Griffith Pugh Diary 1943
Sat 2 Jan 1943
Left Baghdad at 1600 in a Nairn motor coach. The Nairn brothers, NCOs in the last war learnt the desert route during their war service and stayed on or returned after the war & started their well known bus service from Baghdad to Damascus. You can now cross the desert in 18 hours in an air conditioned bus.
We stopped at several places in the desert for tea and food while the drivers rested. I was amazed at the excellence of the tarmac road now complete except for perhaps 80 miles. The last twelve hours was a surface worthy of the great north road in England.
Sun 3 Jan 1943
Reached Damascus in the evening after driving through rolling corn country like the plains of Flanders. Stayed at a de luxe hotel opposite the station. What a marvellous bath, what a wonderful soft bed. It's grand to have a stay in a first class hotel again.
After dinner who should I meet but Hartly from 61 BGH, now a major. 61 BGH is still at Shuaiba. Reeves and Mac are still there. They have a new CO who is even more of a tyrant than old Joe Higgins. The latter was sent home to UK last spring. Hartly as he is usually called is on his way back to Shuaiba after a month in Cairo on a course in anaesthetics followed by a fortnight’s leave in Lebanon. He was able to give me some useful tips about the journey on from Damascus.
Th[ere] was dancing in the lounge after dinner & I had one dance with a pretty Syrian Girl. Damascus is blacked out.
Mon 4 Jan 1943
Spent the morning with Hartly shopping. As I am sure to be in Damascus again & it was a wet day, I didn’t bother to do any sight seeing.
One comic incident, the conversation of a youth who showed me the way to the post office - I have two beautiful girls for whom I am always buying brocades & silk stockings & sweet meats! & he opened his note case and showed me their photos. I began to wonder if he was going to offer me one, but he appeared to [be] on the level. I said to him "why do you have two" & and he said "well one really belongs to my brother, but she likes me best". He went on to talk about football which he said he played extremely well. After the post office he tried to lure me to his brother’s shop in the bazaar, but I had other things to do. He then asked for money but I had nothing between a £10 note & a 5 piastre note (=30/- & 1d). He wouldn’t look at the later of course & when I dared to show it to him, he produced a 1/2 piastre piece which he wanted me to accept as a souvenir he said.
Tue 5 Jan 1943
Arrived last night in Beirut by post truck. The drive over the mountains which, I believe is magnificent was spoilt by mist. I’m staying at a hotel called the St George built out over the sea on a small rocky promontory. Went to sleep to the sound of the waves beating against the rocks. It is grand to see the Mediterranean again.
Rang through to the ski school & found Jimmie Riddell & Col Head will be in Beirut tomorrow. It has been pouring with rain all day. Weather very warm compared with Iraq & Persia.
Met Jimmie Riddell and Col Head at the Normandie. Tea with Jimmie while Col Head went to HQ. It was going to be marvellous fun this new job. Jimmie had six months skiing last year & trained 600 men. HQ is at the Cedars about 1900 metres above sea level in the Lebanese mountains.
Wed 6 Jan 1943
Met Jimmie Riddell in the morning & spent some hours shopping. It was an Armenian holiday & half the shops were shut. However we got some brightly coloured rugs for the mess. Lunch at the French club. Jimmie told me of an incident that happened the first time he went there about a year ago. Although at that time British Officers were not using the club Jimmie being a liaison officer to a Free French General didn’t see why he shouldn’t. So one day he went in for lunch & sat down at a table. A deathly silence ensued & ever[y]one stared. At last the headwaiter came up & asked him if he would mind changing his table as his sitting at this particular table was creating an embarrassing situation. I[t] turned out he was sitting in the Vichy half of the club restaurant while the Free French occupied the other side.
Left for the Cedars in Jimmies ancient 10 HP Fiat at about 4.0 after a fine drive along the coast road to Tripoli, which might have been the Corniche road in the South of France, we turned right into the hills. Plenty of green grass olive trees & vineyards very like Greece. It soon began to pour with rain and later to snow. We had a cold drive in the open car. Eventually reached the Cedars in time for dinner.
