Monday, September 29, 2008

Thursday 1st May 1941

Sorrell, Kerry and I were in last night's Op party as usual, but Ling and Gregory went also. Instead of one, there were two officers, and as those were Robin Boulton and George Judd, it suggested that they expected something to happen. And sure enough, just before sunset, a heavy artillery barrage began on our right flank. We watched tensely as the duel increased. Then a harassing battery to the SE began to put down fire around the OP. Fortunately, I'd had my supper (tinned stew with curry powder, and a mug of tea) before all this started. Presently, we learnt that an infantry attack was developing on our right flank (lucky we didn't get that sector, instead of this quiet one!)

Shortly afterwards, the A Troop - Exchange line went dead and then the B Troop - OP line followed suit! This meant we were out of touch with exchange, RHQ, command post and B Troop. I set off with a 'phone to test the B Troop line in the OP area. Each time a salvo came over, I lay down with enthusiasm and hoped for the best.

Eventually tapped-in about a mile from the OP and stated my position. “In that case you are right on the edge of the minefield,” came Robin's slow and dispassionate voice, “And you had better go no further.” I agreed! An Aussie officer had been killed near here by one of his own men, the night before; and on the way down, they had nearly shot at me. So when I passed through the Aussie lines on the way back, I was loudly whistling traditional English airs!

I was on the phone an hour later (all lines having now been repaired) when a message came up; “Enemy troops have penetrated the perimeter at S3, S5 and R31. It is thought that a tank attack will follow at first light... All regiments will stand to at 0500hrs.”

I didn't turn in until 2a.m., but then I slept soundly for nearly three hours, although shells were still falling regularly. Ling was supposed to relieve me before I went to bed. “Where is he sleeping?” I asked Kerry. “Don't know,” he said, “But you'll probably find him somewhere quite apart from anyone else” Sure enough he was lying right away from the others, in the lee of a lorry. Lone-wolf Ling! I woke him up for his spell of duty, then made my bed beside his.

About dawn, the barrage began again. 39 enemy tanks came through the wire away on our right flank, and joined in the battle. Nothing moved in front of us: we had breakfast. Watched two terrible dive bombing attacks, on the rear of the sector where the battle was raging. There have been no signs of our planes for some days.

Little information came through. Ling, Sorrell and I dispersed from the OP, lay down beside a useful looking hole. It was getting hot, but we dozed a bit. I slept, dreamt we were watching dozens of bombers diving on Tobruk, and awoke.

Came back from the OP at 3p.m. Guns were still firing fiercely but a laconic situation report had come through the exchange; “Situation Normal”. This seems to indicate that we had the better of the battle.

News: Greece evacuated. 80% of our forces got away. “Enemy had complete air control” Evacuation made possible by a sacrifice rearguard action.

It is near the end of my night shift on the exchange. Ye gods! I'm sleepy! George was working the exchange last night and was plugged-in to the OP whilst I was out on the line. “Look out!” bawled a voice. “What the hell's up?” cried George. “It's alright,” said the voice, now re-assured and slow – Robin's, “Only talking to someone else. That was some shells, falling in the vicinity of Bombardier Dawson”.

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