Lance Corporal Tarbin's account of Operation Musketeer.

I was a recalled reservist, back in Support Company 2 Para.

We embarked on a troopship at a Cyprus port, I can't remember which but we had to be ferried out in small boats to a troopship standing a few hundred yards off shore. Then we waited around the Mediterranean for a few days on the troopship until one evening we were issued ammunition. Down in a forward troop deck and amongst all the bunks guys were arming hand grenades - scary! We were issued 10, yes just TEN, rounds of .303 ammunition for our Lee Enfield rifles! The next morning when I went on deck there were naval ships everywhere around, French Mirage jets were screaming overhead and firing rockets at Port Said and there was a long pall of black smoke extending along the coast.

We had to go down nets into landing craft and landed on a stone jetty as a few small shells and bullets were landing in the sea. Marine Commandos were dug in on the beach. In true "British style" we formed up and quick marched into the town. All our transport apparently had been loaded at the wrong end of the transport landing craft so our officers decided we couldn't just hang around in the open, we'd hole up at a building nearby while they tried to locate some trucks. The building was actually some South American consulate I believe but when the Sergeant Major went to break in, the Egyptian caretaker appeared and tried to bar the door! When the Sgt Major said break down the door the caretaker quickly produced a key and we all poured in. I was detailed to guard the door and found myself behind a big stack of boxes which I found were abandoned Egyptian.303 ammunition. I just prayed that they wouldn’t be hit by any Egyptian shots but I did load up with a few dozen more rounds to supplement my measly issued 10 rounds.

That evening we had some transport and I recall we started advancing as point battalion on foot through the town, part way behind a tank and kept going down the causeway towards El Qantarah where the marshes on either side of the Suez Canal give way to solid land. We were informed of the cease fire as we reached El Cap Station so we dug in just north of a small village. The Egyptian troops were about half a mile south of us the other side of the village. Despite the cease fire, after nightfall, we were sporadically shot at by the Egyptians from the village so the next night our Vickers machine guns were set up and when the shooting started from the Egyptians again our machine guns opened up for a few minutes. It went really quiet after that!

Our Colonel, I believe, had all the villagers ejected from the village and we moved into the village until we were relieved by a unit of regular infantry (The Gloucestershire Regiment I think) a day or two later. I had to escort one of their Majors to our headquarters when they arrived; he was extremely surprised at how few of us were there. Thank goodness they came, the place was crawling with bed bugs, I had to fashion a hammock from some fishing net in a house so the bugs couldn’t get to me while I slept. Even so when we were in the transit camp in Port Said I found I had baby bed bugs all up the seams of my pants. A few hours turned inside out in the hot sun took care of them.

During our time at El Cap I went with a corporal in a jeep to take mail into Port Said. On the way we were waved to stop by an Egyptian civilian in front of a small cinema, he showed us a stash of weapons hidden under the floor of the ticket counter I think he didn't want any part of them! They were boxes of brand new Czech automatic rifles along with boxes of ammunition, including tracer and white phosphorus. We took charge of them and carried on into town. Along the waterfront there was a gigantic long pile of captured weapons, some very new and some very old, I recognised Lewis guns and funny looking what looked like old Italian guns on wheels as well as really modern stuff and rocket launchers. It was all taken out to sea and dumped later I believe. The Czech rifles we took back became a hit with all our officers and senior NCOs who all confiscated one; they were beautiful compared to our small arms. However, they were all ordered to hand over all 'acquired weapons' when we were about to embark to return to Cyprus. A couple of them I believe were spirited back to Cyprus down the barrels of the BAT anti-tank guns etc. I also gave up my extra 303 rounds, which I had never needed to use.

Back in Cyprus we hung around, doing nothing and getting more and more ‘bolshie’, with Christmas getting near, until the Brigadier got in touch with a friend in Coastal Command, so the story goes, who made available a few Shackeltons to take us reservists back to England. We were told to take a blanket to sit on the hard aluminium decking and all crowded along the bare fuselage, even all around the navigator’s legs. The planes could barely take off they were so heavily loaded; one had to abort and have a second try later. A cold draft came up from under my blanket and we traced that to a crack in the floor that turned out to be the hatch for dropping depth charges, we hoped it was locked well!

We landed at Lynham airport and before being sent home had to remove everything from our uniforms until our RSM interceded and made the quartermaster allow us to keep our berets and badge. If the quartermaster had had his way we’d have been sent home in our underwear I swear! We were even told to return our old worn uniforms by mail which they gave us a voucher for! We were home a couple of days before Christmas.

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