David’s Desert War – RAF 203 Squadron



David Greenlees was my uncle. Born in Glasgow in 1921, he volunteered for the RAF in 1940 and was posted to 203 Squadron at Borg El Arab airfield in Egypt. Borg El Arab was a desert airfield west of Alexandria and approximately eight miles from the coast. He served as part of the support staff for the squadron.

Conditions at the base were rudimentary. There were no buildings or hangars, only tents. Aircraft were serviced where they stood, while the runway was a strip of concrete covered in sand. David was issued with a .303 rifle, an entrenching tool, two blankets and 15 empty four gallon petrol cans. These were to be filled with sand and covered with a great coat to serve as a bed. He had to share a tent with three other Scots.

The desert conditions were the enemy. There was no water at the base, it was brought up by water bowser. Sea water was used to cook food and to make tea, when the fresh water ran out! The wind blew incessantly, covering everything from food to toilet paper with sand. Sandstorms were a regular occurrence. The smaller ones were called “Gibblies”, but even they could lift up a tent and deposit it elsewhere. At times, David had to sleep in his gas mask to get protection against sand blowing into the tent.