Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Sunday 7th June 1942

Our breakfast was biscuit “porridge” and tea. I had been on the phones since 4a.m., so mine was cold when I came off duty at 8a.m. (“Off duty”! I'm never off. There are constant calls of “Sar'nt Dawson! Wanted at Command Post!” and they generally occur especially at “meal” times or when I'm just drinking a mug of tea.)

There was a rare panic this day. Just as I was finishing the previously mentioned cold and meagre breakfast, and just as Tom Gibbon was about to start fitting-up the new truck which had come to replace M4, I was called to the Command Post and told to go and fetch Captain Gardener back from the OP. So the Duke and I went up in M2. Just as we reached the OP a shell came over and fell nearby. The first shell I've seen or heard since December!

“You're to reel in the line, Dawson,” said “Norman” gloomily, “We're moving, it's just come through.” “Got no signallers with me, sir.” “Well, I'll give you a hand.” “OK.”

Hard going; Sid Hallows the wireless operator came along to help. Suddenly GC dashed up. “You're to return at once, sir. It's just been ordered, “Cease fire, limber up”” “Right!” said Norman, evacuating M2. “Carry on Sarn't Dawson.” We did. When we toped the first ridge, we found the further miredam quite empty of vehicles. “Look! 339 has gone!” “And the tanks!” “And the infantry!”

It was very slow work with only the three of us on the truck, and there was three miles of line to be reeled in. The line kept catching in the scrub as we hauled it in. Eventually we got to the troop position. Deserted, except for the battered old M2. “What now?” asked Sid. “Go and see if they've left anything behind at our position!”

But everything seemed to have been loaded. “The lousy bah-studs,” cried Newton, “Left us!” “Come on,” I said, “Drive roughly eastwards – a bit to the left of the sun – and see where that gets us.” Alone! I was made up with the life, and sang lustily.

Alas! After a few miles we overtook some infanteers, then tanks, and eventually we sighted gun towers. It was 339. Don Parker directed us to 519. The guns were in action and slit trenches were being dug. I drove up to M4. They were furiously digging in. “All OK Tom? What's on?” “Don't know!” “Move!” shouted the GPO, “Follow me!” We rushed after him whilst the gunners rapidly limbered-up and came on behind.
Thoroughly perplexed, we found that the whole vast column was rushing back westwards.
And eventually we returned, quite fed up, to our original position!

Wearily we sorted out the miscellaneous loads of our two trucks. And re-laid that OP line. Half a dozen shells fell around the OP while we were there. When we returned, the BSM said we must cover up the bits of metal and battered equipment, torn clothing etc. which was strewn around M2 the first. So Quick and I began to bury the wreckage, whilst two others made a brew and some bully and biscuit stew. “Sarn't Dawson!” shouted a voice. “Hullo!” I shouted back (and saw it was the GPO), “Sir?” “Did you know we were under five minutes notice to move?” “No sir.” “Well, we are, so get loaded at once.”

We loaded but did not move. So we had our tea and nauseating stew. 339, the tanks and infantry rushed rearward. We stayed on, and fired kind of casually. The doctor was wanted at the OP – a signaller had been hit. We found eventually that it was Cooper and he had been badly wounded by a shell which landed two yards away from him whilst he was standing up besides the truck (GC) eating his tea.

Tom Gibbon is now on GC, with Sid Hallows. Pope is temporarily i/c M4. I've put Ginger King with him, too. The set in GC still works OK.

Got to bed at 11:30p.m. Thank God this moon is very old now.

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