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15 October 2014
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North Africa & Italy Wartime Experiences with the 8th Army

by george (jim) Marchant

Contributed by 
george (jim) Marchant
People in story: 
George (Jim) Marchant, Bert Lawrence, Gussy, Ernie Hill.
Location of story: 
Buller camp to North Africa Italy Germany & France
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A4027178
Contributed on: 
08 May 2005

North Africa Libya Desert Bert Lawrence top left Gussy centre Ernie Hill Right George (Me Jim) Marchant (I was feeling tired !

George Frederick Marchant (Jim) b. 13/05/1911 - d. 29/11/2000 Autobiography c.1995

8th Army NR. 222403 Nr.3 Specialist Training Coy. 4 Training Bn Drivers RASC Pernham Down.
(Desert Rats)

I was born on May13th 1911 in 34 Beech Road Horfield Bristol and was the first born child of Fred & Edith Marchant.
Fred’s business flourished and he employed several men until shortly after the start of the Great War he had to go in the Army leaving mother to cope with the business.
By the time the war was over and Fred returned from France in 1919 to find that trade was poor and that he was hard put to make a living. This went on for about 4 years until finally he could no longer cope and had to file his petition in bankruptcy. This meant those days that all the home, furniture etc., was sold by auction and we were all evicted from our house. Luckily we were quickly given a new council house that was being built on a new estate at Horfield, beyond the Barracks.
It was 1939 and the war had begun, but things went on pretty well the same until the time of Dunkirk in June 1940 when there was a quick call up of men for the Forces. I took my medical and was called up at the end of September that year, the day after a bad air raid on Filton, which was very worrying. However I went to Buller Barracks at Bulford, there was a lot of Bull! and after six weeks training I became a driver in the R.A.S.C.
Soon we were sent to Surrey in a holding battalion and just after Christmas were taken to Gourock in Scotland and put aboard a ship for overseas, all very hush-hush as things were in those days. This craft was a Union Castle liner of 22000 tons and a speed exceeding 23 knots, but kept much closer to the convoy speed. I was fortunate to be on ‘B’ deck, which had 4 bunk cabins and a swimming pool, not to mention 2 shops where we could spend our pay of 10/- per week. There were also baths, but using sea water, so we had to use special soap to get a lather. It was an eight week voyage as we had to make long detours to avoid German submarines; in fact we started by going North to Greenland then Westwards towards Canada and USA then across the south Atlantic to Sierra Leone, where we stayed for a week to re-fuel, but were not allowed ashore for health reasons. It was called ‘the White Man’s Grave’ but natives rowed out to us and dived for coins and traded fruit which we hauled up on long ropes.
During the voyage we had no military duties, but did a few hours in the cookhouse etc. or else up on deck to watch for submarines. The convoy was spread over many miles and Destroyers of the Royal Navy sweeping around us. On the whole it was a very pleasant voyage; one could sit on deck and read or play cards; swim in the pool, (Jim could never swim or float even in the notorious salty Black sea where he sank to the amusement of his army colleagues), or watch the flying fishes and porpoises in the Southern Atlantic. Once we saw a school of whales spouting in the distance, but thought at first they were subs! I think most of us felt guilty having such a holiday when the people at home were going short of food and being bombed ! It was a worrying thought and we got no letters for many weeks, when they all arrived at once.
After six weeks at sea we docked for a week at Capetown South Africa and were allowed ashore each day. Many cars would call and pick us up and take us to the peoples homes and show us all the sights and we went up Table Mountain on the cable cars. Passers by would buy us beer and give us boxes of cigarettes.
Finally we went up through the Red Sea , a very hot trip and we were glad to dock at Port Tewfik in Egypt, where we were put ashore crowded in tenders. The men all baa-ed like sheep as they went ashore, as we looked like a lot of sheep. After a long hot train journey we arrived at a massive camp with hundreds of large tents at a place called Geniefa where we stayed several weeks doing drill and getting acclimatized; we all had to wear topes at this time, but afterwards handed them in.
