Thraves, Jack

Summary of Jack Thraves

Jack Thraves tells the story of one of many unsung heroes who were away from home for the great majority of the five years of war. Thraves had already signed up in the Royal Corps of Signals before war broke out and by early 1940 was in France before being evacuated from Dunkirk. The rest of the story describes in vivid detail the fierce fighting and dreadful conditions in the North African desert, followed by vicious battles in Italy as the allied forces moved north. Thraves does not forget the warm welcome given by the local population in Italy and the kindness showed by individual families, including one with whom he spent Christmas 1944.

The full story follows, in two versions. The version in the first window below is the original scanned version of the story. In the second window below is the transcribed version in plain text.


[title] An Ordinary Soldier’s War 

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Having joined the Territorial Army on 5 April 1938 and enlisted in the Royal Corps of Signals, I was posted to the North Midland Corps Signals, a section of which was stationed in the Drill Hall, Nottingham. I had 16 months of peace-time training before the outbreak of war in 1939. On September 1st of that year (a Friday) I came back home from a business trip to Birmingham; immediately on return I was told to put on my uniform and report to the Drill Hall. We knew that war was certain, as Germany had invaded Poland on that day, on Saturday, the Nottm. Section was ordered to the Unit HQ at Phoenix St., Derby, to join up with other companies. After drawing arms, extra kit etc., we were ordered to our various homes until billets could be arranged. On the morning of September 3rd I was sitting in Derby bus station and at 11 am I heard the broadcast by the Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, declaring war on Germany. Within a few hours, there was the first air-raid alarm, one of many false alarms at the outset. 
On Monday, September 4th, we were transported to Milford House, just outside Derby, which was to be our HQ. The short history of the unit, from then on, is given in the pages of two albums held here, together with photographs and reprints of messages from various military leaders, as well as Winston Churchill. 

In late November, we were moved down to Bordon Camp, Aldershot, to prepare the unit for shipment to France and the British Expeditionary Force. 

1939-40 was a bitter winter and the whole unit was hit by sickness; there was an outbreak of German measles, and I – in common with dozens of other soldiers, had to bed down on the floor of an Army gymnasium, there being no proper facilities in the area for treating so many men. The illness was very debilitating and the more serious cases were sent to our homes on sick leave. This leave covered a Christmas of awful weather, so I didn’t complain! In early spring 1940, we were shipped from Southampton to Le Havre; my only recollection of arriving in France is of trooping down the gangplank on to the quayside and being given a tin of Maconachie’s stew; as there were no facilities for heating food, the stew was eaten cold, at 6.30 am. As far as I can recall, we entrained for a village near ARRAS and, after a week or two, moved to BETHUNE. The Germans started their offensive on the Low Countries on May 10th and from then on, in military parlance, the situation became ‘fluid’. We moved at a moment’s notice to the area of the breakthrough near the Belgian border, but in the Signals office, we were issuing orders to troops which were by-passed by events, and by 25th May we received orders to make for the coast in any way we could; after a couple of nightmarish days, we reached the canal separating us from the Bray dunes at De Panne. Before crossing the canal by one of the few remaining bridges, we drove our vehicles into a field and immobilised them, burning any documents still left which might have been of use to the enemy. From Monday 27th May, we were on the dunes, waiting to be taken off by the ‘Little Ships’ who had so valiantly sailed from England to rescue us. One of the great advantages of being in soft sand was that only a fairly direct hit from bombs and shells would cause fatalities… minor wounds were treatable with the few field dressings still available. There was no food after we had finished our tinned emergency rations, and water was scarce. 

[Editor’s note: Page 2 of the original is missing] 

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The Hall contained some very old books, a lot written in 1700, and some written before the Reformation. Some old manuscripts that I found had not been touched for years… they were tucked away in an old cupboard. Some of the stories were of the reign of Henry VIII, written in the sixteenth century and were very humorous. One of the tales concerned the king’s third wife, who was asked by her maids-of-honour when she was going to produce an heir and answered “You will have to wait a long time, for although the King and I lie together, he says nothing more than ‘Good morrow, sweetheart” or “How dost thou, sweet one?” and so, unless these words can produce a child, I am afraid you will want for ever.’ 

At the end of August 1940, I had the good fortune to be chosen for Signals against a HQ team, which included several first-class cricketers. We were skittled out for 33, but bowled them out for 29, it was my lucky day, taking 6 wickets for 17. On a more serious note: on 14 September, 1940, we were ‘standing-to’ awaiting the code which would tell us that the Germans had invaded. On the next day, it was the decisive day of the Battle of Britain. 

The following winter of 40/41 was very severe in the UK. There were ten to 12-foot drifts in and around Dryton and Audlem and our camp at Adderly. At one time, there was no road traffic except for tracked vehicles and rations were down to nil. We eventually managed for days on Army biscuits; the officers managed to find some cheese to make the tack more interesting. In this period, Signals had the job of digging two trains out of drifts: they couldn’t be reached even by snowplough. 

We were in hard training for battle conditions, punctuated (as far as I was concerned) by a spell in the Unit hospital with severe septicaemia, caused by an injury to the foot whilst playing football for Royal Signals. I owed the saving of my leg to a very experienced medical orderly who, when my temperature was abnormally high, took it upon himself to open up the wound and drain the poison, with hot poultices every hour or two. I was rather poorly for some time and was sent home with several weeks’ treatment by my local doctor. 

On 11th April 1941, the unit moved by road to BARNSLEY, to make final preparations for overseas. Incidentally, at this time we took part in an Exercise based on HQ at Bestwood Park, Nottingham, and on leaving the city, on 8 May 1941, we witnessed from Mapperley Plains German bombers making a raid on the city, at about midnight; needless to say, we were all worried, being local men, about our loved ones. On return to Barnsley, we set about preparing the unit for embarkation …from, and to where, we had no idea. Our year since Dunkirk had been a generally quiet time, apart from odd land-mines and bombs being dropped by enemy aircraft on their way to and from Merseyside. 

On a purely personal note, I was fortunate in that Pat was able to visit me occasionally; both she and Sgt. Cliff Bunting’s wife were able to stay for weekends at the little town of Audlem, not far from Adderly. How precious were those days we had together… little did we realise that, within a few weeks, we should be apart for over four years. We left Barnsley in late May, travelling up to Gourock on the Clyde where we embarked on the S.S Llangibby Castle and sailed on 31 May. 

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Our boat was part of a large convoy of merchantmen and troopships, together with a small Navy presence for protection against the packs of U-boats which were causing so much havoc in the Atlantic. Port-holes had to be sealed at night and lighting of cigarettes was forbidden on deck, as well as any undue noise which might be picked up by submarines. As part of the rules of avoidance, the convoy sailed north-west towards the southern coast of Iceland before turning to port and then southwards towards the southern coast of Africa, where we eventually dropped anchor in the port of Freetown about the 14th June. After loading up with fresh water and provisions, we continued south, crossing the Equator on 22 June 1941. (My albums contain pictures and details of the ceremony of ‘Crossing the Line’). We reached Cape Town on July 1st and felt thankful that the most dangerous part of the journey had been completed. On many occasions during the 31 days at sea we had ‘stood-to’ for emergencies and possible attack, and watched as depth-charges were catapulted over the stern of the two naval vessels accompanying the convoy. Obeying war-time convoy rules, we were restricted to the speed of the slowest merchantman and some of them were old and very slow; this all made for us being a sitting target. 

We were in Cape Town for three days and the people were wonderfully kind and welcoming. Three or four of us were met on the quayside by Kathleen Coles and she took the trouble to write home and tell them that I was safe. After a drive round the city, Kathleen took us (Sgt. Shaw, Cliff Bunting and myself) to her home for a slap-up meal. Cape Town was like Paradise… no bombs, no rationing, luxuries in the shops which we had not seen since before the war, and everywhere was so clean. The only thing that disturbed us was the complete segregation of the ‘coloureds’. We were very uneasy about this and could foresee trouble in the future. Nevertheless, it is a beautiful country and we were privileged to visit it. 

