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 Enfidaville (part 6)

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Tim of Aclea

Posts : 366
Join date : 2011-12-31

PostEnfidaville (part 6)

At 6 p.m. I listened to the BBC North African Service which announced that “Meanwhile there has been heavy fighting north of Enfidaville”. The reporter said that the unit that had fought north of Enfidaville had taken the hill but then had lost it again and had been driven back to their old positions and that there was heavy fighting at this moment.

All this time I was lying on a stretcher with lots of wounded men all around. The day had been like all the other days in Tunisia, sunny and warm. The medical staff seemed to be working hour after hour without a break, the ones whom I had observed at about 10 a.m. were still on in the afternoon and night. After 12 p.m. I seemed to become worse and started rolling around on the stretcher. At about 2.30 p.m. the medic took my temperature, which was 105 degrees, and suggested to the officer that I should be seen next. I was taken to a tent and told to count to nine.

When I woke up it was about 8 a.m. and I found myself in a bed wearing pyjamas and with a large cast on my leg right up to my thigh. I was in a very large tent with lots of injured soldiers, some in beds but with lots on stretchers. The doctor came to see me and gave me the piece of metal that he had taken out of my leg. Next to me was a sergeant from Yorkshire who had been injured in a tank. He told me that his officer had insisted on sticking his head out of the tank until it was blown off.

There was a mass of activity in the hospital all day and all night with soldiers being moved out and others arriving. I can remember a sergeant addressing a black orderly as ‘Sambo’, when the orderly objected to being addressed in that manner the sergeant just said ‘you are all Sambos’. I felt ashamed of such behaviour. After about four days when my health improved I was put into an ambulance and taken to near Sfax.

A soldier whose job it was to drive a 15 cwt vehicle for the Major told me that they had found a prison in Sfax full of Jews all with the Star of David on their clothes. The Major, who could be described as being a member of the old school, stopped the vehicle and he and the driver helped to free the Jews. They all started to kiss the Major and the driver on their feet then their hands then their faces and they throw their marked badges on the ground in their joy. This was all to the considerable embarrassment of the Major.

In due course we reached No 48 Hospital in Tripoli, a fine city, and I found myself in an impressive building at the top of which was the hospital. I was placed on the landing near the operating theatre where operations seemed to be carried out day and night. I noted that virtually all the men coming out of the theatre seemed to either curse or weep or laugh. Some came out covered with nets which I think was when they had been badly wounded. The hospital seemed to be overfull and after about two weeks a lot of us were taken to the port and transported in a Red Cross ship back to Alexandria in Egypt. As we passed by Tobruk we were stopped by a German submarine and a German officer came on board to quickly check that the ship was only carrying wounded soldiers. I got the impression that the captains of the two boats knew each other.

When we arrived at Alexandria we were taken by train to the Suez Canal to 92 General Hospital, M.E.F and later to 42 General Hospital M.E.F. The 92 General Hospital was near the Suez Canal and consisted of a number of army tents with 15 beds on one side of the tent and 15 beds on the other side. For two weeks we had to look after ourselves and then two Nigerian orderlies arrived. They were 16 or 17 years old and had got their education from the church. One of them stood and wept when he saw a Yorkshire soldier from Bradford who had lost his left arm and right leg. The soldier comforted him and said ‘when I get back to England I will get an artificial arm and leg and then I will be able to fight you’. One of them was surprised when a soldier removed his false teeth, the Nigerian had clearly never across false teeth before, but the soldier told him that everybody could remove their teeth if they pulled hard enough. The Sister for the ward, who had a desk near the tent door, was in the Queen Alexandria service and had the rank of captain with three pips. The uniform was white with parts of grey and red, quite good I thought. On Monday mornings the doctor would come to see us. A few who were expected to die would be moved to a separate tent with a nurse and a padre. If and when a soldier did die he was taken on trolley, with the Union Flag over him, to the mortuary.

After one month my original cast was taken off and I had a smaller cast below my knee which meant that I was able to go about more on crutches. I quite often called on Lieutenant Eldridge who, I consider, should have received the M.C. for his service with our unit. He had been wounded soon after me. Later he was to return to our unit and was killed in Italy. I also used to go to the cinema near the 92 Hospital. The cinema was primitive without a roof and cost 92 Piastes. I noticed that the films were sometime put on in the wrong order which used to annoy us but some of the local natives did not seem to notice. Quite often soldiers would refuse to stand up for the Egyptian national anthem and then make the natives stand for ‘God save the King’. I felt ashamed of these soldiers and it did not seem to matter whether they were English, Welsh, Scottish or Irish, they were all the same. The Italian prisoners of war, who cooked for us, were also allowed to go to the cinema and I got to know some of them. I believe that there were quite a number of military hospitals near the canal and many of the people at the hospitals liked to swim in the canal.

I heard with great regret that Captain Basil Bateman had been killed by an 88mm shell on 11th May 1943; I always considered that he died because I was not there to tell him to get his head down. I wrote to Mrs Pamela Bateman about my time with him. Vera, Dorothy and I had met her with Captain Bateman and their daughter in 1942 in Long Melford in Suffolk, which was where our unit was based. I was later to receive this letter from Mrs Bateman.

My Dear Whittle,

Thank you so much for you letter, and the sympathy you sent me in my very great loss. I can hardly realise that my husband will never come back. All our letters were full of the future, and we longed to be settled together again. Now there’s nothing left of our plans. Thank God I have Judy to keep me, although she doesn’t make up for her daddy.

It was very kind of you to write me such a nice long letter giving so many details that only you could tell me. I’m finding this a very hard letter to write because I know how upset you must feel having been with him so long – I do want to thank you for looking after him so well for me.

How I wish you all could have stayed in Paiforce [Persia and Iraq] until it was over. I know how he hated the awful fighting and how he longed to be home with us again. How thankful I am that he had so many of my letters to re-read, and how I hope they gave him all the news he wanted and made him happy – I did my best.

Thank you for telling me what he said about time healing all wounds. He’s probably right but at the moment I can’t think so. I still feel as stunned and heartbroken as I did when I first heard the news and I know I’ll never find anyone to take his place.

Please forgive me not writing before but I have been away in the country. I had to get away for June 4th and 14th – my birthday and our wedding anniversary. Last year Bill managed to get home for 24 hours each time.

I’m afraid I have been very rude not telling you how sorry I was to hear you’d been wounded. My husband gave me your wife’s address and suggested I wrote to her, but before I had done this, I’d heard about his death and I’m afraid everything else was forgotten. In fact I think, in a way, I feel rather envious. How I wish he had been wounded slightly instead of being killed.

Now please forgive me if I don’t write anymore. When you do come back to England I shall be very pleased to see you if you ever get the chance. You can tell me so much about him during the 9 months he’d been away, and when you go back to join the Company, if you find anything belonging to him that hasn’t been sent to me, you might let me have it. I feel I want every little thing that was his and you know more about his belongings than anyone out there.

I do hope you will soon be quite fit again. With best wishes for the future.

Yours very sincerely

Pamela Bateman
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