Uncles Diary June/July/Aug 1942
Posted by Mac Cummings on May 31, 2018, 11:39 am
Edited by board administrator May 31, 2018, 12:32 pm
June1st-30th The weather is growing much hotter now and one day is very much the same as another. The position in the desert grows worse, and it looks as if we will soon be back in the land of the Pharaohs. Tobruck is once again a garrison. We of “R” troop will take a very dim view of the garrison if they don’t hold out. They don’t, blast them, and Tobruck falls on the 23rd. The survey continues and I find it very warm work climbing the hills. Orders to move are in the offing. The Germans push on past Sidi Baranni well into Egypt. |
June 27th We receive orders to move and we are feeling a little sad at leaving Ras Baalbeck and Syria. I go and say farewell to my friends and the old lady weeps. It was very touching. We leave to joint the regiment at Damascus, and arrive there at 18-00 hrs. Damascus is a pleasant sight, after a trip across the barren slopes of the Anti-Lebanon Mountains, as a sea of green Palms as far as the eye can reach greets you as you turn the last bend in the road, with seven rivers rushing up from the Earth flow through this garden oasis and then flow back into the Earth again. We heard the priests calling the faithful to prayer from the tops of the Minarets as it was sunset. I came back again that evening with George Backhouse to Ras Baalbeck to bring along the rear party. It was dark when we left Damascus, and we switched on our headlights as we climbed over the anti Lebanon. There are many hair pin bends on this road, and Arab drivers are not very fussy as to what side of the road they drive on. It was after midnight when we passed the ruins at Baalbeck. They looked ghostly in the light of a new moon. They are the finest Roman remains in this country, comprising the Temples of Venus, Jupiter and Bacchus, and so on to Ras Baalbeck arriving at 02-00 hrs. June 28th sees us back in Damascus. We leave by train at 18-00 hrs, and the trains are even worse than the previous ones. We chug across the great desert wastes South of Damascus towards the Palestine frontier. At midnight the coaches break down, and I transfer myself to a flat truck carrying the Bren carriers of the Australian 9th Division.
My diary at this time comprises notes of places and dates, and a good memory. It’s an offence to keep a diary but the 1941 survives 60 years on.
June 29th Dawn finds us travelling through the great valley of the River Yarmuk, which was made famous by the exploits of Lawrence of Arabia in the last war (1914-1918) It is sheer on both sides and the river is hundreds of feet below. The railway clings to the rock face, as is nothing more than a succession of tunnels and viaducts. As we wind in and out like a snake, we cross the river and re-cross, a feat of engineering if ever there was one. No wonder the Turks cursed Lawrence of Arabia as he blew up their tunnels and bridges. The scene is desolate, rocks and more rocks. We reach the frontier at 08-00 hrs and roll into Senaka at the Southern edge of lake Tiberius (Sea of Galilee.) It is 609 feet below sea level, and very hot. We push on along the fertile of Jezreel towards Haifa which we reach at 21-00 hrs. The moon is just rising. Spend the night in a transit camp.
June 30th Arrive at the station Haifa East at 21-00 hrs, and leave for Kantara at 01-00 hrs after loading our stores aboard. Mersa Matruh falls and the long journey to Kantara on the Suez canal begins. We travel in cattle trucks as all available rolling stock is being pressed into service. We hug the coastline as we lie and sweat, longing for a dip in the sea which is so invitingly near. In the fields young Jewish girls, very buxom, and wearing the shortest of shorts, go about their busy ways looking after the fruit and melon groves, and our mouths water.
At this time I came across a poem written in Tobruck, and here it is.
And men have fought for women, love and praise,
For gold and gardens, and for passion’s craze;
But these are men who battled to possess
A trackless desert ‘neath a brazen blaze.
No silver spray of fountain lured them on,
Nor richly bearing fields to feast upon
No earthly treasures swelled the conquerors hoard,
To recompense them for the road they’ve gone.
But sun scarred sand that hurts the skin and eyes,
And cannon roaring in a death surprise,
And toil and sweat and fear and steel and blood,
And at the end a ruin for a prize.
A ruin, and a weary watch to keep,
And night time sorties in the stead of sleep,
And all around, unseen but menacing,
The foemen watching for a life to reap.
And year long moments crawling slowly by,
As light and darkness share the tropic sky,
And duty towers, inspiring over all
And death and misery are dwarfed thereby
And last, the welcome cry. “Relief is here”
And hardy warriors wave their guns and cheer,
The barren sands begin to glow and smile
For gallantry has made a garden here.
July 1st-14th We arrived at the Suez canal at 07-00 hrs on the morning of July 1st, and have breakfast at the NAAFI. One ship after another is passing South through the canal, so it looks as if Alex is being evacuated. The enemy take Daba (famous for its bulk NAAFI) and are at Tel El Eisa and Alemein. We leave by train and arrive at the transit camp Tel El Kabir at 18-00 hrs, and then on to the camp at El Tehag. El Tehag is a miserable collection of filthy huts near the Sweet Water Canal (a misnomer if ever their was one) and this name is given to one of the largest staging camps in the Middle East. A sea of tents and huts stretches for miles, with water towers popping up their heads here and there. All around is hard baked Earth, not even sand. We are told that we will be here some weeks, refitting and getting new transport. We have PT at 06-00 hrs and its hell. The line at El Alemein is holding against heavy German pressure (Auk is in command)
July 14th Ack troop (flash spotters) leave for the bluey’ today. We have a trade test revision. The weather is very hot.
July 15th-August 31st For some unknown reason we hang about Tehag for all this time, refitting and the rest. I get myself a job at the Wellsley Hall selling air graphs and stamps, a real scrounge. Pay One or Two visits to Ismalia and the Bitter Lakes. We have several German Recce planes over the area flying at a great height, and at night we have the usual raids on Suez.
August 29th Movement orders at last and we stand by. At 08-20 hrs we move off in convoy for the Western desert and Alemein, passing through Cairo just after Noon and there is an air of tenseness in the Capital as a thin pall of smoke indicates that Government buildings are still burning their secret files. Along the road leading to the Pyramids and Menai they are building road blocks and barb wired entanglements and in the Zoo they are digging gun pits. It looks as if they will even fight for Cairo itself. Reached Alex at 22-00 hrs and bed down for the evening. There is a violent air raid, certainly no peace here.
August 31st Move off at 08-20 hrs.and made the Western desert road. Arrive Ten miles from HQ at Noon with bombing attacks on targets in our rear. ME 109’s over and we are in action again. Move up to troop HQ at 17-00 hrs and a ME 109 is shot down some hundred yards away. The pilot bales out safely. A heavy bombing attack on a target some 300 yards away at dusk keeps us all very low, some place this. Heavy artillery barrage all night keeps us awake.