Talk about a baptism of fire!
When we first arrived in the country, we were put in a local hotel that was filthy. I went round with antiseptic and cleaned everything, but the bathroom as shared with other people. Donna thought the bidet was a drinking fountain and drunk the water and was very ill as a result.
We went to see the local convent school in Mansoura, and when we went to register, the English Nun Sister Joseph asked “How long are you here for?” and we said “Two years”, to which she replied “Oh, God help you!”
Mansoura was absolutely filthy! The streets were filled with muck from the horse drawn carriages, but in the convent everything was beautifully clean, but basic.
We had only been in the country for a few months when in June 1967 when Donna was five years old and had just recovered from Typhoid, the six day war erupted and we weren’t able to leave Mansoura. The local feeling was that the British had helped the Israeli side, so when we were evacuated we went by military escort from Mansoura to Cairo. We were put in a hotel in Cairo that was full of Americans. The night that President Nasser resigned, the mobs went out on the streets and there was mayhem. Suddenly all the lights went out. Looking for a way to occupy and calm the girls, we put candles in the bathroom and ran a bath for them to play in. Then there was an almighty banging on the door and voices shouting in Arabic. Donna had learnt a lot of Arabic through playing with the local children and explained that they were told that they needed to go down stairs. So we were taken down to some rooms in the basement, as it was thought we would be safer there. In the meantime, Lawrence and Alan Goodyear one of the other UN personnel decided to go to the British Embassy, which was nearby, and find out what they were doing. When Alan left he said that when they returned they would whistle a tune, and not to open the door to anyone unless they heard it. The Embassy said, when things calm down to come over to the Embassy building. Alan and his family from New Zealander and they allowed to join us at the Embassy. However, the Russian and Hungarian Family who were with us in the hotel were not allowed.
When we got to the British Embassy everyone was on the lawn. At around two o’clock in the morning the Embassy arranged for buses to take the women and children to the train station to go to Alexandria. We got on the bus and waved goodbye to Lawrence not knowing what would happen to either him or us.
When we arrived at the Alexandria port, we were herded at bayonet point onto a Greek Cypriot Grain ship. At the customs office they took anything and everything off us that wanted.
On board the boat, the captain announced that they had been refused permission to go ashore and buy food but that hot drinks would be available. There were rows and rows of camp beds but as our group had five small children they gave us a cabin. I had made a fruit cake, and there was a tin of corned beef in the room. She had also bought along instant coffee.
Once out of Egyptian waters the RAF and the Royal Navy escorted us to in Cyprus, as we weren’t a passenger boat and were quite vulnerable.
In Nicosia the British Embassy took us to a hotel and they looked after the children in the swimming pool, whilst the adults rested.
After a few days the RAF flew us back to the UK to stay with Pat and Geoff. After about three months we returned to Mansoura and the children returned to school.
Maureen came out to stay and she got ill with peritonitis. She was so ill she couldn’t return to the UK and her visa expired. The Egyptian officials took her and Lawrence with his hands tied behind his back to court. The proceedings were all in Arabic with no translations. I was also very ill and had Amoebic Hepatitis, which went to my liver. I was put on an antiemetic and told to stay in bed, as any exercise would affect my heart.
When I recovered and sorted Maureen’s visa we went to Alexandria for a holiday and rented an apartment.
The children then got very ill. Donna had Typhoid, Para Typhoid and Amoebic Dysentery. We had a lovely Egyptian doctor who when he diagnosed typhoid said that it was a notifiable disease, but if he reported it, then the children would have to go to hospital, and the conditions in hospital meant they probably wouldn’t survive. So the plan was to nurse them at home under guidance from the doctor. He used to come every lunchtime and evening. They had to be confined to their beds as typhoid can ulcerate the intestine, so it was important to keep as still as possible so as not to rupture anything. As they were recovering the doctor said his best advice was to get the children out of the country.
We decided that we would go to Cyprus on holiday, even though the children were weak. While we were there Donna became very poorly, she fell down some stone steps and bashed her back. Not knowing a local doctor we went to the RAF base in Akrotiri, who said she needed hospitalisation. She had been incubating amoebic dysentery when she left Egypt, which had caused an abscess on her kidney, made worse by the bruising when she banged her back.
Whilst she was in hospital, Major Kelly one of the Queen’s surgeons attended her as he was at the RAF base. He said Donna was really too ill for an operation, and said they would put her on extremely strong antibiotics first. Her back was totally deformed.
When she was in hospital, Lawrence and I decided that we weren’t going to risk taking the children back to Egypt. However Lawrence had to go back so his parents came to Cyprus to stay with Eileen whilst Donna was still in hospital.
She was so ill, they called the priest three times to say the last rites. Donna kept seeing the Black Lady and asking her mother to make her go away.