WW II, a British focus


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contributed by Eugene Hammond

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In the Fred Wackernagel piece about Termoli, Charlie Perkins (he of the wooden leg) is mentioned toward the end. Here is my personal description of the action(s) which led to his capture by Jerry in the Western Desert on December 16, 1942, while we were both assigned to AFS units doing a "left-hook" in the desert with Tiny Freyberg's 2 NZEF. In addition to handling patients, driving, carrying stretchers, etc., I took detailed notes of what was happening around me throughout this two-day episode (it was my first really "up front" experience), and borrowed a typewriter when we came out of action to type it up. What follows is a copy of the actual material, as typed up by me on January 8, 1943 on AFS Driver/Volunteer Richard Hobson's borrowed typewriter while we were sitting at Nufilia, on the Coast beyond Marble Arch, relaxing for a few days.
Eugene Hammond
December 15, 1942 - Attached to 6th ADS (E Coy) moving across desert south and west of El Aghelia with 2NZEF in desert formation….. At 10:00 hours, Hilly Pannes, our NCO came up to our car, while the convoy was stopped for a ten minute period, and told us to go to the 24th Battalion RAP to replace their Austin ambulance which had a broken fuel pump, and would have to stop for repairs. Al and I pulled out of our position in the formation, and went over to the RAP truck, some three-quarters of a mile to our left. Wee reported to Captain Borrie, the MO in charge, and he had us take on board two lying cases (sick) to carry along behind the RAP truck. Thus, we moved onward at 100 yard interval behind the truck, and in the midst of the 24th Battalion (infantry) vehicles. We stopped at 3PM (15:00 hrs.) and had a bit of lunch. Bully, tea, etc.) The position we had been heading for, an escarpment overlooking the main (coast) road at Marble Arch Airdrome, was no longer practical, as Jerry had moved his bamed (though much battered) 15th Panzar Division onto this escarpment to guard the retreating transport on the highway. Therefore, we were forced to move on westward of Marble Arch before cutting up the road. We stopped at dusk and clossed in to short interval, as it was vital that none of the vehicles become lost. Captain Borrie, a calm and quiet speaking man came back and said to us in an undertone, "Jerry is three miles ahead of us. Until 30 minutes uago, he didn’t know we were here. We move in tonight." With that, he returned to the cab of his RAP truck, and got out several bottles of beer he had horded for just such an occasion. He passed them around among those of us attached to the medical unit (Al, myself, his driver, a sargent, and a medical orderly) until the were all empty. Suddenly, the signal came to move….Captain Borrie had suggested one of my patients, who was tired and stiff from riding in the strecher all day, come up and sit in the truck for a while. Thus, when we started off, we had just the one patient with us. What followed was the maddest possible dach of vehicles across moon-shadowed sandx, through waddies, over hills, into mud holes, etc. At times, it seemed almost impossible that the three tonners looming up on either side wouldn’t ram us, but somehow, we got through without a scratch. The RAP truck, a three tonner with only two wheel drive, finally got stuck in a particcularly sticky mud hole, and, tho we tried, it was impossible for me to budge him with my ambulance. Luckily there was a LAD (Light Aid Detachment) wrecker on the scene within a few minuites, and we pulled on up the hill to wait. In only a matter of 5 or 6 minuites, the RAP truck came alongside, and the sargent yelled to come on. Shortly after that, in our attempt to keep up with the terrrific (tor the terrain we were on ) speed, we hit a ditch too hard, and the poor chap on the strecher in back bounced so hard one of the strecher arms broke. He, at our suggestion, rolled over ont the other slung strecher that we had neglected to take down after the first chap had left us to ride in the truck. I felt terrible about the bouncing and rough going we werr subjucting this patient to, but there was nothing to be done—we had to stay behind the RAP, and we all realized it. When we finally arrived at the point from which the attack was to be launched, we found that the delay caused by the RAP truck getting stuck had been just long enough so that the whole 24th battalion was lined up solid to the edge of the particular scarpment which was our destination. Therefore, Captain Borrie had his driver go ahead of all the other vehicles, and circle around till he was in his position directly ahead of the leading 24th vehicles. We followed and backed in beside him. In front of us, through the semi-darkness of a cloudy though moonlit night, we could make out a downgrade, then a wide ditch-like space (a mile across we later found out) and then a rise which forned the horizon. Hardly had we gotten settled before machine gun fire and several anti-tand shells began whistling around. Then we heard a Bren-carrier in the distance. It moved a bit (in the ditch), then stopped, and there was a burst of fire. Then it noved on, stopped, and the same thing

