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Dad's War Diary 1

by cliffsjulie

Contributed by 
cliffsjulie
People in story: 
Clifford Spencer
Location of story: 
Italy
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A4476558
Contributed on: 
18 July 2005

GNR. C. SPENCER 1764164
MY DIARY SINCE BEEN A SOLDIER STARTING JANUARY 16 1941

LEAVING HOME

Having destroyed my diary just before been taken P.O.W I shall just mention the things that I can remember. I am now P.O.W. date Easter Tuesday 1943.
First I’ll always remember the first day I joined up, first the parting from my darlings at home, that walk to the station. First falls of snow of the winter.

Caught the 7.30 Am. train from Haxey, changed at Doncaster and Manchester, arrived at Blackpool 6.0.p.m.
Lorries waiting for us which took us straight to...... and there I joined the 229 Regiment RA.

That same night I was inoculated, also received most of my army kit, then took a tram and arrived at private billets at 9.30. The landlady had a much-wanted supper waiting for us.

There I remained one month. Poor digs. While I was there I did one month of post and rifle drill at the Red Lion Hotel square Bisbam, not a hard do, but we had plenty of cold weather, I then changed digs to Mrs.... Then went to the D.BATTER, where I started learning to drive, also was taught, map reading, Morse code, maintenance of lorries, Lewis guns, gas, telephone, more rifle and foot drill, and foot sores, two months I had there, in the meantime I had a rash on my head and body and had two days in hospital.

The next stage was moving to Cleethorpes, there I had two days and got my first leave, and what a day that was, couldn’t get home quick enough. The weeks leave was only to short, but a happy one.

Went back to Cleethorpes, stayed a week, billeted in empty house, was sent to Easton Hall Grantham. There I joined 107 Battery.
I had a good time there, ( that is for army life I mean) not much to do, was helping batman Captain Noel and 2nd Lt. Linica. Lovely weather and three or four 24-hour leaves, and that was where I first started hitch hiking.

After about 6 weeks there we went to Blandford, there were supposed to do some hard training, but hardly did a thing, just a bit of maintenance, had one day of driving, also had good weather there, few wet days, which made the wood where the lorries were a mess. No leave from there.

After about six or seven weeks there I went to Waddington, where I was put in a gun team. And for the first time put on a gun right, we only had a Lewis gun on the sight. More lovely weather and 24 leave the leaves were the best part about the army. There we were in a hut with kitchen pantry joined on. Sargent Lane was in charge of us for a month and Bd. Whichello took over. He is one of my mates up to this day.

In July we went to Shipton, Yorks. A week there and then I got my second 7 days leave which was my Embarkation leave, also my last, didn’t even manage to get a 24 hour one. That last week we had together was perfect, except for the silent thoughts we both had, that it would be the last time we would be together again for a long time, neither of us know what was to be ahead.

Back again to Shipton where we got our K.D. clothing and so our fears of going away looked bad. A few wanted to go but most didn’t. Still there was a chance that at the last moment it would be cancelled, but no on Aug 15th we departed for Eastbourne.

THE JOURNEY

The last night I spent at Shipton I had a lucky escape, and took it as a good omen that I would go right through safely, and I thank God, that up to the time of writing I have. We arrived at the docks at 8.00am. Aug 16th and there was the Strafmoor, what a monster she looked, up the gangway we went and the hopes of cancelling were gone, no more to see my darlings, for, well I didn’t know how long and still don’t. There were to be no more letters to receive or send for months.

We stood up on the deck and watched men from all kinds of Regiments, also hundreds of airmen; all told I think it was 4,500 on when we got going.
At last we did get going, down the Clyde.
People were waving to us from the windows and there thoughts would be (how many of those poor lads will come back) well some won’t, as I know of, in fact two died on the boat before we got to our destination. We soon got out of sight leaving our loved ones behind, but hoping it wouldn’t be long before we were coming back.

That night we went to sleep thinking the same and hoping and praying for a safe crossing. We slept in hammocks on L deck . We should be just about on the water line, the port holes closed, fresh air came down through funnels, but it still was hot, and hotter still as we got further on, we were packed like sheep.

The weather was lovely and a lovely calm sea, right until we got to the Cape; my job was getting the food from the cook place, which was two decks up from where we were, a big place with fire ranges. The cooks were mostly black.

