By Len A.Hynds

There was a section of the Pioneer Corps in every garrison in Egypt that had the most dreadful task, that of emptying the thousands of toilet bins, disposing of the contents in deep holes way out in the desert, and then cleaning those ' Thunder Boxes' with sand and DDT powder.

Egyptian labourers were employed for this onerous task, six of them to an allocated army vehicle, one of them the driver, and the only white men in these sections were a junior officer and a Sergeant. They never went out into the desert where the human manure was disposed of, that site being run by a foreman named Yusef.

In my garrison at Fayed, where there were several infantry regiments, and from memory three of these vehicles used to do the collections at night, so as not to offend the delicate nostrils of the common soldiery. The vehicles themselves were washed down every day, but the labourers were not, and with carrying open drums on their shoulders and with some of those dustbin-like receptacles over-flowing, not only were their clothes impregnated, but also their hair and skin, and they stunk to high heaven. They would make two or three trips the fifteen miles out into the desert, and leave the drums for a day crew to clean, and take “clean” drums back.

A petroleum supply company audit section, informed us that these ' Kahzi vehicles' as they were known, were using too much fuel, and theft must be taking place. I was given the task of investigating this theft. I guessed that theft must be taking place way out in the desert where no European in his right mind would ever go near, so decided that I must start there.

I approached my partner on most patrols, and who had been with me since training days in England. I told him of my assignment but not where I intended to go. He readily said that he would accompany me, thinking, I suspect that we were going to interview the young officer and sergeant at their base just outside the garrison. I must explain about my partner and friend. When he was called into the army, he was a trainee butcher with the Manchester Co-op, and hygiene was his god. He was always impeccably clean and spotlessly dressed, and Frank Winstanley was a perfect example of what a military policeman should be.

I drove the jeep and he queried it when I turned off along this track leading eventually to a maze of dunes, and I convinced him that it would be ideal to catch them red handed as it were. He looked at me sceptically and unsure that I had tricked him into 'another fine mess you've gotten me into.' We arrived at the site in a valley between high dunes and the labourers were astonished to see us. There were some hurried strange movements with spades, which I got them to reverse, and found buried twenty Jerry cans, each containing four and a half gallons of petrol.

I couldn't stop to find any more, as I already had twenty prisoners. The stench was over-powering, and I frequently saw Frank with his eyes closed, not believing that this was happening to him. I marshalled them into a platoon of 4 X 5 and I chose a track in a different direction, towards Fort Agrud, an RAF Maintenance Unit some six miles away, which I always suspected was a punishment posting. I made each prisoner carry a Jerry can on their shoulder, with the jeep behind, with me standing up holding on to the top of the windscreen, and waving my revolver at all twenty of them, with Frank driving, and gagging at the appalling stench of all those unwashed bodies and clothes. It took a long time to do those six miles, as I had to let them keep stopping to rest.

Suddenly they stopped, dropped their loads and came racing back and I was just about to fire when I saw the reason for their now sudden terror, a pack of wild desert dogs, Pyards, as big as wolves were racing towards us with jaws slavering. The labourers all leapt upon the jeep in absolute panic, and I had difficulty in firing at the dogs to keep them away.

Frank had completely vanished under this tidal wave of filth and unwashed bodies’ and it must have been the worst moment of his life. I shouted to him to fight his way up to help me in firing at the dogs, and when he emerged with brown smudges all over him he looked at me accusingly, which said it all.

We eventually reached Fort Agrud, but I didn't have the nerve to take my motley crew into that pristine camp, so dumped the cans outside, took their employment passes from them, and sent them scurrying on their way. I would not have earned a friends if I had taken them in to the Egyptian Constabulary. As it was none of the night crew turned up, so no ' Thunder Boxes’ were collected for three nights in the garrison.

For a long time afterwards I was known as the person who had caused such a stink in Fayed. Frank and I remained friends.