Pishposh71's Blog


Memoirs of WW11: Part Two

Posted in Grandfathers WW11 letters by pishposh71 on February 28, 2009
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This is a continuation of a letter to my grandmother from my grandfather in WW11, part one was posted yesterday should you wish to start at the beginning. The history of a man at war.

~ Part Two ~

Just before the dawn, this battalion were once again on their way into an attack. The dawn of November 30th. That date will remain stamped in my memory. The light came before we were properly in position. Jerry opened up with his guns and most of us were pinned down for hours on end. I can’t tell you all that happened during that day, it dragged wearily on. A man who had been in France at the evacuation day lay beside me sobbing. I could see batches of Huns but there was little we could do about it. The earth above our heads was continually being sprayed with bullets.

About 5pm after fourteen hours of action a mist began to settle down and the order came to withdraw. We got out under cover of the mist and re-grouped in a wadi about a mile back. Rations of cigarettes were given out and we sat comparing notes on the battle. We then weary but not disheartened went to sleep. In the morning we dug in and up to January 10th were in that sector. Every day was very much the same as the previous one, it rained. Jerry shelled and mortared and our own guns, now mounting in numbers replied. For every shell that came over a dozen were sent back. He was well dug in though, every night he was blasting our positions. Living conditions were the worst we had ever had. We had been issued with battle dress but our only protection against the rain was our blessed gas cape. Feet were always wet, it was quite impossible to lay down to sleep. We simply just sat on a box leaned against a bank and “passed out” rather than slept. Mud was everywhere, you couldn’t put a mess tin or mug down. They would just disappear under it. When we had a heavy downpour we always had to hunt for tea and food tins that floated away in the current.

During this time we had occasional rests in a village ten miles back. I went twice, it was good to get our boots off and to lay on a dry blanket to sleep. Christmas was indeed a gloomy day, we had a bottle of beer, cigarettes and a very small piece of fat pork to enlarge our everyday ration of biscuits and tinned food. The rain, as usual was continual and I felt homesick. It was about the most miserable day I have ever spent. Rumours of relief were numerous, every day a new one would appear. At this time another of this divisions brigade was making towards Tunis from the south. As each rumour was disproved the excuse was “they have gone to the south”. Finally the relief did come and we went back for a “rest”. This was the night of January 18th. We were delighted that we were going to get a hot bath, clean change of clothing, sleep dry, and above all else, our boots off to rest. So we thought, we were wrong about the rest as on the 22nd we were on the move again. Lorries took us overnight to about fifteen miles from the positions we were to occupy and then we had to pad the hoof those miles. To me that journey was sheer torture, my feet were soft with continual wet, my boots like iron for the same reason. It was an effort to put one foot in front of the other. After a few hours of travel we left the main road and took a track that lead almost parallel and to the right of the road. Twenty minutes later that road was being bombed to hell, whilst we lay, hoping and preying a few hundred yards away on the track. The planes missed us and after they had disappeared we continued on. That night we took up temporary positions, we moved on the next day and on the following day took over from the French. Here it was impossible to dig trenches, the hill was solid stone, we had to collect boulders and build walls for protection. Jerry was about two miles to our front, his nearest position being a ridge that was a natural fortress. We termed it “The razor back”. One company was sent out to take the ridge, they took it easily. I have often wondered why the Hun let that hill go so cheaply, a company could of held it with comfort against a battalion. Three days later this company went out to relieve them. So far on this front we had not been shelled, it had to start right on the bally road just as we were due to move off. It only lasted a short time and we were soon on our way. It was on that ridge that I wrote a letter I will expect you’ll recall. I told you I was sitting by the side of a grave, a rickety cross the only indication of who lay there, a steel helmet the only thing to grace the bare earth. Since then I have seen many such graves, that was only the first. Our greatest worry was our own shells, they were barely clearing the top of our hill. I fully expected to get my hair parted at any moment.

