Thursday, September 25, 2008

Saturday 15th March 1941

4:30p.m. and we're in a bivouac area just to the west of Derna and near the foot of the second escarpment. Nine lorries are here now, out of the 13 30cwts. and 1 8cwt. which left Tobruk yesterday. It's been a rare chapter of accidents! Aprilchen has behaved very well, she only stalled twice and I was soon able to get her going again.

Well, I'd better start at the beginning!

The lorries reached Tobruk yesterday and we spent the morning “taking over” and so forth. There were a few mysterious features about my trucks – an auxiliary gear box operating a four wheel drive, for use in rough country; petrol switches, many dashboard dials; and what not. We eventually left in mid-afternoon yesterday. A dust storm was in full sway. (The previous night's gale kept the raiders off and all was quiet except that the drunken Aussies who shared our billet were fighting and letting off rifles in the early hours and except for the rough wind, which bought down a steel wireless mast (about 250 feet high) with a hell of a crash!)

Filling up with petrol, oil and ammo took a long time. We reached a deserted water point and filled up our water cans at dusk – a high wind piping. Pushed on in the dark and bumped, hideously blind, around two rocky detours. Bivouac soon after, by a hillside. Supper of biscuits and bully (augmented, in my case, by cold boiled potatoes and peas, saved from lunch).

Barltrop had an open truck so came over and slept in mine. “What can we talk about,” I pondered; he didn't seem a very bright individual and I dreaded a silent evening. After some persuasion I got him to talk about his ambitions in civil life, after the war. Apparently he wanted to own a fried fish and chips shop, so we spent a pleasant hour discussing the intricacies of that sort of business. Then he slept, on one of the shelves in the rear of the truck and I made a snug nest among the boxes of ammo on the floor. That high wind keened in some telegraph wires close by. Swift lullaby! A grand night's sleep.

This morning we came away in squalls of rain. I was third in the convoy – the officer roamed to and fro in an 8cwt. Barltrop dropped out early and later on Broughton, too. I found myself leading the convoy, with no definite orders. Kilo 120 to Derna. The rain ceased, the wind dropped a bit. Aprilchen swung merrily along the road. I smoked “Coolie Cut Plug” which looked rank but seemed all right to my hardened palate.

We saw the Michili signpost, near our old bivouac area. Kilo 74. This was better than signalling! I felt capable as a driver, which is more than I've always felt as a signaller. We halted at midday, dispersed and had lunch (including a brew up) The officer arrived about 12:40p.m. and told those of us who could, to carry on to Derna and fill up there. Four vehicles were still limping along the road further back, with Sergeant Bransgrove!

Soon afterwards, as I was rounding a narrow bend, a heavy RAF lorry struck me in passing. The bastard didn't stop; he was travelling fast. I waved the convoy on and waited for the officer. My cover was ripped, one tyre was grazed and several nuts from one of the axle grease hubs were sheared off. The officer came along soon afterwards, escorting Morris-Richards, who was being towed by Barge. I showed him the skid marks and he agreed that I couldn't have avoided the accident (my outside wheels were very near the edge of a drop).

Then I went on, quite alone. Singing, “Lonely road, you're leading me home, lonely road no more will I roam. Lonely road, rolling along, as you roll, I'm singing this song”. I made up the words as I went along, to fit a half forgotten song in the film, “Lonely Road” which I saw some years ago.

That escarpment down into Derna! I crept round the hairpins in second, and was glad of two cigarettes during the descent! At one bend there was also a wrecked vehicle to negotiate. Then, into picturesque Derna. As the others had taken a wrong turning I was actually first at the petrol dump. Eventually I came on and chose this bivouac site at the foot of the next escarpment. Hudson came in soon afterwards, then Pike, then Barge and Morris-Richards. (Funny that the latter's first name is John 'cos he looks very like old John Brockwell and has a faintly similar accent – he is the Southwell man.) They've been arriving ever since and there are only two missing now – Brierley and Broughton. We should have pushed on further than this if the convoy hadn't straggled so much. It's apparently some trouble with the feed. Luckily mine has been OK so far.

Nearly dark now. Bransgrove is working on Pike's lorry, nearby. On one side of us is the sea, on the other the grim escarpment. Rather cold, but quite a pleasant evening, otherwise. As we got here fairly early, we've had two brews of tea and some baked potatoes and bully for supper!

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