Thu 7 Jan
Capt Clarke who is responsible for the skiing equipment has given me two fine pairs of skis one of them Ericsons with steel edges. The equipment on the whole is excellent one gets boots, white ski suit, & peaked cap, stockings, gloves, pullover, string vest & a haversack with a frame. There is a marvellous smell of ski wax about.
The Cedars is a sports hotel by a small copse of ancient cedar trees. The British army has taken it over & it has been equipped as a base for training ski troops. The OC of the ski school is Col (Bunnie) Head & Jimmie is the chief instructor.
When I woke this morning & looked out of my window a marvellous view greeted my eyes. Wonderful snow peaks all round rising 8000 ft above the hotel. It was perfect alpine scenery. The early sun shone on glistening white snow fields.
Went skiing with Carrier one of the instructors a New Zealander.
Fri 8 Jan 1943
A new intake of 48 men arrived this morning. Most of them came from Persia & Iraq force & like me had been travelling for ten days. They were detailed to sections given numbers & issued with clothes boots skis and sticks. They were also given a cake of wax each. Next came instruction in the art of waxing skis carrying them and putting them on and in the care of equipment. In the afternoon they were paraded in front of the hotel with skis & we all marched off with shouldered skis up the Baalbeck road to a small valley called Sans Souci. There the students were should [sic] how to fit skis how to do kick turns & how to run down gentle slopes. It was a lovely warm afternoon & we all had fun.
There was a beautiful sunset & the semicircle of mountains round the hotel were flushed by the *alpin*.
Sat 9 Jan 1943 Skied 7 1/2 hours
Away at 08.00 after parade in ski kit. Up to Sans Souci again with sandwich lunch. A glorious day. The troops had greatest fun sliding down gentle slopes. Instructing is an art in its self and I have to listen carefully to Jimmie to learn all the points to mention. One has to explain carefully such simple principles as putting skis across the slope before putting them on, lest they run away down the slope.
The men were exhausted when we returned in the evening & they wasn’t a sound to be heard from their quarters after nine o’clock.
Sun 10 Jan 1943
No skiing on Sunday. Spent the day examining the new arrived troops. They were mostly thickset lads, & had been doing a lot of marching down below. Brown the other MO & myself have got out a typewritten case sheet & are going to keep a careful record of each man, with his past history etc, in order to find out the best methods of selecting men for mountain & ski troops.
Mon 11 Jan 1943 Skied 4 1/2 hrs
It snowed all day, horrid wet snow we went out on a beastly trek up the Baalbeck road & got back in time for lunch, wet through to the skin and miserably cold.
Tue 12 Jan 1943 skied 7 hrs
Skied all day among the cedar trees in a snow storm. I had a class of Greeks. Very poor performers in spite of 3 weeks training. 7 hours skiing
Wed 13 Jan 1943 Skied 7 1/2 hrs
A lovely sunny day. It was just like the Alps out there among the cedars. We skied for 7 1/2 hours. Life is going to be very strenuous here. Was I/C sec 11
Thu 14 Jan 1943 6 hrs ski
Parade at 0800. Climbed to False Crest in 2 1/2 hours was I/C sec 12. Up there we practised for an hour. The beginners are getting on well. After 5 days they can already do snowplough & run straight fairly well. Some are finding the course too stiff. At the medical examination in the evening we found two men with dilated hearts.
Todd Clark has found me a fine pair of skis. American ones called Westland Monarch - 7 ft 3" or 2 M 20 long. I used them today for the first time.
The beginners are getting on well and can already do snow plough & make an attempt at turning though not always successful. Some are keen, but others don’t seem to have taken to it at all. The later are mostly men of low intelligence from Glasgow and other Scottish industrial towns. The more intelligent ones nearly all like it. The officers are the best, even those who have not skied previously. This is probably the result of their athletic school days.
Fri 15 Jan 1943 Skiing 2 1/2 hrs
Spent the whole day examining the new intake of men who have now completed their first weeks skiing out of 33 students 7 have dilated hearts. They have done 31 hours skiing in 6 days including a rest day on Sunday. Capt Brown and I are doing the work together and we hope later to formulate principles for the future selection of candidates for the ski school based on the information gained from our observations.
Played chess in the evening with the CO Col Head.
