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Cpl. William (Bill) Forsyth Davison

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This “Legend” was the brainchild of Hamish McCallum (C.S.M.) who was ably assisted by Don Smith (The Printer), Bill Davison, Johnny Watson and many others! 
Kindly sent to me for inclusion on the site by Bill Davison's sons John and Bill Davison ~ Mary

William Davison travelled to Canada on the Franconia at the same time as my family - Mary

 

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Cpl. William F. Davison

Belfast Telegraph Tuesday June, 6, 1944 Invasion

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FOREWORD

          Prepare yourself well; the monotony of reading the following * legend could only be exceeded by that suffered by those who actually laboured and existed through the long period covered. Leavened as it was by an abundance of incidents, many humorous or interesting, and some tragic, that period of many defeats, closed by a final and brilliant victory, was little more than an existence for those concerned.

          No attempt has been made to record the history of the campaign nor even to set down a full and detailed story of this one unit, the latter alone would fill a large volume, and the supply of time and materials, not to mention talent preclude such an undertaking.

          What has been accomplished is an accurate recording of the many varied moves of the unit, with occasional mention of the numerous roles filled, therefore it is obvious that the book will be of little interest except to members of the unit, and their friends or relatives who are primarily interested in the doings of their menfolk. Such being the case, it is hoped that the limited number of possessors will derive a great deal of amusement in the future by glancing through it and so be reminded of, after all, not happy days.

          May they not forget their many good comrades, nor ‘Smeet’ the printer, who contributed so much to the finished article. Whether or not there will be a continuance of the story depends on too great a variety of circumstances for a definite statement to be made in that respect.

          * The “Legend” (no myth) was the brainchild of Hamish McCallum (C.S.M.) who was ably assisted by Don Smith (The Printer), Bill Davison, Johnny Watson and many others! It was done during a lull in the Italian Campaign in Central Italy. When operations resumed, the Company was fully employed right up to the River Po!! The Company was finally disbanded, with the Eighth Army, having served on almost every operation with Eighth Army, from the Army’s creation to its final days! The “Desert Rats” was a scurrilous name, bestowed by a German lady radio propagandist! There were only two copies made of the original “legend” (T.E.F.), the original went to C.S.M. McCallum, and a copy each to Don Smith and Bill Davison

CONTENTS

Chapter Pages

I. Formation

II. Phase I; from October, ’41 to July, ‘42

III. Interlude, and some Army signposts (throughout)

IV. Phase II; from July, ’42 to May 12th, ’43

V. Truth and T.E.F.

VI. Phase III; from May, ’43 to December, ’43


Illustrations: Snapshots by personnel of the unit.

FORMATION

          The first of October, 1941, was the day of commencement and was marked by the arrival of Major J. B. Noon and 2nd Lt. E. D. Greenwood, O.C. Company and H.Q. Subaltern respectively. The remaining personnel arrived within the following seven days, and what personnel! “Desert Rats” and “Blighty Boys”, the former comprised mostly of ‘Victims of the Big Shovel’ full of bull and bluster, the latter pink and white and not quite so soft as they looked.

          The show now started in real earnest and a state of organised confusion prevailed. Ordnance maintained their normal role magnificently, nothing was available, and the ‘Q’ looked permanently harassed. The vehicles were available * but the drivers were either going on or coming back from leave, and of course, there was the usual procession of courses, schemes, training and inoculations, etc., just to help along, even a detail down into the Arabian Desert to Akaba, which was piling it on a bit for a Company in the throes of birth.

          However, at the end of the month things had taken shape, blurred, admittedly, but quickly becoming clearer, of these orders was definitely mixed ‘we are not nearly ready’ and ‘Let’s get to hell out of it’ sort of thing, the latter being predominant, not that it made any difference how anybody felt, go was the order and go we must. There had never been much doubt about the destination of the Company, and as soon as the order was received, it became certain, the Western Desert, the Blue, miles of buff coloured damn all, any name you like will do, the result will be the same in the end.

          • Leave was given at this time, because of the long sea journey of the “Blighty Wallahs” – 2 months round the Cape!, and to prepare for a long period of actual was service!

PHASE  I

          We moved out of the Talag and left Shafto's opulent establishments behind, at day-break on the 31st October, 1941, the start being considerably enlivened by the sight of a certain Platoon Officer standing on the cab of his truck gesticulating frantically, with no apparent result (he doesn't do it now).  We arrived at Suez and loaded the vehicles that day and stayed the night at Ford Agrud.  The cooks got their first chance to do their worst but we all survived and were present for further punishment next morning before we moved off for Wadi Natrun, via Cairo.

          Surprisingly, when we stopped to refuel at Nena, there wasn't a single Western Oriental Gentleman ! body to be scraped off any of the vehicles, not even a smear, of course you couldn't blame the lads, what with being new at the game and being in convoy they weren't quite as proficient at the sport as they later became.

          Having left the C.S.M. and the 'Q' to hitch-hike as best they might, the Company rolled merrily on from Nena and parked the night at the destination for the day.  The aforementioned gentlemen (?) arrived in state on top of a load of petrol, just in time for dinner.

         The next day, 2nd November, we continued along that apparently endless road through Amyria and on to El Daba, where we spent out third night.  The only event of the whole day consisted of louder, longer and more virulent profanity from the cooks, who had to do their stuff in the dark - the little darlings !

          Mid-day of the third saw us at our destination, about three kilos past Abu Haggag.  H.Q. and W/Shops made camp whilst the Platoons went on to unload at Mersa Matruh, and tried to explain where 30? of each said load had leaked to.  (The containers were very flimsy, and the journey Rough!!)

          Next morning, the uninitiated observer would have said, without hesitation, that the R.Q.M. from Tahag had moved with us, lock, stock and barrel; the initiated would merely have remarked that the "R.Q.M. had been left behind".  Remarking on the quantity of tent accommodation, the O.C. was met with bland countenances and plausible explanations of how "this had been found and that was a buckshee" and "Pinched? No, Sir!"  So having had his worst fears confirmed he promptly went off and forgot them.

          At this location we suffered our first fatal casualty,  Dvr. Cunliffe was killed whilst out on D.R. duties and buried at El Daba Military Cemetery,  the circumstances which caused his death remain a complete mystery.

Air raids were nightly occurrences and the members of the Officers' Mess took a particularly dim view of them as the Mess was situated about a hundred yards from the perimeter of one of our fighter 'dromes, which, in conjunction with the railway half-a-mile away, comprised one of the main targets in the area.

          "C" and "D" Platoons departed.  "C" to get to work on the new Forward Base near Bir Thalats, and "D" on detachment with 15 C.C.S.  Both were perfectly happy about it; Platoons are usually glad to get on detachment, away from "H.Q. bull" as they term it, but how smartly they came in when they want something.

          * C.C.S. - Casualty Clearing Station

          The Desert Army is no longer Western Desert Force,  It is now "Eighth Army", then unknown.  What significance that name now bears.  So the Company can say that it marched with the "8 A" from the inception of that famous force.

          On the 16th November, we left Abu Haggag and proceeded through Matruh and on by road for another 80 kilos beyond, and then away South into the desert, to the new location, just a few miles East of the "Desert Railhead" which had just been completed.  Our location was easily distinguishable - on the map!  Sidi Mahmun, an isolated Arab grave, of which there are only a few thousand and scattered about.  However, we did not get dug in.  On the 20th we moved a few miles nearer D.R. and joined Rear H.Q., Eighth Army, and became domestic Company to that Formation.  The remaining Platoons, "A" and "B" went on to D.R. which was at Misheifa and formed another detachment under Capt. R.J.S.  Our new location had a resounding name - Bir El Hagg Mohamed - said rapidly it sounds like a very handy cuss-word.  In actual fact it is only the name of a well.  There is little essential difference between any of these desert locations, just a little camel scrub and miles upon miles of nothing, hardly even a contour on a map, the whole populated by variegated insects, reptiles, dogs and Western Oriental Gentlemen !.  Some questions arise out of each.  Where did the scorpions, snakes and beetles, etc. sleep before the advent of the Tommy's bed?  Who fed the dogs and housed them before Tommy himself?  What did the Western Oriental Gentleman ! use for an all purpose vessel prior to the introduction of the four gallon petrol tin?

          The E.F.I., of course, was conspicuous by its absence.  I am sure everyone has seen pictures of their Roadhouses and Canteens.  If so, treasure the memory for that is as near to the real thing as you are ever likely to get unless you are one of the lucky ones - their strength is about one percent.

          * E.F.I. or N.A.A.F.I. - military canteens

          Capt. P. left location during late November.  He had ten days' rations, water and P.O.L. for Gialo Oasis which lies deep in the desert, South East of Benghazi.  The small Fort there had been taken from the Italians, and was then garrisoned by some of the 4th India Div. and was used by the L.R.D.G. as a base from which to operate.  The country was terrible for load carrying transport, much of the convoy's route lay through uncharted desert, where the vehicles had to plough, and "plough" is the only word to describe it, through soft, shifting sand.  Some of the vehicles became completely bogged and had to be abandoned, others were left far behind and often were lost.  The L.R.D.G. found one such group and were fired on by the "lost sheep", fortunately, there was no casualties and no reprisals were taken.  One group of vehicles was turned back by their commander who had spotted enemy armoured cars in front, these turned out to be nothing more formidable than empty four-gallon petrol cans lying on a ridge, left there by some of the leading groups in the convoy.  Spare his blushes!  In spite of everything, however, Gialo was eventually reached.  No bouquets were received for this operation.

