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Not My Worst Night, By Any Means: A Young Soldier in North Africaicon for Recommended story

by Ron Goldstein

Contributed by 
Ron Goldstein
People in story: 
Ron Goldstein
Location of story: 
North Africa
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A1996860
Contributed on: 
09 November 2003

By the time this photo was taken in Egypt I had got my knees brown. The studio setting was typical of the photos that we sent to our families back home

The time was April 1943, and I was a 19-year-old very green wireless operator, who had just arrived in Algiers in north Africa as reinforcement to General Anderson's 1st Army.

After spending a few weeks in a transit camp at nearby Cap Matifou, I found that a few others and I were to be posted to a light anti-aircraft regiment in Tunis. Our method of transportation there turned out to be cattle trucks on an antiquated railway line.

Six horses and 20 men

The train itself caused us some amusement, if that’s the right word. The wagon to which we were allocated bore the sign ‘6 Chevaux au 20 Hommes’ stencilled on the side. We were destined to sit on bare, broken floorboards for the best part of three days.

Occasionally, without warning, the train would stop, and one of the officers aboard would run down the length of the train calling out, ‘We’re here for an hour if you want to do anything.’ ‘Anything’ could include cooking a meal, digging oneself a small hole in the desert scrub or buying hard-boiled eggs from the Arabs who appeared as if from nowhere.

At the end of the first day, the train clanked to a halt, and we all clambered out stiffly to make our beds under the stars.

In seventh heaven

I had already made friends with another young chap, whom I had first met back in England — a Londoner, like me — and we bedded down next to each other. As we ate our evening’s rations, my friend broke the silence.

‘You know, Ron, this has got to be the worst moment of my life, eating a meal of cold, uncooked bully beef and sleeping on the sand out in the open.’

The joke was that I personally was in seventh heaven.

Romance of the desert

The brilliant stars in the jet-black sky under which I now lay were the most beautiful sight I had ever seen in my own short life. The romance of actually being in the desert was manna from heaven for this particular cockney boy who, until he went in the army, had never been further from home than Brighton.

As the war progressed, I was to savour many experiences, some good, others not so good, and my travels were to take me to Sicily, Italy, Austria, Germany and Egypt. No memory, however, has stayed with me as vividly as that first night in the desert.

I have often thought about my friend’s remark and wondered if he later had occasion to change his mind about ‘the worst night of his life’!

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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 - Worst night of life

Posted on: 14 May 2004 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Ron -
What a handsome young chap you were in those days...so what happened ?

I too sweated it out at Cap Matifou before riding the rails to Bone as well as doing the odd guard duty at Algiers Docks. On reflection though - they were fun and exciting days for young chaps as we were.

By - the way - Monty had nothing to do with 1st Army - that was Kenneth Anderson - a good Scotsman like myself ! His Chief of Staff was a chap called McNab, who was not liked by many and so in the Battle of Longstop Hill near Medjez - he dropped down to Lt.Col. and led the Argylls to the top but was killed in the process - he was another good Scot ! "Not many people know that" - as your fellow Londoner would say !

 

Message 2 - Worst night of life

Posted on: 16 May 2004 by Ron Goldstein

Hi Tom
You're quite right, of course.
The British First Army was in fact commanded by Lt. Gen. Kenneth N. A. Anderson at the time in question. Monty wasn't our boss until just before Sicily and by then we were all part of the 8th Army.
When talking about those days I always try to make the distinction that I joined the 1st Army (as opposed to 8th) as I have always respected the well earned prestige of the latter force.
One of my problem in re-telling these tales is that I have, in the main, been taking them from the Goldstein family book, written many years ago and unchecked for errors such as above.
I havn't worried too much about this as I knew that the eagle eyes of people such as yourself, Peter, Frank and John would soon spot such items and rush to put me right ! :)
Regards to all
Ron

 

Message 3 - Worst night of life

Posted on: 17 May 2004 by Helen

Dear Tom and Ron

Thanks for this - I've updated Ron's edited version of the story.

Best wishes,

Helen, WW2 Team

 

Message 4 - Worst night of life

Posted on: 17 May 2004 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Helen & Ron,-

Well done Helen - I'm sure - at the time - Gen. Kenneth would have been so pleased to have Ron's most valuble assistance in his campaign against those nasty Nazi's !

 

Message 5 - Worst night of life

Posted on: 18 May 2004 by Helen

That's certain!

Very best wishes,

Helen, WW2 Team

 

Message 6 - Worst night of life

Posted on: 08 September 2005 by carjoan

did you have problems with Africa Star I Was told that some sarving units were unable to wear same

 

Message 7 - Worst night of life

Posted on: 08 September 2005 by Ron Goldstein

Dear CarJoan

You say "did you have problems with Africa Star I Was told that some sarving units were unable to wear same"
I have to admit your question puzzles me a little.
The actual ribbon of the Africa Star was awarded to anyone who had served in the North African area during hostilities and was worn by anyone who was so entitled.
The actual medal was available for collection after the war.
To be entitled to wear a 'clasp' such as the 1st Army or the 8th Army clasp one had to be with a unit that was listed in the order of battle for that area.
In my own case, I was not posted to my regiment, the 49th LAA, until a week or so after the end of hostilities and so did not qualify for the First Army clasp while I DID qualify for the Africa Star by being in the North African area during the same period.
(Does that make any sense to you?)
If you still have a query, return to this thread and I will try to sort it out.
Regards
Ron

 

Message 8 - Worst night of life

Posted on: 08 September 2005 by carjoan

thanks Ron, the only clue I have is reading a letter from my grandfather to his son, then in Africa (MEF), written to no 1836 co. AAPC but readdressed to no.12 (BRT) Gen Hosp Mef 13.1.44 in which he asks "Why cant you wear your Africa Star?. you say its not allowed,I see by the papers ,they have been issuing the ribbon in Italy to those entitled to wear it"Father did say that Monty would only allow the 8th army to wear it and he was in the Pioneers after being evacuated from Dunkirk. Does this make sense?

