Over the years I have collected several LRDG artifacts from various places, especially North Africa. One of the most unusual is a bone knife with a fox-paw handle and silverplate crossguard. On the 12.5cm blade is the inscription “Presented by Long Range Desert Group, Capt H. J Bennett, Cairo 1944”. It came to me from the estate of the widow of Captain Bennett in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, via his niece. She believed him to be a pilot, but knew nothing of his war service.
I did some digging, and it turns out Captain Bennett was a Canadian Fusilier. There were few opportunities for Canadians to interact with LRDG forces, but the 1st Canadian Division deployed to the UK in 1939/40, then were sent to the Mediterranean in June 1943, in time for the Sicily landings in July. As this was going on, the LRDG was being redeployed from the desert. In May 1943 they were operational in Italy, and then as summer progressed they began transferring from Italy for mountain training in Lebanon. The Italian armistice came in September 1943, so there is a time window where Canadians and LRDG were in Italy at the same time. My hypothesis is that Captain Bennett encountered the LRDG, gaining their friendship. Sadly nobody in the family can suggest how, but investigations are ongoing!
The second piece is a silverplate half-pint mug inscribed with the LRDG crest. This came to me from the estate of an SIS agent whose family have asked me not to name him. The SIS, the Secret Intelligence Service, is the “correct” title for the organisation commonly called MI6, the British foreign intelligence service.
This SIS agent ‘liberated’ the mug from the bar in the Cecil Hotel in Alexandria, Egypt, (where the SIS maintained a suite of rooms) in 1953. This was a time of change in Egypt, with anti-British riots in 1952 causing the destruction of Shepheard’s Hotel in Cairo, so the Cecil, also with strong British links, was keen to distance itself from them. During the Second World War the bar had been the Officers’ Mess of the LRDG, around the time of the battle of El Alamein, and the story I was given by the family was that returning patrols were toasted using this mug, presumably using rum!
The hotel still exists, and the bar is known as “Monty’s Bar”, commemorating its links with the British and Commonwealth military. I’ve wondered about going to the bar for a drink and taking the silver mug with me, for the sake of nostalgia and whatever rascally bearded ghosts might be watching, but to me it’s too precious to risk at the hands of customs officers at Cairo airport!