Sunday, October 19, 2008

Tuesday 25th November 1941

Ling is back, with Motley, from the forward areas. He is in the exchange with me at this moment. This battle, he says, was more bloody and horrible than Bardia, Tobruch or the skirmishes of the retreat. Young Motley should not have been there, he said. Men being blown up, “like a bunch of fireworks,” in the minefield, screaming. And being hit and crying out in pain; and being dead and lying grotesquely huddled and getting run over by the truck... “Thank God I'm not in the infantry,” said Stan.

In this big-scale, mobile warfare, official reports are contradicted hourly and orders countermanded. For instance, the relieving forces did not arrive a few days ago; and 414 has not gone outside the wire as yet. Tonight's BBC news stated that the tank battle SE of Tobruch was still in full swing; thousands of prisoners had been taken, especially in the Frontier area; and the New Zealanders were advancing steadily along the Tobruch road from Bardia.

Increased air activity today; several raids by lone bombers, and one mass display over the forward areas this afternoon.

Message received by the secret Fullerphone this afternoon:- “VE AAA New Zealanders coming on well AR”

Report from an OP, of the chief air raid:- “Over 50 planes in the sky at once. Over 30 of these enemy including 20 Stukas who dropped bombs on a bearing of 135 degrees.
3 enemy planes shot down – one ME110 in the sea, one unidentified enemy plane in sea. An ME109 was chasing a Tomahawk which it hit, but Tomahawk landed safely in our defences. AA fire then hit the ME109 and bought it down in the sea. A column of smoke was seen from bombing area.”

Call from the Colonel to OC 339 this evening:- “Despite all you know or have heard to the contrary, the men who walk upside down, will go to a place we all know, tonight. When that happens you are to open fire on the wrecked plane. You understand?” “Yes sir. Twenty rounds a gun.” “Can Musso fire in the dark?”
“Yes sir.” “Then use Musso as well.”

Later I heard there was a task for 9p.m., that “things would get cracking about dawn” and that “A” Troop must be ready to go out with 414. It is now nearly nine but I think the task has been postponed until 9:30p.m. for some cryptic reason connected with “things on tin carts.”

The phrase of, “The men who walk upside down” - obviously New Zealanders – is really lovely. Picturesque enough for the title of a story!

2:30a.m. Yes it is really tomorrow, not tonight at all. I've only about another half hour to do, now. The barrage was eventually extended a little and lasted about 40minutes, keeping on until the OC, Major Gosling, cried “STOP!” to both troops. After that there were a few moments of silence broken only by the drone of an enemy aircraft overhead – then, the steady clatter of machine guns, far away.

Some time after, I believe, the success signal (three red Verey lights) was seen, but I was far too busy with calls to listen in. All night since then, distant and near guns (but not ours) have been grunting and rumbling uneasily. Enemy aircraft have been active – one dropped a bomb further along our wadi.

I've been on duty many hours now but the time has passed quickly as there has been much to do. a long situation report came through on the Fullerphone and one of our lines broke – A OP. Poor old Basil Grant was out nearly three hours!

When does this Colonel sleep or slow down? I had him on this exchange at 5:45 this morning, roaring and raging at the Battery Captain, and he rang up, all fire and fury, just now, and told the duty officer that things had got to move and there was to be no messing. He reminds me rather of a high-commissioned Sergeant Marcoff of Fort Zinderneuf (PC Wren's “Beau Geste”)

My vigil is nearly over. In ten minutes I'll go and call my relief.


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