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The Tale of a Desert Rat

Lin Rowell served in the Desert Campaigns of North Africa during WW2 with 'A' Troop, 27 Battery, New Zealand Artillery. Here he describes the difficult conditions under which he and his comrades lived for several years.

This ain't a boudoir story for the timid-like and tame,
Whose ears go fiery sunsets when accosted by a dame.
Ain't a tale to tell the children when they climb upon your knee,
Ain't a tale to tell your sweetheart when she asks you in for tea.
It won't bring you fame and fortune where the nobs and snobs lie thick,
But it's maybe worth a dime or two when there's nothing in your kick.
Therefore bend an earhole, stranger that is resting up at home,
And listen to a desert rat that has the right to moan.
I'm a-moaning and a-groaning in me beard and in me socks
At this ancient, crumbled country with its plagues and pitted pox.
And its sand that grabs your windpipe till you double up and choke
And its sand that fills your stomach till you double up and croak.
Sand and sand and more sand, a thousand flaming miles.
In plateaus, plains and prairies, and parts of it in piles.
You can smell it in the cities, you can see it in the blue,
You can taste it in the bully beef they plaster in your stew.
You can hear it on your tent sides as it sweeps across the flat,
In a creeping, seeping sandstorm that'll blind you like a bat.
It'll grate along your molars, it'll muffle up your ears,
It'll pinprick on your eyeballs till they smart and fill with tears.
Yes, it's terrible to contemplate and hard to realise,
But it's nothing to the wear and tear that comes from fighting flies.
You can take a swarm of sandflies and a plague of parasites,
But their nuisance value don't compare to what a fly excites.
So cup that earhole, stranger, and prick that drooping lobe,
'Cos I'm feeling pretty lousy in this tailbone of the globe.
You will wake up in the morning to the Sergeant-Major's yell,
And yawn in cosy comfort as you mutter, "What the hell -"
But it ain't a yawn that finishes and creaks your marrow bones,
There's a hitch along that area whence emanates your tones,
And your cobber, sleeping peaceful, will wake in great alarm,
To hear you hawking, red of face, a kind of coarse type psalm.
He'll look at you and stare at you and mutter, bye and bye,
That folks who feed on flies at dawn should do it on the sly.
Which brings us to the grub-like pile and the raucous cry of 'Mess!'
You line up in this order - the flies and then the rest.
What a strain to eat your tucker, what a slapping, flapping sight,
As you spread a scrap of marmalade and poise it for a bite.
Ain't no time for mumbled graces, ain't no time for knives and forks,
For fishing flies from out your tea and crushing those that walks.
Ain't no time for fancy feeding, crooking fingers at the skies,
Gotta get your grub demolished or partake of it with flies.
Kill a hundred, kill a thousand, mow 'em down to left and right,
But everyone you smartly stun brings twenty more to light.
"Bury all your bits and pieces", smirks the MO, looking wise,
"And do away with empty tins and wage a war on flies.
Sling your slops a good foot under, place your latrines to the lee".
But me cobber says a fly can breed on the droppings of a bee.
Catch 'em flitting, catch 'em flying, on your legs or up the wall,
Ain't so easy, sluggish stranger, catching female flies at all.
And it's hot here, bloody hot, men, which enervates your strength,
And finds you horizontally, but don't disturb your length.
Swing a pick or lift a shovel, run a mile or take your time,
You melt away in patches, like a candle in decline.
What a life for them that likes it, the grand, great out-of-doors,
Where energy is liquid and flushed out your pores.
But it ain't engendered constant by a muscular display,
You can sit down on your tailshaft and still dissolve away.
See a grease-spot in the desert, bow your head and drop a prayer.
It's someone's dear departed whose remains are lying there.
Lying down in perfect stillness you will lather up with ease,
From the furrows in your forehead to the crooks behind your knees.
In the daytime, in the night time, just at dusk or just at dawn,
In your regulation clobber or just as you were born,
It makes no bloody difference what you wear or what you don't,
You swelter like a stoker on a trans-Pacific boat.
Sure the desert tests you, stranger, warps your soul and chars your mind,
So for them that feels down-hearted, get some sense and stay behind.

Lin Rowell, 'A' Troop, 27 Battery, NZA