Archibald Charles Maidment was born on the 29th August 1909. He married Kathleen Pagdin in September 1941 and lived in Balfour Road Brighton Sussex.
He served in 2771 Squadron RAF Regiment which was formed as No 771 Squadron at Cleave on 19 December 1941, having been unnumbered from the previous April. On 1 February 1942 all RAF Regiment Squadrons had 2000 added to their numbers. It moved to the RAF Depot in 1942 converting to a Field squadron in April. In November 1942, it took part in Operation Torch arriving in one of the follow-on convoys, initially being deployed to protect No 326 (Bomber) Wing at Setif airfield along with No 4090 LAA Flight.
As the advance eastwards continued, the squadron (with 4090 Flight) moved Canrobert to Oulmene and then across the Nementcha Mountains to Zribet Hamed, where they established a base for night operations. In February 1943, the Germans attacked the US forces in the Kasserine Pass and where close to the RAF landing ground of No 326 Wing. Group Captain Laurence Sinclair ordered his aircraft to leave but he them formed his ground staff and Regiment personnel into a defensive force, to ensure that the landing ground did not fall into German hands. During its time in North Africa personnel of the squadron were mentioned in despatches twice.
For the invasion of Sicily, the squadron was allocated to HQ North African Tactical Air Forces. It moved to Italy in December 1943, initially serving at Naples, and Rimini, but in April 1944, the squadron was attached to the US 5th Army and deployed to man a section of the front line at Cassino. It joined Land Forces Adriatic in December 1944 and was immediately deployed to Greece, where it was involved in the defence of Hassani airfield. Its armoured car flight was part of the relief force sent from Hassani to Kifissia to support the AHQ under attack by Greek ELAS partisans, unfortunately the relief force was too late to prevent many of the HQ staff and defenders being captured. During the operation to clear Athens the squadron operated under the command of 139 Infantry Brigade.
In February 1945 the squadron moved to Yugoslavia and was attached to the Raiding Support Regiment (a special forces unit composed of infantry and artillery, as well as elements from other Army Corps incliding RASC and RAMC) providing close support for their attacks along the Yugoslav coast, serving at Prykos and Zadar. Some members of the squadron had been trained in parachuting and became part of a Special Duties Section known as Celyforce (after its CO Squadron Leader Cely-Travilian). Its role was to support RAF Air Liaison Teams, but Tito’s refusal to permit their use resulted in Celyforce being attached to the Special Boat Section.
It later moved to Vienna in Austria. During this period members of the squadron received one BEM and eight Mentions in Despatches. In March 1946 it moved to Palestine, becoming a Rifle squadron at the same time. It served at Ramat David and St Jean, disbanding in April 1946.
This diary covers the period November 1942 to the end of 1944, a 1945 diary has been posted already.
North Africa 1942
Landed Algiers Nov 24th
Arrived Setif Dec 11th
North Africa 1943
Arrived Canrobert Dec 18th
Arrived Maison Forest April 30th
Arrived Souk-El Khemis May 9th
Arrived La Marsa June 5th
Arrived Hammamet June 14th
Arrived Tunis July 12th
Arrived Sousse July 17th
Arrived Hammamet July 31st
Arrived Kairouan Aug 16th
Arrived Ariana Nov 14th
Landed Nisida (Naples) Dec 19th
Arrived Cerignola Dec 21st
Arrived Portici (Naples) Mar 14th
Arrived Presenzano Mar 25th
Arrived Venafro April 25th
Arrived Cassino May 27th
Arrived Presimore June 4th
Arrived Ciampino (Rome) June 6th
Arrived Littores airfield (Rome) June 11th
Arrived Fabrieu airfield June 21st
Arrived Perougia airfield July 6th
Arrived Vasto airfield August 7th
Arrived Loreto airfield August 31st
Arrived Fano airfield Sept 5th
Arrived Rimini Nov 17th
Arrived Jesi Nov 18th
Arrived Monopoli Nov 30th
Arrived Arazus airfield (Satras) Dec 9th
Arrived Monopoli Dec 31st 1944
Arrived RAF P.T.C. Bari Jan 25th
Arrived Zara Feb 2nd
(Invasion of Pag island 3rd April to 7th April)
Arrived Ancona May 16th
Arrived Klagenfurt May 20th
Arrived Judenburg July 3rd
Arrived St. Marien July 29th
Arrived Vienna July 30th
November 7th 1942
This is the day we have been waiting for and one I shall never forget. This morning we were told that we should be moving tonight, we spent the last few hours getting our kit ready and writing the last letter in England. Of course everyone is talking about this more and making guesses as to where we are going. All seem to be quite cheerful under the air.
At 8oc we have our last meal at West Kirby station and collect our rations for the journey, it is now 930, we have just arrived at the railway station. Avery dark and cold night and we are glad to get into the warm coaches. Soon we are on the move, get settled down, have something to eat and so to sleep. I do not remember any more till next morning. Our travels have started.
November 8th 1942
After an all night journey I woke up at 730 to find we were still on the move, passing through Scotland. Soon after this we are passing through Glasgow, it’s Sunday morning and everyone seems to be having a lay in, the lucky people.
Arrive at the port of Gourock about 8oc, we board a small boat which takes us out into the Clyde to the large ship which is going to take us to our destination. And what a ship, the largest I have ever seen, there are about six decks above water and to me she seems to be top heavy. So far there are not many troops on board, but all through the day many more embark.
The ship is the “Strathaird” some 22,000 tons. I spend most of the day on deck or exploring below and got lost quite a few times. My berthing card reads Deck F. Section 1. Mess table No. 43 and this will be my place till the end of the journey. I have a hammock to sleep in. This is going to be fun getting into at night.
On the second day the canteens open up, they do a roaring trade, one can buy nearly anything, we were soon buying things such as cigs, sweets, oranges, tinned fruit and cream. No beer on this trip. The conditions on the ship are very good; everything is well organised and very clean. The food is OK and we get enough to eat.
More troops keep arriving every day, now there are thousands aboard.
Most of my time is spent on deck watching the many different types of ships passing up and down the Clyde. Or looking with longing eyes at the shores of Scotland, which are very close, yet so far away.
Every day there are rumours going round that we are going to sail at a certain time, but we lay in dock all the week.
November 14th 1942
It is not until 3.30 on Saturday afternoon the 14th Nov that we sail away from Gourock, plenty of excitement, we all stop on deck till it gets dark. Our travels have really started.
Sunday 15th to Sat 21st November 1942
During the night most of the chaps were sea-sick, I spent a good night. For Sunday dinner they gave us fat pork which certainly turned me up. After this first day and night everyone felt a lot better and most of us had by now got used to the roll of the ship.
Every morning we have boat drill and community singing. The first few days of the week the weather was dull and cold, the rest of the week we enjoyed fine and warm days. Sea rather rough.
There are about eight big troop ships in the convoy with an escort of destroyers and one aircraft carrier.
I spent most of my days on deck reading and when fine lazing in the sun, not much to see except ships and water, but I am certainly enjoying the trip. In the evenings there is usually a game of “housey” going on in the mess, some evenings I have a game, other evenings I either write or do a spot of reading and so the days and nights pass in this way.
Sat morning we saw land for the first time this week and it sure looked great to me, we all crowd the sides to get a good view.
Sunday 22nd to Sat 28th November 1942
The first thing I saw this Sunday morning on coming on deck was land and plenty of it, we are told this is the coast of North Africa.
After waiting for about an hour we can see in the distance the port and city of Algiers. At 9oc we enter the port, everyone crowds to the sides to get a good view. What a wonderful sight. The sky is a lovely blue, not a cloud to be seen, the sun is shining, the surrounding hills just a mass of green. Algiers, very old and custom, with its mosques, domes and flat roofed houses and buildings all built of the same white stone.
We are not disembarking today, so spend the day on deck lazing in the African sun. Another night on board and what a night! About 8oc German and Italian planes come over and started all night bombing attack on the convoy, bombs fell all around us, guns from the ships and on land opened up, what a noise; it was like hell let loose and being below it seemed even worse. Another day on board, I shall be glad to get off this ship, jerry is giving us hell and this ship is certainly a big target. Another night like last, the raid started as soon as it got dark and went on all through the night and early hours of the morning. Jerry certainly had a good try to get us, but we came out light, only one ship of the convoy damaged.
Disembarked at 1030 this morning, lovely day, sunny and very hot. Really ideal, it was good to get on land once again, spent 15 days on the good ship “Strathaird”.
With full pack we marched through the streets of Algiers to our camp site on the sands. Two of us in a small tent, get settled down and have a meal. Felt too tired to go out this evening, but Harry went out to explore the town and came back drunk, also brought back a bottle of French wine which we drank between us before going to sleep. But I did not sleep for long, woke up to find the tent floor was under water. What a night, a terrific storm and jerry over at the same time, we have to get out of the tent it’s no good stopping there any longer. Make for a big hanger where we spend the rest of that night. Was glad when morning came, felt cold, miserable, tired and hungry.
What a sight our camp was, all the tents were down and under water, just a mass of mud, sand and water. Felt very fed up. At 2oc we were told to move to a nearby race course, took over the stands, it’s cold but at least we have shelter from the rain.