For forty eight hours we stayed put. We then moved back past the battalion and on to support one of our sister battalions who were being threatened. Only two companies were on this move, our position was only slightly behind the lads who were reinforcing. The attack came in, about eleven tanks and infantry. It was the first appearance of the Mk. VI. Two of them were in the attack. We weren’t needed. The red, white and blue circles were getting more numerous on the planes we saw. The black cross was still in evidence but did not rule the air as they did the month previous. We watched “hurricanes” pass over us, they dived and Jerry was shot of quite a few of his tanks. Then the guns opened up and the remaining tanks decided to call it a day and shoved off. The infantry followed and the attack was over. That night he made another attack, this time from a hill on the flank and we moved forward in a counter-attack. Once again we were not needed as he retreated before we got there.

In the morning we once again returned to battalion. Once more we were sent out, only a platoon this time, to guard the flank of our sister battalion. Jerry must have seen us on the move and he shelled us for about fifteen minutes, the result was not even one causality. In this position we stayed for over a week. The weather had improved quite a lot and as we were unable to move we got quite a bit of sleep. We only had one bit of excitement here. Our gunners were registering D.A. and they got a little close to our trenches for comfort.

On February 16th we rejoined the company and the following day I went on seventy-two hours rest. This was the first real rest I had had, a camp bed to lay on, no worries, a street of Arab shops, and even a little wine. I got through a lot of money in those few days. It was well worth it though. When I returned the company were in position on a hill quite close to a French battalion. Our guns were a couple of miles behind us. Jerry plastered them with shells at intervals, all day but only once did the shells drop near us. That once was quite enough, the first shell burst slap in the middle of seven chaps. I fully expected that they were all killed but they weren’t. Our old luck still held, not one of them was hit. Two days later we had just moved into our night positions and the company were just settling down to their guards. It was a really dark night with no visibility when suddenly all hell was once more let loose. The French machine guns below to our left blazed away. Hand grenades were being used, mortars and our twenty five pounders were pounding away at “defence fire”. For more than fifteen minutes this continued and we kept dodging and ducking as bullets flew over our trenches. Then it gradually subsided, the rest of the night passed quietly. In the morning we learnt that a Jerry fighting patrol had tried to get through. Even with all the shots and shells fired, the terrific noise made, nobody had been killed.

It was about this time that we had our first introduction to the “Goums” You will probably have heard of them on the news. They are mostly Moroccan and fight for the sheer love of it. I believe their pay rests on the number of enemy killed or captured. It was quite a common sight to see them come back from a patrol with ears or fingers from the kill they had made. The knife was their chief weapon. Many a Jerry woke at dawn only to have their head fall off when he tried to shake it. One of them had a job I should have hated. He was the only one to wear a white turban and his chief duty on patrol was to keep bobbing up and down. His turban was quite easily seen and he drew the enemies fire whilst the remainder set to work. He had been doing it for quite awhile then, it is marvellous how he got away with it. We had every respect for them. During this time Jerry had left the hills we had pushed him in our very first attack and had pushed the troops that had relieved us back to where we had first met him. Here they had made a stand, Jerry paid very dearly for that advance. The scores of graves show just how dear, but advance he did.

The brigade had now earned a reputation second to none and on March 20th we were sent in to see if we could shift the Hun back again. ( Between our stay with the French and this move we had been to one other front. Little had happened there and the biggest items of interest was our growing air power and the number of tanks that were arriving.) When we arrived to take over from the lads holding the Hun we spent two days getting ready for our push. We were not alone, there was our own brigade consisting of a famous Scotch battalion that I will call “A” an equally famous battalion I’ll call “B” and ourselves and another battalion. The first objective was a long high hill. B and ourselves went into this attack while A held the village. It was a complete success and we left B holding our gain while we went onto the second objective, also a hill. It was the afternoon when we arrived, the hill we took with no opposition. We were disappointed to find the other battalion had failed at their first objective. This was a mine, now about twelve hundred yards to our front. It was a difficult place to take as Jerry was using it as a supply base and would not let it go if he could possibly help it. We lay, looking at the mine for awhile wondering what was to come next? We soon found out! His mortar crews had seen us and soon the shells were screaming all around us. It is impossible to describe the feelings as we lay there, no trenches for protection, deafened by the explosions, just waiting. When the barrage lifted I was more than surprised to find that only one man had been killed and two wounded. I really thought that half the company would be wiped out.

