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The 78th Div Goes to Egypt to Re-Train and Re-Form

by Ron Goldstein

Contributed by 
Ron Goldstein
People in story: 
Ron Goldstein
Location of story: 
Egypt
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A2515475
Contributed on: 
13 April 2004

That's me, 2nd Camel from the right

This brief episode relies largely on my Diary notes and starts after our stay near Rome.

Thursday 13th. July 1944
Div flashes taken off us, kit packed and on lorry ready for train journey to Taranto. Rumours seem to bank on Egypt.
Friday 14th. July 1944
Left area at 1230, 30 men and kit to a cattle truck. Heat terrific and not feeling too well. Hope it passes over. Larry in same truck.
Saturday 15th. July 1944
Not much sleep, passing all the old places. San Angelo, Cassino, Mignano, Caserta. Life in truck is pretty hectic and dirty! Arrived Barletta.
Sunday 16th. July 1944
Arrived in Taranto at 2 o'clock. 5 mile march to Div. area with most of equipment. Blazing sun made it pretty grim. Changed all my gear and handed in Big Pack.
Tuesday 18th. July 1944
Marched to docks, seven miles, on board "S.S.Empires Pride" by 12 o'clock. Sailed at 1 o'clock. Boys call the ship "The Altmark" due to the excessive heat and discipline. Slept naked in hammock.
Wednesday 19th. July 1944
Heat still deadly. Boat drill lasted over an hour. Action stations when plane was fired at. Sleeping on deck tonight. Queued for hour in NAAFI.
Thursday 20th. July 1944
Violent stomach cramp due to food. All the lads on my deck the same. Boat drill deadly as usual. Won 10/- at Housey. Passing coast, believe it to be Libya. Sleeping below tonight. Handed money (Lira) in.
Friday 21st. July 1944
No lifeboat drill. Met Syd Bofkin ( a friend from my boy’s club days0 on deck. On ships guard 6-8 p.m. and 12-2 am. Writing this whilst guarding Armoury. Docking on morrow.
Saturday 22nd. July 1944
Last to disembark at Alexandria. Trucks took us to transit (camp) near Mersa Matru. First sight and taste of desert (in Egypt anyway) . Pretty whacked.

Egypt

Following my visit to Rome the rumours of a "big move" came to be founded on fact, and on July l8th we found ourselves at sea on the S.S. Empire’s Pride and our destination turned out to be Alexandria in Egypt. We were there for just over a month to re-equip, retrain and have some leave in the fleshpots of Cairo. Whilst we were there the 78 Div Infantry set about making a mess of Cairo because of the excessive ‘bull****’ that was imposed, maily by the Redcaps (Military Police)
In my Album is a snap is of Bob Dunne and I in Alexandria with bananas which were then non-existant at home!
As we were out of the line I was able to get off the wireless for a whole month, but instead found myself roped in as a jeep driver to the C.O., one Major Mouland. This was fun, and I was able to dash about the desert between Alexandria and Cairo at speeds of over a hundred miles per hour with the windscreen down to get the maximum cooling effect.

Monday 31st. July 1944

Left camp at 0730 arrived Cairo at 1230. Visited Jewish clubs, ate Kosher Food for first time in years!. Bed and Breakfast for 35 piastres. First impressions of Cairo O.K.

August 1944
Of my week's leave in Cairo I most vividly remember a day trip to the Pyramids and the Sphinx and the pleasant days we spent swimming at the pool at Heliopolis. In my Album is the standard photo of me on a camel in front of the Pyramids.
On the l6th of August l944 I celebrated my 2lst birthday by having a drink with an American seaman in a bar in Cairo.
I had just dropped the C.O. off in the city and was killing time before picking him up for the trip back to camp at Ishmalia. By one of those remarkable coincidences that used to occur in wartime, the seaman at the bar, a John Merry of 383O North Carmac St Philadelphia, U.S.A., happened to be a crew member of a Liberty ship called the SS Homer Lee. When at the end of our stay in Egypt we boarded ship for our return to Italy the ship turned out to be, yes, you have guessed it, the afore-mentioned Homer Lee and as a result I had the pleasure of access to the crews' quarters and some smashing food.
By September we were on our way back to Italy.
September 1944
Friday 1st. September 1944
Swimming in an adjacent dock, very enjoyable. Read and finished "Crowthers of Bankdam" by Thomas Armstrong. Very little discipline on board. Wrote letter to folks. Heat pretty deadly, stripped to the waist.
Saturday 2nd. September 1944
Ship still in docks. Last night whilst I was on 4-6 stag there was a bit of trouble and the ship was 'boarded' by U.S. Military Police, the ship's carpenter was taken off. Swimming was very oily today. Handed in 85 Piastres.
Sunday 3rd. September 1944
Ship sailed out of Alexandria at 9.30 am. Balloon was brought out to us by motor boat, already inflated! Convoy formed up about 5 miles out. Our present course is N.W.

