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15 October 2014
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A Snake Hole in Madagascar

by BBC Southern Counties Radio

Contributed by 
BBC Southern Counties Radio
People in story: 
Fred Bailey
Location of story: 
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
22 May 2005

This story was submitted to the People's War site by Claire Marrill from Horsham, West Sussex, on behalf of Fred Bailey and has been added to the site with his permission. Mr. Bailey fully understands the site's terms and conditions.
I was called up in 1939, aged 20. I was stationed for my training at the Havanna Barracks in Hampshire. After my training was complete, I moved every couple of months between positions. For the first two years I travelled all over England, from London to Argyll.
The beginning of 1942 saw me posted to South Africa where I spent 10 days in Durban water-proofing our equipment. In May of that year, my Battalion arrived in Madagascar. We were postioned in front of a hill when the enemy troops started shelling us. We should have been situated behind the hill to protect us from enemy fire. We were too far away to retaliate and so our only option was to find cover. I found an obliging nook in the side of the hill and sheltered there while the earth around me shook with explosions.
Positioned awkwardly in the tight space, my revolver was digging into my side, I struggled to get my heavy equipment off and sit more comfortably. Once settled, in the silence between explosions, I noticed a persistant rustle coming from the hole. Further investigation revealed the rustling was in fact a snake. I've always hated snakes and wasn't going to stick around. I made a run for it, leaving my equipment behind and found another hole to hide in.
When the shelling had finished, I had to go back to my original shelter to collect my equipment. Once I'd loaded my gear onto my back and started to walk, I realised my leg felt wet. I thought I might have been hit in the leg and the damp feeling was probably my own blood. Looking down, I saw not blood, but water. The water bottle I had left in snake hole, along with my other equipment, had been hit by flying shrapnell and was leaking all over me. I suppose if it wasn't for that snake I would have stayed in the hole and probably would have been killed.

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