In the evening we went out onto the main road, plenty to see, we stopped at a small café where we enjoyed a few glasses of wine, great stuff this French wine.
The next day it rained, so stopped in and did a few jobs. From here we get a wonderful view of the port, lots of ships coming in and going out.
Lovely day, sunny and hot, took advantage of the change to clean and dry my kit, so had quite a busy morning.
This afternoon went to a small town about four miles from here, on the way we passed hundreds of orange and lemon trees all load down with fruit. This town is awful, very dirty, nasty smell everywhere. Crowds of Arabs standing about, most of them in rags. During our walk round the town we saw quite a lot of veiled women, looks very queer, just a pair of eyes. A lot of dirty kids crowd round us where ever we went, all begging for biscuits and cigs, they look half starved.
Another hot and sunny day. This afternoon Harry and I went to Algiers to see the sights. The French part of the city is wonderful, flower gardens, wide clean streets with palm trees either side, big fine modern shops, stores and buildings. Quite a lot of well dressed French people walking about, what a difference to the rags of the Arabs I saw yesterday. We visited the Arab part of the city, very dirty houses and small streets and alley ways.
The usual crowd of Arabs lounging around. The Arab women look quite smart here, dressed head to foot in pure white dresses and of course wearing their veils, they certainly have that eastern “glamour”. Would be interesting to see what they look like without a veil.
Went to a very nice café and had the usual drink, caught a tram back to camp, and what a crowd there was on the tram, hanging from the sides and even sitting on the roof. We both really enjoyed or first visit to Algiers and hope to go again.
Thousands of troops have passed by here on their way to the front.
29th November to 5th December 1942
The weather these days is really ideal, sunny and very hot. Plenty of large juicy oranges about and we are certainly having our share of them.
So far I have not received any mail, longing for news of Kath, do hope she is keeping well.
Wed we started to do a police patrol in Hussein Dey which is just on the outskirts of Algiers and while out we went into a few cafes and had a few drinks.
The rest of the week was spent in doing patrols and walking around the camp, off duty hours I spent in lazing about, reading or writing.
Friday afternoon a crowd of us went to the beach, had my first swim in the lovely blue Mediterranean, very hot day, the sea calm and warm, in fact it was all rather ideal. We all enjoyed ourselves, had quite a lot of fun in the water.
Sat morning, we left the race course and once more we camp on the sands, no tents this time, we are in the big hanger. Don’t think we shall be here very long if one can go by the rumours.
6th to 12th December 1942
We have all been issued with airmail letters to send home, which we are told will be in the UK in time for Xmas. Very pleased about this, as I’m sure Kath will be looking forward to a letter from me over the holiday. Well we have not done so badly out here, the food has been good and get enough to eat. OK for beer and wine also fruit.
Monday I received two wonderful letters from Kath, they sure give me that on top of the world feeling, mail is certainly the big event of the week.
Today we started working on the beaches loading up lorries ready to move up to the forward dromes, it’s good to know we are doing a good job of work.
Still getting lovely weather, every day is sunny and hot, just how I like it.
In the evenings when not on duty, Harry and I go for a stroll round Hussein Dey, spend an hour in one of the many cafes drinking wine.
Thursday 10th December
Spent the morning packing my kit for the move tonight. Left the hanger about 6oc this evening and marched to the railway station. We are in for an awful night, travelling in a cattle truck, the whole flight packed into one truck, just like a lot of cattle.
Friday morning. Last night was awful, only had two hours sleep, was very glad when morning came, felt tired, cold and hungry.
During the day we saw quite a lot of the county, many large mountains, passed through many small Arab villages and towns.
We arrived at our destination which is the town of “Setif” about 5oc on Friday evening. RAF lorries picked us up and took us to the drome which is about 6 miles from the town. Had a good hot meal and so to sleep, felt very tired after this long journey.
Sat. afternoon. Went into Setif with Harry, spent most of the time looking round. Quite a lot of French people living here, many modern buildings and some very nice houses, in fact this part of the town is very clean and tidy. The usual crowd of Arabs here.
13th to 19th December 1942
Very nice day but rather cold, another day off, so took things easy, wrote a few letters, also made myself a ring out of a piece of metal taken off a crashed French plane. There is a news sheet up on the notice board, so get all the latest war news from this front.
Monday morning, went out on a route march, stopped at a small Arab village for a rest and smoke, very dirty place, all the Arabs come out of their holes to see what we were up to. We are certainly seeing how the other half of the world lives, we really had to see it to belive what awful conditions these people live in. They certainly have not moved with the times.
Tonight I’m out on patrol round the drome, awful out wet and cold. Felt very hungry so raided the cook house, which was very successful. The Yanks are moving up, big convoy passed here, thousands of jeeps and armoured cars.
Wednesday. Went to Setif again this afternoon, had a great time, went to a very smart French restaurant for dinner, the food was quite OK but the wine was a lot better, came out feeling very satisfied. The more I see of this town the better I like it.
Friday 18th November 1942
Left Setif today at 11oc, saw some very lovely country. Passed through the town of Constantine, was glad to see this place, it sure looks a wonderful town, hope I get the chance to visit Constantine sometime. Arrived at the small town of Canrobert about 6oc, don’t like the looks of this place, had a busy time unloading the lorries and putting up tents.
Saturday morning we moved to a new camp site, now in the trees, which is a lot better.
20th to 26th December 1942
Once more we are settled in, have also had the chance to give the town the once over, much the same as any other Arab town, a few French people here, the rest of the population is Arabs. About four shops in the main street and quite a lot of stalls, really not a lot to see.
We are doing a railway patrol also a police patrol in the town of Ain Beida which is about 10 miles from here. Once again it is Xmas week and my first overseas.
Christmas day. Had the morning off. The dinner was great, turkey, chicken and Xmas pudding, fruit and wine. Certainly a very good meal and a lot better than I thought we should get. Had to go out on patrol this afternoon. We had a sing-sing in the tent this evening, not very much like Xmas. Today my thoughts are of home, and the wonderful times I have had.
Boxing Day, had most of the day off, so took a stroll round the town.
27th December 1942 to 2nd January 1943
Once again it’s Sunday and what a lovely day, very hot. Harry, Mac and I have today off, so we decided to spend the day out. Started away early and walked over the mountains, great view of the surrounding countryside from the top. Walked about 7 miles before we came to the small Arab village of Ain Babouche. Here we met a very nice French family, they invited the three of us to their house, gave us a meal. After this we sat talking and drinking wine, we really enjoyed ourselves, was very sorry when it was time to leave.
Well the week passed in doing town and railway patrols.
Thursday we had a heavy fall of snow, so had quite a lot of fun snow fighting.
Friday night. Plenty of excitement in camp tonight, all the flight went out looking for paratroops who had been reported as being seen near the drome. Spent a few hours chasing round the countryside.
3rd to 9th January 1943
A red letter week, received two letters from Kath, was great to hear from Kath, been without news for a long time.
Jerry planes over here this week, no bombs dropped, just had a look round and then made off.
We had quite a lot of fun when a railway guard got some Arab boys round the tent who go to the village for us or to the farms for eggs. Eggs are very cheap here and we usually take quite a few back to camp, have a good fry up in the tent.
One of the boys brought round a lovely horse and I had a ride, they certainly can move, quite an experience. Just lately the weather has been awful, wet and cold, nothing like the weather I thought they had in Africa.
Saturday morning went up into the mountains looking for wood, great up there and what a wonderful view of the countryside, really magnificent scenery.
10th to 16th January 1943
Monday I went to a field hospital just outside of Constantine to see about my teeth, will be a few weeks yet before I get them. Spent three hours in town so made the most of this opportunity to have a look round. Constantine is built on the side of a hill; the white modern buildings can be seen for miles around, a really lovely place, modern, clean, fine buildings and houses. Like all towns out here the Arab part of the town is very dirty, in fact the opposite to the French part.
Tuesday plenty of excitement in camp this morning, lights seen in the mountains last night. The C.O. took some of the boys with him to see if he could find out anything.
Wednesday I again went to Constantine, had another look round, sure is a swell place, crowds everywhere, always plenty to see and do in a place like this.
Thursday some of the boys from the Squadron left this morning for the desert, only wish I was going. Should be a very interesting and wonderful experience for them and make a change from this place.
Jerry planes over tonight, the A.A. boys put up a terrific barrage. No bombs.
Friday. Lovely day. Our Officer took us over to the mountains for the day. We climbed to the top of one mountain, felt just about all in by the time I reached there, but it was worth it, the view was really smashing. Came down and had a meal, after this we had a shooting contest, quite an enjoyable day out.
17th to 23rd January 1943
Another day at Constantine, no time to look round. Not a lot to write about this week, everything is much the same, still doing patrols and guards. The weather has been really grand, started to do a spot of sunbathing. Been into the village a couple of times for oranges and eggs, makes a change to get out of camp for an hour.
