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15 October 2014
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Chapter 3: No food, no water, no nothing!

by BBC Southern Counties Radio

Contributed by 
BBC Southern Counties Radio
People in story: 
Ron Redman, Major Le Patourel
Location of story: 
Tebourba, Tunisia
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
01 February 2006

And then the real battle commenced. I mean it was hell on earth. It was amongst the trees hot lead fire round, mortar shells and one or two of my colleagues were ordered to go out and make counter attacks. And I remember seeing some of my colleagues coming back on stretchers, thinking, well, this is pretty serious. And, as I say, an officer came round and offered a boiled sweet, which is ironic I thought. Because there was no food, no water, no nothing, only what we had in our packs.

Things were getting very nasty and I think on the second day the whisper came round that we were going to retreat and everybody thought, wonderful, let’s get out of here! But it was only for a few hundred yards and we were told to file away at night and be very quiet, just whisper to the next man that we were going out of the olive grove. To our horror we only went about three or four hundred yards in the open, below a hill called 186, and told to dig in. This was in the early morning — we only had regulation trenching tools, we didn’t have a spade, and they were hopeless on the hard ground, like concrete. So you took a long time to get down a couple of feet even. By that time the Stukas had arrived and it was very uncomfortable.

The Stukas went, we carried on digging, the sun came up and then Major Le Patourel, the company commander, ordered myself and my section of a platoon — about 8 men — to go up to the top of the hill to go on reconnaissance and report back to him what we had seen. So, without anything to eat or drink, away we went in the early morning, up the hill. On the way up, we came across one or two frightened East Surrey soldiers who said, “Oh, God, it’s terrible up there!”. They were coming down, we were going up! But we carried on, we went to the top. And when we looked over the brow of the hill, down towards the olive grove we’d just come from, we saw all these pot helmeted soldiers advancing with their tanks. There was a railway line just down the side of the olive grove and they were advancing down there. There must have been hundreds of them and frightening to look at it, to realise what was happening.

So down the hill we went again, this was still in the morning; reported to Major Le Patourel and immediately he said, to the group that was gathered round him, ‘Right’, he said, ‘we’re going up there!’. He said ‘I want some volunteers, we’re going up the hill’. And the volunteers were you, you and you! Luckily those of us who went up in the morning weren’t asked to go up there. We didn’t know the story at that time but they went up the hill and, as is known, that every man who went with Major Le Patourel was killed and he went on alone and, as you probably know, he got the VC, supposedly post-humously. But then the Germans reported him still alive some months later and they couldn’t take the VC back.

Sue: Is the Victoria Cross just if you’ve died in battle?
Ron: We wondered if he would have got it if they’d known he was still alive. It always seems they always die. Anyway.

We endured more bombing and shelling and as the next day drew to a close we were told to go back where the HQ was, not in the olive grove, but in another wooded area. Incidentally, during this battle we actually saw natives, Tunisians, with pots on their heads, the husband in front and the children, and the donkey, walking. It was their country. And who were we? Of course we held our fire and we wondered if the Germans did, at that stage, if they saw them.

This story was submitted to the People's War site by Sue Craig on behalf of Ron Redman and has been added to the site with his permission. Ron fully understands the site's terms and conditions.

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