* L.R.D.G. - Long Range Desert group (Commandos)

          Meanwhile, the remainder of the Company carried on.  Two more of the lads got one-way tickets, Cpl. Haley, run over one night whilst in his bivouac - just one of those unfortunate accidents and Dvr. Downing, who was killed during an air-raid.  Air-raids were nightly occurrences, the Company, once again, being parked on the outskirts of an aerodrome, which, as usual, was one of Jerry's regular calling points.

          The first Eighth Army push was now on and our ears were at full cock for "griff". (news)  One piece of news we got didn't make for sound sleep - an enemy armoured column had broken through and was creating chaos behind our lines.  Unfortunately, it was true in part, a small patrol had got through and had cut up a few Units.  The 'flap' was only a small one, and was soon put right.  *though one corporal was seen dashing to the Sgts' Mess, the 'Q' viewing his approach with some trepidation.  Perhaps he had a guilty conscience.  Then there was the sergeant who was, without fail, first man in the Mess each night and always bought the first round.  No, he didn't have a private income, but he did wear his steel helmet.

          * Cpl. Davison

          Tobruk was relieved on the 12th December, and the way was opened for another move forward.

          On the 17th December, away we go, Tobruk bound, via Conference Cairn and Bir Sheferzan (Libyan(, where we halted for the night.  On the 18th we passed through Sidi Rezegh.  There was no flag waving, in fact there was nothing at all, with the exception of derelict tanks and an odd 'plane.  It was just another name on the map.  Then down the escarpment and into Tobruk with just time for the evening meal and a walk round the camp site.  Next day we got settled in - there were plenty of dug-outs and ready-made holes in the ground for tents.  A vehicle being blown up by a mine let us into a Military Secret, nobody had told us anyway!  The way we had come into the camp area was the only clear side of the site.  The other three sides were bounded by minefields!  Rear H.Q. Eighth Army were between us and the road on the safe side, they didn't know about it either.

          Tobruk was still receiving a nightly and often daily visit from the Luftwaffe and everyone was tickled to death with the deep dug-they were occupying - not to mention the fleas.  The R.H. detachment had moved up with us and were down on the coast doing dock details.

          It was here that Eighth Army started their drive to collect the "Jerrican" for use by our Forces, an excellent 4-gallon petrol tin, the origin of the name is obvious.  Also 44-gallon drums were wanted and in the collection of those we lost, Dvr. Warner who ran over a large tank mine, and was blown to pieces.

          We had an excellent Xmas dinner, bully, biscuits and duff.  There was something else in the dinner - reputedly mutton "Itie" boot leather or cigars, the difference in composition of the latter two items appears to be negligible.  The E.F.I., of course, carried on as usual.  The saying that the Greek for 'not available' is 'Dados' is open to dispute, 'NAAFI' must register a very strong claim.  However, everyone had a good time, even the officers, who suffered some inconvenience from flying bullets - the O.C. achieved a doubtful victory in a duel with the C.S.M.

          Dvrs. Kyles and Dickson were superficially injured when one pf them kicked a "Red Devil", they were evacuated.  L/Sgt. Warden was injured by a land mine and was sent to hospital.  Some of the heavy ack-ack shells thrown up at Jerry unfortunately came down again in one piece.  They frequently dropped in out area then exploded - we preferred Jerry - he wasn't such a good shot!

          * Red Devil - Italian Hand Grenade (like a child's money box)

          The Gialo convoy had been split up a great deal, and parts of it began to return, all of them the proud possessors of very scruffy clothing and two or three day beards - they lost the beards, anyway.

          The first of these arrivals reported two more deaths, Cpl. Whitelock and Dvr. Rouse, they were buried at Garabub.

          To our disgust Eighth Army was now retreating again, and for a short time Adv. H.Q. Eighth Army was further back then we were with Rear.  Then we got our orders to scram on the 3rd February, and in some ways we weren't sorry.  It had been damned cold, the sandstorms were a continual source of irritation.  When you add to that the fact that the water was salt and therefore a good 'brew' (tea) was unknown, Tobruk was hardly a home from home.

          There was no 'flap' about the retreat, everything was organised.  On 4th February we carried out our orders and moved back, past Capuzzo and a little east of the Italian defences at Sofafi, to a wadi pleasantly named "Straffers' Wadi" - we hoped not!

          It was still as cold as ever and the sandstorms were even worse than in Tobruk.

          However, leave started and everyone started telling everyone else how they hadn't had more than a couple of days leave in three years, taking care, of course, that the right person was within earshot.  The C.S.M. and R.S.M. wangled a business (?) trip of course, to Alex and Cairo, with the O.C.

          "A" Platoon was reformed out of the mixed lot which was then "A" and "B" Platoons.  "B" Platoon, to the utter disgust of the Platoon Commander, was made up afresh from all the stragglers.

          All detachments had been cancelled and we got orders to leave Rear H.Q., Eighth Army and take up duty with 1 L. of C. Tpt. Coln., as a transport Company.  This was done on 25th February, and the new camp site a few miles S.E. of Bir Thalata, was soon fixed up.  The whole Company was then together for the first time in months, one half were strangers to the other.  "D" Platoon came back with an excellent letter of commendation for their work whilst with the C.C.S. (Casualty Clearing Station)

          The last stragglers from the Gialo convoy had returned, but that wasn't the last we were to hear of that job.  No, we still hear of it and each mention of it draws deep groans from the assembled company!

          Desert rail-head was once again the scene of operations carrying from there to Capuzzo.

          The Lt. Col. paid us a visit, his first official one as our Formation Commander, and he took a poor view of the amount of luxury (?) items we were carrying, so a lot of it had to go.  What "something" remarks this brought forward can easily be imagined.

          We were unaware of the fact, but that was the commencement of 16 months of hard labour for the Company, and our ups and downs were to be many.

          The weather now excellent itself, particularly in the Capuzzo area, the skies opened and the contents descended continuously for days - result, vehicles bogged everywhere and the tracks up to Capuzzo became impassable.  In contradiction of the general opinion, one of our convoys got through and received a left-handed pat on the back, that is, they had to keep doing it or be asked why.

          We expected our new push to commence, and were full of bright hopes for the future.  Preparation had been the catchword for some time - the extension of the railway to Capuzzo was one sign.

          On 17th March, we moved from Thalata to the Capuzzo area and set to, working from the new rail-head at Capuzzo forward to Tobruk.  1 L. of C. continued to be our higher formation.  The tracks from Capuzzo to Tobruk were bloody, and probably still are, broken springs were the constant grey-hair producer, no convoy did the journey without suffering, and the worst of it was there were practically no new springs to be had.  It was a case of patch up all the time and if a derelict vehicle was seen, it was certainly a skeleton within 24 hours.  As a matter of fact it wasn't safe to leave a vehicle outside the Camp area for five minutes, something would go and the longer you were away, the more you lost.  Heath Robinson had nothing on our Workshops when it came to improvising in that line.

          Leave was still open, but was expected to stop any day.

          The stocks of material being moved to Tobruk by the Transport Companies was greater than ever before.

          Jerry had diverted his attention from the Misheifa rail-head to the new one at Capuzzo, but he didn't like the ack-ack, so more often than not he sprinkled his load around the transport areas in the vicinity.  Deep holes to sleep in were, therefore at a premium in our camp, and even then one felt that there wasn't a bigger one anywhere and compressed oneself to the smallest degree.  Of course, there was the old soldier who always stuck a leg out of his bivouac during a raid - hopefully!

          On 15th April, we left Capuzzo and 1 L. of C. and moved up to Tobruk again, this time for a special job.  Of course, we got one of the best sites in Tobruk - Happy Valley!!  Plenty of caves and dug-outs - walk in and you were carried out!  There was no need to touch anything - the fleas could jump six feet, though even they were not fast enough to keep up with their Italian comrades.  Every damned thing in that camp was alive with fleas and lice.  Jerry's visits were only secondary considerations to scratching.

          The Brighton Beach Leave Camp opened, normal leave having stopped.  The slogan of this camp was:  "Nothing to do, all day to do it," and "Bags of Beer".  The lads didn't believe it, "It isn't possible", said they an didn't go.  As it happened, it was true!

          The job was now finished and with a commendation from 83 Sub Area, the Company moved back to 1 L. of C.

          The 2nd May saw us back at Capuzzo, and on the 3rd convoys again started.  Jerry was still a regular visitor and usually strafed the convoy centre at dawn and dusk in addition to his nightly raids on Capuzzo.  The Sergt' Mess failed to appreciate a 250lb unexploded bomb which he left a little too near to them.  Nobody appreciated his daisy-cutters - the Butterfly Bomb.

          Also on the 3rd, we sent a detachment of three Platoons, "A", "B" and "D" to Sollum, where they were employed on local work for Capuzzo rail-head.  They had quite a pleasant holiday (!) by the seaside, and returned to the fold on the 14th.

