Sunday, October 19, 2008

Wednesday 3rd December 1941

The corridor has been cut, according to last night's BBC news, although Tobruch is not isolated. There is heavy fighting around Sidi Rezegh, which is now held by the enemy. For ourselves however, things become quieter as the tide of battle rolls SE. No shells come in from the E now, only a few from the western and southern sectors. Our planes seem to dominate the sky around Tobruch; Italian or German planes seldom appear now.

My burrow, though small, seems quite snug. It is illuminated – a candle – and there is a telephone, so that I can listen to the news at nights and so that they can call me for duty from the exchange, without having to come stumbling along the wadi.

9p.m. I knew it! It was tempting fate to dwell on the tranquility now being enjoyed by 339 Battery! Reckon we shall not enjoy it much longer. Rumour says we are to move – God knows how! Then tonight there was an interesting call to which Bob Andrews and I both plugged in listening intently. Viz.-

Colonel: You've been there? What do you think of it?
OC: Is Plonk occupied by the enemy still, sir?
Colonel: It is!
OC: In that case the battery would not last very long there, sir.
Colonel: Would you be under machine gun fire from Plonk?
OC: Yes sir.
Colonel: Surely not.
OC: Yes sir. I wasn't fired on this afternoon but the people there were horrified to see me arriving in a truck in broad daylight.
Colonel: (half-convinced) Well did you find anywhere else from where we could carry out the task?
OC: No sir. Of course if you insist, the battery will have to go there sir,but -
(Pause. For heavens sake speak, Colonel, don't keep me in suspense!)
Colonel: No, no, William. Look here, I'll give you five minutes to think this over. All right?
OC: Yes sir.
Colonel: Right. Off.

(Five minutes later came the reply)

Colonel: Well? What's the answer?
OC: I don't know sir.
Colonel: Right. I've been looking at the map and if things are (dubiously) as you say they are, you'd better go to – (co-ordinates given) inside the wire. I'll make arrangements for having your guns towed into action (Ha! The dashing RHA!) and once there you will not, repeat not,be expected to move again. Right?
OC: Yes sir. I'll have to rely entirely on wireless in that case.
Colonel: Yes? An OP at Tougan and a forward OP beyond that. Alright?
OC: Yes sir.
Colonel: Off.
Exchange operator: Still working? Have you finished? Finished!

Captain Turner is missing, believed killed and two wounded in 414 Battery yesterday. One of the killed was a signaller I know, little Wally Elliott. He was in my tent at the Base, was on leave when the draft was announced, but got included at the last moment. He was a rum, quaint little chap, absolutely unchanged by the roughness of 26 months in the Army.

My last and typical memory of him is of a scene on the destroyer coming up. We were standing packed aft, like sheep in a pen, encumbered by kit bags, packs, rifles and what not. Cold, hungry and miserable; tempers frayed.
(“Aw bugger this!” “Take your ruddy rifle outta my ribs for Christ's sake!” “Sod it” “Can't you move over a bloody bit, awkward?”)
At this point I dropped 50 rounds of .303 “Are you standing on my bloody rounds?” I asked Elliott. “No, I'm not,” he said primly and carefully, “Let me see” He peered around. Then he tapped the nearest gloomy warrior politely on the shoulder. “Excuse me. This gentleman is looking for his rounds...”

And the man he addressed was so flabbergasted at this suburban chapel formality, that he forgot to blaspheme! Poor little old, refined , inoffensive Wally Elliott!
Blown to pieces in a slit trench which received a direct hit...

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