Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Tuesday 23rd June 1942

Just my unlucky day.

This morning I read the bits of news which had come out of Tobruch before the fall. Sombre and meagre. It was all over in 24 hours. The assault began at dawn and by 7a.m. the enemy was firmly established inside the perimeter; one column pushed on to the town, whilst the other column managed to isolate Garrison HQ. Apparently the GOC was “at large” for some time after that and kept in touch with Cairo by wireless. During the day and night, “gallant resistance” was offered by small, isolated parties of infantry and artillery. As the enemy pushed through the town, there was fierce hand to hand fighting. After the early hours of the following morning, communications from Tobruch ceased. There was no indication that any troops had been evacuated.

“It was thought” that the stores and harbour installations were mostly destroyed. (Not bloody likely!) “It may be assumed” that the “South Africans, United Kingdom and Indian troops” in the Garrison (note the British troops were mentioned second) are all captured.

So much for the carefully edited press news. We fall back on rumours and “what one of the orderlies in another ward” said his friend had heard on Berlin radio, etc. It is said that Berlin claims to have taken 20,000 prisoners in Tobruch. Apparently there were mass surrenders. Last an most shocking story – it is whispered that after the initial break-in, a South African division refused to fight... Wonder what they say about this in Aussie? The old “Rats of Tobruch” are back there now.

Subsequent to learning all this very depressing news I had an absolutely foul day. Went to the Suez Canal (a tiring walk of a mile) and foolishly left on the bank a tobacco pouch containing about 4oz. of 'baccy and 50pts. (10/-) Discovered my loss on returning to the ward and so tramped wearily back to the Canal. The pouch was gone, alright.

Worst and final blow however, was received when I called at the Q Stores this evening to be told that only my kit bag had arrived. The shrapnel torn pack and my beloved wooden “ditty box” were lost. The damned inefficiency of this bloody Army! If a man is too ill to look after his kit, he can say good-bye to it. Among my losses are some decent laundered shirts, the excellent KD slacks I bought at Alex, various books, 10oz of tobacco, and my hussif. A small thing this latter. But I get queerly attached to curious things and I treasured that. It was wrapped up in a blue sock and had been since the night of the call up, in 1939. In the hussif were a pair of scissors, the first scissors I ever bought, when I left home for good. Yes, I got them in Egham in 1933.

The organisation of this Army! It can't convey a sick man's kit without losing two thirds of it. What if English railways or transport services were so unreliable?
This is the second time my kit has been lost during an evacuation to Base. Muddling incompetently – or thievery?

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