Then the bombers came, they weren’t after us though, the road the our left was their worry. Whilst the light lasts we lay waiting for the next barrage of mortars and listening to the whine of the planes and the crump of their bombs. It never came through and with that night came quietly. The battalion was consolidated and we were told that at 3am we were going into take the mine. The attack never came off, the other brigade cam first and they took it. In the morning we were off again. Jerry was shelling the path we had to take but luck was still good. All the time we were marching we were mostly in full sight of him but he never dropped one shell. I’ve often wondered why that was, maybe he was afraid of giving away his gun positions. Our artillery now outnumbered him by about ten guns to one and we soon would have been on him. We carried on until we came to the hills that had bordered the main road close a small town you would have heard mentioned a dozen times in the papers. Tanks and transport were using this road, A battalion had left their positions and were advancing. We could see them some way to our front. Jerry was shelling them as hard as he could go. Planes were continually bombing the tanks and transport. Our own guns were not idle, the noise quite indescribable. Here we rested until the next dawn and then on to the last attack of this push. If we were successful it would mean that Jerry was back where we had first put him. We were, it was late afternoon before we were finally in position, we had attacked across country, how wonderful that luck had held we found out as the night went on. The first indication was a terrible explosion, The M.G’s were being bought up by mule train and in skirting a bridge that had been blown up had walked into A.P. mines. Two mules were killed and two drivers injured. Fortunately the stretch bearers were able to get tot hem and they were attended to. Very little time had passed before a second explosion occurred followed by a third. A few of the A battalion were on the road and the leading man stepped on a mine. Two had been killed and two more injured and trying to find help they had set off another mine. It was impossible to get to them in the darkness and for the remainder of the night they lay where they had fallen. At the first light the R.A.P. were attending to them. I hate to think what would have happened if we had made our attack along that road. During the morning another battalion took over from us and our job was completed with few causalities. That evening we were on our way back for a short but well earned rest.

The rest lasted for three days and again we were on the move. Jerry was holding a group of hills over looking a road that was becoming increasingly important to us. He had to be shifted and we were the brigade that had to do the shifting. After a nightmare ride in lorries we hoofed it about four miles to our starting point. B was to take the first hill, their barrage was going down as we arrived. Maybe you have seen a film of these barrages, they must be seen to be believed. Our guns hopelessly outnumbered the Jerry’s and the air was never free of explosions. It was the biggest barrage we had experienced to that date. We stayed at our “lining up” area while the attack went on. The hill was taken and also some prisoners. Later the enemy counter-attacked but by that time we were on our way. Just before we left the shells started to fall on the road. The battalion pushed on using a wadi that ran on to a dried up river bed. For hours we pushed on through that twisting gully. We passed two of A battalion men who had been killed by a booby trap. We heard another go up on the bank above us but did not see if anybody was hurt. By late afternoon we were on the crest of a hill in front of our objective. Two companies went straight into the attack. For the first time we were working with tanks and Jerry didn’t stop to argue. We were just preparing to follow when the loud drome of airplane engines was heard. We lay still, a dozen stukas were overhead. We waited, the tanks would be their target. They were over top of us and we watched waiting for the heavy crump of the bombs. It never came, two Spitfires appeared from no where and in less time than it takes to write this the entire batch were on their way to earth in flames. How bucked we felt, these days were different times, far different to the first days when every plane we saw was German. We stayed on this hill for a day whilst B battalion attacked another hill to our front. They took it but suffered a few causalities in holding it. The next day we moved forward to relieve them. Dead Germans were well strewn about. He had counter-attacked and been driven back leaving more than a few men behind.