(2) (December 15 & 16, 1942)
was a repeated. Suddenly, we realized that it was drawing nearer. It popped up over the slight hill with a clatter of its tracks, and jerked to a halt. "RAP!" "RAP!" the call pierced the darkness and the sergeant yelled back "Coming". The Bren-carrier was stopped in front of the second truck on our right. Capt. Borrie and the orderlies ran over, while Al and I got a stretcher out and brought it along at the MO’s order. Al took the stretcher over to the Bren Carrier, while I dumped a few things out of the way to make room for the patient. When I saw that things were OK, and had disposed of a stove we picked up some days before but which was always in the way anyway, I went over toward the circle of men around the Bren carrier. By that time, the wounded man was on the stretcher, and they carried him over and put him on the ground beside my ambulance. There, with the aid of a carefully shielded flashlight, Capt. Borrie took quick stock of his wound, and the sergeant wrote out his card, while I held a flash for him. The card, when filled out, said in part, "Major Reed, Compound Fracture of Arm". We decided he would ride easier if slung, so put him up along side our sick patient. Capt. Borrie had given him a shot of morph, but he was still very conscious, and in much pain, tho he tried to not show it. Another stretcher was put on the floor, and a chap who had been in the Bren-carrier, (which, incidentally, had been hit twice,) and had a nasty gash across his cheek from shrapnel climbed in. The major’s batman, who was obviously very faithful to his officer, climbed in front with me for the rider back to the ADS. Thus, Al had to remain behind, so he grabbed his bed-roll of the fender, and I started off. Although we didn’t know the exact location of the ADS, we figured it should be to our right about six or eight vehicles, and straight back a mile or so. We were lucky in calling it about right, as it happened. We pulled out from behind the RAP truck, and felt our way at a creeping pace along the front row of vehicles. There was a gap of some six or eight yards between the 6th and 7th cars over, so I turned in it, and moved slowly back past row after row of lorries, each with their little compliment of men standing around talking in a low voice, or sneaking a puff on a carefully concealed "fag". Once we hit quite a bump, unexpectedly, and the major, sensing, more than actually seeing his man wince, said "Don’t blame the driver, W------, I know what hell this road is, I drove over it in a jeep a few hours ago myself." After that, he kept up a constant humming of a tune, so that we would be unable to hear him if he groaned involuntarily. After moving back about half a mile, I saw the familiar heavy-set figure of "Norm", a Kiwi who was in the evacuation truck of the ADS. Thus, I knew we’d finally reached the objective. Major Duncan, the MO in charge came over at once, and said to back up to an Austin which was nearby, and we would unload the patients into it to be looked at, as it could be blacked out easily. At that moment, shell fire began to be rather concentrated on the ridge where the ADS and surrounding vehicles were stopped, and the order was given to pull back off the skyline into a waddie a few hundred yards to the rear. All the vehicles began turning around at once, and, again, I was amazed to see that tho the whole place was a turmoil to the eye, not a single vehicle in sight was run into, or scraped. After a few minutes, all to the real of us were turned around, and had moved back, and the space was free for us to move. Since I was still carrying patients, I was unable to move as fast as the other vehicles, and thus, involuntarily, was the cause of several minor traffic jams. However, we finally got straightened out, and had moved back to the semi-protection of the waddie. My patients (the two wounded ones but not the chap who was sick) were unloaded, and I was told to find a spot somewhere down the waddie for the night, as it was foolish to try and get back to the RAP until we were sure where they had moved to. I pulled my ambulance down into the bottom of a dry creek bed, and the major’s batman (who was still with me ), and the jaundice patient, and I set out to


