Sunday, February 11, 2007

Well-used war poem

I came across the following poem written out in my mother’s hand when we were clearing out some of her old papers. I don’t know where she got it from but it turns out to have an interesting history, which was written about in an essay by Les Cleveland in 1986, and is recorded on the Buffalo State University site.
(Incidentally, this isn’t the Les Cleveland who’s well-known to Dunedinites as the man who provides many of the daffodils on Daffodil Day, each year, or as a bass singer who appeared in many of the Dunedin Opera Company’s productions.)

I’m a lonely Kiwi digger and I’m stationed at Matruh;
I’ve got my little dug-out in the sand
Where the fleas play tag around me as they circle round at night,
In my flea-bound bug-bound dug-out in Matruh.

Oh the walls are made of hessian and the windows four by two,
And the doorway lets the howling sandstorm thru’.
You can hear those blinkin’ Ities as they circle round at night,
In my flea-bound bug-bound dug-out in Matruh.

Now the place is strewn all round with bully and meat loaf –
Of bread and marmalade there’s blinkin’ few.
I’m as happy as a clown in his land of heat and sand
In my flea-bound bug-bound dug-out in Matruh.

Oh take me back, oh take me back
To my flea-bound bug-bound dug-out in Matruh.
Where you can hear those blinkin’ Ities as they circle round at night,
In my flea-bound bug-bound dug-out in Matruh.

According to Cleveland, ‘Matruh is an attenuation of Mersah Matruh, a seaside village near the border of Egypt and Libya. It was used as supply base for desert operations by the Allied Eighth Army in the North African theatre in World War 2. To most soldiers who were involved in these operations, Mersah Matruh is synonymous with heat, monotony, thirst, flies, confusion, military incompetence and bombing raids.’


This picture was probably taken at Mersah Matruh during World War II. It comes from the oswild.org site and has a number of photos of the place, as well as quite a bit of info.
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