          Tobruk and Strafers' Wadi had, up to now, held all records for sandstorms, but Capuzzo won the 'belt' - they didn't occur often, but when they did - whew!!  The first intimation was a huge purple cloud in the distance and that was the signal to anchor every mortal thing and then anchor the anchor  (Kamseen Winds) (Khamsin Winds)

          Bir Hakeim had been fought out and the Company transport Platoons were rushed up to bring the 4th Indian Div. out of the El Adem box, and were alternately brought forward and chased back, as the battle fluctuated.  It was a case of continuously standing by, sleeping at the wheel, of Jerry's planes would let you.  One Officer had to go into the box, and whilst he was inside the Indians closed the gap in the minefield, which gave him and his driver their first intimation that they might be called upon to become heroes!  However, the Brigadier in charge, who, incidentally, didn't show by any sign that he knew there was a battle on, ordered the said officer out of it with orders regarding the transport, and when our gentleman pointed out that the gap had been closed, just looked and asked:  "What the hell has that got to do with it?"  So the Indians lifted a few mines.  The officer's driver claimed, quite solemnly, that their truck only hit the highest bumps for the next few miles !

          Eventually the Indians had to fight their way out to the nearest point where it was possible to bring the transport without irreparable loss of scarce and valuable vehicles.  Our vehicles picked up the Indians who had got through, and made a race for it from enemy A.F.V.S., at the same time cursing the Jerry airmen who were bombing and strafing as hard as they could, to Bir Enba via Bir Khieregat, where we stayed the night.  At the same time we changed over from 1 L. of C. to 2 L of C.  Though the battle was going against us, the general opinion was that we would hold them at Sollum and southwards, where the Egyptian border runs.  Tobruk, we thought, would hold out as before, but alas, we were to be disillusioned.  The Platoons came in after their race across the 'blue' and immediately went out again, some on detachment with 550 Company which had been cut up, and the others to work clearing the Desert Railhead which was only a few miles away.  That detail in itself was ominous.

          The whole Company was standing by now, that is, the remaining part of it, and everyone was on tenterhooks.

          13 Corps now decided that it would be a good idea to form a group Workshop for the use of all Companies in the Corps.  It was to be composed of one Workshops Section from each Company, which shows that although we were suffering defeat, there was no panic or rout.  Commanders don't try new schemes of this description in a rout.  The idea was that a grouped Workshops would be able to obtain bulk supplies of heavy assemblies and deal with all heavy repairs much easier than a Company which was operating and moving all the time, could do for itself.

          When the order came through, the O.C. decided to send his Company H.Q. with the Workshops Section, and so have the transport side of the Company free during the coming operations without the burden of H.Q. to carry.

          So on the 22nd June, they moved out and joined up with the body of the group Workshops, and next day moved back to Matruh and then on to Fuka the following day.  Here, the attempt to operate as a grouped workshops was made, but operational necessity made it temporarily impossible and the Sections were sent off to rejoin their respective Units.

          Meanwhile the Army was still withdrawing and were coming back very quickly.  Mischiefa, Barrani, and greatest blow of all, both Tobruk and Matruh had fallen - those so-called impregnable fortresses!  However, order still reigned and there was no panic, though the retreat was the worst suffered so far,  Everything was bring kept well in hand.

          H.Q. rapidly tucked up their skirts and got moving when they found that all ration dumps and water points west of them had closed down.

          The main body of the Company was encamped at El Daba, and on the 27th June, H.Q. attempted to contact them and join forces, but owing to the very heavy traffic and the fact that El Daba was being evacuated, this was prevented and H.Q. had perforce to keep on towards Amyria by the main road, whilst the main body moved back with 2 L. of C. by the Desert Route.  The latter was still operating and work was no whit easier.

          Jerry now held all points West of Fuka and was advancing rapidly and apparently, irresistibly.

          The main road was absolutely packed with transport of every description, and as far as El Amamein, it was all going the same way - East!  El Daba was the next point of importance to fall and things were looking very black, but for all that nobody seemed to think that it was all over, except the Western Oriental Gentlemen ! who daily became more insolent.  Everywhere could be seen signs of a terrific effort being made to halt the retreat.

          On 1st July, the two parts of the Company joined up at Amyria and immediately set up camp at Ikingi and 'rested'.  No bloody fears!  The enemy being held at El Alamein wasn't enough.  Immediate preparations were being made to knock him all the way back and then some - it was no part of the British plan to let Jerry use his ready made British currency in Alex. or Cairo, nor that Musso should ever issue his medals (also ready made) for the triumphal entry into Alex.

          Speculation was rife everywhere as to the next move, there was plenty to talk about, everyone had his own particular story to tell, or how this and that happened in the retreat, even H.Q. had their tales of strafing and moonlight flits.  Men who had had their trucks knocked out, one who stole another under the noses of a Jerry patrol and got away, whilst tales of long, hard drives and sharp and frequent moves were so common as to be ordinary.  The vehicles - the same old ones - had stood up to terrific punishment wonderfully well, and were still going strong, more credit to the makers and the drivers who spent the greater part of their lives in them.

INTERLUDE

          Though work never actually ceased between the end of the retreat and the commencement of preparations for the new push, there were times when it was possible to get a little relaxation.  The Company's location at Ikingi was roughly an hour's ride by road from Alexandria.  Even so, the Company's location was in the desert.  Taking advantage of the nearness to Alexandria afternoon trips were arranged, so that when there were a few hours available we could get a taste of civilisation.

          We had one other luxury which usually is never appreciated - unlimited quantities of water were available, at least, they appeared unlimited to us.  The only limit was the number of times the water truck could make the trip to the water point, but to men who had been rationed to a maximum of one gallon for all purposes, per day, sometimes three-quarters of a gallon and occasionally as low as half-a-gallon, two or three more gallons a dad meant absolute extravagance, particularly when out of the ration of water must come firstly what is required for cooking, secondly, the daily wash, and thirdly the washing of clothes, which when dressed in Khaki-drill is an item in itself.

          Pictures and concerts were another type of luxury which most of us has missed.  All the time we had been blazing our way around the Western Desert we had only had the opportunity of seeing one concert.  Now with the trips into Alex. it was possible to see a decent film and follow it up with a good meal, a drink and a glimpse of a shapely calf.

          Egypt was making hay whilst the sun shone and trebling the take (or make) whichever you wish.  All the British Forces were concentrated in a comparatively small area, practically every man had more money than he knew what to do with and it was being spent lavishly.  Naturally the Egyptians treated the saviours of their country to fair and moderate prices - like hell!  They made every man-jack pay through the nose for his slightest want, little good will it do that race of touts, pimps, prostitutes and sharpers.

          All things combined, the lads soon began to wish things would start moving again, the war would never finish as long as everyone sat still.  Their wishes were to be fulfilled to an extent they little dreamed of in their most optimistic moments.

PHASE  II

          During the short period at Ikingi there was an opportunity to straighten out many little problems which had been allowed to lapse during the retreat, as a matter of fact, it was high time the Company was given a chance to become one piece for a while so that a stocktaking could be held and any deficit in men, vehicles and equipment could be made up.  Replacements of any description were not to be had just for the asking, unfortunately, and we had to make do for the most part with what we had.  Never once since that day we left Tahag had the Company been brought up to strength, never were we less than 25 men deficient, often it mounted to 60 and 70, harder and more continual work was required from everyone during the latter periods.

          Raids were fairly frequent in the area and one of them cost us three good chaps - Drvs. Rees, McKean and Brookes.  Three Jerry fighters made a hit and run raid, each of them dropped two light bombs and one pair exploded right in the centre of the bivouac area, the three lads never knew what happened and Jerry was away almost before anyone had realised it.  The O.C. was lucky, he was driving past at the time and the blast gave his car a shake up.  The C.S.M. was seen to win a snake race with a comrade, to comparative safety under a vehicle.

          On the 2nd July 13 Corps Grouped Workshops opened up again, this time successfully, and one of our workshops sections joined the Group in Amyria - much to their delight.  Amyria meant less discomfort, less regimentation and much more frequent trips to Alex.  As a matter of policy, however, Workshops made every effort to impress on H.Q., not being an egg of recent vintage listened with strong mental reservations.

            Work continued at high pressure, the vehicles got no respite and it was only through judicious shuffling of the drivers that any of them got a half day off for relaxation, letter writing, dhobi-ing and the etceteras.

          Came the first omen, we moved to a point about five miles South of Burg Al Arab and at first glance the new area looked a pleasant enough place, as much as any desert location can be pleasant.  It turned out to be definitely unpleasant.  Flies, we were used to, lots of them, but there they moved in clouds and they were dirty, unwholesome looking specimens.  Added to that we had apparently picked on the homeland of all beetles.  The sand dunes which had at first attracted us from the point of view of cover for the vehicles and the digging of deep dug-outs, proved to be honeycombed with beetle runs.  Every hill housed thousands, all black, some small, but mostly big ones about three-quarters of an inch long.  At night it gave the occupants of a bivouac or tent the creeps to  listen to them scrabbling about, there was nowhere they didn't get to, and what made it worse was the knowledge that, living in sin with the beetles were a multitude of scorpions, also black.  It may be taken for granted that blankets were thoroughly searched in those days.

          We were still within easy reach of Alex., just about one hour and three-quarters in a 3-tonner, so the day trips continued whenever the men could be spared.  The pressure of work was, if anything, increased, the battle position was static.  It was a case of first ready first blow.  Jerry was doing his best to smash up our railheads at Burg El Arab, and Bahig and air-raids were constant.  But he couldn't stop the preparations.  He was also catching a cold himself.  The R.A.F. was now showing up in numbers; instead of ducking every time a 'plane was heard, we looked to see whose it was first.  Our bombers, in particular the "Imperturbable Eighteen" were making regular sorties all day and every day, much to our delight.  It did one's heart good to see the day of Jerry air ascendancy pass.

