Guardsman Frank Booth of No. 3 Company, 2nd Battalion, Coldstream Guards was born on the 24th January 1921. He lived at 6 New Gate Holmfirth, Huddersfield West Yorkshire. His father was not named on his birth certificate and gives a clue as to why he writes to a Mr & Mrs Booth, rather than Mum & Dad.
Before the war he worked at Dobroyd mills manufacturing cloth in a small village close to where he was born called Jackson Bridge. He had an eye for the ladies, writing frequently to Margaret’s Hartley & Swift, Helen, Grace & Isabel Fenders! He also played the accordion and loved listening to (and later playing) the guitar. He was 5’ 10” tall and a size 10 in boots, size 15” collar. He also wrote poetry and three of his ditties are published here.
He was a very brave soldier, involved in Operation Dynamo the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940 aged only 19. He also fought at the front line in Tunisia; Operation Torch (1942) aged only 21. He starts this 1942-43 diary on a hillside near Medjez approximately 60 km west of Tunis in Tunisia.
He had an older brother Bill (Willie Sykes Booth 4615305) who also in the army as a Private during the war in 5 Section 50 Pioneer Corps. He also had a younger brother Francis Geoffrey Booth C/JX 352205 who served on aircraft carrier HMS Vengeance during the war, to whom he writes frequently.
Often fighting at the front line, thankfully he survived the war and his 1945 diary will be published in due course.
Although he never married he was survived by niece Janet Booth, daughter of Bill. He passed away in Bradford Royal Infirmary on the 6th October 2012 aged 91 and is buried in Hade Edge Methodist Churchyard, next to his brother Bill and sister in law Millie.
The diary itself starts on a hillside near Medjez approximately 60 km west of Tunis in Tunisia.
There are 2,903 Commonwealth servicemen of the Second World War buried or commemorated in Medjez-el-Bab war cemetery. 385 of the burials are unidentified.
The campaign began on 8 November 1942, when Commonwealth and American troops made a series of landings in Algeria and Morocco codenamed Operation Torch. The Germans responded immediately by sending a force from Sicily to northern Tunisia, which checked the Allied advance east in early December.
In the south, the Axis forces defeated at El Alamein withdrew into Tunisia along the coast through Libya, pursued by the Allied Eighth Army. By mid April 1943, the combined Axis force was hemmed into a small corner of north-eastern Tunisia and the Allies were grouped for their final offensive.
Medjez-el-Bab was at the limit of the Allied advance in December 1942 and remained on the front line until the decisive Allied advances of April and May 1943.
In May 1943, the war in North Africa came to an end in Tunisia with the defeat of the Axis powers by the combined Allied force.
Embarked on board ship.
Set off on voyage to —–.
Grub. Very steady. Have written letters and had them posted to Isabel & Margaret.
Was sea sick and biliously so, before breakfast, but was careful.
Today arrive Algiers.
Find myself in a wood near occasional machine gun fire and two of our heavy guns are firing away like anything close by. Sitting here wondering what they are going to do with us next. Nobody seems to know anything.
Have just had half a mug of tea, cannot say when I will get another. It all seems strange and very ugly and once again I ask myself, like I did at Dunkirk, what the hell I am fighting for?
There are one or two other things, but they are of military importance, I suppose so I had better not put any more down. Must try to keep cheerful even though it is hard.
Not much firing by the guns today must have been getting the range of the enemy yesterday. Only slight machine gun fire. Everything is quiet and comfortable. We have eaten regularly and decently, on some spare rations found in the vicinity.
Thing I am most bothered about is getting my trench dug deeper – it’s only a few feet now and no solid six foot to its edges and parapet. Are now supported by three good tanks with six inch guns. Feel equal to our defence now owing to a good night’s sleep.
Sight mortar fire. A good day so far. Proposed night patrol – which I am not on – thank you.
Tanks still with us, but have gone to rear a bit. Last night at dusk enemy recon sent down some light tanks and armoured cars, but our heavier medium tanks beat them off, but not before we had a severe spanking. No infantry reportedly. One or two of the lads in five and six section were slightly hit. Smith J. more serious than the rest.
This morning we had an enemy trench mortar fire on us, but it did no harm on us, except land one or two in the vicinity and make us dig our trenches and shake a bit. Compo rations very good and better than one would expect. Wondering about tonight, in fact glad I am in ? I will wait and see etc.
Had a decent day today. Military things included two or three 4 inch shells within 25 yards of my trench. Our own information was we received the “Crusade” 1st Army paper. A little news and me wise –crack about Myrna Loy.
