Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Friday 10th July 1942

Yesterday, Britten, who has a temporary office job said casually to me, “I've got three fellows from 104 RHA in my division. Want their names?” “Yes please! Probably don't know them though; half the people are strangers to me, since the last re-organisation.” Ernie took out a piece of paper.

“Gunner Jackson, 237 Battery...”
“No”
“Gunner Donaldson, 237...”
“Never heard of him.”
“Gunner Forbes, A, 519...”
“Jock Forbes! Yes! Where is he?”

It took me about half an hour to locate Jock, in a tent quite near mine. He has been here 5 days and will be going fairly soon. We were together most of the afternoon and evening. Mass smoking and talking. Jock was convalescing from burns received on his hands, whilst he was dragging the swearing Duke and screaming Tom out of the flames. Then he threw off the gear – as much as possible – in the back of the truck, helped by Ernie Quick. “It was like a nightmare,” he said, “The gunners standing around. Doing nothing. Gaping.”

Their trials had begun about 20 minutes after I went to see the MO at RHQ that night, whilst the Duke was still away with M2. “Prepare to withdraw!” It had been an absolutely quiet day, too. From then on,all was panic, danger, discomfort and disorder. It certainly seemed as though I carried the lucky charm this time, and I brought the luck away with me when I came.

But Jock kept on returning, somehow fascinated, to the end of M2. “They sat there, burning. Nobody did anything. (“Shoot me Jock, shoot me if my leg's gone”) But Duke soon recovered. “The bastards! The rotten bloody sods! A mine!... Is my eye bandaged, Jock, I can't see out of it?... Is my face marked badly?... Are you sure my foot's not off?... Can I have a fag?... I feel sleepy...”

Still no news of 339 Battery. I wonder whether Newby and Morgan were killed – or burnt to death?

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