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John Welsh's War Diary

by johnredx

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John Welsh
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02 June 2005


Part 1

Called up for army. Reported to No 7 Battalion Alfreton Derbyshire RASC. Had been deferred for six months. Got fitted out at Alfreton then transported to East Kirby to do a months parade ground training. Stationed in an old wooden hut. Very cold, winter weather. Palled up with Bill Gorman and Geo McGurk one came from West Hartlepool the other from Jarrow. They were a few years older than I was perhaps eight to ten years. I had missed my age group due to being deferred. We had four weeks hard graft then posted to Ripley Derbyshire. Here we had to do six weeks driving instruction. Our officers and NCOs were all oldish men from London Transport. They had to teach us to drive a vehicle and how to maintain it. All this in six weeks. Eventually passed out. Then got posted to the Lake District to form No 6 Bulk Petrol Transport Co. RASC. Arrived at Derwentwater Hotel Portinscale Keswick April 1941.

While here doing manoeuvres, field training and improving our driving. Kirkstone Pass and Honiston Pass were the objectives. Changing gear on these steep passes was our training. Moved to Rochdale at the beginning of September. Fitted out with K.D. Uniforms ready for embarkation. Got leave from here for seven days. Then after arriving back we were soon on the troop train for Liverpool. The train took us right onto the India Docks through the streets of Liverpool. We embarked on the troopship SAS Orduna. Five Thousand troops, what an experience, sleeping in hammocks and eating on the same deck.

November 11th 1941 moved into Liverpool Bay to form convoy. Sailed during the night. Stood off the Clyde to pick up the rest of the convoy and naval escort. Battle Ship Sovereign and four destroyers. Sailed into the North Atlantic, off the tip of Iceland and out into the Atlantic. Pretty rough seas for a few days. Big improvement as we moved south. Arrived Freetown, Sierra Leone after fourteen days at sea. Stayed for two days for supplies, water fresh fruit and fuel. Had a few scares off U-Boats, heard depth charges, no casualties. Left Sierra Leone, weather lovely and warm using our tropical kit (shorts and shirts) sleeping on the deck, anywhere to keep cool. Crossed equator (King Neptune and Co.) Arrived at Durban, South Africa 21st December 1941. Very big convoy, good time in Durban, made very welcome by the South Africans. No blackout here, just like paradise plenty of everything, food, drink, sun. Expected good Christmas her but convoy sailed December 24th. Lady in white sang to the troops (she was the mayoress of Durban) Land of Hope and Glory, very moving. Convoy split up in the Indian Ocean. Half went to the Far East (Singapore). Our half sailed towards Aden where we stayed for two days. Left Aden for Red Sea. Arrived Port Suez January 10th 1942, eight weeks voyage. TEWFIQ

Disembarked by lighters carrying full pack. Very cold night transported to the base camp. First sight of Egypt the next morning. Nothing to see but yellow sand and tents. This was called Tahag. Nothing to do for a few days only drill and exercise to stop the boredom. Met a few `wogs’ for the first time, with their nightgowns and strange language. This has been a wonderful travel experience for me, as I had never dreamt that I would get so far from Shiney Row.

After seven days visited Tel-el-Kabir and Ismalia also the Suez Canal. Two stinking towns but the canal was worth seeing. Transported to Cairo seventy miles across the desert. Picked up our first petrol tankers at Abbassia Barracks. First time behind the wheel of a vehicle alone. Travelled back to Tahag via Sweetwater Canal. Eventually arrived in the early hours next morning, unscathed. Driving without lights in convoy was a new experience, something we had to get used to as quick as possible.

Company moved up to America twenty miles from Alexandria. Drove through Cairo across two bridges over Nile. Passed Pyramids and Sphinx at Giza. Across the desert ninety miles sand all the way. Made our camp at America.

Operating of petrol refinery, Alexandra. Up to El Daba, El Fuka, Mersa Matruh 90% octane for aircrafts and tanks also fuel for vehicles. Two hundred and forty miles per day up Western Desert and return to base to fill up for next day. Practically working every day. Have to cross three miles of salt flats to get to the refinery at Dekjiela. OU

First casualty of Campaign. W. Clasper from company overturned and blew up. 90% Octane a very highly inflammable and dangerous load to carry. All tankers static conductors from chassis to road, making jingling sound while travelling. Our company sign on the tankers was 1313 and a yellow camel. Not a very lucky sign.