We actually set sail on September 3rd, five years to the day that war broke out, and I must have remembered with irony, Mum, G-d rest her soul, saying in the kitchen in Boreham Street, "At least Ronnie won't have to go!"

Monday 4th. September 1944
Sea still calm. Course West. Infantry officer held quiz and to my astonishment I came 6th and won a bar of soap! Concert (of sorts) in the afternoon. In the evening Jack Merry took us to his cabin and showed us various 'souvenirs'.
Tuesday 5th. September 1944
Course N.W, obviously heading for Italy. A bit of action stations and boat drill. Another quiz but no luck this time. The ship is doing quite a bit of rolling but so far I feel OK. Jack Merry is a very good friend in need.
Wednesday 6th. September 1944
Heading for Sicily. The sea is the calmest I've ever seen. My first sight of flying fish. Played Solo Whist all day, lost 5/-. At 1130 pm battle stations sounded but nothing happened.
Thursday 7th. September 1944
Convoy split up about 4 pm, half joined another Gibraltar bound convoy. Steamed into Augusta at 6 pm and anchored a mile off shore. After dinner did a bit of swimming off the side of the ship. Grand!
Friday 8th. September 1944
Left Augusta at 9 am and hugged the coast going North all day. Played cards the greater part of the day. In the evening a storm blew up and we nearly lost our hatch tarpaulin Not much sleep.
Saturday 9th. September 1944
Following the coast round all day. At 6pm entered Taranto harbour and anchored alongside an Italian cruiser of pretty heavy armament. It is still uncertain as to whether or not we disembark here.
Sunday 10th. September 1944
At 9 am disembarked and hung around waiting for my truck to be unloaded. At 6pm a 3 tonner took us to the Div. area where we met the advance party. Dumped kit and came back to Taranto for a show. Met Nat Krieger. (A friend since my Boreham Street days)

By the end of September we were 'back in business' in the Pescara area and our days in Egypt were as though they had never been

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Message 1 - 78 Division in Egypt

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

Ron -
I was looking all over for you and the battleaxe mob when we started the Gothic Line bit - but no - you were out gorging yourself on bananas of all things, I suppose you were drinking wine as well ! Some people had all the luck - imagine a whole month in Egypt...aaaaarghghgh -- still it's better than a week in Bury St Emdmunds - or Barnard Castle !

 

Message 2 - 78 Division in Egypt

Posted on: 14 April 2004 by Ron Goldstein

Tom
So glad you popped up, if only to tell me you're still around and active!
Egypt WAS a pleasant interlude but for one item.
On leaving Egypt, after our month's respite, the rumour was that we were being sent home to join the 2nd front.
This rumour persisted until we turned RIGHT in the Med and found ourselves heading back to Italy instead of home.

Loved your story about brewing up but in the 4th QOH we had an even quicker method.
1. A small hole with a metal grid placed across it.
2. A brewcan with water in it placed on top of the grid.
3. Some cordite from a verey light cartridge thrown in the hole.
4. Ignition from a petrol soaked rag thrown in the hole.
5. Tea thrown in the boiling water.
Bingo! Instant tea just like mother used to make
Do keep well and do keep popping up
Regards
Ron

 

