Main Page

Other Articles

My 1st Adventure - By Stan Fockner     

In September 1968 I was posted to Cairo with my wife Mary and my young daughter Susan. Life in Canada’s Foreign Service was relatively straightforward in the pre-FSD [i] era. As a new technician, I was paid C$5942/year. Like most other techs, I had taken a pay cut to join the Department of External Affairs and see the world. I never regretted the decision.


We traveled comfortably by overnight train from Ottawa to New York and voyaged cabin-class from there to Naples via Gibralter on the Italian Line S.S Michaelangelo. After all the guests left the ship in NY, the crew called a five day strike keeping the ship at Pier 5. We stayed on board to sleep, leaving only to eat and tour NY City on Italian Line expenses, which were quite adequate.

From Naples, we traveled by train to Rome where we were "stranded" a further five days in the comfortable Hotel Victoria near the Via Veneto while the embassy sought permission and funding by telegram from Ottawa to renew our then expired airline tickets.

Assured of reimbursement by Ottawa, the embassy acquired new First Class tickets from Air France as that was the standard for air travel in and out of mid-east posts. We arrived in Cairo only two weeks late which seemed to be quite acceptable, almost expected, in those simpler days

I was replacing Monty Turner in Cairo and joining the communications team of Paul Paquette and Gilles Lemoine depicted on the left. What a wonderful pair to work with.

Monty Turner showed me around my parish and introduced me to Richard (Dick) Chapman, my technical counterpart at the British Interests Section of the Canadian Embassy (which was 'code' for the British Embassy during those troubled times). In a similar manner, the American Embassy was flying the flag of Spain.

Monty then quietly disappeared from both Cairo and External Affairs. [ii] (See footnote from Monty.)

I have seen Dick Chapman several times since: Once in Hong Kong and more recently at his home-base in Hanslope Park in the UK during an INTECSEC meeting.

Before the end of our posting, Errold (Chris) Christensen (far left) arrived as a new communicator. Chris, as we better knew him, eventually saw the error or his ways, and re-mustered as a technician. Chris  has a few tales to tell about his own experiences in Cairo and elsewhere, and I hope he will.

Next to Chris is Roberta Ferris (an admin assistant who later married Rick Beardsley) and two now retired CDTSS technical security inspectors, Dale Lamothe and John Ferguson, who were visiting Cairo on temporary duty.

Chris has since reminded me of other Canadian personalities of the era.  See Footnote [iv]

The Canadian Ambassador to Cairo was Thomas Carter (left). His staff was complemented by Jean Touchette, Gerald Skinner, Louis Delvoie, Col. Moe Smith and Franklin Wiebe, the embassy’s Administrative and Consular officer. Wilfred Greaves and Michael Mace managed the thriving Immigration Section.

Franklin Wiebe had just arrived from Moscow and, apart from the ambassador, was likely the most experienced hand having already completed postings in Bern and Kuala Lumpur before Moscow. Franklin proved to be the glue for the embassy during our posting and a wonderful golfer and dart player. But I digress.

With help from the locally-engaged embassy administrative staff, Franklin arranged many appointments for Mary with a realtor to visit apartments that were within our rental range [iii]. The initial offerings were cultural shockers that bore little resemblance to even our humble pre-posting accommodation in Canada.

September 21,1968 marked our 5th wedding anniversary. As we had just arrived in Cairo we thought it would be nice to reciprocate the many social kindnesses we had already been shown. We invited our new friends and colleagues to celebrate with us in our Nile Hilton hotel room. This was quite simple to arrange through room service.

This occasion was also memorable because Mary had “found” what she considered a reasonable apartment at an affordable rental rate earlier in the same day.

After a further week living in the Nile Hilton while the apartment was being prepared for occupancy (and while the cost of the anniversary celebration was ameliorated by frugal dining), we moved.

Our apartment was located on the West side of the island of Zamaluk (Sharia Gabalaya) between the Gezira Sporting Club and the “Fish Gardens”. It was fairly typical of apartment accommodation occupied by other support staff working in the Canadian embassy. 

We settled in nicely with our small airfreight shipment and began what seemed an interminable wait for our sea freight and MGB car. Eventually, probably by the end of October, all was right and life was good!

Our daughter Susan unfortunately became ill just after Christmas. The local doctors, although skilled, lacked the diagnostic facilities to confirm the cause although they suspected rheumatic fever. She was medically evacuated by air to the British Military Hospital in Dhekelia Cyprus within the week.

