Still another trip to the 'Med', Naples again, and during our short stay we heard about the following incident. Our Petty Officer Baker, Jock, a genial Scotsman (made lovely cakes!) was informed that if he went to the local Army HQ his brother was there. Jock had previously been informed officially that his brother, a Scots Guardsman was a German Prisoner of War. Anyway he was at this Army HQ as large as life, and Jock brought him back to our mess in HMS Eastway for a 'tot' or two to celebrate.
The brother, a 6'4" tanned brawn of a chap told us that he was one of the Guardsmen who had volunteered, and been selected to capture Field Marshall Rommell (the German Desert 'Fox') from his tent in the North African Desert. But the daring plan misfired somehow, and the Guardsmen got away, and separated from their unit, spent about 6 months fighting in the mountains, sabotaging etc. with Guerrilla soldiers, Poles, and Italian deserters, and had many narrow escapes from the retreating German Army. Anyway we wished him good luck, and sent him away very happy after his refreshment, and reunion with Jock. By this time we had discharged our war material and went on our way to Tobruk on the North African coast, the scene of many clashes between the British and German desert armies, and this was plainly visible in the harbour and its entrance. In the clear blue Mediterranean water, wrecks of warships and merchantmen of both warring nations were as plain as punch to see.
My immediate thoughts went back to the time we were waited on at table by the very German soldiers of Rommell's 'Afrika Corps', who had come as disciplined fighting units on troopships into this port, and were now 'haymaking' prisoners of war in the wheat fields of America's Middle West. Such are the 'ups' and 'downs' of life in war. And a lot of thanks to the strategy of Generals Montgomery and Alexander in this Middle East campaign.
We tied up at the quayside and looked down at the local Arabs bartering goods, no money changing hands of course. One of our stokers (a big fellow) offered his boots in exchange for a bucket of fresh eggs. His bucket containing the boots was lowered down on a rope, and was picked up by the Arabs, with no eggs forthcoming, who then ran off as fast as they could. Our stoker yelling and swearing at them was over the side in a flash and on to the jetty, chasing after the miscreants. After administering a good walloping, he got his boots back and also a bucket of fresh eggs.
We again called at Gibraltar on the return, always interesting, plenty of goods in the shops, apes (Barbary) to be fed on the Rock, cheap beer, girls dancing on the tables in the bars. And as always one free show not to be missed, the changing of the Spanish Guard at the border, La Linea. Spain was of course neutral in this war and only Spaniards (?) were allowed past this point, so a tight (?) guard had to be maintained. Watching the guard being changed in the early evening, it became noticeable that they only had one rifle, one overcoat, and one pair of boots between them, and it was amusing to see the routine carried out.