by Natasha Parsons
Republic of South Africa
Daddy’s been gone a number of years. He left me his diaries.
His diaries keep me in touch, even though I arrived the year WW2 ended.
Entered Italian Somali-land this afternoon after very rough drive in sweltering heat.
Pontoon bridge over the rather wide river of Garrisa. Slept on north side of river.
What a day it must have been exhausted by the heat and not so warming thoughts. That was March 19, 1941.
His entry two days later: slept on disused landing, …. A short sharp storm early evening. Heat terrible, dust, roads awful. AFMADU DISTRICT.
Afmadow District – a name written on his mind, I bet.
Can imagine the humidity following that little storm.
What thunder did to his nerves!
Shell shock came to haunt him ever after.
Cool day, sent letters and parcel to mater. Nothing of importance. Lieut Daniel returned from Berbera.
Hargeisha – Somali Capital. Daddy took time off to write his sisters at Dower College.
26 APRIL 1941 GIGGIGA (Jijiga City in Ethiopia)
Cool to cold. Quiet day. Henry D. and C. Doherty paid visit evening, nice chat with Cpl Linden. Wrote Grace Linden. Got a letter and snap from Kathlene also one from Mike.
Kathlene and Mike… died so young… nice they cared about big brother away at war.
Snippet from 6 May 1941. Dad remembered his nieces – I’m so glad:
Received letter from Dad. Sent post cards to Francis and Gerty Marillier. Had to ‘choke off’ Guards and prisoners for dumping a large number of live rifle cartridges in fire, extremely dangerous, had to dodge bursting ammunition.
Big jump to
14/6/42 GAZALA, TOBRUK, ACROMA “withdrawal” Under intense shell fire all morning. Decided to withdraw. Leave approx. 1430hrs towards Tobruk. Had to destroy our petrol and oil dumps “under intense fire”. Machine gunned in Tobruk area, after getting down escarpment, very severely. Shelled and bombed. Got clear away & parked at the Acroma aerodrome area (in Mine fields). Few of our trucks got out of action. Withdrawal seemed satisfactory so far.
15/6/42 WITHDRAWAL INTO EGYPT Leave Acroma 0200hrs, a few shells came over. Travel in comparative comfort, passed Tobruk perimeter at dawn and continue east. No strafing, hundreds of vehicles over desert, pass Sidi Rizegh and travel into desert – tar road being used by our Armour – cross fence into Egypt late afternoon and camp.
16/6/42 Very grateful for respite from infernal shelling and gunning!
17/4/42 Leave camp & travel approx. 20 miles n. e. Last night Jerry bombing Fort Capuzzo nearby, nervous he would give our camp a crack too.
18/6/42 – 28/6/42 On the 20th understand Tobruk garrison endangered and town falls on Sunday the 21st – now we’re for it!
Travel further east. During night Jerry machine guns the coast road (moon light) with a good deal of bombing. Traffic on road is unbelievable, dense as Eloff Street and seems to be Jerry’s playground. Bombs fall as near as 150yards away from us, machine gunning all over the place.
3/7/42 EL ALAMEIN Still rather cloudy. Short dog fight early morning. Learn that McKenzie was killed in action last night – poor fellow! Still we’re all waiting for it – a git!
4/7/42 EL ALAMEIN Large forces of our heavy bombers and fighters going over to Jerry’s lines, bombing like hell. Jerry sending strikers and fighters to bomb our left flank all day. Position as yesterday. Good few planes downed in area.
5/7/42 EL ALAMEIN Fierce shelling all day. One enemy plane brought down in area. Bombing by enemy, our bombers going over. Last night Radio (Daventry) states position being held by us. Shelling is pretty heavy but not in my area.
6/7/42 EL ALAMEIN Went to El Hammon Station for water, about 18 miles down the line. Shelling pretty severe but not in this area. Jerry’s high level Bombers did some pretty heavy bombing near by. Severe bombing during early hours of morning by our planes. Understand 600 Jerrys gave themselves up yesterday. Rather depressing Russian news. Not too certain of position with us, news conflicting. Lots of Aussies going up the line.
