- Contributed by
- Wyre Forest Volunteer Bureau
- People in story:
- Thomas Averill
- Location of story:
- North Africa
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 24 December 2004
North African Campaign
Continuing my service with the 67th Field Regt. R.A.T.A. in World War Two. After Dunkirk we were given the job of defending the area around the Wash in the Gedney Dyke region. We had no guns or vehicles and were equipped with rifles, grenades and “broom sticks”, which we sharpened at one end; one old 18 pound gun covered 25 miles.
“Notes for Men of the 1st Division” were sent out by the Divisional Commander K.A.N. Anderson. The summary of these were:
“To every soldier in my Division I give the following orders:
1. Be staunch and hold on
2. Hunt the German by every means at your disposal
3. Be suspicious of all strangers
4. Check up on all messages, especially unexpected ones
5. Don’t chatter
6. Dig in on all occasions
Lastly, have faith in your Cause, your Country and your God”
Our nearest town was Holbeach and Boston was also visited.
We were stood to on one occasion at 0200, when it was assumed an enemy invasion had taken place, however, it was discovered that cocks of hay had risen from the ground when a strong wind had lifted them.
In October 1940 we were moved to the Sleaford area of Lincoln where a third battery was formed namely 446 BTY making three batteries of two troops each. Eighteen months were spent in training and becoming fully equipped.
In March 1942 we were moved to Norfolk and started training for the North African campaign; Fakenham, Raynham Hall and Heckington were Battery H.Q.’s.
It was here that the C.O. Lieutenant Colonel Hobson, broke his leg whilst riding a motorcycle and was replaced by Lieutenant Colonel Thompson, a regular soldier. However, our old C.O. was back with us in August and took the Regiment to Kilmarnock and Ayr.
In January 1943 King George VI came to inspect the Regiment and this was the signal that we were about to go abroad. We left Kilmarnock on 27th Febuary and it seemed that all the inhabitants lined the streets to bid us Good Luck and Bon Voyage. Our ship was the Duchess of York, we arrived on March 9th at Algiers having been chased by two U-Boats and met by two fighter bombers. The journey was a rough one and many of the men were sea sick.
We then made for the Medjes el Bab, Djebel Jaffa and Tally Ho Corner with a view to relieve 78th Division and on March 27th we were in action. North of Medjes there was a high feature called the Bou.
Next came Banana Ridge where the Regt. were moved up along side the Infantry – The Duke of Wellingtons - on the night of 21st April. The move was nearing completion and I was in charge of the 25 Pounder Ammunition Vehicles, which were under machine gun, mortar and anti-tank fire from the German Herman Göering Paratroop Regiment, it was learned later that this unit was out on a live ammunition exercise called ‘Der Fleiderbute’ in order to establish an old defensive line. All gun positions were attacked and hand-to-hand fighting ensued, I turned my vehicles round and picked up a gun and limber which had lost its gun tractor and made for the track back to our original gun positions.
We came under heavy machine gun fire with tracer bullets, both vehicle and gun tyres had been flattened – the driver Gnr. Woolhouse and I took shelter behind the wheels. Eventually during a lull we managed to drive on but only 1st gear was possible. My driver was very cool and brave and for his actions he was awarded a Military Medal.
There were casualties amongst the gun crews, prisoners taken, and the loss of guns and equipment. Luckily we only had one man wounded on our vehicle and we dropped him off at an Advanced Dressing Station (A.D.S.). Heavy casualties were suffered by the infantry of 2nd Infantry Brigade, particularly the 2nd North Staffordshires, also the Sherwood Foresters and 4th Indian Division, all in the battle for Tunis.
The miraculous thing was that all the enemy machine gun bullets had penetrated the shell boxes and not the charge cases, had some of the tracer bullets struck them, the whole issue would have ignited. When daylight came the enemy withdrew and the fireplan went ahead, a three week battle took place and 1st Division, 4th Division & 78th Division entered Tunis on 7/5/1943 as planned. Many SOSs and barrages were fired and due to the weather and the rapid firing several of the gun barrels had ‘drooped’ with the heat.
Many heroic deeds were performed by both officers and men who had been forced to leave their guns; which had been fired on by enemy tanks and take on the Germans in an infantry role which was completely foreign to them, especially in the dark. Hand-to-hand fighting took place, but two guns replied with close range fire and knocked out two tanks. On several occasions when they took cover in a ditch or trench, they found Germans in the same hole. After an hour or so the enemy withdrew in confusion and, on schedule, when guns and equipment had been replaced the attack took place on 22nd April and the advance towards Medjes el Bab.
Besides Banana Ridge the Regiment were busy supporting the 1st Loyals, 2nd North Staffs. and 6th Gordons at Peter’s Corner, Longstop and Cactus Farm also high ground at Point156, Point151, Point 144, Point 174. Fire power from the R.A. was intense and the North Staffordshires, Gordons and Loyals captured the high ground at Point 156, 151, 144 and 174, but not without heavy losses.
During May 5th, 6th the Regiment had fired over 700 rounds per gun and they were firing continuously for 20 HOURS without a rest. On May 7th it started to rain and with all that noise we said “no wonder”.
After the capture of Tunis a well deserved rest was now taken in the Olive Groves at Monastir, Nabeul and Hammamet where we enjoyed good bathing in the Mediterranean. Whilst resting in the olive groves the Regiment held a Thanksgiving Service on May 16th and afterwards the local Sheikh invited all the Officers to a celebration luncheon which included kouss kouss, roast mutton – the whole sheep on a large platter, - no end of trimmings; in order to facilitate the eating of this, we had provided our own cutlery and also plenty of clean water to keep the palate cool! Mint tea was the final drink.
The Sheikh then showed us round his garden and requested that all the remaining food be collected in a 3 ton wagon and distributed round the cookhouses for the men to enjoy, this was not to be wasted as they were taking part in a general fast! The cooks I remember dished out a special curry stew!
Medjes el Bab was revisited and 266 Battery and 446 guarded Italian and German P.O.W.s. It was extremely hot – around 120 degrees and the Italians were refusing to dig fresh latrines. I persuaded the Germans who were adjacent to complain about the smell and lack of hygiene. Fortunately this request to dig more latrines was successful when the Italians began work and saved me no end of trouble.
Lt. Col A.C.W. Hobson left the Regiment after Tunis as much to his disgust he was deemed too old to command a Regiment at 52 years of age. He had been a great commander, having previously served in World War I and won an M.C. and been mentioned in despatches three times. He was replaced by Lt. Col. J.C. Flay, a Worcestershire Territorial who had been wounded at Dunkirk
I had spent many scary hours as a Forward Observation Officer, with the infantry in slit trenches, carriers or on foot. Seeing the camouflage net shaking when a “plus” round from a German 88 sailed over the back and the “minus” sent the dirt flying in front of us made us feel that the next round would be spot on. Luckily it wasn’t. At Point 156 whilst supporting the 6th Gordons, Capt. D. Gray was badly wounded firing his revolver at a German machine gun nest. He refused to leave until his Platoon Sgt. silenced it with grenades.
In 1960 he appeared as a BBC presenter and also played the part of Mark Saber, the one armed detective in Saber of London. His arm was so badly shattered when he was shooting at the German machine gunner that amputation resulted when he went into hospital.
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