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 Enfidaville (part 5)

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Tim of Aclea
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Posts : 330
Join date : 2011-12-31

20121031
PostEnfidaville (part 5)

Our immediate problem in returning to our unit was that we had to go back through our own mine field. We knew the way in daylight but it was now 10 p.m. and it was a very dark night. Captain Bateman’s driver said he thought that he knew the way and that if I drove he would direct me. The driver, however, soon seemed to become confused and we stopped and the Captain told me to get out of the jeep and try and find the way on foot with the jeep following. I walked carefully forward between the two lots of mines with tape to indicate the way. The driver was, however, too close behind me and ran me down and I found myself under the jeep. The Captain and driver jumped out of the jeep and, when I got out from under the jeep, there was a lot of swearing between me and the driver. I told the captain that I knew where the mines were and I asked him to keep an eye on the driver. After about five minutes we got out of the jeep and we went on quickly to the place where A company was to meet ready for the battle.

As soon as we were together, the company saluted the captain and asked for permission to relax. I forget what the order was but, after receiving the orders and permission to relax, some relieved themselves, some had a smoke, I was the only one in the unit who did not smoke, and others read letters from their loved ones. Company Sergeant Major Hearnden gave me another 50 rounds. Captain Bailey, second in command of A company shook hands with me and told me that that he would not be going with us as he was in the reserve. He said that I have your wife’s letter in our base. After a short while Captain Bateman reminding the Company Sergeant Major that we must be going up to the front by 11.45 p.m.

All the evening we had had our shells falling on the enemy and they had replied with some shelling of our lines. It also seemed to me that some of their shells were ranging shells ready for the coming battle. The company started walking to the front and on three occasions we had to take cover from enemy artillery by lying on the ground. On the third occasion I received a shell fragment in my right leg. I felt a hot pain there and I found it difficult to walk. The Company Sergeant Major urged me on pointing out that we were nearly there. Then the stretcher bearers came forward to help me while the rest of the company went on about another 50 metres to the tape. The corporal and private of our medical unit patched my leg up with a good bandage. The corporal told me to look after the leg and I may survive the war, they then went forward. After a few minutes a sergeant of the 2/7th QRR helped me to his trench. I was grateful to him as otherwise I probably would have struggled forward to my unit and ended up in the same trench as Private Bill Rose. At about 1 a.m. that area came under heavy mortar fire and he was hit, loosing his face and died. The Germans were using 5” Russian mortars which they had captured on the eastern front. We had 2” mortars with each company and a section of 3” mortars under Captain Frost.

By about 23.50 on Wednesday night, which was very dark but not cold, A company had reached the tape. I had once looked after the tape, which was very large and wide, when we had been on manoeuvre in Iraq. The company settled into their position and by about 23.55 the whole area was quiet. At 0.05 the whole of our 25 pounders opened up on the enemy and at 0.08 the shelling stopped and Mr Eldridge, the first lieutenant stood up and addressed the company “They are only bloody ice-cream wallers and we are going to sort them out.” Then he went forward. No one followed him and so he came back and said “come on lads, I can’t do the bloody job on my own, come and give me a helping hand!” One soldier shouted out ‘Bloody war’, upon which another said ‘Yes, bloody war’ and they all went forward and before long they took the hill. When I listened to the unwillingness of some of our unit to go forward and fight, I felt my face changing from white to red with embarrassment and I wondered what would happen to me if the enemy were to attack and take our line. I felt that as I could not walk I might be shot out of hand by the Italian infantry.

At about 1 a.m. a soldier came out of the darkness and jumped into the trench falling on me and damaging my right leg even more. He apologised and told me that he was going to ‘slope off’ away from the front line. He said that as soon as the mortaring had stopped he would run away from the battlefield. I tried to persuade him not to run away but he told me it was rough up there and left. At about 2 a.m. I heard a soldier shouting out in pain and calling for help. I told him to come towards me and I called to him every few minutes until he found me, it was extremely dark. When he arrived he seemed pleased to see me as he had been told that I had ‘had it’. He had received a 0.303 bullet through the buttock which had left him in considerable pain. Later, when he got to the 92nd Hospital at the Suez Canal, he had to be strapped on an operating table so that the medical staff could tend his wound to prevent him getting gangrene. The staff apparently found it somewhat difficult as they were laughing so much concerning the nature of his wound.

We stayed together in the trench until 6 a.m. when first light came. The night had seemed endless particularly when we were shelled from time to time. During the night Captain Bateman asked the batman of the Company Sergeant Major to visit me to see if he could help at all. I also had to give my rifle and the 100 rounds to him. He had told me previously that he was a Roman Catholic and that as the padre had given him extreme unction, if he were to get killed then he would go straight to heaven. I never, in fact, saw him again but I understand that he survived the war, married and had two children.

Soon after the stretcher bearers came to take the wounded to a point where the carrier could then take us to the Red Cross headquarters where Captain Hogan and the staff were waiting for us. The first soldier to be put on the carrier died as soon as he realised that he had lost his left leg. The medical sergeant said “poor sod, he is dead, take him down and go and get someone else.” We all got on the carriers and were taken to the HQ. Captain Hogan gave us all a jab to kill the pain and Private Bill Miles, his batman who came from the Whitley estate Reading, gave us a good cup of tea and a cigarette for those who wanted it, which meant everybody except me. Captain Hogan was an Irish doctor from Dublin, he was a very pleasant person with a strange sense of humour. He looked at our wounds and put on each of us an army form W3118A envelope part printed with FM cards with the information on the inside. I noticed that it said that the cards could survive being covered in water, blood or urine.

Outside there were ambulances to take us, they had space in the back for four lying wounded plus two standing wounded and a corporal. Two of the soldiers in the ambulance seemed pleased to see me as they had been told I had ‘had it’. As soon as the driver started the engine the corporal told us not to talk or smoke. The driver told the corporal that the Germans were shelling the area and in fact shells fell quite close to the ambulance. After about three miles the driver told the corporal that we were out of range of the German guns. The corporal said that we could now speak and smoke if we wanted and added in a jovial sort of way “you will be able to live now for at least two more weeks.” When we reached the main road the driver stopped the vehicle while the corporal gave us all urine bottles to use. After about 12 -15 miles we were stopped and taken out to be looked at. A medic used a piece of chicken wire to hold my ankle together so that it would not become worse. Somebody else gave me a large mug of tea , a bowl of stew and a piece of bread for which I was very grateful, later I was given a piece of paper on which to write a letter home. All around were injured soldiers, they seemed to me to be very dignified. I wrote a letter to my wife Vera but two days later an officer told me that I had said too much in the letter and gave me another sheet of paper to write the letter again. Vera was to receive the following official letter advising her of me being wounded.

Madam,

I am directed to inform you, with regret, that a report has been received from the Military Authorities in North Africa that number 534206 Private John Albert Whittle, The Queen’s Royal Regiment has received shrapnel wound penetrating right leg fractured tibia, on 29th April 1943.

It has not been reported into what hospital your husband has been admitted but in the event of his condition becoming serious you will be immediately informed. In addition he will have been given every facility for communicating with you himself.

Letters for Private Whittle should be sent to him at his last known address, bearing his full name and regimental particulars.

I am to convey to you the sincere sympathy of the Army Council in your anxiety.

I am, Madam,

Your obedient servant,

Captain for Colonel,
i/c Infantry Records, Ashford, Middlesex

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