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- richard hill
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- 16 November 2003
Of course we had our quiet moments, whilst in Tobruk, as well our hectic ones. So when it was quiet we would get time away from the guns, say two hours on and two hours off.
During one such period, I decided to visit one of my old sergeants, who was in charge at HQ. We were at one of the batteries about two miles from HQ, so I had to walk the distance that separated us.
Across open desert
We were stationed high above Tobruk, over the encampment on the edge of the desert. Our forces occupied a tract of land about the size of the Isle of Wight, with our backs against the sea. Tobruk harbour was our only port.
This particular morning I set off across open desert — rocks, camel scrub, loose sand etc — to my friend the couple of miles away. I had only gone a few hundred yards when I heard the anti-aircraft guns down at Tobruk harbour open up and saw the shells bursting high in the air.
Stuka just 50 feet above me
I was walking along the edge of the escarpment when a burst of engine power rushed at me. A Stuka was about 50 feet above me and 100 yards or so ahead. It was coming straight at me, guns blazing.
I looked for cover and was very lucky in finding an old trench three parts full of sand, with old sandbags, threadbare and torn, around the rim. Without further ado, I threw myself down behind one on the bags at the same time as I felt a thud near my head the other side of the sandbag. I lay there as the Stuka thundered overhead.
Swastikas on each wing
Rolling over on to my back, I saw this black giant bird, a swastika painted on each wing, go by, and a shadow follow, still only some 100 feet above me.
After the Stuka had crossed the horizon, I went round the other side of the trench. There I opened my knife and dug a copper-plated bullet out of the sandbag.
That bullet I kept for ages, and when we were able to get leave in Cairo, I gave it to an American seaman whom I met in a bar. He was with a convoy that was unloading supplies in Port Said for the Allies.
By the way, the sergeant who was my friend left our regiment after the siege of Tobruk and went to Cairo HQ. He stayed in the army and became a major general. I never saw him again, but I followed his career through a captain friend of mine.
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