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Seventy-five Years Ago Today....

ChrisM

Super Moderator
Staff member
Another week has gone by. Today is Monday 29th March 1943. Wash day for Mum. I haven't broken up yet for the Easter holidays. Easter isn't until 25th April this year.

Nothing much has been happening to me although in the big outside world, which I don't know a lot about - or at least I don't at this moment - it's a different story with a lot of fighting near Kursk in Russia and also in North Africa where the Afrika Corps and the other German forces are not yet beaten. And with the RAF getting more and more active.

At home, everything seems to go on as usual. Did the air raid siren go recently and was it enough for Dad to decide that my sister and I should sleep downstairs? I can't really remember. We certainly haven't been down into the air raid shelter in the garden with its mustiness and smell of paraffin fumes for a long time. But now and then I'm told to sleep downstairs, on the floor in a sleeping bag. How does Dad judge it to be the right thing to do? My place is on the floorboards at the foot of our grandfather clock. We've had this tall thing which stretches right up to the ceiling for a couple of years now. It belonged to my grandfather so it was my grandfather's grandfather clock! Grandpa was bombed out of his Handsworth home and his health never really recovered so that he died a few weeks later. I sometimes lie there in the dark, feeling warm and comfy, and I listen to the drone of a lone aircraft as it goes slowly on its way far above. I wonder who is in it and what they are doing and where they're going. They sound so lonely up there. No bombs fall and it was probably one of ours anyway. Slowly the drone fades away and we are back in silence again, apart from the steady ticking of grandfather's clock.

The news from Tunisia is a major source of worry to Mrs Milburn in Balsall Common. Good news always seems to be followed by disappointment. But, as she tells her diary, there are consolations. She has had a letter from an officer who is back in this country having escaped from the POW camp in Germany where her son, Alan, has been held for nearly three years. He is able to tell her a lot about how her son has been getting on. And the day before yesterday: " A pleasant morning about 11 a.m., when the grey skies cleared and the sun came out, warming up the world. I enjoyed biking to the butcher........ Many spring flowers were seen in London today, now that the ban on the sending of flowers by train has been lifted. There are some things people badly need, and flowers do keep up the spirits of townspeople in their wretched bombed cities. I am so glad they can have them. Our forsythia, daffodils, violets and flowering currants are all out now – not many daffs yet, but opening day by day".

My dad writes to my brother today. He tells him the home news and also what he's been doing with the Home Guard, and also what he did last weekend which, for once and very unusually, was a free weekend with Home Guard duties having been cancelled. He has a busy life, unlike mine which, as I have said before, usually consists mainly of "mucking about". Apart from school, that is, where my nose is kept to the grindstone. This new letter is Serial No. 2. What I am not sure about is whether Dad knows exactly where Graham is, which is at some place in Tunisia or whether it is just a general idea that it's North Africa. Apart from anything else the last line of the address to which this letter goes is "B.N.A.F." which is presumably British North Africa Force. I suppose that is what can be called "a clue".

But my brother is OK, so far, and that is all that matters. There is still a feeling of relief at home. But the world remains full of dangers, for him and, I suppose, for all of us. But that's the way it is, has been for years, and will probably always be. I can't imagine it ever being anything else. It doesn't really worry me. Except that it WOULD be nice to have a new Dinky Toy.


29th March 1943 No.2

Dear Graham,

We received your very welcome letters Nos. 3 and 4 this morning. No. 1 was received about one week ago and No.2 is missing to date. Awfully glad to get news so quickly of your safe arrival. Mother was wildly excited. She had been worrying a lot particularly after reading the German claims of U-boat sinkings in the Atlantic.

Glad to note the trip was uneventful. Nobody who has not sailed the seas can realise the vast spaces. I think I only saw one ship during four Atlantic crossings. I suppose we shall have to wait the full news until we meet again. You certainly are doing a spot of travel!

Everyone at home is fit. Mother has had what appears to be an abscess in her face but this is getting better again. Sheila and Christopher are in the pink. There's not a lot of news of home. We have had your bedroom decorated and it looks very posh. Gardening is in full swing with beautiful weather and I was for Digging for Victory the whole of the weekend. I planted early spuds etc.

Numerous people have been asking after you – all the Home Guard and a number of people at the works. Home Guard is about the same. We had a very full weekend exercise yesterday week, we took over defence of the 'drome (Walsall Airport) and had a very wearying weekend – no sleep and on the go the whole time. It was a big stunt with about 10-20,000 Home Guards engaged. A usual military mess up. So to make up, cancelled all parades yesterday and start again tonight at Battalion conference and films tomorrow. We have a new lot including the German action films of France, Russia etc. I'm night manager tonight at the works but that will have to wait till I'm through at Aldridge. Thursday I've to give a talk to the officers and NCOs of "A " Company on German tactics and the Battalion are asking for me to give ambush demonstrations to officers of the Battalion in about two weeks time. So am getting pretty busy, at works and outside.

Home news is very scanty, practically nothing to report. I had a number of panel meetings on Friday and so took the opportunity to take Mother to lunch. Sheila continues with her Youth Club activity. Geoffrey Hall has gone to the South Staffs Young Soldiers Battalion. Dodd has gone abroad. Nevitt is home on indefinite leave, Winter goes in May, Underwood is in the Warwicks and was home on a weekend leave a week or so back. The anti-aircraft contingent are now officially transferred, 82 of them, and are getting on well with their training. Naylor has become a proper commanding officer and I believe spends most of his time taking salutes on the gunsite. Ramsay is fed up but I believe the majority find the work interesting. We have a very sorry crowd of oddments left but they worked splendidly on last week's exercise. By the way, the R stunt is working well. (?)