That evening the platoon was sent out on a fighting patrol. I remained behind to watch the kit. An unfortunate accident happened on that patrol and one day I’ll tell you about it. The following day was warm and Jerry shelled us on and off all day. He was now using shells that burst in the air but he did little damage with them. The next afternoon after a fairly quiet morning two platoons of the company we sent out on a fighting patrol to the last objective that was believed unoccupied. We set off about fifty strong, part of our way in full view of the enemy. At first we were cautious but as we progressed, passing positions that Jerry had occupied very recently but had left in a hurry, we then lost a lot of that caution. Mines were found on the road as we got nearer the hill. We left the road and started on our climb to investigate. This was more a mountain than a hill. It rose up steep and barren before us. Sweat poured from us as we advanced in bounds. Right to the top we got and then we had our surprise packet, Jerry attacked. He came in from the front and from the left flank. His machine guns opened up and he got close enough to throw three grenades but we held them. One battalion was sent out to hold our right flank and we were left to hold the left flank and the front. One Bren gunner was laying over his gun, dead. His number two was not to be seen, our two inch mortar was banging away. All the bombs were soon used up. Curiously enough I was rather enjoying it. It was just like a coconut shy, a small crest was about two hundred yards in front of me. Jerry kept bobbing his head up and as fast as he bobbed I fired. We were far to occupied to even think of being worried. The O.C has wirelesses the battalion and D company were on their way to help us. It would take them two hours to reach us and ninety minutes of that would be darkness. Repeatedly Jerry charged, as often we held and pushed him back. Our company commander was up with us giving orders and encouraging the lads. The sergeant was getting thoroughly excited and hopping up and down like a cat on hot bricks. Things were getting tight, it was getting dark, the attacks more frequent. The Bren gunners were now standing firing from the hip. The mortar bombs were finishing and Jerry was slowly getting nearer. One came right over the top gastrulating wildly. He threw down his gun and helmet and came on into our lines. Hand grenades were landing more often and one fell right in the middle of us, not five yards from me. The only man wounded was my “Rusty” pal. He was number one on the mortar, he was darn near sitting on it and received a piece of shrapnel in the face. I have since told him that it couldn’t mess up his looks and anyway it is an honourable scar. By now it was dark and the biggest attack was coming on. We were firing as hard as we could go when a voice yelled “Cease fire, it’s D company”. How thankful we felt as we strained to see them come in, they came but it wasn’t D company, it was Jerry. What a shambles! Our officers and sergeant worked like heroes, every man did. Even then we may have held them, a handful of men against them, but he had our cut in between us and the other platoon and was now attacking on the left. It was impossible, we withdrew fighting all the way. The sergeant was awarded the M.M for that days work, the major the M.C. for that and the events of the following day.

We withdrew about a mile back leaving Jerry in possession at a pretty big cost to him. That night and the following day we rested and in the evening we were on our way again, this time the whole battalion, Jerry had to be shifted from his position. We were reserve company and last in line, but no sooner had the attack gone in when we were in a hell of a mess, a machine gunner had caught them and although very few men had been hit they were on the borders of panic. Our major went around shouting and yelling orders, but by the time he had got them organized the machine gun was silenced. Whoever manned that Jerry gun was a very brave man, he held on until he was killed, he was no coward. After every man worked well, the major was everywhere, if he didn’t earn his M.C. the day before he did it that night. We pushed Jerry right off the hill and then dug in and waited for his counter-attack. It came next morning, not a heavy one, we killed quite a few, wounded some and took others prisoners. From then on he contented himself with sniping at us and using his mortars. All this time another brigade of our division were working forward on our flank. “A “ battalion was on our left and all that remained now was the “much fought for” “Longstop Hill”