We left Cape Town on July 4th 1941 and made our way up the east coast of Africa to Aden, and then on through the Red Sea to Port Twefik where we were to disembark. On arrival, we were concerned to see that the S.S. Georgic, which had accompanied us from Cape Town and which was carrying nurses and medical personnel had been badly damaged in an air-raid and there had been considerable loss of life. 

My abiding impression of stepping ashore in Egypt was of the searing heat, we had been nearly three months at sea, and although we had kept ourselves fit by deck-games and distance-running, our legs were comparatively weak – something which we quickly realised when we had to disembark carrying full kit, arms and sea kitbags; within seconds we were drenched in perspiration. Our first camp was at a spot at the side of the Suez Canal, called El Tahag. 

After a few weeks getting acclimatised, we moved out of the Canal zone to a camp near the Pyramids, not far from the famous and luxurious Mean House Hotel; by this time we had been re-named 10 Corps Signals and we set about preparing the unit for a mobile role in the Western Desert, including our large vehicles in to what became known as Armoured Command Vehicles which would work well forward in battle areas and were fitted with the latest transmissions and receiving equipment. It was not envisaged that there would be a lot of use for cable in a desert war, as the distances involved and the urgent movements of units over such large tracts of desert would make it impracticable to lay and then reel-in lines to other HQs and forward positions 

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It was about six weeks until we went into battle .. on November 18th .. and odd visits to Cairo ensued; amongst other recreations, I managed to get a concrete strip laid down for cricket matches, using matting. The matches were of a very high standard, some of my Signals team having played club and minor counties cricket. The only casualties, apart from split fingers, were from heat exhaustion! 

The unit was renamed once again … this time, 30th (Armed) Corps Signals and we moved up to the Tripolitanian border on November 16th. During the period of training and equipment, we learned that we were to become part of a new army, to be called Eighth Army. 

On the 18th, the Army moved over the ‘wire’ and engaged the German/Italian armies. For a day or two, all went well, but then the Germans counter-attacked. The whole situation became chaotic and we were soon to learn that, in the desert, there was no front-line: the position of my little group can be gauged from the copy of a report which I was asked to make for the War Diary, copy of which is in the album. To convey some idea of desert warfare one only has to look at some details in that Diary .. how we were fired on by our own artillery and attacked by our planes. At 1205 hrs on 24 Nov., my Advance section were given orders to move East as quickly as possible. For some time, we were shelled and our lines of communication were shelled by a force of 30 German tanks, with two battalions of motorised infantry. One can imagine the confusion .. several thousand vehicles trying to re-cross the ‘wire’ back in to Egypt, this part of the of the border only taking three lorries abreast. At 1900 hours, Verey lights were sent up on our right and left flanks, and from this it was discovered that the enemy were on both sides of our party, the plan was adopted, therefore to re-cross the ‘wire’ and move West, but involved the hazardous job of crossing a minefield in the dark, mostly with unarmoured vehicles. The minefield was safely crossed by 0230 hrs 25th November, one mine having exploded, but there were no casualties. That we managed this very tricky operation at dead of night without the enemy being aware was due to the bravery and skill of our Chief Engineer, who eased up mines by torchlight, using a bayonet. The chaos lasted until the 28th November, subsequently the enemy retreated. The whole of the war in the desert is well documented in ‘Operation Victory’ and ‘The Eighth Army’ which I hold here at Felixstowe. 

By the 6th January 1942, Rommel had retreated to well beyond Benghazi, but we had to consider why our tanks had generally been outfought, in spite of the bravery of our crews. The answer was in the armament of the German tanks; the Mk III had a 50 mm gun which could engage our tanks at distances of a mile .. our puny little 2-pounder anti-tank gun was useless unless the enemy was nearly on top of us. The Germans also had a Mk IV (Tiger) tank with a 75 mm gun which he used in support of his own infantry, as well as his 88 mm anti-aircraft gun which he used over open sights in a ground support role. 

During this first battle, a fellow Serjeant and a dear friend, Doug Chandler, was taken prisoner; the Germans had had to keep him in one of their advance positions under heavy British fire; eventually he had been moved to Tripoli and from there to an Italian POW camp. We heard that he had been badly affected mentally, but in spite of trying on many occasions during the war to ascertain his whereabouts, without success, no further news could be obtained.  

[Footnote]: Since writing the above, the Ministry of Defence discovered that Doug had survived the war, mentally intact and in fact he contacted me and we had a happy reunion. 

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On 9th January 1942, I had the luxury of an all-over wash, the last shower I had had being on 16th October 1941, 12 weeks previously; I wrote home that it didn’t seem likely that I should have another for a long time. B.O. must have been much in evidence, but no one seemed to complain! Peculiar moods affected those of us who were in the Western Desert for a long time: tempers were lost easily, for no apparent reason, and a close friend could become, in one’s imagination, hardly to be tolerated. 

It is a generally accepted idea that the desert is 100% sand. In fact, much of it is covered by scrub and, just under the surface there is often hard rock. Every night vehicles formed in to what was known as a ‘laager’ (a Boer word) in which all ‘soft’ vehicles would be spread irregularly at considerable distances from each other, so that, when the enemy shelled and bombed, damage and casualties would be confined to one or two wagons, rather than disabling the lot. On arrival at the chosen area, the first job was to pick and shovel and good deep slit-trench, then tea could be brewed and the bully-beef and biscuits opened; we each had our own small primus stove and sometimes managed remarkable meals if we had been issued with a spot of cooking oil or grease. Then a personal bivouac was rigged up over one’s slit trench: a ground sheet and blankets followed. The desert nights were usually very cold and the days burning hot. If we were lucky, there was an issue of a pint of water per day for drinking and occasionally a pint for washing, all of which went into the ‘kitty’, to be used for shaving and washing. We did manage to keep reasonably clean, and it is remarkable how healthy we were, in spite of the lack of fresh fruit and vegetables…probably due to the anti-scurvy tablets (Vit. C) we took. Apart from the odd day or two of leave in Alexandria, we never saw a slice of fresh bread until we over-ran a German bakery in April 1943, and that was black bread. 

Water of course, was extremely important to a desert army; unfortunately, many of the wells used by the Bedouin were brackish and the tinned milk used with tea just curdled; it was nearly impossible to get a lather with soap, unless we had managed to keep a stock of sea-soap, which worked well. At some times when we advanced over enemy territory, we found that wells had been poisoned and of course our water-tanker wagons were a favourite target of the enemy, for obvious reasons. 

I had a new driver posted to me in early 1942, and I discovered he came from Wollaton; among bits of news from home, he told me that the Police Chief in Cairo was a Wollaton man, Russell Pasha. Apparently one of the family was still living in Wollaton: Russell Pasha lived in the old vicarage, his father being the vicar of Wollaton in the 1920s. 

Spring starts early in North Africa and the in the desert, scarab beetles are coming in to their own again, not to mention flies, scorpions, snakes, rats, desert foxes and hares. At this time, I was taking ‘Anti-Gas’ parades in addition to P.T. and rifle drill before breakfast, so my time from first light was well occupied. By the way, I see from a letter to Pat that we managed one or two marvellous breakfasts on our little stove: oatmeal porridge, baked beans and tea. During the 41/2 battles, I ‘appropriated’ a German Luger revolver (given to me by Scottie, our draughtsman) and I had also picked up a German helmet which I was saving for Jack Goulding, only to have the revolver pinched and the steel helmet (picked up at Haifaya (‘Hellfire’) Pass was taken for salvage! 

