Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Preface - Ronald Miles (1918 - 2003)


My name is Paul Miles. I live in rural Victoria, Australia. This blog has been set up in the memory of my dear father, Ronald Miles (pictured, right) who passed away on
October 7, 2003. Dad was 85 years old at the time of his passing and in his latter years took the time to write his memoirs. These remembrances were specifically to do with his gallant service in the 107th Royal Horse Artillery Regiment, otherwise known as the South Notts Hussars during the Second World War. His Regiment, like Dad hailed from Nottingham, England.

His memoirs commence briefly before the War and end with his capture in 1942 at the Battle of Knightsbridge in the North African campaign and his subsequent experiences as a POW in Italy and Austria.

Whilst his story is not particularly remarkable or unique it remains very poignant to me and to his loved ones. Hopefully, some of the readers who remember the time or whose parents or grandparents had similar experiences will value the contribution. Please feel free to comment if you think its appropriate.                                 

Finally, whilst what follows are the genuine memoirs of Ronald Miles, I'm sure he used various reference materials on the subject to help him with dates and place names. If any reader discovers some of their work within please forgive an old soldier who may have used the information to assist his memory and help get a significant lifetime experience down on paper.

Other than edit obvious typos I have presented his memoirs as he wrote them. I have made minimal alterations to his grammar. After all it's Dad's story not mine.


Memoirs - by Ronald Miles

I was born in a small tenement house almost within the shadows of Nottingham Castle. My mother and father were aged 41 and 42 respectively. They had moved to Nottingham about five years previously from a village in Derbyshire. The village was named Somercotes, and it was there that they both were born. My father was Walter Albert Miles, my mother was Catherine Fox. My father was the son of a publican who kept and owned one of the pubs in the village, “the Sun Inn”.Walter and Catherine were married at the ages of 19 and 18 respectively and immediately started a family.

My eldest sister Olive was the first born, then followed in strict succession Eva, Gladys, Leslie, Walter and myself. Between Olive and myself was a span of 22 years.At the age of 37 my father was no longer in the Brewery`s favour and was forced to relinquish the title of licensee. At that stage I believe that my grandfather sold the freehold to the Brewery. It was then that my mother and father set sail for Nottingham.

                         
                                    Nottingham - Market Square 1923

My father quickly found a pub to manage, it was named Colonel Burnaby and was situated on Alfreton Road, Nottingham. He only kept that job for a couple of years. Dismissed for the same reason as before - gambling. It was then that he enlisted in the Army and went to World War 1. He was invalided out from the Army in the middle of 1917 with distinction and left France to return home. I was born the following year.

My brother Leslie, as a young man, I knew very little about except that he joined the Army for a short period. I do remember him coming home after his discharge and putting his kit bag at the side of the piano on which I immediately jumped on. The kit bag (not the piano) It is God`s truth I really remember it. I was maybe six or seven years old.

All my school-days were pretty comfortable with my father earning a decent wage as a carpenter at a rather large furnishing manufacturer about 4 miles outside Nottingham. He became foreman and worked until he became ill. He died at the age of 57. I was 15 at that time.
I was now the sole support to supplement my mother`s pension.

After my father`s death my sister Olive who was an early widow came to live with us with her daughter Iris. Also coming to live with us was Ken who was my sister Eva`s son. Eva had gone to join her husband who was a Sergeant- Major (Army) in India.

When I left school, at the age of 14 I had spent my last 3 years at Trent Bridge Central College, where I had gained admission with a minor scholarship awarded at a Council School. My first real job was working as a "printer`s devil". After eighteen months my boss indentured me as an apprentice compositor.

Three years after Dad died, when I was 18, Eva and her husband returned from India so Ken went back to his rightful home and about the same time Olive got a job as live-in manageress of a cooked-meat shop. It was then that my mother began to feel the pinch, so mother and I went to live at the rear of the shop where Olive worked. The shop was on a very busy thoroughfare called Carlton Road.

Two years later I joined the Army Reserve as a week-end soldier. The regiment I joined was the South Notts Hussars, a regiment of 25-pounder artillery guns. A year later World War II was declared in September 1939, so from a care-free lad-about-town I became Gunner R. Miles 922011.

"TERRITORIAL"

The name "Territorial" was a well-used term in the years just prior to World War Two. A "Territorial" was in fact a part-time member of the Armed Forces of Britain. It was considered an honour to "belong" as there was a constant flow of applicants eager to become a "Week-end Soldier". An added attraction apart from the adventure aspect was the monetary reward. A "Territorial" received an annual bounty based on regular Army rates and for one night of a two-hour duration per week, one Sunday per month, and two weeks annual camp at one of the Army selected sea-side resorts during mid-summer one could expect an annual bounty of around forty pounds. Considering that at that particular period in time an average workman's wage was around one hundred-fifty pounds per year it was tantamount to a boost of 30% in one's income plus a two-week long "holiday".

TERRITORIALS AND LACK OF EQUIPMENT

In 1939 the year after Neville Chamberlain (Britain's Prime Minister) tried (in vain) to appease Adolf Hitler the British Government realised that war was inevitable. Immediately an impetus began to enlarge the Armed Forces of Britain and one arm of this impetus was to make an increase in Territorial units. The city of Nottingham, boasting two Territorial Regiments, benefited from this increase and consequently a reserve Regiment was formed for the "South Notts Hussars Yeomanry".

The First Line "South Notts Hussars" established strength had been steady on a low figure for some years, owing to lack of equipment. A ridiculous figure of 170 men had been declared as full strength but now with a "second line" to draw upon, and more money forthcoming, the establishment figure was naturally anticipated to increase.

Many young men of Nottingham, including myself, had tried in vain to enlist in the "South Notts Hussars" but with that strict establishment of 170 had found acceptance difficult. So it was not surprising that within 48 hours of the announcement of this new "second line" Regiment there was closure of admittance into it. The announcement was made on April second and it was on April 4th, 1939 (one day after my 21st birthday) that I enlisted.

The South Notts Hussars "First Line", in common with other Territorial Regiments, had been labouring during the 1930's under tremendous difficulties. Reaching a satisfactory standard of efficiency had been extremely difficult if not almost impossible, simply because of the miserable pittance allotted by the War Department.

One of the worst examples of inefficiency, unquestionably, was the lack of transport. The allotment of vehicles was one 30cwt. lorry to each Battery for gun-towing and carrying stores to and from training which meant that the men had to find their own way to wherever the drill was performed. The training area was generally at Ramsdale Park which was a matter of six miles from the Nottingham Drill Hall HQ so it was obviously a quite inadequate arrangement.

In 1938 a sum of seventy pounds per year was allowed by the Defence Department. Even this small amount had produced some benefit, indeed it softened the South Notts Hussars transport problem. The first amount received resulted in the purchase of four old 4-cylinder 12 hp Austin open-seaters. They were on sale for twenty pounds each and after a "whip-around" the extra ten pounds was found. Each car was painted dark green and a silver Regimental insignia was emblazoned on the side panels. Most Sunday commuting between the Drill Hall and Ramsdale Park was provided by these four vehicles, so you can see how makeshift the arrangements had been up until 1939.

I was, naturally, not entirely happy to have failed enlistment into the "First line". However, I found some great satisfaction in being accepted into the newly-formed "Second line".
I must make mention of the fact that the young man who stood behind me on enlistment became a life-long friend and together with my wife I visited his home in California in 1989. Fifty years after that enlistment day ! His name - Les Hooker.

As a "Territorial" my first Annual Camp was spent at Bessingby Road, Bridlington in North Yorkshire. With the newly formed 150th RHA I spent a very enjoyable two-week long camp at this pleasant place which was situated on the Yorkshire Coast. It was in the month of August, 1939, only one month before the commencement of World War Two.

Twelve months prior to this Neville Chamberlain had flown back from Munich to report to the nation with his message "there will be peace", and during the intervening months a drastic reorganisation had taken place within the British Army. Thankfully no one had believed Hitler's promise so the powers in Whitehall were at last taking notice. For years the Army had been fettered by the lack of funds and now with the fear of war so apparent, things were actually on the move to prepare for some semblance of a Field Force.

One of the earliest effects of the re-organisation was the translation of all Hussar Regiments into Regiments of Royal Horse Artillery and it was ordered that all RHA Regiments would come under the command of the 1st Cavalry Division. So it was as a unit of the 1st Cavalry that my Regiment had been training at this Bridlington camp.

Our "brand new" Regiment had experienced rigorous training for the two weeks at Bridlington to bring not only its few original Permanent Staff members up to the new standards but more importantly to accommodate and train the new recruits.

The two weeks training was most productive in terms of efficiency standards but was still quite obviously too short a period to have any impact. How unprepared the Regiment was at this early stage can be gauged by the following recorded phone conversation in the course of a Drill Order which took place at Bridlington.

Observation Officer to Signaller: "5 degrees right of Zero Line"
Observation Signaller to the Gun position Signaller: "5 degrees right of this 'ere line"
The message relayed, Gun position Officer to his Signaller: "Check line"
Gun position Signaller: "Officer requests Check line"
Observation Signaller: "The friggin line is alright - it must be your friggin phone"

And so with this comic scenario in existance we went to war.

On Friday 1st September, 1939 Hitler's Armies invaded Poland and a bemused British Army was obliged to enter the conflict by virtue of the treaty signed with that country.

On the morning of September 1st 1939, I went along to my usual occupation as a Printing apprentice. I still had eighteen months to go to complete my apprenticeship. By mid afternoon on that day I became a full-time soldier and was to remain so for six years (all but a few days.) Being a Territorial meant that I was now officially the property of King and Country.

Both the South Notts Hussars and my own Regiment (150 RHA) had responded with the utmost speed to the call for embodiment and it was only a matter of hours before both Regiments were complete.

What transpired in a matter of days was almost unbelievable. An immediate opportunity to gain entry into the First Regiment occurred in that very first week of my call-up.

The anticipated increase to the establishment of the "South Notts Hussars" had materialised and volunteers were called for to transfer from the new Regiment to the "First Line Regiment". Together with my friend Les Hooker, I grasped the opportunity and volunteered. So with the war only seven days old we were "Real Hussars". I could not believe that I was so quickly with the Regiment that I had longed to be part of.