On April 10th “A” battalion relieved us for two days rest, only a matter of a few hundred yards back, but it relieved us of the tedious everlasting watching. On the 21st we moved up towards Longstep. One day we rested and prepared and in the evening the platoon went out as a fighting patrol to protect the battalions flank as it went into the attack. It was a moonlit night and we clambered through the gulleys over hills and were approaching our destination. We went through a large field of corn when Jerry started to shell us. We went to the ground and whilst the shelling was on I picked a poppy and chewed on the stalk. Later we were able to advance again. Once more we were pinned down, this time I chewed on a stalk of a flower, this and the poppy I sent home to you. On we went again, the leading section found the road and the first two men crossed over it. They were lucky, the leader trod on a mine and up she went. Both of them were injured and a third slightly hurt. As I said they were lucky. The remainder of the night passed quietly and in the morning we went on to join the battalion. By this time the first part of the Longstop should have been taken but we were surprised to find that the action had not started.

Jerry was shelling as fast as he could. The battalion had had to crawl four miles through corn fields whilst Jerry machine gunned and mortared them. When we joined them they were in a gulley waiting whilst A battalion opened the attack. It was grand to watch, up they went bayonets fixed, a long steady line. Shells were bunting all around them, we could see the tracer bullets streaking down. Here and there a man fell but still that line went on. It was too much for Jerry, a line that he just couldn’t break. He got out and left his dead and wounded, the A troop had got the first part. It was then our turn, the battalion moved forward and after undergoing the heaviest shelling and fighting it had experienced it took it’s objective. It would take a better man than me to describe the events of that day. There only remained the high hill to our left and the last little hill of Longstop just a few hundred yards to our front. That night he shelled ceaselessly and all through the following morning. Our own guns were putting back twenty to every one he did and in the afternoon B battalion came through to us. With them were Churchills,, our hearts lifted at the sight of them and Jerry’s must of sunk very low. Within a short time his mortars had been silenced and prisoners were coming in in long files. Hundreds of them were taken and the battle was over. That night we were relieved and moved back about four miles for two days rest.

Who should join us here but my old pal “Rusty”, back from hospital and little worse for it. After the forty eight hours were up we once again took over the position and from there the platoon were shifted to guard a station. For a further two days we stayed there, good, quiet days and then once again we were on the move. This time it was the last and final push. Our job was to protect the flank of the armoured division, but first we had to push Jerry out of three positions. Directly after it got dark we started on our advance, the guns had started their barrage and were too close for comfort. Shrapnel whizzed over our heads and the noise rattled our eardrums. Our own objective was a couple of farmhouses, it was hear that I nearly caught a packet.

As Rusty and I dashed through the door a grenade came through the window. We just managed to make it out. Little opposition was offered and just before dawn we had dug in and were having a spot of badly needed sleep. I was awakened by the sound of shells bursting very close, tracer bullets were flashing across the top of the trench. For awhile I sat trying to stop my knees from knocking but finally I had to look. About seven hundred yards to the front on a small crest was a dirty great Mk VI. He was doing the shelling and gunning and away to our right the “Herman Goering” regiment were slinging over mortars. It was very unpleasant while it lasted. I couldn’t sit in the trench, I had to watch. Soon we heard the drone of planes, big bombers that passed right overhead. Then down came the bombs and up went the M.K VI. Never have I been more pleased, he was finished, another brigade with tanks were working round the Goering regt. And by the end of the day things were peaceful.

The next day also quiet, it was then that the cigarettes arrived and a mystery parcel. We learned that the tanks were well on their way to Tunis, and on May 8th we were dumped into lorries and told that we were going to Tunis and would probably have to do street fighting.

It was over by the time we got there, thousands of prisoners were on their way back. All we did take in Tunis was an ack-ack battery on the docks.

One thing we are proud of, the First beat the Eighth into Tunis and but for the long and bitter months of fighting we have had Rommel would still be in Africa.

This is a skimped account of our efforts. There is lots I have left out and by the time you are reading this you will be thankful I did. Was it very boring or did you enjoy reading it?