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Sandstorms in the desert were like London fogs … on occasion when I was travelling in my truck, I had to stop at intervals as we couldn’t see a yard in front of us; then – one of the wonders of the East – the sun would break through for a minute, and you would have staked your life that it was a light blue in colour. 

One of the advantages of over-running enemy positions: we ‘captured’ quantities of German and Italian cigarettes and Italian biscuits and sweets. During the battles of 1941, my friend Bernard Hammond was captured and held in BARDIA but with the headlong retreat of Rommel & Co., Bernard was able to escape back to us. At that time, we took prisoner a lady of very doubtful virtue who had been serving as ‘comforts’ to the Italians; she was wounded and had stayed on till the last to see that the boys were ‘entertained’. A German officer had offered to get her away, on certain conditions: she, strange as it may seem, didn’t like the sound of the ‘conditions’. She received high praise from us for her courage and her morale seemed to be unimpaired, even if her morals weren’t. 

Most sunsets were spectacular – one of my descriptions home was that they could be compared to great tongues of flame reaching westwards, dotted with little red stepping-stones to heaven. Silly, I know, and like something out of a cheap novel, but it was what I felt at the time, at last in February 1942, I managed to get 5 days’ leave in Alexandria; I had gone after having been badly affected with some bad water. Three of us were recommended to a ‘Pension’ right on the sea front, everything beautifully furnished. Sheets were changed every other day and we could have as many hot baths as we wanted. Tea was brought to us at 7.45 every morning and at 8.30 we had breakfast in bed. Then we went to a hairdresser’s for a cut, shampoo and shave, plus hot towels and friction, which removed the sand embedded in the pores of the faced and head. Cost 2d (2 ½ p) including boot cleaning whilst you were being shaved. We lunched at the naval Petty Officers’ club, which was excellent. Sane of my unit who went on leave to Cairo told me that a photo of Doug Chandler and myself (taken just before Doug was taken prisoner) had been blown up to 2 ft x 3 ft and was in the windows of the shop in the main street. My (small) copy is in the album. 

Back at Advanced Headquarters, the same duties when not chasing about; I have to take P.T. four times a week, rifle drill and arms inspection twice a week at 0700, interspersed with the usual pick-and-shovel work of course. 

After the desperate battles of Spring and early summer and the loss of Tobruk, Rommel pushed us back to El Alamein in July. During some of those terrible months, both armies had been ‘grounded’ due to the dreaded sandstorms which penetrated arms and equipment, blocked our pores and, as I have said before, made everyone ill-tempered; there was also the khamsin, a searing desert-wind which was extremely unpleasant. On May 27th, the Eighth Army started a rearguard action to save its very life and I took my clothing off for the first time after that on the 15th June. As a matter of fact, June 1942 was the most critical time in the desert war, Rommel was sweeping all before him and things were really bad; Jerry put in a strong attack at BIR HACHEIM and his aircraft were pounding us every night; we were weary and worn; we spent nights dodging nasty bits of metal flying about and praying fervently that we should get out of the situation alive; we did, and lived to fight another day. 

Sometime in July, Churchill visited us, in company with the C.I.G.S and other dignitaries. 

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They spoke with many of us, and thus were able to get the ‘feel’ of the state of the Eighth Army. Within a day or two, Montgomery had been appointed Commander; he had been at Dunkirk, but knew nothing of desert warfare and, when he eventually introduced himself to us, ‘hadn’t even got his knees brown’. Once Monty had spoken to us, however, there was a greater feeling of optimism than there had been for months. Officers and N.C.Os gathered round this little man, as he told us that there would be no more withdrawals … we were to stay where we were and live or die. Strange that we welcomed these words, but that was the mood of us all, we were fed up with being pushed around. 

In Monty’s first test, at the battle of Alam Haifa, he outwitted Rommel and sent him packing. If the enemy had broken through, he could have gone straight through to the Nile Delta and the great cities of Cairo and Alexandria. In the meantime, we had been told that Monty was planning a great offensive and he wanted an experienced reserve which could train away from the battle-area – he called a ‘Corps d’Elite’. We were to be part of this formation and were renamed 10 (Armoured) Corps Signals. The Corps consisted of two armoured divisions and one motorised (New Zealand) division. 

The big battle had necessarily to commence at the time of the full moon in October, which meant October 23rd… it couldn’t be left any longer. The history and tactics of the great battle of El Alamein can be read in the book ‘Operation Victory’, written by Monty’s Chief of Staff, Freddie de Guingand. Monty used all sorts of decoys and subterfuges to outwit the enemy as to our intentions … one I remember well was of camouflaged positions being prepared well forward, and completed a week or two before the battle. These positions were in fact empty, but it appeared to enemy reconnaissance planes as though hundreds of vehicles were ‘parked’ in an area where, the enemy’s Intelligence would inform him, the main thrust of the attack would be coming from. In fact, the main attack came from a different area entirely. Personal memories are vivid of that moonlit night of October 23rd: the biggest artillery barrage so far in the war, 1000 guns on a narrow front, which was an awesome sight (and sound), then the clanking of tracks from tanks moving up to the start-line. The guns opened up at 2140 hours. Monty had said it would be a ‘killing’ match’ over a period of up to 10 days, and so it proved. After extremely stubborn defence and many casualties on both sides, by 3rd November, Rommel’s army was in full retreat and 10th Corps was given the task of pursuing the retreating enemy. Smashed equipment, tanks, guns and bodies were strewn about the area we passed through in to the open desert beyond and there was still sporadic fighting on both sides of us from isolated pockets. As (bad) luck would have it, on the evening of November 6th a heavy rain storm occurred which flooded the desert, and 10 Corps armour and our supporting vehicles were completely bogged down. Rommel used the coast (metalled) road to escape with what was left of his army and, by the 9th, when we were able to move again, he had got away completely, although the RAF caused immense damage to his vehicles when the sky eventually cleared. 

In spite of all of this, Tobruk was entered on November 13th and Benghazi on the 20th, a distance of 700 miles from El Alamein in 15 days. After some further resistance at El Agheila, Tripoli was entered on January 23rd, 1943, Monty receiving the official surrender of the city from the civic heads. To see green fields and trees again after 17 months of arid desert was a delight. 

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A month or so before El Alamein, I had managed 4 days’ leave in Alexandria. Cliff Bunting and I stayed at the same ‘pension’ on the sea front and had a lovely, big, airy room. A new couple were now running it; they asked us to make it our home and were so kind. Madame, a petite and very pretty young Frenchwoman, refused to accept a full charge for the stay. We made friends with some Greeks in Alex and were entertained royally. On the last night of our leave, Madame provided a lovely meal and opened a precious bottle of champagne for us, and the carpet was rolled back for dancing. They were distraught when we left the next morning and asked us to come back and stay as one of the family. We never did make it to Alex again, of course. Monsieur made a telling remark during our stay, ‘le desert est mal pour la santé.’ 

To return to my story: on February 3rd 1943, a review and parade was held in Tripoli and Winston Churchill stood at the saluting base with the tears rolling down his cheeks … this Eighth Army victory was the first thing he had to cheer about during nearly three and a half years of war, apart from that great episode of the Battle of Britain. After the parade, Churchill said to us: 

‘In days to come, when asked by those at home what part you played in this war, it will be with pride in your hearts that you can reply ‘I marched with the Eighth Army.’’ 

There is a picture of Churchill at the saluting base in my album. 