We were billeted for three weeks in a Factory on Derby Road Nottingham, then collecting equipment the Regiment moved to North Yorkshire to a village named Rillington. We took over a large farming estate and were allotted one room per ten men, sleeping on the bare floor with no mattress and only three blankets. However shortly afterwards straw mattresses were provided.

I remember my original "nine mates" quite clearly.

Frank Lawton (a two striper in charge of the room.)
Alby Parker
Clarence Turner (Cheddar)
Bruce Meakin
Alan MacNish
Clifford Lilburn
Les Hooker
Sam Burnett
Harold Petchell
.
Of the above Cliff Lilburn was killed at Knightsbridge, Sam Burnett was killed with Special Forces in Kenya and Harold Petchell died of wounds received at Knightsbridge. Harold died in hospital in Italy four weeks after Knightsbridge. I was in the same hospital, at the same time, at Lucca in Northern Italy.

A couple of incidents stick in my mind with regard to Rillington. One was on my first week-end leave to Nottingham. Three of our "group of ten" were allowed forty-eight hours leave. - Alby, Cheddar and myself.

We joined up with another member of our Regiment when it was time to return. I remember him only as the "sardine-man" (He seemed to be always eating sardines from those small flat tins). A strange young man !

The only way back to camp was by rail from Nottingham to Scarborough and then bus to Rillington. We had overstayed our leave by a few hours which meant we had to catch the last train about 11pm. Arriving in Scarborough in the early hours meant either a walk of about ten miles or a taxi. The trouble was we had no money. The "Sardine man" hatched a plan, he said "If we go in the front gate the guard will report us for "overstaying" and (worse) if we arrive after 6 am we will be charged AWOL so leave it to me. We will go by taxi - as I say - leave it to me."

About a mile or so from home "Sardine" would ask the taxi-driver to stop so that he could relieve himself. When the driver stopped in the pitch black night we were to say "Sure we all need to go''. We would get out and line up at the hedge-row and on "Sardine's" signal we would push through the hedge and make high-tail. We did this and disappeared into the darkness. "Sardine" lead us to the back of the estate where we could see the dim shape of our farm house billet so we squeezed under the wire and hedge and within the hour we were safely "In bed". The guard was positioned only at the main gate frontage so when the taxi driver eventually arrived there the guard would tell him that it must have been others in the area as no one had passed through our gates after midnight. "Sardine's" plan served us very well. Incidentally "the Sardine-man" really did go AWOL shortly after that and very little was heard of him.

The other "incident" that occurred at Rillington was when I was on "Prowler Guard". This involved moving around the grounds of the farm during darkness with rifle at the ready. The order was to challenge any movement asking for the "password".

I was on "two till four" (early morning). There had been some talk of "Ghosts" in the form of three sisters and we had been told by the owner of the farm that it was firmly believed by the locals, for years past, that these "Ghosts" really roamed the area surrounding the farm.

So here I was, maybe a hundred metres from the farm buildings near to a few trees when I saw this vision of "white". - "Who goes there?" I yelled.

No answer - again I challenged, "Step forward and be recognised" I now yelled, even louder.

Still no answer so I fired a shot into the air. One minute later the Guard Commander was at my elbow with another guard. To cover up my embarrassment I said, "Serjeant - I heard movement -challenged and received no answer."

The three of us moved forward into the darkness and a couple of minutes later we were confronted by two cows with white markings. I cannot recall the exact verbal reaction of my Guard Commander but I am sure that it was far from being of the complimentary nature. Of course the other fellow whom the Serjeant had brought along took a certain amount of satisfaction in telling the story to all and sundry at breakfast time.

November to January were very dismal days. We had moved from Rillington to Wragby in Lincolnshire and each day was Drill Order after Drill Order and we were all eager to be doing something worthwhile. At last on 18th January 1940 we came under Movement Orders. We were in convoy but we had no idea where we were heading for. It soon became apparent to all and sundry that we were approaching the south coast so all conversation now centred on France.

Our convoy reached Southampton. All trucks and equipment were loaded on board the Transport Ship "Maid of Orleans" and we quickly learned that our destination was Cherbourg.

                        
                                       Troopship - Maid of Orleans

Once off-loaded at Cherbourg - surprise! The Regiment was entrained bound for Marseilles. What was going on?

The journey took two long days and arriving at Marseilles we joined up with three other Regiments and boarded a large Troopship named "The Dorsetshire". Still no indication of our final destination.

Marseilles is France's biggest shipping port and at that time would have had a population of around 750,000. Whatever the percentage of population happened to be in the oldest profession in the world gathered around our train as we sat in the rail siding awaiting embarkation. Most of the girls went back to their usual hours of business in the city with quite a large increase in their daily wages.

 PLAY VIDEO - CLICK LINK. NOTE - The video has no sound.
 http://www.britishpathe.com/video/southampton/query/Dorsetshire

Within hours we were sailing and for nine days in the Mediterranean, with a full escort of British Naval Destroyers, we dodged the reported presence of Nazi U-Boats and finally arrived at the port of Haifa in Palestine (Israel) on January 29th.


                                                  Troopship - The Dorsetshire

One amusing incident that I recall in that voyage occurred as we were all lined up at the Boat Stations for a full scale "Alert". We were awaiting the arrival of the Officer Commanding for his inspection. Captain Shakespear who was "B Troop" Commander was waiting at the head of his Troop adjacent to one of the ship's gangways. He said in a loud voice, "It's like bloody ferreting, you just don't know which bloody hole the blighter will pop out of." He turned his head to find the Officer Commanding at his elbow.

We went ashore at Haifa and found accommodation at the Coldstream Guards camp at Sarafand. In a matter of days the Regiment had its second injection of "new blood" as a large number of National Servicemen, who had travelled in our wake, joined our ranks. They turned out to be first-class soldiers so we were extremely fortunate.

Whilst at Sarafand we came under the command of the Coldstream Guards on a full course of "Discipline at War Stations". It was sheer hell for two solid weeks - it was almost a crime to breath !

Our stay at Sarafand was destined to be just temporary so in a matter of days we moved to Gedera. Here our morale picked up a little. We started Desert Training and in the afternoons we played cricket on the "village" green. We even played a scratch Arab team. (I can't remember - maybe they beat us.)

After about a month we moved to a delightful camp at the Jewish town of Hadera.

Hadera was truly a wonderful place. It had a beautiful beach, suitable for swimming, and beach-side cafes which sold unbelievable ice-cream. Alby, Cheddar and myself had ice-cream running out of our ears. Hadera also had a good Soccer pitch and the neighbouring Regiments would drive over for competition. The South Notts did well in this regard as we had among our ranks two ex-Notts County players.

It was whilst we were stationed at Hadera that Divisional HQ decided to send us on a full-blooded firing exercise, full-blooded to the extent of using live ammunition. The exercise proved to be successful but the location was quite dreadful. On the map it showed as Bir Asluj and was way out in the Sinai about 80 miles south of Gaza. A huge expanse of sandy desert (as against rocky Western Desert) and had a regular frequency of dust storms with a constant temperature of 95 degrees. The only sign of habitation was a line of about three low buildings with barred windows. They apparently were a depot for the Palestine Camel Corps and smelt like it.

During our brief exercise at Bir Asluj we had a first-hand encounter with the nonchalant behaviour of the Aussie Diggers. An Australian Field Regiment was camped alongside our position and we got on quite well with them. The two Regiments combined for a Church Service which was detailed to be held at 7.30 on the Sunday morning. The South Notts were there on time but there was no sign of any Aussies. An hour later, Lo ! and behold, the Aussies came at the double. They had been told that at the end of the Service there would be a call for volunteers for fighting in France.

After a week or so of intensive training we returned to Hadera. It was the middle of May and almost co-incidental to our return came the news that Italy had entered the war which meant that we were now in a war zone. Within hours we were ordered to come up to fighting trim and be prepared to move at a moments notice.

On the heels of this news came further news that Italian Forces had massed on the Libya-Egypt border near Capuzzo. This meant that we had to make post haste for Mersa Matruh on the Egyptian northern coast. Once again we entered the Sinai but this time we crossed it completely to Kantara East on the Suez Canal. We entrained at Kantara West (over the canal) where we were pleased to learn that the furthest railhead was only a few miles from our destination. So we had a somewhat relaxing journey to our first active service station Mersa Matruh which had been considered for some time to be the ideal front line defence of Egypt.

The journey west started in mid-afternoon and soon the excitement began. The stationmaster at an out-of-the-way station named Rehovot had apparently forgotten that a train was due and had left his wife in charge. The outcome was that two trains going in opposite directions, one being ours, pulled up sharply only thirty metres apart. The other train contained Italian Embassy staff returning to Italy via Turkey.

When things were finally sorted out the two trains crept past each other rather slowly to the tune of boos and catcalls. This suddenly changed when one carriage containing Italian female staff drifted past. A few indelicate suggestions floated on the air. A few naked backsides faced the Italian train but unfortunately the ladies didn't return the compliment.
We also had further cause for interest when it was later discovered that an Arab newsvendor had stowed away on our train. For some time he had been under suspicion for "spying". He was duly dealt with.

MERSA MATRUH

                          

Before World War II Mersa Matruh on the Egyptian coast was regarded as a holiday resort for the rich and famous. The most notable feature being the oval-shaped Lagoon in which Cleopatra was reputed to have regularly bathed. It had a tiny harbour close to the town and in 1940 the town itself was clean looking and boasted a magnificent hotel - The Lido.

                         
                                                           Mersa Matruh 1941

The peace-time British Garrison (part of the Seventh Armoured Division) was housed about six miles south of the town and when deployed threw out a defence covering about a ten mile perimeter. The South Notts Hussars became part of this defence in May of 1940 in readiness for the predicted Italian Offensive.

Settled into the one-year old fortifications the South Notts soon learned that the Italians had three Divisions in the field, each one with a notable General at the head. General Bertoli, General Gallini and General Pascatovi. Quite a line-up ! (on paper at least).

With their superior numbers and better equipment they virtually had us at their mercy. For about five months we waited for the onslaught - but none ever came. I believe there was actually one small probing attack in the region of Sidi Barrani but when a squadron of four British tanks were spotted the Italian Force withdrew.