I am just about to write you an airmail, so for now,

All my love,

Bob

I hope that someone found this peice of history interesting. It was certainly interesting for me to read and feel the thoughts of a young man at war.  The beautiful ink writing on the now yellowed papes are a remminder of how fortunate we are to live in todays world, even with its faults.  I ask that it not be copied without my consent.

WW11 Memoirs: Part One

Posted in Grandfathers WW11 letters,Uncategorized by pishposh71 on February 27, 2009
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Copy of letter from: 5510395, Pte. R. Avis

 

“B” Company6th Royal West Kent’s,
B.N.A.F
My Dear Sweetheart,
You’ll notice I haven’t put any date to this letter, it is now May 25th, 1943 but as I shall not finish it before June the 1st a date is awkward. We have been told we can now tell you what action we have been in, but not where, what units were employed or what causalities we sustained. So leaving those I am going to try and give you an idea of what we have done since we landed. Some of it will be old history to you, the other will probably bore you to tears, but here goes.
We left our billet in the hydro, with no idea of where we were off to, as I told you at Maidenhead, we fully expected to have leave before we left England. We were more than surprised and disappointed when we saw the troopship and knew we were going overseas. It was almost a week before we sailed, no letters could be sent, neither were we allowed off the ship. At last we started, the biggest convoy to leave England up to that date. The voyage was quite uneventful, no enemy attack of any kind, most of the chaps were very sick but I escaped that. My first dinner at sea I ate very little but the following day I made up for it. Exercise was the main thing, everything and anything to keep us fit. Beer was not allowed even though the boat carried thousands of bottles. How I wished I could of sent you some of the things that we bought from the ship’s canteen. Sugar, tinned fruit and bottles of boiled sweets were just a few of them. Even in those far away days I used to get homesick, I still do.

We passed Gib. at night and I was on the deck watching the brilliantly lit cities of Spain pass by, it seemed strange to see so many lights again. The following day, the ship’s carpenter gave us all a piece of ribbon, orange in colour, the boat was Dutch, he told us to look after it and our luck would hold. I still have mine tied to my discs. I’m afraid that many pieces now lay in graves in different parts of North Africa. For two days we steamed up the Medertrainian. They had great hopes of bringing the Italian fleet out, using the trooper as bait, the battle fleet was waiting, we were enough, and so was Musso, he wouldn’t have any.

At last the appointed time came and the first troops were away in the assault craft under the cover of darkness. It was not until 2am that we were told to get ready to land in support. I shall never forget that landing, the sea was very rough, as I went down the net a voice called “hold” and then “drop”. I dropped and then after ages had passed through my mind, I hit the deck of the A.L.C. So, we all boarded her, hang on until the boat rose on the waves and then drop and trust to providence. There were no causalities so our luck was good. We got soaked in the landing but were soon away and on the march. Fortunately we were not needed and by dawn were on the beach waiting to board the boat again. That night we were escorted about 200 miles down the coast and by the first light we were making the second landing. Here, we were told, we would be opposed. Everything and everybody were ready for action, destroyers came in with us and we were out of the boats and clear of the beaches in record time. On we went and away to the objective, thank the Lord that by the time things had been settled the French were preparing to fight with us. That day we marched 20 miles in hot sunshine, I was just about all in when we got to the town. Our billets for that night were on an high cliff which bordered the town, and on our way, there occurred the little incident I wrote to Bill about. We were half way to the top when Jerry’s first load of bomber’s arrived, it was hell let loose. Dozens of ships and all the battalion opened up at them and from then on Jerry arrived in waves continually. He did a fair amount of damage but it was not a lot compared with what he could of done.

