- Contributed by
- Christine Bonny
- People in story:
- Gilbert Wilson
- Location of story:
- Western Desert 1941 - 1942
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 25 November 2003
EXTRACTS FROM THE DESERT WAR DIARIES OF GILBERT WILSON 10TH ROYAL HUSSARS
December 24th 1941
Christmas Eve in Libya. Went on a scheme during the morning — bacon for breakfast, sausages and fried potato for dinner, tea — pears and cream. Some of the boys could be heard singing carols, which made us think of home as we lay in bed (what an Xmas eve).
December 25th 1941
‘Christmas Day 1941’. The day of days — we celebrated it with bacon, sausages and biscuits for breakfast. Toasted the King and loved ones with Rita Lime Juice, for dinner we had sausages, green peas, potatoes and peaches and cream, Homebush shortbreads and tea. The RSM invited SSM Dunk for dinner and again for tea, and we made a very happy quartet. The evening was made merry by a singsong with the Officers; I also listened on my tank wireless set to the ‘Old Mother Riley’ programme and the news. The Royal Dragoons entered Benghazi.
December 26th 1941
Boxing Day. We left camp early for a two-day scheme, which lasted until dark when we bivouacked for the night — a violent dust storm made life almost unbearable. (Christmas being over I must mention the kindness of our Tank Commander Major J Archer-Shee) who gave the crew £1 to celebrate. The mobile canteen was nearby on Xmas Eve and the luxuries we brought made our Xmas dinner near perfect. I’m writing this in our tank and if my sweetheart could only see me now — unshaven for 4 days through lack of water, no nash, and covered with dust.
January 22nd 1942
Brigade moved on at 11am. We soon reached forward area and just after dusk were surprised to hear gunfire and shells flying around. Apparently an Italian convoy passed close too and opened up. The Brigade HQ managed to get some prisoners and our SSM caught a DR — German at that, we moved on for about 3 miles then close leaguered.
January 25th 1942
Apparently the Regiment did great work at Saunna but suffered heavily in men and tanks — the enemy inflicted most damage by artillery and anti-tank guns. Gunfire is going on all day with aircraft constantly having dogfights in this area. The Brigade as far as we can find out won the day, but reports are very conflicting. The BBC announce our mobile columns in action but as yet no results. The battle is taking place in a huge triangle and it will be perhaps days before we really know how things are going. We had to move during the morning owing to the nearness of German forces and as we left the shells were dropping in our midst. The whole brigade moved off, that is the ‘B’ Echelon, and we were chased all day, it sure was thrilling, the retirement became a real headlong dash, and first we headed east 20 miles then north 50 miles. As regards the tanks and ‘A’ Echelon it is still very confusing what has happened. Apparently nearly all the tanks have been put out of action and some grand fellows are missing. The Bays and 9th seems to be more or less intact. The BBC announced big tanks battle going on near Antelat, so we must wait and see how things progress.
January 29th 1942
Slept in the open last night then we left in RASC lorries for the main road. In the convoy were 2 lorries carrying 50 German prisoners — the trip was none too cheerful owing to a dust storm. We eventually slept in the open near the sea on the main road between Derna and Tobruk. Rommel has taken Benghazi.
February 1st 1942
At 3Am the nearby aerodrome was bombed and machine gunned by Axis planes from Crete. This sure caused some excitement, as the drome is only a mile from us. The tracer bullets were reminiscent of a Brocks firework display. 20 or 30 bombs were dropped.
February 7th 1942
Usual routine. We are getting used to countless air raids made on the nearby aerodrome. I must note down the astonishing fact that according to our Troop Officer I am still a recruit with about 18 months service — I must have been dreaming the other 15 years!
February 22nd 1942
Beautiful day of sunshine. We had a trip to Bardia for swimming and sightseeing. The road went through Fort Capusso, which is completely smashed up; a German cemetery there is most impressive. Bardia is quite a small place situated on high cliffs with a harbour and sandy beach. Everywhere are signs of German and Italian occupation.
