An everyday tale of a Sapper Railwayman-Suez Canal Zone

EGYPT 1951
10 Railway Sqn. RE Adabiya, Ismailia and Fanara.
(Robin Thorne)

First Events After Abrogation of the Treaty Between UK/Egypt.

11th October 1951 - First signs of trouble that we actually took in!   Suez out of bounds until further notice.   At the time I was working in the Sqn. Office as an untrained clerk. We did not know much about the politics of the day.

Tues. 16th October - Admin Parade cancelled and married families evacuated from Suez and married flats into our camp.   I found myself on guard at a road block outside the camp -not a very entertaining guard, as no one usually used the road except a few soldiers of the Egyptian Camel Corps.   All around us were large, bare mountains and the moonlit sea of Suez Bay.   All men were required to carry arms - in Ismailia, clashes had taken place between the army and local people - the police had in fact lost all control - attack a soldier/army vehicle/train/engine was the flavour of the day, and some natives died in rioting .


It should be noted that married families lived mixed with local people and our lives each day were fairly intermixed with the local population.  The rest of the week was taken up with extra guards and putting up tents for displaced families and soldiers. 

Mon. 22nd October - quite an exciting day - called out at 20.30 to go in a Bren gun carrier escorted by soldiers of the Royal Sussex - destination was Fort Agrud, a signal box owned by the Egyptian State Railways on the desert line from Suez to Cairo.   The general idea was to shunt any army trains that arrived and also stop rolling stock of the State Railways from leaving the Canal Zone - we needed wagons and locomotives; some of ours, which the ESR had on their lines and several that we had taken and stored up at Adabiya Army Railway Depot (south of Suez).

Sun. 28th October- After spending all week at Fort Agrud, I was finally on my way back to base at Adabiya - about the only contact I had was to be paid one pound by the local RASC unit - I assume that they also fed me, as I do not recall being short of food. The Egyptian signal man in Cairo Main Signal Box, had a lot of satisfaction swearing at me on the railway phone circuit.

Taken at Adabiya 1951
Taken at Adabiya 1951 

Sat. 10th November - return to Fort Agrud with Egyptian Railway official and the American Consul - the idea was to assess any damage that I/the army may have caused to their installations. I did come away with an Arabic lever collar that fitted over the signal levers.

Sun. 11th November - After Remembrance Parade, took an army train as far as Suez Number 2 Signal Box - I must have handed it over to another travelling blockman as the train was destined for Port Said. The resident local railway man, must on reflection, have hated our actions!!


Taken at Fanara 1952 (On Guard duty)
Taken at Fanara  1952 
(On Guard duty)

Mon. 12/Tues. 13th Nov - Up at 4.30am and took a train about 80 miles to an army food depot at El Kirsh working all signal boxes of the State Railways on the way.   With me, I suspect, was a guard of infantrymen to keep me safe from the locals.   Moved back down the Canal at the end of the first day and stabled the engine at Nefisha, where a bed was provided by our local detachment for myself.  The following day up again at 4.00am to work my train back to Adabiya - on the run in to the Army Railway, an ESR light loco tried to stop us on the single line but waving my Sten gun at him seemed to resolve things and the state loco hastily reversed to the nearest crossing point.  Later, mining the railway, or taking out track, became normal, causing some very bad derailments and this worsened in 1952.

Method of working was to set off on the Army Railway, take over any signal boxes with facing points and work the signals and points (setting up the route we needed to go) then back on the train and keep going until another train or signal box blocked the way.  The Egyptian State Railways signalled us as 'Vehicles running away right line!'   The route was all of the hundred odd miles of the Suez Canal Zone State Railways.


Taken at Beverley Yorkshire, reunion 2000
Taken at Beverley
Yorkshire, reunion 2000

Robin Thorne


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