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by cliffsjulie

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People in story: 
Clifford Spencer
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18 July 2005

Clifford Spencer


The 20th June What a day, which I and many others will never forget.

6.30 a.m. gun 88 and M.Es started the battle for Tobruk, we already knew that we were surrounded but never gave it a thought that we would be captured.

We were getting shelled, but the bombers were bombing the heavies and infantry etc, on the perimeter. The heavies brought lot down, they had no help from our air force, not one of ours did we see that day. Jerry had taken the desert first. I had to go sick that morning with a bad back, didn’t want to, but reported it night before. For all the bombs and shells that were falling, Fanny wanted to know why I had not shaved that morning!
Hundreds of our lorries, so things were beginning to look bad. Tanks started coming over the perimeter, the sky was black with smoke, and the Heavies were firing for all they were worth, then the hovil guns opened up.

Shells were coming more often now, the tanks with there big guns, had now got sight of the harbour. Boats of all kinds were trying to get away. Some were burning from end to end, passing just by our port, some of the men were jumping off and swimming to shore, some jumped off with kit on their backs and sunk.

Later the rocket guns on the Harbour side were blown up, we began to think then. Later about eight o clock we were told to get our gun put out of action and scram. So I got a few things, what I could in my haversack and off where to we did not know, we had not gone 20 yards when a bren gun came in sight, at first we thought it was one of ours, but as we drew nearer we could see it was Jerry, he had his guns trained on us, I know that I for one thought of my loved ones at home.
Would he fire? We thought had heard so much about him, and expected anything. But he held fire, made us drop some of our kit, but kept my haversack and topcoat. He then sent us up the road into Tobruk and he carried on to collect some more of the lads.

Four of our lads went a different way to us, so were not caught so soon, although it would have been better for them. They got on a boat, which got set on fire, and one was killed. Bill, Harold, and others had lucky escapes. Well as we went up the road, shells and bullets were still flying about, and all of a sudden there was such an explosion, the petrol dump had gone for six, and what a blaze.

At last we got into the centre of town and there were Jerry tanks all lined up, looking very unconcerned, so now we knew for sure that we were prisoners. One poor chap was laid in the middle of the road dead. He was an M.P sergeant. One of the Jerry’s gave me two bars of chocolate, they gave us water.

How different they were to what we had been taught. I’ll speak of him as I found, he was a man. Most of them looked very young; we were put into a square where we came across most of our battery. Of course Questions were asked among us all, wanting to know if any one had been wounded. The result was marvellous, out of all our battery, only two were killed, and about two I think wounded.

About two hours later we were marched off up to the hospital and spent the night in the yard. Some got blankets. In the distance, the petrol dump was sending clouds of smoke up, shells and bombs were still dropping in parts that had not yet been taken.

Went to sleep that night thanking God, for bringing us through that terrible day safely and praying for my wife, and |Julie at home. We slept on concrete floor but I had a good nights sleep, we were packed like sheep.

Morning came with the sky still black with smoke; Jerry planes over to see all was well. I was wishing I could send word home telling Mary I was Ok and safe I had a few biscuits for breakfast. 9a.m. We were lined up and set off, to were we did not know. As we went down the road Jerry had already got his gun in place.

With supplies still coming in, a lot of them stopped to take photos of us, but acting in a manly way. Of course some of these were odd young ones, and they were taking rings and watches off the chaps, it was all up hill and the sun hot, but at least we were given a rest, most drank what water they had left, and most casting away kit. Threw my blouse away, just simply couldn’t carry it any further. I wanted to stick to my topcoat. I knew what cool nights we got, well we go on and on. And was hoping we were nearly at our destination.

Romel passed going into Tobruk. The sun by now was boiling down on us, some had sore feet, some had cast everything but the shorts they had on, on the roadside went hit bags, haversacks, tin hats, everything you could mention. At last we came to our destination, where we met thousands of more prisoners, what a sight it was.

Night came for which we were thankful. Three days we spent there, there were many fights for water, sometimes we got a barrel of water, but only got a bottle full each, and it had to last all day. In those three days we had very little food.