During this period of time Alby Parker and I and two others (names forgotten) were granted ten days leave to the Delta. One of the others I remember simply as "Bert". (I also recall that he lost an arm at Knightsbridge. I saw him shortly after the war back home in Nottingham.) The previous groups of leave-takers had opted for Cairo so there were quite a few raised eyebrows when we requested leave in Alexandria. It was granted and we found that we had started a trend. Others followed in preference to Cairo. Alby Parker and I from that time became the best of friends.

Some few weeks after our return, still with no movement from the Italians, General Wavell decided to take matters into his own hands. He ordered a British offensive.

Early November was the time set by Wavell to attack Sidi Barrani. A few miles south east of Sidi Barrani was the major part of Bertoli's Division encamped at Maktila. Wavell knew that if he could contain this camp at the time of his attack on Sidi Barrani he had every reason to believe victory would be his.

A little time had passed since my return from leave. Things were quiet at the frontier. Still waiting ! Still boring ! Then suddenly whilst reading "Orders for the day" I discovered that a list was posted of twenty-six names to be part of a new Battery. My name was on the list!

I approached my section officer, Lieut. Pringle and asked for further information. He said, "Don't worry Miles, It is only temporary." He said no more.

Two days later fifty-two men (26 from each of two Batteries) assembled at a small Arab village named Rakham. There we met with our new Commander, Major Daniell (regular soldier). He said, "In three days time we are to be ready to move with one real gun and eight dummies." Seeing the amusement written on our faces he added, "This is not a joke - I mean it." he turned, " Serjeants, get your men together and start work on those packing cases." He pointed.

All eyes turned. True enough there sat three or four large packing cases full with lengths of timber and wooden wheels. When we moved out of Rakham three days later our trucks towed one real gun and eight dummies.

Thirty hours later we took position, under cover of darkness, just below the crest of a rise. The real gun was about 150 metres to our rear. To our front about a mile away was Maktila Camp. Most of its personnel soundly at sleep. At dawn our one gun opened up with 25-pound high explosive, fired a few quick rounds - moved its position and fired a few more and moved again. This pattern was repeated a few times. Simultaneous to these bursts of fire we went through the motions of manning the dummy guns and exploding cordite, almost like firecrackers. This continued for some thirty-minutes then from our rear, as we stopped our one gun "Barrage", came the 4th Indian Brigade and the Coldstream Guards mounted in 15cwt Trucks. Once through our lines they commenced firing their Bren Guns. The whole Camp at Maktila surrendered with white flags evident everywhere.

The English newspapers next day headline read "DUMMY BATTERY'S REMARKABLE FEAT" and the lead-in read, "58 men (six Officers) pave way for Coldstream Guards to overrun and capture entire Italian Camp."

Wavell's campaign at Sidi Barrani was a complete success and what was left of the Italian Army was in full retreat. At the end of this campaign all three of the afore-mentioned Italian Generals were Prisoners-of-War.

The newly formed "Dummy Battery" was disbanded and we were all extremely happy to return to Mersa Matruh and to re-assume our correct places within our own Battery.

Shortly after the "Dummy Battery" excursion the Regiment left Mersa Matruh but before this narrative on Mersa concludes I would like to quote one rather amusing episode. Once again involving our friend Captain Shakespear. There had been a high-level bombing attack on our positions by Italian Savoia Bombers. Captain Shakespear had been ordered to organise the repair of a rather large crater in the roadway between our position and the Lido Hotel. He was surveying the damage in company with Staff Serjeant Smith one of our oldest NCOs. As they looked deep into the hole a rather hefty Coldstream Guard Officer walked up to them. He offered to send some Guardsmen to help fill the hole.

I quote Staff Serjeant Smith (with certain moderation), "If the 'frigin' South Notts Hussars can't fill that 'frigin' hole without help from the 'frigin' Guards, well it's about time we all 'frigged' off back to Nottingham."
The Guards Officer, quite unabashed, turned to Captain Shakespear and said, "This NCO appears to understand the situation. Of that I am quite sure."

SUEZ CANAL

The South Notts Hussars left Mersa Matruh in early January 1941 and headed for the Delta. We stayed overnight at Moascar and the next day we travelled to an Army Depot between Ismailia and Cairo. It was named Tahag. After a few days we left all our equipment there and moved to an area close to Port Tewfik at the southern end of the Suez Canal. We had no idea what we were intended for so the task we were given at our assembly point was a complete surprise even though not unpleasant.

              Ron Miles (on the right) with a comrade (name unknown) at Ismailia, Egypt 1942

Headquarters, in their wisdom, had decided we needed a rest from the Desert so they put us to work detecting the location of shipping mines which were being dropped by enemy aircraft into the Suez Canal during darkness.

On the banks of the Canal had been dug out a series of pits about six feet deep and about ten feet across. These "holes" extended for about twenty miles along the Canal bank at intervals of about one thousand yards. Circular in shape they had a post coming up from the centre bottom and on top of this post was an indicator arm about four feet in length. Where the arm fitted on the top of the post was a wing-nut screw allowing the arm to pivot.

The mines the enemy were dropping were floated down on miniature parachutes which sank with the mine. So our job was to mark where the mine landed in the water and "lock" the pivoting arm in that position. The following day the Royal Navy's Disposal team would sail up the Canal and each pit that had observed a mine would signal the fact. The Navy team would then plot the various markings and dive for the mines and defuse same. Those guys certainly earned their money.

We were four men to a pit and we manned the pit from 6PM to 6AM the following morning. It meant a six hour shift for two men at a time. "Early Shift" and "Late Shift" which we nightly alternated.

We more or less had the whole day to ourselves so anyone who had the necessary finance could disappear on the earliest truck heading for either Port Suez or Port Tewfik, both were at the mouth to the Red Sea, a matter of twenty miles away. We did not have to be back until 5PM so in contrast to the six months in the Desert and the firing Camp at Bir Asluj this was a treat.

                                                          
One incident I would like to relate happened whilst myself and partner were "doing" the last watch before dawn. Everyone had woken up to the fact that the enemy aircraft, which were coming from Rhodes Island, did not relish having to still be over Egyptian Territory in daylight because of interception by British Fighters. So naturally their operation of "Mine placing" was confined to the hours of darkness.

As the first traces of dawn appeared in the sky and 6AM still some half-hour away my partner and I dozed off. Imagine our horror when the Serjeant interrupted our dreams with a bellow and we were greeted with the vision of the Orderly Officer standing alongside. Needless to say we were charged and had a small "rest" in the slammer. That incident cost me my first stripe.

The Regiment finally were removed from this boring duty and of course no one at that time could visualise what possible good the Regiment was doing but it was announced later that the quarter million tonnes of shipping had got through the Canal because of the system employed. We then naturally felt good about things.

After we were relieved of that duty we went back to Tahag. A few days there saw us move yet again, this time to the Bitter Lakes and this time with our equipment. Here we began a program of beach landing and invasion tactics so now speculation was rampant.

Realising that his men were entitled to know what was going on, Lieut-Colonel Seely our Commanding Officer issued a statement to the effect that we were preparing for a landing in conjunction with the Royal Navy "somewhere in the Mediterranean".

Excitement was at a peak for sometime. It soon subsided because day after day we would wade knee deep in water charging towards the salt beach from the various landing craft and hauling our equipment behind us. We were all cheesed -off !

Finally an unexpected relief ! It was my birthday April 3. On that important day the planned invasion of Rhodes was called off.

General Erwin Rommel was in the Desert with his Afrika Korps !!

TOBRUK

The immediate orders were for the Regiment to bring itself up to full fighting strength. New equipment poured into Tahag and we threw all our previous equipment to one side. Other units in the Division were ordered to give us the best of everything.

Colonel Seely set off that day to contact the Commander of the 18th Australian Infantry "somewhere out there". Rommel's first attack was under way and he had already taken Agedabia with the Aussies in retreat. The 9th Australian Brigade was believed to be in and around Tobruk.

The South Notts set off from Tahag on the morning of 5th April on the first stage of a 700 mile journey to Tobruk. First night Mena, second night Bahie, third night to Qasaba then it was full speed to Sidi Barrani.

On that fourth day we had passed through a deserted Mersa Matruh. What a different feeling from the memories of six months back. Then we were apprehensive at the most. Now the situation seemed desperate

That night came news that Benghazi had been evacuated and that all Aussie Forces were falling back to Tobruk.

As we passed through Buq Buq our convoy slowed down to let an RAF convoy through. It was going back the way we had come. I realised that we were now "in the thick of things". As one open vehicle stopped briefly near our truck I heard an RAF officer yell, "Good Luck through "Hell Fire"(Halfeyer) - "You'll need it" he yelled as he moved off.

As we approached Halfeyer we could see ahead of us the infamous Pass climbing to the plateau, on which stood the most eastern Libyan fortress of Capuzzo (now unoccupied). The Pass had been bombed to saturation for most of that day. Plastered by Stuka (dive) bombers.

With still ten miles to go to the Pass we scattered off the road as planned, with at least fifty metres between trucks. During this time petrol stocks were replenished. The Service Corps had a depot at Buq Buq and had placed jerry cans fifty metres apart at this designated spot.

We waited for nightfall. Tobruk was one hundred miles away. Around dusk we were bombed by two Stukas who had broken away from the day's final enemy attack on the Pass, but being well scattered not much damage was done. At nightfall we reassembled on the road once again and prepared for our dash through Halfeyer.

It was full speed into the dark night which already enveloped the winding Pass. Once at the top we assembled at Capuzzo where we received our final orders. "Tobruk before dawn. It is 80 miles - there is only the one road you can't get lost - no lights and every truck and gun for itself - no stopping to assist."

I was on the Signals Truck. It was a one ton truck (covered). Our senior signaller NCO, Serjeant Jack Gore gave the order and we were off. We followed the shape of the bouncing 25 pounder gun which happened to be our immediate front companion. We made sure we never lost complete sight of it (for obvious protection reasons) and we made the Tobruk area without mishap with darkness to spare.

All trucks and guns were met at the "East Gate" by Colonel Seely together with a couple of officers of the Australian Engineers. The "East Gate" was simply an opening in the defensive mine-field shrouded in rolls of barbed-wire. The detachment of Aussie Sappers (there for that reason) lead each truck and gun through the twenty metre-wide mine field and by the first light of day The South Notts Hussars were all intact and within the Fortress.

