Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Thursday 6th February 1941

Today's journey was infinitely worse than yesterday's, for to add to our troubles it was bitterly cold and there was a very high wind – almost a gale – as we came across a high plateau. This inevitably led to a dust storm. It was hell. Surely, at times during this day, the wretched personnel of M1 reached the quintessence of misery!

Many lorries were left behind; for a miracle M1 kept going through it all. Once (God knows when, we lost count of time) I remember we stopped and unloaded one of the B echelon vehicles which was hopelessly bogged in deep sand. We groped through the dust clouds carrying boxes, ankle deep in sand... The lorry was abandoned.

Eventually, I remember, we got going along a fairly good stretch of sand. There was little dust but it was bitterly cold. We had climbed a good deal and now crawled across an icy cold, wind swept plateau. A small group of trucks huddled together; in pretence at desert formation or dispersion. H, L, M1, B9, B8. Otherwise, no sign of the regiment!

L broke down and was taken in tow by B9. Then B9 broke down... B8 ran into H truck... While we were sorting things out a General arrived in a staff car. He told us that “We might be glad to know,” that Benghazi had been taken, also that units of the 7th Division had had an engagement with 60 Iti tanks and licked them.

(This engagement was the Battle of Beda Fomm (“Breda Farm”) and resulted also in the bagging of General Bergonzoli. (Note August 1941))

Benghazi, the second city of Libya taken! This seemed amazingly good news but we were probably too wretched to register any gladness whatever. Eventually we reeled on. It grew dark – and no warmer. In the back of M1, huddled together for warmth, we tried to sing:-

“California, here I come
Right back where I started from.
The bowers, the flowers, bloom in the sun,
Each morning, at dawning, birdies do run.
Sun-Kist maid said “Don't be late,”
That's why I can hardly wait.
Open wide your Golden Gate!
California, here I come!”

Petrol was exhausted. We made bivouac. It was about 8p.m. “Bugger the lights!” we said and lit a fire to leeward of the truck (which also screened the fire from view of the only officer in the party!) We made toast on the glowing embers and ate it with cheese and margarine. Afterwards, the cooks provided everyone with a mug of hot tea. Not so bad! We turned in. The wind had fallen somewhat.

Sid and I were rolled up in our eight blankets. Before we went to sleep he told me about what he called “the rise and fall of the Zulu Empire” - of Chaka, Dingaan, Pandra and Cetawayo. Very interesting and sense-of-detachment-producing. Reminds me of that early morning on the train from Cherbourg to Marseilles, when Sid told me about mahogany and veneers!

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