- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Jack Lucas
- Background to story:
- Royal Air Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 06 July 2004
On March 29th we saw a French woman. The first white woman for 6 months. The April weather was brilliant; Jerry is still over most days. We cannot understand why, as we have destroyed most of his airfields. On Palm Sunday, two squadrons of our wing shot down 36 aircraft loaded with petrol and supplies for the Africa corps. We are working from dawn to dusk; the pilots are on up to 4 sorties a day, until the 10th May, when all air activity ceased. The troops were advancing on Tunis, which fell on the 11th. We have won! And I am in the advance party to Tunis tomorrow. The roads were packed with tanks and troops following the advance. We were constantly stopping in traffic jams. On one of the halts through the valley, the hillside was occupied by resting guardsmen, who had been in victorious action yesterday. Amongst them I recognised an old school pal, Bob Rowley, from Hinckley. He had a slight arm wound. He said they were all under order to shave and smarten up before marching back. The smell is awful. Flies are everywhere as the dead are still unburied. The airfield is 5 miles from Tunis. It was littered with shells, grenades, dead men and animals. We were terrified of mines and did not touch the lines of German aircraft left without fuel, and certainly booby-trapped. The journey through Tunisia solved one problem, of how Jerry kept flying after his airfields had been bombed.
They had used the long straight stretches of roads with parking bays built by the roadside. These had camouflage nets to hide the kites. The Germans had left a parting gift on the airfield; our whole squadron went down with dysentery. Our water Bowsers had filled up at the local well, which on later investigation contained dead animals. The only relief we had were wads of cotton wool.
Tunis was marvellous. The two breweries had been emptied by the troops, who were celebrating everywhere. Monty allowed a week of this before the Redcaps moved in and a victory parade was held. Flying ceased for us and we moved to a rest camp in Cap Bon called St.Germaine. A lovely French beach resort, where I met Tanya, a white Russian woman. Food was better now, so I supplied the rations. She cooked marvellous meals and supplied wine. The parties went on for hours. Those were the happy days.
The defeated Africa corps, some 240,000 men, were detained in the open Ancient site of Carthage. The bastards do not look so cocky now. It is good for our morale to know we have beaten them, we now know we will win this war.
Any thoughts of going home after 6 months as we were promised were quickly dispelled by a talk given to us by Air Marshall Cunningham. He told us that we would fight our way back home via. Sicily, Italy and France.
Thoughts on North Africa. They have just had their worst winter for 40 years. This delayed the victory. The actual invasion was chaotic, if Jerry had opposed us, we could not have made it. We will learn from it. We did not meet many French people and the Arabs are a dirty thieving lot. Sanitation was very basic, a spade for digging a hole in the sand. At one time, we had large lidded galvanised buckets with a tented screen, but the Arabs pinched them. This happened twice, so we gave in and went back to the spade. We had desert lilies everywhere. These were used as urinals, they were petrol cans cut in half with holes bored in the bottom and filled with sand. Jerry cans had not been invented then, our petrol cans were thin square ones, which leaked at the slightest bump, but when empty were very useful. The Arabs treasured these cans. They called them Bedays, and used them for a myriad of purposes, even building shacks out of flattened cans. We traded them for eggs and fruit. We would cut them half, use the bottom for water and fill the top with sand and petrol. This made a stove we used for cooking and laundry. Wine was plentiful, at Enfedaville we deserted our tents and moved into a deserted vineyard, which still housed enormous vats of fermenting vin rouge (red wine). It was very new and very dry, but we acquired a taste for it, and drank gallons of the stuff. We called it "Lunatics Broth"; you could sleep through an Air Raid after a session.
Our holiday at Cap. Bon did us good, but was soon over. About 50 personnel were sent back to Algiers where a maintenance unit was being set up. We moved down to Souse, a port to the east, which was still being bombed. Our convoy to Malta was not ready, so we spent the night under the lorries 5 miles away. A unit of the French foreign legion invited four of us to their tents for a drink, which led to a booze up. The next morning we staggered 5 miles to the port to find the squadron out on a landing craft.
We persuaded the harbour pilot boat to take us out, which he did. Boy, what a reception we got getting aboard.
Two destroyers escorted the small convoy of large landing craft. It was a beautiful day, we were sunning ourselves on top deck when the escorts sounded the alarms - Peep-peep-peep, and we saw the wake of a torpedo heading straight for us. The boat seemed to shudder as the torpedo passed underneath and away on the other side.
Soon the escorts were using depth charges, and black oil covered Germans were surfacing, we pelted them with any rubbish we had available. Then the tanoy ordered - "Leave them, do not shoot, as the navy will pick them up later." The Bastards! Most of us wanted them shot. We were saved as landing craft float in only 6 feet of water. So on to Malta.
Our arrival in Malta was astonishing. We were greeted as victors and liberators. The dockside at Valletta was packed with people cheering and clapping and an R.A.F guard of honour presented arms as the band played and an air Marshall welcomed us to Malta as heroes. It was a complete surprise to us. Most of us hadn't shaved for days.