Message 3 - 78 Division in Egypt

Posted on: 16 April 2004 by Frank Mee Researcher 241911

Hello Ron and Tom,
You two old chaps do natter on about tea making. After reading Tom's methed I now know why seconds after stopping my Ward La France recovery truck I had desert tea brewed, it was Tom's old burner. Well it worked a treat all those years after. Nothing changed in that area.
You and I Ron trod in each others footsteps. I went from Egypt to Cyprus on the Empire Pride and was sick all the way. The only time in my life I was sea sick. We were last on first off so got right up the pointy end in Hammocks, a short sharp Med storm did the rest. If a kind chap had not tied me to the rail I would not be writing now.
The last morning unable to get into Famagusta Bay we were stood off in an oily rolling swell waiting for lighters to come for us. I was so hungry that when our mess got a kettle of kippers I started in and ate them by the pair. Those who had been Ok suddenly found they were losing their stomachs so I finished the kettle, best meal I ever had and if what you say is true Ron a good job it was the only meal, you cannot spoil kippers.
I will not bore you with the rest of our getting ashore, quite an adventure as Ron wants his war back.
Oh and I too have the picture on the camel with a background of Pyramids, small world.
Regards Frank.

 

Message 4 - 78 Division in Egypt

Posted on: 16 April 2004 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Frank & Ron,
If you insist on talking sea sickness..how about this one... on the way out to Algiers..we went via -almost New York where the waves were higher than the ship and the propellers were almost screaming off their shafts - the Franconia of course - and everyone was sick but yours truly who was enjoying three mens rations all the way to Gib. In the med it was as calm as a mill pond and I was sick all the way into Algiers, then the smell didn't help at all ! I needed a brew to recover !

 

Message 5 - 78 Division in Egypt

Posted on: 16 April 2004 by Frank Mee Researcher 241911

Hi Tom,
Been out there, Done that.
Troopship Empress of Scotland, raging storm in Biscay so we went further out into the Atlantic. Lots of bodies laid in the scuppers talking to their last weeks meals but the boyo here fit as a lop.
Tannoy;- Listen up, a British fleet Flotilla passing on the Starboard side for those still alive.
The old Empress took a list to Port as all the brownjobs dashed to the left. Us bold Teesside boys all the one of me climbed the now sloping deck to the right for the view! Nothing?
A few minutes later a deck section with a lot of guns on it came into view spewing green water and gasping in rapid breaths before plunging to the bottom again and that was the big ships all we saw of the small ones was a mast head coming into view, the deck must have been under the surface. I blessed the day I had joined the Army instead of the Navy with my mates.
Problem there! I appear to have put in more sea time than all my mates together as Ted keeps telling me.
Like you Tom the Med was a different ball game. Many journeys to Germany and Holland on the North Sea never raised a rumble but I made up for it in the Med. I will go get the smoke pot off the back of the truck you get the flare and Compo.
Regards Frank.

 

Message 6 - 78 Division in Egypt

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

Frank & Ron;
I get a bit of a kick over here come November when all the civilians of days past come up to shake your hand and tell you "what a wunnerful" job you did for us over there, little do they realise that we were having more laughs per mile than they would ever have....some of the characters we met were beyond belief,like our SQMS tearing around on a BMW bike....never out of first gear and wearing out a pair of boots a week ! Or MacDonald thieving three new uniforms from a freighter in Algiers dock....dressing into one in the murky guard room and appearing on parade in a CANADIAN uniform ! He's probably still in the glass house. Or Alf Goddard shooting a chimney pot of a house occupied by Jerry at the Senio,
the Jerry's shooting chimney pots all the way down the river..then the Union Jack announcing that "heavy fighting " has broken out at the Senio !Or the Jeep driver whose jeep we had flattened asking for a Green Envelope to send his Jeep home to his Mother.Or Paddy Flynn cleaning his BESA on the Turret top and being strafed by an ME109 - leaning back - loading his gun - waiting for the next strafe - then shooting the ME down ! Or the Seaforth of Canada finding a suitable tree to become a catapult.. slinging stones over to the jerry lines... as the curious jerries gathered around the stones... scratching their heads - the stones were changed into mills grenades ! It's no wonder we won the War.. it was so stupid at times it was beyond belief ! But fun !

