By Len A.Hynds

I must convey you back to Christmas Day 1948, when I was an 18 year old military policeman, serving King George V1 at the army police station in the Garrison of Fayed in Egypt. I knew that I would be homesick on that particular day, thinking of my family so far away, and my young bride Tilly, whom I had been forced to leave after just one weeks honeymoon together. I knew that I would not be returning to England until the spring of 1950, so I volunteered to be the duty officer for the whole of that day from 7am until 7pm dealing with any calls that came in. As soon as I entered the office I received a call from a Dragoon company, who operated Bren Gun Carriers (Very light tracked vehicles) some 30 miles away in the desert.

The numerous garrisons in Egypt were widespread, and connected by telephone wires strung on poles right across the desert, and the wire was constantly being cut and stolen, causing the various regiments to mount night patrols along sections of the wire to safeguard their communications. This dragoon company had used two of their carriers the previous night, some eight men under the command of a Sergeant, and they had disturbed a group of Arabs who had run off. The two machine guns had opened up and two of the Arabs had been killed.

The two bodies were then tied with rope and each carrier dragged a body behind, all the way across the desert, where they were left outside the gates to their camp. The cheapness of life amongst the 'fellaheen' had constantly amazed me since I had arrived, the fellaheen being the very poorest, who were looked down upon by their own countrymen who lived in towns and cities.

I drove our 15cwt Fordson truck to that desert camp, where I found the bodies outside the gates. The flies were swarming all over them, and heavy machine gun bullets play havoc with a human body, splintering bones outward, and with the blood and sand they looked dreadful. I got the two Ghaffirs (Gatemen) to bring me water and I carefully wiped all that muck away so that I could examine the wounds, the points of entry and exit. I then got the two gatemen to help me load them into the back of my truck, where I covered them with a tarpaulin.

I went into the camp where I found the two crews in a tent, all excited at having a successful night at having caught some thieves at last. I questioned them one by one. No one could tell me who had given the order to fire, and they could not tell me why the Arabs had not run, when the noise of the carriers would have been heard at least a mile away in the silence of the desert night, not until the carriers were upon them. Also they had not started to run until the machine guns had opened up on them. No wire had been cut or stolen, and I told them that there was no evidence that they had been thieves. There were a few isolated mud villages in that area and it could have been a group of innocent people crossing under the wire going from one village to the other, maybe a wedding or something similar. The Dragoon Sergeant, said, "You seem to be making an awful fuss about this, they were only thieves."

I told him that there was no evidence to support that, and even if they had, would they have been killed in England for such a trivial theft. He had to agree that they would not. I took statements from all of them, and before I left, I told them frankly that I was disgusted, that not only had they killed two young men who could have been innocent, but they had dragged their bodies back across the desert like trophies. I said, "What you have done is barbaric, and I shall be reporting the facts."

I then drove the bodies to the nearest British Military Hospital, where the doctors were doing the rounds on this festive morn. I had great difficulty in getting one eventually to come outside, and pronounce life extinct, as I knew this had to be done. My request for refrigeration was turned down and I was told to take the bodies to a civilian hospital. I had to do that, but the Egyptian doctor said that there was no room in their mortuary, and as they were only thieves, they should be left in the desert behind the hospital where he would arrange for them to be disposed of. I was getting angry with this whole attitude, that I was disturbing their day, and left there in disgust, driving to the civilian police station at Moascar where I spoke to the Egyptian Police Inspector, hoping that things would be done properly, refrigeration, a post mortem and a proper enquiry into the deaths, but he was the worst of the lot, referring to them again as thieves, in spite of what I told him

He advised me to do as the Egyptian doctor had suggested, but I refused telling him that I wanted to visit one of those mud-built villages, to try and get the bodies identified, but they were out of bounds to all Europeans, and I requested an armed escort in the shape of two of his constables. He hesitated knowing that to refuse me could land him in trouble, and bad-temperedly gave me two rifle carrying constables who squeezed into the cab beside me, refusing to get in the back with the bodies.

At the village I stood at the back of the truck as the people were brought to me, lifting the tarpaulin so the two faces could be seen. Nobody admitted knowing them, but I knew that they were known, and everybody looked at me in absolute hatred, as if I had personally killed them. Then one couple approached, and the woman let out a loud shriek, and the man had tears spring uncontrollably into his eyes. The policeman nearby, with a cigarette dangling from his Christmas Holly lips, said in a matter of fact manner, "They are brothers. These are the parents."

Their grief was uncontrollable, as they held each other, and I held them close, saying in Arabic, "I am so terribly sorry."

I left the bodies with them, and the tarpaulin, warning the husband not to let his wife see the dreadful injuries.

I took the policemen all the way back to Moascar, and they were laughing and joking about the whole incident.

When I arrived back at my station it was evening, and I had missed all those Christmas meals and festivities. I joined my colleagues in the mess tent, where a padre (who shared our compound) asked where I had been all day, passing me a beer and some sandwiches. I told him, and all the anger rose up of mans inhumanity to man in that god forsaken land, and said, "I'm afraid your god was sadly missing today Padre "His reply was, "I don't think so Len, you have made a lot of people think today." I disagreed, and he said, "What a sermon this would have made today." That was undoubtedly the worst Christmas day of my life.