Headline news in brief. You should no doubt know what's happening in your corner. Over here nothing much moving except in the air. Berlin had a bashing on Saturday night, 900 tons of bombs in half an hour. We lost nine. They were out again last night, Friday was Duisberg and Essen had it good and proper a week or so ago. They are taking it all right now. There was a raid on north-eastern England and south-eastern Scotland two or three nights ago. 25 planes over, eight shot down.

I will send a parcel in a post or so with the things you want. Do you want any money sent? Let me know means to send it. Very interested to hear of another example of how the Jerries have picked that country clean of foodstuffs. Like a plague of locusts as usual.

What does G.B.D. stand for? (Part of the new address) By the way, I think it desirable to use this air letter service as much as possible as ordinary post takes so long. Glad to note you are keeping sober and presume you found out during your visits to France that you can't drink wine like beer.

All send love – write again quickly and by quickest route. All the very best, old chap, and look after yourself.

Your affectionate Dad

Eventually I shall know a lot more about what my brother saw and did in these few weeks of March 1943. But today I know nothing. I am still six, for another few days at least, and my knowledge and imagination can only take me so far. I can see in my mind's eye men in khaki uniforms with rifles and ships carrying hundreds of them and aircraft dropping bombs and the sort of big gun which my brother operates. But I cannot even begin to imagine what life is really like for a young man in the army, about to go into battle for the first time in a country I haven't even heard of until now.

I shall never really know, because I shall never have to do it myself.

Lucky me.



FordPrefect1943or1944img426.jpg
 
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Astoness

TRUE BRUMMIE MODERATOR
Staff member
another lovely read chris...can you tell us who is in photo....i am only guessing that is your mom on the left and you sitting on the running board..

lyn
 

ChrisM

Super Moderator
Staff member
Lyn,

Thanks. To the rear, 1939/40 Ford Prefect, before it started to rot away which it did steadily up to the early 1950s. In front, 1927 sister, 1899 Mum and 1936 me. Although my sister looks very grown up, this has to be March/April 1943 when she was still 15 - or 1944 at the very latest. No date stamping of photos in those days and one has to rely on clues - but I'm fortunate to have any images at all.

Chris
 

ChrisM

Super Moderator
Staff member
It's Monday 5th April 1943.....

Tomorrow, Tuesday the 6th, my brother joins his Royal Artillery gun battery and prepares himself to go into action for the first time. Of course, I know nothing of this at the moment. All I know is that he is somewhere in North Africa, having got there safely a week or two ago. Nor do I know what his journey was like. I shall have to wait a long, long time to know all that.

But if I wait long enough, I can read all about it. This is what he said about the journey, written 58 years after the events he is telling us about.

(After the 48 hour pass on compassionate grounds to see my brother)....
it was back to Woolwich for the final few days before detecting signs of imminent departure. We were still able to get out into central London but the opportunities for such activities were clearly numbered. We made the most of our remaining chances to visit such evil dens of vice as the Windmill Theatre ("We Never Closed") and stoically awaited the worst that could befall us.

All the transient personnel were divided up and allocated to drafts, each of a sizeable number of people, maybe 200 or so. There were signs of administrative chaos: for instance, I was amongst those issued with full tropical kit in the "It Ain't Half Hot, Mum" style, complete with baggy khaki drill shorts and pith helmet. By the next day thinking by senior minds had changed and it was all handed back in again, not without some feeling of relief – our eventual destination would probably not now be India or Burma.

My group was transported the short distance to a dismal railway station, Blackheath, I think, and boarded a special train to Bristol where, at Temple Meads, there was a change of train for the final few miles to Avonmouth. There, the ship was alongside the quay and we went aboard without delay. The rather elderly vessel had once been in service on a Dutch line and was of a respectable size, maybe 20,000 tons or so. We settled down as best we could to conditions that were a new experience altogether. The overall impression was one of severe overcrowding: not surprising when troopships were obviously designed to operate at maximum efficiency, that is, to cram as many individuals into a given space as was physically possible.

The accommodation decks contained long tables arranged transversely, and wooden forms for seating along either side. Here the men would sit for meals, six or eight a side and those seated furthest from the ship's side would fetch the rations, sufficient for the whole table, from the galley where they would be issued in bulk in a large metal utensil. Those seated near as the portholes would become increasingly anxious as the food was passed along the table, diminishing as it was transferred to plates. During darkness the ship was fully blacked out and even a lighted cigarette on the open deck was strictly forbidden. Above the mess tables, hooks were provided and from from these, hammocks were slung...................

After boarding, on the same evening we slipped out into the Bristol Channel, headed north through the Irish Sea and joined the convoy somewhere between the Clyde and the Irish coast. By next morning there was no land to be seen and we sailed on for several days. On asking a crew member where we were, the answer came: "In the North Atlantic Ocean" which was fairly obvious although I doubt whether he knew much more than that.