One gun and one headquarters vehicle had experienced some degree of difficulty but neither had failed to make the journey. One other truck broke down not long after leaving Capuzzo and was known to be back at Sidi Barrani. Its crew was safely recovered by a following maintenance truck so it is safe to claim that all South Notts Hussars answered the Roll Call on the first day inside the Fortress.

Before I move on to happenings in Tobruk I will loosely quote from an article which apparently appeared in a German Military magazine. I quote (to some extent) :

At dawn on the 10th April, the 21st Panzer, under the command of General von Thoma, completed the investment of Tobruk. His Division had almost completed the encirclement of the perimeter earlier the previous evening but fierce resistance from inside the Fortress caused the General to temporarily withdraw his Armour. Around midnight he again took the initiative only to stop short of his objective which was the coast road. His reconnaissance had observed motorised movement from the east heading for Tobruk. In his wisdom he withdrew his forces from the region of the Bardia - Capuzzo Road as British Forces were still entering the Fortress. General von Thoma knew well that once inside the perimeter the British Forces were virtually his prisoners with their only line of communication being from the sea.

The Siege of Tobruk had begun.

The section of the twenty-mile perimeter that The South Notts were immediately posted to was to the south east. Our sector was probably two to three miles in length. Most of the perimeter of Tobruk was heavily fortified with a thirty-foot anti-tank ditch beyond the wire and concrete boxes inside the wire. I must point out that the South Notts Hussars were one of six Regiments of Artillery now in Tobruk so in effect had close to twenty per cent of the perimeter to defend together with Australian Infantry. Our sector was code-named "Piltdown" (map showed it as Palestrino) and faced the El Adam Road.

The Italians had prepared these fortifications over the previous two years and they were extremely good. The concrete boxes were totally enclosed with weapon apertures facing the wire. The roofs were reinforced to withstand medium shell-fire. They were spaced I would guess perhaps two hundred meters apart. In between, and connecting, were Infantry trenches which were sand-bagged.



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The 107 RHA was seconded to the Australian 18th Infantry Brigade at Tobruk.

As I have said the Australians manned these front line positions. However each concrete box had a South Notts observation Officer for directing Gun fire on to any given attack. This Officer had a Signaller for his own particular Fire Orders which were relayed by land-line phone (because of Radio Silence) and this land-line was reeled out by truck back to the Guns, which were positioned about a mile to the rear. The line had to be reeled out and maintained by three other signallers plus a driver in a 15cwt truck. As you can imagine, during an attack the land-line could be broken at any time by enemy gunfire and when this contingency occurred it was then that the maintenance had to be quickly attended to.
This task was performed around "Piltdown" in the early part by Bruce (Nifty) Meakin, Alby (Nosey) Parker, Al Redfern (Square Deal) who was the driver, and myself. We formed a team which lasted throughout the siege. "Nifty", "Nosey", "Square Deal" and "Paddy". I should mention at this stage that in the event of the land line being "out" during an emergency then the Observation Officer would break Radio Silence and have no alternative but to use his wireless equipment.


                           Tobruk under attack from the air - painting by Jim Laurier            

On 12th April the Panzers attacked on all fronts along the twenty-mile perimeter but made no lasting penetration. The South Notts were in action for about eight hours. Shortly after this initial excursion into tank warfare we were joined by a newly arrived Artillery Regiment, the 1st RHA. They had arrived by courtesy of the Royal Navy which had a stranglehold on the Mediterranean. It was nice to know that our back door was still open

The South Notts were full of confidence now but the Australians, by contrast, were not so happy. They were still expected to cope with the tanks with their rifles and mortars.

A few days after this addition to our strength fifty Panzers were seen heading our way line-abreast. For three hours both Regiments engaged them and they quickly withdrew leaving eight of their tanks damaged in the "no man's land" battle area. However at dusk they recovered five of the eight.

During that particular battle a land-line repair job was necessary. The four of us had taken refuge in an old Italian gun-pit as there was a Stuka dive bomber attack in progress in conjunction with the tank attack. After the raid was over (only a matter of minutes) we finished the repair and returned to the old gun-pit. We had seen an old primus stove lying there and the battle seemed over. We had a packet of tea and water on board the truck - What else but a mug of tea ? Within five minutes "Square Deal"* was back in his truck, I was in the back, and we were heading for Tobruk (military base) Hospital. The primus had blown up as I was pumping it into action ! I suffered burns to hands and face. Luckily I was wearing Desert Goggles so my eyes were spared. I spent over a week in that Hospital and as the ward I was in was run by the Aussies I ate the same tucker as they did. Much superior to ours. In a way it was worth it !

* Let me explain that the nick-name "Square Deal" came from the fact that Redfern worked for the Railways before the war and the current slogan in 1939 was "Give the Railways a Square Deal"
From early May until October the action around the perimeter was very slight because Rommel had moved most of his Armour away from Tobruk and had concentrated on the Egyptian frontier where he was being held at Capuzzo by the British Seventh Armoured Division (part of 30 Corps) under General Auckinlech. The two remaining German Armoured Brigades were used as a "backbone" to two complete Italian Divisions brought up for the "containment". Therefore for many weeks it was rather quiet and life became very boring.

During the month of August the most notable thing from a South Notts point of view was the separation from the 1st RHA. It had been decided to deploy them as a separate unit so we parted company. We were sorry to see them move out from "Piltdown".

September saw a large number of the Australians taken out by ship en route for fresh fighting in Greece. They were replaced by an extremely good Polish Brigade.


Tobruk - September 1941

About the middle of October, when the perimeter was strangely quiet, British Troops started to arrive in good strength and with their coming the remainder of the Australians were taken out by sea.

From then until 17th November things were still ominously quiet then, without being spoken about, the British Forces at the Frontier began an attack. We now sat up expectantly.

For three days all went well. The Germans in fact were taken completely by surprise. They were themselves, coincidentally at that time, contemplating an all-out attack on Tobruk scheduled for the 23rd November.

The British offensive found difficulties. The British 30 Corps fell on the defensive against a large German Armoured counter-attack at Sidi Rezegh and lost at least 50 tanks. On the 22nd November our hopes were temporarily dashed when we heard that 30 Corps had been forced to withdraw back to the Frontier. However all was not lost !

British 13 Corps, which included a New Zealand Division, were fighting magnificently. Pushing west from their sector of the frontier they recaptured Sidi Rezegh. 30 Corps once again joined the action. As the two British Corps pushed further west the British Division inside Tobruk, to which we now belonged, pushed out from the Fortress. No longer were we on the defensive !

The South Notts Hussars moved up to the El Adam road in support of the 2nd Black Watch Infantry and in doing so cut off the main route for any German retreat. At this point we joined up with the New Zealand Division. What a feeling - we were no longer besieged !

Our command of the El Adam Road meant that the German Armour had to use the open Desert for most of their movement, and now were falling back quite rapidly, or at least as fast as the Desert would allow.

After eight dreadful months in Tobruk I really enjoyed our new role. Believe it or not but during that break-out not once did our truck become involved in any serious incident.

Finally on 7th December Rommel began to lose his grip on the situation and ordered his entire force to fall back towards Gazala and eventually Agheila and so the siege of Tobruk had ended.

* A note of respect for the Germans : Four weeks after Rommel "dug-in" at Agheila a Regiment of German Commandos finally surrendered at Halfeya Pass after holding out from 17th November to 17th January, exactly two months.

The Garrison Commander at Tobruk, Australian Lieut-General L.J Morshead left Tobruk in October 1941 together with most of the Australian forces that had been besieged there. Before he departed he penned the following letter to Lieut-Colonel Seely, our Commanding Officer of the South Notts Hussars -

"Some six months ago the fortunes of war associated the 9th Australian Division and the 107th Regiment (South Notts Hussars R.H.A) Together we have overcome many difficulties and facing up to great odds have defied an exultant enemy and denied to him the facilities and furtherance of his campaign.

The 9th Australian Division now moves on to fresh tasks in another sphere, involving our separation. This will not be easy. we were honoured on your joining us. We have grown to regard you - the first artillery to support us - as our very own. We could never wish to be better served and we shall always remember.

Throughout our service in Tobruk we have admired your high standard of technical efficiency; the ever vigilant observation posts; the ready response of your guns; the ease of co-operation with you.

We all realise what it means for guns to be continually in action day and night in all conditions and without respite. You have given of your best. It has been magnificent and worthy of the traditions of your famous Regiment.

Would you therefore convey to all ranks of your command this expression of our deep regard and gratitude. Tell them that in all sincerity we are sad to leave. We look with every confidence to the future, and trust that it may be our privilege to serve together again."

So much for Tobruk but before I move on I will endeavour to explain the rationing of food and water that was implemented during the siege but first let us digest a few facts:- Features included heat, flies, water shortage, boredom, monotony of diet and perhaps above all claustrophobia.Rationing and water supply within Fortress Tobruk

All food had to be brought in daily by the Royal Navy from down the coast. In the main they used Gun Boats towing lighter barges. In the event of an extreme bombing raid they would release their barges and retreat from the situation hoping that the barges would drift to the right destination. (The Germans had one or two free feeds).

The Gun Boats would collect their loaded barges from further down the coast, east of the Frontier. Sometimes even as far as Alexandria. This was performed at great expense to the Navy owing to Stuka bombing. However for the entire eight months of the siege we never really went without food.

Our diet was mainly bully beef, hard biscuits, jam, tea, coffee, cheese and occasionally fresh vegetables (maybe twice per week). The hard biscuits were mixed with the bully beef, tins of carrots and peas were sparsely added and a stodgy type of stew ensued. The biscuits were issued with the jam and cheese and this was our breakfast and lunch.

Water was drawn by motorised tanker from the local wells. There would have been many fresh water wells in and around Tobruk because it was a fairly big town. Unfortunately the Italians prior to their withdrawal had poisoned quite a few, even to the extent of throwing their dead comrades down into the depths.

The tankers would visit each unit, each day, and half a gallon per man was issued in total. Two pints to the cookhouse and two pints to the individual. From the two pint cookhouse ration one would get two mugs of tea or coffee per day at breakfast and lunch, the remainder would be one's contribution to the daily stew at the end of the day. Out of the individual two pints each man was expected to keep clean and replenish his water bottle. After a while we became quite used to it but the early days seemed like hell on earth. However with a little help from above we survived.