After meals we had to clear away and wash up, the rest of the time was my own which I spent up on the open deck, there were four of those, there was a wet and dry canteen, in the dry one you could buy most things one wanted, plenty of chocs and cigs, cigs was duty frees, also many other things, not chocs though.

Well we sailed along past Ireland and on to Freetown where we had our first stop but did not go ashore, by the way we had in company with us THE STRAFFHAVEN ORIENT. Peter Jackson with the Destroyer REVENGE as escort to Capetown.

What we could see of Freetown was that it looked very wild, few houses. Black boys came in little canoes up to the boat-side selling bananas, and oranges, but we were not allowed to buy from them, the hose pipes used to be turned on them, they were like fish for diving and swimming. Chaps used to throw coins in, down they went for them, and always came up with it, and shout “any mo” or “any mo glassco tanna”. and oh boy was it hot, the sweat just simply rolled down your body down into your sandals, we only wore p.t. shorts and never went into the sun.

The nights were beautiful, such lovely sunsets, we used to sit on the top deck, and the only thing was that on the open deck we had no lights.

After getting going again, we had the crossing of the line ceremony. By the way there was an open-air swimming pool, there were plays, also boxing and concerts, and one poor chap I remember a good singer got killed up the blue. He did a turn on the stage at Capetown. What bit of time we were there it looked very good.

At last we reach Capetown, arrive about 4.0p.m. after about six weeks. We went ashore the first night after a lot of messing about. We spent three days there and had a good time, had a talk with a chap who used to live at Doncaster. Went to pictures, parks, etc, the people were very kind, lots of the men were taken home and given good meals and a jolly good time.

But all good things come to an end, and once more we got going where the next port of call was Aden, this time we had the Destroyer DORCHESTER, which I believe has since been sunk. We did not go ashore there, still it was nice to see land once again, and there we had all the black boys again round the boat doing the same as at Freetown.

From there we went up the Red Sea, on our own, because each time a convey went up it was attacked. We reached the end of our sea voyage and arrived at Port Taufiq. Very thankful to God for a safe crossing. There were one or two scares of submarines about, and one night the REVENGE cut across and tried to cut in between our boat and the one behind but barges into the front end of the one behind and made a big gash in it, but it carried on alright and got repaired at Capetown. (Made an error The Dorchester escorted us from England to Freetown, The Revenge from Freetown to Aden, arrived Port Taufiq Oct 1st.)

NORTH AFRICA

We left Port Taufiq, and went to Kassasin where we stayed one month, in that month we did not do much only guards. I was in the cookhouse for a little while. I went to Port Said one day and came back the next with a Bofar tractor, I had two more teeth out and some false ones made, I received them the last day I was there, on the day before we went up the blue.

Brig. Gen. Pollack came and gave us a talk on what we should most likely come across etc. He talked of coming to Italy in the future, but I don’t think he meant the way we came.

We left Kassassin Oct 29th to go into the blue. Passed through Cairo, kept to the road until we were about two miles from Sidi Barrani, there we started up the desert, went to forward base.

That first journey on the desert, I’ll never forget, two or three days it took after getting lost a few times, we got without water and very little food, only hard biscuits, I could not eat them with my new false teeth, it was hot with sand blowing in to the back of the lorry, bumping over rocks. I never thought that the human body could stand so much. That first day was the first I missed having a wash in my life….I have had lots since.

Well although we were pretty near the front we never had any action, just a few.
Jerry still had Hallya Past and Boldum, we came round them.
Heat flies and sweaty feet, half the Battery had dysentery.

After a week or two there, we went to a forward fighter Drom. There we met chaps off the ELUSTRIOS, which was getting repaired at Alex. Next we went to landing drom 76.

Next place was Eladam, we moved in just after Jerry had been driven out, what a mess that place was, planes, by the dozen destroyed on the ground. Both Jerries and Ities. It must have been some severe battle, burnt out tanks, and lorries in hundreds, bags of Jerry food and Red-cross stuff. I got a good supply of bandages etc, only to lose them again when captured. There were a lot of Aussies there, plenty of sand storms and rain, it was a real fine and dirty sand.

