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Sahara

Day 80: Tobruk

Tobruk, Libya 
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At Acroma-Knightsbridge Cemetery. Mohamed Haneish and his wife keep the place immaculate, working wonders with limited resources. Water is scarce and, because they're close to the sea, it's brackish and salty. Mohamed, whose father taught him the job, calls the dead 'my boys'.
Michael Palin - Sahara'Do not have breakfast with my language!' he roars, before going on to deliver the rest of his speech in perfectly good English.

This knockabout disguises quite serious material. The gist of the brigadier's message is that Libyans are still being killed and maimed by mines left over from the Second World War and he and his government want maps of the minefields handed over and a big international effort made to clear them.

At the side of the stage are display boards, which are so universally ignored that I feel duty bound to have a look. They don't make comfortable viewing. Alongside photos of mines being laid by Germans and Allies alike are photographs of Libyans mutilated by them sixty years later.

A ceremony was to be held down at the waterfront, at the point where the defenders of Tobruk were finally relieved, but Lady Randell had found that this was now a sewage outlet, so it's relocated to a small patch of open ground with the harbour on one side and a building site on the other. There is something about the banality of the surroundings that makes this last little piece of drama all the more affecting. As the blustery wind flicks at the yellow standard of the Tobruk Desert Rats, a message from the Queen is read out, and a wreath is tossed into the harbour. As it drifts away the eighteen octogenarians are brought to attention and marched off, one last time, in the direction of Tobruk.

'Eyes left!' Heads turn towards the British ambassador, who takes the salute, standing in the grounds of a half-finished house.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 80
  • Country/sea: Libya
  • Place: Tobruk
  • Book page no: 215

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