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Keeping a Diary in Wartime: 4th Queen's Own Hussars in Italy and the 49th LAA in Egypt

by Ron Goldstein

Contributed by 
Ron Goldstein
People in story: 
Ron Goldstein
Location of story: 
Italy and Egypt
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A2509021
Contributed on: 
10 April 2004

Diary entry for 16th August 1944, my 21st Birthday, celebrated in Egypt

Occasionally, on this site, I get my knuckles slightly rapped for admitting that I kept a diary during my days ‘up front’.
I admit it was stupid of me, perhaps I justified it at the time by saying to myself “if it looks like I’m going to be taken prisoner then I will throw them away ” but in reality it was remiss of me and I hang my head in shame.
But……………..
Looking back as I do now, over 60 years later, I find them of great use in propping up my memory and in providing me with a 100% reliable source of reference. Take the following as an example, written in Italy as the war ended.

Sunday 22nd. April 1945
Woke to find mortar crew right at my head in yard right in front of casa. Rations came up with T.R's kit (?). More prisoners. Slung my 'spare' rifle. Moved into fields.

On this particular day I was literally woken up by the sharp crack of the mortars being fired at an enemy who could have been no more than 500 yards away. I remember feeling distinctly aggrieved that the Infantry mortar crew had not had the common decency to wake us up and to give us a chance to move out of the way while they fought their own private battle with their German counterparts!

On the reference to the ‘spare rifle’ anyone in the line, that is anyone who was anywhere near the enemy, usually had two lots of ‘kit’. The first set of kit was the official stuff that one had been issued with by the Army. This would consist of, for example, 1 Large Pack, 1 Small Pack, 1 Large Mess Tin, 1 Small Mess Tin , 4 Blankets, 1 Groundsheet , etcetera, etcetera.

The second lot of ‘kit’ that one owned was gradually accumulated along the way and was hidden in the truck or tank whenever a kit inspection was looming on the horizon.
A typical list of un-official kit would probably include such items as extra blankets, camp bed, eating utensils such as enamel plates and non-Army cutlery, a suitcase, a German rifle, binoculars, in fact anything that could help to supply a modicum of comfort whilst trying to survive in very unpleasant surroundings.
The reference to ‘more prisoners’ referred to the small pockets of German soldiers anxious to give themselves up to our unit. It was particularly shocking to see the many young boy soldiers, some of them looked no more than 13 or 14 and made us realise that Hitler was really scraping the barrel at that stage of the war.
The reference to 'T.R.s kit' is now completely meaningless but perhaps on some wonderful day yet to come 'T.R' will come out of the woodwork and say 'Here I am, it was me!'
The reference to 'moved into fields' meant that we moved away from the farmhouse area probably to get away from the mortar firing Infantry.
Thank you Diary!

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These messages were added to this story by site members between June 2003 and January 2006. It is no longer possible to leave messages here. Find out more about the site contributors.

Message 1 - keeping a diary in war time

Posted on: 10 April 2004 by Sinbadnick

Hi Ron, I am eighty two years of age
and am not ashamed to say that I kept
a diary of my service in the Navy all
through the war'it started when I was
a swelled headed 17year old and day to
day right throughout until the day I
was demobbed in 1946,and now today I
can look back on every action that my
ships took part in right down to the
last details' names of ships sunk and
where and best of all the great runs
ashore in exotic places but the things
I like to read about in my diary most
is the names of my hoppo's long gone
now but a comradeship the likes that
you and I will never see again.
No Ron our diaries are a story of lads who were turned into men in a very short time for the sake of peace
NOW LOOK AT IT TODAY WHAT A WASTE.

 

Message 2 - keeping a diary in war time

Posted on: 10 April 2004 by John de Mansfield AbsolonResearcher 238443

Hi Ron.
You guys who managed to save their notes and diaries were ready lucky. I lost all mine accidentally just after the war. You don't realise how important they are. My problem is remembering names of friends long gone.
I don't think it was a waste the only problem is people not learning from history . Anyway we know that it is all their parents fault and I'm sure we would have done better if it hadn't been for our parents. The world goes on and I know it could have been a lot worse. Anyway as we used to say "it's all good for a laugh".
Salutations to you all.
My best regards
Yours Aye
John Absolon.

 

Message 3 - keeping a diary in war time

Posted on: 11 April 2004 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Ron,
you were quite right to keep a diary I didn't and now I'm suffering as my memory is becoming very strained these days trying to remember what happened all those years ago, fortunately I have a very good library which keeps me close to the track and, of course Peter the researcher, to rap my knuckles now and again.

best regards Ron
tom

 

Message 4 - keeping a diary in war time

Posted on: 12 April 2004 by paul gill - WW2 Site Helper

Just out of interest is there any evidence a captured diary was ever of use to the enemy?