Sat 16 Jan 1943 7hrs
Skied all the morning with the advanced class among the cedars. The deep wet soggy snow was too much for them & they fell on almost every turn. In the afternoon we took out some mountain tents. 10 pounders to sleep two people; & pitched them in the wood. We then put in the double Everest sleeping bags & experimented to find the number of men that could be crammed in. We found that four could just get into each tent with enough room to sleep.
Sun 17 Jan 1943
Sunday - a day of rest from skiing spent analysing the results of our examination of the students forming this intake. Played chess in the evening with Col Head & heard some pleasant music from Jimmie’s radio next door.
The results of our observation shows
Mon 18 Jan 1943
Established a camp about half an hour from the Cedars consisting of three bivouac tents. We also built an Igloo. We boiled water on a Primus & made tea for lunch. In the evening the section left & I was joined by Carrier and Clark, two of the instructors. We had supper in the igloo off tinned herrings biscuits cheese Marmite & tea. Carrier produced a plumb pudding which was very welcome. We had the Primus inside for a bit while we were making tea & this made the snow walls drip but not much. It was surprisingly warm in the Igloo. We went to bed at 7.30. I in the Igloo & the others in one of the tents.
Tue 19 Jan 1943
Up at dawn & back to the Cedars for breakfast only to find there was none left & so had to make do with bread and cheese. Parade at 08.00 as usual. Took my section up to the False Crest. We used strings in place of seal skins. They were not very good, but better than nothing. It began to snow just as we reached the top & we came down in a fog. The section did very well & kept up with me well in a slow continuous descent in very bad light. We then struck camp and carried everything back to the hotel.
After lunch we were out again, & the section gave a lamentable exhibition of skiing on the slope by the French barracks. About a dozen visitors RAF & army officers were watching. Some noticed two Lebanese taking photographs which is forbidden, & suggested they might find their way to Berlin & be published as an example of Britain’s aid to Russia, a lot of fallen skiers on the ME snowfields!
Wed 20 Jan 1943 2hrs
Half day. Parade at 13.30. A dull snowy misty afternoon among the cedars. The section very bad at turning in the deep wet snow. Later we did two short langlauf circuits of ten minutes each.
Chess as usual with the CO after half a bottle of Cyprus red wine - quite good.
Thu 21 Jan 1943 5 hrs & 10 miles
It snowed all day. After an hours practice on steep slopes in the wood the whole school went down to the village of Becharré 5 mile down the Tripoli road. My section was very slow probably because of badly waxed skis & I got rather angry with them. It is essential for ski troops to be fast across country, and being the last skiers in the school they should be better than this.
Eventually we reached Becharré, wet though and cold. Our hopes of a good luncheon at the Grand Hotel (Becharré is a holiday resort) were dashed on meeting Major Riddell who ordered us to wait at the miners headquarters until the section lorry arrived. So we had to stand about in the ante room of the HQ for an hour & a half, during which time we eat our meagre sandwich lunch, watching a South African officer from the *mines tucking into a hot lunch with the Col. whom he had invited to join him. The Col felt guilty about this & rushed out into the snow & rain immediately afterwards to look after the men. Some of the lucky ones evaded his eagle eye & went to a restaurant. Eventually the lorry arrived & we loaded our rucksacks with rations & started up the hill though the snowdrifts which made the road impassable to cars. I had 30 lbs of turnips in mine! We got back in 2 hours in time for tea. After dinner I played chess as usual with Col Head the OC.
Sat 23 Jan 1943 7 1/2 hrs
Another lovely day. Climbed Cornet el Barre 2770 M in 3 hrs. Shakespeare over an hour behind as usual joined us at the hut on the col at 12.30 without having reached the summit. Leut Philips v good. 524 Sgt Craig also good ; & kept up well. It was very icy on the saddle going up to the top. Had to remove skis & walk, but by descending a little on the far side we found skiable snow & ran back to the hut on the military road on the saddle. Hut was locked. Had lunch in the sun outside looking out over the snow covered AntiLebanon. The north wind was not as cold on the heights as yesterday.
On the way down Sgt Craig fractured his LT ankle & Shakespeare skied home slowly with him. It is a pity as he would have made a good instructor & is very keen & intelligent.