24th to 30th January 1943
Sunday, this afternoon I went to Ain Beida, had my first Turkish bath, and what a bath, a room packed with naked bodies and hot steam, but it was great, plenty of hot and cold water. And after the bath you go into the drying room were the Arab boys bring round glasses of hot coffee. This is a lot better than trying to have a bath out of a biscuit tin. After the bath we took a stroll round the town, bought some oranges to take back to camp, not a lot to see, plenty of Arabs here also quite a few French.
Had the whole day off Wednesday so got cracking with my washing, the rest of the day I spent lazing in the sun. Not a lot in the way of entertainment, no film or stage shows yet, but I expect that will come later. Had a game of football amongst ourselves, it made a change.
31st January to 6th February 1943
While out on patrol this morning we caught some Arabs with petrol, we took them along to the local police station, the French know how to handle this type of Arab. The rest of the Squadron arrived, heard all about their experience coming over, not as lucky as us.
This week the weather has been very changeable, one day is fine and warm, then the next is cold and wet. The warmest place has been bed.
7th to 13th February 1943
Sunday morning went to open air church service on the camp. This afternoon went into Ain Beida for my weekly Turkish bath, awful crowd there today, was quite a job to know if you were washing your own body or someone else’s.
More snow this week and still very cold, shall be very glad when the arm weather arrives. Still doing the usual patrols. Saw my first concert over here, took place in the hanger on the drome, the RAF boys certainly gave a grand show, good singing and plenty of laughs.
14th to 20th February 1943
Went to church service this morning, getting very good, this makes the second Sunday I have been to church. Went into Ain Beida this afternoon, spent the time looking round the town, not that there is anything to see that I have not already seen. A lot of tanks passed through the village on the way to the front.
Thursday had a very busy day, what with packing and unpacking and getting tents down and putting them up again, felt very tired by time night came. We have moved on to the drome, this is quite a good move, away from the Squadron and now on our own. The first night out on guard we nearly got fired on by the army, thought we were Arabs. So it looks as if we are in for some exciting times.
Friday, quite a lot of excitement round here today, the Germans have pushed the Yanks back 40 miles. Our Officer (Davies) told us we may have to take up positions in the mountains.
21st to 27th February 1943
The Yanks have taken over the A.A. on the drome; they have a gun position near our camp, and when out on patrol I usually spend an hour talking to the chaps, seem to be quite a nice lot. The news is better, the Germans have been stopped. Received quite a lot of mail which I was very glad to get, mail is the big event of the week and something to look forward to.
The weather is very bad, having a week of wet and cold days; the camp is just a mass of mud. One of our planes crashed on the drome, all the crew killed.
Thanks to the Yanks we all have electric light in the tents which is certainly great, I can now read or write in comfort, getting organised at last.
Saturday evening I had a game of housey in the airman’s mess, quite a pleasant evening.
28th February to 6th March 1943
This week I have been very busy making myself a bed made out of a large bomb base and a piece of canvas, very pleased with my effort, it looks a thing of beauty, shall be OK at night now.
Wednesday, this morning the flight went to the salt lake for firing practice, parts of the lake had dried up and left a nice sandy beach, just like being at the seaside in summer, but of course there were no crowds here, just a few Arabs.
Friday our Flight Officer Davies left us, was rather sorry to see him go, not a bad chap. The new Officer looks fat and lazy, name Ward. Shall know in the next few days what he’s like, time will tell.
The weather is a lot better, sun very hot this week.
7th to 13th March 1943
Quite a lot of Yank planes have arrived on the drome, looks as if there is going to be a big push in the very near future.
Certainly a big week for mail, received 11 letters in one day, took me the whole evening to read them, but I cannot think of a better way of spending the evening.
Well the six of us have been very busy digging out the floor of the tent, gone down about three feet, very hard work, but it’s certainly worth the doing, looks quite good, also a lot warmer.
Friday evening. Today we received four bottles of beer each from the NAAFI and this evening we had a do in the tent, invited a couple of Yanks from the gun position. Quite a jolly party, a good time was had by all.
Saturday afternoon went along to the football pitch, the flight team against No. 1 flight; all the players were on their toes. After a very fast and exciting game we won 3 – 2.
14th to 16th March 1943
Our new Officer is full of ideas, some good, some bad, been busy round the camp site, putting up ablutions and drying lines. Now we have this communal wash place, washing and shaving is not allowed in the tents.
The latest rumour is that we shall soon be moving up the line, in some ways I hope not as we are now quite organised here, but it would be nice to see somewhere different.
Monday Air Marshal Coningham came to the drome, gave us quite a “pep” talk, also told us we might have to do three years overseas, that was quite a blow.
On our way back from the baths at Ain Beida in the open lorry we got caught in a storm, no shelter anywhere, and to make things even worse the lorry had to get stuck in the mud, had to walk the rest of the way back to camp, arrived looking like a lot of drowned rats. What a country!
21st to 27th March 1943
This week we have started a training programme, another one of Ward’s bright ideas. Start the morning with P.T. and games, followed by rifle drill. Mountain climbing and firing practice in the afternoon, so we should be fit enough. This week we have been issued with tropical kit, just the clothes for this heat, that is, when we get some.
The planes on the drome have been getting in plenty of flying hours, been bombing just in front of our lines, some of the planes got shot up badly, but all returned OK.
28th March to 3rd April 1943
The news is great; the 8th Army is on the move again. Not a lot to write about this week, still doing patrols on the drome, also a spot of training.
Some evenings we have a sing song in the tent, or I go to the airman’s mess for a game of housey. Getting very fed up with this place, would welcome a move.
4th to 10th April 1943
Tuesday evening went to the hanger and saw my first film in Africa, was a boxing film called “Gentlemen Jim”, just the sort of film I like, very good show.
Heard there is going to be a couple of film shows here every week, that sure will be great, it’s about time we had some sort of entertainment.
Saturday left the drome and moved back to the first camp site in the trees, now with H.Q. which is not so good.
11th to 17th April 1943
Well everything is about the same, still doing the usual guards, going to Ain Beida for our Turkish bath. Most evenings I either write or do a spot of reading, with an occasional visit to the village, just feel I must get out of camp for a change.
Friday while over the mountains for firing practice this afternoon two Arabs rode up and told the Officer that Italian paratroops had been seen about 6 miles away. The Officer and one section went after them, they caught the lot and took them back to camp, one Officer, one Sergeant and 6 Other Ranks gave in without a fight, in fact they all seemed very pleased at being captured. The C.O. was very pleased with what the boys had done. That was the high spot of this week and caused quite a lot of excitement in camp.
18th to 24th April 1943
Sunday, spent the morning round the spot where they caught the paratroops last week, we were looking for their guns and other kit, unlucky, didn’t find a thing. At last we are getting some really hot weather, and we are only too pleased to put on our tropical kit.
We have been issued with mosquito nets, and what a job I had fixing the bloody thing to my bed, this is sure going to be fun getting into bed at night, talk about being caught in a net, fish have my sympathy.
Had a couple of games of football this week, rather hot work chasing a ball, expect the Arabs think we are mad.
Good Friday, this morning I went to church, the sermon was very good also enjoyed the singing. After the service I went for a walk into the village, lovely morning, sunny and very hot, just ideal holiday weather. Quite a lot of French people walking about all dressed in their best, the girls in coloured frocks, certainly made me feel very homesick. Not much of a holiday for us, in fact it’s just another day.
25th April to 1st May 1943
Old Ward has gone away for a couple of days to collect some guns, and while he is away we intend to have an easy time.
Monday evening went to open air film show, only a news film on, no big picture but even this sort of show is welcome.
Friday left Canrobert this morning, now at a small place in the country which is known as Maison Forest. Only about five miles from Ain Beida so have not moved far. Quite nice here, and the countryside looks grand. Lots of storks around here, they certainly are very big birds.
We are doing a guard on a big house in the trees which is the H.Q. of T.A.F.
Saturday morning I felt very bad, went sick and was ordered to bed for three days, have touch of fever also pains in my stomach.
2nd to 8th May 1943
Had my three days in bed and once more feel very fit. Spent a couple of days and nights by the salt lake, doing a guard on a crashed “Bisley”.
Thursday evening went to the cinema at Ain Beida and saw a very good film called “He Stayed for Breakfast”.
Saturday morning we left “Maison Forest” and arrived at “Souka Kemist” about 6oc, a very long but interesting journey. On the way we saw some really lovely country. Now in Tunisia which is a lot better than Algeria.
9th to 15th May 1943
This certainly has been a great week, on Thursday 13th May, Jerry surrendered, and so ends a very successful campaign. Victory in North Africa.
It’s certainly very hot here; in fact the heat is terrific, getting in plenty of sunbathing hours. Up at 5oc in the morning and finish work at 12oc, too hot to work in the afternoons. Now doing guards for T.B.F.
16th to 22nd May 1943
Ward and some of the boys went to Tunis for a couple of days, brought back two German cars, spent most of the week working on them, wonder if they will ever go.
Thursday, day off, went to the seaside town of “Tabarka” with some of the boys, had a great time there, swimming and lazing in the sands. The sea looked lovely, as blue as the sky, very hot, a really ideal day to spend at the seaside.
Didn’t see much of the town, but what I saw looked in a mess, the bombers had done their stuff.
