Tom Barker passed on October 1st 2008
When we arrived in the desert from Palestine via Cairo and Alexandria, there were no camps yet established as such. We went into the desert, dug holes to live in and were like prairy dogs. Our standard food was bully and hard tack biccies. We were trying to contact the Italians without their knowing we were there, the only snag was in a large desert with a small amount of men it took a lot of time and patience and since there were quick sands one had to be careful where one walked.
Between the two wars, WW1 and WW2, the Brits were on their toes in that, very discreetly they mapped out the whole desert so when WW2 came along, they were more or less one up on any one else, because they knew where water was. They knew about the sea of quick sand next to El Alamain, they knew who were friendly to the Brits and who were not (tribes that is). They also had a unique way of dealing with truck problems in sand because there were no roads as such so we had to make our own. Some bright lads came up with some good ideas because digging out a bogged down truck is no joke with the sun beating down on your back. 40 gallon oil drums would collect all the old oil from any where it could be scrounged, then it would be tipped and pushed over the sand and when it soaked in, it hardened into a toffee like carpet and trucks ran on it and bedded it in. Any patches that looked suss were given a bit more oil and it was not long before we had a hard road. To make a temporary car park we would not waste oil because we needed as much as we could get and slowly we got a road going across the desert, so we put down wire mesh like you would find round a lawn bowls club or tennis lawn and it would be stapled onto the sand to stop it curling up and heavy trucks that would have bogged down had no trouble parking on it.
Not being in contact with other units for months on end and being out in the desert looking up at the stars every night was a unique experience. If you look at the film "Sea of Sand" that was how we operated except we had no transport, we walked and carried. The transport we had was used for fetching supplies from Alex and since it was one truck and a Bren gun carrier we had to go out looking for the Italian positions at night and to go in a truck would have been like ringing a bell in the quiet desert at night.
The Italians had built little forts in the desert and they had everything more or less organised, they too had holes in the sand in some positions, they also had plenty of drinks, and I do mean drinks, one dug out we looked into when we took their position after the battle of Siddi Barrani was stacked with vino and some exotic wines in bottles with lots of flags on the label, Sweet Vermouth was one bottle, I looked at but I did not pick it up. They also had a dug out set aside for ladies of the night and when we captured them along with thousands of Italian soldiers, someone suggested that was the best time to look at some of them, when it was dark, boy were they rough, I've seen better looking dogs.
2982252 Pte Barker T.O. 1st Bn Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, Born 23 May 1921.