An interlude

Morning had broken over Port Said. It was February 1944 and the soldier was still chilled, his only activity had been slowly pacing the deck of the “Monowai”, a New Zealand troopship, from end to end. The usual sunny day lay ahead – every day in Egypt – but as yet there was no activity by the Suez Canal, where the ship was lying awaiting sailing orders. The soldier wore battle dress and he was bored. He was pleased that the sun was now warming him, looked down with interest at the sound of movement on the water front and saw an Arab struggling with a large two-wheeled barrow loaded with huge water melons. The man finally disappeared behind a pile of crates.


King Farouk

A few minutes later a second figure came into view. This was a fat Arab in an enormous tent-like galabiya and white skull cap. He was leading a donkey which was loaded with panniers containing large, shiny golden onions. The soldier had always marvelled at the size and quality of vegetables of the Nile valley, and the onions brought to mind his Sunday School days when he’d learned about Pharaoh and his dreams of the good years and the bad years. In those days Egypt was forced to rely on the vagaries of the planet’s weather, but those times were long gone. The Nile was now harnessed by dams, and the harvest was assured.

His mind turned again to his future. The rumour-mongers had been putting out the usual nonsense about “inside information”. They’d all been due for Burma, Italy and even Russia according to the informed. Italy seemed to be the best bet, and his mind now reverted to ancient times as recorded in the bible. (Strange how Britain and the whole world now has to trust more to the changes in climate – fifty years after the soldier’s musings.)

There was little activity and he looked at his watch, only twenty minutes to the end of his stint. Thank God! Suddenly there was a noisy burst of activity and he hurried to the stern of the ship. Looking down he saw a dinghy bearing four Arabs pull away from the bank. They were very excited, shouting and waving their arms wildly. His Arabic was scanty, but after listening carefully he made out the important words: “Shuf ! El Melik!” (Look! The King!). He scanned all around but could find no reason for the statement, until he noticed that they were pointing south down the canal. He followed their gaze.

Royal yacht

He now perceived a vessel of some kind approaching at leisurely speed. The natives in the dinghy must have been acquainted with this craft, for the soldier saw nothing special about it for some time. But wait ! At last he could make out a beautiful yacht, all white and gold, purring along almost silently. If this was indeed the sovereign, then the soldier had a problem.

He felt no allegiance to this king (if he it was), and wondered what protocol demanded. A KING! Slapping the butt of his rifle at the slope seemed a churlish tribute, even from an alien. That kind of salute was for lieutenants and captains, but a KING ? The most dignified he could think of was “Present Arms”. Thus decided, he sloped arms ready for the three movements of the Present. He gauged the exact instant for maximum effect. As the yacht drew nearer an imposing figure could be seen.

The bridge of the yacht was a simple affair of bleached canvas stretched tightly round metal stanchions, and there, resting his hands on the canvas, stood King Farouk in white lounge suit and crimson fez.

At the precise instant the soldier made the three movements, exaggerating the second and third movements by slapping the brass bits of the sling hard down on the magazine of the rifle. King Farouk heard the clicks and looked up through his black sunglasses. He raised his right hand to his fez respectfully. What a gentleman!

This story is true. I was that soldier .

King Farouk I (Fouad’s son): Born 1921. When King Fouad his father died Farouk was still under age and accordingly a regency council was formed of Prince Mohammad Ali Aziz Ezzat Pasha and Sherif Sabry Pasha to run the scene until his constitutional powers were completely handed over to him on 29 July 1937. During his reign Egypt was in a state of incomplete independence and suffered from chaos and corruption. On 23 July 1952 the revolution erupted and King Farouk was forced to abdicate the throne to his son Ahmed Fouad II, who was a child then. The abdication document was signed in Ras El Teen Palace on 26 July 1952 and Farouk left Egypt for Italy, where he died in 1965. He was buried in Egypt in El Refai mosque.

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