Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Wednesday 10th December 1941

0140 hrs. Not a shot was fired all yesterday – unless one includes the .303 rifle bullet fired by Whacker Newton at a Dornier which passed over at a height of about 8000 feet!

414 and the 1st RHA have moved westwards to intercept some retreating Iti, but we remain here at peace in the shit. We notice this foul dust all the more because we've been away from it for some time. Our clothes are fusty with it and the wind and dust combined make our faces and hands sore.

Oh the war's moving westwards alright now. Our troops approach El Adem aerodrome, only to find it had been evacuated by the enemy three days previously. The only people there were a few Italians (now “in the bag”) and about a score of wounded New Zealanders. Our OP's look to the south and the further escarpment but the South Africans have already been contacted there, so there really isn't much to shoot at around here!

This dust! My hair is a tangled mat. This little dug out stinks of dust. It's not clean sand; filthy dust! Hellish day. First there was rain then a high dusty wind.
And just after the swirling shit clouds had obscured our view of the southern escarpment, early this afternoon, came the amazing order “Prepare to withdraw!” Sergeants were rushing about shouting, lorries were revving up, kits were hastily being packed whilst the devilish wind scattered our belongings and splashed dust upon exposed food. From the panic, one might imagine the enemy was upon us. Actually, it probably meant that the war, for us, was over for a while.

Then the long weary journey back into the perimeter of Tobruch. at dusk we stopped at an old gun position on the central sector. A line had to be laid, supper cooked, the lorry stripped bare, the signals stores stacked in a gun pit, ready for handing over at 7a.m. the next morning...

My God! And as we stumbled to and fro in the darkness the devilish wind whipped and tore at us. “Get that fire screened!” screeched an officer's voice. “Go to hell!”
The wind blew the food to coldness before it reached our lips. Imagine it! Cowering on a desolate waste with a dusty wind of a thousand demons roaring at you. No shelter and not knowing what the deuce you were supposed to do.

We buggered about for some considerable time, until the lorry was more or less stripped and the signals stores more or less stacked. Our personal kits were, in the confusion, scattered about the miredom and the wind had great sport with these.
There were several snug dug outs on the position, but these we found, were already occupied by the battery clerks, cooks, sanitary orderlies and other spare files.
So we had to sleep on the deck and we erected a rough lean-to tent which the wind bellied out like a sail. But at least, it might afford protection from the occasional squalls of rain.

Just as I was making my bed, in the dark, in this draughty erection, a petulant officer appeared. “Why isn't a duty signaller in the command post? There must be someone there.” “Alright!” I said, “I'll go. We mustn't disturb the command post signallers. No one knows where they are, anyway.” It was snug in the command post and well lighted. When I entered it was empty. In a corner a bloody officer's bed had been neatly made by his servant. One officer occupying a dug out which was roomy enough to shelter four common soldiers...

“Hullo 339?” said a voice over the phone. “Yes! I'm here!” I shouted. “104 here,” said a cheery voice – probably speaking from a pleasant room somewhere. “Can you find the battery clerk please. It's urgent.” “Haven't seen him for hours,” I replied, “He went to earth as soon as we arrived. it's damn dark and windy here...”
“He must be found, old man,” said the 104 signaller, all jovial, “It's about the tickets to Cairo.” “What?” I bawled. “I say, it's about the tickets to Cairo!”
“That doesn't make me the least bit enthusiastic, “ I shouted defiantly. “Alright! I'll find him!” “Thanks old man. It really is most important. A return that's urgently needed,” said the faint voice. (It was a rotten line; everything is rotten and foul tonight.)

Sergeant Parker when he arrived had to submit a return of the number of men who had been in Tobruch since the siege began; the number who had been evacuated but had since returned; and the number who had joined the battery in Tobruch for the first time. Urgent! About an hour later Scott, one of the command post signallers, was rooted out of bed by George an took over. He's got to sleep here, so that the officer won't have to wake up and answer the phone during the night.

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