During the voyage which must have lasted about 10 days we were all given tasks and I was put with a party cleaning and degreasing rifles and similar small arms stored in a deep hold somewhere right down in the bowels of the ship. No portholes down there and the contours and timbering were reminiscent of the inside of a large rowing boat. Stints of several hours at a time became routine and one tried not to think of the consequences should an enemy torpedo strike us in that area. The weather conditions were good for that time of the year and as the days passed it became noticeably warmer as we turned southwards. Eventually the course shifted to an easterly direction and early one morning the Rock of Gibraltar could be seen on our port side. Continuing with the North African coastline frequently in view we eventually reached our destination, Algiers. We were fortunate in that the entire voyage had been devoid of any evidence of enemy action, apart from the occasional whoops on the destroyers' sirens and the night-time flashes from their signal lamps as they busied themselves in and around the convoy. However the lull ceased abruptly during the late afternoon as we entered Algiers harbour and the Luftwaffe arrived on the scene to try and cause mischief. During the raid all non-essential personnel were confined below decks where little could be seen of the action. A few hours later all was quiet and we disembarked.

(After several days in Algiers)..... they entrained us for the lengthy journey to the then railhead at Souk Ahras, some 800 miles from Algiers. There I said farewell to my fellow travellers and proceeded alone to my posting, 10 Battery of 17 Field Regiment, Royal Artillery who kindly sent along a vehicle to pick me up. The rear area for the battery, known as the waggon lines, was sited in the little town of Teboursouk and that is where I joined them, on Tuesday 6 April 1943. The following Saturday, 10 April, I moved up to the main Battery position, in hilly country north-west of Medjz-el-Bab.

The Battery had been in heavy action not long previously and helped to repulse a determined enemy attack near a village called Bou Arada. This had involved them firing at close range over open sights. Casualties were significant and had included those suffered as a result of a direct hit on 10 Battery HQ command post: this was almost certainly the reason for my posting there.

On the first day I was standing outside this command post with some of the others when there was a sudden rushing, whistling sound followed by a sharp thud nearby. Looking around I saw that everybody else was lying prone, having thrown themselves to the ground on hearing the missile. Again I must have been fortunate: it was a dud shell but the story illustrates the kind of lesson that one learned very quickly!..................​

I think I love my big sister. Well, Mum tells me I ought to. She is nine years older than me and VERY clever. She knows lots of thing and when I haven't been annoying her she can be very kind and will tell me what she knows. It's a long time ago that she told me that the earth is round, "like an orange". And when we went to Blackpool I looked out to sea and could actually see the curve and this proved she was right. Peacetime, which she knows all about, intrigues me. I asked her the other day whether in peacetime they still have news on the wireless: "Oh, yes, when ships sink and things like that". And she tells me something I can hardly believe. Sometimes the wireless will tell you what the weather is going to be like TOMORROW! How can this be possible? But she is my big sister and knows everything and so she must be right.

But the trouble with Sheila is that she sometimes thinks she is my mum, especially when we are both at school. She is so clever and knows so much and I usually lose any argument I have with her. I think in this picture I have just lost another one. She certainly looks pretty satisfied. Mum is as cheerful as ever. I don't remember being ticked off by my dad for trying to spoil his happy picture of the three of us. So perhaps he was feeling a bit of sympathy with me. Us blokes have to stick together. This picture was taken at the same time as the one of us by the car. And I look pretty miserable in both.

Perhaps it was just a bad blazer day.....

It's my birthday the day after tomorrow and I'm getting a treat. That'll cheer me up no end.

SACMFMWindyridgeFrontDoorposs1946img425crop.jpg
 

Bob Davis

Bob Davis
It's Monday 5th April 1943.....

Tomorrow, Tuesday the 6th, my brother joins his Royal Artillery gun battery and prepares himself to go into action for the first time. Of course, I know nothing of this at the moment. All I know is that he is somewhere in North Africa, having got there safely a week or two ago. Nor do I know what his journey was like. I shall have to wait a long, long time to know all that.

But if I wait long enough, I can read all about it. This is what he said about the journey, written 58 years after the events he is telling us about.

(After the 48 hour pass on compassionate grounds to see my brother)....
it was back to Woolwich for the final few days before detecting signs of imminent departure. We were still able to get out into central London but the opportunities for such activities were clearly numbered. We made the most of our remaining chances to visit such evil dens of vice as the Windmill Theatre ("We Never Closed") and stoically awaited the worst that could befall us.

All the transient personnel were divided up and allocated to drafts, each of a sizeable number of people, maybe 200 or so. There were signs of administrative chaos: for instance, I was amongst those issued with full tropical kit in the "It Ain't Half Hot, Mum" style, complete with baggy khaki drill shorts and pith helmet. By the next day thinking by senior minds had changed and it was all handed back in again, not without some feeling of relief – our eventual destination would probably not now be India or Burma.

My group was transported the short distance to a dismal railway station, Blackheath, I think, and boarded a special train to Bristol where, at Temple Meads, there was a change of train for the final few miles to Avonmouth. There, the ship was alongside the quay and we went aboard without delay. The rather elderly vessel had once been in service on a Dutch line and was of a respectable size, maybe 20,000 tons or so. We settled down as best we could to conditions that were a new experience altogether. The overall impression was one of severe overcrowding: not surprising when troopships were obviously designed to operate at maximum efficiency, that is, to cram as many individuals into a given space as was physically possible.

The accommodation decks contained long tables arranged transversely, and wooden forms for seating along either side. Here the men would sit for meals, six or eight a side and those seated furthest from the ship's side would fetch the rations, sufficient for the whole table, from the galley where they would be issued in bulk in a large metal utensil. Those seated near as the portholes would become increasingly anxious as the food was passed along the table, diminishing as it was transferred to plates. During darkness the ship was fully blacked out and even a lighted cigarette on the open deck was strictly forbidden. Above the mess tables, hooks were provided and from from these, hammocks were slung...................