          13 Corps Grouped Workshops had now moved from Amyria and were situated a little North of Burg El Arab, near the coast, and they received their full share of the bombing.  Our Section was lucky, we only lost one man who was wounded by machine-gun bullets.

          The unwholesome nature of our location was doing what all the hard work and bad living conditions had failed to do, the sick parade was, for us, enormous.  Twenty-five to thirty men were reporting sick every day, the trouble was, in most cases, the malignant "desert sore".  Fortunately the Company Medical Orderly was an efficient man and no-one lacked for treatment.  To combat the epidemic, the O.C. instituted a Rest Camp in the vicinity of Grouped Workshops, on the coast, and the worst cases were sent there to recover.  One unfortunate occurrence marred the duration of the Rest Camp, a Fitter, Pte. Earthy, was drowned in sight of, but beyond the reach of help from his comrades.  Apart from this incident the Camp was a pronounced success,  The cleaner surroundings, swimming, and pure air soon overcame the ill-health of those who visited it.

          There was a great deal of precaution taken at this time against the probability of enemy parachutists, the result of this was that there was much night duty for everyone.  All night patrols of armed personnel in light trucks and "Standing to" for an hour at dusk and dawn for the whole Company.  No period of the day was so heartily cursed as dawn.

          Period leave opened up again in August and there was a rush to go.  A couple of hours' journey to civilisation is one thing, but a long, uncomfortable ride in a goods train lasting two or three days is another, particularly when trains are a regular target for aircraft.  These had been the conditions when leave was last open, and for that reason, nobody was very anxious to go.

          We remained in this location all through August, trying all the time to keep up a hundred per cent availability of vehicles which is far more difficult than it sounds.  In September we again moved forward, leaving 2 L. of C. at the same time.

          On the 9th and 10th September, we took up our new position in the central sector of the Alamein Line and about 25 miles behind.  Our new Formation was the 44th Infantry Division.

          This Div. immediately bombarded us with Bumph.  However, at the cost of much strenuous effort and recrimination amongst ourselves, we kept out heads just above the surface.  The work with the Div. was much easier than it had been with the L. of C., and everyone got a chance to relax a little.  This, combined with the fact that leave was still open, and that some reinforcements had arrived, make it much easier for all.

          Whilst in this command we clicked for a couple of nasty little jobs about which those who took part boasted freely.  In each case it meant driving up as close to the line as possible under cover of dark and beneath the noses of Jerry's guns.  If he had heard the vehicles, quantities of blotting paper and a fleet of recovery vehicles would have been necessary to clean up the landscape.  The first time the job was taking in an Infantry Battalion who were going to make a surprise assault, and the second was bringing them out again.  Funnily enough, the infantry thought that riding in vehicles was too bloody dangerous, and spent the time in looking for aircraft and minefields.

          Certainly air action was constant; there were dog fights overhead every day, but the Luftwaffe were becoming very circumspect and were adepts at evading the issue.

          We actually had a concert in our location - 30 or 40 miles in the desert.  Admittedly the women looked suspiciously big of bicep and blue of chin.  However, we were not unduly critical and when the contralto inadvertently burst out in a mellow baritone, everyone gave her a hand!

          Some thoughtless Orderly Room clerk came very near to a sticky end one day when he addressed us as the Greek R.A.S.C. Company.  At this time our main job was supplying the Greek Brigade which was in the line in this sector.  They had no transport so we filled in and actually got on very well with them in spite of language difficulties.

          On the 14th October, we left the 44th and joined the 50th Div. which was a move of just a few miles.  We were all perfectly happy about this because the 50th was an old friend, tried and true.  If any balloons went up we would surely be in the midst.  Incidentally, the miles of Bumph ceased to unwind and we were able to have a big fire and breathe again.  The reason for our move was that the Greeks had moved over and so our duties were more or less the same.

          * 50 Div. (Tyne/Tees) Bob Lintons's Lot!

          At this time the Company was just a year old and eleven months of the twelve had been spent in the "Field" without a break.  Feelings about a break were mixed.  A few would have liked to fall back for a refit, but the many were for keeping in the game and going through with Eighth Army.

          Jerry made an unsuccessful attempt to break through, but he got near enough to it.  Every Unit in the area had to get cracking and dig lines of defence - and how the lads loved a shovel!

          Expectancy and confidence were part of every day life now.  One reason for this was that we were being told what was going on.  This was the new policy instituted so that the whole Army would be aware of the position from day to day.  The information we had been given in this way gave confidence and pointed to an imminent eruption from our side.

          On the 23rd we were told, "Tonight at 2300 hrs. is zero hour".  So at last these endless weeks of preparation were to bear fruit.

          Dead on 2300 hrs. it started.  The gun flashes lit the sky almost continuously - what a tremendous barrage it was.  The bombers were roaring overhead - undoubtedly Jerry was getting a considerable dose of hell.  Now was the time to see if he could take a dose of his own medicine!

          Next day the prisoners started coming back.  The vehicles were working in a constant circuit, supplies etc., up and prisoners down.  The prisoners looked far from arrogant.  Our bombers and artillery had blasted their dreams of splendour in the Delta; the enemy were on the run and they didn't like it.  His only hope now was to save the remnants of his army, and that was going to be some considerable task.

          On the 6th November we moved forward a few more miles to El Agur Tomb, just another of those graves which are scattered about in the desert.  Actually, it was only an H.Q. and W.S. move, the Platoons were out and before they returned, we had moved again.  This time we moved on the 8th to El Imayid.  There, every possible vehicle was loaded and on the 9th we were off again.  This was a bigger move, no stop until we had passed El Daba - there was left little standing there.

          We had left 50 Div. (or vice versa) and 2 L. of C. had us in hand again.

          At El Daba we lost Major (not the O.C.), he was a ?yard pup that we had picked up in November '41, when he was the size of a kitten, just a ball of pure white fluff.  brought up perforce, on bully and biscuits and luxuries when they were to be had.  (He had wonderfully beseeching eyes when he wished and would beguile you out of your breakfast before you had realised it)  All his early life was spent in the Sgts. Mess and when he grew up woe betide anyone who trespassed.  He developed into a fine big dog, full of fun but with an individual temper, friendly to everyone, except a few.  They disliked him mainly because he had the good sense to distrust them.  When pleased to see you he would laugh and do his best to talk, all the time his whole rear would be wagging.  Since the night before Alamein he had been ill and getting worse all the time, and at El Daba we decided that it would be kinder to shoot him, and so we did, giving him a decent burial and erecting a cross (many a man's grave has had less in this same desert).  On the cross we wrote his epilogue:-

                    Just another Desert Dog
                    A noisy, boisterous, lovable rogue,
                    He hated the sight of a ruddy Wog, (
Western Oriental Gentleman !)
                    What more could be said of a Desert Dog?

          The 13th saw us settling into yet another location on the smugglers' Cove road at Matruh.  We left 2 L. of C. once more and were now under 14 L. of C.  Time off for anything was unknown, a driver's life was just one damned load after another.

          The road, and what we saw from the road revealed pretty clearly what we had done to Jerry, agreed that not a great deal of equipment he had left was much good.  What we hadn't destroyed with bombing and artillery he had burnt or blown up, but he certainly had taken a lacing.

          The fighting troops were going too fast for us behind.  There is always a mass of work to do when the front moves quickly, and the further they move, the greater the job.  There are no dumps forward, every mortal item has to be brought up.  Our line had stretched from Alamein to Capuzzo, a distance of some 250 miles, in an amazingly short time, and was still stretching.  Some idea of the amount of work there was to do can be guessed at.

          Winter was now making itself felt, and the first to suffer was "Q", who had set up his store at the foot of a small wadi.  It rained heavily and he spent the morning splashing around, knee deep, salvaging his stores - his virulence was enough to have dried the clothing without other help.  Lots of the lads received an impromptu bath in the downpour and there was much digging of waterways round the bivouacs.  Naturally, it didn't rain again whilst we were there.

          At last, after what had seemed an interminable interval, we moved forward again.  Nobody liked being left behind.  We were making for old stamping grounds, Capuzzo, and we had to make it in one day which isn't quite as easy as it sounds for a Company in convoy with lots of traffic on the one and only road.  It was the 22nd when we pulled out of Matruh, the running as far as Sidi Barrini was comparatively good.  The H.D. (Highland Division) was on the road during the stretch to Sollum and that didn't help matters at all.  In their opinion everything else should have got off the road to let them through.  As it was we were at our destination when they were still messing about at the foot of Sollum pass.  Ridetto Capuzzo had never amounted to much, but when we passed this time it was practically non-existent except in name.  This applied equally to most towns and villages from Daba to Tobruk.  They had been fought over, through and for so often that it was a wonder any of them existed at all.

          One of our officers had gone on in advance to recce our new location and as we ran through Capuzzo just on dusk he met us and gave explicit instructions for finding the camp area.  Many blasphemous miles were covered that night before everyone bedded down, some lucky ones in the area, many not, but all in one mind!

          This stay at Capuzzo was notable for nothing except the continuation of work.  Tobruk and back ceaselessly and we lost the "Q" to hospital with fever, when we were at a loss to distinguish the various types of 'planes we saw.  You see, if "Q" said "That is a Blenheim", well, a Blenheim it was and who were you to argue with one of Wavell's thirty thousand?

          We were having much less trouble from Jerry's air force.  His raids were now of the hit and run variety, mostly run.