23rd to 29th May 1943
Now that the North Africa campaign has come to a successful end, all the boys are talking and wondering if we shall now go home, the rumours are that we shall.
Having a very easy time now that the rest of the Squadron is here, I only have the usual guards and camp fatigues to do.
Spent another day at Tabarka, spent the few hours there swimming and lazing in the sun, I certainly enjoyed myself there.
Friday, this afternoon I went to the charming village of Hidar, quite a lovely spot, a very large French convent here, magnificent flower garden, just a mass of many different colours.
The countryside round here looks grand, waving golden corn, miles of neat rows of vine trees, on this sunny afternoon everything looked a picture.
30th May to 5th June 1943
The first two days of this week we have enjoyed a rest, the Squadron has moved and left our flight here, great to be on our own once more.
Went again to the village of Hidar, how peaceful and quiet it is there.
Wed. we had a very busy day packing and getting the tents down, for we are on the move again tomorrow. Spent the night under the stars.
Thursday, left this morning at 9oc by lorry. Passed through many famous battle towns of this campaign, such as “Beja”, “Medjez El Bab” also saw the battlefields with their knocked out tanks and lorries.
Passed through Tunis, which looks a really lovely city, we arrived at the seaside town of “La Marsa” about 1oc, tents to put up and once more we get settled in. La Marsa is about five miles from Tunis so we should be able to get into town quite often while we are here.
Saturday morning we handed in a bit of our kit, some of the boys think this means we shall be going home, somehow I cannot imagine this will happen as we have only done about eight months overseas. This afternoon we went down to the beach, lovely sands and a very hot afternoon, just ideal for the beach. Just as we were enjoying a swim and having fun in the sea, three boys on tyres got carried out by the tide and were soon in difficulties. One boy was drowned trying to rescue one of them, the boys in trouble were all saved. We all felt very sorry to have lost such a brave chap, what rotten luck.
6th to 12th June 1943
Well I don’t know about going home, we have just started on a training programme, up at 5oc in the morning for an hour’s P.T. before breakfast. Then after the meal we had drill, the rest of the morning we spent on the bridge. It’s very hot here, just ideal for swimming and sunbathing.
Wednesday evening I went into Tunis to see an E.N.S.A. stage show, a really lovely theatre. The show was great, good singing and dancing. The girls looked “super”, plenty of glamour.
Saturday evening my pal and I went to La Marsa to see the sights, quite a swell town, modern with up to date houses and buildings, wide clean streets. Quite a show place, one of the best and most interesting towns I have seen in Africa.
13th to 19th June 1943
Left La Marsa at 930 this morning, passed through Tunis and Grombalia on our way to Hammamet, arriving there about 12oc. Quite a nice camp site, my tent is under a large fig tree. We are certainly doing a lot of moving these days, no stopping anywhere for long. Now closing a special guard on a lovely large house in the trees, it’s the T.A.F. H.Q. all the big knobs here. When off duty I spend most of my time on the beach, swimming or lazing in the sun, the camp is only 200 yards from the sea so have not far to go for a swim.
Wednesday afternoon my pals and I went into Tunis, had a look round the town, sure is a swell place, then went into the R.A.F. Club. Went to the theatre in the evening and saw a smashing ENSA show, a big cast which included Leslie Henson and many other well known stage stars.
Friday there’s plenty of excitement round here and a lot of troops. The King arrived at T.A.F. HQ about 2oc, troops on either side of the road, a guard of honour from our flight. Had a good view of the King as he came along the road and turned into HQ, he looked fit and well. He is spending the night here; there are guards for miles around.
The King left at 10oc the next morning and once more we are back to normal. Spent the afternoon on the beach sunbathing, went into the sea twice, very warm and quite calm. This is sure a grand spot to spend a few lazy days by the sea. Heard this is where the Prince of Wales came to one year.
20th to 26th June 1943
Sunday morning I went to an open air church service, very good sermon also enjoyed the singing, spent the rest of the morning on the beach, another hot day.
Wednesday morning we left this charming little spot and moved to the other side of Hammamet, camp on the beach this time, only 100 yards from the sea, the tent makes a good bathing hut. The Squadron is all here, which is not so good.
27th June to 3rd July 1943
We have been given three day’s rest, Sunday is the first. Spent most of today on the beach enjoying a lazy time, this is the life, plenty of swimming and nothing to do, having smashing weather.
This evening my pals and I walked into Hammamet, not a lot to see here, just a small seaside town. Tried to get a drink but couldn’t find a wine bar in the place. It’s a lovely summer night, very pleasant out walking.
Left camp at 9oc on Monday morning for Tunis arrived there about 12oc. Spent the afternoon seeing the sights and places of interest, a really lovely city, very modern fine buildings, up to date shops and stores, many fine cinemas and a really first class theatre, clean wide roads with palm trees on either side. Thousands of French people here, the girls are very smartly dressed, plenty of glamour girls here. I went to the cinema and canteen in the evening and so back to camp after a very enjoyable day out.
Tuesday, well this is the last day, spent another day on the beach just lazing about and going in for a dip. This evening I went to open air film show, saw a very good film called “Time to Kill”.
Wednesday, back at work again today not that we had much to do, really having a very easy time at this place.
Saturday morning I went to the army camp to see a boxing show, saw some very exciting and thrilling fights between the army boys, and so ends one of the best weeks I have spent overseas, a week full of entertainment.
4th to 10th July 1943
Once again we are in training, but only in the mornings, the afternoons we have off, so go for a swim or laze in the sun.
This week has seen the start of another invasion, it’s “Sicily” this time. Thought something was coming off, the army has been in training for weeks and there has been thousands of troops round here. Wonder is we shall go into Sicily. There are rumours of another move.
Saturday, well at last we have lost old Ward, he’s going into support flight and we have a new Officer name Culver, wonder how this one is going to turn out, better than the last I hope.
11th to 17th July 1943
Another week and another move, we left Hammamet at 10oc on Monday evening and arrived at Tunis airport 2oc on Tues. morning. Felt very tired so just layed down by the side of the lorry and went to sleep. I spent the day putting up tents and clearing up the camp site.
The RAF certainly bombed this drome well, knocked every hanger down, smashed up German planes everywhere, all types, fighters, bombers and big transports and I spent a few hours looking them over.
Now only two miles from Tunis so should be able to get into town quite often. Doing a 24 hr patrol round the planes, just lately there has been some trouble here.
Thursday I had the day off so with my pals I went to the seaside town of “Carthage”, spent a couple of hours seeing the sights then went down to the beach. Crowds of civilians and soldiers were on the beach this sunny afternoon. The sea was calm and warm. And it was just great in, the rest of the time I lazed in the sands. Quite a short stay here, left Tunis at 1oc and arrived at our new camp site at 7oc, now about 14 miles from “Sousse”, camped in olive trees.
18th to 24th July 1943
Plenty of rumours going round as to why we are here, it looks as if we shall be going to Sicily after all. Only about a mile from the sea and most mornings I go down for a swim, it’s very hot here and the coolest place is down by the sea.
I certainly don’t like this spot, it’s one of the worst camp sites we have been to, and I for one shall be very glad to get moving again. Everyone is fed up and the food is bloody awful.
25th to 31st July 1943
Started on yet another training programme, up at 6oc for an hour’s P.T. the rest of the morning we are on some sort of training, glad we get the afternoons off, anyway it’s much too hot to work and I usually have a nap in the afternoons.
The C.O. told us we should have gone to Sicily but that’s all been cancelled.
Left here Saturday morning, was glad to get away from this place, well once more we are at Hammamet, sure was great to see the old camp site once more, I shall be OK now for my daily dip.
1st to 7th August 1943
The first day back and I’ve had a spot of bad luck, scolded my leg this morning, so that’s finished my swimming for a few weeks, and that’s one thing I’m really going to miss. I spent most of this week on my bed, no work for me.
Passed the time reading and writing, not much else I can do.
8th to 14th August 1943
At last my leg is showing some improvement, but will be some time yet before it’s completely OK. I’m certainly missing my dip in the sea, but I do go and laze on the sands and do a spot of sunbathing.
The Squadron held its swimming gala day on Thursday, was a really great show and well organised. Saw many exciting races and I am sure everyone enjoyed this day, I know I did.
Friday evening I spent in the airmen’s mess playing darts with the boys, had some jolly good games.
The weather this week has been great, every day sunny and hot, real African weather.
15th to 21st August 1943
Still we keep moving, don’t stop anywhere for long these days. Left Hammamet at 10oc on Monday morning. A very long, hot and dusty journey, passed through the town of Enfidaville. Arriving at the holy city of Kairouan at 5oc, we move on to the drome which is about four miles from the city. The rest of the evening was spent in doing such jobs as getting up tents and getting unpacked.
Tuesday afternoon I went out in the van looking for a wood dump, covered miles of this flat country, finished up two miles from the town of Pichon, would have liked to have seen this place, had to get back short of juice. It’s certainly a change to be on a drome again, two squadrons of Wellingtons here no’s 145 and 150. We are doing a nightly patrol round the drome. It’s terribly hot here, the warmest place I have been in and the sea is miles away, so not much hope of getting in a lot of swimming.