After boarding, on the same evening we slipped out into the Bristol Channel, headed north through the Irish Sea and joined the convoy somewhere between the Clyde and the Irish coast. By next morning there was no land to be seen and we sailed on for several days. On asking a crew member where we were, the answer came: "In the North Atlantic Ocean" which was fairly obvious although I doubt whether he knew much more than that.

During the voyage which must have lasted about 10 days we were all given tasks and I was put with a party cleaning and degreasing rifles and similar small arms stored in a deep hold somewhere right down in the bowels of the ship. No portholes down there and the contours and timbering were reminiscent of the inside of a large rowing boat. Stints of several hours at a time became routine and one tried not to think of the consequences should an enemy torpedo strike us in that area. The weather conditions were good for that time of the year and as the days passed it became noticeably warmer as we turned southwards. Eventually the course shifted to an easterly direction and early one morning the Rock of Gibraltar could be seen on our port side. Continuing with the North African coastline frequently in view we eventually reached our destination, Algiers. We were fortunate in that the entire voyage had been devoid of any evidence of enemy action, apart from the occasional whoops on the destroyers' sirens and the night-time flashes from their signal lamps as they busied themselves in and around the convoy. However the lull ceased abruptly during the late afternoon as we entered Algiers harbour and the Luftwaffe arrived on the scene to try and cause mischief. During the raid all non-essential personnel were confined below decks where little could be seen of the action. A few hours later all was quiet and we disembarked.

(After several days in Algiers)..... they entrained us for the lengthy journey to the then railhead at Souk Ahras, some 800 miles from Algiers. There I said farewell to my fellow travellers and proceeded alone to my posting, 10 Battery of 17 Field Regiment, Royal Artillery who kindly sent along a vehicle to pick me up. The rear area for the battery, known as the waggon lines, was sited in the little town of Teboursouk and that is where I joined them, on Tuesday 6 April 1943. The following Saturday, 10 April, I moved up to the main Battery position, in hilly country north-west of Medjz-el-Bab.

The Battery had been in heavy action not long previously and helped to repulse a determined enemy attack near a village called Bou Arada. This had involved them firing at close range over open sights. Casualties were significant and had included those suffered as a result of a direct hit on 10 Battery HQ command post: this was almost certainly the reason for my posting there.

On the first day I was standing outside this command post with some of the others when there was a sudden rushing, whistling sound followed by a sharp thud nearby. Looking around I saw that everybody else was lying prone, having thrown themselves to the ground on hearing the missile. Again I must have been fortunate: it was a dud shell but the story illustrates the kind of lesson that one learned very quickly!..................​

I think I love my big sister. Well, Mum tells me I ought to. She is nine years older than me and VERY clever. She knows lots of thing and when I haven't been annoying her she can be very kind and will tell me what she knows. It's a long time ago that she told me that the earth is round, "like an orange". And when we went to Blackpool I looked out to sea and could actually see the curve and this proved she was right. Peacetime, which she knows all about, intrigues me. I asked her the other day whether in peacetime they still have news on the wireless: "Oh, yes, when ships sink and things like that". And she tells me something I can hardly believe. Sometimes the wireless will tell you what the weather is going to be like TOMORROW! How can this be possible? But she is my big sister and knows everything and so she must be right.

But the trouble with Sheila is that she sometimes thinks she is my mum, especially when we are both at school. She is so clever and knows so much and I usually lose any argument I have with her. I think in this picture I have just lost another one. She certainly looks pretty satisfied. Mum is as cheerful as ever. I don't remember being ticked off by my dad for trying to spoil his happy picture of the three of us. So perhaps he was feeling a bit of sympathy with me. Us blokes have to stick together. This picture was taken at the same time as the one of us by the car. And I look pretty miserable in both.

Perhaps it was just a bad blazer day.....

It's my birthday the day after tomorrow and I'm getting a treat. That'll cheer me up no end.

View attachment 124343
ChrisM
Keep them coming, this could be up for the booker if you carry on like this. There has to be a book there somewhere

Bob
 

Pedrocut

Master Barmy
Also look forward to the next chapter. It prompted me to reach for a draw and pick up the pay book of my late uncle.

I note that he was discharged as he could not fulfil the Army physical requirements.......seems a strange way to put that he had lost his right arm in North Africa!

View attachment 123438 View attachment 123439
Coincidences!

As said in post 7, Chris had reminded me of my late uncle, whose pay book I had in a draw close by. When I looked at it I noticed that the reason for discharge was his inability to fulfil the physical requirements of the Army. Why did it not say that it was the loss of his right arm that made him unable to carry on!

Graham’s account of his journey, some 58 years later, ends with his arrival at the hilly NW of Medjez-el-Bab on the 10th of April 1943. His Battery had been in action previously to repulse an attack near the village of Bou Arada.

Although I knew my uncle well I had never talked about the loss of his arm, although I am sure he would have done so if asked. All I remember was that it may have been in North Africa.

Looking at his pay book shows that Anthony (born in Witton) had joined the Royal Irish Fusiliers, perhaps because his mother was Irish. He was awarded with the Africa Star with 1st Army clasp. He served in Africa from the 9th December 1942 until 21st December 1943, the latter date, I presume, was when he left to come back home without his arm.