March 8th 1942
Nice day spoilt by high winds. Moved 3 miles to fresh quarters. After tea we strolled round the camp area as a golden sun was setting in the west. We discussed other Sundays in dear old England, talked of our sweethearts and now and then picked desert flowers. This may sound very romantic but in reality its hell!
May 1st 1942
Lovely day. The Duke of Gloucester visited and inspected the Regiment at 6pm. He lives in Auchinlecks caravan. We issued them water and I looked at the photos of the Duchess (very nice).
May 27th 1942
Terrific raids during last night on nearby drome also bombs were dropped amongst transport in this area. Posted green envelope and airgraph home. At midday shells were dropping amongst us, apparently from enemy tanks. Then the news came that Rommel was on the move and we had orders to get away at once. This movement carried us past El Aden and we were machine gunned by very low flying bombers. Then to our amazement gunfire opened up ahead. It almost looked as if we were surrounded so the column turned about and moved westwards again and at the time of writing we are camped about 3 miles from the drome. The 4th Armoured Brigade engaged this party that tried to cut off our retreat and the 2nd Armoured are in the other direction facing 80 German tanks. This appears to be the big affair they have been waiting for.
May 28th 1942
Raids went on all last night especially near Tobruk. We ourselves were dive-bombed by Stukas this morning; also the nearby drome had a visit by 17 bombers. A tank battle developed about 3 miles to the south. I can’t say what unit took part we could see gun flashes from high ground. Our Brigade had done very well and reports say we captured 600 prisoners, destroyed artillery and tanks and echelons with very little loss to our own men and tanks. The Royals apparently captured a ‘B’ Echelon. One of the lorries found its way to our ‘A’ Squadron and it contained wireless equipment besides much food. The vehicle is in splendid condition being one of the outstanding points about all their material. More tank units keep moving up past us to the forward area.
May 29th 1942
We had a terrible night, planes were over continually from 10.30pm till about 4pm machine gunning and bombing the whole area. Planes also came over during the day. The news appears good. Apparently the Germans came through a gap in the minefield, one army went north to Acroma — Tobruk area and the other went south. The 2nd Armoured Brigade had to keep these two apart and did so very effectively. The Guards now hold the gap and this Northern army are having a tough time. Our Regiment gave the enemy a thorough doing this time and the Grant tanks did wonderful work. The 10th kept up the traditions, one can say no more.
May 30th 1942
Another heavy raid last night and again during the day when some Stukas dive-bombed the brigade. The bombs landed in 9th Lancers area. 2 lorries went up and we hear they had 12 casualties. Planes over on and off all day and at 4 we were told to prepare for a move, this took us 3 miles — bearing 220. But we had hardly settled down before planes over again. We also watched our now Boston bombers doing their stuff on the front line which is only about 15 miles away. This constant air attack is very bad for the nerves as we can’t get any sleep at nights and living in holes in the desert make us like animals.
May 31st 1942
More raids last night especially the front line area. We got machine-gunned. The CO gave us a lecture and outlined the general situation which appears to be very successful for British arms. The Panzer divisions received their severest mauling — 250 tanks known to be destroyed and the General in Command of the Africa Corps (second to Rommel) have been captured. This must all be very bad for German moral. We had a dogfight overhead after tea between Kitty Hawks and ME110’s. I regret to say that one of our planes was brought down, the pilot did not stand a chance to bale out, his plane went up in flames.
June 1st 1942
More raids last night. The news still remains good and we heard today of the big RAF raid on the Ruhr (1000 bombers going over). Rommel is moving west again chased by everything possible. As I write there are guns, tanks, infantry etc moving up believed to be the 10th Army. Quite a number of enemy tanks are trapped in the minefield and we can hear the 25 pounders firing at them all day long. Dogfights take place at intervals and we were told unofficially that our Brigade will be going back to the Delta.