Whilst some of the unit were entering Tripoli, I was sent to a Mine School in the desert for a mine-lifting and booby-traps course. It had to be for volunteers as the mines were ‘live’. One I had to deal with was a German Teller mine and was booby-trapped, it contained 11 lbs of explosive. It didn’t explode the first two occasions that I tried to deal with it; the third time I had to return to see what was wrong I was really scared after attaching the wire to the detonator, I ran back to the other ‘students’ sheltering in trenches 25 yards back, pulled the wire and exploded the mine. The Teller mine could blow the tracks off a tank and when I saw the hole it made, I thought I was lucky .. it had sliced rocks into two or three feet below the surface and made a crater three feet across. They told me that it was the first time one of these mines had been deliberately exploded, except by electrical charge, which is the safest way. The R.E. Officer said they would now know a bit more about the mine and said I was then qualified to help the R.Es when necessary, as the enemy had laid 100,000 of them in one stretch of country alone. I dealt with other, less dangerous, mines and these are detailed in the Mine School exercise book held here at home. 

On a more peaceful note, I wrote to Pat that, after Tripoli had fallen … ‘Some time ago I went into Tripoli Parish Church; when the Eighth Army entered the town, there was no church for the majority of soldiers. The R.Cs could go to the Cathedral, but there was no church for others. The sappers got busy under a church architect and turned a modern building into a lovely church. The 8th Army’s Crusader shield is in the middle of the altar cloth and, on each arm of the cross, there was also a small shield.’ 

The enemy, meanwhile, had retreated to Tunisia and we were allowed a period of rest and refitting before tackling the next job. We knew that sometime in the future we would have to land on the continent of Europe, and we were all informed that any non-swimmers would have to learn to swim, to avoid casualties from drowning in a seaborne invasion. 

During our time in Tripoli, we were told we were to be inspected by General Lyon; we knew it must be someone important after days spent in spit and polish; I remember we stood at the roadside in a sweltering heat for over two hours waiting for the V.I.P to drive along. 

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It turned out to be H.M. King George VI. Several of my comrades were overcome by the blistering heat and we felt that, although it was a great honour, it was really something we could have foregone at that particular time. 

Rain and waterlogged country delayed the advance of 10 Corps after our rest; after crossing into Tunisia, I was ordered to attend a course at the Middle East Training Unit near Tel Aviv in (then) Palestine. I was told that I had to find my own way of getting there … a distance of over 1500 miles. After hitch-hiking to Tripoli, Benghazi and Derna, I reached El Adem airstrip where I was told I could cadge a lift from the RAF. Unfortunately, my lift crashed before it reached me, so that scuppered that plan. I then went to the rail-head nearby and found a train going to Cairo with an Indian contingent on board. This was an experience in itself … soldiers sleeping in luggage-racks, fires lit in gangways of carriages, and the smell of curry and chapatis everywhere! I eventually reached Cairo and changed trains for the regular (civilian) service to Gaza and the north. After five days’ travelling, I arrived at my Course on time and this lasted for three weeks. As an NCO, I had had to travel 3rd class (‘pig-sty’ accommodation), only officers and Americans allowed to travel 2nd class. The Course was hard … Reveille at 5.45, work 7 am to 7 pm; only two of us were there from 8th Army. Some of the time my ‘billets’ were in a lovely hotel in Tel Aviv, so that helped. 

The unit had moved forward since I left. Just after I got back from the Course, I had the privilege of travelling over the desert in an armoured scout-car, to take some sealed orders to General LeClerc who had a French detachment of considerable size at Sibka Oasis. I remember this thin man with his shooting-stick, who was so courteous and who, with his hotch-potch of Frenchmen was to pose such a problem to the Germans. I wonder if he ever imagined that, in about 15 months’ time, he would be leading French troops to Paris? 

On 6th March 1943, Rommel made what was to be final attack on the 8th Army, at MEDININE, before going home to Germany. 8th Army just stayed in defence. Rommel lost 52 of his best tanks (counted on the battlefield) plus many more damaged. Our casualties were 130 all ranks, killed and wounded – and not one tank lost. Another triumph for Monty. Our next problem was to be the assault on the Mareth Line; this direct assault was initially to prove costly … not surprising when one saw the terrain; deep water-filled wadis, concrete emplacements (built solidly by the French pre-1939) and the enemy having a full view of everything we were doing. After some days of very heavy fighting, Monty decided to use 10 Corps to perform a ‘left hook’ and come in behind the enemy line. This was a very chancy operation … most of us were in unarmoured vehicles travelling at night behind enemy lines; tanks couldn’t be used because of noise. The New Zealanders led the way, together with the Gurkhas, who had quickly dealt with enemy outposts in their usual way; no noise from firearms, just the quiet and murderous use of the kukri, the Gurkha knife. We got to El Hamma, by which time the Germans had twigged what was happening, they started to pull back in strength, but were really hammered by the allied air forces. I remember when our unit reached its position, there was a plague of locusts of biblical proportions, and the sky was darkened for some time. Before the left-hook we had been in a forward position near Mareth and the Germans were desperate enough to use some of their remaining planes to try to disrupt our lines of communication… they 

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attacked our (Signals) area just after midnight; most of the bombs did little damage, but one struck a duty-truck near me, which was busy transmitting by W/T and R/T. The duty officer, NCOs and signalmen inside were killed instantly and a lot of important signals traffic was lost. 

The rest is history… we beat the enemy at the next stumbling-block, the Wadi Akarit, then Enfidaville, where we stopped, as our 10 Corps commanding general was asked to go over and help the First Army which had been having a rough time of it, in particular the Americans had suffered badly. For our part, Signals camped in a grove of olive trees but we did join up with the Americans and one of our Despatch Riders was pictured by the newspapers at their meeting just outside Karouan (picture of this meeting in album). For 10 Corps Signals, the war in Africa was over and mopping-up was now the order of the day, against several fierce rearguard actions. In our recent advance we had captured the coastal towns of Sfax and Sousse and, in one case of a village near Msaken, our unit was the first Britishers the Tunisians had seen for years. By about 12th May, the enemy had been completely surrounded and hundreds of thousands tried to escape by sea from Bizerta, to no avail. They and all their arms and equipment, were in the bag. 

A footnote about General Horrocks. He became famous after the war on the BBC TV by describing the way so many battles had been won. He was appointed Black Rod by the King and served Parliament for many years. He had a story-book life, wounded in the first world war, fighting with the White Russians, escaping from a German POW camp. Unfortunately, whilst preparing for the invasion of Italy, he was hit by a spent anti-aircraft shell and was seriously ill for a long time; he eventually recovered sufficiently to take command of 30 Corps for D-Day. What endeared him to us was that, before every major action, he had all of us, NCOs and officers, gathered in a circle round maps hung on the outside of his ‘battle wagon’ and explained every detail of the particular plan, and Montgomery’s ideas behind it. It was so much better than the old days in the early days of the desert war when very few of us knew what was happening, or why. It made for a more knowledgeable force, who then knew exactly what the target was. 

There was a victory parade in Tunis: many of us didn’t want to take part as we had to prepare to move all the way back to Tripoli to prepare for the invasion of Europe. We were told, to our sorrow, that our 10 Corps was being ‘loaned’ to the American Vth Army under General Mark Clark. The 8th Army, meanwhile, was to land in Sicily. This they did on July 10th

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Since the last page was written, I see that the ‘left hook’ was mentioned in a tribute to the 8th Army by the BBC some months afterwards. How romantic it all sounds … they talked about ‘the prettiest piece of strategy of the whole war’, in which we did 200 miles in three days behind Jerry’s back. All this time, 50 Div and other infantry units pretended to mount a major attack at Mareth. I had to laugh at one of the drivers when we were a day on our journey, his remarks .. ‘no lights, no smoking – it’s a wonder they didn’t take my bloody wristwatch away from me.’ One forgets so much, but the BBC report said we suffered dreadful heat, sandstorms and lack of water. After the hard fighting at Enfidaville, the 7 Armoured Div and the 4 Indian Div were sent round in another left hook to join up with the 1st Army who were having a rough time. 