We will leave Tobruk on a lighter note. A few days after the beginning of the siege our Observation party at position R32 heard a frightening explosion behind their position. Investigation showed it was high explosive fired from four ancient Italian Field Guns positioned in "friendly territory" some distance to the party's rear. The Aussies had found the guns in a deserted gunpit and were eager to try them out. With the guns was a variety of ammunition and each time our own SNH guns fired, which were close by, the Aussies joined in. These old Italian guns had no sights or range gear so it was just plain luck or misfortune where the shells landed.

It appeared that one type of shell, a vicious type with a red fuse cap, always exploded in an area very close to our Observation Post. We politely asked the Aussies not to use that particular projectile if they wouldn't mind. They obliged.

RECREATIONAL LEAVE AND TRAINING TO BE A GUN LAYER

We had moved back to the bright lights and creature comforts of Cairo and Alexandria and were in great spirits. As a Depot camp Tahag had some advantages. It was within most convenient distance of Cairo and not a great distance from Alexandria. To either of these cities almost every man was despatched for a week's leave in January and for the few left behind Tahag offered good accommodation and such luxuries as fresh meat and vegetables which had been in little or no supply in the Fortress.

It was whilst the Regiment was at Tahag that I took my course as a prospective gun-layer. I was most pleased to find that I had passed and had been posted to my own 425 Battery as second-in command to Serjeant John Walker who was an E Troop Number-one. What also pleased me was that my new posting did not affect my friendship with Alby. If I had been posted elsewhere I feel sure that the friendship would have suffered. Alby was at this time a two-stripe signaller with 425 Battery

Shortly after my new posting Alby and I went once again to Alexandria for a week's leave. We were invited to join the Fleet Club in Alexandria by a couple of British Naval Petty-Officers we had met. They made us honorary members and we had the times of our life during that particular week and quickly re-established our friendship with two Turkish young ladies whom we had met in September 1940 whilst on leave from Mersa Matruh.

At the end of January the Regiment once more became a fighting unit by virtue of drawing sixteen beautifully new 25 pounder guns. Training was resumed and early in February the Regiment moved to Sidi Bishr, on the coast near Alexandria. Once there I felt quite proud to be a Gun-Layer as we were now part of the renowned 22nd Armoured Brigade.

Let me paint some sort of a picture of the camp Sidi Bishr itself because without doubt it was certainly our best camp yet.

It was not a large camp so one could say that it gave everyone some sort of "belonging". It was quite sandy and was surrounded by palm trees. It had a stream-fed type of lake adjacent which together with the palm trees gave much relief from the heat of the day. We were housed in bell-tents, four men to a tent and there were no accommodation complaints - plenty of room. Whilst there we had a generous system of leave and Alexandria and our friends were only a tram ride away.

The girl I had considered to be my particular friend had an Aunt who lived at Abou-kir Bay which was only five miles from Sidi Bishr. Quite naturally she invited myself and Alby to spend a couple of days at her Aunt's place which turned out to be some sort of boarding house. We applied for forty-eight hours leave and were overjoyed to find that it was granted.

*Abou-kir Bay is mentioned historically as a major Naval engagement between the French Fleet and the Fleet of Admiral Nelson.

Alas ! on March 24th we were ordered to move to Beni Yusef, a camp in open desert near to Cairo.

An important change to the South Notts Hussars. - It was at Beni Yusef that a third Battery was formed and eight more new 25 pounder guns were received. Up until then the SNH Regiment had been simply Batteries 425 and 426. Now we had this third Battery officially named "520" which was made possible by an intake of reinforcements from the UK. The Regiment's strength was now in excess of 500 other ranks and 35 Officers.
.
At this stage I would explain a rather sad farewell to my girl friend. On my last day in Alexandria at the time I was about to board the truck back to Sidi Bishr my friend slid an envelope into my top pocket. Later I discovered it contained the money (plus a little more) that we had paid her for the two days we had boarded with her Aunt.

Some days later whilst at Beni Yusef I received a letter from my friend asking me to write to her and because the postmark showed Egypt (not England) it was opened by the Regimental Security Officer. His duty was to show it to my Commanding Officer so I was ordered to discontinue the association.

So ended a very enjoyable period of unexpected friendship. I had known her for some time - sixteen months separated the two periods of leave during which I had her company - our first meeting was at a Cabaret where she was a member of a dancing group. The second time was on my leave from Tahag and then of course I saw her quite regularly during our stay at Sidi Bishr. However that was the end of a very enjoyable companionship.

At Beni Yusef all training was now directed towards perfecting what was labelled "Mobile Operation". In simple terms we were told that in any mobile action where enemy tanks were expected then our 25 pounders were to be used as decoys for those enemy tanks. It was hoped our own tanks would appear and engage themselves in the proceedings. So much for being part of the elite 22nd Armoured !

Our Commanding Officer protested strongly about this idea and was successful in getting the plan modified. His theory was that any slight miscalculation in tank movement would lead to the guns being overrun. This is exactly what happened at Knightsbridge, as you will see.

The Colonel's modification, which was accepted by the Brigadier, was for the Brigade to move in a triangular formation with two tanks out front making the apex, the 25 pounders at the sides and the main body of tanks pivoting from the rear at the dictation of the Armoured point.

After a couple of weeks of training in this mode we became expert, os so we thought, and it seemed obvious that the Regiment was now ready for the Desert once again.

Movement Orders were received and on 21st April the Regiment moved out of Beni Yusef and travelled along that "never ending" road to Sidi Barrani once again. Up and through Halfeya Pass once again and finally we joined up with the remainder of the 22nd Armoured Brigade once on the Plateau above the Pass. The place was Fort Cappuzzo, the date was 25th April.

For four weeks we experienced rigorous training with our four companion Armoured Regiments - the 3rd County of London, the 4th County of London, the 2nd Gloucester Hussars and the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers. Quite an impressive array.

On 30th April the Duke of Gloucester visited his own Regiment and their was some measure of bull-dust flying around for a few hours. Not long afterwards we were visited by the King of Greece so it was obvious to all and sundry that something was in the wind.

                                                A desert convoy on its way to the front, May 1942

It was generally appreciated that the enemy was about to launch a large scale offensive in late May, in fact "intelligence" were pretty certain, but the majority of the top "brass" thought that we would be in a position to strike first. We formed up into our "triangle" attacking formation in a large saucer-like depression which was later referred to as the "Cauldron", and waited for the order to move forward.
Both 425 and 426 Batteries were in the Cauldron forming two sides of the triangle. We naturally faced the western end from which the Panzer attack was anticipated. Our new 520 Battery were about six miles to the south of the Cauldron in order to protect our southern flank.

We waited for two long days which put us at a complete disadvantage. Why? - there was no explanation. We were resigned for a third day when suddenly Rommel's Afrika Korps hit to the south. His target ? - Our newly formed Battery - 520.



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JUNE 1942
THE STRENGTH OF THE REGIMENT AT KNIGHTSBRIDGE




The Regiment consisted of Six Troops and all Six Troops were identical in as much as each Troop was made up with FOUR 25 pounder guns making a Regimental gun strength of TWENTY-FOUR guns capable of firing 25 pound shells at the rate of six per minute.

* * *

EACH GUN had a team of FIVE men, being three main Gunners, one Limber Gunner (Ammunition) and a Truck Driver Gunner (for towing the Gun and carrying the gun crew).

* * *

The Gunner in charge of each gun was known as Number one, he was a Serjeant.
The Gun layer {in the seat} usually carried two stripes and was second-in-command of the gun..
The Limber Gunner was usually a one-striper and was responsible for loading the gun.
Remaining, was one spare Gunner and the Truck Driver.
This made a full Troop (4 Guns) "firing detail" total of 20 gunners.
Add to this total a Troop Commander (usually a Captain), a Gun Position Officer (usually a Lieutenant) and his assistant, (usually a Lance-Serjeant), a Radio-Operator and of course the Troop Serjeant-Major. This made a total of 25 to complete the Troop's sharp-end.
In addition to this sharp-end detail were approximately 30 men PER TROOP engaged in "non-firing" tasks. Amongst these were Signallers, Drivers, Maintenance (Ordnance), Medics, and others. Under emergency conditions they were expected to take their place on the guns when necessary. They were trained in this regard. When in action this group remained in a rear-echelon position, away from the guns.

FULL TROOP strength was therefore around fifty-five.

Two troops formed a BATTERY and were commanded by a Major who had on his personal staff a Battery Captain, Command Post Officers (two Lieutenants), Battery Serjeant Major, Signals Serjeant, a Battery clerk, Officer's Batmen and a Serjeant Gun-fitter with his team of Ordnance specialists. Add this number to the total of one hundred and ten Troopers (two Troops) and you have a Battery strength of almost one hundred and thirty.

* * *
Three Batteries formed our Regiment (Six Troops), which had an overall Commander (Colonel) with an HQ of a further ten Officers and fifty men. A Four hundred and fifty strong Regiment resulted.

THE LAYING OF A 25 POUNDER GUN



After the nine months of Tobruk, which I served as a Troop Radio Operator, I applied for a course in Gun Laying. So a few days after our return to the Nile Delta at Christmas 1941 my application was accepted and I had a two-week course and qualified. I was made Layer and posted second-in-command to one of the four guns comprising "E" Troop (425 Battery). Serjeant John Walker was the Number One. This was my capacity up until the Regiment's demise at Knightsbridge.

To "Lay" a 25-pounder gun was no simple task. Firstly the Observation Officer would select a Map Reference somewhere within his considered target area. He would then relay by phone to the Gun Position (quite some distance to his rear) a compass bearing relating to the selected Map Reference. The Troop's guns would then be positioned and trained upon this compass bearing. That bearing would then be called "Zero Line". On each gun the Gun Layer would then (looking through his telescopic sights reversed) turn his sights (360 degrees capability) to Zero and then signal to his Limber Gunner to place a flagged steel marker into the ground some metres behind the gun in line with his sights cross line bearing. Now both his gun and his sights were on Zero.

When this was done the Observation Officer (still by phone) would order two rounds of gun fire at each of two calulated gun elevations. The first two rounds to hit beyond the target area (hopefully) and the second two short of the target area. Most times this would produce maybe a hundred metre bracket in which lay his "Bulls-Eye". Once he had produced this effect by trial and error correction he then knew he had the angle of sight and the range within his keeping.