June 26th 1942
Had a terrible night — we were bombed by what appears to be the RAF. 7 men were killed and a few injured. Lorries were damaged by cannon fire. They just ringed the leaguer with flares and then let us have it and this went on from 1.30am to 5am I never want to experience anything like this again. Handed over tanks to CLY and moved to Fuka near the sea — lots of aircraft near here.
August 1st 1942
Returned from leave, had a lovely time but roll on leave in England. Alexandria isn’t bad after so long in the desert but it makes one very homesick, in fact I feel anything but happy these days. The film shows were quite good, the two best being ‘The Westerner’ and ‘What’s Cooking’.
September 18th 1942
All my plans for a nice quiet week were cancelled today when I was informed that Saturday will see me on the way to Palestine for a course at the Hygiene School. Rather a setback but may be I’ll get my leave later on.
September 19th 1942
Left on 11:28 for Cairo, met with some Q Bays going on the same course. Had a meal in town and caught 4pm train for Lydda in Palestine near Tel Aviv. Travelled all night.
September 20th 1942
The scenery is lovely. We arrived at 7am. A lorry took us to camp along tree lined roads, this place is terrific and after looking in we had a nice meal, washed and shaved and much to our surprise got passes to visit Tel Aviv which is something like Bournemouth. It think this place is far in advance of Cairo or Alexandria, so clean and tidy, the natives don’t pester you for buckshee and boot blacks are not forever chasing us everywhere wanting to clean already clean boots. It’s a Jewish holiday so the shops and cinemas are closed but we thoroughly enjoyed the sea front watching all the people swimming and generally enjoying themselves. Arrived back at 9pm in time for a supper in the NAAFI.
September 27th 1942
This is really a memorable day, we went to the Holy City for the day. I really cannot find words to describe the feeling on seeing the Holy Sepulchre Church for the first time, this is where Our Lord was crucified and all that’s sacred is now preserved in this church. The building stands on the ground where the actual crucifixion took place on Golgotha Hill, which isn’t a hill in the true sense, more or less a high piece of ground. We saw the stone Christ sat on when before Pontius Pilate, the actual grave, and stone which is broken when our Lord rose on the third day. The various spots that Jesus stopped when on the way to Calvary — the place where they actually found the three crosses, and I put my hand on the stone upon which the cross actually rested when in the ground. Near this spot also is a gold statue of the Virgin Mary which is covered with gifts of jewellery etc from all parts of the world to the value of 7 million pounds. A sword there was presented by General Allenby, I also noticed priceless gifts from Kings and Queens of every famous Royal house. It was all very impressive indeed and I shall always be glad providence brought me to the Holy Land to see what millions are denied the opportunity of every seeing and to actually tread the sacred ground upon which such world shaping events happened.
October 24th 1942
Last night the regiment and everything seemed to be moving forward and at 10pm the greatest artillery barrage ever heard opened up, it went on for hours, its impossible to describe the intensity of noise when 600 guns commence firing. The Western sky was lit up for miles. We don’t know yet what results the 8th Army have had. ‘B’ Echelon came up this morning and we then moved 2 miles west.
October 25th 1942
Battle raged all night and it also rained. Went for water as usual then ‘B’ Echelon moved 8 miles west. Apparently the 22nd AB are doing well down South. The situation on this sector is still very confused. The 51st Highland Division have done fine works. This evening we could see the AA barrage at the front and I’ve never seen anything like it, just concentrated firing by hundreds of guns.
October 26th 1942
Enemy planes about during last night and the Artillery barrage from the Battle area was terrific. Went for water 10 miles back. Regiment have been in action and doing well, apparently they are trying to get a ridge which is very strongly held. We heard today about the Navy co-operating and of the heavy raids in Italy. This really is developing into the most important battle ever fought out here.
October 27th 1942
More planes around last night and bombs dropped. Went for water after dinner and had a good run. Not much news yet from the battlefront.