In May I was with others, put into a unit, 180 GT Transport Con., and we were sent ‘up the blue’ as they called the desert towards the front. Here we established camp, digging ourselves in near the sea just east of Mersa Matruk, a small town on the coast. I was given a 3 ton truck and sent down to Cairo, 240 miles away to ferry equipment from the Delta to R.E. Engineers who were making a water pipe line several hundred miles long.
Once I had passed our camp, coming up, I had to go 60 miles across the desert, finding my way by compass. This trip took almost a week and once I broke down and was almost out of food and water before I managed to repair the engine. After a couple of months of this work, four of us were sent out into the desert to a place called Fort Solfafi to establish a small supplies dump for the long range desert group. We were sometimes attacked and bombed by the Germans and Italians and were always ready to burn our supplies if attacked on the ground, as we only had our rifles and one truck.
As time went on we advanced to the frontier wire at Hell-fire Pass and up into Libya at Capuzzo. From there a few of us had to go on detachment up near the front at Tobruk and south to the Free-French at Bir Achim. We were with a few R.E’s and supplied them with a truck. When the Germans attacked us I had to take 30 Negro’s back, but on the way we were shot and captured. We Were in the middle of the fighting all day, but at night the Germans retreated. Two of us pretended to be dead and we walked 5 miles towards Tobruk. Later we got back to our camp and had a weeks leave. About this time I was made a Lance Corporal and later a full Corporal, which meant I had 5 trucks and 10 men, plus a Lance Corporal to assist me.
We had to go long distances in convoy with ammunition, food and petrol up to the front and sometimes were attacked by airplanes which would swoop on us firing machine guns and cannon. If we saw them we would leap out of the motors before it stopped and run away and lie flat on the ground. A few times would have to go right up the line and supply shells and bullets as they were firing them. That was a bit scary if you thought about it.
Sometimes as the fighting continued we would advance hundreds of miles, and then perhaps retreat the same until 1942 we retreated right back to El Alamein not far from Alexandria. Months afterwards we attacked from there and then we kept moving camp daily until we drove the Germans out of Africa 6 months later. Early in 1943 I went to Malta to prepare for the invasion of Sicily which we did in flat bottomed boats. We followed into Italy in September and still with the 8th Army, covered the Adriatic front until we were sent over to the American 5thArmy in Naples. We were in Anzio, then Rome and soon after I went down with Malaria. At the end of the year we were in Florence and three months later sailed to Marseilles and went up through France into Belgium and Holland. After we got into Germany I was given a 7 day leave to England, after four and a half years abroad. Returning to Bergedorf near Hamburg, a week later the war in Europe came to an end and in August I came to England for 6 weeks leave before being demobbed in January 1946.
I worked for Peglars Furniture Removers afterwards (Sweets Removers) until I retired in 1976 and have since done some part-time driving work at times, but find enough to do here at home in the garden, shopping etc. having got longer in the tooth, until the arrival of the Grim Reaper.

· While taken prisoner for a short while at Tobruk the German guards pretended to take off the safety catches on their rifles which were deliberately directed at point blank range at us to antagonize and they then pretended to open fire.
· Medals
The 1939-45 Star.
The African Star. With 8th Army metal label to ribbon
The Italy Star
The France and Germany Star
George V1 GAR OMN REX ET INDIA IMP medal. (silver color) with laurel leaf on medal.

Photo

Cairo
c.1943
George Marchant centre

Photo

Buller Camp Salisbury
September 1943
George Marchant top right

Photo

c.1944
George Marchant
Corporal Eight Army

Photo

c.1944
North Africa Desert
left to right
Bert Lawrence from Magor near Biel
Gussy our university cad !
Ernie Hill crouching down
George Marchant feeling tired laying down

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British Army Category
Siege of Tobruk 1941 Category
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