 

Message 7 - 78 Division in Egypt

Posted on: 17 April 2004 by Frank Mee Researcher 241911

Hi Tom,
I too would shake your hand and say thanks for my still being here and English.
The trouble has been that the young bloods of the late Fifty's Sixty's and Seventy's joined the UFASTW. (us first and sod the war) and who can blame them.
The Falklands started the patriotic blood coursing through their veins again then the half a dozen wars since put you boys back into the frame.
Now we have all the sixty years after stuff and your light is rising once more as the youngsters realise a little of what it was like for you.
I remember many laughs during the war years as I grew to manhood, if we had not laughed it would have been an even longer and more dreary time than it was, it was all a bit manic but fun yes.
Having had to use much of the same machinery and hardware you used I admire your fortitude. Tanks, Desert, Flies and S**** Hawks were made in hell for idiots like us to live our lives in, we had to be raving mad to do it. The soldiers sense of humour is a bit hard nosed and often cruel but you and we certainly needed a sense of humour or go under.
I like your's and Ron's stories for that element of fun and laughter in them, of course soldiers had fun and sometimes tears but that is what makes us all human.
"Oh" by the way after Infantry training my walking out suit was a Canadian but we still could not wear ties and that made things awkward when we met the Red Caps, still every good soldier has seen the inside of a cell.
Regards Frank.

 

Message 8 - 78 Division in Egypt

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

Frank - I have noticed how the 60th anniversary of D Day is getting a big play these days, and rightly so, the only gripe I would have is that it co-incides with the six months battle for Montecassino in which our casualties - all units etc of Allied were in the region of 105,000 to the German 80,000... we did however break through and "liberate" Rome two days before the NW Europe nine months fracas. Thereafter we tended to be forgotten both publicity wise and supply wise... we were short of everything when we went into the Gothic Line hoo ha, which took nearly a month to march 30 miles.A mile a day was considered exceptional !The first day we went four miles before lunch... they were surprised !The next day we went 100 yards ! meanwhile out in Burma all hell was breaking loose and the lads were as short handed as we were ! Not a word about them - I'll bet the store !
water under the bridge though !
I was in the U.K. when the argies tried it on in the Falklands,living down near Poole with the big RM base there,there was a fuss until it was pointed out to many of them that they joined up to preserve and defend the Country from all her enemies, plus the fact that this is what you were getting paid for all those peace time years - they got the point., and did a fabulous job inside a month with only 255 killed - about the same as we were losing at Cassino on a daily basis ! Their humour was more black as well - like the guy who was screaming his head off - his mate looked over and asked what he was making all the fuss about - to which he replied that he had lost a leg - "no you haven't " his mate said 'it's lying over here"
Times do change
regards
tomcan

 

Message 9 - 78 Division in Egypt

Posted on: 17 April 2004 by Frank Mee Researcher 241911

To right Tom,
I stood in the valley looking up at Monte Cassino and wondered what man in his right mind ever planned such an assault. The men who set out over the Garigliano to climb that Mount must have known they had little chance yet still did it.
The whole thing could have been flanked yet they kept on sending in more troops and those New Zealanders fought like lions. I took my hat of to them as I stood in the heat, remembering they did it in mid winter amid ice and snow.
I had two Uncles out there at the time. Uncle Frank Mee with the New Zealanders and Uncle Ron Tighe with the British. Neither of them has spoken about those years apart from once telling me about the booby traps the Germans left all over.

Some men will always join up and hope they never have to do what they are paid for, it is the nature of the beast. I had similar feelings of disgust when we got an inflow of reservists during the Suez debacle. Most took it quietly but some had no intentions of leaving the comfort of home and earning their pay. The day I had to load my weapon and fix bayonets to quell our own was the day I lost faith. It was all for nothing in any case. The Army changed after that and became far more professional.
We were still using war time weapons then but started to get new equipment from the end of that stupid episode.
Soldiers always feel forgotten, all the little wars from 1945 were forgotten wars, no one wanted to know. I was told I had been on holiday when I got back from the Middle East on leave. You shut your mouth drank your beer and listened to the stories of female conquest from your old mates, mainly lies or wishful thinking. Life went on without us we were strangers not even talking the same language, the way of the world.
Regards Frank.

 

Message 10 - 78 Division in Egypt

Posted on: 19 April 2004 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Frank
I'm glad you saw the Valley before Montecassino and wondered why 'a man in his right mind" would set such a battle !