Wednesday morning, a terrific explosion on the drome, bomb went off on one of the planes and within two minutes two more planes went up in smoke. Three boys of the ground crew killed.
Friday night we held our flight party, and what a do, the meal was really great, after that we had a sing-song, and a couple of stage turns. By this time the party was in full swing, the wine was flowing like water everyone including myself got well and truly oiled, I came out just before the free fight started, a few of the boys had lovely black eyes the next morning.
22nd to 28th August 1943
Tues. afternoon General Spaatz of the U.S.A.F. came to the drome and presented medals to five RAF Officers. The Squadron supplied the guard of honour; everyone looked smart in their tropical clothes. The General congratulated the C.O. on the smart turnout, but the high spot of the afternoon was the charge of the mounted Arab patrol, mounted on magnificent horses they charged across the drome at terrific speed, scarlet cloaks flying, was like a mass of scarlet rushing towards us. One of the most wonderful sights I have ever seen.
This week we have started to help with the bombing of the planes, it’s quite hard going working in this terrific heat, but we are all very pleased that at last we are doing something which we know is helping to win this war.
Nights when not on duty I go along to the canteen for tea and biscuits, and usually stop a couple of hours talking or listening to the radio. The nights are really smashing, nice and cool after the heat of the day.
29th August to 4th September 1943
Days spent in bombing up and doing night patrols. Went into Kairouan Tuesday evening and saw George Formby and his wife. Only these two in the show, but they were great, George just as funny as ever and of course he sang all his favourite songs. We all gave him a big hand.
Thursday, off for the day, so went into Kairouan to have a good look round. A city of rambling white buildings surrounded by a high stone wall, very old and eastern, with its many Mosques, large domes and flat roofed houses, and not many shops, don’t think there are many French here, thousands of Arabs everywhere, they all seem to come out at night. Would have very much have liked to have got into the Arab quarters, but not allowed in without a pass. But for a holy city this is a really dirty hole, and smells awful.
Saturday evening I was again in town, this time I went to an open air film show, saw the 8th Army film “Desert Victory” which I thought was quite a good film, quite a week for entertainment.
5th to 11th September 1943
Wed. afternoon I went to Kairouan and saw a stage show. This time it was the “Western Brothers”. One of them announced from the stage that Italy had surrendered, wild cheering from all the boys. The planes were overhead on their way to bomb Italy and then we watched them turn and make their way home; must have just received the news. That evening I saw a film, so it really was quite some day.
Friday, big fire on the drome, thousands of gallons of petrol went up in smoke, impossible to try to put it out.
12th to 18th September 1943
It’s been very hot again this week; this heat certainly gets me down. Done quite a lot of bombing up, very busy here, the planes are out every night doing their stuff. I find this bombing up job very interesting and it’s good to know you are doing a good job of work.
We get the mobile shower baths here once a week, it’s a good thing there are no girls round here, would be very embarrassing for them to see a crowd of naked bodies in an open field, but it’s really good to get a hot shower every week. Not a lot to write about this week, still doing night patrols and going along to the canteens when off duty.
19th to 25th September 1943
Sunday, had a very busy morning putting up a large marquee for an airman’s mess, with seats and tables.
Monday evening I went up for my flip, the plane was Q for Queenie which is the name of a Wellington bomber. The first time up we had a spot of engine trouble so we had to come down as quickly as possible. After a few alterations we went up again and this time everything went OK, stopped up for an hour. This is my first trip into the blue, was really great, certainly very interesting and quite an experience. I must try to go up again another day.
Wednesday evening I went to a RAF show on the drome which was very good for amateurs.
26th September to 2nd October 1943
Monday I was off, so spent the day at “Sousse”, must have been a lovely seaside resort in peace time, but the town has been very badly damaged by bombs. Spent the morning looking round, then I went to the canteen for lunch. Spent the afternoon on the beach, was great to get into the sun again and enjoy a swim, lovely sands, very hot, the sea calm and warm, just ideal for a few hours on the beach.
Went to the cinema in the evening and saw a lousy film, so back to camp after a very good day out. The latest rumour is that we shall be here for the winter; I hope not, would like to get moving again.
3rd to 9th October 1943
This week I have seen quite a good film, also a very good variety show in Kairouan.
Every night the Wellingtons go out on their bombing missions and when out on patrol we watch them come in, then get all the “gen” from the crew as to what sort of night they have had.
Well it looks as if we have seen the last of the really hot weather, certainly a lot cooler now, better for working.
Spent Friday evening in the mess playing housey, quite a crowd there, no luck at that game.
10th to 16th October 1943
Sunday, I have felt awful all day, nasty pains in my back. Monday and Tuesday I felt no better so spent two days in bed. Thursday morning I reported sick and entered No. 31 M.F.H. in the afternoon.
Gosh! I was glad to get into hospital, a good bed and plenty of thick blankets also get the right attention here.
Friday I still felt very rough, spent most of the day reading and sleeping.
Saturday the M.O. told me this morning that I have yellow jaundice, a lot more of the chaps come in with the same thing, so now I have plenty of company.
17th to 23rd October 1943
Spent this week in hospital, having a good rest, nothing to do except read, write and sleep, feeling a lot better. If everything had gone OK I should have been out on Saturday but during the end of this week a nasty boil came up on my neck, this put me back and once again I felt worse. Shall be here at least another week.
The M.O. is a swell chap and the sister in charge of the ward is quite charming, nice to hear a woman speak English.
There is a coloured man, Yank, in the next bed to me, quite a nice chap; his friends sent him two large tins of pineapple, so we all had a good tuck in, quite a treat.
24th to 30th October 1943
Another week in hospital, I’m getting very fed up with this and shall be very glad to get back to work. Every day someone moves out of the ward, if this goes on I shall be by myself. I have received mail from Kath which cheered me up.
Monday night we had a terrific storm, quite a few tents and marquees down the next morning.
Tuesday evening four of us played “Monopoly” this is the first time I have played this game, and it’s great, very interesting. When the D/R brought up my mail he told me that the boys were on leave in Tunis, shall have to try and get a spot of sick leave when I get out of here.
31st October to 6th November 1943
Tuesday I came out of hospital, must say I was very glad to get out, one can have too much of that. Asked the W.O. about some leave, but he said we might be moving any day, he was sorry but I had “had it”. During the time I was away, there has been a flood in the drome; some parts are still under water, looks a hell of a mess, move camp to another site. Well it’s great to be back with the boys again.
Saturday night we had another one of these terrific African storms, the wind was blowing a gale, the six of us had to hang on to the poles to keep the tent from taking off. What a night. The next morning the camp was in a terrific mess, mud and water everywhere. The “gen” is we shall be moving next week, and I’m all for it, this is no place to spend the winter.
7th to 13th November 1943
Had quite an easy week, did the usual guards and camp fatigues, spent most of the week getting ready for the coming move on Sunday, made myself another bed to take with me. Most evenings I either went to the canteen or stopped in the tent reading or writing. And so ends our three month stay at Kairouan.
Saturday afternoon I had a last look around the city, walked through the native bazaars, crowds of Arabs here, many thousands of tribesman from the surrounding countryside came here every day. Saw hundreds of really marvellous rugs hanging up in the bazaar.
14th to 20th November 1943
Sunday, left Kairouan at 9oc this morning and after a long ride we arrived at “Ariana” at 2oc, this is a small town about six miles from Tunis, once more we are back in this part of the country.
Well we have been given the rest of this week to get cleaned up and get our kit up to perfection, next week we go into training for at least two weeks.
Tuesday Mick, Harry and I went into Tunis for the day. Had a smashing time, saw three very good films, we went to the RAF Club for lunch and tea. So did not spend a lot of time looking round. Tunis is a swell place, always plenty to see and do here.
Sunday, up at 6oc this morning, from then until breakfast time I was very busy getting ready for the big parade. This is the opening day of our training course, to others also here. At 8oc we marched onto the parade ground, everyone looking very smart.
Inspected by Col. Salmon and other high ranking Officers, all went off OK. After this we had a tent inspection, and then we were finished for the day.
Saw a very good football match this afternoon between two of the Squadrons, and so ended our first day of training.
Our day starts at 6oc in the morning and finishes around 5oc, quite a long and full day. Plenty to do, foot and rifle drill, route marches, field exercises and lectures, and of course plenty of P.T. Certainly feeling very fit and so ends the first week of the course.
28th November to 4th December 1943
Sunday, we start the second week with another big parade. The training has been just the same as last week, long route marches through the country every morning, field exercises in the afternoons, never a dull moment. The days pass very quickly, feel very fed up, but I’m certainly feeling very fit.
The course ended as it started with a big parade and inspection; well I am glad these two weeks are at last over.
5th to 11th December 1943
Well this week has been like old times, no training, in fact had a very easy time.
Tuesday Fred, Mick and I went to Tunis for the day, first went to the baths where we had a nice hot shower, then went to the RAF Club for refreshments. Spent most of the day either in the canteen or at the cinema, saw two fine films. This evening we went to the theatre, wonderful place, saw a very good variety show, a day full of entertainment.
