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15 October 2014
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Bergonzoli and Me

by Isle of Wight Libraries

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Contributed by 
Isle of Wight Libraries
People in story: 
Paul Farrell, “Wingy” Renton, Fred Golding, Sergeant Jones, Captain Franklin, General Bergonzoli
Location of story: 
Jedabya, Sidi Saleh, Western Desert
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A6209471
Contributed on: 
19 October 2005

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Bernie Hawkins and has been added to the website on behalf of Paul Farrell with his permission and he fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.

This incident happened in 1941, in what was the last battle of the Italian Campaign and before the Germans had made it to the Western Desert.

I was in B Company of the 2nd Battalion, Rifle Brigade, under the command of “Wingy” Renton, crossing the desert between Mechili and Jedabya with A, C and S companies. We had been forced to leave our Bren carriers behind because they had started shedding their tracks on the rocky terrain. Also with us was a territorial regiment from 106th Liverpool, armed with some captured Italian guns. That was the state we were in!

When we arrived at the road from Benghazi running south along the coast of the Gulf of Sirte and round to Tripolitania, we established our positions at a place called Sidi Saleh. A Company were forward on the right hand side of the road (looking north) with C Company in support. S Company were on the left hand side between the road and the sea, with B Company to the rear of them, opposite C Company.

After a couple of days’ action, mostly under fire from Italian tanks, the Italians broke through A Company’s position. C Company engaged the Italians, and as B Company were in their line of fire, we were told to get out. The truck I was in broke down crossing the road in front of the Liverpool lads' anti-tank gun. We managed to get it going again, accompanied by some very interesting language from the Sergeant in charge of the anti-tank gun, but it conked out again just after we got off the road. I told the two lads I was with in the truck that I would go and try to get some help.

As I was walking away from the road, a column of Italians appeared, coming down a track parallel with the road. It stopped and two Italians got out of a vehicle with a machine gun and opened fire on me. That was the beginning of something very strange. I felt quite calm and just kept walking, and all the time something in my head kept repeating, “Don’t run, don’t run.” Eventually the Italians gave up. I kept going and Fred Golding, who was the Company Commander’s driver, and Sergeant Jones came back and picked me up. They said, “Didn’t you see them firing at you?” I said, “I didn’t look.”

We carried on, and after a few minutes saw coming around a hill a little civvie Fiat (as used by Italian officers) and three truck loads of Italians. Fred stopped, we jumped out, and Sergeant Jones shouted to me to get the Boys anti-tank rifle out of the truck. Fred got down with his rifle, I got down beside him with the ant-tank rifle and Sergeant Jones knelt down beside me. I sighted the anti-tank rifle on the little Fiat, but when I went to ram a round up the breach, I found that someone had removed the bolt. Just then, Sergeant Jones fired. The Fiat stopped and whose head appeared out of it but Captain Franklin’s. He came across and started to play hell with us, but Sergeant Jones stood up for himself and us, pointing out to Captain Franklin that he was in an Italian car with about a hundred Italian soldiers in three trucks behind him. He calmed down and we went with him to get a badly wounded Italian officer out of the car. By then another of our trucks had appeared, so Sergeant Jones and Captain Franklin told me to get the officer on to the truck and try to find an ambulance.

Whilst I was attending to the wounded officer, this rather small, bearded Italian officer came from the Fiat and spoke to me. Although I didn’t understand what he said, I knew what it was he wanted me to do, so I went through the wounded officer’s pockets and gave what I found to him. I recognised him from pictures I had seen of him during the Abyssinian War — General Bergonzoli (“Electric Whiskers”).

It was providential that someone had removed the bolt from the anti-tank rifle, certainly for the General. I often think that if I’d been able to load that gun, Bergonzoli wouldn’t have survived the War, killed after surrender by a British Bandsman-Rifleman.

The action occurred over three days and by the end we had 25,000 Italian prisoners.

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