Hoping that this information helps the reader to understand gun-fire let us go a step further.

Let us presume the Observation Officer has observed enemy movement a little beyond and to the left of his Map Reference. His orders to the guns could then be: "Three degrees left of Zero Line increase range 150 metres - six rounds gun-fire." The Gun Layer would then turn his sights to Zero minus three (357) and traverse the Gun Barrel, (by means of a wheel), those required three degrees and then increase the Gun Barrel's elevation in the same method,.

If the target was changed dramatically (say sixty degrees) it would be too much of an angle to be accommodated by the Layer's wheel traverse, so then the Gun Layer would, looking through his reversed sights, signal by means of the palm of his right hand stretched backwards (left or right). The Number one would then man-handle the tail of the gun accordingly until the sights were back on the marker.

After firing the initial shots the Observation Officer could then bring it to the finer point after observing his first six-rounds of fire.

I hope that slight excursion enables the reader to briefly understand the laying of a 25 pounder gun.

DISASTER AT KNIGHTSBRIDGE


Designation of Troops

425 Battery ("A" and "E") - 426 Battery ("C" and "F") - 520 Battery ("B" and "D")

27th MAY , 1942

The location is a map reference named Knightsbridge. Simply the junction of two tracks, forty miles south of Tobruk. Not a town, not a village, no sign of any habitation, nothing. Simply a map reference on a terrain of rocky desert. This is where 520 Battery had taken position just south of the Cauldron.

It was unbelievably ironic that the brand new Battery 520 should face such an awesome attack in its first and last taste of combat.

At dawn 520 Battery faced the usual routine of receiving supplies and to everyone it seemed to be just the start of another day. The first cause for alarm came in the form of an urgent call on the radio from Regimental HQ. - Simply "Enemy dangerously close".

Within minutes shells poured into the position. The Battery Commander (whose brother was in charge of "D" Troop) heard on his radio his brother's voice saying that his Troop vehicle had suffered considerable damage and was immobile some distance from his guns. The Battery Commander's own Armoured vehicle was then hit as he directed it towards his brother's car. The Battery Commander and two of his crew were killed outright.

The Panzers turned their complete fire-power onto "B" Troop which had our Captain Shakespear as its Troop Commander. His first message (and last) to Regimental HQ was, "Engaging enemy tanks at 600 yards."

"B" Troop shot magnificently and the leading tanks swung away leaving five tanks ablaze. Alas, a second wave charged straight in and others closed from the flank. "B" Troop with guns in action in two directions were completely exposed as "D" Troop moved closer to assist.

The unequal battle could have only one ending as "B" Troop fought courageously allowing "D" Troop to withdraw.

When "B" Troop were finally overrun they had accounted for nine enemy tanks and had damaged many more. In the dying moments of the battle the Gun Position Officer, the troop Serjeant Major, a Gun Serjeant and five Gunners were killed. For the record our Captain Shakespear was wounded and taken prisoner. He survived.

* * *

Early on that day of May 27th my own particular troop - "E Troop" started the day in normal fashion and breakfast was brought by truck as usual, stopping at each gun in turn.

Suddenly cause for concern ! Breakfast was just over when to our immediate front the Colonel's Armoured Car was seen to be travelling at high speed in our direction. The Armoured Car turned parallel to the guns and ran across our front. As it passed each gun the Colonel, almost hanging out of his vehicle was yelling, - "Tank Alert" - "Independent Gun Fire - Zero elevation". Zero Elevation meant that the enemy's Armour was very close.

Immediately we could see a swarm of enemy tanks bearing down on us through the early morning mist. Our nearest "friendly" Tank Regiment, the Gloucester Hussars began to scatter. Why they did this I have never been able to discover. However for some of their tanks it was too late. The Panzers were entering the Cauldron and had already picked off five of the Gloucester's tanks. Then much to everyone's surprise the Panzers unexpectedly broke off the engagement and turned about, leaving the Cauldron. We learned later that they had over-stretched their communication lines.

We then learned the disturbing fact that on their way the Panzers had run through 520 Battery, six miles away, and caused casualties. We sadly learned of the tragedy of the Commanding Officer Major Gary Birkin being killed on the way to assist his brother Captain Ivor Birkin. We all knew that the new Battery had taken the brunt of this surprise attack but we were more disturbed to learn that they had lost five of their eight guns. (All four guns of "B" Troop and one of "D" Troop). What little there was to feel pleased about was to learn that 520 Battery had managed to knock out nine tanks of the attacking force.
With the German attack now called off our orders from Brigade were to withdraw. The attack had produced the result that the Germans had hoped for.
Owing to our Brigade's deployment Batteries 425 and 426 had only one passage of withdrawal. This was to the eastern end of the Cauldron. It took us about two hours to fall back. Meanwhile the remaining three guns of "D" Troop (520), who had managed to escape the initial attack to the south, had now rejoined us in the Cauldron. The Regiment were now as one compact unit, 19 guns in total, and all in the Cauldron.
No sooner had we adopted action stations again than the enemy entered the Cauldron to the west. They had refuelled and were in attack formation once again.
This time together with the tanks of the 3rd County of London we stopped them and gave them heavy punishment for the rest of that day. The day eventually went our way but "E" Troop was not left unscathed. A direct hit on one of our Troop's guns killed two men. One was my friend Cliff Lilburn. On the credit side our Commanding Officer told us that we had prevented a breakthrough.
The 3rd County of London were inspirational to us during this second attack. They found a depression in the Cauldron's otherwise flat surface and adopted a hull-down position just below the lip of the depression, (that is simply the turret and gun showing over the crest of the rise) and they comfortably won their engagement, knocking out much of the enemy's Armour. As night fell the Panzers were called away from the Cauldron.




 A 25 pounder in night action, June 2, 1942

3rd JUNE

Almost a week had elapsed since that second attack and the Germans were reported to be thirty miles away. Apart from isolated skirmishes their was little to report back to HQ, but we all knew and felt that something was brewing.
At the end of that frustrating week it seemed that HQ knew more about the situation than we did ! - or so they thought. Late on the Wednesday of June 3rd trucks from echelon arrived and we were ordered to stock up on petrol and supplies and be prepared to move westwards at four o'clock the following morning - HQ claimed that the Germans were moving out and we were to follow and attack their columns. Who was in charge at HQ ? - Blind Freddy ?

4th JUNE

Four o'clock arrived and no orders had been received to support the earlier preparation to move. Suddenly the news did arrive but was quite different to what we expected. With a bold ingenious stroke Rommel had turned the tables on us. He had swung from probable defeat to possible success. He had flung a heavy attack onto the 1st Free French at Bir Hacheim and in the process had blown a gap in the minefield at two different points. This had been at dusk the previous evening and was twenty miles to the north-west of our position.
This automatically meant that the Cauldron could be isolated if Rommel's advance continued because the last report from the Gloucester Hussars was that the 21st Panzer, (still under command of General von Thoma), was south of the Cauldron. That report had been discounted by British HQ. Can you believe that ? We waited patiently for most of that day. As night fell we were finally told to prepare for a barrage to be put down at dawn on the southern ridge so our gun positions were swung ninety degrees to the south, otherwise our position remained the same.
Apparently General von Thoma's 21st Panzer was moving forward under cover of darkness - Finally HQ had woken up ! Needless to say we had a very nervous night.

5th JUNE

We watched the first signs of dawn. We were all at "stand to". The barrage commenced at five-thirty exactly and as it lifted half an hour later the 3rd County of London's tanks secured the ridge and we moved forward onto it. We had little or no idea what HQ's plan was and apart from one squadron of Panzers, which moved away, there was no sightings of the rest of von Thoma's Division. We did learn however that the regrouped Gloucester Hussars with a number of newly arrived Grant tanks had arrived back in the Cauldron and were reported to be protecting our rear.

The 3rd County of London had moved forward to follow that retreating enemy squadron and were almost out of sight. Suddenly there was evidence of major action. Clouds of dust and smoke were now evident and heavy gun-fire could be heard. We had fallen into a well executed trap. The 3rd County of London had fallen for Rommel's trap.
Our Commander ordered that we fall back into the Cauldron. What was left of the 3rd County of London came back over the ridge about an hour later to join us and lick their wounds.
It was evident, that evening, with the enemy having command of almost seventy-five per cent of the Cauldron's perimeter that if the Gloucester Hussars were to withdraw during the night we would be really "up the creek". Would you believe HQ actually ordered them to do that. They were withdrawn to replenish with supplies, when the obvious choice was to take the latter up to them.

6th JUNE

We had been in light-action mode for nine days and early on that fateful day of June 6th my own troop, E troop, started the day in normal fashion and breakfast was brought to each gun in turn. Suddenly cause for concern ! At dawn, true enough there were tanks on the ridge. German tanks. Stuka dive bombers appeared in the sky. Purple smoke immediately appeared around almost the entire perimeter of the Cauldron. This was the German method of identifying their front line to their supporting aircraft.

The Battle of Knightsbridge began very low key. Shelling at medium range and probing tank patrols every few hours. At eight-thirty 425 Battery took the full force of the German attack. The enemy tanks just sat back and poured shells, air-burst and high explosive, into our midst. For hours the engagement remained in this pattern, our guns giving as much as we received. Our Colonel contacted HQ by radio, he had realised that the German shelling was concentrated on our trucks rather than our guns and that unless a decision was made quickly it would not be possible to withdraw owing to the lack of mobility. He was ordered to remain as is.

To our immediate front the Colonel's Armoured car was seen travelling at high speed in our direction. The car turned parallel to the guns and the Colonel almost hanging out of the vehicle was yelling, "Tank Alert ! Independent Gun-fire ! Zero elevation ! " That meant each gun for itself.

I said a prayer or two as I scrambled onto the seat. I swung my scope to front vision and saw four or five tanks moving towards us at about 800 yards. I slapped my backside which indicated to John Walker that I was on target, he yelled "AP up the spout". (AP was Armour-Piercing) As soon as I heard the breech slam to I heard John yell "Fire" I fired. I watched as the blue light at the rear of the shell move to the second tank in line. A Bulls-eye ! Smoke and flame shot out of the turret of the tank. I moved my scope onto the next moving target and achieved the same result.