My father took quite a few photographs whilst stationed on Malta which was probably equally dubious.

paul

 

Message 5 - keeping a diary in war time

Posted on: 01 May 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Ron

I've just come across this, yet another, gem of yours. I'm about three weeks behind reading contributions.

But who needs diaries? In 1952 (or was it 1962?) I did a six weeks memory course by the late esteemed Professor Harry Smithfield ... no ... Henry Smithfield ... or was it Smithchurch? I forget now, but it was very good and I still employ his groundbreaking method today.

Regards,

Peter

 

Message 6 - keeping a diary in war time

Posted on: 27 May 2004 by Andy1971

Im very glad that alot of you veterans kept diary's, thats what makes reading stories like this more enjoyable as you know that they are pretty accurate as to what happened to that person at that time.

Just going back to your comments Ron on having a spare kit, and having a German rifle, was this common?. I hear 2 different sides to this, 1 being that they were used because they were much better than what the Britsh were issued, and the other was that it wasnt worth using them as they would draw fire from your own side from twitchy fingers.

Andy

 

Message 7 - keeping a diary in war time

Posted on: 27 May 2004 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Andy -

Don't know about the contrast of the German rifle vs the Lee-Enfield but we were presented with a German Panther Mkv Tank by the action of "Smoky Smith" of the Canadian Seaforths when he won his V.C. We - "A" squadron 145th RAC in the 21st Tank Brigade - patched it up and used it AGAINST the Germans up on the Savio River near Cesena in November '44 - I think someone at HQ got jealous and we had to give it up !

 

Message 8 - keeping a diary in war time

Posted on: 27 May 2004 by Andy1971

Thanks for the reply, this may sound a daft question but were the German tanks much different in driving and operating compared to Shermans, cromwells and Churchills, or are most tanks basically the same when it comes to working them?. I know the British armour was badly out gunned and under armoured compared to the Germans, but Im curious about the actual workings inside.

Im reading Ken Tout's (Northampton Yeo) book Tanks advance at the moment, and there is a bit in there about a British Sherman spotting a SP gun coming towards them, and as they couldnt recognise what it was they opened fire, the SP kept coming to thier amazement, both Sherman and SP fired upon each other.They both brewed up and it was later that the rest of the squad found out that the SP was infact a new British model. Must be even more difficult in a tank to get recognition.

Andy

 

Message 9 - keeping a diary in war time

Posted on: 27 May 2004 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Andy -
basicically all Tanks were operated on the same engineering principles of gearing through final drives,steering brakes, you just didn't turn a steering wheel - you stopped one track and the other speeded up in order to turn etc . to move 40 tons of steel through the land.
The main difference was in gunnery and the traversing of the turret gun in order to live on. The German never did get a 360 degree turn to their turrets whereas it was standard on all British Tanks. The other main difference was in tactical use of Tanks - we never did seem to learn - the Germans- particulary Gauderin - studied the British Liddel-Harts books on Tank Tactics - and beat the heck out of us, especially in the desert where the smaller Mk3 & Mk 4 Pz's would "drag their capes' in fron of a Tank battalion - the British - mainly ex Cavalry - would do a " Gallant 600 charge" - and walk into just four 88mm a/t guns - that usually spelled the end of that Battalion ! - time and time again we did this !We were screaming for a bigger gun - so the peanut sized 2 pdr was replaced by the 6pdr - which could knock out the 3's % 4's - then they brought out the Panther and Tiger - with 19 foot long barrels with special 75's and 88mm.
By that time we had a few -very very few - 17pdrs which were very good and could kill any tank - the real a/t gun was the modified 3.7 AA gun which had been standing idle - especially in the middle east, for years - we finally got it in dribs and drabs - when ? at the battle of the Bulge - January 1945 ! I trust it has changed a great deal !

 

Message 10 - keeping a diary in war time

Posted on: 27 May 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Good as they were, German tanks got one hell of a jolt when they first met up with the T-34 in Russia. Luckily for the Germans there were so few of them when Barbarossa was launched, probably less than a thousand and widely dispersed; but the Russians soon woke up to this and snapped into mass production.

All authorities now agree that the T-34 was the outstanding tank of the 20th century, even when mounted with the high velocity 76.2mm gun (itself an innovation for a medium tank), a great deal of thought had gone into it and all aspects of its armour were sloped.

