Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Thursday 18th December 1941

We are waiting in bivouac, inside the Tobruch perimeter. Soon, we are almost certain to move to Egypt. I do not think we shall reach civilisation in time for Christmas but we should be there in time for New Year. Great doings in Libya, whilst we lounge here at rest doing nothing except prepare our own meals. (And tomorrow, battery cooking recommences, so we'll be even more lazy.) Nothing to do but eat and sleep! Excellent life. But elsewhere, the Germans and Italians after a fine resistance, are at last exhausted and on full retreat back along Derna road and across the desert towards M' Zoos and Ex Sceledima... “Our pursuit of the retreating enemy continues...” said tonight's BBC news.

10p.m. Only a few hours since writing the above, but how changed everything is now! George Hignall just came in, as we sat over our mugs of brew, with a pretty savage look and the words, “Steve, I advise you an' Grant to report sick tomorrow.” “Why?” I asked amused. “There's a draft – of a hundred and fifty men – being detailed tomorrow morning. The BSM's just told me. It's to the 51st Field RA, I think. Going up...” “A draft of 150 out of the Regiment?” “Yes. You're both on it...”
“Good Lord,” I said, “Do they think this is the Base Depot or something. Drafts...”

It seemed impossible but it was true. Grant and I are both to go. And Stevens. Even some of the men who've never left Tobruch, are to go. The EY looks as though it is doomed. Already far below strength, the deletion of 150 men will render it a travesty of a fighting unit. Apparently the Colonel said to the B.C. tonight, “The gunners will not be relieved..." Even those few who are not on draft are gloomy. Search said, a moment ago, “I'm morally shaken by this development!” Few will reach Cairo. And an hour ago, everything was set fair.

Whilst we were cynically – but some, angrily, - discussing the break-up, Stevens came in the tent. An awkward silence fell, for George signalled that we were not to tell him what had been unofficially disclosed to us. Then conversation began again, somewhat stiffly.

The wireless began to crackle. Someone tuned in to a piece of music. “...Auld Lang Syne...For auld lang syne my dears...” I passed the headphones to Search. “Typical!”
And by the grin on his face and the nod of his head as he picked up his headphones, I knew that Denny – bless him! - understood!

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