exist.