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15 October 2014
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1943 North Africa

by Franc Colombo

Contributed by 
Franc Colombo
People in story: 
Ronald Colombo
Location of story: 
North Africa
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
08 June 2004


We disembarked and formed up on the quay waiting to march off, I saw my first Arab I had never seen a dirtier looking individual, they appeared as if they never washed wearing their long length kansa, then two French policemen came by talking, it made me wish that it was France and I was going to see Tinnucia again. When we moved of the ground seemed to sway. After a march of eighteen miles we arrived at our destination feeling really tired. The following day was taken up with sorting ourselves out then before lunch we had to take a anti malaria tablet, which was a daily routine then training and getting acclimatised to the heat, that night Algiers had an air raid. The next day we moved to Bone, the guns and transport by road and the Battalion by ship, it took us about four days, it was mostly flat open county I enjoyed that it gave me the chance to do the driving. We arrived at the camp just outside Bone. One afternoon Frank, Polly and I went into town, it was the first Arab town that we visited and it was an eye opener, we walked down a dusty road with open fronted shops, one was a butcher the meat full of flies, another a barber shop doubling as a dentist his instruments hanging on the wall, further down the road we saw a cafe and decided to have a drink, we spoke to some French people at least Polly did, he lived in Paris with his parents before the war but returned to England when war started. The next few days we prepared for our first move in the line. We took over the gun position from the Hampshire regiment, at least we did not have to prepare the sight, it a was a good position, we had a mine field in front, during the day we heard plenty of gun fire some shells dropping near us. After four days we were pulled out and returned to a farm where we were billeted, in the field there were some dead cattle which was not very pleasant. The following day a tragic accident occurred, in the courtyard was a pig and piglets someone from the R.A. who were near us took a shot at one of the piglets but did not manage to kill it, Hammond our officer's batman came out of the farm house with his rifle and he was going to have a go, somehow he left his rifle loaded and cocked and accidentally pulled the trigger. Polly and I were standing together watching, he was on my left away from Hammond and a pace in front of me, the bullet just missed me and hit Polly in the head killing him, when I was bending over him Hammond came up, I don't know what I said but he left in a rush. They buried him in a military cemetery. I hope they enjoyed their piglet because it was the price of a man's life and I lost a good friend.
Two days later we moved to a new front and it turned out to be one of the biggest battles I had been in, it was a place known as Peter's corner, we took up our gun positions and dug in, we met stiff opposition from the Germans on a ridge known as Cactus Farm, we came under heavy shell fire then the Germans launched a heavy attack with tanks and infantry, my gun managed to knock out two tanks before we beat them back, then the Black Watch who were on our right called for an air strike, when the American bombers came over instead of hitting the Germans position they all but wiped the Black Watch out. Finally we put a big attack in and managed to capture the ridge.
When we came out of the line for a rest I wanted to try and write to Tinnucia, I approached our Catholic priest and he told me in no uncertain manner that he was not interested, I told George about it and he told me to have a word with padre Wansey the C. of E. priest, the next I knew was that padre Wansey came to me and wanted to know what the problem was I told him that I was a Catholic and he said that we were all Christians so I told him all about Tinnucia and that when the war was over we would get married and I wanted to write to her. The following day he told me he found where the Red Cross was and he had permission to take me there, from then on after every move he would find were the nearest Red Cross was so I was able to keep in touch with tinnucia. I am going to miss out all the other actions I took part except the last one. The last battle was the capture of Tunis and the surrender in Cap Bon. The plan was to cut the enemy off, we moved into our position by night I placed my gun overlooking a valley expecting tanks coming that way, we heard plenty of firing and shell fire, in the morning everything seemed quiet, after a while my officer detailed me to do a patrol, I went forward with four men in a bren gun carrier, about mile we came across some Italians we fired a few rounds and prepared to retreat when they stood up with their hands up and when we went up to them an Italian officer came and said that they wanted to surrender, when we arrived back to our lines they were surprised to see how many prisoners we had. That was the end of the fighting for us in Africa. We moved to a camp just outside Tunis to take part in the victory parade, then in my free time I went into Tunis with Frank to find where Tinnucia's cousin lived. When we found the place and I told them who I was she was pleased to see me and gave me two letters from Tinuccia and invited us to stay for dinner.
Our next move was to guard a German and Italian prisoners compound, the difference between the two camps was unbelievable. The were undisciplined, dirty their tents and equipment never cleaned and laid out and their latrines never covered over thereby attracting flies and all kinds of insects. Their officers [ who were separated from the men ] never inspected them, and when we had to take them for a swim they were just a rabble. In contrast to the Germans officers inspected their men every morning their tents cleaned and equipment laid out, the latrines men detailed to spray lime in the pit and when we took them for their swim the sergeants formed them up in column and marched them to the beach. I was detailed to act as interpreter to the Italians, so I was kept busy filling in forms and other duties. The most uncomfortable thing was the flies and insects they got into our food and everywhere. Finally we had to escort our prisoners to a P.O.W. camp just outside Tunis we were pleased to get rid of them and return to normal duties.
A few days after we arrived back from Tunis we moved to Sousse, we made camp in a field by the sea, it was like paradise with a fine sandy beach so we were able to do plenty of swimming and washing our smalls, we went into town such as it was but much preferred to remain in camp. I use to get some mail from home mainly from father. About a month later we heard rumours that we were going to invade Sicily and that a lot of us were going to be transferred to another battalion to bring them up to strength. I joined the 9th battalion, there was no place in the anti tank platoon so I had to join a rifle company and took charge of a section. We finally boarded our troopship and set off for Sicily, at last we left North Africa behind us, no more scorpions, snakes and creepy crawly so we thought, on the way over I was thinking of all the chaps we left behind and would not be coming back and what the future had in store for us. We arrived at Massina, by this time the fighting was nearly over. We made camp and prepared for the next stage, a few days later we boarded our landing crafts for the landing on mainland Italy..

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