Then suddenly, in 1936, I was summoned back to Head Office in London. One of the Directors wished to see me. ‘We are sending you to Egypt,’ he said. ‘It will be a three-year tour, then six months’ leave. Be ready to go in one week’s time.’
‘Oh, but sir!’ I cried out. ‘Not Egypt! I really don’t want to go to Egypt!’
The great man reeled back in his chair as though I had slapped him in the face with a plate of poached eggs. ‘Egypt’, he said slowly, ‘is one of our finest and most important areas. We are doing you a favour in sending you there instead of to some mosquito-ridden place in the swamps!’
I kept silent.
‘May I ask why you do not wish to go to Egypt?’ he said.
I knew perfectly well why, but I didn’t know how to put it. What I wanted was jungles and lions and elephants and tall coconut palms swaying on silvery beaches, and Egypt had none of that. Egypt was desert country. It was bare and sandy and full of tombs and relics and Egyptians and I didn’t fancy it at all.
‘What is wrong with Egypt?’ the Director asked me again.
‘It’s… it’s… it’s’, I stammered, ‘it’s too dusty, sir.’
The man stared at me. ‘Too what?’ he cried.
‘Dusty,’ I said.
‘Dusty!’ he shouted. ‘Too dusty! I’ve never heard such rubbish!’
There was a long silence. I was expecting him to tell me to fetch my hat and coat and leave the building for ever. But he didn’t do that. He was an awfully nice man and his name was Mr Godber. He gave a deep sigh and rubbed a hand over his eyes and said, ‘Very well then, if that’s the way you want it. Redfearn will go to Egypt instead of you and you will have to take the next posting that comes up, dusty or not. Do you understand?’
‘Yes, sir, I realize that.’
‘If the next vacancy happens to be Siberia,’ he said, ‘you’ll have to take it.’
‘I quite understand, sir,’ I said. ‘And thank you very much.’
Within a week Mr Godber summoned me again to his office. ‘You’re going to East Africa,’ he said.
‘Hooray!’ I shouted, jumping up and down. ‘That’s marvellous, sir! That’s wonderful! How terrific!’
The great man smiled. ‘It’s quite dusty there too,’ he said.
‘Lions!’ I cried. ‘And elephants and giraffes and coconuts everywhere!’
‘Your boat leaves from London Docks in six days,’ he said. ‘You get off at Mombasa. Your salary will be five hundred pounds per annum and your tour is for three years.’