Conversation at lunch - films & film stars! Shakespeare largely responsible for this holiday spirit in the section & Mclean (Capt Scots Greys) plays up to him. Shakespeare must go. Mclean a pleasant but weak character easily led, lots of guts.
Sun 24 Jan 1943
Spent the day examining the men medically after 15 days of 47 men 23 are being R.T.U! as unsuitable for further skiing.
Our medical investigation has enabled us to formulate rules by which 18 out 20 could be weeded out before the course started. 3 of the 23 have been RTU for injuries. We have been sent bad material they cannot stand the strain of the course nor have they the necessary ability. 10 of the 33 examined have dilated hearts! after 15 days. All except one are townsmen. Only 5 of 33 have passed their elementary test after 3 weeks.
Of last years intake New Zealanders 80% passed their elementary test in 10 days. They were predominantly countrymen.
Mon 25 Jan 1943 7hrs
Another lovely day. My section now consists of 9 including 3 Greeks & a Yugoslav. Lt. McLean the parachutist was suddenly recalled to Cairo yesterday. Cpt Shakespeare fell down on some ice on the parade ground & tore the cartilage in his RT knee! Although a fairly good skier he was always last on the climbs, owing to his habit of going to the Mon Repos hotel & not returning until 2 am.
We climbed to some rocks a 2000 ft above Sans Souci valley. The slope was very steep & the later part we had to do on foot. We had lunch on a ledge in the shade of the projecting band of a limestone outcrop; the ledge 30 yards long being partly formed by snow & partly by the weathered out lower part of the rock. It would be a fine place for an MG post as it dominates the whole plateau. After lunch - on to the top of a saddle & up to a rounded peak about 2900 M. Snow rather icy & wind swept.
Tue 26 Jan 1943
Left Cedars after lunch with Col Head and Jimmie Riddell. Wonderful views. Car broke down 20 mile from Beyrouth. Got a lift in an N2 truck. Had a marvellous dinner crevets [crevette?], wild duck, Crepes Suzettes red & white wine. Jimmie rather tipsy insisted on rolling all rollable objects such as oranges, glass & bottles along the floor.
Wed 27 Jan 1943
Stormy interview with Brig Russell at HQ. Who told you to come here, what is your job, who did you report to on arrival I know nothing about you. It was settled I had been lent by PAI force as instructor to ME ski school.
Dined at the French club. Prawns, Jugged hair *Russ omelette a bottle of white wine.
Thu 28 Jan 1943
Left 9th Army HQ after lunch with Col Head. The rain was pouring down. The Col showed me an interesting war office paper on mountain warfare - I should say Smythe had a hand in it - & a translation of a Russian winter operations pamphlet which gave a fascinating description of the Russian operational methods in conditions of snow & intense cold.
On the way up from the coast road we were held up by a lorry for several miles when we eventually passed it the Col stopped the car got out & beat up the lorry driver - I saw his cap & scarf go flying into the ditch.
Reached Becharré about 7.30 & had a talk with [blank] of the South African mining unit about the possibility of getting up to the Cedars that night with chains. The commando had arrived & their lorries had already got their chains on; so they went ahead. After half an hour a jeep returned with the news that they had missed the way. So we started off & had a very perilous drive in thick snow, several times skidding dangerously near the edge of the end.
Fri 29 Jan 1943
Examined the Greek intake of 90 men. They are little tough chaps many of them from the islands. Went skiing for an hour in the afternoon.
Sat 30 Jan 1943
Spent the whole day examining weighing & measuring the parachutists. Out of 77 men 10 were grade C 2
Of the As 10 were good & 6 just qualified. The men have just come from the desert where they have been operating with jeeps behind the enemy’s lines. They have been there six months. I was surprised at the relatively poor quality of the men physically, until I learnt from their MO that they had had no special medical examination.
One of the SAS McDiamid was my ward master in 26 BGM at Kephissia in Greece. He escaped after a year in prison camps in Greece. After getting clear of the camp he & his two comrades were fed hidden & clothed by Greek civilians & given every assistance. Passage was provided for them on a fishing boat which was going to Turkey, but went in fact to Alexandria instead. Harvey Campbell Mclean & Chartres are all in Germany now.