I wrote at the time that I couldn’t believe that I should ever again live in a world at peace. Quote ‘For my part, I am always thinking of friends and others unknown, who lose their lives. It makes one feel an impostor .. one feels as though one shouldn’t be living. I shall always remember those desert graves and others long the roadside out here: men who died before their life was lived. I suppose Omar Khayyam made the most philosophical observation: 

‘The ball no question makes of Ayes and Noes, But right or left, as strikes the Player, goes; 

And He that tossed thee down into the Field, He knows about it all, He knows – He knows.’ 

To convey an idea of how short of trained men we were .. a soldier (‘Mac’) was sent to me just before the battle of Mareth … he was aged 42 and had been sent out from Blighty after only a few weeks in the Army. When we got back to Tripoli, I made sure that Mac was posted to Base in Cairo and gave him a covering letter to a warrant-officer friend, who would look after him. He e was sorry to leave us, but rather relieved, his wife had given birth to twins just before he was sent abroad .. their first-born after 8 years of marriage. He wrote to me when he was safely at Base and enclosed a message from his wife, thanking me for getting him awa. Poor woman .. how worried she must have been; 42 is no age for service in the desert, or for being mixed up in the coming invasion. 

Instead of the expected rest after the war in Africa finished, we trained intensively .. Reveille at 0545, route marches every other day in full battle-order, on the other days, intensive physical training. In addition I had to lecture and set question-papers, for officers and senior NCOs, but in a welcome break, I managed to attend Vespers and Benediction in Tripoli Cathedral; it was strange to see enemies worshipping together .. but quite right of course. As a further comment on how enemies can cooperate, I helped to organise a musical concert, held in a huge marquee. The artistes were all first-rate Italian musicians and the only lady (a solo pianist who had been on the concert circuit) played beautifully. The only headache as far as I was concerned was in organising the toilet arrangements for one lady in an audience of 200 or more soldiers. 

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In July 1943 the heat was almost unbearable. The temperature in the truck where I had to work some of the time was 130F and, as I wrote to Pat, the paper was curling up from the bottom of the page, and photographs I was sending home just rolled up. Clothes and blankets smelt scorched, added to which khamseen wind was blowing and sand getting in to everything, including the pores of our bodies, in these circumstances, rifles had to be ‘pulled through’ and cleaned at least twice every day. 

[Sub title] THE ITALIAN JOB 

Having bivouacked on the beach near Tripoli for the remainder of the summer, on September 2nd we left for Tripoli Port, embarking on HMS X14 that evening (a filthy boat). On the 4th we set sail for ‘an unknown destination’, but arrived in Valetta harbour, Malta, on September 5th. Our flotilla was the first to hear the news of Italy’s surrender on the 6th, a neighbouring ship having picked up the message from a short-wave (private) transmitter in Algiers and flagged the news to us. Great excitement, but it didn’t seem to interrupt the Navy off-duty games of ‘Housey-Housey’ (Bingo to non-mariners). The skipper of HMS X14 then invited the Army to join the Navy in ‘splicing the mainbrace, to the uninitiated, an issue of Navy rum, given out only on very special occasions. 

If we thought our little part of the war was nearly over, however, we had another think coming … as the Germans were to remind us very forcibly within the next day or two, and our little effort was doomed to continue for another 20 months. 

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As a test of my swimming capabilities, some of my friends threw me off the deck of X14 in to the (very deep) harbour. I passed muster. On the morning of the 7th we set sail and as we did so, we watched the surrender of the Italian fleet, an unforgettable sight, with the Italian sailors lined up on the decks of their warships, at full attention, with their officers at the salute. On the morning of the 8th, we passed Mount Etna to our port side and so went through the Messina straits. 

On the 9th, we heard of the Vth Army’s landing at Salerno and of the furious air battles over the beaches. We all realise that, even if Italy is out of the war, Jerry is very much still there. On September 13th we arrived at the landing area and stood off-shore until 1500 hrs. Everyone quite anxious to disembark, as there are continuous air-raids, shelling from German artillery on shore .. and the hold is packed with ammunition and fuel. At 1600 we were taken off X14 by LCT and dumped offshore in about 3 feet of water. As the enemy had us in full view, we had to get off the beach pretty quickly. A lot of nasty stuff was being directed at us and there were several casualties. Sjt. Bill Mayo, R.E.M.E. of our Maintenance Section, landed with me and was hit by shrapnel just at my side; although his wound didn’t seem life-threatening, mosquitoes quickly gathered on the wound, caused severe infection and, tragically, within a week he died*. 

[*Footnote:] Since writing the above, I have heard from the War Graves Commission that Bill Mayo in fact survived (presumably in hospital) until 7 April 1944. He is buried in the Caserta War Cemetery, Italy. 

We were carrying full kit and we had a march of just over two miles to get to our position; we were wet through from the landing but none the worse, although a few men had to drop out. All of us were very hungry and thirsty and one of the Yanks with our party goes on the scrounge and produces a tin full of American battle rations .. wonderful grub, the like of which we have never seen in the British Army. Our position was in a field about 2 ½ miles from the beach and as darkness fell and there were clouds of mosquitoes everywhere, we smothered ourselves with anti-mosquito cream and donned head veils and gauntlets. At 7 o’clock the same evening Jerry started shelling our positions, and then the fun started … enemy planes bombed an ammunition dump close by and then a petrol dump went up; they then went on to attack shipping in the landing area, so this time, shells are going right over us on to the beaches and beyond. A truck eventually managed to reach us from what was to be our night-time camp 10 miles away; he had to make four journeys and I made the last trip at 2330 and joined the 10 Corps leaguer at midnight. It has been a near thing. Jerry pushed our men back to the beaches once and our advance reconnaissance which landed two hours after the infantry was under mortar and small-arms fire all day on the 9th

We are in a nice orchard .. apples, pears, peaches, passion fruit, walnuts, plum tomatoes and grapes in profusion. On the 15th Sjt. (Bunny) Bunting and the main party arrived, but on the night of the 14th we cleared all our vehicles down to the beach as the Germans were just a kilometres away and were finding us with their mortars; we were just in front of our own guns as well, so we enjoyed both ends of a very sticky job. I had to stay on the telephone all night .. the rest of my men were evacuated together with the transport. However, after a brave counter-attack by our infantry, the enemy were dislodged from the high ground and the shelling decreased. 

Frank Gillard, the BBC war reporter was with me at this time, and his letter describing the position is attached (see final page). 

We stayed in the same area, near Pontecagnano, for two weeks; on 29th September, I received seven (!) letters from Pat, photo 

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included, a lovely eve of birthday surprise. On my birthday (my fifth wat war), we moved to Castellamare di Stabia and we marvelled at the beautiful scenery. At this time, Vesuvius was very angry; on October 2nd, we moved to CATINI, N.E of Naples, having a wonderful welcome everywhere as the population couldn’t wait to see the back of the hated Tedeschi; many of them were, however, starving as much of the food supply had been poisoned by the Germans. There was dreadful damage everywhere from our bombing and shelling and from the enemy demolitions .. they blew up everything, factories included. 

On 3rd October we positioned ourselves on the slopes of Vesuvius, at the village of SEBASTIANO, from where we had a lovely view of the Bay of Naples, but sad to see the city in flames and burning fiercely all night. At least we have food, such as it is; we are allocated a couple of pieces of tinned bacon, hard ‘desert’ biscuits, grease and jam plus a cup of tea. Lunch is hard-tack again, plus a little cheese and a mug of tea. Supper – more hard tack and tea, but we consider ourselves lucky. 

