Friday, September 26, 2008

Tuesday 1st April 1941

4p.m. Since about this time yesterday I've had no leisure – and only two hours sleep. At 4p.m. the B-A link line went dead. Vic and I set out to maintain it – three miles. “Bombers!” said Vic. We streaked for a little bush, lay in it's shadow, whilst three Heinkels roared past at a height of 150 feet.

We found the break – 20 yards of line blown out, besides a blazing lorry. Then, with George, and M1 we had to lay a new A-B line, as B Troop had moved forward about 3 miles beyond A. Several times we had to take cover from bombers and reconnaissance planes. We found B Troop and began to lay lines. From the front (unpleasantly nearer) rose Verey signal lights – white over white – meaning - “Unidentified Vehicles Approaching”.

Whist George and Vic buried wires at a road crossing I dashed on to locate A Troop. Suddenly, in the dusk, guns began to fire furiously. It was “A”, I know, because there was no more artillery in the section. I roared over a hill and right into the gun position. A man ran towards me shouting. “Is this A Troop?” I yelled. “Yes!” “Righto!” and I swung around and rushed back into the dark; the red flashes glowing behind and around me every few seconds, made it seem as though I were leaving purgatory.

We were back at A Troop with the line, within half an hour, but what a difference! Silence, except for whispered voices and clank of metal as guns were limbered-up.
“We're withdrawing” said the GPO “You'll have to abandon your lines. Return to HQ and if they've already gone, carry on down the road after them”. Verey lights arose on our left – white over white. “We gave them 36 rounds gunfire” said someone, “And still they came on.”

We crept back along a silent track. The lorry broke down, 100 yards away from the exchange, just before HQ left the position. If it had broken down 10 minutes earlier, or if we'd reached the exchange 10 minutes later... We got most of our gear aboard; a mechanic put the lorry right; and the retreat begun.

I'm too tired to remember much more. Laying a two mile line to a position we'd never seen, by guesswork. Once I fell, cutting my hand and was too exhausted to rise for a minute or two. When we'd put down five drums of wire, we tapped-in and heard that HQ and A Troop had gone and we were to reel in and follow. Thank heavens, we had plenty of water and I had matches, a pipe and a tin of Skipper tobacco. The others had cigarettes. We reeled in two drums, abandoned the rest. Eventually caught up the battery in bivouac at 5:30a.m. and had two hours sleep beside the lorry.

Moved into battle position after breakfast, dug-in and laid lines etc. “Enemy vehicles approaching” came from the OP. Soon afterwards, A Troop opened fire. “Good old 339” said George, approvingly, “Holding up Jerry and Iti on our own.” A frantic “Stop” call came through and we learnt we'd been shelling our own forces. “What a bloody useless lot this is,” said George, in disgust!

This afternoon after watching a dozen Jerry planes on dive bombing we were mortified to see them turn and come streaking our way, very low. Nearer and nearer... Then the high-pressure clatter of machine guns and swish of bullets. Not pleasant.

NB I took cover again – very hastily – after writing the above. Every plane plane we see is a Jerry.

7p.m. Apparently no sign of the enemy tanks yet. We are all browned-off and shaky. Browned-off because there are no British planes and very little ant-aircraft stuff up here. Shaky because we're always waiting for bombers. We start anxiously and look round when we suddenly hear the engine noise of a vehicle on the road. They're so often about; usually they fly over – but 14 Jerry planes came to see us at teatime. Not very nice to see them deploying and swinging in and out, selecting a target.

Then they dived – again and again. One could see the bombs in flight; they seemed to fall quite slowly. A solitary AA gun opened fire but they quickly machine gunned it into silence. Then they circled and bombed and dived at their leisure. I was eating my tea (stew) in the slit trench but the bombs quite spoilt my appetite and I could not finish. There were no casualties but they got several vehicles. After they'd gone, we mashed another pot of tea and then felt better.

The weather is getting hot and for a few hours each day one desperately needs a topee. Tonight it was so warm – even at 2a.m. - that I was wearing shirt sleeves only, whilst on exchange night duty.

Got a good Peter Cheyney thriller - “Dangerous Curves” but was too sleepy to enjoy it this evening.

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