2 OCTOBER 1942, Page 9



HE Australian sergeant leaned against the bar at the Al Manir, near the Cecil, and looked out through fly-spotted glass at i Alexandria's outer harbour. He squinted at a signal coming up n the halyards of a Vichy battle-cruiser, yawned in the middle the opera:ion and leaned more heavily. A fat Greek woman

I calking with a tall naval petty officer intrigued him for a moment.

hree little boys came up with begging whines, and he shifted them with his foot without hurting them as he would have done 0 a dog at Marree. He yawned again. The afternoon sun was hot. e air was sticky, grease-filled, seemingly, after its rush across e Iraqi desert from Habbaniyeh having lost the dry keenness of is warmth once it zephyred down from Haifa. Outside someone gan a noisy argument about the Koran. Was it possible, asked old coffee-drinker, for a non-orthodox Moslem to say the blessing Bismillah " when drinking forbidden alcohol with a non-believer? e resultant argument would have done credit to a musical broad- cast in Arabic. The sergeant grinned again. Then he turned to Vassilios, the Athenian bar-keeper.

"Another beer," he said. " Cripes, it's been hot ever since uesday's air-raid." Vassilios, who liked the sergeant, was con- cerned. " Too hot," he answered ; " but those air-raids are too hot. My cousin Lepidos was telling me about those nights at Crete. You got it worse in 1941, eh?

The Australian sergeant leaned more comfortably, crossing his , letting the bar support his IhnIty body at the diaphragm, pivot- hii body on his right elbow, holding his beaker with his left. " Yairs," he said, " Crete was a hot place when they dropped the 500-pounders, but your blokes were okay-doke ; that's why we give 'em a hand here whenever they give us a ` hoy.' " Vassilios smiled. Even Prince Philip of Greece, himself a serving officer in the Royal Navy, had watched Australian soldiers in Egypt, running to aid Greeks caught in some Quarter fight. There was a friendship which would not blow cold, and many a big steak would be eaten at Greek restaurants in Australia at some reunion of far- off days to come.

He waved away two piastres for the beer. " After all, sergeant," he said, " you are my cobber." The sergeant nodded smilelessly. There was a warmth of gratitude in his swallow.

Outside a naval patrol passed, dumpily. One of the Koran polemists lost his temper, threw down his coffee-cup, left. A beggar with a stinking leg was urged on with curses by Kobu, the black • doorman from Djibai on the Persian Gulf. In slow eddies the smell of the Alexandria waterfront assailed the sergeant's nose. It drifted out when he had lit a cigarette. Cripes, he thought, how much bloody longer before Libya or home or both or bloody none) He ordered anotheer beer and paid for it, as well as for one which Vassilios drank. Three sirens from a destroyer broke his boredom for a second. Five Sunderlands roared down to anchorage. Up towards Rosetta ack-ack guns coughed for a few minutes. But there was no alert.

" Quiet, sergeant, isn't it? " The sergeant pivoted on his elbow. A captain of Royal Engineers had come in quietly enough. " Yaks," said the sergeant. If the poms wanted to talk, o.k.

" Been here long? " asked the captain, ordering two beers. " Couple 'er days," said the sergeant. " Long enough."

" Waiting to go up, eh? " the captain smiled, and raised his

beer. " All the best." a

They drank. " I heard you chaps were coming down from Syria. Good show. Your infantry's some of the best we've got. I thought I recognised your battalion."

The sergeant studied his beer. "Those are divisional patches. Yairs, I reckon we had enough rest up in Palestine." He leaned further against the bar. The captain was most friendly. " I wonder whether my friend, Lt.-Col. Jenkyns, is with you? He had the 35th battalion when last I heard of him. Fine chap. Weren't they Eighth Brigade? "

" Yairs," said the sergeant.

The captain thought for a moment. " By jove," he said, " I've read a lot about your country—especially the chaps from out-back. Or was Jenkyns with you up in Palestine? Or was he 45th battalion? Hard to remember, isn't it? " • " Yairs," said the sergeant.

The captain snapped his fingers. " I know, 45th battalion had those new anti-tank rifles from Sydney. Now I remember. Are they with your brigade now? They'll give Jerry a bit of hurry-up."

" Yairs," said the sergeant, leaning further across the bar.

The captain bought another beer. " I've read plenty about your out-back," he said. " I've seen pictures of it so often. Herrgott Springs, for example, in northern South Australia, and that song of Pat Dunlop about Yarrawonga."

"Yaks," said the sergeant. Then, winking at Vassilios, he smacked the captain on the chin, dropped him and held him while Vassilios ran for rope and tied the captain's hands and feet.

" What beats me, sergeant," said Major Hendren, Chief of Security Police, " is how you suspected him. Instinct, eh, you old • bushman? "

The sergeant grinned. " Yaks," he said, " you see, I come from Marree. Before the last war it was called Herrgott Springs. That bloke wasn't old enough for the last war, so he must of read about it all in Germany, and, tripes, when a bloke calls Yarrawonga, Yarravonga . . . there's something crook about him." The major poured the beer, now.

"Another won't hurt, sergeant? In fact, it might do good with that mention you're going to get in despatches."

" Yaks," said the sergeant, " yaks."