The following night we were on our way again, just before dark we started towards the harbour. Besides our ordinary kit we each carried three mortar bombs, an extra thirty pounds in weight. As we got into the town, Jerry arrived once more and started to drop his bombs. I got into a hell of a mess, the bombs would persist in dropping from the case I was carrying. When I wasn’t trying to bung them back I was flat on my face waiting for Jerry’s bomb to land. How pleased I was when I got to the quay and aboard a destroyer that was waiting for us. When the destroyer got clear of the harbour, she opened up her engine, it was a wonderful feeling. She lifted beneath us, big bow waves came up and in next to no time we were doing 26 knots an hour. Below deck, it was impossible to move, soldiers were crammed everywhere. Sailors were making tea and dishing it out and some bright lad had found the shower bath. We took our turn at them, it was useless to dry oneself, as soon as you left the shower and entered on the mess deck you were soaked again. The perspiration started in less than five minutes and you would be soaked through.

Just before dawn the alarm was sounded, action posts were manned, and I had to go have a look. It was a bomber, he let go his load and bolted, luck was good, he missed by a long way. By 7am we were in the dock and hurrying off and away. Once again we were bombed on our journey but our luck still held, no causalities. This day, the third day of the campaign, we marched for hours, boiling hot sunshine, no water and getting completely miserable. We finally stopped at a wood, dug trenches and prepared for the worst. Next morning we shifted, once more we dug trenches, moaning all the time about the useless labour we were doing. “Useless” we really thought so, we learned that it takes a hard hand to teach the truth. “War” was that hand, it taught us only to well.

At noon on this, the fourth day, we were packed on French charcoal lorries and once again were off. We passed an air drome recently captured and now being used for a fighter drome, we cheered when we saw those Spitfires, and how in a very short time did we curse them, only again to cheer them again before many months passed. That journey was a nightmare, nothing compared to what was to come, but to us fresh from England, hard trained though we were, it was no pleasure ride. The lorries had no sides, we were crammed on and at every bend we were all in great danger of being thrown off. The engine would persist in breaking down and we were very tired and hungry and fed up with hanging on like grim death at every turning. Hours after we started to run through a series of small towns and villages. The people lined the streets, cheered and clapped and made us feel like veterans and heroes. All through the night we went on, every village gave us the same welcome, no matter the time and in the morning we were very near our destination. By this time we were well over the boarder of Algeria and getting close to Jerry. Our luck changes a little then, after over sixteen hours of travel, the axle of the lorry broke and we had to “pound the hoof”. By 8:30am we had reached the outskirts of a small town and doing our best to have a spot of breakfast. We had just started when we were ordered on the road again, off we went, this time in one of our lorries. About two miles we travelled in peace and then zoom, down came two Jerry fighters. We were out of that lorry and away in less time than it takes to tell. Dive bombers appeared and proceeded to bomb a bridge we had just come over, bomb after bomb they dropped and many more since that first attack. The bridge stayed intact despite all of Jerry’s efforts. Back into the lorry we got and away again only to have the fighter dive and to have to scatter again. All this time my heart was banging like a trip hammer, there’s only one sound worse than the murderous crackle of a planes machine guns, I’ll come to this sound later on.

After awhile both planes flew off and we were allowed to continue our journey without further interruption. It wasn’t very far, once again we dug our trench with a bad heart, weary, tired and still pretty hungry. We were not left alone very long, no sooner had the trenches been finished than we were on the road again footslogging.  

On through the night we went, the third day and night without sleep. It was an effort to get one foot in front of the other. Just after midnight we were given a mild drug to keep us going, it helped a little. Then the rain started, rain that was to continue almost endlessly until well into March of this year.

Just before dawn we came to a halt and the battalion was spread out as usual. We were on a very small hill, more a mound than anything, behind a farmhouse. As usual we started to dig trenches, but we were far too tired to dig, and soon were fast asleep. A couple of hours passed, hours of sleep so badly needed. At about 1pm on this, the fifth day our platoon commander gave us the order to get dressed. Jerry was less than four miles away. We scrambled into our gear and got ready and then got our first sight of Jerry. He was belting along the road towards us, we had a first class view of him, far to good for my liking.