7/7/42 EL ALAMEIN & ALEXANDRIA Went to El Hammon Station for water. Bit of bombing going on near there, by Jerry. Severe shelling last night with bombing. Rather quiet during morning. Plenty transport on road to water point, met a New Zealand-er with a number of Honey Tanks (new). Had good fortune to proceed on a trip to Heloun. Left at about four o’clock and slept at the Mustapha Barracks, Alexandria, having had radiator trouble en rout., mended by Australians. Has a fairly good time en route, beer galore.
8/7/42 HELOUAN Proceeded early for Helouan, passed Cairo about 12 o’clock and arrived at Helouan soon after. Had a ripping time at N.A.A.F.I.’s. there where I met Dan Wyatt, drank beer with him to heart’s content, he slept in my truck as tight as nine-pence. Glad of respite from bombing etc.
9/7/42 HELOUAN & CAIRO Proceeded for Front and slept at Cairo, had a gorgeous time with Stride, visited some Egyptians he knew. Met some East Africans & got a few beers from them. met a couple of Tommies who stood us more beers and saw us to Abbasia Barracks where we slept – tight!
10/7/42 EL ALAMEIN Continued for Front early. Passed Alex about 11 o’clock, had dinner there and a beer, quite a good time, arrived at our lines in the afternoon. Bombing again!
11/7/42 EL ALAMEIN Hot, as usual, received letter from Dad and wrote Kathlene and Gertie Marillier. Jerry bombing ridge next to us – string of bombs dropped about 1 ½ miles long. Heavy guns blazing away all day with occasional bombing, rather far from here. Another series of bombing in Fwd area, saw plane come down, believe a Jerry.
12/7/42 Pretty hot. Several planes of ours about, bombing in Fwd area by us.
13/7/42 EL ALAMEIN Received pay. Got letter from George, wrote back. Good deal of bombing by Jerry aircraft, several of our aircraft in the air. Very hot, misty in the morning.
14th to 21/7/42 Bombing off and on. one of our planes crashed alongside (20/7/42). Received 30/- from Dad and letter from Kathlene, sent reply to Dad. Very hot. Plenty Beer so far.
AL ALAMEIN & rear “rest” positions
22nd July to 12th August 1942 Came down the line about 18 miles after a more or less uneventful time. usual bombings, machine gunning etc. went up to the Colonel with maj. Crowe & Lt Schander with Native prisoner. Rather a good bit of shelling. Sgt Duthie’s truck machine gunned about 8th wounding Duthie (cannon shot) on left fore arm, expect he’ll lose his arm and go home. Feel very sorry for the fellow – decent sort of blighter. El Hammon Station (water point) bomber by Stukas (?) yesterday 12th. 2 Jerry’s brought down by Support coy with Small Arms.
Been agitating for home leave again, written O.C. & Capt Van der Merwe. Received recently letter from Kathlene, understand Fred’s giving Old Lady a lot of trouble. Written SAP Umtata to investigate. Received recently letters from George and Mike. Pretty heavy cannonade up forward night before last 11th & this afternoon 13th expect something will bust wide open just now.
Winston Churchill & Smuts were up the line a few days ago. Saw Sgt Barry & George C. At last camp Barry slept with me, had 15 bottles of Beer, quite a good evening and went over to his camp for a while next day 7th and came down the line 8th. Local leave for cc granted, 4 days in Cairo 3 days traveling. First batch went yesterday 12th (Cpl Allies, Cpl Harris & van Staden). Hope this the precursor of Union leave. Am not interested in 4 days to Cairo – what the hell!
And that’s where I leave off.
My dad did not get home hale and hearty.
Days of treatment at Fort Beaufort Hospital Mom told us. And for his pains – a nice reward…
… a bicycle.