As good as it was, in 1943 its turret was enlarged (based on the KV-85 turret) and mounted with the formidable D-5T 85mm anti-aircraft gun plus two Degtyarev 7.62mm machine-guns, one co-axially mounted and one in hull. This, the T34/85, was second to none and was one of the most powerful tanks in existence when it appeared. It had superb suspension which gave little trouble and the carefully designed wide tracks allowed it to travel fast over both snow and spring mud; it had a top speed of 31 mph with a range of 186 miles. Compare this with the Churchill's top speed of 16mph and range of 88 miles.

The Germans learnt a lot from the T-34 and it was this tank that very much influenced the Tiger which had such a formidable reputation in the west. But its top speed and range were still less: 24mph and 60 miles.

Our lads did remarkably well with the equipment they had, but both British and American design was way behind.

 

Message 11 - keeping a diary in war time

Posted on: 28 May 2004 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Peter -
you are so right and we thank God that we never had to tackle the T34 as we had enough trouble with the Mk1V - V - and V1 Pz's - success was limited in our Brigade to one Tiger Mk V1 at Medjez el Bab and we "inherited" a Panther MkV and put it into action against the 'Teds" at the R.Savio in November '44...near Cesena. Mostly the bigger Marks were killed by the PIAT, which earned a few V.C's - quite rightly !

 

Message 12 - keeping a diary in war time

Posted on: 28 May 2004 by Andy1971

Im sure I read somewhere that the Tiger was worth 4 Shermans? or something along the lines that for every Tiger destroyed it would have taken 4 Shermans to do it.

So being in Italy during 1944 Troopertomcanning, you would have been one of Lady Aster's D-day dodgers?. Read the words to the song of D-day dodgers, some time back, very funny.

Andy

 

Message 13 - keeping a diary in war time

Posted on: 28 May 2004 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Andy -
you are right about the song " D Day Dodgers" being funny - it was the only way to deal with such slurs, although I believe that she probably didn't say it in that context as her secretary at the time claims she was merely responding to a letter received from someone who signed himself - "D-Day Dodger" It gave us all something to sing about... there wasn't too much fun around in those days ! We already had a few D-Days before the famous one in France !

You may be right about the Tiger taking four Shermans - or as we called them - Ronson's as they "lit" first time. The so called "standard to kill off a Tiger was to confront it with one tank while the other two of the troop "raced" down the sides to take it from the rear. Volunteers were invaraibaly in short supply for the confrontation !
I have hauled out Ken Tout's - "To Hell With Tanks " for a re read !

 

Message 14 - keeping a diary in war time

Posted on: 29 May 2004 by John de Mansfield AbsolonResearcher 238443

Hi Tom.
I think Lady Astor wasn't keen on any thing much, she is said to have commented in India that "The two most ugly things in India were water buffalo and British other ranks in shorts". To add a little light-heartedness to an unpleasant subject I once sold Tiger tank to an American. The story goes like this. Apparently a sergeant in the Durham Light Infantry chased the tank in a 15 cwt truck and firing a PIAT over the top of the driver hit it on the air intake and it brewed up. I think he got the MM . It was standing near one of my gun positions. I think the crew baled out. Anyway I was removing a mounting from the tank when an American officer drew up and said "Say is that your tank" for want anything better to say I said "Well I suppose it is as I am nearest" so he replied "I am from an anti-tank unit and my boys had never seen a Tiger tank could I have it?" Seeing a main chance I said "Well we could do with some cigarettes" Next day I was continuing my looting when a tank transporter arrived with the American who had the largest carton of cigarettes you ever saw ( about 3ft square). He then duly loaded the Tiger tank and took off. Fortunately although the tank was under observation and in range the Germans didn't interfere. Oh and by the way I got the bracket I needed.
My best regards
John

 

Message 15 - keeping a diary in war time

Posted on: 29 May 2004 by Andy1971

I think one of my favourite things ive read about Lady Astor was when she said to Churchill "Winston, if I were your wife I'd put poison in your coffee." Whereupon Winston said, "Nancy, if I were your husband I'd drink it." priceless.

Great story about the Tiger tank John, I should think the sergeant in the DLI did get a MM for doing that.

Tom,one of my favourite books by Ken Tout is called Tank!- 40 hours of battle, August 1944. Its about the night march of the 1st Northamptonshire Yeo during operation Totalize. Its one of the best books ive read on life in a tank. Not that ive read that many.

Andy

 

Message 16 - keeping a diary in war time

Posted on: 29 May 2004 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

John -
that story is priceless - for two cartons you could have thrown in the 'Brooklyn Bridge'- he would still have bought it !

Andy - you should read "Armoured Odessey" by Stu Hamilton, which has a few giggles or Cyril Joly's - "Take these men " - not many giggles in that one !

 

Message 17 - keeping a diary in war time

Posted on: 29 May 2004 by Andy1971

Thanks for the recommendations Tom, I shall look out for them.

Andy

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