My service as a driver in 223 Coy R.A.S.C (Air Despatch), in the Middle East was from 1946 to 1948. During my time there I was unfortunate to catch impetigo, and had to go into Sarafan hospital. When I returned to my unit I was told by the Transport Officer that there were no trucks available until a new delivery in a couple of weeks; so I was told to lose myself with the Sanitary Squad until then.
I found the Lance Corporal in charge of the Sanitary Squad (which consisted of about 4 or 5 persons) and asked him what his duties were and he told me they just cleaned and tidied up the camp. I suggested we could possibly do something about the very large cockroaches (about 2” to 3” long) that infested the toilets.
I should explain that the toilets were large pits, dug in sand, with preformed concrete seats. No flushing water, and a very poor covering of corrugated iron, and when you looked down the hole the whole area seemed to be moving with the cockroaches. My suggestion was welcomed, as everyone had complained about the cockroaches, so it was decided to set fire to them.
First we got a 10 gallon drum and put in petrol, paraffin, D.D.T disinfectant and anything else we could lay our hands on. Then we put a can full of this liquid down each hole, not realising they were all connected. I then volunteered to set fire to it, and lit a large rolled up newspaper to carry this out. I put the lighted paper down the first hole, thinking I would have to repeat this down every hole, but I certainly didn't get the chance to do that, as there was an almighty explosion. The roof lifted off and all the Officers came out of the Officers Mess thinking the camp had been attacked.
What I didn't realise was the methane gas itself was enough to cause the explosion without the mixture we had put down. The 2nd Lieutenant, who was in charge of the Sanitary Squad came rushing over asking what had happened, and I replied we were trying to get rid of the cockroaches. I can remember his words to this day, “it's a bit drastic isn’t it”. When the smoke and dust cleared and we entered the toilet, it was as if an earthquake had hit it; with all concrete seats smashed and totally unusable. The toilets had to be closed down, leaving just one toilet for the whole camp, so a lot of the service men were going about with crossed legs until another toilet could be dug and got ready.
If anyone recognises themselves and would like to get in touch I would love to hear from them. The only person I have kept in touch with is Dvr Albert Benjamin, who saw a photo of my sister on a small table in the tent and wrote to her. When he was demobbed he moved from his home in London, came up to Birmingham and married my Sister.Open Door Contents