November 2nd 1942
From dusk till dawn one could hear the dull roar of tanks, lorries, armoured cars and all the panoply of a modern army slowly moving up along the tracks and roads leading ever westward. Everyone seems full of quiet confidence for we’ve had so many setbacks out here that it doesn’t do to completely underestimate the power of the enemy but I do think the glorious 8th Army are really fighting on an equal standing with the enemy so far as equipment. We pray and hope for success. On returning from the water point the Echelon moved further towards Alamein station.
November 3rd 1942
Battle still raging all along the front and the 8th Army are still doing find.
November 4th 1942
Raids during the night on the tank depot about 6 miles away. We moved through minefields today about 12 miles — the enemy are moving back.
November 5th 1942
Moved further west 12 miles. Today went through the battle area and German minefields. I’ve never seen such a shambles, it was awful, it’s hard to imagine that men went through such an inferno. Planes have just been over and bombs are dropping but we hope for a quieter night because last night we leaguered near a battery of 60 pounders who kept up firing nearly all night. The enemy are still going west with the 8th Army in full chase. The King sent a message of congratulations.
November 6th 1942
Moved west all day (56 miles). The news appears to be even better than we dared to think, for apparently the Africa Corps collapsed very suddenly and completely at the Alamein line and are at present being relentlessly pursued by Montgomery’s 8th Army, who in an order of the day has promised the enemy no respite. The journey today was over very wet and boggy ground with occasional rainsqualls. We saw much evidence of recent Axis occupation.
November 7th 1942
Moved West 16 miles and then turned north for about 12. Met up with part of Brigade also RASC came along to this point with rations, water, ammo and petrol. The tanks are still about 40 miles away. The news in general is too good to be true, we hear so many rumours; it’s hard to say what is happening. Hundreds of Italian prisoners keep rolling in from every quarter. The collapse seems more thorough than we thought at first and with some luck can very easily be the beginning of the end so far as this campaign goes — we hope!
November 8th 1942
Moved on again at dawn and covered about 60 miles. Passed through a minefield today — a lot of vehicles were lying around which had been severely damaged recently — also many more prisoners came in today about 15 lorry loads, they all look war weary and not at all like the so called ‘Wolves of Tuscany’ that Mussolini had so much to shout about. We heard of the American landing in French Morocco — this really is great news.
November 9th 1942
The news today is the best one can wish for, the Americans have landed at various points along the North African coast and the Africa Corp is in full retreat westwards. We are at present withdrawn from action and awaiting orders. Prisoners keep rolling in and the 10th had some of both today — I had to give them a ration of water and some spoke quite good English.
November 10th 1942
Moved along Sina Track today to coast road and joined up with tanks 17 miles west. The trip was interesting owing to the enormous amount of enemy vehicles left destroyed. On every side once could witness the terrible destruction created by the RAF while the enemy were retreating westwards. They played havoc amongst the slow moving column, which endeavoured to escape the 8th Army’s swift advance. We left again for water ration and are staying the night at RASC point.
November 11th 1942
Very busy all day on water supply. News came through that hostilities have ceased along the North African coast, so the Yanks have soon finished off their little campaign. We ourselves are going again tomorrow. Apparently the enemy are making a stand at Tobruk with about 10,000 men and good supplies. Churchill made a good speech at home and the bells are going to ring Sunday for our victory here.
November 12th 1942
Moved on along the coast road for 57 miles. Saw numerous lorries and tanks left by the enemy, all proof of the terrific destruction wrought by the RAF.
November 13th 1942
Moved along the coast road to Solumn and are staying the night near Hellfaya Pass.
November 14th 1942
Moved up the Pass this morning at Dawn. Went for water and returned with a broken spring, spending the night with LAD.
November 15th 1942
Moved on towards El Edem and staying the night a few miles NW of it along Trigh Capusso Road. The journey today was awful; we literally ploughed our way through wind, dust storm and then rain. What a life! It’s almost beyond human endurance. Roll on the sweet lanes and fields of dear old England.
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