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Egypt - The Six Day War, By Ron Colnbrook (1967)


For some time in June we knew that there was trouble ahead. Day after day we saw truckloads of Egyptian soldiers and armoured vehicles trundling up the road, just past the airport. Obviously they were on their way to the Israeli border.

Many foreigners started to leave Cairo, and eventually, in cooperation with the British Embassy, BOAC decided to evacuate all staff wives and children to London. There were many tearful departures. Not many days later, I was still asleep one morning after a night shift, when I was woken up by the loud noise of anti aircraft gunfire. It was reminiscent of the days of the blitz.

I immediately switched on the radio. What a godsend was the Overseas Service of the BBC in those days! As expected, the war between Egypt and Israel had begun. It had been planned that, in the event of trouble, the airport staff would proceed to the town office. There were about 10 of us, airport manager and station officers, station engineer and duty engineers. We all lived in Heliopolis, a suburb about 10 miles from the city. We tried to drive into town, but all roads were blocked by the police.

Luckily, telephones were still working, and we were advised to keep a low profile, and keep together as much as possible. We ended up with three in one house, six in another, and one was left on his own. I was in the house of six. We had a servant who did the shopping, and we cooked our own meals There were not enough beds to go round, and my recollection is that I slept on a large indoor window sill.

Several times a day and during the night, the Egyptian anti aircraft fire would blaze away. We were pretty sure that there was not always any Israeli air force involved, it was more of a morale booster. We kept in touch with the progress of the war through the BBC.

Things were going well for the Israelis, their air force had attacked from an unexpected side, and destroyed most of the Egyptian fighter planes on the ground. Egypt had a big air force, with some of the latest MiG fighters.

The Israeli army was pushing across Sinai towards Suez. Then we had some bad news. In the house of three staff, somebody had been spotted on the roof by a neighbour, who had reported the matter to the police. The three BOAC staff were arrested, and taken down to the Secret Police headquarters, where they were given a rough time. They were treated as spies and severely cross examined. For long periods they had to stand blindfolded close against a wall, and meanwhile they could hear gunshots outside. Fortunately, due to the intervention of our area manager, with senior members of the British Embassy, their release was eventually obtained, and they returned to their house. The Israelis reached Suez, and after 6 days the war was over.. President Nasser made a public broadcast, apologising for the defeat, and offered his resignation. Within a very short space of time, truckloads of his supporters raced to the city, shouting "NASSER, NASSER" He did not resign.

Eventually, permission was given for British citizens to leave Cairo. The party would consist of British Embassy and BOAC staff and any other eligible people. It would be led by the BOAC area manager. Most of us were given tasks and mine was to look after the baggage - I am pleased to say I do not think one suitcase was lost. We had a fairly uneventful journey to Alexandria, where we were to board a Greek cargo ship to Cyprus. We had to go through Customs at Alexandria and the Customs Officers were not very helpful. In fact, they were slow and fussy and rather insolent.

Eventually we all got on board the Greek cargo boat. Not very large and rather crowded but who cared, we were on our way to Cyprus. After several hours fairly smooth sea passage, we arrived at Famugusta, then the most popular resort on the island. BOAC, it was evident takes good care of its staff as well as passengers. We were met at the quayside by a personnel officer from London, who gave us a 5 note each, a princely sum in those days, and put us up at a comfortable hotel. I have never enjoyed a few drinks so much as the ones that the 5 bought me. We could leave the next day if we wished, or stay for a few days. Most of us did so for 2 or 3 days to relax and unwind, and then flew home from Larnaca airport.



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