Sun 31 Jan 1943
Snowstorm continues. About 1 1/2 metres have fallen. I went skiing among the cedars & trod myself out a slalom. The rest of the day we spent working over the results of our medical examination.
The men are undoubtedly in poor physical condition after 6/12 in the desert. Many of them have resting pulse rates over 80 & standing rates over 90; probably the nervous strain of continuous operations is partly responsible for this. Another factor is the fact that they were examined on the first day after arrival at 6000 ft.
I had a long talk with Col Head & persuaded him at last to modify the skiing programme by have parades from 0900 to 1200 & 1430 to 1630 instead of 0800 to 1300 & 1400 to 1630. ie a 5 hour day instead of a 7 1/2 hour day. He also asked me to talk to the instructors & explain to them the necessity of avoiding over tiring the men during their first two weeks.
Tired men loose their appetite for skiing & make no progress. The accident rate rises. Some even strain their hearts & have to be RTU.
Notes on ski training
Mon 1 Feb 1943 5hrs
A beautiful day. I took the advanced class on to a southern slope, which we proceeded to stamp out a good practice slope. We spent the morning doing snow plough turns and learning to run up a counter slope & from beaten into hard snow by adopting the Telemark position.
In the afternoon I set out a slalom which the class enjoyed tremendously. The mountains looked wonderful today after the new snow. The new programme is definitely good. The new boys are full of beans this evening & singing & whistling in the passages. The last intake but one were dead tired & silently crept into bed at the end of each day.
Tue 2 Feb 1943 5 1/2
Slalom all a day.
Fri 5 Feb 1943
Lesson on instructing from Jimmie. His demonstrations are a pleasure to watch. We spent the morning on a steep hill in a fog. In the afternoon the weather cleared & I slalomed.
Sat 6 Feb 1943
Took the advance class up the col. It was very warm on top by the hut as we sat in the sun sheltered from the north wind & ate our lunch. The 20 men took 2 hrs to 3 hrs to do the climb of 3000 ft. The snow was unbreakable crust rain having fallen last night. Such snow would be favourable for moving loads & establishing camps owing to the ease of movement, accessibility of steep places & absence of tracks. Unfavourable to attack owing to mobility of foot soldiers on such snow (which reduces skiers advantage & second the noise made by the skis which would give warning of presence of skiers at a distance up to a mile.
A singsong in the evening: very poor & lecherous. Only bright spot was the Greeks who sang well.
Sun 7 Feb 1943
Went up the col with Philips & *Stormonth Darling I was a beautiful, but cold at the hut owing to west wind. The Italian altimeter Brown gave me yesterday is extremely accurate. With the aid of such an instrument one can work on a single bearing in mountains. On the way up we collected some data about climbing times.
Mon 8 Feb 1943
Snowing. Wind & fog. Visibility 100M. Practised marching on a map reference by means of compass bearing & "conuntina"* method. V successful. Class showed sound knowledge of map reading & compass work.
Tue 9 Feb
Camped in crater up to False Crest in morning. Practised map reading & estimation of distance & position with use of altimeter.
Wed 10 Feb 1943
Returned from camp. Rest in afternoon.
Thu 11 Feb 1943
Patrols to Hadeth & Harroun. 18 & 21 Km in 4 1/2 hrs. Climbed Toum ed Dib. Lovely view from summit.
Fri 12 Feb 1943 Rest
Sat 13 Feb 1943 Up col in fog
Sun 14 Feb 1943 Rest
Mon 15 Feb 1943
Advanced training test. Beautiful weather. Climb 3000 ft 4 Km with 25 Kg loads in 2 hrs 45 & descended in 26 mins
Tue 16 Feb 1945
Practised tactical formations above False Crest. Slalomed in afternoon.
Wed 17 Feb 1943
Advanced training test. Difficult conditions. Blown snow on crust & ruts. Advanced class put up an excellent performance 41 went up col from hotel in 1 hr 30 min. Time allowed 2h 35
Rest in afternoon.