There were over twenty tanks, a few guns and several lorry loads of infantry. The road ran straight toward us until it got about five hundred yards away from our position and it then turned right and went parallel to us and on to the village where our Bn. H.Q. and company was. At that time we were more or less without artillery support, as we know it now, there were only a few guns with us and our own two pound anti-tank guns. The Hun got around the corner before they opened up and then all hell was let loose with a vengeance. He hit thirty men on a small mound with everything he had, machine guns, shells and mortars. We were undergoing our first taste of “action” and we didn’t enjoy it. I’ll be truthful and say that I and everybody else was more than scared. He didn’t get off Scot free though, quite a few of his tanks and more than a few of his infantry met their “Waterloo”. By this time our guns had been cut up pretty badly, it was here that the first decoration in the battalion was won by a Sgt. In charge of one of the two pounders. The entire crew stuck to the gun and did good work, the Sgt. Got the award, why, is just one of the many questions of this war. Under cover of his guns Jerry had got his troops and guns into a ravine and a small copse about five hundred yards from us. I? Well I was crouched behind the farmhouse smoking cigarette after cigarette.

 The house had been hit about three times by shells. The farmer had long since disappeared, but for me it represented the only cover there was. For over two years in England, the usefulness of a slit trench was drummed into us time and time again. It took that afternoon to drive that lesson home, never again did we have to be told to dig trenches. That long afternoon gradually came to a close and an even longer night started. Our platoon officer was quite sure that an attack would be made, all night long we dug, and watched. The attack never came, Jerry was not sure of our strength and probably thought we were much stronger than we were. When dawn came he started to shell once again, the village this time, from then on that was his favourite target. For days this went on, he shelling us and the village, our twenty-five pounders shelling him and then came the first attack. Eighty Italian paratroops were sent by Jerry to take the village, they had been told that only a small force of badly shaken English troops barred their way. They chose a bad time to attack and found that the “badly shaken” troops were willing to have a smack of their own. Two of our companies were changing over when the “Ites” charged up and before the poor blighters knew what was happening , over nine Bren guns had started up and over half their number was dead or wounded. The remainder were taken prisoners, first blood to us. On the fourth day we were relieved and went back a few miles to guard a V.P. and try to rest a little.

We were getting used to being wet, our only clothing was a pair of thin denim trousers, shirt, pullover, and a gas cape. How we thanked the Lord for those gas capes, our only protection against the rain. We lived, ate, and slept in those capes for weeks on end. At night we just made ourselves as small as possible, lay down in the mud and slept a sleep of sheer exhaustion, rain mattered little to us in those hours. On the sixth night from meeting Jerry we started at about midnight on our first attack. By dawn we were on his flank, in the hills and after a machine gun nest while the rest of the battalion past through to tackle Jerry. It was bitterly cold, pullovers were not a great protection from the biting wind. The attack was a great success, we did not take many prisoners but we had got him on the move which proved to us that for all his experience and his tanks, we were every bit as good , or better even than he was. That night we were very contented, we slept well and in the morning we were after him again. We marched over twenty miles and then we found him. He had chosen a group of hills that overlooked the road, big hills which he could command for miles ahead. The leading battalion were fired on and suffered some causalities. The whole brigade was deployed and scattered in the many dips and ravines that were plentiful in this position.

Part Two will be posted tommorrow.

 

A Letter from Robert Frederick Avis to his wife Barbara Avis in WWII.  Please do not copy or publish this without my consent. ~ North Africa Campaign~

 Private Robert Frederick Avis of the 6th Battalion, Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment, England died at age 33 on Tuesday October 5th 1943.

Private Avis was the son of James William and Louisa Mary Avis; husband of Barbara Avis; of Southsea, Hampshire, England.

Remembered with honour at Sangro River War Cemetery, Italy

Typed by Natasha Blackmore (nee Avis) in memory of a grandfathers sacrifice.

 Dedicated to James, Téa and Kieran Blackmore in their great grandfathers memory