Platoon officer gave us a lecture on sentry go and improved positions. I wrote a letter to both Isabel and Margaret Hartley. A quiet day on the whole, but cannot help thinking that something will start in a while.
Grub very good, and more than enough at dinner time. Washed my hair and my feet, and darned Grace’s socks.
Germans have moved back into fresh positions in the hills. I don’t think that is too good.
The Germans have not fired a shot all day. It would be a fool who thinks the quietness means nothing. Our light artillery or mortars are batting away at them. Somebody is attacking it and it isn’t us for a change.
At time of writing I have just been on sentry and through the glasses saw men (Germans) and a vehicle move into the village in front of us, about a mile away. Don’t feel too shaky now, but the silence on the German’s part is very strange.
Our aircraft bombed their wood in which are many vehicles (tanks?). Written letters to Francis and Margaret Swift. Write Grace tomorrow if lucky. Must improve parapet.
Made a new position last night on a mound covering a road. Very good position indeed and finishing the parapet today.
Will gave my letters in today for Margaret and Francis. Good food today, in fact it has been good food all along.
The sun is shining and the day clear, a thing to be thankful for, out in the open. Just waiting for tea to boil before I go to dig further position. A good day.
One or two shells first thing this morning. Came in the platoon area, but only No. 6 Section webbing equipment suffered. That shell hit a tree above where they usually have their breakfast, but they had to improve their positions so were a few yards away in their trenches.
Bully beef, Maconochie for dinner and peaches (4 ½) for duff. Not too good I think.
This afternoon one Messerschmitt dropped two bombs and made a nuisance of itself. No damage. I sprained my ankle running into my trench for I was away drawing my tea ration. Going to the R.A.P. after stand down, but expect no sympathy.
No activity by enemy ground forces, but enough aerial activity, 3 came over and bombed the railway 200 yards in rear. Our Flying Fortress’ over Tunis were received by German fighter craft. I German shot down and a Fortress left smoking but still flying. Pilot of former bailed out in British territory.
Had steak, potatoes and a little soup for dinner. A decent bit of rice for duff.
Guns of both sides seem to have moved away to the left and I have not had much trouble from them. Ankle slightly better but hurts and I can only hobble about. Went to the R.A.P. and found holes in the wall and roof blown off.
No activity by the enemy up to writing. Saw two enemy aircraft but they were on other business.
One of our trucks ran over mined road, No. 4 Coy area. Blazed for two hours (10-12) to the accompaniment of A.S.A. in the vehicle. Our 25 pounder was putting up a barrage (4-5pm).
All quiet otherwise and the weather fine. Received letters from Isabel, Margaret and Helen. Very pleased but wondering about further writing paper and envelopes.
Rumour that we have “invaded” Burma. Hope it is correct. Will now have wash and shave.
Primed 3 36 grenades and put in cubby hole, side of trench. Ankle a little better.
After I had written my diary up for yesterday two enemy aircraft (fighters) came over and dropped a couple of bombs on the railway lines in the rear. This morning R.A.F. fighter patrol from Gibraltar were in attendance. Unsuspecting German fighters (two) came upon them, but were driven off with the minimum of machine gun fire.
Our heavy artillery shelled back areas from 5-6am. German heavy artillery shelled back area (ridge near Grenadiers) for most of the morning. Nothing in our area.
Have written back to Isabel and Margaret Hartley. Haricot, oxtail and marmalade duff for dinner. Rather dull day.
Nothing much happened today. Two or three mortar bombs were dropped in the Coy area but did no damage. They were dropped at dinner time (about 12am). Oxtail Haricot for dinner, marmalade roll for duff. Got two envelopes from Guardsman Thoroughgood. I was very surprised and pleased. I enclosed Margaret Hartley and Isabel Fender’s letters, but was too late to post them.
Spent all morning digging trenches deeper and made a little table affair for myself. Relaxed in the afternoon, but saw D.S. Knight and officer of No. 2 bring in a German prisoner. The first one.
Had breakfast, was and shave, then played harmonica. Went to the R.A.P. with my ankle, which was a lot better. Got it re-bandaged. On way I picked up a tin Gibbs toothpaste from a burned out lorry. Was grateful for I had lost my small pack etc. in accident up the road when coming.
Got Irish stew and sultana pudding for dinner 3.30pm. Got orders to pack up, as we were moving at 7.30pm. The ? filled in later if lucky.
Have got a flap on, waiting now. No rations issued, except bags of ammo. Put in Margaret and Isabel’s letters. Now I am waiting. PPP 20 Stukas bombed behind us.
