20. January 2020 · Comments Off on Ice Cold In Alex · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , ,

It’s one of those old books, popular in the 1950ies; probably made most notably famous when they made a move out of it. That’s when I probably first came aware – that notable all-stars Brit movie, starring anyone who was anyone in Brit-theatre at the time, a movie which showed on one of the late-night broadcast channels when I was a teenager and a bit obsessed with World War II. Oddly enough, it’s not readily available in the US format in DVD, although it was one of the very best and most popular post-war movies, filmed as it was on location in Libya and Egypt. The Daughter Unit and I were watching the documentary series WWII in HD Color, and the episode covering the war in North Africa, and I was moved to take down my copy of Ice Cold in Alex and re-read it … just because.

It’s a road trip, basically – a road trip through the Libyan desert in a battered military ambulance named Katy, in the summer of 1942. A pair of British Army Medical chaps, company commander Captain Anson, and driver/mechanic Sergeant Major Pugh are assigned to transport two nurses out of Tobruk to presumed safety in Alexandria, since Tobruk is about to fall to a renewed and ferocious German advance. The nurses had become separated from their party and left behind in the confusion, mostly because the younger of the two is a piece of hysterical baggage. Captain Anson, Sergeant Pugh and the surviving nurse, Sister Murdoch, meet up with a Captain Zimmerman, ostensibly of the South African expeditionary force, and set off through the desert, hoping to be able to evade the German forces about to invest Tobruk and make it safely through the inhospitable desert to Alexandria.

The North African desert: for your average English soldier, fresh from the soggy green meadows of the rural British Isles or the equally wet and eternally soot-stained urban regions, it must have seemed as alien as the moon … and three times deadlier. Captain Anson, who has been out in the thick of it for more than two years, is coping with PTSD by pouring alcohol on his shattered nerves, and keeping himself going by focusing on the ice-cold beer served up at a little bar in Alexandria – beers which he has promised to buy for his little party – if they make it through that desert. Sergeant Pugh, his able NCO, copes by mechanically babying the ambulance which they all depend upon for survival … and doing his best to unobtrusively support his officer. Sister Diana Murdoch, whose home-life growing up was not a happy one, finds herself falling for the taciturn enlisted man, Sergeant Pugh, himself a widower. And then there is Captain Zimmerman, who from the very beginning is obviously not who he says he is … but against the indifferent desert, does it really matter?

And author Christopher Landon wrote so very movingly of the North African desert; the harsh alien beauty of the place, which I think made a mark on him that lasted to end of his own life. It’s a good read, most of all for the descriptions of the desert, and the conditions under which the British and allies in North Africa fought and lived.