A break from the heat
Keeping the Peace
By Tom Lessard, C.D.
On a warm, sunny day in November 1957, some of us were told to pack our gear (what little we were allowed to take out of the country) as we were leaving for home. It didn’t take long as I’m sure most of us had been ready to go since day one.
When the big day came, we were driven to El Arish, where there was an airport that had been used by the air force since we moved to the Gaza Strip. On the tarmac awaiting us was a C119 (flying boxcar), in which we were to fly to Naples, Italy. Boarding the plane, the only seats to be found were “bucket seats”, the same as you see parachutists use. Talk about luxury! Our in-flight meal was a boxed lunch consisting of a sandwich, a juice drink and an orange to tide us over.
Once in the air, we could look out at the brownish white desert on one side, contrasted by the beautiful blue Mediterranean Sea. I don’t recall exactly how many hours it took to cross to Italy, but it was about six. We flew between mountains into a valley in which Capodichino Airport is situated. Gorgeous scenery.
Transport awaited us to take us to a hotel used by the U.N. as a rest area for the troops. The accommodations were quite a contrast to what we were used to, coming from a tent in the desert with outdoor plumbing and a washstand in the open with shower stalls. The hotel’s fantastic rooms had real soft beds, carpets, a super dining room with decent meals, and it was situated in a place named Garibaldi Square. You could put the whole town of Exeter in the square and still have room left.
We had four days to explore before we were to continue our journey. I hired a calèche (horse-drawn carriage) for a few hours the first day, sent the driver to purchase a bottle of good Italian wine and to show me around. The square was spared during the Second World War, it seems, because the buildings are old and the architecture is beautiful. After a year in the desert, the noise of the city was almost overpowering.
The second day, I joined a tour bus and traveled to Pompei. This city was destroyed when Mount Vesuvius erupted. It was completely covered and most of the people killed. The parts that had been excavated by the 1950s showed a lot of what life was like in the old days of the Roman Empire. It must have been quite a city.
I spent the rest of my time wandering around Naples. The day of our departure, we were taken badk to the airport for the final leg of our journey to Montreal. Our airplane was called a North Star. Guess what! Bucket seats and box lunches again. When we got airborne we were told that the pressurization was on the fritz and we would be flying below 8,000’. Since we left most of our clothes in Egypt because of posible diseases being carried in them, all I had on was a pair of shoes, no socks, pants and a shirt, no shorts and a beret. The plane was cold as it was November and there was no heat. We stopped in Gibraltar for refueling and headed for Goose Bay, Labrador. While there, we were informed that the weather had closed in Montreal, but it might be clear by the time we got there. Luckily, the weather was fair enough for us to land in a snow squall.
We cleared customs while we shivered and were given passes and train tickets to our hometowns. At the time, my home was Waterloo. When I stepped off the train in Kitchener, it was four below and snowing. I still had no clothing, so comingoff the desert five days before, it was a bit chilly. The best way to warm up, I figured, was to go directly to the Station Hotel and help the bar sales.
A few hours later I hired a cab and walked into the house. You should have seen the look on my parents’ faces.