The man who set the original battle to cross the Gari - was US general Mark Clark - who, along with US Gen Brereton were reckoned to be the very worst Generals of any army - anywhere ! Mind you he sent in the two British Divs, 46 & 56th first who were all but slaughtered before he sent in the US 36(Texas) div - who were also nearly slaughtered. His absolute worst performance was prior to that debacle when he sent in his 34th Div(I think) at San Pietro and lost nearly 4000 men. This action was filmed all the way through and it was so bad that West Point has banned it from their curiculam - and he was a West Point graduate !
Brereton was Boy Browning's boss at Arnhem - he allowed a whole Corps HQ to be landed thus depriving the Brit 1st para of essential aircraft,plus the fact that a US Officer took the plans into the air - against ALL orders - was shot down - and Model and Bitterich had the full layout of the Battle by the first day's end !
But Browning and Urqhuart got the blame - along with Monty, of course !
Had Monty been given enough supplies in Sep - Nov '43 and another two Divs - we could have gone along the coast to Pescara - nipped across the mountains by-passing Cassino and taken Rome from the east - end of story - but NO - it had to be done the hard US way !
The Americans took a long time to gain ANY strategic nous - if they ever did ! They didn't appear to have learned much in Korea - Viet Nam - Panama - or anywhere else until they adapted Monty's battle of El Hamma in Tunisia in the first Irag thing - but then it was a product of their own computers - yeah right !

 

Message 11 - 78 Division in Egypt

Posted on: 19 April 2004 by Frank Mee Researcher 241911

Hi Tom,
How right you are, we have the perfect example in Iraq. The British do it one way the Americans the only way they know and when it backfires on them they are like kids.
I walk my dog and most mornings meet an old chap of 85 who went through the war including from "D" Day to Hamburg. He is fit and happy go lucky, he tells me of the fun and the good times but has never mentioned the rough bits. The only time I saw him near to losing his rag was when he talked about the three months he came under American Generals. He had no good word for them at all and was glad when he got sent home in preparation for the invasion.
Our Generals are not perfect but at least tried to preserve their men when they could.
keep Tanking Tom and if you lose a track pin dont send for me.
Regards Frank.

 

Message 12 - 78 Division in Egypt

Posted on: 19 April 2004 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Frank
your old neighbour of 85 got it right as most of them were pretty useless, the idea of waiting until the enemy showed his hand and his weak spots before hitting them never entered their thick heads, but combat ALL the time which is a useless concept,but then it does reduce the unemployment lines ! Their attitude showed first at Kasserine when they were blown away by Rommell - then the cock up at Gabes where they were trounced by an understrentgh 10 Pz div - then turning left instead of right to Palermo - which no- one needed instead of Catania - then Salerno - then Cassino - then Anzio - the list is long, even at Florence we had to send in the 6th Armed div with the 1st & 5th Inf divs to sort that out
but the biggest "howler" of all was at Tunis a few days after their 2nd Corps saw the 8th Army troops with the camouflage netting around their neck instead of on the Battle Bowlers.... the next day they were sporting a polka dotted white cravat ! I think that it was right there that we wrote them off !

 

Message 13 - 78 Division in Egypt

Posted on: 02 May 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Greetings all!

I have been trying to work my way through posting and have only just now (2 May) reached Ron's cracking contribution.

Then I see the thread wandered the seven seas, I felt quite queesy myself just reading your various antics on the waves. I recalled Jerome K Jerome's observation that at sea you meet whole boatloads of seasick people wishing they were dead, but rarely find any ashore who will admit to not having sea legs.

On a more serious note, a phrase of Frank's struck me, where he said "Soldiers always feel forgotten". That brings to mind Kipling's "Tommy"

I went into a public-'ouse to get a pint o' beer,
The publican 'e up an' sez. "We serve no red-coats here."
The girls be'ind the bar they laughed an' giggled fit to die,
I outs into the street again an' to myself sez I:
O it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an "Tommy go away";
But it's "Thank you Mr Atkins" when the band begins to play,
...
O it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll.

