Little souvenir items were popular presents for soldiers to pick up for their loved ones. These were useually cheap items, but reflected the soldier’s service and the exotic places he had been on his travels. Cushion covers were popular items as, without the cushion inside, they were easy to post home, but they made a substantial object when stuffed. Tonight we are looking at a cushion cover made for soldiers of the Eighth Army in North Africa:
This is a simple printed piece of fabric , with various exotic images of life in North Africa such as a knife fight between two natives:
And British troops riding camels:
For some reason there is also a young lady drinking coffee:
The centre of the cushion depicts an African village with the words ‘Eighth Army’ and the date 23rd January 1943:
The edging of the cushion is made of a woven tape with bright colours in a distinctly North African style:
A small hole is provided in the back to allow the cushion filler to be inserted:
Frank Doe was in the Eighth Army and recalls his impressions of the native peoples of North Africa as illustrated on this cushion cover:
We used to take our sewing to be done by the Arab tailors. Their sewing — you’ve never seen anything like it. It was invisible mending! As good as any West End tailor, only it didn’t cost you the earth. They’d neatly cut out a triangle of material and sew it in to make a flare in the trouser leg so you’d never know it was there.
They used to follow the Battalions around to make themselves a living. We’d let them brew our tea for us. It was a bit of cash for them and they had to make a living somehow with the war going on. The wallah-wallahs would soak the tea first to let the leaves swell and would always use boiling water. You’ve never tasted tea like it.
If we were the poor cousins of the Yanks, the local population were still paupers compared with us. We picked up a bit of Arabic to get by. ‘Ana-mashkeen ma-feesh valoose.’ We had to use that quite a bit with the beggars. It means, ‘I am a poor man, I have no money.’ Which was not untrue! And ‘Bardin bukra.’ And ‘Imshi, Imshi awa!’ Which means, ‘Be off with you!’
We learnt to respect the local culture. We struck up friendships with the Bedouin. They were the salt of the earth. They were generous and polite to a fault. It would have been an insult to them to refuse their generosity.
We learnt something of their customs. For instance, you should always burp after eating your meal. It shows you have enjoyed your food. It’s polite behaviour! Once, we were invited to share some sheep’s eyes. They’re considered a delicacy. As I say, we couldn’t refuse; it would’ve been impolite. It would’ve been an insult! I had my reservations I must admit, but share them we did.
They’re a very devout and proud people. We learnt something of their religion. I was astonished to learn that the Muslims believed in Jesus! But, as they said, Mohammed as prophet is greater.
This is a delightful little survivor and was probably sent home by a proud soldier to his loved ones. I am very tempted to get it framed up so it can be enjoyed properly.
I never had one but in the US Army in the 60s, as well as earlier and later, jackets made of camouflage material, probably parachute nylon, were somewhat popular. I think they were all made in the far east and were heavily embroidered with Asian theme images, like dragons. I was stationed in Germany myself and a popular item in the PX (rather like NAAFI) to send to the folks back home, in addition to beer steins, was of all things, a camel saddle.
I think Americans got on very well with locals in Germany, Korea, Vietnam and Japan. Even though my son and my son-in-law were stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan, I couldn’t speak to the relations with the locals in those places.
Could the ‘young lady drinking coffee’ be a British ‘forces sweetheart’ – either Vera Lynn, Gracie Fields, or Annie Shelton, who may have visited or entertained the troops? Possibly that’s why there is a star behind her.