Friday, September 26, 2008

Sunday6th April 1941

Jackie awoke me at midnight and got in my place in the back. I drove across the desert, with the convoy. Weary, dusty track. Bumping blindly southwards, eyes smarting intolerably. Gradually it grew light and I could see the monotonous desert all around.

Halted at 7:30a.m. and we had tea and a rapid snack – about 10 miles from Michili.
We found several .303 Lea Enfield rifles – broken. The track we were on, then became suddenly sinister. We'd so often found broken Iti rifles but – Lea Enfields! And what that implied!

Soon afterwards we learnt that the enemy had already been in Michili and were still around. We turned back, eyes scanning the horizon in all directions. The track, which had been just weary and dusty, now seemed horribly sinister and oppressive in the morning sunshine.

More evidence of hasty flight – trucks, tin-hats and rifles (we threw away the bolts of all the rifles we could find). There was a dead officer sprawled across the track – a blanket thrown over him. Some of us hastily began to dig a grave but we didn't have time to put him in, as the convoy moved on suddenly. We had to just leave him there and run for our trucks. I put a little three ply cross on the body before I jumped aboard. “RIP A British Ordnance Officer April 1941”.

We grew silent. The track seemed even more evil and ominous. If our troops had been chased up this track so recently – God alone knows how we ourselves missed running into the enemy last night! Probably the swirling dust clouds saved us. Over on our left – westwards – we espied a body of about 100 men; they were marching in close formation and were disarmed. One began to run towards the road.. Who were they? Aussie prisoners? We'll never know.

Then we found one of our own guns – the “A” Sub. gun which was lost at Agedabia. The gun and the towing vehicle were both in decent order. There were marks of tank tracks around... nothing else. We simply put a driver in the FWD and brought it along. How had the gun got there and where were the crew? Away to our left now, we could see burning vehicles, dust, smoke and... tanks.

We came to a crossroads and turned right for Tobruk, not straight on for Derna.
Three Hurricanes hell-dived us and scared everyone. Thank God they recognised us before firing!

Would we get through? The suspense was terrific. Blazing vehicles all along the track – we had to leave a few behind, also. Passed through Martuba Oasis. Silent and deserted, except for some Arabs, looting Aussie kits. The main road – Derna 24 Tobruk 146. It was empty for the first 30 miles. Would that Michili column have reached Timimi yet? If so we had little hope.

Smoke over Derna, behind us. Frantic searches for petrol. Just after we'd passed, a blazing Bren gun carrier went Bang! We looted some useful signals stores from a blazing truck. “Keep going! They're already past the escarpment!”

Safe! Timimi was being held. There was a desperate little triangle of guns and men, just this side of Timimi. Our “A” troop stayed behind here, The Aussies lay by their machine guns (which were aimed in all directions) sleeping or smoking. Some of them grinned tiredly. We went on and made bivouac about 20 kilos from Tobruk.
The boys became loot crazy.

Milk! And porridge! Now that the tension had been relaxed, we were all snappy and bad-tempered.

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