Friday morning the flight went on a route march through the country, stopped at a large wine distillery, made the most of this golden opportunity to have a few drinks, and we sure did have a few, everyone left in a very merry mood, sang all the way back to camp.
12th to 18th December 1943
The latest “gen” is we shall be moving out of this country someday this week, some say we are going home, but I think it’s more likely to be Italy.
Monday we get our orders to pack, moving off early tomorrow morning.
Tuesday, up at 5oc, awful morning, wet, cold and very dark, quite a job to get the tents down in this weather, wet through before we start. Left Ariana at 8oc and after a long journey we arrived at the port of “Ferryville” at 12oc. Not going on the boat today. So we shall be sleeping in the lorries tonight. Went along and saw a film in the hanger.
Wednesday, another day here, helped to put up a marquee and that is where I shall sleep. Went and saw another film.
Thursday, up at 5oc this morning, told we should be on the boat by 8oc, but it was 4oc before we did go aboard. Now on L.S.T. Not lucky enough to get a bunk so had to sleep on the deck, quite a crowd on this boat.
Friday, left Africa at 10oc this morning, now on the way to Italy. Tonight we ran into a terrific storm, very rough sea and this bloody boat certainly knows how to roll and pitch. Most of us were seasick.
Saturday, quite a calm sea after the storm and a lovely warm day. Spent most of today reading and sunbathing and saw Sicily in the distance. So ends a very interesting week, glad to get out of North Africa.
19th to 25th December 1943
Sunday morning, up washed and shaved by 7oc, and on deck by 8oc. Plenty to see, passed the Island of Capri looked great, and passed through the bay of Naples, wonderful sight with the city way in the distance and the ever smoking “Vesuvius” beyond.
Landed at 2oc at the little port of “Nisida” which is about 10 miles from Naples. A lovely warm and sunny day. Everywhere looks so different from Africa, green fields, trees and houses with flower gardens. Once more we are back in civilisation.
Marched to a large field just outside of the town, stopping here for the night, soon had a crowd of children and women round the camp begging for food.
Monday, stopping here today, put up tents for the night. Went into town in the evening, had a few drinks in a café and tasted this Italian wine, spent an hour looking round. Not a lot to see.
Tuesday up at 5oc and on the road by 8oc, passed through Naples, wonderful city, looked great in the early morning sunshine.
Our destination is “Cerignola” a small town on the east coast of Italy, so we shall be crossing the country from coast to coast, a wonderful and most interesting journey. We cross the range of mountains, and at times we were thousands of feet up, in amongst the low clouds. The scenery was really magnificent, would be very hard to put into words the beauty of it all.
Passed through many towns and villages, everyone seemed to turn out to watch our convoy go by. We eventually arrived at Cerignola about 6oc; it was too dark to find the way to the drome, so put up for the night in town. Next morning we moved to our new camp site which is about a mile from the drome and six from the town, so once more we are way in the country. The rest of the day was spent in putting up tents and marquees and getting things organised.
Well it is Xmas week again, my second overseas. This time we certainly have not many days to get things organised for Xmas, but the C.O. got cracking right away.
Christmas Day, the first surprise was a cup of tea in bed, brought round by the Sergeants. The Xmas dinner was great, pork with apple sauce, cauliflower and baked potatoes. For sweet, mince pie and Xmas pudding, followed by fruit, wine and beer. In the evening we had a sing-song in the mess and so ended my best Xmas overseas.
26th to 31st December 1943
Boxing Day, awful day, wet and very cold, did a spot of work in the morning, rest of the day off.
Do hope this is the last Xmas I shall have to spend overseas. Tonight I’m feeling very homesick and fed up. Mon, Tues, Wed, just did a few jobs around camp, also did my smalls and had a bath out of a biscuit tin. The weather here is still very bad, very cold and windy. Thurs afternoon my two pals and I went into Cerignola, quite a busy little country town, lot of people about. Had a good look round, really not a lot to see.
And so ends 1943 a year of great achievement for the Allies and for me a year of travel.
1st to 8th January 1944
The C.O. and a few of the boys have just returned from the front line where they spent four days with the 8th Army, and by the rumours going round it seems as if we all shall be up there soon, doing a bomb line job. This week we had a spot of training to get us fit, marches, drill, P.T. and lectures and firing on the range. Awful weather here this week, snow, rain and very cold, the warmest place is bed and that’s where I spent most of my time when not on duty.
Tuesday morning I went into “Foggia” for a bath, which was great. Had a look round the town, this town has had its share of bombing, a lot of buildings down or damaged.
9th to 15th January 1944
Monday and Tuesday was great to see a change in the weather both days fine and warm, just did the usual jobs in camp. And of course guards.
Wednesday morning, left camp at 9oc and arrived at the seaside town of “Barletta”, quite a nice clean town, plenty of shops and quite a nice front, spent the morning walking round and seeing the sights. Went to the local cinema this afternoon, the film was “Miss London Ltd” very good film and so back to camp after a very pleasant day in town.
Saturday afternoon Fred and I went for a walk in the country, was just great out and just the day for walking.
16th to 22nd January 1944
Nothing much of interest to write about this week, everything more or less the same, now doing a patrol round the drome, helps to pass the four hours of duty away watching the Wellingtons take off or watch their return from a successful raid. Usually get the “gen” from the crew.
Nights when off duty I spend in the tent reading or writing sometimes having a game of cards with the boys, not much to do here in the evenings. Went into Foggia on Friday for a bath, after this I went for a stroll round the town, a lot of people out shopping.
23rd to 29th January 1944
Well the weather is a lot better now, getting warm and sunny days, which is just how I like it. This week we have been on bombing up, it’s good to be doing a good job of work. Now quite busy what with patrols at night and bombing up by day, the time goes a lot quicker when there is plenty to do. I could not get into town this week for a bath, so had to have a wash down in the tent.
30th January to 5th February 1944
The first few days of this week have been great, sunny and warm, really ideal for this time of the year. I’ve been laying out in the sun with just my shorts on doing a spot of sunbathing. I played in a couple of games of football and both times my side managed to win. Still doing drome patrols and bombing up, also we had some P.T. just to keep us fit.
Thursday went for a walk over the hills, lovely out and the countryside is beginning to look very nice, still snow on the mountains.
Had the day off Monday, but didn’t trouble to go out, stopped in and did my smalls, spent the rest of the day reading.
6th to 12th February 1944
This week has seen another change in the weather, it’s been wet, cold and very windy, what a difference between the warm and sunny days of last week. Everything going along about the same, patrols, bombing up and the usual daily camp jobs. Getting a lot of football these days, played in three games this week.
Nothing to do in the evenings except stop in the tent, but only too glad to get there, awful cold nights, glad we have this stove, certainly warms the tent up. Very rough going when on drome patrol, the planes have been grounded this week.
13th to 19th February 1944
Snow on the ground when I woke up this morning certainly took some getting out, gosh! It’s bloody cold out. Did a spot of work in camp, was only too glad to get back in the warmth of the tent. By the latest of rumours going around we shall soon be on the move. I for one shall welcome the change, had more than enough of this place, it’s rather a dump.
Tuesday morning old Culver took us on a 10 mile route march; he set us a terrific pace, felt very tired when we got back to camp. Went into town hoping to get a nice hot shower but the water was cold, so didn’t have one, it’s cold enough without that sort of bath.
Friday the C.O. presented us with our African Star ribbon, well that’s the first medal. Most of the planes have moved to the drome at Foggia.
20th to 26th February 1944
Monday afternoon I saw the Squadron play the Army at football, very fast game which we won 4-0. The weather is very changeable, one day fine and warm, the next cold and wet.
Plenty of football between the flights, two games every afternoon and my flight has lost every game.
Day off Thursday, Mac and Ernie bought a few bottles of wine from the chap who comes round the tents each day with nuts, oranges and wine. So we had a bit of a do in the tent. Fred and I went into Cerignola this afternoon, had a good look round the town. Went to a wine bar in the evening, had a good booze up, the wine was great and so ended a very good day out.
27th February to 4th March 1944
Spent the day at Wing HQ in Foggia, had to clean up the joint, the big chief of the Regiment is here today. Monday afternoon I went into town with some of the boys, saw a Yank show at the theatre which was lousy, the best turn was two glamorous blondes, what figures! The drome guard is finished; all the planes have gone, now doing a spot of training.
Our C.O. old Willingdon has left the Squadron, been made up to Wing Commander. The new C.O. arrived named “Allen”, wonder how he will turn out, time will tell. Weather is still changeable.
5th to 11th March 1944
Monday afternoon went into town with the boys, had a walk round then saw a very good film. Left town about 7oc, on the way back we stopped at an Italian farmhouse, where we had many glasses of wine, it was a good thing we had this wine because we had to walk the 9 miles back to camp. This is where “one for the road” came in OK.
Wednesday afternoon I had three inoculations, felt awful after it, so went to bed early. Woke up the next morning feel lousy, in fact we all did. Had the day off, so took things easy. Friday I went into town for a bath, afterwards Harry and I had a swell time in a small café, music, dancing, and of course plenty of wine.
Saturday I received two photos of Kath, how well and lovely she looks, gosh! How I am longing to see her.