On October 7th we moved to AVERSA and for once consider ourselves lucky to be in a forward position, as the enemy shells are going right over us and falling five miles behind .. presumably directed at our HQ; we went into town on the 8th and, amazingly, found plenty of stuff in the shops at reasonable prices; I managed to get, from various sources, three bottles of whisky and two of vermouth. The civilians told us that the RAF blew up three trains with just one bomb! 

In these conditions, well forward, our basic rations were usually eaten standing-to our vehicles and it was heart-breaking to have children and adults watch u swallow every mouthful .. starving people, waiting like dogs for scraps. We were forbidden to fraternise and it was an offence to pass on any food; needless to say, we ignored that, especially we ensured that the children had something. 

For the next three days and nights there is heavy shelling in our area, the German guns being very close, no sooner do we hear the report than the shell is overhead. It has been pouring with rain since the 6th so it is too boggy to use slit-trenches or for digging in our bivouacs, so we just sit tight and hope. I assumed that they were using their heavy 172 mm guns from the other side of the River Volturno. 

It was a sad day on the 9th, as we learned that one of our number, driving a senior officer in one of our jeeps, was hit by an anti-tank shell: his arm was blown off and he died the same day in a German field-hospital. His name was Pritchard and his dog (a German police-dog) wandered round the trucks looking for his master. I wondered how Pritch’s wife would react, as some time previously, I had had news from the welfare people at home that his wife was expecting another man’s child, and I had had the unpleasant duty of breaking the news to him; I’m sure if he could have got home on leave a year earlier, he would have been able to sort out any problems. This was the trouble with a unit such as ours .. our battle experience in what was now our fourth theatre of war meant that we were picked for any operation that was going. For instance, after the war finished in Africa, we saw soldiers sent home on leave from units who had been a short time abroad, including France, we have been overseas for nearly 3 years and things do go wrong at home with wives and sweethearts, and there is nothing that one can do about it, except that hope that someone such as SSAFA (Sailors, Soldiers and Airmens’ Families 

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Association) can make a home visit and sort something out, One could not blame completely those left at home .. the loneliness must have been awful and temptations very strong. 

On the night of 12th October, 10 Corps started a major offensive in an effort to get across the Volturno; the Sherwood Foresters managed it, but the Germans counter-attacked in force and over-ran them. The battle lasted until the 20th and we suffered very heavy losses. On the 21st Signals moved to the CAPUA area and I went down with the M.O.’s favourite bug P.U.O (pyrexia of unknown origin). In other words, he hadn’t a clue. I was very ill, but by the 26th came back on duty although feeling rotten. On 1st November we moved to SPARANISE and found lots of bodies still laying about (mostly civilians) and no effort had been made to clear up. The stench from decomposing bodies was awful. We took over an old woodyard so, in view of the dreadful weather, we started to build huts and shanties for ourselves. It had rained continuously up to the 22nd and everywhere was a quagmire (so much for sunny Italy!). Pity the P.B.I. – they are up to their knees in mud and have had some very bitter fighting. More casualties for us .. we were strafed by Messerschmidts and Focke-Wulfs and Cpl. Williams was killed; Lt. Snell and three others seriously wounded. On the 22nd we had more attacks on our position, but we were able to raise a cheer when one of our Spitfires bagged two of the raiders. 

The rest of that horrible winter is rather hazy. I only know that it was bitterly cold and wet, and bivouacking in the open was no joke. In January 1944 we moved to SESSA ARUNCA, close to our own artillery who were shelling the enemy holed up in the town of CASTELFORTE, then in March we moved to within two miles of FRANCOLISE, not far from the monastery MONTE CASSINO, the heights of which controlled any movement in the valleys. The battle of Monte Cassino was a real killing-match – we had thousands of casualties before the Poles managed to take the monastery in the spring. Our bombers had laid waste the old building, but the Germans were able to keep their casualties down by being able to hole up under the rocks below the monastery and by having a ful view of allied troops climbing the hill towards them and who they could pick off at will. In addition, 10 Corps had quite a few casualties at that time from our own (American) aircraft who on several occasions dropped their bombs well short of enemy positions. 

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We reached SESSA in April 1944, but before that and early in the year – March 1st I think – some of us who had been continually in action since the Salerno landing were given a real treat. We were sent back to a rest area and, to our delight, we were billeted in a little hotel on the coast at AMALFI. Absolutely wonderful. The local barber came to shave me early every morning (in bed!). The sheer luxury of real sheets and pillows, and how attractive the chef made ordinary Army rations appear. During our meals, the local ‘orchestra’ played and, in a typical Amalfitan way, the bass notes were provided by men blowing into huge jars. ‘Come back to Sorrento’ was one of our favourites; the whole week was idyllic, especially renewing contact with civilisation. Walks up to RAVELLO via the cliff steps and paths were a ‘must’ and we never tired of looking at the glorious view from the Villa Cimbrone (where Greta Garbo and Leopold Stowkowski, the famous conductor, had their assignation. They call this area ‘The Heavenly Coast’ and it is not misnamed. 

[page division] **** 

From April 1944, the history of 10 Corps is well-documented from letters sent by various commanders and newspaper articles which are in the photo-albums at home; the unit rejoined 8th Army after serving with the Fifth U.S. Army since the landings in September 1943. 

Sometime in the autumn (things in the summer are very hazy) I was detached from the main unit in charge of a few NCOs and men, and camped in a brickyard in the hills outside AREZZO in a little village PALAZZO DEL PERO. I had to control supply of signal equipment for use by forward units, mostly in the mountains. A Mountain Regt., which used mule transport, and the 12th and 27th Lancers, the Household Cavalry, were my regular ‘customers’ and I also had dealings with Popski’s Private Army. 

The late autumn/winter became bitterly cold in the hills, and we were in bivouacs for sleeping. I developed a fever at one time, and I owed my recovery to the tender ministrations of a girl-partisan who had escaped capture by the Germans; she used local peasant knowledge of herbs etc. to reduce a very high temperature. When I was on my feet again, she challenged me to a shooting competition – she with her old First War rifle and me with the Army .303 rifle. She was brilliant and she won every time. I didn’t ask how many of the enemy she had killed with her sharp-shooting, but she had an enviable record apparently. Incidentally, she was most unusual for an Italian girl – a natural blonde and a real beauty. 

The Mondani family, who lived in a small house next to the brickyard, were extremely kind to me and, in spite of lack of provisions, extended hospitality to me, and in fact I spent Christmas 1944 with them. Signora M somehow produced a lovely Christmas dinner .. chicken stuffed with chestnuts, wild grasses, mushrooms and other strange fungi from the hedgerows and fields, On other days, a freshly made pasta would be produced – absolutely delicious and totally unlike anything offered in hotels and restaurants here. It was bitterly cold and I was grateful to be invited to be amongst a family once again. What surprised me that there was no bitterness towards British servicemen, in spite of the devastation of their country; their hate was for the Tedeschi (Germans). I remember Aldo, the father and (I think) a manager at the brickworks), Neda and Iole, the daughters. Neda Mondani and I became very friendly and my time there was amongst the happiest periods of my service life, there were 

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many tears from the villagers when my little unit had to leave, to tackle a journey over the Apennines in mid-winter; as my driver was away on other duties, I drove a heavy lorry loaded with signal equipment, in a huge convey making for MACERATA on the east coast. We were assembling there preparatory to an advance via the strongly defended Gothic line and other obstacles to the River Po. The journey over the mountain passes had been ‘difficult’ .. extremely cold, drifts blocking parts so that we had two hours’ movement either way, being organised by the use of R/T. 

Just after we reached the area south of the River Po, it was all over: the Germans surrendered and we made our way back to a transit area near Naples to await transit home. 