 

Message 9 - Worst night of life

Posted on: 08 September 2005 by Ron Goldstein

Hi CarJoan
Regardless of what Monty may or may not have said, if your Dad was in the North African area prior to the end of hostilities then he was clearly entitled to the Africa Star.
I will ask my good friend Peter G. to let you have the link to his medals page so that you can see this for yourself.
As they say on TV "Stay tuned" :)
Ron

 

Message 10 - Worst night of life

Posted on: 08 September 2005 by carjoan

Ron,
many thanks for your help and interest, C

 

Message 11 - Worst night of life

Posted on: 08 September 2005 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Carjoan / Ron -
If I may cut in here - Monty's "gripe" was with the army which was in the desert prior to his arrival in the Aug of '42 - he didn't think they were entitiled to the 8th Army medal - when challenged by the fact that many of those units were the backbone of 8th army at Alum Halfa and beyond - he caved in but held on to the 8th army clasp - most people - when they finally got home and out of the way, put up what THEY felt was their entitlement, for that they can hardly be blamed but of course, there were abuses. We never did get the honours we felt we were entitled, like the order of the frozen foot,or the D day Dodger award.
cheers

 

Message 12 - Africa Star and Emblems

Posted on: 09 September 2005 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

I have read the various views put forward on the Africa Star with interest. First army officers, including Field Marshals and War Office staff, cannot decide who should or should not have campaign stars. How could they when other services are involved? That is decided by the government of the day with the approval of the monarch.

The authority on these matters is without doubt Captain H. Taprell Dorling, D.S.O., R.N. Known to his admirers as 'Taffrail', his book "Ribbons and Medals" was first published in 1916 with ever better editions in 1919, 1926, 1940, 1941, 1944, and 1946. I bought my first Taffrail in Leeds in 1946, but 'lost' it during my army service (let's hope that whoever 'nicked' it is enjoying it). I got my current copy, the 1970 reprint of the 1963 enlarged edition, in a library sale for the incredible price of 50p!

Taffrail is known world wide as THE authority and is always recommended by experts. For example, here at this official Australian website http://www.awm.gov.au/research/bibliographies/honours.htmAbout links or this Israeli website http://faculty.winthrop.edu/haynese/medals/israeliepe.htmlAbout links to give but two from across the world. Having established his credentials, here is Taprell Dorling on the subject:

Africa Star

This star was awarded to the Armed Forces and Merchant Navy, and to women of the A.T.S., W.R.N.S., and W.A.A.F., for entry into an operational area in North Africa between 10 June 1940 (the date of Italy's entry into the war) and 12 May 1943 (the end of operations in North Africa); also for service in Abyssinia, Somaliland, Eritrea, and Malta. The ribbon, 1¼ inches wide and unwatered, is pure buff, a symbol of the desert. It has a wide red stripe in the centre, a dark blue stripe on the left and a light blue stripe on the right, both narrower than the centre stripe; the dark blue representing the Naval Forces and Merchant Navy, the red, the Armies, and the light blue, the Air Forces. A silver, Arabic '8' or '1' worn on the ribbon indicates service with the Eighth Army between 23 October 1942 and 12 May 1943, or the First Army between 8 November 1942 and 12 May 1943. Naval and Merchant Navy service anywhere at sea in the Mediterranean between the dates 10 June 1940 and 12 May 1943 qualified. A silver rose emblem is worn on the ribbon by personnel of the Royal Navy Inshore Squadrons and Merchant Navy vessels which worked inshore between the dates 23 October 1942 and 12 May 1943, and be personnel of the R.A.F. serving between the same dates. The Eighteenth Army Group H.Q. also wear this emblem for service between 15 February 1943 and 12 May 1943.

I hope that this settles the matter.

Kind regards to all,

Peter Ghiringhelli

 

Message 13 - Africa Star and Emblems

Posted on: 10 September 2005 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

In the penultimate sentence, "... and BE personnel of the R.A.F ..." should read "... and BY personnel of the R.A.F ...".

Typos are the bane of my life :)

Peter

 

Message 14 - Africa Star and Emblems

Posted on: 12 September 2005 by carjoan

Thanks Peter, sorry about typos in my messages. I have the medal as described in the above without the 1 or 8 ;also another medal inscribed "the1939-1945 star" the ribbon has equal sized colours in deep blue ,red and light blue, presumably linked to the respective Services as you described. Is that the general medal awarded to all serving officers?

 

Message 15 - Africa Star and Emblems

Posted on: 12 September 2005 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Hi carjoan

Take a look at my medal webpage here http://www.petergh.f2s.com/medals.htmAbout links

It should answer your question and any others you might have regarding WW2 medals.

Regards,

Peter Ghiringhelli

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