Life and Work in the South CampThe good thing about being the first group in the South Camp was that nothing was taken care off. Everything was new for everyone and we had to find our own way in dealing with our daily routines and tasks, which were few to begin with. The large restaurant wasn’t built yet so we ate in tents and the kitchen was in a tent as well. Every now and then we had “Kitchen Patrol”, serving food to the colleagues and cleaning up the kitchen.
The very first evening we visited the restaurant at Na’ama Bay, I think it was the only restaurant, and in fact the only stone structure on the south side of the bay. It was rather idyllic to have a meal next to the sea in such an enchanting setting. There was no other military presence than our peacekeeping force and we felt perfectly safe in our version of paradise, because that’s how it felt to me. Completely different from the impression I was given during our prepping time in the Netherlands. I guess they had no idea what to expect either.
Speaking of paradise, in the caves below the South Camp were people living, a bunch of nudists if I remember correctly, they probably considered it paradise as well. Little did they, and we know, how Na’ama Bay and Sharm el Sheikh were about to change in the years ahead.
Is Tourism Progress or a Plague?
Back then the entire area was deserted and if you look at it now you can only come to the conclusion that tourism is a plague. Today the entire area is one big holiday resort with many hotels, restaurants boulevards etc etc. It has become a crowded place and what was once a paradise is now overrun by thousands of tourists. I guess that’s happening in many places in the world. Some call it progress, I think it’s sad. I always felt to go back some day but I think I will be very disappointed when I see how much everything has changed.
One of the first nights, it was very dark, our Captain, Willem Rijksen, and myself had to go to the radioshack, fire up the diesel generator and make contact over the radio with one of the SCC’s. We had to pass one of the guards first, the camp was properly protected! By the way, an SCC is a Sector Control Center and if my memory serves me well, the South Camp had two SCC’s, SCC-5 and SCC-6. There were also OP’s, Observation Posts, further away in the desert and manned by American soldiers.
Building a Telephone System
I can’t properly recall why, but I managed to get myself a fantastic job, together with Chris van Raaij. A small team of American contractors were installing a new telephone system in the South Camp and Chris and myself were added to their small team and helped them with cabling work and connecting and testing the telephone network. It was a great job and it gave me a lot of freedom as I had no 24 hour shifts but worked in the morning and late afternoons. During the daytime, when it was too hot, we relaxed in our room which had airconditioning. Siesta time 🙂
One of the perks of working for these guys was a car. Chris and myself could often just take one of their cars, a Peugeot station or a GMC jeep, and head out into the desert and visit nearby places. The few Egyptian soldiers we met just smiled and let us pass and we visited some amazing places. I forgot the names of these wee settlements, because that’s what they were, and in some of them lived bedouins.
Working like this and having so much sparetime gave me a fantastic feeling of freedom and I can honestly say that I had a super time there. It was so good that I stayed for an extra two months when most of the first rotation left after four months.
One of our first trips off base was a 10 day shift to one of the SCC’s, I think it was SCC-5, the one near the beach. All it had was a cabin for the radio equipment and that was it. There was nothing, no place to sleep, and we lived from c-rations. I remember one night we were sleeping on the beach in our sleeping bags in the open air and when we woke up in the morning we saw that a group of camels had passed us and missed us by a few inches. These huge animals could have killed us! From then on we slept on the back of a lorry, which was fantastic.
Nearby the SCC was a small Bedouin village and one of the guys came over regularly to see us. Sometimes he disappeared into the sea and brought back fish, caught with his bare hands. Don’t ask how he did it. He then cooked the fish for us and we had a great meal. It was better than a holiday and we were got paid for it, go figure! No wonder I didn’t want to leave. Later on when we visited this SCC they had built a few cabins and we could sleep inside, guarded by Americans who were on the lookout for coyotes, so they said. Never actually saw one. I guess they needed an excuse to test their guns from time to time.
Movie Time and Local Wildlife
One night we were enjoying a movie in the temp outdoor cinema when suddenly a few guys jumped up and ran off. A snake was slowly crawling in between the chairs from one side to the other. That was one of the few encounters we had with wildlife. Another one was a giant Camel Spider in a corner in the outside toilet hut, I decided to give it a miss and did my thing somewhere else. And there were scorpions too, saw them once on top of the mountain at SCC-6.
Cairo and Tel AvivWhen we had our first time off, must have been in March or something, most of us left the South Camp and either went to see family back in the Netherlands or went to Cairo in Egypt, which was allowed. For some odd reason, not known to us, we were strictly forbidden to visit Israel. So guess where we ended up after we had spent a week in Egypt? Right, Israel it was, the beautiful Blue Bay Hotel in Netanya. It didn’t take long before we were “discovered” by a sergeant from the Dutch Airforce, his name was Ben Massing, and after a few nights in the Hilton in Tel Aviv we were summoned to return to South Camp, without any further disciplinary consequences thankfully.
It was HOTWhen you live in the Netherlands and tell someone that you’re going to the desert where temperatures can reach well over 40 Degr Celsius, you might get the impression that it’s extremely hot. That, however, was not how it felt to me. The humidity was extremely low so dealing with the heat was somewhat easier. Dehydration was our biggest enemy as you never felt that you were sweating but you did lose a lot of water anyway. Walking on the beach at Na’ama Bay without slippers became unbearable closer to the summer! We did our own laundry and I remember that I had towels and t-shirts to dry and by the time the last one was on the washing line the first one was already dry 🙂
After a few weeks, or was it longer, a large group of American solders arrived at the nearby airport. A 747 from El Al landed on the small runway and out came the 505th Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division from Fort Bragg. Press was on the site as well. They marched from the airport to “occupy” the South Camp and since then things changed in South Camp. There was a more military atmosphere but these guys were all great, they were very easy going and we had a great time with them, playing volleyball inside the camp and soccer on a field at Sharm el Sheikh.
In July 1982 I left the Sinai Desert and shortly thereafter I left the army as well. I often think back about this amazing period in my life, about the glorious sunrises over the Gulf of Aqaba, the stunning red colours in the evening sky and the warm desert winds. I’m surprised that these memories are still so vivid after 35 years and I’m pleased to have written some of them down here on these pages. I’m afraid I forgot most of the names of the people who were in our group but I do remember Chris van Raaij, John Schokker, Rob Dekker, Hans Saedt, Henk Flederus, Sergeant Visser and Captain Willem Rijksen.
Kees van Meijeren sent me an email and produced a list of (almost) all of the guys who were in South Camp on the first rotation: “Gert Jansen, Rob Dekkers, Henk Flederus en Wim Rijksen, Anton vd Berg, Henk de Boer, Guus van Bruggen, Theo de Jongste, Will Kuipers, Kees van Meijeren, Jack van Mook, Bert Nijdam, Ben Pietersen, Chris van Raay, G. de Snoo, Willem van Spanje, Leon Sprenger, Ron Steenvoorden, Erwin van Veen, H Visser (mogelijk ovrl), Hennie van Vree, Raymond Wekking, Rients vd Werf en J. van Zwol.” Not included in his list are Hans Saedt and John Schokker. Would be nice to put a face to all these names 🙂
If you find your photo here please get in touch and tell me your name ok? Thanks. I hope you enjoyed my trip to memory lane!