          On the 29th we arrived in Tobruk and settled just a couple of miles past our old location at Happy Valley.  Tobruk had changed very little - one or two more wrecks in the harbour and the buildings a little more battered than before, not to mention a further crop of minefields.  Also there were heaps of Jerry and Italian equipment about, both captured and abandoned, and the apparently endless stream of prisoners was to be seen as it had been all the way from Alamein.

          Out turn round was now the longest yet - six days - Tobruk to Benghazi and back load.  There was no time for dawdling, but fortunately it was road work and not desert hacks?  Half-a-day in camp and away again, and the half-day wasn't a holiday.  The vehicles had to be maintained and repaired, bath day, wash day, pay day, and every other kind of day all had to be crammed into it.  Rations, water, petrol etc. all had to be carried for the full journey, so what with one thing and another there was no time for day-dreaming.

          On the 5th December we moved to Acroma, a matter of just a few miles, but the move made no difference to our jobs, it was only made for convenience.

          The weather was cold and not particularly pleasant.

          It was here we acquired another dog, dubbed Pluto, and he fitted his name in appearance, manner and even in play.  He was later promoted Sergt. for his mighty work in propagating his race; at one time the camp was alive with miniature Plutos, one of which was so befurrowed with wrinkles that is he had worn a hat it would have been screwed on.  Papa Pluto formed a deep attachment for the O.C. and one was seldom seen without the other.  Incidentally, the O.C. got his promotion in the normal manner!

          We, once again, bade farewell to Tobruk on the 14th December, but this time it was Westwards and not another kick in the pants Eastwards.  The weather continued to be unpleasant and we were becoming quite used to rain, though on the morning of the 15th our indifference to it was not conspicuous.  We had parked for the night near Martuba and in the morning practically every vehicle was bogged and it took all of four hours to get on to the road - mostly by man-handling.  It rained all the time, and by lunch time everybody had exhausted their knowledge of invective.

          A short run, a dry billet and a rum issue cleared the air, however, and we had all this at del Martino which was out parking place on the night of the 15th.  On the 16th we made Benghazi and located 10 kilos West of the town.  Benghazi was a disappointment to those who hadn't already seen it.  It is just the usual mixture of European and Arab, inhabited almost solely by the latter, well battered by bombing and strafing, and if deprived of its port facilities would have little reason for existence.

          What we had so far seen of the much vaunted Italian Empire had little to commend it that wasn't furnished naturally by the country.  The journey to Benghazi had been more than worth the discomfort we suffered from the rain.  The various passes provide magnificent scenery, and these is an abundance of agricultural land in the valleys from Derna to Barce.  This land is all allotted in sections to the Italian settlers, each section complete with house, and each house combines human habitation with the stables, piggeries, hen-runs etc., all in one.

          Benghazi was now the Army's main sea and road head and the next step was to establish a new road head forward, therefore, there was no time lost in continuing work and during our stay in Benghazi we worked on a gradually extending turn-around.  Agedabia first, then on to Aghiela, Nufilia and lastly to Sultan.  The dirty weather continued and the roads were greasy and dangerous, particularly as the traffic on the one road was very heavy.

          Once again we were located on the edge of a 'drome and Jerry's "fly-by-night" visits to it and the harbour were regular.  He also had a go at the convoys every time he had the idea that it was safe, but we saw so many of our own now that Jerry's raids were no longer taken seriously.

          Christmas came around again whilst we were still at this location.  This time the necessary flesh for dinner was "acquired" - mutton from the Arab flocks - it would be foolish to 'find' a sheep dead from gunshot wounds and leave it to rot!  Such was the faith of the men in the E.F.I., and, of course, just to be awkward, pork was issued from both official and E.F.I. sources.  Imagine our amazement at this feat on the part of the latter.  They didn't however, completely ruin their reputation - there was no Xmas pudding - though faithfully every year we see pictures (in papers, etc.) of buxom lassies putting the two million and umpteenth Xmas Pudding in the pot, but who the hell is it that gets the bellyache from them?

          As ever, the lads produced liquor where there was none and Xmas went with a whoop.  The favourite sport among the seniors this year appeared to be the throwing of one another and others through cook-shack windows - and their efficiency or inefficiency was evident from the look at those who were victims!  * The Pay Corporal and his friend from Aberdeen were frequent callers at every bivouac where there was a bottle.  The owner of the latter viewed it and their approach with consternation, to think of escape was futile.  They knew of the bottle and would track it down, no matter how craftily it was concealed.

          * pay Corporal - Johnny Watson

          On the night of the 25th it rained and rained and then rained some more.  Few, if any, escaped a thorough soaking, not only of themselves, but of everything they possessed.  At almost any time during that night, forlorn and bedraggles figures were to be seen searching for non-existent dry places and in the morning there was a great deal of paddling and fishing for kit.  One officer was the proud possessor of much dry clothing, to wit:- one pair of gum-boots, one pair of K.D. Shorts; one pullover (Canary yellow); one hat, and a raincoat which he dare not take off - the pullover would have sent everyone into hysterics any day, never mind on the bilious 26th December.

          Another gentleman suffered a mysterious accident which necessitated the use of a stick for many days - they said he fell down a slit trench in the dark - I wonder!  And why did his drawers have to be scrubbed next morning?

          The location was now a quagmire so we moved on the 29th to another site seventeen kilos Westwards, and this camp was only better because it hadn't been cut up by vehicles, but that didn't last long.  New Year and a percentage of Scots; little more need be said except that by the look of certain bivouacs, a hand to hand battle would have been a more likely description than first footing.

          The question of the day was "Is it really true that the sisters only came for a nice hot bath and dinner?".  The batman couldn't or wouldn't give a direct answer, however, your mind is your own, clean or dirty.

          The 17th January, 1943, saw us moving again, this time just four kilos Eastwards and across the road.  We were given twelve days' rest, three days' leave to Derna for the men and as thorough a check up for the vehicles as possible.  This was the first break from work we had had since leaving Tahag in '41.

          Naturally there was something behind it all and the end of February saw us on the line ready to go, and very pleased about it too.  We were once again a long way behind and ready and anxious to get on.

          The weather was much better now.  The rainy spell had passed and though still fairly cold it was much more pleasant.  During this period NAAFI supplies were becoming more and more scarce, fags, chocolate and tinned fruit which were the only rations in the luxury which we had, were cut to a ridiculous proportion, even necessities were affected.  One issue a week at the most, two razor blades per man and a cake of soap between five, least seven to a tube of toothpaste, and so on; even then there were no serious grumbles.  Everyone was too keen to get on with the war for that sort of thing.

          Air raids were unusual now.  It was obvious that  Jerry had his hands full with other commitments.

          Ten Corps was moving up to take part in the final phase of the African campaign and our job was to carry the famous fiftieth Div.  The destination was beyond Tripoli - the Mareth Line.  That journey for such a convoy (we were only a small part of it) meant ten days on the move, with each step worked out precisely so that each unit of that huge convoy maintained its proper position from hour to hour and day to day.

          This move commenced on the 1st march, and as usual at an ungodly hour.  It was a trip full of interest too, for one thing we were carrying a famous fighting division and would probably take them right into the line, for another, the places we would pass through were by now historical.  For instance, Aghiela which had been in the furthest point reached by a previous push, Agedabia, that name has suffered so much mispronounciation, and Tripoli, the heart of the Italian Empire and the goal of every general who had commanded the Desert Army, not to mention an underlying hope that the Eighth would be the first in Tunis, the Company not too far behind.

          The first five days were uneventful, usually less than 100 miles a day, the shortness of the run was for the benefit of the enemy.  Apart from sights of interest like "Marble Arch" and the now ordinary signs of successful battle, the journey was more or less monotonous.  The first night we stayed about 50 kilos East of Agedabia, East of Mersa Brega the second, and 6 West of Nufilia the third.  The fourth and fifth were passed 12 kilos West of Sultan and 10 East of Sirte, respectively.

          On the sixth night, happenings at the front caused a speed up, and we cut off into the desert South of Buerat and except for a lunch stop there were no halts till midnight.  The run that day was marked by hanging clouds of dust, heat and fatigue for the drivers, and intense discomfort for the infantry who could do nothing but endure.  When we did stop that night, we found ourselves in a lane through a minefield and didn't dare move very far from the vehicles.  A happy thing after driving about five hours in darkness to reflect on the short cuts you had taken and the circuits you had made to avoid this and that.  We were now just a few miles South-East of Zlinten and a day's journey in advance of schedule.

          The seventh day saw us back on the road and we made Castel Benito (principal Italian air base in North Africa) for the evening halt.  Tripoli was at last in sight and everyone was looking forward to seeing it next day as we passed through.  However, we didn't move next day, which was just as well.  The vehicles needed maintenance and a few were in need of major repairs.  Apparently the need for rushing these troops forward no longer existed and the move reverted to schedule.

          On the 8th March we moved to Olivetta on the coast West of Tripoli and much to everyone's disgust we by-passed Tripoli and only got a glimpse of it from a distance.  Zarzis was the ultimate destination, it was reached on the 10th and now we were hoping that the Company would remain under command of 50 Div. rather than go back to L. of C. duties.

          As usual, however, our wishes and hopes were of no avail, for the next fortnight we were shunted from here to there and from Div. to Div., Fiftieth, Highland and Fourth Indian.  We worked with them all and liked it except for the fact that we never knew who was our boss for two days running.  The work during this period consisted almost solely of troop carrying, taking them into and out of the Mareth Line with Jerry rendering an accompaniment of shells, bombs, and machine gun fire, whilst our own artillery threw wagon loads of ammo over our heads.  At times like that a lorry feels as big as the Houses of Parliament and the Infantry lads cursed the trucks feelingly for attracting Jerry's attention.  Needless to say, whenever we received an order to get out, it required no repetition!

