- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Raymond Eaglen
- Location of story:
- Western Desert
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 20 February 2004
EXTRACT FROM “ONE MAN’S WAR” BY RAYMOND EAGLEN
E Mail: rayamATtiscali.co.uk
I joined the 58th (Sussex) Field Regiment, Royal Artillery, a Territorial Regiment that had already seen action in France and Belgium and were evacuated from Dunkirk. The Regiment was part of 44th Division.
As the days passed we became accustomed to occasional shelling and dive-bombing, but perhaps the worst things to endure were the flies — millions of them. As you drank a mug of tea the flies would sit around the rim of the mug, right up to your mouth. The army cooks did their best, but the inevitable lack of hygiene in food preparation often led to dysentery and yellow jaundice.
The Regiment moved around at this time, supporting the New Zealanders, the Free French and the 7th Armoured Division.
In October came the great British attack which later became known as the Battle of Alamein.
My memory of the battle was listening to the terrific artillery barrage, hearing the British tanks moving up, and faintly in the distance a Scottish piper from the 51st Highland Division as they advanced.
My other memory was having a splitting headache that within a day or two developed into yellow jaundice. I was sent to a nearby field dressing station. Most of the serious casualties were being evacuated to Cairo, but less urgent cases were treated in the desert.
I spent the next ten days sleeping on a stretcher in the tented hospital. When I eventually staggered into the open air I was amazed to find that we were close to a large stretch of water. I went back into the tent to tell a friend, but as I turned to look at it again I found that it had disappeared. This was my only experience of a mirage, and it was extremely realistic.
Soon after, I returned to the Regiment, and was excused duty for a few days. This meant sitting doing nothing and being shelled from time to time.
Early in November the Enemy was reported to be withdrawing and we began to see many prisoners coming in. Towards the end of the month we started advancing. Going through the minefields was an unnerving experience, driving between two white tapes that indicated the extent of the area that had been cleared. Later we just followed the tracks of the vehicle in front.
In December I had the unpleasant experience of seeing the truck in front hit a mine, and one of our Surveyors was slightly injured. He also suffered from shock for a few days. About this time a situation arose when all the Surveyors who could drive were already driving, and the driver of my truck was sick. I then found myself, having never driven before, driving a 15 cwt truck.
The advance continued, and by Christmas Day the forward troops were so far away that our guns were taken out of action. The cooks spent all day preparing a marvelous meal. It was the cool of the evening before we enjoyed the Turkey, Pork, and all the trimmings, followed by Christmas Pudding, as we sat on the sand under the wonderful desert night.
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