But at least things did improve after the two great wars. Everyone knows of the Battle of Waterloo, but few know what happened to the men that fought there, other than that 3,500 died on the battlefield.

The battle was fought on 18 June 1815, but it wasn't until the following January and February that the troops were brought back. Having endured a winter march back to the ports and a channel crossing, the mayors of Dover and Folkestone refused to have them, so they were immediately re-embarked at Ramsgate and Deal in four overcrowded troopers. It was terrible weather and all four ships, bound for Cornwall and Ireland, sank. These were the 'Lord Melville', the 'Boadicea' and the brigs 'Seahorse' and 'William Pitt'. Over 600 drowned, that's over 17% of the number killed at Waterloo. They got a brief mention in 'The Times'; Wellington got £60,000 and a Dukedom. It's a funny old world, isn't it?

Peter

 

Message 14 - 78 Division in Egypt

Posted on: 02 May 2004 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Peter -
Good luck to Wellington - we also get the "boot' inasmuch as I received the munificent sum of 22:15 GBP for five years service.... when I got home I went to see the tailor for a new suit... he was still sitting cross legged on his work bench... and when I asked him the make me a suit...he didn't finish laughing for some time......eventually he deigned to measure me - while feeling the thickness of my wallet - and pronouced that he would push the boat out and make me a three piece suit for 25 guineas... providing I had enough coupons !... I finally gave it to OXfam 20 years later !

 

Message 15 - 78 Division in Egypt

Posted on: 02 May 2004 by Frank Mee Researcher 241911

Thanks Peter,
So that was why I was on the hell ship Empire Pride right up the sharp end in a hammock rolling like a pebble in the surf.
They were hoping we would sink before reaching Cyprus. Well the sea got most of me, I am sure I saw lights kidneys etc going over the side at one time with my last six weeks of meals.
You are right though we see the vicious cuts each time the government thinks that they do not need the forces anymore. Kipling said it as it was and for me it still holds true, the brave soldier when his head is on the line but a problem when not needed and a costly one at that.
You are also right in that we do tend to get off the subject at times but what the hell, who else is looking. We appear to be the few now our multi named tormenters have gone.
Regards Frank.

 

Message 16 - 78 Division in Egypt

Posted on: 22 May 2004 by sappernob

hello Ron, I was not with 78 Div: but a sapper in 13 Corp R.E. ATTATCHED TO 8TH Indian Div; I laught to my self on your method of brewing up the char. In our mob we made QUICK BREWERS OF A 40M.M.Bofer ack.ack gun shell case. and two seven pound empty jam tins soldered together and a small empty meat tin for the petrol fuel. you could boil about four pints of water in no time. We used to use a half flimsey tin can as a teapot. When we used to go on the move from one job to the next as soon as we stopped anywhere the shout would go up " Halt, brew up " We had the drill off so good that in no time at all we were having a brew. Best char in the whole of the 8th army. I was at Cassion from January on at a place called St: Angelo right on the river Rapido just down river from Cassino, Apart from my mates who were there, and are mostly gone on now, very few people seem to know about that place, and what a terrorable place it was, maybe after this letter some one will remember it. All the best Sapper.

Message 1 - 78th Div in Egypt

Posted on: 19 August 2004 by driverharrymath

Enjoyed reading about Egypt and the 78 Div.
Didn't see anything about Shaftos picture palaces. Or the Blue Kettle in Imalia. We went swimming in the Blue Lagoon most days. A welcome change from the camp at Quasasin.
On return to Italy I went from ambulances to driving jeeps at Cassino.

 

Message 2 - 78th Div in Egypt

Posted on: 07 March 2005 by footslogger

Hi, I have Just found out about this web site and have read some of the reminising about 78th div.in Italy and in Egypt. I was with the 6th Royal West Kents 1st and then 8th army.
I rememer Qasassin very well and the Shafti cinemas, Stella beer, and the Flies!!
I also remember the journey down after Lake Trasimine when we were taken out of the line for rest and refit what a train journey that was!
We went to Egypt on the Polish ship MV Batory and had a wonderful calm crossing
I went back to Italy in September last year for the 60th anniversary of Cassino and a tour of the variuos battle sites, it was very emotional experience but worth it.
I would be interested to hear from any one who was around at that time

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