Was sent back because of sprained ankle a development I so least expected but so obviously needed. Carried on to R.A.P. in the booking office of the railway station at Medjez-el-Bab.
From there I got ? to concentration area of Battalion which was further up in the hills. Spent the night packing kit, making myself a bed area in the three sided wog stable. The stink was deplorable and fleas abounded but I was glad to get under, out of the pounding rain.
Hung about all day in the same place. Slept in the ravine, it was still pouring down and the place is very muddy. All the company kit is muddy and we are all very miserable.
The battalion put in the second attack on Longstop Hill. It was then reinforced by Americans and then again in the evening by the battalion. We had had no sleep for two nights. I find myself very lucky for with my sprained ankle I was still at battalion HQ resting in comparative comfort and safety.
The boys got chased off Longstop Hill less equipment. Made their way back to battalion HQ which had moved to a farm behind the lines. I was still with HQ.
The lads kept on coming in by two’s and three’s. Rested all day and weather a little better. Ernest joined me.
Resting and digging hillside positions
Resting and digging at night.
Hill O.P. resting and digging at night.
Resting and digging at night.
Wrote a letter to Margaret and Isabel. Listening post and digging.
The Brigadier gave us a talk. Resting and digging at night.
Resting and digging at night.
The usual thing. Got a letter from Francis.
Answered Francis’ letter. Still at farm.
Wrote a letter to Isabel and Margaret. Rumoured we go to Medjez.
Weather fine and I had a bath and swilled my pants and shirt. I think I am on guard tonight.
I wasn’t on guard. Carried on with standing to up the hillside. Came on to Medjez. Relieve. Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders here.
Got a decent dugout with a roof on. Stopped here till nightfall when we set out on fighting patrol and recon patrol at about 5.30.
Came back off recon and fighting patrol. No ? successful patrol. 2/IC and I got a minor recommend. Quiet day.
Quiet day. Had steak & kidney pudding for dinner. Artillery tonight at 4.30pm cancelled due to weather.
A quiet day for us but 16 aircraft (German) bombed Medjez at 3.15. Got issue of beer, cigs and writing paper. I wrote Francis, Isabel & Margaret.
A quiet day on the whole. Germans have moved mortar into Smidia, we moved out of Medjez to “resting” farm.
Having been up on the hill all night , had a bath in an Arab hot spring bath (sulphur) 2000 years old. Excused stand to on hill.
Had a visit to a collection of Gobi’s. Obtained bread for some of the lads at ten francs a time. Very dear I think.
Today we got our pay. 150 francs. Also North Africa Expeditionary Force rations consisting of beer (two bottles McEwans) tobacco and chocolate. Went up to Gobi’s.
Wrote letters to Isabel and Margaret Hartley.
Wrote letters to Grace and Francis. Still down at farm a little wog bread.
Wrote letter to Margaret Swift. Had a little wog bread. Fine day.
Wrote a letter to Helen. Sewed buttons on. A fine day. Moved out at 7 o’clock for … didn’t move.
Went up the hill at stand to and stopped up till 0.30am. Went to R.A.P. and then off to see Capt. RAMC about foot. Left for Medjez 7.30 arrived 9.30.
Got a decent dugout and did a little digging. Dug through till 12 midnight. Got four hours sleep. Otherwise uneventful.
Slept 1 ½ hours in house on spring mattress, received letters from Isabel and Margaret Hartley. Dug till 12 midnight. Had 4 hours sleep.
My birthday today.
Wrote letters to Isabel and Margaret. Did a little digging at night.
Supposed to be sleeping but couldn’t manage it myself. Moved into wog village.
Dug all night last night. Got down to it this morning while dinner time. Fed on eggs and chicken (fried).
Got three more chickens and boiled them up for tea time. First time I had gutted one.
Received a letter from Margaret. Fed on eggs and chicken. Tried my hand at wog bread.
Was out wiring all last night. Got 2 ½ hours sleep.
Out wiring till 9.20. Went foraging through the Arab village. Obtained flour to make further bread, also peacock’s feather.
Wrote letter to Grace and Francis. A good day. The sun was hot. About 4 hours sleep.
Was out wiring till 2.15am and got 3 hours sleep. Wrote letter to Isabel. Made wog bread for breakfast.
Arrived in a ravine. Travelled in a troop transport till dawn then stopped for breakfast. Moved up in position on hills.
Received letters from Isabel and Margaret. Artillery (British) shelling all day. 10 Stukas dive bombing over to the right.
Continued on with the digging. It was solid rock. British artillery was shelling all day.
Issue of fresh NAFFI socks and received letters from Isabel and Margaret. Moved out.