The tanks were now closing in and stopped at about 500 yards. Simultaneously they did a 90' turn and moved to my left. I saw one tank turn its turret back onto me and then a flash ! The tank shell hit the left side of my gun-shield and ripped a huge chunk of flesh from my left thigh. John pulled me from the seat and yelled for Frank Bush to take over. As John moved me to the rear of the gun I felt something hit me in the throat. I knew no more.

Three of our 425 Officers, in conference, were killed around mid-day as shell fire became heavier and casualties were increasing at an alarming rate. Everyone in this deathly valley were sitting targets.

The afternoon was absolutely hell. Being wounded I had been moved from the gun to the first-aid section which was about one hundred or so metres to the rear. The Gunner who replaced me as Layer on the gun, Gunner Stanfield, was killed and our truck driver Gunner Stevenson (a personal friend), was decapitated. Ammunition was becoming desperately short and finally expired around three-thirty. Every section of our Regiment had felt the might of the Afrika Korps. Our Colonel (Officer Commanding) was not spared. He and his Armoured car crew, with the exception of the driver, were all killed with a direct hit from a Panzer. (The driver strangely became my next-door neighbour in 1952).


                                                    Battle of Knightsbridge - painting by Terence Cuneo

About four o'clock numbers of German tanks had worked up onto our gun positions Their commanders were waving from the turrets for us to surrender. They had intentionally surrounded themselves with British prisoners. There was little left to do otherwise than surrender. We had been overrun.

I spent the rest of that engagement in the first-aid section. At four-thirty in the afternoon with only three guns left out of twenty-four and no ammunition, Major Daniell, being the only senior Officer left standing, surrendered.


I watched as most of my mates were rounded up and marched away. Quite a few of them had moments only to live as an RAF fighter plane strafed the column thinking they were German infantrymen. I could do little except watch. I had a wound to my left thigh and a wound to my throat and as I lay on the sand I could see many of my friends being taken prisoner.

The South Notts Hussars had died gallantly.

On the day of June 6th 1942, together with the Colonel, (Officer Commanding South Notts Hussars), seventy-six of his men gave their lives and over a hundred were severely wounded.

Casualties reached a figure of almost forty per cent of the Regiment's total strength. "E" Troop (4 guns) were credited with destroying seven Panzers and many Armoured vehicles.

Footnote to the Battle of Knightsbridge by P.M

The South Notts had been instructed to fight to the "last man and last round". Sadly, in February 2014 the man widely accepted as being the hero to fire that last round, Sgt Ray Ellis, passed away in Nottingham, aged 94. It was publicly acknowledged at the time of Ray's passing that he had been the last surviving veteran from the Battle of Knightsbridge. This sad reflection meant that the brave comrades of the South Notts Hussars in 1942 had finally all been reunited. True heroes they all were and always will be.

Col Tim Richmond, Honorary Colonel of the South Notts Hussars, said in a public statement last year : 'We regard Ray Ellis and all those who fought as a band of brothers at Tobruk and Knightsbridge as heroes and the sacrifices that they made will never be forgotten.'

There is a fantastic video on the South Notts Facebook page where Ray Ellis recounts his involvement in the Battle of Knightsbridge. It is compelling and emotional viewing. Follow this link to view it - https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=583424671698043

LIFE AS A POW

                                              Hospital ship - Virgilio

Most of the lucky survivors from Knightsbridge and Rommel's victory in the Battle of Gazala were transported by road to the Libyan port city of Derna, 100 kilometres west of Tobruk. The military hospital there was reasonable but extremely over crowded. My wounds were stabilised by a German doctor, without whose treatment I would have not survived to tell this tale.

Thus began my period of POW life starting with a hospital ship named Virgilio. We were transported across the Mediterranean from Tripoli to the Italian city of Naples. In four adjacent beds were four wounded Englishmen, three South Notts Hussars which included myself, Frank Knowles and Harold Petchell and one unknown tank gunner. All four of us were taken by rail to Lucca, via Florence,and were installed in a hospital run by Nuns.




Within two or three weeks both Harold Petchell and the badly burned Tank gunner had died. The Nuns looked after Frank and I, but as soon as we were considered fit to travel once more we were sent to Campo P.G 82 near the town of Laterina in the Province of Tuscany. Some refer to its location as Arezzo as the camp was actually between the two towns. We were there for 16 months until the day arrived when Italy finally capitulated


                      Map of Tuscany (click for larger image)                                       
                       Arezzo is approx 50 kms south east of Florence

Campo 82 was to all intents and purpose quite a decent camp so upon the end of Italy’s capitulation the gates were thrown open and no one had any idea what to do except to get out as soon as possible.

Quickly different groups were formed and destinations varied. The group that I chose was to head for Genoa and I quickly formed a friendship with a sergeant from The Northumberland Fusiliers. His name was Robert Bell. Our friendship lasted until the end of the war.

At the outset of our sudden release we all agreed to stick together but gradually arguments crept in and one night lying side by side with little or no cover Bob said to me, “Paddy, early tomorrow you and I will take our share of the rations and go our own way.

Little was gained by his plan because at first light three German armoured cars were waiting for us to wake up. An early morning cow girl had spotted us and immediately rang headquarters. So back to Campo 82.

The following day all the break-out optimists had been rounded up and were marched in line to the railway siding at Modena and 30 men were placed in each of approx two dozen vans. We travelled all day and finally found ourselves in Austria at a camp called Markt Pongau, We stayed for only two nights – thank The Lord. It was a concentration camp for Jews and Russians. Stink – you wouldn’t believe.

Then rail again to Stalag 18A at Wolfsberg (Military District XVIII). It was situated in the mountainous Corinthian region of Austria and quite close to Vienna. The beautiful surroundings were a far cry from the hot, dry conditions of desert warfare. Just a pity we were POWs !



Plan of Stalag XVIIIa (click to enlarge)

  Stalag 18a Wolfsberg, Austria. Ronald Miles (second from the left, front row)


                         Commandant Steiner, Stalag XV111a, Wolfsberg

Most of the accommodation blocks were converted stables with 3 tier bunks. Each prisoner was assigned one blanket each. The heating was poor and there was a shortage of straw in the mattresses. The latrines were very unhygenic and contributed to regular outbreaks of dysentery. 1942 co-incided witha large influx of Russian POWs who were very poorly treated by comparison to the British and the Australians prisoners.

By February 1944 there were 11,000 British POW's at Wolfsberg. Accordingly, the general decline in the condition of the main camp made the prospect of assignment to one the outer Work Camps very attractive.

The British Authorities had made it quite clear that any prisoner of war NCO (two stripes and above) had a choice (yes or no) of the type of work he was ordered to do, so land work was very attractive. Robert being a Sergeant and myself a Bombadier (two stripes) gave us that privilege, so land work we chose whenever it came up.
    Ronald Miles (second from left, back row), part of a work detail in the Furnitze area, Austria.

We spent nine months working for farmers at three different locations. Firstly Schladming then Radenthein and finally Furnitze. Farm work was physically demanding with 12 hour days commonplace. The upside was that generally we were well fed by our Austrian employers, who for the most part were hard but fair. Those assigned to industrial work did it much harder so we considered ourselves fairly lucky.

Camp life in the Stalag XVIIIa at Wolfsberg gradually improved, largely due to two men. Each camp had an elected Man of Confidence (MOC) who dealt with our German captors on all issues of concern. One particular MOC was an Aussie Warrant Officer, Ferdinand Sevenson, who was elected in 1942. He did a lot to improve conditions in the camp wand was subsequently awarded an MBE.

Ironically, the general well being in the camp could be put down to its German Kommandant, Captain Steiner. The Red Cross in their reports referred to Steiner as a "very fair and good man." He was a former POW in the First World War who had escaped from Russian captivity.

However, I'll not pretend that my internment at Wolfsberg was a holiday. It was a depressing time that took a huge physical and emotional toll on all those there. Many didn't survive it, especially the Russians. (The lucky buggers were the French. They had a well established compound and were treated more like guests than POWs).

One day when we were out on a wood cutting detail at Furnitze, Robert noticed the guards discarding their uniforms and rifles, shouting “Hitler Tote”. He rushed over to the closest guard and turned to me yelling “The bloody war is over let’s piss off. Come on Paddy, we will disappear until we find out more.’’ We took to the woods. And it was there that the first column of British Tanks found us forty hours later.

On 8 May 1945, five British paratropers landed in a nearby field to the Wolfsberg Stalag XVIIIa. It was at this time that Captain Steiner surrendered the Camp. The War for all its surviving prisoners was over.

Three weeks later Robert was back in his home town Lyme Regis and four weeks later I was back home in Nottingham. Robert and I only ever met two more times (a few days visiting each other at the respective homes in Lyme Regis and Nottingham). A great friend was Robert Bell.

I had left for the war on January 18, 1940 as a fresh faced young man of twenty one. I returned to my home land and family and friends on June 5, 1945, one day short of the third anniversary of the day of my capture at Knightsbridge. This meant I had been away from my loved ones for 5 years, 4 months and 19 days. Or if you prefer 1,966 days. Naturally, I returned home a more hardened individual who at 27 years of age had seen and experienced many horrible things. No doubt, I was a changed man

I was de-mobbed from the Army in August 1945.

To this day I am still proudly in possession of my British War Medal, the 1939-45 Star Medal and the Africa Star Medal. I also possess a British Territorial Medal from my early pre-war service and my son Paul kindly sourced a non-official Rats of Tobruk medal created by the Returned Services League in Australia. I also have a Kings Badge awarded for loyal service. I cherish each and every one of them and hope that they remain in the family for many years to come, long after I'm gone. They all mean a great deal to me and in a small way they help to keep that flame of comradeship flickering.

FAMILY LIFE

Not long after my return from the War I re-acquainted myself with a childhood sweetheart, Edna Johnson who had a one year old daughter, Carol from a previous short lived marriage. We were soon to be married and had two fine sons Colin and Paul. We continued to live in Nottingham and I held various jobs in the printing trade, working mainly as a compositor for the next 11 years. The Nottingham Guardian newspaper and Boots Chemist were two of my employers that come to mind.