          Our locations were all in the Zarzia-Medinine area.  We left Zarzis on the 18th March and located about 35 kilos from Medinine.  On the 19th we moved to a point 17 kilos North East of Medinine, and on the 20th we hung up our hats two kilos East of Medinine.

          We also expended much energy in digging slit trenched everywhere we went and in one place outsize ones for the vehicles.  We had just finished these when we moved again.  It was little to be wondered at that the men looked a bit rabid when they were given a shovel, to spend hours digging, reaping meanwhile a harvest of blisters and aches, then to move suddenly and know that it is all to be done again in the next location isn't conducive to content.

          On the 27th we were ordered back to L. of C. duties much to everyone's disgust.  This meant another move and backwards this time.  So back we went and pitched camp 17 Kilos West of Ben Gardane.  Our work then consisted of continuous convoys up to Medinine and Gabes carrying forward load upon load of supplies from an apparently inexhaustible source.

          The fall of Sfax to the Eighth on the 10th April, heralded another move for us.  Such successes meant the opening of new forward dumps and new dumps meant plenty of work for the Corps stocking them up.  But first the old road-head must be cleared and so some Companies go forward and others stay behind to clear up.  This time we stayed and it was the 23rd April before we moved up to the new road-head at Gabes and started work running from there to Sfax.

          There was no doubt in anyone's mind that the war in North Africa was as good as over.  It was just a case of how soon, and would Monty beat the "British" and American armies into Tunis.  How everyone hoped that he would.  It would be a fine subject to crow over the First Army lads about (British).

          The only occurrence likely to cause comment during our stay at Gabes was a serious attach of sign painting.  We could have given the H.D. points on it at this time.  Wherever you went in the camp there were signs, multi-coloured, ordering you to do this, that, or not to do the other, and there was always someone ready to spring out at you with a lurid query as to the state of your eyes, to state that you were dazzled by the display was to ask for trouble.

          H.D. - Highland Division

          Our stay at Gabes was short.  The rapid advance of the Army didn't make for prolonged halts.  On the 2nd May we passed through and made camp a few miles West of Sfax, and were we glad we passed through!  The sanitary arrangements had been busted by bombing, and the odour.....!  Our new location, however, was very pleasant, grass and trees - what a welcome sight they were to our eyes after the monotonous miles of desert we had come through.  Since entering Tunisia there had been another difference, besides the inevitable Arab, there were now Europeans, French colonists in all the towns, and there was much polishing of rusty French in the hope of getting our feet "under the table" as the saying goes.

          The civilians were short of many things and if anyone had a supply of tea, sugar or cigarettes etc., there was a fortune to be made.  As it was, the Western Oriental Gentlemen ! were making it.  They bartered eggs and fresh vegetables for everything down to Army biscuits, and then sold the proceeds at exorbitant prices.  If they couldn't get what they wanted by bartering or buying, they weren't averse to stealing.

          The N.A.A.F.I. issues had not improved all this time and cigarettes were touch and go all the while.  But now we were in touch with the First Army and some supplies were sent to us from them.  Imagine our feelings when we discovered that their supplies were much better than ours.  Home produced chocolate, cigarettes, boot polish, etc., whilst we had been getting inferior goods made in Egypt or Palestine and paying through the nose to fill the coffers of the Egyptians who, you may be sure, clapped a very heavy duty on imports for the troops.  Perhaps they didn't want Jerry kept out.....!

          That it saved shipping space and exploited local possibilities was all very well, but it didn't take the bad taste out of the mouth of the man in the ranks.

          Our vehicles were running from Sfax to Le Kep and Le Krib, and the greatest trouble we had then was tyre replacements.  Our tyres were by no means new and the heavy loads and long runs on bad roads were causing havoc.  There was a continuous job repairing blow-outs, punctures and exchanging old for new, coupled with exhortations to be as sparing as possible in demands for new ones.

          The enemy had by now shot his bolt and the daily report of advances and successes, the number of prisoners taken and so forth was heard with delight, and when the 12th of May came and passed and the campaign was over, we all felt grand, but everyone had the same thought; "Where and what next?".

PHASE  III

          Although the 12th May was a mile-stone in the prosecution of the war, and marked the completion of one stroke against the enemy, it did not mean that everyone downed tools and had a nice holiday.  Transport, in particular had to carry on ferrying a vast amount of supplies forward.

          We of course were waiting impatiently for orders.  It was only a question of how soon and where.  The suspense was not unduly long; on the 20th we moved back to Tripoli, and there the vehicles were given a quick 'once-over' and then loaded to capacity with salvage which we were to take back, our destination being the Nile Delta, counting from Sfax, a distance of approximately 1,400 miles.

          Though it was a long way for one trip, we weren't at all worried, a few hundred miles meant little to us in those days and in addition we looked forward to having a look at the various places which had been in our speech daily for years.  Besides, leave in the Delta promised to be more satisfying than leave in Tunisia, though we would have given a great deal to have been able to visit Tunis and like places.

          On the 26th May, we set off from Tripoli and everyone more or less settled back to make the best of the long trip.  The first stage consisted of a hop to Benghazi, staging at Misurata, Buerat, Sultan and Agedabia, arriving at Benghazi on the 30th May.

          This first stage was notable for nothing except the monotony and the consistent breaking down of the Company Office vehicle at hourly intervals.  One individual riding on it was most strongly accused of being a 'hoodoo' and burning at the stake was nothing to the things he was threatened with if he didn't move.  After each breakdown the hatches were battened down and safety belts fastened prior to passing everything on the road in the wake of a trio of motor cyclists, and then arrive in position, the old tub panting but triumphant, until in a matter of minutes the whole procedure was repeated.

          We were allowed a couple of days at Benghazi for maintenance and repairs.  Workshops took the opportunity to make a full scale attack on the Office waggon.  Washing clothes, seeing the town again and speculating on leave filled our spare time.

          On the 2nd of June we set off again and it immediately became evident that Workshops attack on the Office vehicle had been a failure - it broke down in the first five miles.  The C.S.M. who was riding on it and hadn't dirtied his lilywhite hands for years, now stank of petrol and look rabid if anyone so much as breathed the word "breakdown".

          The night of the 2nd we stayed at Narana, and here we had sore trouble.  The vegetation was as dry as tinder and the slightest spark started a fire which spread with alarming rapidity.  We had four outbreaks within an hour of halting but by dint of hard work quelled each one before any harm was done.  It was hard and hot work and was conducive to murder to extinguish one fire, turn round, and see some bloody fool 'brewing up' a couple of hundred yards away.

          Next morning we moved on and throughout the day's journey there were fires to be seen blazing away on both sides of the road.  There were thousands of locusts about the road, some still at the hopping stage, and others flying.  We parked the night just East of Derna.  This time we found a spot which had already been burnt out.  On three sides of this area big fires were burning, but our only danger was from sparks which might land on a vehicle, so we were able to bed down a little easier in mind that on the previous night.

          On the morning of the 4th we continued the trek with Derna soon left behind.  Derna, more or less, divides the desert and cultivation, though the change is actually gradual and spread over many miles.  Monotony was the order of the day except for a great deal of speculation caused by the amount of war material on the road, all going west.

          We staged that night in Tobruk, almost exactly in the same area that had been our camp on our first visit in '41, which is quite a coincidence when there is all that desert to chooses from.  There was little if any change - the same sunken ships, battered buildings and ground littered with wreckage of every description.

          The night of the 5th we staged at Buq Buq, just East of Sidi Barrani, and on the 6th at Matruh.  One good day's driving and we would be within striking distance of civilisation, which we knew would merely mean being at the tender mercies of a multitude of rapacious Egyptians and sundry other nationalities of both sexes, one being different from other only by the degree of exhortation used.

          Amyria, 25 kilos from Alexandria was our staging point on the 7th, and we stayed all the 8th to get rid of our loads of salvage and do some repairs and maintenance.

          Being at last so close to relaxation the lads were as full of expectancy as the bride who said Grace before retiring!  Alex was painted a delicate shade of crimson that night and day.

          We halted the night of the 9th in the lee of the Pyramids at Mena, and the bars in Cairo resounded with the boastings of a small band of 'desert rats'.

          Our ultimate destination, Tahag, we reached about mid-day on the 10th June.  We knew that here we would be subjected to a course of 'bull', intensive, but, we hoped, not extended.

          Leave opened, and were we pleased.  After 22 months in the field we were generously presented with four days' leave, which included travelling time.  Long hoarded supplies of cash were brought out and swiftly found its way into the bottomless pockets of our ally, the Western Oriental Gentlemen !.

          Tahag didn't fail us, we got full bore, training courses, spit and polish, guards, inoculations, vaccinations (no exaltation) and in no time a state of organised confusion reigned throughout, and not a sign of refitting, though by the sounds of revelry from the Officers' and Sgts. Messes, a complete refit was needed there.

          On the 27th June leave was cancelled, and on the 28th we got a transport job which took us to Suez.  There we parked on a strip of white sand and were left to grill for three days, then on July 1st we were off again, this time to Amyria, which was much better, being near to Alex.  We set up camp and got to work, the only fly in the ointment was that we knew we had to go back to Tahag before we could hope to get over the water.

