January 1st New years day. Clear Blue skies, which by noon give way to heavy clouds and rain. Our canteen stores arrive, beer, fags, chocolate, sweets and tinned fruit. Second phase of the battle for Bardia begins at 08-00 hrs.
January 2nd 07-00 hrs the Germans ask for terms. Our Ops and AP report enemy coming up to the wire with white flags. White flag hoisted on the Bardia road block. The tanks go forward to parley. 09-30 hrs the British CIC goes out to meet the German CIC at Bardia. Our terms are unconditional surrender. At 10-00 hrs the time limit for the reply expires, and there is no reply. 10-15 hrs terms have been agreed upon. The German CIC is to come out at 12-00 hrs under escort of the DLI. The DLI are going in now, and all guns are standing by. It is raining and growing colder, and Bardia is on fire and clouds of smoke indicate that the Germans in defiance of our orders are blowing up their dumps. At 12-00 hrs a last attack by Italian bombers takes us by surprise and bombs are dropped near the 68th positions. Bardia is now in our hands with about 4500 POW, and we recover a 1000 of our own men. All ranks are confined to camp, there is no looting.
January 3rd-17th Would we go back to base now? No fears. (I think they were scared to take us back to civilization) and so we were promised yet another action., this time at hell fire pass where some bloody minded Germans under the leadership of a wretched Lutherian person were holding out. These Boche had no sense of honour, were we not browned off? It was so silly for them to hang on, when we could be enjoying the comforts of base life, and they those of the POW cage. Some people had no consideration for the feelings of others. January sees us on our way to Halfaya pass and on the 5th we pitch our tents some 2000 yards from the frontier wire. (then we move back, they always do things this way in the army) and make camp some 600 yards West of the Amseat road sign and within sight of the fort of Capuzzo, now a heap of rubble. The British Navy never had very much consideration for this gem of architecture as conceived by the “Jackal.” The landscape is very flat here, and the soil is of a reddish nature. Away to the SE we can see point 207 which the Hun occupies. To the NE is Sollum with its barracks, while to the West the road runs to Bardia. FS base is in action. The enemy is known to have several heavy guns, plus some 88mm and 75mm but it is doubtful whether he has the ammo, and there is a feeling that he spiked his heavier guns in the early days of the battle. There is no SR base as yet. The FS have a post on the water tower at Sollum barracks.
January 7th Went to Bardia looting and also in search of firewood. Bardia, despite its ruins, makes a pretty picture, its white houses forming a pleasant contrast with the deep blue waters of the natural harbour they overlook. Arrived back at the old camp, and traded odds and ends with the wogs for eggs. We rescued Hugh Gibb who had fallen asleep in the back of the diesel and had been overcome with fumes (we dare not switch off the engine as we would never get it started again.) After a few forced walks he was soon O.K. SR base now in action and I move forward to the HQ which is some yards from the wire.
January 11th Zero hour 06-00 hrs. Artillery fire only as required by the infantry (South Africans) Feint attack on point 207. By 11-00 hrs Fig Tree Wells (the Germans source and only source of water) and the village of Sollum below the barracks are in our hands. Our forces reported to be at Path Cairn.
January 15th Remarkable mirage at 08-00 hrs, and hill 207 is very plainly seen, upside down. Enemy guns active on 207.
January 16th Ranging shoot by the SR with the 6" Hows.
January 17th 08-00 hrs the Germans ask for terms. 10-00 hrs the enemy accepts our terms and are told to gather at certain points. Hellfire and 207 are in our hands. The free French are reported to be firing observed shots onto the POW and our men, and it is some time before the CBO can put a stop to it. About 5800 POW are taken of which some 3000 are Germans. There is no looting. Rum issue to celebrate.
January 18th-28th This time it is really base and leave at long last. We take a trip into Hellfire Pass to observe our artillery results on the enemy gun positions and we saw several direct hits especially on the 75mm gun pits. His 88mm and heavier appeared to have been spiked much earlier as we had previously thought. I made a few discoveries including a camp bed and a German “Swastika” Flag. Hellfire pass is really some pass and makes a natural fortress.
January 19th Set off for Cairo at long last and soon make the Sidi Baranni road, and by 17-00 hrs are in Mersa.
January 20th Sees us on the train, and this time we greet it like an old friend. At 19-00 hrs we roll into Almaza once more, seasoned veterans of desert warfare.
The next few days are devoted to eating, sleeping, endless hot showers, TAB and TT inoculations, and visits to Cairo. We are granted 10 days leave, and I am thinking of going to Tel Aviv in Palestine. A party of us make ready including RAF Met, Bob Dunn, Bill Fordham, and Alan Stewart.
January 28th onwards We catch the express to Kantara east at 15-00 hrs and arrive at the other side of the Suez Canal at 18-30 hrs. Here I lose my diary when passing through the customs, and it is sent to GHQ Cairo. We have some difficulty in getting our passes signed by the RTO as leave to Palestine has been cancelled. However after a wrangle and a few lies, we board the train at 21-30 bound for Lydda junction, where after a passable night we catch the local bus to Tel Aviv. It is cold and raining, and we are a little disgusted. The Blue Med looks grey and most uninviting. We report to the CMP, and book our rooms at the Karpin Hotel, which we find most comfortable, and then lunch at the services club which is a stones throw away from the beaches. We change our Egyptian currency into Palestinian money and take a look around.
Tel Aviv, show piece of the Jewish Palestine, created from out of the sand dunes and wastes in the early twenties, and noted for the reinforced concrete style of architecture advocated by the German architect Mendelhson. The buildings are nearly all built in reinforced concrete. The streets and boulevards are tree lined, and the sea front is flanked by a fine promenade. Our first impressions were good. So we passed our leave eating and drinking, visiting the cinemas, making new friends, and trying to fathom the Jewish mind. I became friendly with a Sgt. From the 2nd New Zealand division. We were photographed sitting on thr rails of the promenade. He was a very good companion and I often wonder what became of him.