The Canadian High Commission in Cyprus (left) was a very modest but efficient operation: They looked after Susan's arrival and admittance to the hospital as though it was an every-day matter.

Donald and Lynn Graham had been posted to Cyprus in the summer of 1968 and they invited Mary to stay with them in Nicosia during Susan’s hospital confinement.

On about the third day of Susan's hospitalization. Don returned home with the draft of a telegram to Cairo that suggested I should come to Nicosia ASAP and that I would be welcome to share their home.

They has a lovely guest bedroom but only one-half of the electric blanket functioned. Again I digress.

Neither Lynn nor Mary understood “ASAP” which is an entirely different story best told over a glass of Commandria, an amber-colored dessert wine made from the indigenous Mavro and Xynistery varieties of grapes grown in the Commandaria region on the foothills of the Troodos mountains. Yes, even then I loved my grape.

The telegram was evidently received in Cairo by Ambassador Carter who, perhaps thinking the worst, took me aside in a very fatherly manner and urged me to travel to Cyprus to see my daughter. This was quickly arranged.

The physicians in Cyprus were never able to pinpoint Susan’s medical problem but declared she should be treated as though she had contracted rheumatic fever purely because of the symptoms. She was released from hospital after a two week round of tests.

Donald thought it would be a nice treat for Susan to take the circuitous route from the hospital in Dhekelia through the Troodos mountains to his home in Nicosia when she was released. So Don, Susan, Mary and his sons James and Paul and I bundled in to his small car and struck out. Lynn stayed home with (then infant) Marc.

Those of you who know Donald will understand his stopping frequently for brandy sours at the rest stops that conveniently peppered the route. Susan found the winding road a bit too much. Donald still claims her upset stomach reduced the resale value of his car by half.

Something I only learned after returning to Cairo with Susan and Mary was that the telegram inviting me to Cyprus was addressed “HOM CAIRO DE WOOD”. This was puzzling because Mr. Wainman-Wood, the High Commissioner to Cyprus, was in Canada before, during and after my visit to Cyprus.

Mysterious things happened in the Middle-East.



[i] The Foreign Service Directives (FSD’S) were crafted by David Wilson as a replacement for the Foreign Service Regulations (FSR’s), the terms under which we commenced our posting. He visited Cairo with the NHW Doctor  from London to introduce the new scheme but he left after questioning by the Canadian staff disclosed several flaws.

[ii] Note from Monty Turner - December 8, 2006: "I remember you and Mary arriving in Cairo and have several fond memories of my posting there. As you know I left External Affairs in June 1976 to work for the Department of Transport in the Air Navigation Services directorate Joint Enroute Terminal System (JETS) project. I retired from Transport several projects later in December 1995. Immediately, January 1996,  I went to work for Hughes Aircraft in Richmond BC. In March through June 1997 I lead a team installing Air Traffic Control systems in China. We installed and trained the Chinese at three sites and they installed the remaining four. Following the China project I spent eight months in Hong Kong. I was on loan to Hughes Asia Pacific: We had a contract to provide the communications network at the new airport Chep Lap Kok which replaced Kai Tak. I returned to Richmond B.C. following the opening of the new airport in July 1998. By this time Hughes Canada was taken over by Raytheon. I was very familiar with Raytheon from my time at Transport. I spent the the next few years until April 2003 in Richmond. The Air Traffic Management business took a big hit following 9/11 and Raytheon were cutting back. I have been back in the east since, enjoying my second retirement."

[iii] The rental allowances for accommodation under the FSR’s in those days escape me but our rental  “share” was about C$40/month.

[iv] Note from Chris Christensen - January 27, 2007 "Did you remember Omer Lavergne the head guard with his French cigarettes and his emphysema.?  I did not know Paul Paquette in Cairo but his replacement, John Scott was there. I remember John's wife "Elly" made a fantastic spaghetti sauce.  Also Louis Delvoie had been replaced by Steve Hibbard when I arrived.  Tom Carter I remember as a fine man, one of the best Ambassadors that I served with abroad.  He was a true gentleman.  I remember Col. Smith as being quite the party host and it was not unusual to be served breakfast at his place after an all night party."

Main Page

Other Articles

© OFARTS Canada 2007 Old Foreign Affairs Retired Technicians, Canada The opinions expressed here are those of the contributors. Accuracy of facts has not been verified in all cases.