In 1956 Edna began to talk about the possibility of migration to Australia as part of the "Ten Pound POM" scheme. Eventually she was to talk me into starting a new life half a world away. Excitement at the prospect of a new life was tinged with the sadness of leaving behind family and old comrades.

And so it was that late in 1956 we all boarded S.S. Otranto at Tilbury bound for Canary Islands, Durban and Australia, finally landing at Perth in February 1957. Our final destination was to be Melbourne in the State of Victoria. This was the place that I was destined to live the rest of my life.

I continued to work as a printing compositor at a variety of employers till my retirement in my sixties. Our family lived together in the suburbs of Melbourne, namely Richmond and Dandenong. In the early 1980's I served as the Secretary of the Berwick sub branch of the Victorian Returned and Services League (RSL). This job gave me a great deal of personal satisfaction because I was able to reconnect with a lot of Aussies who had I fought alongside in North Africa. There were a number of former Rats of Tobruk with whom I especially enjoyed reminiscing.


In 1998 we moved to the Gippsland area to live next door to my son Paul and his wife Sereima in the quiet coastal community of Venus Bay. The peaceful surrounds of the area are a far cry from the battlefields of North Africa for what seems a life time ago.

Its been a bittersweet life since the War. I'm proud that we emigrated to Australia and that my three children are all happily married and have held down good jobs. Colin and Carol have three great kids of their own and Edna and I are proud to have been blessed with such a lovely family.

But my heart is forever tinged with sadness at the loss of so many great pals from the South Notts. I will always be proud to have said I served with them and for my country. There's not a day goes by that I don't think of them with pride and wish that we could all get together again for a pint or two.

But I'm a happy Aussie-Pom now and will die one. I'm eternally grateful that my time wasn't up on the battlefields of Knightsbridge and that someone looked after me during my incarceration as a POW. Every day I look at my wife Edna and at my children, grand children and great grand children I thank my lucky stars. Because for so many of my chums of the South Notts, they weren't so lucky.

Last edited August 2002.

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Footnote (by Paul Miles)

Dad died in October 2003. He suffered a stroke and passed away after a short stay in Foster Hospital. He had previously undergone a five way heart bypass at Xmas 1995 and was diagnosed diabetic a year before his passing. He died a happy man surrounded by a doting wife and loving family.

But there's no doubt that the stress of his war experiences came back to plague him in his twilight years. Whilst his memory remained sharp on most things for all of his 85 years, it was to do with matters concerning the war that his recall was the most vivid. Without doubt his late life anxiety attacks were a manifestation of his wartime experiences. Sadly, Dad was reluctant to put pen to paper regarding his time as a POW. I had to co-erce him to get the few short paragraphs contained above. It seemed late in life those memories were just too much for him to have to relive.

I kick myself for not being more attentive at an earlier age. Because Dad wasn't always so non-comittal about those dark days and told many POW stories when I was younger. Disappointingly, they are no longer with me. There's a lesson there for all of us, I suppose.
But one thing I can say with surety is that nothing brought a gleam to his eye or a spring to his step than when he held court and was recanting yarns about his pals of the South Notts during active service. His visit to Nottingham to attend a Knightsbridge dinner in the late 80's was a particularly moving and proud moment for him.

I'm proud to have Dad's and my Grandfather's medals on display in our loungeroom together with a framed print of the Battle of Knightsbridge by Terrence Cuneo.

My wife, Sereima and I had our first child in 2006, a daughter named Kelera. Sadly Dad wasn't around to see her but every time she looks at the medals and the Knightsbridge print I get a feeling he's watching her somehow. I'm sure Dad had the same feeling about his fallen comrades when he too used to stand before his memorabilia and dream back to a different time, and a different world.



Sadly Mum (Edna) passed away on April 17, 2009. With her passing that intangible link to Nottingham seemed to die a little also. Myself and my siblings call ourselves Aussies now. I always have as I came to Australia when I was only two years old. But rest assured that the spirit of kinship with Nottingham and especially with Dad's old comrades will never be allowed to whither in our family. For Bombadier Ronald Miles and those brave men he served with deserve no less.

Dad is buried with Mum in the Leongatha lawn cemetary here in South Gippsland. Plot DD4





Notes :

1.  I suggest that those seeking information on the Battle of Knightsbridge should perhaps broaden their research to include the Battle of Gazala. Whilst the Battle of Knightsbridge was one of the more significant battles fought in North Africa at the time, it only comprised one of many fought during May - June 1942 south of Tobruk. A lot of reference material (including on the net) tends to refer to the more general title of the Battle of Gazala which refers to the series of battles that took place at that time.

2. I feel that Dad unwittingly played down the significance of the Allies role in Tobruk, including his own small part. Research shows that the Siege of Tobruk was pivotal in distracting Rommel's attention from a full scale attack on Egypt. The fact that the Afrika Corps were eventually driven from North Africa in 1943 was in no small part attributable to the gallantry involved by all in the defence of Tobruk. Significantly, as a result of their actions the Suez Canal and the oil fields of the Middle East remained in the Allies hands throughout the war.

3. There were nearly 30,000 troops involved in the defence of Tobruk, just over half of them Australian. Justifiably, it will always be remembered as one of Australia's greatest military achievements. However, most of the Aussies were evacuated out in August-September 1941. In fact, very few units can claim to have been in Tobruk for the duration of the Siege. That is from its start in April 1941 through to the break out in November of the same year. Servicemen of the South Notts Hussars were some of the few that can claim to have that honour. Obviously, Dad was one of them and that is something that both he, his comrades and his family should be proud of.

P.M

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Addendum : added 29/12/2014

Sadly I never knew my grandfather Walter Albert Miles. He died more than 20 years before I was born. I don’t even possess a decent photo of him worth publishing much to my regret. As mentioned in Ronald’s memoirs his father, Walter, saw active service in France in the First World War.

Whilst Ronald recanted  many anecdotes to me about his memories of his father (he died when Dad was 15) they were all to do with normal father-son stuff. I don’t recall a single story about Walter’s war time service. Perhaps, Walter found the experience too harrowing to burden his young son with them.

All Ronald’s siblings have also long passed away and I have little contact with my Miles cousins in England with the exception of a few of Ronald’s sisters descendents. Unfortunately they are unable to shed any light on the war service of Walter Albert Miles.

So as much as I would like to attempt a separate blog on him, I just have insufficient information to do Walter’s tale justice. However, through my own online research I have been able to assemble a small profile of Walter Miles’s war record. It does seem unfair to append such a significant life experience for someone to another person’s story but I’m content that this short piece does at least complement my own father’s story.

Walter Albert Miles

Born Somercotes, Derbyshire 1876  –  Died Nottingham 1933

As mentioned in Ronald’s memoirs his father Walter Albert was the son of a publican (named Walter too) who owned/ran several hotels in Somercotes and Alfreton in Derbyshire in the late 1800’s. The Sun Inn, the Victoria Inn and the Swan and Salmon are three of the pubs I’m aware of.  An inveterate gambler Walter Albert undid much of his father’s hard work by accumulating a string of gambling debts when he took over the running of the hotels. He went on to run his own pubs in Nottingham but they suffered a similar fate.

Maybe his enlisting in the Army to serve in World War 1  may have helped break that cycle.

Walter Albert Miles joined the British Army in August 1915 and served in the Royal Army Services Corps. He was designated as a Mechanical Transport operator. Most likely he served as a truck driver or similar. The Army Services Corps were the life blood of the land forces who were dependent on them for regular supplies of food, clothes, ammunition and equipment etc. and for troop transport.

[As the pool of motor and traction vehicles increased on the Western Front the complexity of the ASC involvement expanded and reorganisation and rationalisation grew apace. The mechanised vehicle quickly gained an important role in all forms of transport. It rose from a total of just over 500 assorted mechanical vehicles in the ASC world-wide at the outbreak of the Great War in 1914, to around 105,000 at the Armistice in November 1918 and ranged from motor cycles to huge tractors.

A significant means of mechanised human transport on the Western Front was the British public transport omnibus. These were donated by, or requisitioned from London omnibus companies and other municipal bus services across Great Britain; some civic donors being generous to a fault in that, as a consequence, the general public faced a shortage of public transport throughout the Great War. By late 1914, the sight of a converted London bus in use as a military transport was a common occurrence in France and Flanders. In total around 650 of these former civilian buses (operated by nearly 2,000 men) were deployed on the Western Front as general troop transports, ambulances and other military transportation purposes.

The ASC was one of the Cinderella units of the Western Front and it received little in the way of commendation, or entries, in the official reports of the Great War. Although the 200,000+ officers and men of the ASC who served on the Western Front could not normally be considered to be combat soldiers, many were exposed daily to the capricious dangers of the battlefield as they moved around it performing their varied duties of supplying and transporting the fighting man. Certainly the German Artillery deliberately concentrated on the ASC supply routes, depots and resting places of the ASC's animals of burden.

On occasion, when the military situation demanded, (e.g. The German Spring Offensive, March 1918) the ASC troops were ordered to take up their rifles and were drafted into the Front-line defences. Also, whole groups of ASC men were drafted into Front-line battalions and other active service units as replacements for casualties whilst their place was taken by troops who were not considered fit for Front-line duty.

The varied dangers faced by the ASC troops are attested to by their overall casualty rates that totalled 16,000 (4.9%), with 2,600 (0.8%) killed in action, or died of wounds. Another 5,900 died of disease (1.8%)] source : http://www.westernfrontassociation.com

Walter was to see service in France and began active duty there in December 1915. I know nothing of his activity in France but he was eventually invalided out in August 1916. He was honorably discharged from service on 18 August 1916. If I was to hazard a guess there is a distinct possibility that Walter was wounded at the Battle of the Somme which was arguably the biggest battle of the whole war.

The Battle of the Somme began in July 1916 and ran till November of the same year. The British casualties on the first day of battle numbered 60,000 alone. Over its duration the Battle of the Somme accounted for over a million casualties on both sides of the conflict. The date of Walter’s discharge from service sits right at the heart of the fray. Of course this is only conjecture on my part.

Walter’s Regimental number was DM2/112941 and his rank was that of a Private.

Walter was awarded various campaign medals and the Silver War Badge. I am proudly in possession of his Victory Medal, British War Medal and his 1914-15 Star Medal.

I sincerely hope to one day be able to flesh out my grandfather’s story in much more detail.

Proudly 100 Years On ....