12th to 18th March 1944
Sunday awful day, rained from first thing in the morning to late at night. Monday afternoon our Officer told us to get packed up and ready to move tomorrow, everyone was pleased to hear that at last we are going to move, fed up with this place.
Tuesday left Cerignola drome at 7oc this morning, and we crossed Italy, a lovely day and a really smashing ride. We sure are seeing a lot of this country, and what wonderful country, mountains, wooded hills, lovely valleys and many rivers, passed through many towns and villages.
We arrived at “Portici” about 6oc, just outside Naples, spent the night at the RAF Personnel Despatch Centre. During the night there was a big raid on the docks, quite a hectic night.
What a difference here from Cerignola, lovely warm and sunny days, just ideal weather, this is more like the sunny Italy I have heard so much about. Our new camp site is really wonderful, in amongst the trees and just off the main highway, just behind us is the ever smoking Vesuvius, from the front of the camp we get a wonderful view of the beautiful Bay of Naples, to our left we can just see the tall buildings of the city.
Thursday I spent around camp doing a few jobs, also had a bath and did my smalls. This evening Fred and I went into Portici to have a look round, saw many fine houses. Didn’t see much of the town as we spent most of the evening in a café drinking wine and enjoying ourselves, came away feeling very merry.
Friday, another smashing day, very hot here, it’s just like being on holiday, not a lot to do, in fact having a very easy time and getting a lot of time off. Went for a walk round the town with two of my pals, plenty of people about and quite a busy place. The more I see of this place the better I like it. Went to the cinema in the evening, saw a very good film called “Boom Town”.
Saturday sunny and very hot. Culver took ten of us in the van to Pompeii, we went round the ruins in a party with a guide to show us round and give us all the “gen”. Saw the ruins of many temples, baths, arches, amphitheatre, houses, markets and lots of other ruins. Could imagine how it looked in those far off days, must have been a wonderful city. Glad I had the opportunity to see the ruins of Pompeii.
Went out again this afternoon into town, went along to the YMCA canteen for tea and cakes. And so ends a very interesting day.
19th to 25th March 1944
Monday, the weather is still grand. Today we saw the start of the eruption of Vesuvius, a sight of a lifetime. What wonderful luck we should be camped under Vesuvius at this particular time. The best time was at night when it’s dark, just stood for hours gazing up at this stupendous ball of fire marvelling at the frightful yet wondrous beauty of it all. A big red glow in the sky which lit everywhere up for miles around, red hot rock and lava came rolling down the volcano, every minute a great rumbling came from inside the volcano and then a shower of hot sparks were shot thousands of feet into the sky. The best and greatest firework display ever.
Tuesday Vesuvius is still doing its stuff, clouds of smoke still coming out, lava rolling down the sides. This morning Mick and I left camp at 9oc and after an hour’s ride we arrived at that famous invasion town of “Salerno” about 10oc. Quite a nice town, modern, clean with many fine buildings, quite a busy spot too. A very fine NAAFI canteen, it was here that I saw the largest painting, about 12 feet square. Went to the cinema in the afternoon, I saw a very good film. Spent a couple of hours in the evening looking round the town then back to camp after a grand day out.
Wednesday afternoon went for a walk through the country, passed many little farmhouses, in some parts the road was lined with orange and lemon trees all loaded with fruit. Went up the side of the volcano as far as the railway stop, it was here that the lava stream had stopped, in some parts the lava and rock was 15 ft high. This evening I went to the theatre and saw a stage play called “Rope” which was a really great play.
Thurs. Vesuvius has now calmed down, still sending out clouds of smoke and ashes. Went along to the canteen in the evening, then onto the cinema where we saw the A.T.S. film “The Gentle Sex”.
Friday, this is our last day here, so spent most of the day getting ready for the move tomorrow, and so we come to the end of a very pleasant and enjoyable stay at Portici, very sorry to leave, shall always remember this place.
Saturday 25th March 1944
Left Portici at 9oc and arrived at the small village of Presenzano, camped on the side of a wooded hill with the mountains just behind us, now only 10 miles from the front line.
26th March to 1st April 1944
Don’t like this place at all, way in the country with the nearest village three miles away it certainly looks like around here. Can see the tanks, guns and lorries moving up to the front every night. Big army camps everywhere, lovely weather, sunny and hot.
Tuesday the rest of the Squadron moved in.
Wednesday we are now in training once more, this is the first day. Had to climb the mountain just at the back of camp, was glad of the rest at the top, wonderful view up there, the surrounding countryside looked grand. I was glad to get back to my tent, this mountain climbing certainly takes it out of you.
The rest of the week was spent in climbing and other sorts of training. Not far from Cassino, in fact we were told we should be able to see the monastery from the top of the mountain, soon found out we couldn’t.
2nd to 8th April 1944
Sunday and it’s a lovely sunny morning, went to open air church service, the sermon was very good. This afternoon I went to the baths and had a nice hot shower, should now be clean inside and out. Well we shall soon be leaving here for the front line.
Monday, spent the day getting ready for the move tomorrow.
Tuesday 4th we left camp at 2oc in lorries for stage of the journey to the front line, our first stop was about 25 miles from camp. Our lorry ride is finished, from here to the line we shall have to march. We have just passed the Brighton and Hove dumps, the sight of these two names made me feel homesick.
We start on the next stage, after marching four miles we came to the M.P. post, not allowed to go any further along this road till after dark, the road is under Jerry observation and shell fire. Spend three hours here resting and having a meal. At 8oc we move off again down the mountain road, quite tough going with full pack. After marching 5 miles we came to a large dump and resting stage known as “Inferno”. We are spending the night here, was glad to get to bed, felt just about all in.
Wednesday, after a good night’s rest and a hot meal I felt OK again, we are stopping here all day and moving off again when it gets dark. Spent the day reading and wrote a long letter to Kath, I bet she would get a shock if she only knew where I was writing from. We left Inferno at 8oc tonight on the final stage to the front.
I shall never forget that 14 mile march, a very dark night, we crossed an open plain, the battlefield of a few months ago, what a sight, empty houses, burnt out tanks, trees cut in half, overflowing rivers, the air was full of the awful smell of dead donkeys. Everything looks dead and what chaos. We went through the small village of “Cairo”, a dead village, no civilians living there only a few soldiers.
Every now and again down would come the mortar bombs, it was a case of duck as a few bombs fell in the road just behind us. We started the long climb up the mountainside, we reached house at the top at 1145 now in the line. I was lucky enough to get a few hours sleep in the house after this long march, but some of the boys had to turn out.
Thursday we spent today at the house, have a wonderful view of the monastery hill from here, a few mortar bombs fell about 50 yards from the house during the day. The Germans are shelling and mortaring the village and the road. We left the house at 8oc tonight and took over front line positions; we are holding the last section of the 8th Army’s line, on our left is the 5th Army.
We are on one hill and Jerry is on another, between us is a deep gully. Mortaring and shelling all through the night from both sides, quite a lot of bombs fell round our positions. We could see the jeeps racing up the mountain road with supplies. We were in the position from 9oc that night till 6oc the next morning, quite a long time to lay on your stomach, of course had to lay quiet.
We made our way back to the house at 6oc, had breakfast and so to bed for a few hours sleep, it’s now work by night and sleep and eat by day.
Friday, quite a hectic night, shelling and mortaring all through the night, some of it too close for comfort. And this is “Good Friday”, what a way to spend a holiday, plenty of excitement anyway.
Saturday lovely day sunny and warm, cannot sleep much in the day time as it’s too warm. Was great to get a letter from Kath, sure cheered me up.
If it was not for an occasional mortar bomb it would be hard to believe we are in the line, everything happens at night, not a lot doing in the day. Out again Saturday night, another 12 hours of keeping watch for Jerry patrols, we fired at what we thought was a Jerry patrol but it was only some of our boys, good thing we did not hit them. And so ends a very hectic week.
9th to 15th April 1944
Well I am glad we are in a quiet sector of the line, the Germans are on the mountains and hills round us, on hill 708 which is opposite, in fact we are surrounded on three sides.
Every night our big guns fire on to “Monastery” Hill, which is to our left and a few miles from our positions.
Monday night was the worse we have spent in the line so far, rained all the time we were out on watch, was glad when it was time to get back to the house, felt tired and miserable, wet through, spent the morning drying my clothes.
Tuesday another wet night, but not so bad as last. Plenty of shells coming over from both sides, just the usual amount of mortar bombs near us, don’t take a lot of notice of them now except when they are extra close.
The Germans put in an attack against one of our positions in the hills, a lot of machine gun fire came from both sides, heard the next morning that this attack was unsuccessful, but it was quite a do.
After six days and seven nights in the line we were relieved by the rest of the Squadron. At 2oc on Wed. morning we left the line, picked up by jeeps and small vans, we were soon racing down the mountain road and along mad mile to our first stop. From there we caught the 3 tonners and so back to camp, arriving back just in time for breakfast. After a hot meal and a smashing hot shower I went to bed and slept like a log. It feels great to be out of the line and back at camp.
Thursday, we have been given three days off, today and Friday I just lazed about, did a spot of reading also wrote home, spent both afternoons sleeping.