Next place was Beramude near Tobruk, leaving Eladam Xmas Eve, Xmas Day and Boxing Day we had bully beef and biscuits, we got our Xmas dinner about a fortnight later which consisted of one Turkey between 16 men, and Xmas pudding, also 1 small mince pie each. We were without smokes until we managed to get some from the R.A.F.s canteen
Next place was back to 75 and 76 droms
Next right back to 116 drom on Feb 2nd 1942 a short stay, we thought we might get leave from thereabout no on the 19th Feb we went to Berhara, passing through Sollum pass. As we went down to 116, we went down Haffys pass, what a road. Sollum pass though is a fine piece of work Berhera. I never forgot that place, In all the three months that we were there, I don’t think there were three days without sandstorms, except when we where flooded out. The Boston planes were there with S.African airmen.
In March I had my one and only leave in the desert. We had a few raids and warnings nearly every night. When Tobruk was getting raided, we could see the barrage, it really was a picture to see, but at the same time, was sorry for those who were there, we little thought we should be in it later and it sure ain’t no fun. Some of the British Legion came to do guard while we were there, they were all sports.and to talk to them what they had gone through in their time, most of them had done something wrong, and then joined the Legion.

The M.E.S gave us a few daylight surprises. G.Smutts paid his men a visit. Duke of York paid us a visit. Our food there was worse than awful. We got more from the Saffs than from our lot.

Our gun went to ordinance , but still had to do guard. 2nd Lt Stuart was our officer up to this place, then 2nd Lt Hurst took over, and we knew him as Fanny. All he thought about was getting washed and shaved, boots blacked, he didn’t know the first thing about the gun, it was pitiful to see him and old Joe, that’s our Major, when a Brigadier paid us a visit and asked them questions, about the gun, etc.

We had a scare once; we had to learn anti-tank shooting so thought that’s what we were going to do, because we knew that our gun was no use against mark fours. We had five men on stag at a time, in daylight, one at night, there were times when you could not see from one end of the gun to the other, we had sun glasses for eyes, and had to cover our mouths up with handkerchiefs, the storms were that bad, everything in tents were covered with sand, sometimes we had night storms, terrible, is the word for it. But the worse in the lot was when it blew hot sand; it was like hot steam. Well I think that was the worst three months I’ve spent in my life including this P.O.W life.

I was real lucky for mail. Also parcels, one had even been salvaged from the sea.

One day we had a mock raid on Gambut, what a farce! Up to leaving Birhara we were with the 88th Heavies. Well the next and last place for fighting for us was Tobruk. We arrived their May 17th or 18th. For the first week we had no raids, the weather was lovely and there were no sandstorms and a lovely place for bathing in the harbour. We thought if this keeps up, we will be well away, it was so much healthier, and we were getting exercise through swimming, also getting rid of some sand out of our system. Joe Taylor came and did our cooking on the post, so that was better. I went up into Tobruk a few times to the canteen, and church.

I don’t think there was one building that hadn’t been hit with bombs or shells. We were getting raid warnings nearly every five minutes of the day but little happened, as I said before for the first week, Then one night Tobruk was the target for the night, from then onwards we had lots of them, and we began to think that Tobruk wasn’t so healthy after all.

One night we had a raid, we fired 140 rounds off, I slipped and got a bad burn on my legs, and that stopped me swimming, just as I was getting to go. That just got better, then I had a boil under my armpit, so I got no more bathing at all.
When we were not raided, and we went to bed, we were attacked by fleas, that was the first time in the army that I had been bothered with them, we had rats, mice, scorpions, snakes, etc in the desert, but the fleas gave me the most trouble.

To carry on the Jerry’s didn’t bother about the barrages that was put up, he dived straight through it, what an awful noise when they dive, it seems to be over our post most times, the bombs whistling down, wondering if the next time was going to be our lot, then the bark of the gun, what a row.

One night we had a scare it came over the phone, that there were 50 gun, 52 troop carriers, circling over Ghazzah, so were expecting paratroops, but it didn’t come off. Well all the raids and bombs that dropped hardly any damage at all was done. I think two men were killed.

One night just before the finish about nine o clock, Jerry started shelling us, that was worse than bombs, you never know when they are coming, we spent the rest of that night in the gun pit, that was the safest place. One morning in less than three minutes M.E.s brought three of Baltimoor planes down, a little after brought one of our fighters down, one burst of fire, and he dived straight into the sea.. Another day one of our convey were attacked. One was sunk, we could see the Junkees diving on to them.

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