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15 October 2014
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Henry Rock's War: RASC in North Africa and Italy

by henryrock

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Henry Arthur Rock
Location of story: 
England, Africa, Italy
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
24 February 2004

(The following is an account written in 2003 by Henry Rock who was a Sergeant in the Royal Army Service Corps. Sgt. Rock fought in North Africa and Italy. Henry died on January 31, 2004.)

I joined the Army in March 1940 as a volunteer and was placed in the Royal Army Service Corps as a driver. Pay was one shilling per day but Herefordshire County Council made up to my old salary.

200 of us left Hereford Station early one morning and proceeded to Sheffield where I spent three days before being sent to Blandford Army Camp for four weeks general army training under the Durham Light Infantry (140 steps to the minute) it was a hard struggle for all.

In the fourth week I passed the rifle shooting test and was promoted to Lance-Corporal.

During May 1940 volunteers were called for - I stepped forward with seven others. We were immediately shown a number of Leyland Tiger Coaches (they had come from the Orange Coach Co., London). The coaches were lovely to drive - on the third day of practice we were sent to Bournemouth for driving tests - we all passed.

On the next day, I was sent to Sherborne to pick up troops from the Somerset Light Infantry and take them to Plymouth - this I did every night for a month, going to a different seaside town each night. This was the time when the Germans were expected to invade us - promoted to full Corporal after this affair.

In July I was posted to Marston Magna in Dorset to join the ammunition company and drive a 10 ton lorry. All ammunition for the British Army was being stored in meadows and fields in Dorset -very hard and dangerous work. No member of the Public from any County or City was allowed into Dorset. Marston Magna was a nice village and the local people were very kind to the troops. I remained at Marston Magna for a few months.

On the 21st. September, 1940 I was given special permission by the War Office to get married at Marston Magna church. None of our parents or friends were allowed to come. Sgt. Pawley of the army gave, my bride, Sybil, away. We were allowed to spend three nights with the local stationmaster and his wife. We had a lovely time and the local villagers gave us a wonderful party at the village hall. The other troops gave us a sloped rifle guard from the church, this is really only allowed for Officers.

Before Christmas 1940 I was away overseas — an ordinary plane flew 50 of us form Aldershot to Malta — then troopship to Alexandria.
Some of the places in North Africa that I visited are listed below:
Cairo, Aswan, El Alamein, As Sallium, Benghazi, Surf, Misratah, Chad, Port Said, Khartoum, Marsa Matruh, Tubruq, Marsh Al Buray QAB, Al Kaums and Tripoli

General comments -
- Promoted to Sgt on arrival at Alexandria.
- Allowed personal use of a Jeep and Triumph 500 cc motorcycle.
- Buy whiskey at 7/6d. per bottle - Sgts. and above.
- Carried rifle with bayonet and a revolver.
- Visited many central and large stores, which were placed in open desert areas.
- Had many night journeys done and behind enemy lines - very dangerous - came into contact with many troops.
- Hundreds of snakes in the open deserts.
- Many thunderstorms, with the lightning dancing over the sands.
- Strong winds and gales some of which completely blew our tents away.
- Mosquito nets very difficult to fit in high winds.
- There were many wells in the open desert, but all had been poisoned by the Germans.
- Many sulphur springs in the desert.
- Many deserts including Sahara, Libyan and Western.
- Often drove 30 ton vehicles and trailer to carry up to three tanks. The vehicles had central twin tiller bar steering, and twin gearboxes.
- The German divebombers presented real problems - you just could not see them coming from behind - I lost many pals.
- The heat was bad for most of a year.
- We always stopped work from 12 noon until 2 pm.
- Different case in late afternoon you had to wear greatcoats from 4 pm, on a charge if you did not.
- The Germans had similar plans most days.

Most of the journeys were very long, hundreds of miles. There were very few roads - mostly sand.

We carried hundreds of cardboard and plywood imitation tanks, mostly at night to a position between Benghazi and Marsa Matruh. It all really fooled the Germans and helped to end the Middle East war.

General Montgomery was, in my opinion, brilliant.

It was near the imitation tanks that I met Winston Churchill and Vera Lyn. They were marvelous and very brave.

I was highly honoured on this occasion - made acting Major for 2 days (in proper uniform) - had 100 African Rifle troops under my control the visitors. These men were all 7 ft. or more tall.

I wish that we had a few men like Winston at the moment.

My boyhood friend from Hereford, Godfrey Lloyd, and I were for a long time only about 3 miles apart, but we never met. He was at a place called Asmara. Godfrey held the rank of Chief Sergeant Major with the RHEME.

I must mention Port Said - went there in an emergency and came across a Church of Scotland canteen. The best that I ever visited - it was run by a group of young Scottish ladies.

When I was at Tripoli we were sent during an emergency to Messina in Italy . We were only there for 3 days - poor soldiers the Italians - run like sheep.

I only came home once for 5 days stint on what the army called a LIAP leave.

Tripoli was a beautiful city but a very violent place to live when street duty at night we were in a group of four - two walking forward and two walking backwards behind them.

We had an amusing incident one Saturday in Tripoli, all the troops over a wide area were ordered to the sea front of the city, all were then ordered to strip off and swim. The next minute there was a lot of laughter and clapping from this area — all the women in the town were there, enjoying everything.

Late in my service I was offered a commission in the army with the starting rank of Captain for twenty years in the Palestine area. I refused but two of my pals went. I never saw them again.

Now time to come home for a discharge. Flown in a Lancaster to Malta — went on board the Polish Liner Batory for the journey to Toulouse in southern France. For that trip I was acting Captain Catering Officer — it was good.

The next trip was by train from Toulouse to Dieppe. Boat trip to Dover, train Dover to Aldershot - then train to the Trumpet where everyone was waiting.

A few weeks later all the farmers in the Trumpet area asked all the soldiers to go to the Putley Village Hall where they gave us all 100 Pounds.

T/167066 Sgt. H. A. Rock, 569 Coy, Royal Army Service Corps.

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