Arrive in ravine overnight, after 16 miles march. Rained a little but sun up at noon. Moved to ravine.
Arrive at dawn. Frost on the ground. Relieved paratroops. Warm sun around midday. Occasional aircraft and artillery (British).
Wrote a letter to Isabel, sending feathers and a £1 note. Still in ravine, having a rest. Very cold at night now.
Big packs arrived. Put on extra shirt and made up a “fiddle bag” anticipating move into mountains. Rather dull day but no rain.
A scare on during the night. Shooting of some kind to the right, but no move from us.
Continued here in the ravine. Issued with new battledress and underwear.
Weather still murky and rather cold otherwise OK.
Wrote letters to Isabel, Francis and Dobroyd Mill. Weather OK.
Still in sunshine valley. Bivouacs and fried wog bread & 2 eggs.
Received field card. Enjoyed further wog bread. Climbed mountain.
Moved to help Americans in southern sector.
Decent weather. Erected sand bivouacs.
Attacked at 11 o’clock by tanks and infantry. Gave up at about 6 o’clock.
Attack at 9 o’clock. Tanks and infantry. Knocked out a few Germans.
One or two shells in the area this morning. Our artillery shelled with no reply. Proposed patrol tonight together with six Churchill tanks.
Moved out of desert position today. Arrived at L. positions. Tanks and artillery up Kasserine Pass. Quiet on the whole.
Pushed forward up Kasserine Pass, guards and paratroopers cleared pass. Letters from Helen, Margaret and Isabel.
Still at Kasserine. Killed sheep and visited wog huts for eggs. Slept in troop carriers on this occasion
Arrived overnight at Bou Arda. Took up rear position and had a night’s sleep under bivouac. Wrote Helen.
Made a daylight recon with 12 Churchills. No.5 Coy with No. 2 in support. Came away at stand down.
Moved into No. 4’s reserve position. A quiet day. Wrote to Isabel.
Made daylight attack together with 12 Churchills.
Moved into No. 4 position in dry river bed. Slept in cornfield next to position.
Wrote letters to Margaret Swift and Francis.
All quiet. Moved at night.
Arrived in Beja at dawn.
Fritz put an almighty round over then into the Beja orange grove.
After a night’s sleep we set off at dawn for Bizerte front.
Got air-strafed on the way. Quite a few casualties.
Today began well but a light enemy action at 2.30. No casualties.
Hung about all day wondering what next.
? not too good
Moved overnight to Beja.
Rather glad and enjoying the spell, including wog bread and eggs immensely.
Went to see Tommy Lem in hospital. He seems to be pulling through with his abdomen wounds.
Carried on, but found myself again on the Mateur front.
Big flap on. Huns made several attacks.
Paratroops hold Jerry (brigade of them). We go back to Beja.
Rested up all day at Beja. Fed on wog bread and eggs NAAFI rations.
Rested up all day at Beja. Obtained cigarette case from town.
Had a concert tonight. I played the harmonica.
Rum ration very enjoyable.
Come over to position in the night of Sidi Naceur. Not a bad place to live in, but looks tight spot.
Wrote letters to Margaret Swift, Isabel and Francis. Day OK.
Wrote letter to Isabel. Day OK.
Had a flap on due to hearing that ? Came off about ten. Sleeping till ?
Letters from Isabel, Margaret & M. Swift.
Medjez Wood. Isabel’s parcel.
Medjez Wood. Everything OK. Note the nightly visit up railway line.
It’s been raining hard most of the time that we have been here. Everything else OK.
Packing up today. Relived at Medjez by Scots Guards. Got into T.C.V. to go to rest area.
Stopped in today. Just cleaning up etc.
Made a grand bivouac with Davy. This was the best thing I have ever been under, made by ourselves.
Battalion concert tonight. Won 200 gold plated cigarettes playing harmonica.
Attended Armoured Division concert. Very good show indeed. Nice to get to hear a guitar.
Attended a brigade of guards concert. Better show still very pleased.
Deciding to go to Sidi Youssef. Here we had dates (which we made into duff) and coffee. Banana split.
Got parcels from Isabel and Margaret. Went down to Sidi Youssef again.
Met Maria Cordara in a very strange manner a fine girl. Works at a No. 1 Infirmary (17 years old).
Her name tells me they are French Italian. Enjoyed a supper of ham, vin blanc & breads.
Gave the old man (her father) a tin of Bruno tobacco. He is pleased and gives me pipe.
On guard today, so miss seeing Maria. Wondering how the devil I am to write now that I have no address.
Arrived at concentration area. The sun is beating down and as yet, no water for tea.