Our squadron kites landed the next day at a small airstrip called Ta-Kala. They were soon ready for action as were most of the squadrons from North Africa. Several Spitfire squadrons were on early dawn patrols a few days later, ready for the usual visit from the Luftwaff. This was supposed to be a great secret, but as Jerry turned up to be greeted by a whole wing of Spitfires. The whole population seemed to be cheering them on from the cliff tops. Most Germans were shot down but a few escaped back to Sicily. These were followed by other Spitfires fitted with long-range tanks. These shot up any surviving and grounded planes, also the airfields. Then Malta celebrated. It finished their Air Raids. Malta had suffered from two years of bombing and it showed its battle scars with ruins everywhere. The harbour called Sliema Creek was covered with masts of sunken ships, as was the grand harbour of Valletta. Food was very scarce with strict rationing for us. But beer and wine was plentiful as it was made on the Island. The girls were lovely and they were plentiful and friendly. Most were half English, with English soldier fathers. They were all Bi-Lingual, and they all wanted an English husband just so they could get off the Island.
Dances were held at Valletta most nights and some weekends at the various peacetime stations like Hal Far, Lucca and Kalafrana. Malta had a notorious street called Straight, known to the servicemen as The Gut. Every building was either a pub, café, doss house or a brothel. We loved it, no officers were allowed there so we swapped hats for a small fee so they could taste the delights of Malta's nightlife.
During our stay in Malta, the King made a short surprise visit. We all turned out at Lucca airfield to greet him. We were amazed at the tiny face painted creature we saw amongst his hundreds of suntanned tough warriors.
We knew it could not last for long. Our purpose there was to shoot up Sicily and destroy all air bases there, ready for the invasion of the Island. This began at l:30am on the 10th July. We were working 7am to 8pm. In Sicily the port of Syracuse fell and the front line is 15 miles inland. We changed our Malta money for B.M.A and were confined to camp. Then we embarked for Sicily on July 16th and landed on a beach near Syracuse without opposition. At night Jerry bombed Syracuse and Augusta, a port to the North. We saw General Montgomery pass on his way to the front. We took off and seemed to be travelling all night. The adjutant was in the front of our lorry. We were stopped twice by troops who said that we should turn back, but on we went and got lost. We turned back and pulled in at midnight. At the edge of a large wood, we slept on the lorry. To be woken at daybreak by the noise of battle. We then disembarked to view a spectacular sight; we were on the edge of a wooded hilltop overlooking an enormous valley. Overshadowed to the North by the mountain and wooded slopes of Mount Etna. In the valley bottom ran the Primasola River, which was the front line and battlefield. What seemed to be a moving snake moved towards the bottom of our hill.
This was our walking wounded. We had a grandstand view of the battlefield; the puffs of smoke on the slopes of Etna were the German Artillery shelling our front line. These were attacked by medium bombers as daylight increased. Armed soldiers surrounded our lorry and our adjutant was taken into the wood, appearing later to take us to safety. We had strayed too far forward to General Dempsy's head quarters. Our airfield was on the Lentini Plain, south of Catania, which was in enemy hands. We based our camp 2 miles from the drome in an olive and almond grove. New American one-man pup tents had been issued and we dug our usual foxholes outside. We were plagued with ants, one airman tried to keep them out by digging a shallow trench around his tent, bottomed with petrol. Retiring later he lit a cigarette. He died later from burns. We began working all daylight hours. We also did our own guards on the drome at regular intervals. Here we began subsidising our poor dietary ration with plum tomatoes and melons, which grow in the fields like we grow potatoes at home. On July 24th, Palermo fell to the Yanks and I celebrated my 22nd Birthday. What a year! Especially the last nine months. I went to Lentini church and gave thanks. I wonder what the next year will bring and will I make it?
After the fall of Catania on August 5th, a victory parade was held there with the 51st Highland and the 50th Divisions. They scared the daylights out of the locals. One bright sunny morning we saw our first Jet Aircraft. It was a German Reconnaissance Kite, taking photographs. It streaked over at very high speed leaving vortices in the clear blue sky. We knew then we were in for a bombing attack soon. On August 7th I had my first slice of bread since leaving Malta. It was delicious. A vino called Marsalla is made in Sicily. It is sweet and has a faint taste of Almonds. We loved it and drank lots of it. As in Africa, meal times are quite an occasion. The food is served into our own mess tins and mugs by cooks from tables positioned under a tented awning. You take the food and eat it outdoors or if it rained, in your tent. There were three meals a day; breakfast, Tiffin (or lunch) and Dinner, usually about six o'clock. At Tiffin time we had to eat one salt, one vitamin C and one Mepacrine tablet, given by a medical orderly before you could receive any food. This is applied to everyone with no exceptions. The salt tablet was to replace the sweat, the vitamin C tablet to supplement the lack of fresh vegetables, and the Mepacrine was to lessen the effects of Malaria. This caused a yellowing of the skin under our suntan. Mosquitoes were rife in Sicily. Worse than North Africa. We all slept under individual Mosquito nets. We could not sleep for the pests. Loud buzzing, trying to get in to suck your blood. I did get Malaria but not the recurring type, and not so severe thanks to the Mepacrine.
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