Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Saturday 15th February 1941

Visited Benghazi today. Only one hour to spare in the city. Bought some bread at a bakery and some Iti cigarettes from a street hawker. Nearly all the shops were closed and boarded up. A barbers was open however and I had a super, magnificent haircut. Felt finely immaculate then!

The men of “Essex Horse”, rough as they looked, were not so scruffy as some of the desert rats in khaki who roamed the streets. There was no constraint twixt soldiers and civilians, no slightest sign that this was an invaded, captured town, except for the Union Flag on the flagmast at Municipal Hall and a tin-hatted sentry on duty there. The civilians regarded us with indifference or interest; without either enthusiasm or enmity. The soldiers treated the civilians with normal courtesy, in fact everything was as it should be.

A report came through the exchange that some Italian had been caught in B Troop lines after firing rifle shots, also that there were two more wandering around somewhere. Only Vic and I were on the exchange. Grant was sick – kept tossing about and retching and getting up for a spew and groaning. Then at about 10 o'clock came the report that a shot had just been fired at a vehicle about a mile away. All sentries warned etc. Drama!

Grant retched and threw his blankets off. The storm lantern flickered. Naden grumblingly replaced Grant's blankets. CRACK! A shot right outside! Vic and I looked at each other; it was a first-class case of suspended animation. Then, I went out and found Sid and Jackie Hall very alert at M1, armed with revolver and rifle. I borrowed the latter and prowled around but found nothing. “What's on?” asked Denny Search. “A night of terror, boy,” I said, savouring the melodrama to it's fullest, “Creaking doors, a guttering lantern, Basil nearly dying – and then a shot in the night!” I lugged the .303 around for a bit, but there was nothing doing.

Vic is asleep now (We enjoyed a tin of Benghazi pears before he turned-in) and if nothing happens in the next half hour – that is before 12:30 a.m., I'll kip down also. Normally there are no calls at night and we hadn't intended to man the exchange at all after 10p.m., but these mysterious shots started a series of urgent calls.

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