Thu 18 Feb 1943
Down hill race in morning. Langlauf in afternoon. 4 km. winner 24 min. I went round course in 29 afterwards.
Fri 19 Feb 1943
Left at 10 o’clock with John Carrier on a long patrol - reached Acquoura at dusk. Kastaba at 8. spent good night at an inn having covered 40 Km.
Sat 20 Feb 1943
On to Reyfour. Delayed 4 - hours in gorge below Kastaba descended to 600 M from 1200
Bad weather. Fog
Met 4 Bankers at inn in Reyfour. One a Turk had 4 wives & 28 children. The others were Armenian.
Sun 21 Feb 1943
Bus to Joune - fruit trees out. Left to Tripoli. Lunch at officers club. Met Mjr Maine & drove up to ski school with him.
Mon 22 Feb 1943 Rest. Office work. Equipment - patrol reports etc
Tue 23 Feb 1943 Examined new intake of 30 odd from PAI force
Thu 25 Feb 1943
To Kakatra in fog 2700 M.
5 1/2 Km on the plateau in visibility of 100 metres. Cockroach method. Compass party of 3 with rest extended in front as a feeler. V successful.
Fri 26 Feb 1943
Langlauf in fog with SAS section to practice navigation
Left for Becharré after tea with Col Head. Am to go to Damascus to select men for ski school. Car broke down & we had to stay in Becharré.
Sat 27 Feb 1943
Up at 5.0 am. Left at 6.30 with a South African entertainment officer. His car had no chains & it was still snowing got stuck outside Hadeth. Dug out after delay. Warmed ourselves over a minute fire in a hovel. Car stuck again outside Haaroun. Walked to Becharré where we spent the day. Thank God for my Purktum*. Rang up ski school, Jimmie send down a party skis. Col Head to go on tomorrow on skis, car from mountain warfare school to meet him at snow line.
Col White the NZ officer here to study our methods came down with ski party & is off to Cairo. After large tea at Palace left at 5.30 for Cedars with large rucksack. Samad having brought down all my kit. Reached Cedars after 1 hr 50 min. Jimmie in bed with cold.
[only a few entries for the rest of the year]
Wed 5 May 1943
1st day of a long range patrol. Started at 0500 with 55lb rucksacks. Climbed Cornet es Saouda 3077M. The Gurkhas are wonderful. Some of them carried over half their own body weight.
Mon 10 May 1943
Returned to Cedars having covered 120 miles & climbed 22000 feet in 6 days.
Fri 18 Jun 1943
On arriving at the base depot, I was summoned to the orderly room & told I had twenty minutes in which to be got ready to move. I was to go to Mena with the OC of 135 Field Ambulance & report of DDMS 13 th Corps.
We duly set off at 11 o’clock after stopping in Cairo at Shepherds & 15th Scottish hospital arrived at the Mena camp 5 miles east of the pyramids.
Saw DDMS at 6.0 pm & got leave to go back to Cairo. There is no hurry he said. You wont be wanted at Suez till Monday.
He have me a lift to Cairo in his car & on the way talked about skiing at Kandersteg & how he hurt his knee, & about the jungles in Malay & Burma & the natives with their blow pipes. Met Bunny at DMI office & went off to Shepherds. [? Cont 19th ]
Sat 19 Jun 1943
Two Americans Bud & Stonewall Jackson up for drinks. Dinner at 10 o’clock again. Pastoral symphony in Mr Foster’s room at 8.0 AM.
Said Goodbye to Bunny at the aerodrome.
19 th Out to BD in the morning. Got my teeth seen to at no 63 GH & a new pair of spectacles – everyone I saw was most helpful. After that I drew my equipment at the QM store.
Lunch at Shepherds. In the evening while at HQ I went to medical directorate to ask about my typhus paper whether I could send it home to Doey. Was shown in to Col Murphy who immediately started to abuse me for being in Cairo. Why are you here. Who gave you permission to come to HQ. Why don’t you get on. Of course Murphy was just another "time server". I never asked to see him anyway. Only went to get information from a junior officer.
Sun 20 Jun 1943
Back in camp near the pyramids, not off till tomorrow morning. Abdul has got to go back to the base depot. [End]
* Indicates an illegible word