A life in books

From Suez to Salford: a literary love story

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  • Published 20200427
  • ISBN: 9781922268761
  • Extent: 264pp
  • Paperback (234 x 153mm), eBook

NOVEMBER 1952: BERNARD Marks has just arrived in northern Egypt from Salford, in the north of England, to begin two years of National Service in the Suez Canal Zone. Faced with a rising tide of Egyptian nationalism, Britain – its empire still largely intact – is determined to retain control of the strategic waterway linking Europe to the oilfields of the Middle East. Sixty thousand British and colonial troops are stationed in the Canal Zone, their camps and trucks coming under periodic attack. In Cairo, Gamal Abdel Nasser is consolidating power. The Suez Crisis is four years off.

Two years out of medical school, Lieutenant (later Captain) BE Marks is a regimental medical officer attached to a Pioneer Corps company from Mauritius and Rodrigues, based in the garrison town of Moascar. The furthest the lean, handsome twenty-six-year-old from a working-class Jewish family has previously travelled is the south of France. Although Egypt offers much novelty – the desert, the camels, the heat, the exotically garbed locals – he’s restless. The work is humdrum, his fellow officers are ‘a lot of clots’, and he’s mostly confined to camp, seventy kilometres south of the Mediterranean port of Port Said. ‘My salvation is the [garrison] library, which keeps me supplied with reading material and mitigates my boredom,’ he writes to Joan Beach, back in Salford, near Manchester.

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