(3) (Dec. 15, 16, 1942)
to dig ourselves some slit trenches for the night (it was one AM by this time) I had been afraid the patient might not be able to dig, and I’d have to dig two, but the near-by shells, etc. must have inspired him, and , tho we had only one shovel and one pick between the three of us, it wasn’t long before three nice comfortable trenches had been dug. Just as I was putting the finishing touches on mine, we heard a shell whistling nearby, and hit the dirt. There was no explosion, and we soon were back at work. A few moments later, a call echoed in the distance. "RAP!" It was picked up nearby…. "RAP" I yelled out "RAP", and Marvin, in the car nearest where the ADS had set up their tent (tho how they did it in the dark is still a mystery to me ) passed it on. Soon, from the ADS. Came the answer…. "Coming!" That was passed back up the line. In a few seconds three chaps from the Ads hurried by with a stretcher under their arm, From time to time, they called out, "Where?" And the answer came back through the darkness… "RAP, over here, and hurry!" We finished our trenches, and were sitting by the car when the three came back, stretcher still under their arm. They said on passing, "A dud hit him while he was digging a slit trench. We just buried him in his own hole." They passed on into the shadows of the waddie. "Pretty tough," muttered the major’s batman, pulling his greatcoat up around his ears. I passed out the blankets in the ambulance, dividing them evenly between the tree of us, and we wrapped up, put our tin-hats (battle-bowlers) on the ground beside the trench, and climbed in for the night. My trench was really at tight fit—my head pressed tight against one end, and feet tight at the other, and my shoulders wedged down at the sides. I thought it would be impossible to sleep in so cramped a position, but before I knew it, I had fallen into a deep sleep. As the moon had, by this time, gone down, Jerry didn’t throw much more stuff over, and I slept soundly until the familiar voice of Doug Atwood, our Platoon lieutenant woke me. It was still pitch dark, and it was hard for me to believe that it was five AM. Doug said that the padre’s driver from the RAP had arrived, and would lead me back up. I got up, and , having loaded my stuff into the car, started after him at a creeping pace. And it was really creeping, as it was pitch dark, and impossible to see more than a few yards. We went up the waddie a bit, then off to the right, and over a few rises and through a few ditches. Then, we were there…. The dawn was at hand, so I set about to dig a quick slit trench alongside the RAP truck, between two others inhabited by the sergeant and orderly. Needless to say, the pick and shovel soon woke them and they gave me a hand. Therefore, by the time it was light and Jerry started in again, I had another nice little hole all dug. As there was nothing to do but wait for a load, I parked my ambulance

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a few yards from the RAF and climbed in to clean it out, with Al’s aid. He had spent the night beside the RAP truck, and I woke him on arriving back. We had the ambulance cleaned out when the stuff started flying hot and heavy again. I must admit that I spent most of the remaining time until we were loaded and went off at 9 AM in the slit trench, as there was a great deal of stuff landing around us. It was mostly mortar fire, and one landed near enough to put eight shrapnel holes in the ambulance, and got the RAP padre in arm and leg. The chap in the slit trench next to mine got a piece in his shoe, but it failed to do any damage. During all the shelling, Dr. (Captain) Borrie was tending to the injured that came to him, mostly walking over under their own power, and asking if he’d look "at this scratch" and the like. The most seriously wounded was a chap who had gotten a piece in his back and it had gone right through. Even he, though, was able to sit and wait his turn with the doctor. In the meantime, the sergeant had heated up some M & V and tea, and soon we were all eating breakfast, sitting on the edge of our trenches. I admit, I wasn’t very hungry at the thought of food, what with all the excitement, but when I took the first mouthful, it tasted good, and I finished it all without any trouble. After the first outbursts of shelling, Jerry seemed to quiet down a bit, and, at 9 AM, Capt. Borrie had us load the two sitting and one lying cases into the ambulance, and bring them back to the ADS. The padre came along later in his own car. All that day, the shells were flying, but the waddie in which we were located was so much saber feeling than our exposed post at the RAP that we didn’t notice them nearly so much. and none fell nearby. Major Reed, whom I had brought in the night before, was evacuated along with three other lying cases at three in the morning back to the MDS, but, due to fate, or what have you, the ambulance, driven by Charlie Perkins, had the bad fortune to run into a Jerry convoy retreating through our lines, and all were captured. It is only to be hoped that quick medical attention was given to the patients, especially to Major Reed, whose arm was to have been amputated at the MDS on his arrival. By afternoon, most of the Jerries had managed to clear out, and the firing had all but ceased. I took a run back to the MDS at 2 PM (14:00 hrs) and met with no difficulty in the 18 miles. Having left my cargo of 7 sitting patients, was returning to the ADS when I met the whole brigade coming back. Found out Jerry had run, and the chase was on again, so turned around, and rejoined the vehicles of the ADS which were just coming over the hill, being careful to pull into a spot near the cook-truck. We camped the night near the sight of the MDS, and moved up into the desert, some five or ten miles from the coast…. The Chase was on again…..

Jan. 6, 1943