I made a trip into Joffa (Jaffa) which is the ancient Arab city lying close by Tel Aviv (Tel Aviv means the city of the mountain spring.) We of course had to visit the holy places, Jerusalem and Bethlehem. I went with an organised party from Tel Aviv. The ancient road from Tel Aviv (now a fine macadam road) runs between groves of Orange and other fruit trees, until we are well passed Lydda Junction, then the country becomes dry and stony, and there is a steady climb towards the hills surrounding the holy city. Here and there can be seen terraced hill sides now fallen into disuse, probably because of lack of water. Many caves are to be seen in the cliffs facing the road. We descend a series of hills and curves known as the Seven Sisters, and after visiting Raechels Tomb outside Jerusalem we head for the city centre. We visited in turn the various churches and chapels, the pool of Bethesda, the Via Golgotha, the Garden of Gethsemane, the Mount of Olives, the Tomb of the Rock, the Wailing Wall, and the old city itself, then on to Bethlehem to visit the Church of the Nativity, with its Manger and the silver star set in the floor, the Solomon Piers, and the church tower whose peal of bells we hear at Xmas in this country and then back to Tel Aviv.
Page down for Feb
February 6th Report to the RTO and then Sarafand camp as our leave has expired but there are no trains back to Cairo and so continue our leave till the 19th when we learn the good news that the troop is moving North towards Syria and they are to pick us up, which they do. We were sitting down to breakfast when Captain Balfour walked in.
February 19th Leave Sarafand by road for Haifa which we reach by 17-00 hrs. The rest of the regiment are travelling by rail to Damascus.
February 20th We leave the transit camp at 07-00 hrs, and pass through Haifa at about 08-00 hrs. Haifa is a modern town lying at the foot of Mount Carmel. As we passed through the busy shopping centre, crowds of young Jews were busy making there way to offices and shops, to begin their days work. There are some really fine modern buildings lining the main street. We were soon skirting the harbour and the great oil refineries, which were often a target for the Axis bombers. The road was good and soon we were heading North along the coast road towards Lebanon, passing through the Tyre, an Arab city standing almost in the sea. We arrived at Chika some four miles outside Beirut. Little things that stick out in my mind are, the graves by the wayside of those who perished in the Syrian campaign, the small Arab villages with their fruit groves, the long white sandy beaches, and the Blue Med waves with their snowy breakers, the steep cliffs near the Lebanon frontier and the road cut out from the sheer rock face. Also the long drop on our left with the waves washing cruel rocks, with the men busy at work on the new railway from Beirut to Haifa, the custom officers, and our view of the Lebanese Mountains covered with snow, and we shivered.
We made camp in the famous Foręt Du Pins (The Forest of Pines) which lies adjacent to the racecourse, and awaited orders. We soon learnt that the pass across the Lebanon Mountains was blocked with snow, and that there was no chance of getting through for a day or Two, so we waited, and it actually snowed. We were allowed leave in Beirut. It is a typical French provincial town with its cobbled streets and Green Trams, whose conductors we refused to pay, saying charge it to Mr. Churchill. The poorer people were starving and there was nowhere to eat except from one place run by the Australians. Beirut was really a miserable place to be in at that time and we changed our money once again for Syrian Pounds (Nine Syrian Pounds to one English or Egyptian Pound,) and they did not go very far. Beirut has rather a fine harbour, and it had a perfect setting with the snow capped mountains running sheer down to the waters edge. It is noted also for its Brothels. February 21st and the pass is still snow bound, and it rains all day down here in the Foręt Du Pins. I visit the cinema to see the “Mikado.” I also see the first showing in Syria of “Gone with the Wind”
February 24th We leave for Baalbeck at 10-00 hrs and the weather is kind. The road climbs steadily from Chika towards the great Lebanon range, whose tops are lost in the clouds. As we look backwards we get a fine view of Beirut and its magnificent harbour, and a great Green smudge to our left marks the Foręt Du Pins. In Aly some 5000 feet above sea level we come across our first snow, and it is getting colder. Aly is the Summer resort for the wealthy people from Beirut. Between 8 and 9000 feet we are going over the pass proper, and it is a strange sight to look down upon the clouds, but such is so. The snow lies everywhere and drifts Ten to Twenty feet high make Two solid walls at either side of the road. There is one way traffic only and the ploughs are busy. The French Gendarmes make a picturesque scene as they direct the traffic on skis, and in fact the whole mountainside is covered with people enjoying the sport. Overhead a lone plane battles through the snow clouds. To our right the railway from Beirut to Damascus clings to the vertical rock face, and it is equipped with a tooth and pinion track to help it up the steep gradients, and it takes us Two hours to cross the pass as we almost freeze to death. At the other side of the pass a long convoy of civilian cars is waiting to cross (there is no petrol rationing) and it looks as if they will have to wait some time yet. It is growing much warmer as we descend into the great Coele Syrian Plain, which is stretched out before us. From 2000 feet we have a fine view of the valley narrowing towards the North and South. To the West can be seen the hills Lebanon and to the East the mountains of the Anti-Lebanon Range, across whose ridges lies Damascus. By late Noon we are down in the plain and heading for the the ancient town of Baalbeck, famous for its ruins of the acropolis, which we reach by 16-30 hrs. We leave again at 17-00 hrs reaching the small village of Ras Baalbeck at 18-00 hrs. We make camp in Nissen huts and it is very cold.