At last it was our turn to move off. We moved off in big lorries and trailers, carrying 80 men, packed like sheep, but it was grand when we got going, there was a nice breeze. So once more we pass Tobruk the petrol dump was still burning. I could see our little bathing spot and wished that I could have a dip, we had not had a wash since being captured. So up the Derne road we go, leaving Tobruk behind us, Jerry frying instead of us.

We had a couple of Itie drivers, what dreams they were. They kept stopping to go souvenering, going for a quarter mile or more leaving us to it. If we had had food and water we could have hopped it, but I don’t suppose it would have been any good, we were so far behind our lines by them. Anyway while they were away hunting so did I, I got an Itie coat, and it sure came in later. Once two Germans officers passed us, and fired at them.
Our stop for the night should have been Derne, but our two bright sparks got lost, so we spent the night with some sleeping in the lorries, and some outside, had to wake the drivers next morning. Set off again, and went to Derne, where we got some water, biscuits and bully, also just managed to wash my face for the first time since been captured.

We then started for our long journey to Bengari, what a ride, how I stuck it I don’t know, I was as near passing out as ever I have been in my life, our lorry at last broke down, so we had to get into others which were already full, we could neither stand up or sit down standing on each others feet, it was awful. We had Libyans as guards, they were swines, and kept firing over our heads.

We were also coming more in contact with the Ities, they reckoned that they had taken Tobruk, but I never saw myself an Itie there. They were very different to the Germans who did not gloat over us but seemed to me to be sorry for us. The Ities were drawing rings such as ………. and thought they were going to Cairo and Alex.

The scenery from Derna to Benzgari was beautiful, trees, hills, and mountains, with the sea on the right in parts. There was one pass, which wanted skilled drivers to go through it. Marvellous how they ever made a road through it.

At four o clock next morning we arrived at Benzari, put into a compound and the first thing I wanted was to get laid down and go to sleep which I did for a few hours. Awoke next morning with palm trees all around, until we came to the wash places and latrines, one could not get at the water for Indians, oh they were pests.