As we were preparing for our journey home, we received a letter from Main HQ to say that information had been received that we had been made available for service in the Far East. We knew what this meant – an invasion of Japan – and they had asked for the most experienced unit for the job. We were all pretty ‘Bolshie’ about the idea; after all, we had been on active service continuously since 1st September 1939. The letter was dated 30th April 1945, and we were all forbidden to mention the contents in private correspondence, or verbally. Our last home leave had been four years ago and we were far from happy about the position, especially as there were some units who had been on home service since 1940. We had coped with France and Dunkirk, the Desert War, the Salerno landing and the long, bitter campaign in Italy and we thought we had just about done our bit. 

We sailed into Gourock on the Clyde on 9 June 1943, just over four years after we had left; the impression I remember vividly from the first view of Britain was the lovely fresh green of the fields and the red of the house-roofs. A special train was waiting for us on disembarkation and we finished up in Nissen huts in a field in Trumpington Road, Cambridge. It was strange to think back … when VE Day had been announced at the time we were waiting to be shipped home, there was hardly a cheer, and certainly no celebration; we were just exhausted and we had lost so many good friends over the years. 

I had more frustration at Cambridge – the unit was sent on home leave for 21 days, but I was detailed to stay and look after things, together with a few men who had only seen active service for a month or two. Just before the return of our men from leave, I collapsed and was diagnosed at Addenbrookes as having Infective Hepatitis, a virulent form of jaundice. Several of us who had just come back from Italy (although none of my unit) including two members of the S.A.S. and even one or two Italians were affected and there were several deaths. 

The Maternity Hospital in Mill Road had been partly made available to the Forces, for use as a war for infectious diseases; medical students came in from the University to conduct experiments on some of us .. I had injections regularly to try to clear up the hepatitis and one (I was told by the Ward Sister) was an extract 

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from rat’s liver. Whether that was true, I don’t know as just after that I had a relapse and that particular treatment was discontinued. 

Later, during convalescence, I was allowed out for an hour or two, and I remember that Pat travelled down from her WAAF unit in Nettishead, Norfolk, to meet me outside King’s College. So much had happened to both of us since our parting in May 1941, and we had to get to know each other all over again, although our constant and almost daily letters to each other helped to bridge the gap. It was the day we had longed and prayed for. I did eventually get away on leave, about 8 weeks after reaching the UK. 

After more hospital checks, I returned to 10 Corps Signals and we eventually moved to St George’s Hill, Weybridge (the so-called millionaires’ district) where the senior NCOs were billeted in a large mansion; there we waited for details of our demobilisation, the threat of further service in invading Japan having been put behind us, due to the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the surrender of that nation in August. 

Although, as mentioned before, some of us had been continuously on active service for six years, demobilisation was based on age; my official release-date was 28 March 1946, but I was given three months’ demobilisation leave. My gratuity from the War Office for 75 months’ service was £60, which worked out at 16s. (SOP) per month. I wondered how much I would have earned in civilian employment in that period. 

Pat and I were married on 18 January 1946, 11 years after we first met at Dobsons and M. Browne & Co. in Nottingham. Pat was not demobilised until some weeks after out marriage and her gratuity came to £30, so we started our married life with just £90 in the bank, plus any income-tax credits due .. yes, serving soldiers had to pay tax just like anyone else! 

This should have been the end of a very ordinary wartime story and, in a way, I suppose it was to all extents and purposes, with one exception – I was put on the Reserve List, and thus became eligible for service in Korea. Luckily, I was not called up. 

Hoping for a new life after the war, I remembered these words from ‘The Seven Puillars of Wisdom’ by TE Lawrence: ‘When we achieved, and the new world dawned, the old men came out again and took our victory to remake it in the likeness of the former world they knew. Youth could win, but had not learned to keep and was pitifully weak against age. We stammered that we had worked for a new heaven and a new earth; they thanked us kindly and made their peace.’ 

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It is now disclosed that the 10th Corps have played a leading part in the Italian campaign, from the landings at SALERNO up to the present, providing ground from which General Alexander’s Armies have launched their latest offensives. 

The Fifth Army’s long struggle can really be divided into four phases, and the 10th Corps, under command of Lieut-General Sir Richard McCreery, was prominent in all of the. The first phase was the landing at SALERNO on the 9th September (1943) followed by a fierce battle until the 17th, when the enemy started falling back. Then the 10th Corps and the United States 6th Corps began the great weeding-out of the enemy. In the second phase, the 10th Corps attacking on the left, with the U.S. 6th Corps on the right, breached the enemy’s Volturno defences. The third phase began on October 12th, after a pause of ten days to allow the damaged roads to be repaired. In this, the British 10th Corps and the U.S. forces advanced across the strong line of enemy defences north of NAPLES. The British 10th Corps, in the fourth phase, attacked the heavily defended M. CAMINO, which was followed up by the crossing of the River GARDGLIANO. The Germans then counter-attacked, but the 10th Corps. Though heavily out-numbered, held firm and continued to hold one of the most important positions in the enemy’s defensive line. 



So, the old 10th Corps has been named as one of the formations which have taken part in the battles in Italy. 

Security forbade it earlier. Otherwise, the name of this Corps would have been as familiar to the British public as those of the Fifth and Eighth Armies. 

Behind the lines, during the breathless late summer of 1942, when Rommel’s tanks were rolling down the coast-road towards ALEXANDRIA, 10 Corps spread itself across the desert and surrounded itself in mystery. New formations came to it; many had just arrived from England. For weeks, the Corps rehearsed in camera. 

Then, in the early hours of October 24th, it emerged as the Corps de Chasse – the most powerful force of armour and lorried infantry which Britain had yet put in to the field. This chase took it to TUNIS and then to SALERNO. 

The Corps fought in all the major battles for NAPLES, on the VOLTURNO, on MONTE CAMINO. Then, at great cost, it made the bridgehead across the lower R. GARIGLIANO, which has been the springboard for the allied advance along the coast. Of course, its constitution has undergone many changes; wastage of war and regrouping made such changes inevitable. But there is continuity there all the same – perfect continuity, going back to the earliest days. Tasks completed and handed over; tasks begun and handed over to others for completion. Every man in every unit which has served in 10 Corps has made his contribution. 

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[Title] Some Naked Truth About an Afternoon in the Desert, by Alex Clifford, Daily Mail Correspondent 

It was a lovely afternoon. The rain and sandstorms had stopped and the pale golden sunshine was deliciously warm. We had camped early because there was nowhere special to go. I stripped myself naked and washed all over in a mugful of water, then sat down to write my despatch. 

Just at the moment the Eighth Army is not spending a great deal of its time fighting. For a week or more, the front lines have been fixed and there is a lull for everyone except for armoured car patrol. But all the time this strange vigorous everyday life is going on – a topsy-turvy life lived by tens of thousands of men in the desert where normally no man can live at all. 

A vast food convoy passed along the road as I sat in the sunshine and I though that there is a good story to be written about rations, the goodness of American tinned bacon and the badness of the British. 

Conversely, the goodness of the British sausages and the badness of the American. The apparent lack of Vitamin C in the diet. And the eternal prayer that someone someday will invent a substitute for bully-beef. 

Then as lorries went on streaming by, I thought of this growing forest of sign-boards which is steadily springing up along this road. Many of them merely consist of initials like P.O.L, F.M.C, R.E.M.E and so forth. 

But many have emblems like foxes’ masks, vampire bats, buffaloes, camels, rats and men holding tanks. On the average you find that you know about a third of them and can guess half of the remainder. 

Some of the really baffling ones turn out to be German notices that no one has yet removed. But there are plenty of odd-looking British ones which would provide a fascinating subject for research. 

Then I realised I was continually waving my arms to scare away the flies and I though someone should write an article about these pests which are one of the desert’s constant features. How do they manage to operate the whole year round? 