My uncle Anthony would have been in Africa at the same time as Graham, so I looked to see if I could find info on the involvement of their regiments. On Graham’s arrival Anthony’s Irish Fusiliers had been involved with the 1st Army and the Tunisia Campaign. From the Daily Herald of 12 April 1943 we see that the American radio commentator says that the “1st Army pushes on, as the whole of the Tunisian Plain is lost to the Axis. The Allies are driving from the south and west to crack into the mountain line before Rommel, the old fox has a chance to close his burrow behind him.”

On the 23rd of April it is reported that the 1st Army carried out attacks in the Bou Arada sector. All initial objectives were taken in the face of vigorous opposition. Fighting continues. confirmed 33 tanks knocked out on the 20 and 21 April.

So it could be that Graham and Anthony were not too far apart!
 

ChrisM

Super Moderator
Staff member
Pedrocut,

Your uncle's injury would apparently not have been the result of fighting if it occurred after about 7 May 1943. The fact that he stopped in North Africa until the end of the year suggests that it occurred either after that date as a result of some accident, perhaps even mine-clearing?; or before the end of hostilities and he stayed on after treatment to carry out further duties before finally being declared unfit for service.

Or is there any possibility that the period in North Africa is incorrectly recorded and he went on to be wounded in Sicily or Italy in the second half of 1943?

Thanks for the interesting cuttings. My brother's take on things in Tunisia, or at least his initial one, was written on Sunday 9 May 1943, immediately after the lifting of censorship which happened within hours of the end of hostilities. I'll post that at the right time, at which point we shall, I think, be saying farewell both to him and to my seven-year-old self.

Chris.
 

Pedrocut

Master Barmy
Having spoke to my aunt who was younger than Anthony, it appears that it was in the Italian Campaign. He was treated somewhere in Europe and came back to Roehampton. Another amazing coincidence is that when he was injured and disorientated he did not know in which direction to head, one way being to the German lines.

He was on his last legs when a chap called to him and said something like “this way mate.”

The chap came from Perry Barr!
 
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ChrisM

Super Moderator
Staff member
I haven't thought much about my brother today. There are other things to think about. It's 7th April 1943. A Wednesday. My birthday. I am seven today. And I have been given a treat.

But first of all, this morning's presents. One or two things I really like. But then my mother hands over another package. I open it and what do I find? Can hardly believe my eyes. It's a doll. And not just an ordinary doll. It's one that has a special name which, 75 years later, will be spelt like this: "g*ll*w*g". What on earth was she thinking about when she bought that?! I am SEVEN, for goodness sake, very nearly grown-up, a G*LL*W*G!!! I can only think that it is because she knows I like jam. Especially Robinson's. And don't see enough of it. But I try and stay polite and not appear ungrateful. I restrict myself to an American phrase which I have picked up from the wireless or a film at the Avion. "Hey, what's the big idea?"

Anyway, the day gets better after that. Mum has bought a couple of circus tickets.

We go on the bus, she and I, into the middle of Birmingham. The circus is in the Big Top, a huge marquee on a flat piece of ground on the corner of New Street and High Street. I shall remember later the horses and the bossy clown, strutting around and telling everybody off. But more than anything else I shall not forget the slapping and creaking of the canvas when we are inside the tent as a gale starts to build up. I think Mum is relieved to get out in one piece at the end. It didn't frighten me much.

After the show we only have to walk across New Street to go to our bus stop. There we wait. We are a bit too early today for the starlings which collect near dusk in huge clouds, swirling around in the sky whilst their twittering almost drowns out the sound of the traffic. It's strange. They all collect in the city centre from their foraging in suburban gardens and parks at a time of day when we human beings are more than happy to get away from it.

There are several horse-drawn vehicles about, brewers' drays bearing the name of their owners, Ansells or Mitchell & Butlers, or carts belonging to the LMS or GWR. One of these vehicles draws up alongside the pavement to my right, as they sometimes do. The driver in muffler and cloth cap gets down off his cart, comes to the head of the horse and ties on its nosebag. As he completes this operation the horse starts to eat and simultaneously decides to empty its bladder, to my delight. What amazes me is the volume that the animal produces. It spreads out for several feet around over the surface of the street, and lingers there on the cobbles, steaming in the cold air for a moment during a lull in the wind. The driver, a busy little man, pays not the slightest attention and moves down the flank to adjust the harness in some way. In fascination I watch his small, hob-nailed boots splash through the pool with a muffled clatter. He doesn't even glance down. And here's me who gets ticked off for even thinking of walking through a puddle of rainwater. The passers-by don't give any of this spectacle a glance. They hurry on, mainly women in felt hats or scarves tied like turbans, most looking drab, heads down in the increasing wind, all intent on their business.

Opposite me as I look out over New Street is a men's outfitters, Horne's, looking fairly battered. Further down, on the same side and to my left is a building which always fascinates me. It is a tall, light-coloured modern building, but it is now grubby and forlorn. My mother tells me that it used to be Marshall and Snelgrove's, a beautiful shop which she visited from time to time and I try to imagine it as it was, its white façade gleaming and crowds of customers going in and out of its doors. Today it is just a shell, still standing, but above each of its many curved windows, now blank and gaping, a great black smear stretches up the stonework where flames and smoke erupted from inside as everything there was being burned.

