Prelude in Alexandria
In December 1940, a private who had just been on leave in Alexandria wrote of the Greeks he had met there: ‘They can't do enough for us in town since Musso [Mussolini] had a crack at them.’ Another Australian soldier contrasted the Arabs and Greeks in Alexandria, considering the latter ‘very much the same as our own people’. Given its Greek connections, it was apt that for many Australian participants, the story of the Greek campaign began and ended in Alexandria.
The fighting troops were unaware of the hand-wringing that went on among Australian and British politicians and generals as they agonised over whether to send troops to Greece. After an offer of help was made to the Greek Government, and accepted in February 1941, preparations began for sending the 6th Division as part of the force.
From the second week of March, the 9th Division relieved the 6th Division, which returned to Egypt for a brief rest. Their leave to Alexandria was for some their first in three months or more. Captain Laybourne Smith said that on arriving at central station, ‘ . . . the fun started. Fifty little “boong” bastards tried to clean my shoes and about sixty larger “boong” bastards wanted to take me to the nearest brothel while many others wanted to get me a cab to do anything else I would pay them for. The situation was eased by a policeman with a dirty great whip who lashed them impartially until a lane was cleared and Peter and I boarded a taxi and drove to the “Cecil” Hotel.’