          Half days in Alex were fairly frequent and there were plenty of concerts about, so everyone was happy.

          On the 17th the O.C. was posted to another Unit.  We were all sorry to see him go.  He had been with the Unit since its formation and was well liked.

          We wended our way back to Tahag on the 29th July, and took up our training programmes, etc., where we had left off, and then commenced to refit with reconditioned vehicles.  The general consensus of opinion was that we would have been better off if they had given us the necessary spares to repair our own vehicles which we could then have kept.  Perhaps that opinion was wrong.

          Those who hadn't had leave now got off, though most of them had, by this time, got through their accumulation of cash.  Thos factor curtailed their activities somewhat, and relieved the C.M.Ps. of some work.

          As soon as the refit was completed we expected to be off again.  But no.  Time dragged on and everybody got thoroughly 'browned off', except perhaps the "Tahag Stallion" and a few of his comfreres. (confreres?)

          In this period we lost another officer who was very popular.  After a farewell party at the Sgts. Mess he visited the O.C. in the grey hours of morning, completely oblivious of the fact that he had lost his pants at the party!  His exit was rapid, if undignified!

          Towards the end of August things began to happen and the strength of the Unit in Tahag gradually shrank, until, on September 7th, Company H.Q. moved to Amyria again, this time preparatory to embarking.  We took a poor view of moving by rail.  We were much too used to having our own transport and going our own way to appreciate the doubtful comforts of the Egyptian State Railway.

          At Amyria we lost our new O.C.  We began to look on him as a Will o' the Wisp.  In the short time he had been with us he had been on one course, once on leave, and this was his second time in hospital.  It got so that each morning it was necessary to ask his batman if he was still with us.

          On the 13th September we embarked, and we had to get up at an ungodly hour to do it. The thought of getting another step on our way, however, made it worth while.

          The closely guarded secret of where we were to disembark was known to all in a matter of hours, don't ask how.  It happens time and time again and nobody the wiser.

          The trip was entirely uneventful except that we saw a part of the invincible (previously invisible) Italian Navy on its way to Alex, its role somewhat different to that originally intended by Mussolini.

          Our ship was rechristened by the overwhelming vote of the troops, to the "Altmark", at least, that is the only printable name out of the many suggested.  We called at Malta, but had to be content with what we could see from the ship.  There was no shore leave.

          On the 20th, we once again got up in the middle of the night in order that we should not be late for disembarkation at 0900 hours.  After the normal hurry-scurry was over and everyone was ready, we had time to contemplate the Sicilian coastline and get our first view of Syracuse.

          When we disembarked, we were overjoyed to see some of our own vehicles waiting for us, and soon we were on our way to the Company location.

          This location was only a few miles out of Syracuse, and for the first time in the Company's history we had green fields for a camp site, not to mention trees, winding lanes and scattered farmhouses.

          Work here was confined to local details and the reassembling of the Company as it arrived piece by piece from the M.E.F.  Meantime friendly relations were established with the local inhabitants, and if you want to know how to conduct a conversation with a foreigner whose language you don't understand, ask a "Tommy".  The lingo never stopped him yet.  Naturally the local wines (Vino) got a bit of a lacing, and the fruit and nuts which were then in season were consumed in huge quantities.  We soon found that lire went much further than piastres.

          The O.C. joined us from M.E.F. just about the time the weather was breaking with the coming of winter, and within a few days we moved into Syracuse and took over the Sports Stadium as a billet.  It took the whole of two days to make it habitable, and even then the lads didn't like it because there was a nice big wall around it with a massive gate which was closed each night, which meant that their nocturnal activities were a good deal hampered.  Of course, a few had unofficial exits which they fondly imagined were unknown to the powers that be.

          Having a football pitch as a front yard we got in quite a bit of sport.  Once we played a Company of the Black Watch and beat them, that was only part of the story.  They apparently received a questionable reception on returning to their Unit, because next morning they appeared with several changes in their team and determined expressions.  They demanded a return match on the spot and then proceeded to lick us to the tune of six to nil, and departed happy in their regained honour.

          After that we decided that it was time we left the country, and on the 16th October, we crept out of Syracuse at dawn with the intention, we hoped, of rejoining the Eighth Army at long last.  We passed through Catania and got a good view of the famous or infamous Mount Etna as we passed round its base.


THE COMPANY HQ FALCONARA

          After the usual convoy lunch we continued on our way and eventually arrived in Messina long after dusk.  There was little we could so that night except have our evening meal and get into kip.  The vehicles were so closely parked that it was difficult to get between them.  However, it didn't matter, as the only nocturnal visitors were people begging for food.  They were equally willing to steal it and the sentries had to keep a sharp eye on them.

          The 17th, reveille in the small hours, breakfast, and off to the docks, where, in due season (!) we were loaded on to invasion barges and sailed smoothly across the straits of Reggio, there to reassemble and continue our journey.

          We were soon given a first hand introduction to that part of Italy - the "toe" - mountains and then more mountains.  That day, the next and most of the third were the same.  The weather was fine, and when not actually at the wheel, everyone had leisure to enjoy a striking trip.  The road was quite good at first, but deteriorated on the second day and it wound - how it wound, up and up the mountains, hairpin bends and sweeping curves, corners that took good driving to get the vehicles round in one sweep, and gradients that made good brakes a matter for thankfulness.  The engines roared and strained, but took us over with little trouble.  Villages cling to these steep sides, some perched on the very top of solitary pinnacles.  The sight of them made you wonder what toil must have been necessary to get the materials up.  The villages and the villagers are poor, very poor; there was little sign of Bonito's much vaunted prosperity.  In one direction he has been assiduously obeyed, the children, in this matter there is evidence of much homework.  Every village swarms with them, packed away each night, each family in a couple of rooms, irrespective of age or sex.

          They thronged the streets and set up a perfect babble, the theme always the same, biscuits, chocolate, or cigarettes, and a hectic scramble there was for any thrown.  Amongst them all there was hardly one whose clothes hadn't a smattering of patches, and most could give Joseph and his coat points.

          We travelled along the North coast of the "Toe" and the sea was in sight most of the time.  Scores of Italian soldiers were on the road making their was home, the hard way and damned lucky to be allowed to creepaway so lightly; after all their back-stabbing they were in the clear.

          The third day we left the mountains behind and came down to the coast on the other side of the "Toe" and made our way through flat, well formed country, to Taranto.  The rags were becoming less evident, and the begging less determined. 

          Taranto is another battle-scarred seaport, occupied by the Allies, who, in their lighter moments, continue the education of that renowned fleet - the Italian Navy.  The fact that the personnel of the Italian Fleet are allowed full freedom to strut about as they wish, us in itself, evidence of their complete futility.

          On the 21st October we set off for Barletts, via Bari, on the East coast.  This short trip was remarkable for nothing except that we reached our destination by lunch-time.

          We spent the remainder of the day getting settled, unpacking and getting ready for work.  Things were not quite so simple, however.  We received orders to move again at first light on the following morning.

          This time we were bound for Foggia which was only two or three hours away.  What a location it turned out to be!  Up to that day we thought we knew pretty well all there was to know about locations, good, bad, or indifferent.  This was one in a class all alone.  Foggia has been almost entirely destroyed by bombing.  Buildings, bridges, railways, trains and roads had been most thoroughly blitzed, even the cemetery had been bombed and we were parked around it.  Admittedly there was a wall between, but that didn't stop either the odour or the creeps attacking, especially at night.  The sentries in particular appreciated it !!  The officers declare that a spectre came in and made a fourth at bridge with them!  We wondered whether it was pink or green.  Fortunately we were not there for long - just a few jobs and we moved a little further forward.

          Our next move was to Lucera, and was carried out on the 24th October.  It was another short run, and we were located by mid-day in a camp which suited us much better, out in the country in a well-wooded area.  Here we had room to spread out.  We were not yet used to being cramped into streets and billets, and having been used to plenty of room took rather badly to being crowded.  There were no billets, but the weather was still fairly decent, so there wasn't much hardship to that.

          Work was now plentiful and the Company soon settled down and got into its stride once more.  This was really the first time since we had left Egypt.  The work for the drivers was hard and constant, they were seldom in camp more than two or three hours and the roads they used called for continual alertness and plenty of work on the wheel, but that was what they thrived on.

          We remained in this camp until the weather became too bad and the tracks into and out of the camp became almost impassable.  Then we had to find billets in Lucera.  We already had one place there which had been used so far as a club and recreation rooms.  At this place it was possible to procure a particularly deadly brand of Vino, a veritable 'devil's brew'.  In the finish, the boys wouldn't drink it, even though they could get nothing else.  The chap in charge of the Canteen despaired of ever selling it.  He did eventually sell it, however, and to the Officers' Miss, with the assertion that it would be mother's milk to them.

          The billets in the town were at  last found, and on the 27th November we moved in.  H.Q. had a gymnasium attached to their billet, and the Entertainments Officer immediately suffered under a rush of brains.  And so did we!  We had basket ball and then more basket ball, a little boxing, a whist drive which the Canadians won - for once the twisters were twisted.  Also there was an Italian professor laid on to teach Italian.  He, poor fellow, was amazed to find that he knew more English than his pupils, and couldn't understand why we said "Come on" when we meant "Go Away".

          The Platoons had a monastery as a billet, but as temporary tenants they did no penance except to scrub it frequently.