As I look to my right, towards where we have been to the circus, a Midland Red bus emerges from High Street and approaches us. It goes past us and pulls up at another stop, a few yards further on down the street. When this happens I sometimes see a soldier or airman or sailor stepping confidently off the back of the platform in the direction of travel before the bus comes to a halt and then, in front of us, hoisting kit bag onto shoulder and striding purposefully off in the direction of New Street Station or Snow Hill. But not today. Just one or two passengers get off, followed by the conductor shouting "Beeches" and then standing to one side as he watches the queue of new passengers clambering aboard.

Another Midland Red pulls up. This time it is ours. No.113. It stops in front of us, rattling in time with the throb of its engine and emitting a smell of scorched brake or clutch lining. We shuffle on board and at my insistence climb the stairs to the top deck which is less crowded and where the view is far better. The seats are of slatted wood because it is one of the new, spindly "Utility" buses. The fug of cigarette smoke starts to grow as more passengers light up...................
 
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ChrisM

Super Moderator
Staff member
......When everyone is aboard, the bus sets off, moving diagonally to the right across New Street. I don't spread my comic out over my lap. I know that reading on one of these buses very quickly makes you feel sick. So I just look out of the window. I've seen it all before, many times, but there is always something interesting to look at. And to try to remember later.

The bus rounds the corner and roars off up Corporation Street, then turns left into Bull Street and pulls up outside Grey's department store. Here another group of home-going passengers step off the pavement and clamber aboard. Then off again, turning right in front of Snow Hill Station into Steelhouse Lane and, once past the General Hospital, left into Loveday Street. We shall now have moved away from the central area of the city but the buildings will still be tall, towering over the bus. Every so often there are gaps where the Luftwaffe has done its work. These bomb sites will sometimes have been cleared but more often still contain a great pile of rubble covered by dull, winter vegetation and the remains of last autumn's willow herb. Usually they are bounded by a sheer, blank wall, that of an adjoining building which has somehow survived, and sometimes shorn up by vast timbers. Such walls fascinate me. They are often studded throughout their height by rows of little fireplaces, the colour of the tiles still bright and a small rectangle of the surrounding wall bearing the flowered wallpaper of a living room or bedroom. I find difficulty in fitting in these sights with my own experience. Fireplaces should be on the ground floor, in a lounge or dining room, or perhaps one storey up, in a bedroom. But not stretching up three or four floors, almost up to the sky. And who used to sit around them? And where are those people now?

As the bus passes along Summer Lane the buildings will become smaller, side-street after side-street of back-to-back terraced houses, sometimes with a gaping hole in their midst or a row of homes damaged and boarded up. In the future I shall have the same view whenever I am on this bus; but then, later, there will always be a house covered in coloured chalk and flags and a large sign over the front door: "Welcome Home, Bill"...or Ron or Sid. But that is years away yet.

Onward, past the Crocodile Works where, despite what my elder sister tells me with a straight face on another occasion, I am well aware that they make something other than large reptiles. Although I don't really know what. Then through Perry Barr with its cinema and shops and the junction where the Outer Circle buses cross our path; and onward towards New Oscott and College Arms where our route turns left on to the Chester Road. After Beggar's Bush there is the feeling that we have finally left the city behind as Sutton Park spreads out to our right. Past Banner's Gate and the Parson & Clerk. Great swathes of open countryside open up despite all the pre-war building. At each stop another small group of passengers gets off. The last of them leaves at the Hardwick Arms crossroads where the bus will turn and park on the main road near to Cutler's Garage, ready for its return to the city. But Mum and I will have left it by then.

When we get home, we find that the gale has made a length of iron guttering come crashing to the ground, breaking a window on the way down. Another little job for Dad, when he gets back from work and before he goes off on Home Guard duty.

As for me, well, it's not ITMA until tomorrow night. But there will be something else to listen to and I'll probably lie on the soft hearth rug in front of the open fire while the faithful wireless continues to mutter in the background, bringing the latest news from Russia or North Africa, or of last night's bombing raid on the Ruhr. I shall stretch out there on my front, chin resting on my hands, and gaze deep into the glowing coals. There I shall see frightening caverns and passageways opening up, with flames of red and orange and purple within, spitting and sizzling, flaring and fading; for me they will be images of a burning city. And then I shall try to imagine what peace will be like, if it ever comes. But that is an unnatural state and one I shall never succeed in visualising, this or any other evening.

And so that is my birthday today, April 7th, 1943. Next time - and finally (to your relief, no doubt) - I'll tell you about my brother again. And what he will write on Sunday 9th May 1943, just two days after the end of the long North African campaign in whose final weeks he has just played a part.

Meanwhile, have to say I'm getting quite fond of the little chap in his red coat and stripey trousers. Just hope my school friends don't find out.

(A picture merely to prove that I don't always look as miserable as sin).

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ChrisM

Super Moderator
Staff member
Today, May 3rd 1943, is a Monday, 75 years ago. Washday here at home. Chaos. But I'm at school and so miss it.

This week Convoy ONS5 is engaged in a running battle with 51 U-boats. 13 ships are lost but so are 7 U-boats. (Statistics: what suffering they conceal. And how many families will receive the dreaded telegram in the coming days). But perhaps the tide is starting to turn in the Battle of the Atlantic. In Tunisia things are coming to a head. German resistance remains strong and to try to break the stalemate involving the 1st Army, the 8th Army sends two divisions and a brigade. Of course we don't know anything about what is going on but military commanders are looking ahead. Last Friday a corpse dressed as a British officer was slipped into the Mediterranean. It will soon be in German hands and all the information on the body points to a planned landing in Greece and Sardinia. German reinforcements are sent there. But it is of course Sicily for which all the preparations are being made. "The man who never was" has played his role....