Saturday, left camp at 9oc in the lorry, after a couple of hours we arrived at Naples. Had a look round, lively place and very busy, thousands of soldiers and civilians everywhere. I went to the RAF Club for lunch, quite a swell club. Went to the cinema this afternoon and saw a film called “The Sky’s the Limit” which was very good, then went to the NAAFI canteen for tea. Then made our way back to camp, had a really grand time in Naples.
16th to 22nd April 1944
The weather is great here, sunny and very hot. Had a very easy week, just doing camp guards and fatigues. Seen three very good games of football here in the evenings, sure helps to pass an evening away. Rest of the Squadron is still in the line, should be out one day next week.
23rd to 29th April 1944
Sunday the rest of the Squadron returned from the front line. We sure are a very lucky Squadron alright, just spent three weeks in the line and only had one casualty.
Monday spent most of the day packing up ready for the move tomorrow.
Tuesday 25th left this morning at 9oc and after a very dusty ride we arrived at the New Zealand Army camp at “Venafro” at 1oc, had a busy afternoon putting up tents and getting organised. Once again we are way in the country, but it’s very nice here, lovely country, green fields, woods, mountains and a very wide river.
Tonight the N.Z. band played in our honour, which was really swell of them, the Squadron turned out in force and we sure gave them a big hand. Went along to the N.Z. canteen, and what a canteen, free tea and cakes, which is “just the job”. Can also buy things such as tinned butter, milk, sugar, tea, tinned meats and this is only a few of the things.
Wednesday, awful day, rained all day, the camp is now a sea of mud. Tonight I saw a film called “No, No, Nanette” which I thought was lousy.
Thursday another wet day, the N.Z. boys, and our Squadron held a big parade, inspected by General Freyburg, after this he made a speech.
Friday, had a very easy day, went along to the baths and had a smashing hot shower, came back and did my smalls. Went to the canteen this evening, met a very nice N.Z. boy, had a very interesting chat. Well we are once more with the 8th Army, and we shall be going in the line with the N.Z. boys.
30th April to 6th May 1944
Well we shall be going into the line again on Tues, cannot say I am looking forward to a second dose of that.
Sunday, I just lazed around and did a few jobs, also wrote to Kath, as I don’t know when I shall be able to write again.
Monday very busy getting my things together ready for tomorrow.
Tuesday 2nd May. Received some mail before starting off, was great to hear from Kath, I feel more cheerful now and shall be able to go forward in high spirits. Left camp in a convoy of lorries and travelled about 30 miles before we came to the first stop. We shall be here till it gets dark. At 9oc we got moving again, here to march the last 10 miles, arrived in the line at 2oc on Wed. morning, take over the positions from 2788 Reg Squadron. Well we shall only be on duty four hours this morning.
Wednesday morning 630. Well here we are once again in the front line, the whole Squadron is here this time not in quite the same positions this time, half way up the hill. The Germans are still facing us on Hill 708 which is opposite, so the line in this sector has not moved since we were here last. On our right flank we have the N.Z. boys, with the Poles on the left flank.
We are living in what they call “sangars” which is a small space 6 ft by 4 with walls of stone four ft high, use anything for the roof, pieces of canvas, wood and any other things that will help to keep out the rain. Once again it’s sleep by day and work by night. Wednesday night till 6oc Thursday morning, during these hours there was plenty of shelling and mortaring from both sides, otherwise all quiet on the Cassino front.
A day in the front line: we get back to our sangars at first light which is about 6oc, go and collect our day’s ration, fry bacon or sausages, make porridge out of biscuits, the tea is mad in one sangar and brought round to us, well that’s our first meal of the day, after breakfast make the bed and get in some sleep. Usually wake up about 2oc then have the second meal, which is either bully beef or steak and kidney pudding. After, either read or write. 4oc have a wash and shave, make up the bed and then prepare the evening meal which we have about 6oc, after this just wait till it’s time to go to our positions.
Friday morning on O.P. all day and out again tonight, so have 24 hours to do without a break. Nothing to report during the day, all quiet on Hill 708, it’s been a lovely day, sunny and hot, the countryside looks wonderful. During the night there was a lot of machinegun fire just in front of our positions.
Saturday morning as on every day here the valley is covered with a smoke screen, when it wears off for a few minutes we can see Cairo village, sometimes we see a house go up in smoke and flames, Jerry is always shelling the village and jeep road, and so ends another week.
7th to 13th May 1944
Well another week in the line, days of sleeping, reading and cooking, nights of laying out keeping a good watch for Jerry.
Friday night at 1130 the big barrage opened up, it was terrific, must be hundreds of guns firing, thousands of shells and mortar bombs come whistling over our heads, glad I’m not on the receiving end. At 12oc the big attack went in, the sky was lit up with many coloured flares, shelling, mortaring and machinegun fire from both sides all through the early hours of Saturday morning. They mean to get Cassino and Monastery Hill this time.
Saturday morning, the big guns are still firing, on the hill to our left the Poles are having a do, then over came six spitfires and they came roaring down to dive bomb the German troops, may times they dived with guns roaring, was good to see the RAF over. One dropped a bomb just behind our sangar which shook us up, for a few seconds the air was filled with shrapnel; many pieces of red hot metal fell round us.
Received airmail from Kath, was wonderful to hear from her and to know she is safe and well, that letter sure cheered me up. I started to write and tell Kath I was in the front line, but thought better of it, so tore up the letter, sure it would cause Kath too much worry and that’s one thing I don’t want her to do.
14th to 20th May 1944
Sunday, this is the 12th day in the line, still no news when we shall be relieved. The planes have been over the German lines all day dive bombing, it’s great to see them. Still the usual amount of shelling and mortar fire, but now most of it is coming from our side; Jerry is in full retreat from the Cassino section of the line, which sure is great news.
The weather is really grand, every day it’s sunny and hot, just OK for this job.
Monday night we thought we heard a Jerry patrol in the gully in front of us, so let go with a few grenades, ten the fire flies came over and for a few minutes we sure had the wind up.
Tuesday and Wednesday night we were told to keep an extra sharp look out for Jerry patrols, but did not see any.
Thursday at 3oc we left the line and I was sure glad to get out of that spot, this time we spent 15 days and 16 nights in the line, this second do turned out to be a very long one.
We marched five miles along the jeep track and under the cover of darkness. Stopped when it started to get light, I made a brew and had a meal and then turned in for a few hours sleep.
Woke up about 12oc, had a wash and shave then got cracking with a meal. From here we can see Monastery Hill and we can see a flag flying from the Monastery, later we heard that Cassino had fallen to the British and Polish troops of the 8th Army. That sure was hot news, been waiting to hear this good news for days. At 11oc we marched the rest of the way back to Inferno, here we boarded the lorries and so on the last stage of our journey back to camp.
Arrived back at camp at 5oc on Friday morning, had breakfast and so to bed. Well once again we have been lucky, came out of the line without a single casualty.
Saturday, spent the morning getting organised, many things to do, such as washing, mending, also had a hot shower, gosh it’s great to be back at camp! This evening I went along to the N.Z. camp and there saw a very good stage show.
21st to 27th May 1944
Sunday went to open air church service on the camp, we have a lot to thank God for, watching over us and our safe return.
Well they have given us a couple of days off and I intend to have a lazy time. Went to Venafro airfield this evening and saw a RAF stage show which was very funny, just one big laugh from start to finish, a really smashing show.
Monday I just stayed around, had a nap in the afternoon, went to the canteen in the evening and had a few games of housey.
Started work again on Tuesday which is not so good, but really having an easy time. In the evening three Kiwis came to our tent they brought with them a four gallon tin of “Vino”, so had quite a do, everyone was drunk.
Thursday and Friday, two very busy days for me, wrote quite a lot of letters, trying to catch up with my mail. Both evenings I went to the canteen for the usual tea and biscuits.
Saturday afternoon we heard that we were moving, gave us two hours to get packed, bags of panic.
We arrived at our new camp site about 1oc, now only two miles from that famous town of Cassino, from here we get a wonderful view of Monastery Hill.
28th May to 3rd June 1944
Been very busy getting my kit sorted out, also had plenty to do putting up tents. Don’t think we shall be here for too many days. Lovely weather, very hot.
Tuesday morning had a lecture on German and |Italian mines, it certainly looks like a battlefield round here, very large bomb holes hundreds of them, knocked out tanks and lorries, what a mess.
Wednesday evening went to a quiz on camp between the D.I.D. and the Squadron, the D.I.D. won 6 ¾ to 6 ½ , quite an interesting evening. Still having a very easy time only doing camp guards and a few jobs during the day.
Friday evening went along to the Army camp to see a boxing show which was very good, saw some very exciting and thrilling fighting between the army boys. After the show I played housey, no luck, in fact lost 250 lira.
Saturday evening Fred and I walked into Cassino, saw the famous Continental Hotel or what’s left of it, the railway station, not a house or building standing, couldn’t walk around hundreds of mines still about had to keep to the main road but from there we could see everything. What a mess. This is total war alright.
4th to 10th May 1944
Sunday, left Cassino at 11oc this morning, passed through the town of Clere