Still here but moving tonight. Wrote Isabel airgraph. Letter from Isabel back dated.
Moved to another area. The Welsh Guards made an attack tonight and won their hill.
The Yanks won their hill later on other side. The tanks go in, over minefield.
We move through the pass in T.C.V’s. Dived bombed the convoy.
Stop at oasis. Here we collected beer (German) and fresh vegetables.
Stopped here all day. Good going.
Moved further up and stopped at cactus grove. Moved out again.
Jerry dived-bombed both convoy and cactus grove yesterday. We had already moved to oasis (10th).
Moved overnight to here, pine studded hill. Letter from Grace. Reply Grace and airmail to Isabel.
Moved to another area nearer front. Very hot day, enjoyed bath and NAAFI ration. Wrote Margaret Hartley.
Wrote letters to Helen, Francis, Peter and Mrs Wilks. Day hot as usual.
The day was rather hot. We had four spoons whisky. Day OK.
We had ? Church Service.
Bren training. Good food etc.
Bren training. Lecture and bath – swim in river. Very good indeed.
K.D. issue. Baths and swim. Moved at 6pm.
Took over from K.O.Y.L.I. during night. 46 Div took 3 hills in front. Yanks followed up.
Breakfast and then moved up in T.C.V’s. Plenty of enemy air activity.
Moved up the wadis and took up first front line position. Dug in. Brooks ?
Sunday 25th (page half torn out)
? all day.
? going on.
? out of wadis.
Last night Welsh Guards took over. We attacked ? nobody there. Dug in with entrenching tools.
Yesterday we were mortared and shelled out of it. 25% casualties. Got out of it and regrouped battalion in time for tea.
Today, during the night, we arrived at next area in Goubalac. All going down. Very nice and comfortable.
Enjoying rest. Managed to get a bivouac all to myself. Am liking the guitars and peace of mind that this brings.
Also get a NAAFI ration. Many cigarettes, sweets and a tin of 4-Square tobacco (Yellow). Worrying like hell about what next.
Move to Medjez Goubalac area overnight. Move again after 12pm marching to ?
Wrote letters to Francis, Isabel.
Wrote letters to Margaret, Mr & Mrs Booth, Hilda.
Moving at 12pm. Moved 3 miles up valley and in rear position hillside.
Saw a burnt out Mark VI yesterday. Just eating and sleeping. Got a letter from Francis and his photo.
Also got “Examiner” from Alice Booth. Wrote Isabel, Francis, Grace. The weather was dry but dull. Wore battledress.
Rather cold during the night. Activity of enemy planes (2). Very hot all day. Received NAAFI ration. Move tomorrow into battle.
Today is my last day here. Tomorrow we move and operational stuff again. You are not shaking now, so try to keep a level head and a good heart.
This is my first attempt at poetry
Circumstances made it a tale of woe
But, before I put any pen down
I must mention our CO.
They say his name is Chesty So – So
It can be what it will
But he wants blooming choking
If he volunteers for Longstop Hill
So this is the finish, boys
It’s for us to do our best
This lot will soon be over
You’ll soon be back on the nest
Frank Booth 1942
When I had my job in civvy street
I thought it was more than enough
I used to work nine hours a day
Making cloth there was yards of the stuff
So I was away to join the army
I thought it all a joke
Red tunic, blue trousers and bearskin
Rifle, Capstar and greatcoat
When I got to the depot
They put one on the square
There I drilled 4 hours a day
Brush my teeth, had a wash, combed my hair.
I soon found out I could do it
That I was made of the stuff
Until the jolly old war came
It was really a piece of jam duffs
The war came and it changed all
They took away my clothes
Re-issued me with denim
Rifle, and cannon balls
Frank Booth 1942
Bits of poetry, I try to write
The birds often help me so
But others get better inspiration
My misnaming me as Joe.
Joe is the person, as
Advertised in the “mail”
Who runs short of Compo Rations
And lands himself in jail.
But that’s neither one thing or the other
As you will presently see
There’s more to this than meets the eye
It’s about jam, biscuit and tea.
Now take the ration chocolate
All wrapped up in its Sunday suit
If you can save it while midnight
You are reckoned rather cute
And then there’s steak and kidney pudding
Which blokes like me never see
One reason is the quarter bloke
The other the R.A.S.C
Of course there is the cigarettes
Seven a man they say
But, by the time they get to us
They taste like mouldy hay
Oh! I must remember
To quit this morning ode
And try write something decent
To send to folks at home.
However, they’ll understand this lot
For it’s the same at both ends of the stick
They are well hold of the thin end
And we well hold of the thick.
Frank Booth 1943