I am a bit early talking about it but next Sunday, after a very eventful time, my brother will sit down to write a letter home. At about this time, 25 years earlier, Dad was experiencing life for the first time on the Western Front. There, in a couple of months time, he will be wounded, seriously enough to get him home and thus very probably saving his life.

And so this is what his eldest son has been experiencing, here and now, on Sunday, May 9th, 1943:
Tunis.​
9th May 1943​
Ser. no. 11​


You will of course have heard by now of the sensational advance which took place on Friday. Censorship has now been relaxed, and I can tell you a good deal about what has been happening to me just lately. As you will see from the old style heading, I am now in Tunis itself or rather just outside it and the war seems just about finished out here with the exception of a spot of isolated resistance here and there and in Cap Bon, all of which should cease within a few days.​
To go back a little, I joined the present unit on 6 April in the little town of Teboursouk where the supply lines were situated. A few days there and then on the following Saturday, the 10th, I joined the battery at the front in the hilly country north-west of Medjez el Bab.​
In the ensuing four weeks, ending today, I have been continuously in action, shifting from one place to another every few days. I have not been on my old job but in the Battery Command Post as C.P.O.A. And also for a couple of days perched on top of a hill, doing O.P.A. (Forward Observation Post duties) This latter was very interesting and quite exciting. Jerry was fortunately quiet, but some of the O.P.s have had a warm time. Otherwise, my chief occupations have been surveying, working out barrages and plotting targets.​
Fortunately we have had an overwhelming superiority in artillery as many of the odd shells they lobbed over to us were far too close for my liking. However, I still think the flies were more troublesome. Enemy aerial interference was very slight, although there was a Stuka attack once during which one of the planes did a classic "Dawn Patrol" spin, crashing on a nearby hill. The pilot bailed out and some of us took potshots at him with various weapons – result unknown. Mines were another trouble – the one I liked least of all. It is rather a strange feeling riding along in a truck wondering whether it will be blown up the next minute – however I have escaped that so far.​
I joined the regiment in time for the second big barrage of the series which secured Ang and a few other hills. The third attack was on Longstop, another heavy barrage, and the hill was taken after a struggle by the infantry. After this we moved south of Medjez and took up positions for what was to be the final attack. A huge concentration of guns and tanks was accumulated and as you will have heard on the radio, the 8th Army came up to join forces. In the early hours of 6 May the terrific barrage was begun and the infantry and armoured divisions advanced across the plain. On Thursday the latter were given the order "Tunis or bust", and all day Friday we sat in the command post waiting for news and watching the wedge on the map get longer and longer. In the evening we heard that the city had fallen. It was good fun planning these barrages and wondering how the Jerries would enjoy them and although I only worked out a very narrow slice of the whole area, it was certainly something.​
Yesterday we left for Tunis and spent the day travelling around. Everywhere there were crowds of locals returning to their homes in the battle zone and their families and herds with them. Streams of prisoners went past, some in their own lorries which they drove themselves. Thousands of others walked. Tremendous piles of booty are being collected and there are few of us without souvenirs.​
So much for the war. I said it would not last long once I got out here, although it may possibly be a coincidence!​
We have had plenty of news since I joined the regiment, received over the radio. Also Howard Marshall's commentary on the closing overs of the day and ITMA on Thursday nights, to say nothing of Music While We Worked most days. I almost forgot to say that I celebrated the fall of Tunis yesterday with a bottle of Allsops – direct from Burton-on-Trent. This was indeed a rare treat and went down very well.​
That's about all for now; please pass on my regards to all the usual crowd and keep writing as often as possible. ......​
Your affectionate son,​
Graham.​
And now you and I will say farewell to my brother. Even though barely out of his teens he has a sense of history and an awareness of the incredible events in which he is involved. And he is recording them. Because of that, I and his family, seventy-five years later, will be able to follow his footsteps through Sicily where he will arrive in a few weeks time, and thereafter throughout the long, hard slog up the Italian peninsula. We trace his path from ruined village to devastated town, on hilltops and in river valleys, weeks at Cassino, then through Rome the day after it is liberated. And onward and northwards until, in the very last week of April 1945, two years after his baptism of fire in Tunisia, he is in action near Argenta where men are still dying near to him just days before the German surrender in Italy on 2nd May and the total capitulation of the Third Reich a few days later. The madness of it all.....

I shall see my brother again not too long after it is all over because he will get some leave during that summer; but he will not finally come home from Italy and Austria until November 1946. By then the Serial Numbers of letters in both directions will be in the hundreds. I am six when he goes away and will be getting on for eleven when he walks back up the drive to live with us again, this time indefinitely. By then he will be 24 and at long last able get on with his adult life and start adjusting to an unfamiliar, barely remembered civilian world after so long an interruption.

But he and we will all know how lucky he is to have a life to get on with. So many of his generation do not.

T.T.F.N., Our Kid.

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(Acknowledgement to "Mrs. Milburn's Diaries - An Englishwoman's Day-to-Day Reflections 1939-45" - Harrap - 1979)
 
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Pedrocut

Master Barmy
Glad to hear that Graham made it through to the end. I have had quiet a bit of success in tracing the involvement of my uncle Anthony from his voyage from Liverpool in November 1942 up to his serious injury, probably near the Sangro river in Italy in December of 1943.

There is a daily Regimental diary of the Royal Irish Fusiliers, mostly online. I have also spoken with his 89 year old sister.

