Saturday, November 08, 2008

Saturday 7th March 1942

We are those who came out of great tribulation. In the early hours of Thursday morning, our positions were flooded. Water lay ankle deep all over the miredam. Occasionally men would fall, cursing, into shell holes and slit trenches. All the lorries were bogged. The flat miredam presented a strange sight all day – flooded desert! Happily the exchange dug out was not flooded, although it became very damp and muddy. All the grey day, the mound which was the roof of the exchange pit rose forlornly above the lakes' surface, whilst water lapped hopefully just below the lip of the sandbag wall around the pit's entrance.

My morale, I think, was lowest after breakfast (eaten standing calf deep in water and mud) when Ted Gayler and I went out to repair the “A” Troop link line. A biting rough wind was blowing when we started out on the 5 mile line. There were blue skies ahead but suddenly the wind changed – for the third time in 12 hours – and brought the dark clouds back again. We were both soaked within a few minutes. The wind was so strong that one couldn't smoke a pipe even!

We were away about 2 hours and on returning heard that the position was to be evacuated. The afternoon was spent in laying lines and digging in, about a mile away, on some higher ground, but it was eventually decided that we shouldn't go there after all.

In the evening Fraser and I (he's one of the new draft!) had a not very happy time trying to mend the “B” link line in darkness, mud and water. We eventually found the break, also a raggle-taggle length of wire – about 300 yards of it – which had been chopped right out by a tracked vehicle. But, although we crawled about in the mud, we could not find the end which led on to B Troop. Occasionally our way was barred by sunken paths which had become rivers. "Hold the line Don, while I find a shallow place to get across.” ... “Are you over yet Bom?” “Yes (splash) Damn.” “Here's the line.” “Can't see the damn thing. Flick it in the water...”

We gave it up about 10p.m. and as B Troop was not in action, we received permission to leave it until daybreak. “Wouldn't be so bad,” said Don Fraser, “If we'd been able to do the job.” “Yeah. Failure. “God put his adamantine fate between my sullen heart and it's desire...” Bugger it.”

However , Ted Gayler was on duty in the muddy exchange when we returned and presently the merry “Jimmie” James came in, having left his lorry afar off somewhere, stuck in a deep bomb crater. We four procured the “makings” and had a “brew”, also a tin of herrings, biscuits and two onions.

Bed about 11:30p.m. The rain had stopped but I went to sleep in my wet blankets – clothed except for boots and greatcoat – half expecting to be awakened once again by water running over our sand bag bank and the tent subsiding in a gale of wind and rain, as on the previous night. All was well however.

Next morning was much drier and sunny; we moved back to the wadi, which runs into the escarpment from the lower miredam. Another hard day's work, establishing the exchange and laying lines etc. The signallers didn't have time to make shelters for themselves, so some slept in the open and others in the command post, which was in a huge square cave, reached by two deep tunnels. I was down here, sleeping on improvised bedboards (there's lots of wood around) and was fairly comfortable, despite damp blankets. “Poacher” Johnson, a Lincolnshire man from Sleaford, and Tom Bowling, a rough, good natured, hard working Regular and Dunkirk evacuee, were beside me. James, Bob Andrews and Naden lay in the wadi above. I don't know where the others were except for Bax and Fraser. They had commandeered an old sariba. Don Fraser loves poetry and music, Bill Bax (an ex-journalist) can play and compose for the piano, so they are a good pair.

Today we managed to get all our clothes and blankets dry. Eventually some of us cleared out and roofed a stone walled, sand bagged sariba. It is now inhabited by Bob, Steve, Jimmie, Vic Naden, Gayler and myself. When Steve and Ted had installed electric light we had a brew and some biscuit porridge. It was very snug. We all used bedboards.

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