Hunger was the next thing, hardly any food, I had one drink of coffee in the ten days I was there (half a mug) one small loaf and one small tin of bully per day, no smokes, only two per day.
Some of the men had money when captured and were giving ten shillings up to a pound to the Ities for a packet of cigs and the same price for a loaf, they were flogging rings, watches, socks, anything they had for food and smoking.
The thing that pleased me most was when I got a card to send to my darling and prayed that it would reach her.
I think nearly half the camp was down with diarrhoea and dysentery. Ten days we spent there, our next place was to be Italy. We left Benghazi, July the fourth, Mary’s birthday, so that’s another day I’ll remember. At the dockside reminded me of when we left Glas ? The RAF had knocked about less than a year ago, but it and also the Jerry’s, both the town and the docks were a mess
We no sooner get on the boat, than as we thought, down into the hold we went, packed like sheep again, and being in there, one could very well believe the story about the Artimay? The ladder, which led down into it, was in constant use because half the chaps had still got diarrhoea and dysentery. We had had and hour a day on the top deck, and oh boy was it good to be in the fresh air. There were eight or nine destroyers as escort and the sight really was lovely, if only it was back to England. We had to sleep sat up, no room to lay down. I like many had no cigs. We passed by Greece and Crete. There was a fine ship called Rossa.
After about ten hours sailing, we docked at Brendisi, and first sight of Italy was, trees, green fields, and very much like dear old England.
Lorries were waiting to take us to camp, which was ten miles. Arrived there, tired, and oh so hungry, we had to queue up, and it nearly broke my heart to have to go behind that queue, it looked to be an endless job, it was so long, and of course, there was nix by the time it got to us.
We slept outside for a week, but it was not cold only plenty of ants creeping about.
It was camp 110, kept having roll calls, which used to last four to five hours.
The best surprise of all was one-day Red Cross parcels turned up. Oh boy, how that first drink of tea, English tea went down, the first decent drink since being captured. Besides that there was cocoa, biscuits, milk, sugar, chocs, meats, butter, and puddings. I had heard a lot about the Red Cross, but never gave it a thought that they would turn up just then, I thanked God, as most of the lads must have done, for although the food was much better now, there was no where near enough.
After a week we moved into huts, which was much better, wooden beds, with straw mattresses. We went one day in lorries about five miles away to be debugged, at least we did get a hot shower, all our clothes were steamed to kill the lice.
July 13th we left Brendisi.
First we are all searched, my knife and lock and petrol lighter which you bought me darling years ago went. We travel by train this time, in cattle trucks, but much better than lorries, more room and seats in.
By now I’ve seen a good bit of Italy, plenty of wild country, never seen anything grown but vines, in an odd field here and there. One could see a couple of oxen pulling some sort of plough.
The streets were dirty and the houses looked like second class wogs, the people did too, they sure looked in a terrible state, one wonders how they could last another year of war. As we passed by the houses, women and children would be stood at the doors, some laughing; some with tears in their eyes. I expect some had sons of their own p.w. Just glances in the houses showed concrete floors, old tables, wooden boxes, altogether very untidy. I wonder what they really thought of us, for what a sight we really looked. All of us wanted a shave, some had long beards, some with half a shirt on, some with slits in, and plenty without any at all. All kinds of head gear, from a toupee to a piece of rag. I myself had a piece of field dressing. Some had K.D. shorts, some long, and in the same state as the shirts. Footgear was the same. On one arm we had a top coat and the other a blanket, and a bundle slung over our backs, but it took more than that to get us down, we kept bursting into songs, big and small, walking in any order, it sure was a sight.
So after leaving Brindisi we arrive 24 hours later, travelling all night. At Capua
Camp 66 and near Naples. Search again, this time they take my aspros, bandages which I had managed to keep, also a bottle of iodine what had been salvaged from the sea. Even took my bootlaces.
Once again we are put in tents, dirty places, but plenty of water for a change. What money we had, gave it in, and got a receipt for it, I handed in 95 pesetas.
We got three parcels a week between five men.
The first Sunday we were there a young man held a service, the first we had since been POW, a lot attended, I think that we all wanted to thank God, and sing his praise for bringing us safely through.
The biggest laugh we had was when we went to be debugged again, first we stripped all off, went into a place where we had every bit of hair off our head, could not have been much barer had they shaved it off. That’s the first time I had my hair cut naked. We then had hot showers, but even after that lots of us still had sand caked in what bit of hair that was left on, meanwhile our clothes were getting steamed, what was left, some of the chaps by now had nothing but a towel round their body, they had flogged everything for bread, and cigs off the guards. Shirts, socks, boots, fountain pens, rings, everything one could mention, the Ities wanted the clothing, they wore no socks, their boots were falling to pieces, their clothes shabby and torn, the price of the things were 3 loafs for a pair of socks, 6 for a pullover, 6 for boots, and 7 for a tin of coffee, by the way their loaves weighed just the same as a tin of cocoa. On the whole, the English man certainly surprised me, they stole their own mates stuff and flogged it to the Ities, that’s all I’ll say about it it’s not for me to judge them, there were also some decent chaps. I was then mating on with Les, Len and Bill; we were all on the same post, in the desert. After ten days we moved into huts, which was much better with lights in, they had to be out by 10.30p.m. Double decked beds, with me on the bottom, we had our first pay-day there, the first one wasn’t much, and by the way we get a lira a day.
We had a canteen there, which sold apples, melons, grapes, peaches and sweets, if one wanted anything you had to queue up all day for it.
August 14th I get inoculated. On August 16th I was lucky to get a battle dress a trousers.
Debates started. Some good speakers, the first one was — married versus single, married won the vote. The next was is the big shop out doing the small one, the answer was no. Next — Is travelling more learning than reading.
August 18th I will carry on day by day now when possible (diary)
A very unpleasant start, four officers attempted to escape, and are fired on. One killed, one wounded, the other two are caught. A collection is made for a wreath. Parcels are one between four twice a week.
Another inoculation, this time I get stuck in the seat, that’s the first one I’ve had there.

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