Graham mentions the attack on Longstop Hill, this being the “second” battle. Anthony was involved in the first battle in January 1943, and must have been within a relatively short distance of Graham until they reached Tunis.

The family heard from Anthony in the September of 1943 where he said that he was sitting drinking wine and eating grapes, while looking to the slopes of Mount Etna. As nothing more was heard until January of 1944 they presumed he was missing. They then received a letter from a priest saying that he was alive but in hospital in Italy.

My aunt tells me that my father went to see him on his return to England, and on subsequent visits to Roehampton. His sister and the family were very upset on seeing him with just one arm but she remembers him saying, “I went through a year of hell, but still here.”
 

Pedrocut

Master Barmy
If anyone wants to track the detailed path of a serviceman in Tunisia during WW2, the site below is invaluable. The university of Texas has, online, 1943 maps of the areas in question.

https://legacy.lib.utexas.edu/maps/ams/tunisia_50k/

For example in this thread Bou Arada is mentioned and the link is here...

https://legacy.lib.utexas.edu/maps/ams/tunisia_50k/txu-pclmaps-oclc-6540922-bou-arada-34.jpg

I believe that the daily War Diaries of each Regiment can be obtained via the National Archives. I was lucky that a site existed for the Royal Irish Fusiliers, I just need to find out what Company my uncle belonged to.
 

ChrisM

Super Moderator
Staff member
Thursday 9th April 1944

Well, another year has passed, I have had another birthday, the day before yesterday, my eighth, and I'm still here! Much better present, this year, a bike, second-hand of course, and super to have as my fairy cycle has got far too small for me. Here's a picture of me on our back lawn, trying it out. No circus, this time, which is a shame. I expect they are still having them, on Big Top. But as grown-ups keep telling me, I can't have everything.

What I AM getting, so they tell me, is a holiday in May. Dad has found a farm near Tintern. We had a few days there last autumn. And it sounds as though we are going there again. With some friends from Kings Norton. It's OK and the grub's good. But no electric light. There's a stream in front of the farm to play in. And we go and sit outside pubs and I'm allowed a glass of cider, if I play my cards right. Have to be careful at the farm though. Their dog is fierce. I tried to pat him last year and I now have a scar on the side of my face. I told my mum afterwards that my face was feeling stiff. She got into a real panic and started muttering something about "lock jaw". It doesn't take much to start them off, does it? Wish I hadn't said anything. I felt a bit sorry for the dog. It got a right hiding from the farmer and I was taken to look at it afterwards. It looked all huddled up and afraid. I didn't really want it punished and seeing it like that wasn't nice. They told me it had probably been guarding its bone. I'm going to keep my distance this time.

I'm in my parents' good books at the moment. I've done quite well in an exam. I'll tell you a bit about it. My parents want me to go to Bishop Vesey's. Don't know why. And it seems a funny name for a school. Anyway, they told me that I was going to take the exam. A few weeks ago, when I was still seven, Mum took me on the bus to Sutton, as usual the 101 from Streetly village. We got off at the bus stop near Boswell Road and walked down a little roadway just at the side of the main school buildings. And there she left me, with a lot of other boys, outside a very tall old building which, as I soon found out, had two classrooms in it.

We went into the first of these and were told to sit down. The man in charge was very old indeed and had a long, stern face. But he seemed quite kind. I think he was called Mr. Gifford. We had to do all kinds of spelling and arithmetic tests and then he told us to sit still, concentrate and listen very carefully to a story he was about to tell us. Because after he had finished telling us it, we had got to write it out in our own words. The story he told us was called a fable. It was all about a crow who was very thirsty and the only water there was around to drink was in a big jug called a pitcher. But the pitcher was far too narrow at the top to get his head in so that he could reach the water. What was he to do? But then he noticed a pile of pebbles nearby. Ah, a solution!

So, heads down, furiously scratching away with our pens. Dipping them into the inkwell set into the front of the desk, then another sentence as we try to re-write the story. Finally, sit back and find it is all over. Off outside where all our anxious mums are waiting for us. Back to the bus stop and home. All this seemed to matter a lot to my mum and dad. Probably rather more than it did to me. The letter came through a few days ago. I have passed! So next September I shall be leaving Sandwell School in Streetly and starting at Bishop Vesey's Junior School. Mum and Dad seem overjoyed. It's funny what pleases some grown-ups. But I'm not complaining – Dad came home with a shiny new fountain pen for me as a reward. It's a Conway Stewart. I was quite overwhelmed - it's such a shiny, beautiful thing. I don't know where he got it from because they always tell me that there is nothing in the shops. And I have been told I've got to be very careful with it, not lose it, and especially, not let it fall onto the floor as that will ruin the nib. You won't believe me if I tell you I'm using it to write all this.

My brother is in Italy. Since I last told you about him he has been part of the invasion of Sicily, in August he spent the day of his 21st birthday near Mount Etna and then he crossed over into Italy. For many months he has been moving north with his gun battery. Letters come and go regularly. Mum and Dad worry about him, I am absolutely sure, but it is nothing like the time when we didn't hear from him for weeks when he was on his way to North Africa. Because of the system I told you about before, Dad usually knows roughly where he is. Another letter came only a few days ago. Dad sat in his leather armchair in the dining room holding the flimsy airmail letter down on the arm of the chair and looking at it very carefully. Mum and I watched him as he jotted something down on it, letter by letter:

M..O..N..T..E..C..A..S..S..I..N..O...

Didn't mean anything to me.

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