          We often wondered in those days if we should be lucky and have decent billets for Christmas.  We had a hope that we would be able to hang on to our present billets over the festive season, but on the night of 11th December, we moved out, and dawn the following day saw us on the beach at Vasto - yes, the bloody beach.  We travelled up and down the desert for nearly two years hoping always for a location near the sea - and now we had one - in the middle of winter!  The journey had been bad, mud, outsize pot-holes, vehicles bogged and slipping off the road.  Were we happy that a.m.?  Strange though it may seem, we were!

          Here we stayed for the next five days whilst the officers scoured the country for billets.  We watched our chances of a decent Xmas receding rapidly.

          We had recently sent two N.C.O.s off to take commissions, and now we got word that they were missing, presumed lost at sea.  So we lost Sgt. L. Sharpe and L/Cpl. Philipson.

          On the 18th December we finally moved, this time into a small village, Villelfoncina by name, and found to our delight that we were the only troops in it.  The delight came after we had got used to its apparent squalor.  This turned out to be mostly outward.  The people proved to be both friendly and hospitable.  Everyone settled down nicely, and not a few got their feet under the table.  In spite of all this moving about work went on just the same, and there had been no let up on the quantity of it to be done, though the conditions were a lot worse owing to the weather.  The roads were terrible and often well nigh impassable.  One of our N.C.O.s was highly commended for getting a convoy of bread through to the forward troops in time for their Xmas breakfast.  Nobody would or could have blamed him if he had failed.

          Christmas preparations went ahead now that we had a billet, and the women of the village were greatly intrigued by the sight of our cooks making cakes and mince-pies etc.  They watched for hours and made a point of coming back to see the finished article.

          Probably the least said about Xmas Day, the better, but it went off very well.  The food was excellent and plentiful.  Beer and whisky was strictly rationed, but there was plenty of Vino in the village, so the customary hilarity wasn't lacking.  Boxing Day saw the usual quota of furry tongues and pounding heads and the Sergeant Major was giving spurious excuses for having his arm in a sling.  Numerous others had bumps, and bruises too, even the O.C. - he tried the express method of descending the stairs and wasn't seen for some days.

          The bulk of the Company now waited in some trepidation for the small percentage of Scots amongst us to bring in the New Year in their own traditional fashion.  Fireworks of a brilliant hue were expected.  The trouble was that no-one could forecast in which direction they would fly.  The Scots meantime were wangling all they knew so as to be free on the 31st, at the same time unearthing hoarded bottles in anticipation.

T.  E.  F.

          There is still a tale told by the hoary veterans of the Unit, an antiquated annal dug from the haziest recesses of memory, and tendered wishfully to a generally sceptical audience, of how one of our officers leading a convoy got hopelessly lost in the Egyptian Desert.  (Yes!  Yes!  incredible, but true)  He had to call on an L. of C. Headquarters to ask the whereabouts of 384.  And the classic reply was - "Never heard of them!"

          This is told merely to illustrate that the Unit's present far-flung fame was not gained easily, but emerged gradually as a result of honest endeavour and sterling achievement.  Today, at any Headquarters, be it L. of C., Divisional, Corps or Army, a request for the Unit location will invariably elicit the reply - "That bloody shower! Ten miles down the road, turn right, and four miles down an impassable cart track, then two miles through an impenetrable wood, and you'll find them at the top of a nearly mountain.  And you might ask the Major what the hell he's supposed to be doing there!"

          The same respect for the Unit's reputation is evinced by the Officers and the men of the Unit.  Witness a recent conversation in the men's canteen - "The officers - what a bloody shower!"  And one in the Officers' Mess - "The fellows - what a bloody shower!"  The N.C.Os dare not venture an opinion either way, but both officers and men sum up their integrity and valour with - N.C.O.S, "I've s--- 'em!"  Such is the good will and lovable sincerity that pervade the unit.

          Although the fame of the Unit has been won mainly by the men at the wheel, it must be noted that the wheels within, including the officers, of course, are pretty well oiled.  The administration is excellent in its way, its complete lack of system lending it a colourful gaiety that no other Unit could hope to achieve.  The pay system has recently won the attention of the War Office.  This feat has stilled a long-held suspicion that the powers that be assumed the Unit to be part of Tito's guerillas.  The C.S.M. fulfills no useful function as yet, but a store is gradually being built up of sundry discarded garments, which should eventually fetch a fair amount of hooch from the natives.  The Transport Office, a recent innovation, gives the Unit a definite air, and the Officer 1/c has an extensive library of novels.

          Words cannot do justice to our Workshops.

          The 384, the Jockey Club - the SHOWER - it typifies the spirit of the British Army, the Glorious Tradition carried on in miniature.  Only the Sergt. Major is unhappy, as the O.C. stalks past followed by a tenuous whisper - "Who's winning?"

TRUTH

          A. Lieut. was admitted to hospital and whilst convalescing he was given a bundle of mail to censor.  Having made his mark on each, he returned the bundle to the office and inwardly rejoiced.  Later in the day, the Commanding Officer approached him and said, "You are a very clever man, Mr. Skippitt".  Now that type of compliment was most unusual as far as Mr. Skippitt was concerned and he dithered, made baby noises and broke out in a sweat.  "You can read five or six different languages", continued the Colonel.  This confounded poor Skippitt completely and reduced him to incoherent gibbering, for, be it said, he had enough to do to command English.  The Colonel being human, could rejoice inwardly as well as the next, now fired his last salvo, "The letters you have just censored, Mr. Skippitt", said he, "were written in French, Polish, Greek, Maltese, etc., you were given the Base Censor's bundle by mistake!!"

          "Our Atlantic convoys continue to prey successfully on the U-boats."

          "Can I have the afternoon off, please.  You see, Grandma is coming home on leave!"

          A story is told of an interview the Quartermaster had with the O.C.  The former is in no position to deny it!
          O.C.:  "You were drunk last night".
          "Q":    "Yes, Sir".
          O.C.:  "You never reached your quarters".
          "Q":    "No, Sir".
          O.C.:  "You spent the night on the salvage dump in the next camp".
          "Q":    "Yes, Sir".
          O.C.:  "Disgusting, Quartermaster, disgusting.  In future ensure that you use our salvage dump!"

          In a postscript to a letter in which he had made some large requests to Santa Claus, a little boy wrote "If you can't handle this deal, let me know, and I'll get on touch with Henry Kaiser!"

          When smacking a customer's face with a haddock, the fish should be held by the tail.

 

 
   

William Forsyth Davison

 

     Known to all as Bill – he was born in 1914 in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.  Bill’s father, George, was a plumber but not much is known about him.  Bill’s mother Sarah Jane (Adams), known as Jenny, was a seamstress and worked in a tailor shop in Newcastle. Bill had four brothers. One died as an infant; a second, George, died as a child; a third John, died around 1940 in a motor cycle accident and Tommy, the youngest, outlived Bill by only seven days.

     Bill worked for a cabinet maker in Newcastle for several years before joining the Prudential as an insurance agent.  Apart from war time, he worked in insurance for most of the next forty years.  He was very active in the Boys Brigade and the YMCA excelling as a boxer and he kept these activities up until the war started.

     Bill married Tess in 1938 and they bought their first house on the Military Road leading west out of Newcastle.  Tess (Esther Elizabeth Linton – known to all as Tess or Tessie) was born in 1919 and came from County Durham. Her father George Greenfield Linton, was born in or near Newcastle around 1892, had served in the British Army in World War I, and had spent time over the years in the North Sea fishing industry both on the boats and later owning his own fish shops in Newcastle.  Tess’ mother, also Elizabeth (nee Robinson), came from the Easington area.

     Bill was called up in 1940 and Tess moved in with Jenny in Goldspink Lane in Jesmond Dean, Newcastle where she lived until 1945. A Corporal, Bill was a lorry driver and company clerk in the Royal Army Service Corps serving in the Middle East and moving with the Eighth Army up through Sicily and Italy. He was “mentioned in dispatches” for his service in the campaigns and was demobbed in 1945, as an “acting” sergeant. He returned to his pre-war job at the Prudential and settled down for a while. He joined the Masons in Newcastle and was an active member there and later in St Petersburg over the next twenty years.

     In 1955, my parents decided to immigrate to Toronto, Canada.  We sailed from Liverpool on the RMS Franconia, arriving in Toronto during a 95 heat wave. One year later, when we planned our first reunion picnic at Niagara Falls, it was near freezing with snow on the ground! Needless to say the Canadian winters were never going to be popular with Bill after spending five years in the North African desert!

 

     In 1958, the family emigrated again, this time to St Petersburg, Florida. There Bill established his own insurance agency and Tess worked for the St Petersburg Tim es until they both retired at the end of the sixties.  After four or five years of retirement, wanderlust struck again and Tess and Bill moved back to England leaving their sons in Florida. Both Bill and John brought their families over to England in the late 70’s.

     Over the next fifteen years or so they divided their time between England and Florida. They first lived in Exeter, Bedlington, Paignton then Peterborough. In 1985, together with Bill and Edna, they moved back to live in Florida.  They stayed with John and Connie on short visits to England over the next few years. 

     In 1992, whilst living in St Petersburg, Bill passed away after a short illness.  He was a well respected businessman in the local community and was much loved by his family.  He was fortunate to see six grandchildren and three great grandchildren join the family - a further six great grandchildren were added over the next ten years. Tess lived out her remaining years in St Petersburg passing away in 2001. She is also remembered and loved by us all.