I strolled across to where a crowd had gathered around a man elevated on a water can, and found an auction in progress. The articles put up for auction were many and varied. There were pieces of clothing and equipment, blankets, toilet necessities, salt, dried rice and beans, bundles of wood, and a multitude of other things.
The currency used was either Egyptian piastres or cigarettes. 1 lb. tins of jam were being sold for 50 piastres, the equivalent of ten shillings in English money. A one-pound tin of jam plus an issue loaf was sold for the equivalent of ₤1 English money, while eight small eggs went for the same price. I stayed for a while and watched other articles going at similar exhorbitant prices, before moving to another sideshow.
Here I found a man sitting on the sand with a blanket spread in front of him, on which were laid out packets of cigarettes. I learned that these were being almost given away for the "trifling" price of twenty for one pound.
In another corner, men were grouped around a crown and anchor board, on which they were gambling money and cigarettes. Nearby were two other gambling schools with their attendant crowd. One group was throwing coins, while the other was taking part in the game of “House” or “Lotto.”
Many of the articles for sale or auction, especially the food, were obtained by bartering with the sentries, or had been procured by doubtful means by the blacks whilst on fatigues.
I continued my tour with the verse from Genesis running through my mind: “God saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every thought and imagination of his heart was only evil continually.”
were others engaged in more constructive pastimes. Some were busy making ovens and fireplaces from clay, making or repairing clothes with patches from blankets and ground sheets, preparing their meat and bread for the next meal, or carving objects from wood and tin.
It would be as well at this point to describe the various methods used to disguise the never changing “bully” and bread, before consuming it. Not that it was unpalatable in its uncooked state. On the contrary it was very tasty, but we longed for something different.
One of the methods used to satisfy this longing was the Benghazi stodge. The recipe for preparing this delectable dish was as follows. The bread was crumbled and mixed in a tin with the meat. Water was added until a thin gruel effect was obtained, after which it was boiled until it thickened and the water had been absorbed. Porridge was made by boiling bread crumbs in a similar manner and adding salt or sugar.
If one preferred hard food to stodges, the Benghazi pie was recommended. To make this it was necessary to scoop the center from half a loaf. The soft crumbs were then mixed with the meat into a stiff paste, which was heated over the fire. The hollow crust was prepared next by toasting the inside. This was quickly performed either by placing glowing wood embers inside and blowing on them, or if one didn’t mind the taste of smoke, placing the crust over the flames and allowing them to lick the inside. When both were heated and toasted, the paste was pressed back into the crust and it was ready for consumption.This pie was sometimes prepared in a similar manner, but steamed in an oven instead of toasted.
Other dishes were slices of toasted bread and meat, bread fried in the meat gravy and fat, and beef steak puddings. The latter dish was prepared by lining a meat tin with a paste of bread crumbs, filling it with meat, placing a crust of paste on top, replacing the lid, and then boiling or roasting it as required.
Those men who were fortunate in being able to procure other ingredients could give wider scope to their culinary efforts. In this respect I once procured a small lemon. This I grated up, skin included, and with a few days sugar ration, turned out a very creditable lemon pudding.
There was a disinfesting machine in the camp which was very useful for cooking under. Occasionally I would make a pie from a complete loaf of bread and a whole tin of meat, and bake it under the fire of the machine. But this entailed fasting the rest of the day. These pies were made in a mess tin in a similar manner to the smaller beef steak pies, but were cooked crisp and brown. Usually, half a loaf of bread and half a tin of meat were used for each meal, giving two meals a day. Some men made three meals from their rations, others only one.
Besides giving a change to the palate, the preparation of these dishes whiled away the time. In another part of the camp, men were bartering cigarettes and clothing across the wire with the blacks. In exchange, they were receiving firewood, mealy-meal flour, onions and rice. When I saw men parting with their clothing for cigarettes and food, it made me wonder how they would fare if we were still in captivity when the cold weather arrived.
This buying and selling of clothing was stopped a few weeks later, owing to many men complaining of having had their kit stolen. Camp police were established, and drastic action was taken against thieves who were caught. Some had their rations stopped for a few days; others were handed over to the Italians for punishment. Before this bartering was stopped, however, I was able to buy a woolen pullover for thirty cigarettes.