It is as absurd to pretend they are as numerous now as they were at Alamein last July. But those annoying me now would certainly be described as plague in England. 

Then I noticed the mug of dirty water in which I had washed and I thought that few people can realise how much time and thought is devoted here to life’s simplest problems, such as keeping clean and getting suitable clothes. 

Every day thousands of buttons are sewn on and thousands of socks darned by men who have never handled needle and who must start from scratch and work the whole thing out for themselves. There are endless arguments about how long you can go on wearing the same shirt. 

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[Title continued] Some Naked Truth About An Afternoon in The Dessert (page 2) 

I knocked the sand out of my typewriter and put in a piece of paper. And at the same moment the air was filled with a noise like a tremendous hail-storm on a corrugated iron roof. It came down the road and any fool could have told you what it was. But the planes were so low that they were not silhouetted against the sky and at first [one] could not see them. 

The, bursts of ack-ack were fired and showed where they were. One glance told me they were coming in my direction and the second showed they were Messerschmitts machine-gunning for all they were worth. 

Our trucks seemed a possible target so I started to run. The plane which had been coming straight for the truck tilted its wings in a steep bank and swung towards me. Suddenly I realised I had lost my khaki camouflage. 

I was stark naked, and the pilot saw me as a conspicuous pink shape racing across the desert. I tried to work out whether he would really bother about a single naked man and I found I rather thought he would. 

I ran faster and he banked more and more. Then I saw that the sand ahead of me was being ripped savagely into little ruts. I was running straight into someone else’s field of fire. So I lay down, my last hope being that. By keeping still, I would be less conspicuous. 

In 30 more seconds they had all screamed harmlessly overhead, cavorting crazily to escape a tornado of small-arms fire which by now was coming from the ground. I walked back to the truck, got myself another mug of water and washed all over again. As I did so, I began planning to write a bitter article about the Luftwaffe. But then it seemed better to get a spade and dig myself a good deep slit-trench. And by the time that was done, the sun had begun to set in a gaudy burst of splendour – the desert’s one moment of beauty and colour. The afternoon was gone and it was high time to cook supper. I put away my typewriter and lit the stove. 

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[Title] COPY OF LETTER FROM F. G (FRANK) GILLARD, CBE, of Wellington, Somerset 

14th May 1995 

Dear Mr. Thraves, 
Thanks for your fascinating letter. I was indeed the BBC man at the Salerno landing and very lucky I was to get through the first few hours alive. It was one of the stickiest incidents of the whole war for me. 

Round about the 12th or 13th September 1943), Mark Clark (American General in command of the US V Army, which included 10 (British) Corps) complained to me bitterly that the BBC was quoting the German communique, which alleged that we were about to be pushed back into the sea. I told him that the BBC obviously had no other source of information, since nothing was going out to the media from our side. He was astonished at this, and immediately offered me 250 words a day on his private channel to London. No doubt you actually handled my first message. Mark Clark had solemnly assured me that his army would not withdraw. The shipping entering the bay was not there to take us off, but to bring in reinforcements (7th Armoured, if I remember correctly). He was so emphatic that I took his word for it, and sent the dispatch to which you refer. He also supplied me with a radio receiver (a Hallicrafter .. I still have it) so that I could monitor BBC London and correct any inaccuracies in BBC bulletins. The War Office in London insisted on circulating all my reports to the daily Press as long as the emergency lasted, so the material you transmitted had unlimited circulation. 

Clark had been afraid that his forces in exposed forward areas would become so dispirited and alarmed by the BBC’s bulletins that the success of the operation might be put at risk. His prognosis and guidance proved to be 100% correct and accurate and, as you say, the situation was quite soon stabilised. I am sure that the despatches you sent for me, brief though they were, made an important contribution to the ultimate outcome. 
Yours sincerely 
(sgd) Frank Gillard 

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On Wednesday May 29th (1940), after escaping heavy bombing in the harbour and along the pier of Dunkerque, I sailed aboard the Crested Eagle at about 5.30 pm with my liaison agent, Bassett. Two miles beyond the pier, our boat was attacked by German diving bombers who dropped some big incendiary bombs. I was then standing in the inside deck on the left of the staircase, a bomb fell on the right of the staircase and I fainted for a few minutes. When I recovered myself, I expected the sinking of the boat and I saw that my hands and my face were terribly burned by the fire of the bomb. All around, some wounded soldiers were shouting and roaring: I saw a small window through which I dropped myself head first and I fell on a small outside desk two yards below; there I recovered better with fresh air and was happy to find again Bassett, who was suffering from the shock but was uninjured. 

In the meantime, the steamer was set on fire and was beached at about 700 yards off the sand, towards which it was possible to swim quickly, but we were afraid to be made prisoners the next morning. So we decided to reach farther a British destroyer. Bassett took off my field-boots and we jumped into the sea. I saw then that it would be impossible to swim quickly enough with my uniform breeches; unhappily my hands were so badly burned that the skin was going off with the nails, like gloves, nevertheless, I succeeded to undo all the breeches’ buttons, including the leg buttons and keeping only my short pants. I swam half and hour before being picked up near the destroyer. Then I fainted again and when I recovered, I was in a small room inside the destroyer, rolled up in a blanket, a sailor was putting some oil and bandages on my hands. 

The next morning, we reached Great Britain and I was carried to a First Casualty Station and afterwards to hospital. There the surgeons anaesthetised me to clean my hands and my face, and sprayed tannic acid on my hands. After further sprayings of this product my hands were covered with a kind of brown artificial skin. The flesh ought to grow again inside that sort of glove. My looking was horrible, face and ears were black and full of crusts, with enormous nose and dried lips. 

The grand devotion of doctors and nurses saved my life. On June 7th sudden haemorrhages of both hands. I am getting weaker every day. Nightmares, even by day. On June 12th a Catholic priest is called to give me the last sacraments, I offer up my life for my dear France, but it is very sad to think that I shall never more see my poor wife, my boy and all the dear ones who are far from me. On June 13th my right arm is swelling, getting blue and very painful, the next morning the surgeons opens it and an enormous quantity of pus goes off during several days. I am saved and from now I shall slowly recover. 

From about June 20th I was given hand-baths; the artificial skin started to come off by pieces, uncovering a new skin on the palm and some flesh on the back of the hands. In the meantime, I was given medicines to cure my face. My ears were very painful and prevented me to sleep on the side. I was six weeks without leaving my bed, both hands confined in bandages, fed by the nurses as a baby. The back of the hands is the part needing the longest time to be healed because there the skin must be extensible and the sores of my right hand are only healed now, 29th August, three months after I have been wounded. 

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Now the skin must stretch to enable the fingers to bend, what I am getting slowly by repeated exercises with cod liver oil on the skin. In September, a plastic surgeon will operate the small finger of my right hand: I cannot move this finger which was badly contracted by the fire. Then I hope to be fit again before Christmas. 

When I was with the Royal Signals near my home in the north of France, I sent my wife, my boy and all my family to my father-in-law’s country house in the west of France, near Angiers, on the River Loire, on the way they passed through Abbeville, two days before the arrival of German troops. 

As soon as I was in a British hospital, I asked my liaison agent Bassett to write to my wife who received my letter, knew I was safe in England, and she answered me by a letter which I received near the 15th of June. Since that time, I have only received some cables, through Portugal or Switzerland, telling me that she was safe near Angiers in occupied France, with my boy and my family, and in good health. 

I am now very well looked after in a London County Council Hospital and every afternoon I take the opportunity to visit the chief monuments and improve my English talking by going to the pictures or to lectures. Many friends of mine, liaison officers, have unfortunately been killed during the battle of Flanders, but I met other ones who joined the Free France’s troops with General de Gaulle, or some British units. 

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