After a few weeks the company had four small detachments spaced out right up to Tubruk. The railway to railhead dump being repaired had a few days leave in Alexandria, very nice. Met my pal from Washington Bill Maddison. Had a good day together, also met Steve Arkley, Royal Navy HMS Valiant, later sank with all hands. Steve lost his life age 22years old. Bill Maddison served on Motor Torpedo Boats raiding the Greek Islands, plenty of action.

Back to the grind, up and down the desert, very long runs. Had some straffing from the Lutwaffe, no casualties. Heard about Singapore, bad news, all those troops from the convoy taken prisoners, didn’t stand a chance.

Rommel and Army on the move again. June. Tanks getting a hammering from 88mm Tiger Tanks. Had to destroy petrol dump at Tubruk. Three million gallons of fuel. Slashing tins with machetes and officers fired flare into dump. Nothing but black smoke, none left for `Jerry’ tanks.

German guns and tanks bombarding Tubruk. Had to get move on back. French Foreign Legion at Bir Hachim holding the Germans up. Everything on wheels moving back to Marsah Matruh on the Egyptian Border. Drove right back into the rear, ten miles outside Cairo on the desert road to Suez. All the company in need or rest and refitting.

June 28th German advance being held at Alamein. Everything is a shambles. After three days rest, company reassembled transporting fuel from Suez up to Cairo area. Heliopolis, Helwan, Mena, Almaza, also the barracks around and in Cairo, Abbassia, Kasr-el-nil barracks. New Zealand camp at Maadi. Very jammed with troops.

August 1942. New Commander takes over, Montgomery and Alexander. New orders, keep fit and training programme on order for everybody. Brand new tanks (Sherman and Grant) being shipped into Suez. Also new guns and equipment. Very up to date 25 Pounders and Boufers Guns. Moral beginning to pick up again after a few pep talks. Everybody well fed and rested. Lots of activity behind lines at Alamein and in the desert. Work being done at night and sleeping in the sun during the day. Ready for the break out. Everybody very excited and keen to go.

October 23rd 1942. Big barrage opened up midnight went on all night. German troops must be all shell-shocked. Moving forward once again up the desert road. Hard to keep up with supplies, non-stop operation. Out of Egypt and into Libya, Mersh Matruh, Sidi-Barani, Hellfire Pass, Bardia, Sellum, Tubruk. Lots of burnt out German gear all over the desert. Minefields all over. Back to the `Holes of Tubruk’, underground shelters made from petrol tins. Still on water rationing, hard biscuits, corned beef and M & V tins. Good food, but rough living.

Railhead operating. Tubruk harbour wrecked no ships arriving for a while - mines. Operating right up into Libya, Martuba, round Bay of Sirte (Gazala) from Martuba to Derna, very dangerous pass down escarpment into Derna. Good driving required. Another pass out of Derna towards Cyrene, Appolonia. Got fresh water here. Roman ruins here. Moved up from Tubruk to Benghazi another awful pass to drive form Tocra Pass. Marvellous piece of work by the Italians. Lovely vegetation on top of escarpment. Mussolini’s colonial idea but failed.

December 1942 billeted in Benghazi Railway Station. Harbour being cleared of wrecks. Midnight mass in Cathedral, big hole in roof. Celebrating Christmas and New Year on vino, no beer.

Nothing but vehicles and troops on the desert road, all moving forward. Captured prisoners, hundreds of them arrogant German African Corps, shell shocked from being taken. Operating from Benghazi to Agheila, Agedabia right up to Tripoli, long hard driving.

January, February 1943. Tripoli captured. Heading for Mareth line. Americans and British doing well in Tunisia. Germans in shambles. Few months peace and quiet. All sorts of equipment moving forward.

June 1943. Invasion of Sicily. We are still operating up to Tripoli. Clearing place of mines and booby traps. Two casualties. One killed, Taffy Jones, only bits and pieces left of him.

Once again Christmas and New Year.

Continued - See Part 2

My father John Welsh died 24th October 2003 and left this diary which we thought should be kept for everyone to read.

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