- Contributed by
- Huddersfield Local Studies Library
- People in story:
- Harry Charlesworth
- Location of story:
- North Africa
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 08 December 2004
This story was submitted to the People's War website by Pam Riding of Kirklees Libraries on behalf of a relative of Mr Charlesworth and has been added to the site with their permission. The contributor fully understands the site's terms and conditions.
Harry Charlesworth was an Ammunitions Truck Driver in the Army during the Second World War.
He lived in Leasholme Crescent, Armley, Leeds and his mother lived at:
1 Kirby Hill Place, Beeston, Leeds.
The following letter was written by Harry to his mother, Helen, whilst serving overseas.
Wednesday 7th July 1943
Having been detailed for this trip I'm trying to share it.
At half past three we set off with two drivers to each truck to enable us to keep the wheels turning night and day. At nine a.m. we stopped for a bacon sandwich and tea from the travelling cookhouse that accompanied us. Later in the day it broke down. The next time we saw it was Friday night we were just about made of bully beef and biscuits and choking for a decent drink. The water in our bottles got so hot during the day with the sun it refused to cool at night.
On Saturday morning when we commenced the last lap, after a brief rest, I found I had lost a lovely purse with eight hundred francs in it, sad do but I couldn't go back to look for it, time was too scarce. We arrived after dinner and were gratified to learn we had arrived in time, also that an invasion of Sicily had started, this cheered us no end and after a bath in a little zinc bath twenty yards from the main road my pal and I almost forgot that we had had no sleep and only the most uncomfortable rest in a bumpy truck since Wed.
If you can locate Monerville, Setif, Souk Apras and Constantine on the map they may give you an idea of the route we travelled. The length of the Kasserine pass and through many others which are beautiful beyond the power of my pen, but I will try to tell you a little of their wonder later. Sat. night gave us a nights sleep which we really needed after spending a couple nudging each other to take over every two hours or so when we couldn't keep awake any longer.
At half past eight on Sunday we awoke to find breakfast ready, after this we got cracking preparing the trucks for the return journey and after a late dinner we got down for more sleep, then tea and a trek down to the shambles that once was Souse. Here we had a swim in the warmest sea water I've ever entered and a lounge on the whitest sand, it was great and we began to think that maybe this trip was not going to be too bad after all.
Monday morning we were up with the locusts and away for the return load; by about noon we had got on our way home and parked at night just outside Tunis, after detouring at least twelve blown up bridges en route. Off again in the morning of the hottest day I've known, the sun was scorching down and the breeze was so hot it took the breath out of our lungs, we were in pools of perspiration (what a day).
After dinner we did a thirty mile zig-zag climb which took us to what must be the highest good road in these mountains; here we rested awhile and viewed a scene which could only remind us of desert, not a green thing in sight only hundreds of miles of golden corn or stubble on which goats, sheep, horses, mules, donkeys, cattle and camels all feed in herds of all sizes and ages. Arabs working in the fields cutting and binding by hand with a small sickle and piling it in incredible loads on horses and mules for transport along to the mud and cane shacks they call home.
Here it is stacked and later thrashed by the trampling of horses or oxen going round in a circle, the corn spread on the ground with a post or man in the centre, two or three horses attached to these trot round and round until they're dizzy, it is then lifted with a fork or the hands and thrown in the air when the chaff is blown away with the wind while the grain falls in a heap on the ground. Having taken in this scene of wonder and the greatest possible variety of gold imagined or unimagined we carried on for a mile or two and parked for the night.
Wed. was a good start over more than five hundred miles of mountains which lay before us in majestic tiers as far as the eye could see from the high ground. A steep ugly climb here, a treacherous descent there, S bends, hair pin bends, eight bends, dangerous hills, blind corners and bad roads, these signs were glaring at us from every angle for miles and miles and miles. Thursday morning we had seen enough mountains to last us a lifetime but here came a break.
Constantine nestled in the beauty of a deep ravined river whose glory is spanned with bridges which represent strength, beauty and skill in construction that help instead of marring the view from the lower reaches. Here we unloaded before dinner and got permission to go into town after. This trip proved rather disappointing. First four of us ambled through a squalid array of narrow alleys of filthy kids and evil houses; this we took to be Casbah, but no it was the Jewish quarter and we later ventured out of bounds into the Casbah, good lord this was worse if possible and much more congested. Finally we looked at the towns better side visiting a N.A.A.F.I. but even then we were not sorry when our truck took us back. The people stationed round there had our sympathy and we realised once more how lucky we are to be stationed in a good joint. By the way at this point another unusual bath must be recorded, a shallow river ran across the field where we were parked, stepping stones provided seats and here we sat in a row like six year olds (what a to do).
Friday saw us off again with another load through countless small towns with populations mostly Arab. The streets are usually full of men, the women's place of course being anywhere out of sight, the boys sit in the fields looking after the animals and bringing them in at night.
Eagles, hawks, kestrel and loads of herons all came to view, quite often kingfishers sit on emergency phone wires wherever they overlooked a stream. Two small birds I saw were apparently black with an inch of pure gold across their outstretched wings in flight, another bird a little larger than a thrush was striped across in black and white it was quite a new one to me, all this brought us within a days run of home and a scene that I will try to convey; a carry on such as you see depicted in American pictures on the screen, rocky cliffs reaching to the sky studded with patches of green, these are trees and shrubs whose sustenance is the secret of nature alone.
Jutting rocks, sun splashed and shaded in colours ranging from just plain grey to greys that seem inspired by their own superiority and shine in brilliant reflection of all that is good, like a river, the sun or the shade of trees. Out of the rocky ribs slides a black object some hundred feet up and this object slides in again; only when it has disappeared does one fully realise that it was a train and then what looked like black shadows reveal themselves as portholes to this railway that have been cut through what looks like the impregnable heart of these mountains of stone, so hard and wonderful yet overcome by mere man to serve him and his fellows in their flight for something better to pass on to their progeny. The road we were on was only a matter of yards above the river in which were small black bodies playing in what seemed to be the only cool spot in the world. This road winds round the very feet of those awe inspiring masses and then here we go into a dark chasm which though not great is quite a thrill when we realised what a weight of strength and beauty lies above.
After all this you'll be surprised but everyone was really glad to see the plains below that told us our journey was nearly over, and by tea time we were here seeking a good wash and a meal. On this last trip we were passing a convoy going in the other direction for many miles and as the tarred surfaced road was not wide enough to permit two vehicles we were all churning up great clouds of dust with our near side wheels; talk about being choked, quite often it was impossible to see the truck in front or the one coming in the opposite direction or even the road. Motor cyclists were covered with a nice white coat of dust and looked more comical than they felt I bet. That's the story of my trip, I know it needs filling but perhaps it will convey a little of the beauty that thrilled me through.
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