Monday, 22 August 2011

When Gaddafi's Barracks Housed Highlanders

The barracks which have been at the centre of Gaddafi's rule for 40 years, Bab al-Azizia Barracks, are in the news again today as fighting rages across the Libyan city.

These were the barracks bombed by the US Air Force 25 years ago, but 65 years ago they were home to a battalion of Scotsmen.

In the immediate post-war period the former Italian colony of Libya was under British control, and amongst the British troops stationed there was the 2nd Battalion Gordon Highlanders. One of the officers of the battalion was a man who had been commissioned into the Gordons and sent to Tripoli from Burma. He would later become a famous author, screenwriter and journalist.

George MacDonald Fraser fictionalised his time with the Gordons in his "General Danced at Dawn" trilogy but he admits in the epilogue of the final book that his made-up highland regiment was the old 92nd Highlanders. He even mentions the 1986 bombing of the barracks and a feeling of sadness of what had become of his former home from 1945 - 1948.

We are witnessing momentous events in the Libyan capital today, a very 21st Century civil war. But for a piece of history, and a humorous one at that, I'd recommend MacDonald Fraser's books. They bring back a time when the most dangerous thing that happened at Bab al-Azizia, if the author would have you believe, was a drunken punch-up between squaddies when the bars emptied.

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