Letter from Tripoli
Well here goes - It's a whale of a time since I last wrote, but even if I can't make the excuse of being too busy I can always take refuge behind that old adage - it's better late than never. Actually we have done a lot of mucking about and shifting around since I last wrote as is evidenced by the fact that I am now writing from somewhere handy to Tripoli and I last wrote before our breakthrough at Alamein so I will just give you a brief idea of my activities from the beginning of our offensive. Most of it will be just a repetition of what has appeared in the papers - but never mind that. Just read on -
The organisation and management of getting into position at Alamein was something outstanding, we made full use of dummies, camouflage and darkness. We moved in after sundown and straight away started the occupation of digging in. We worked by night and drowsed by day - After sundown on the big day 23/24 October we were a hive of industry, grabbing cases of ammo etc and piling them up handy. We had a couple extra chaps on the team for the sole purpose of opening up the ammo. God they had to work, what a night and what an opening chorus. Hundreds of guns opened up right on the dot and we gave the Axis a bit of a pasting. We got away just on 600 rounds from the gun and in just under five hours. It made me so damned tired just giving a hand at putting them away that I was dead beat at the finish. So how the Axis felt after it I can well imagine. For ten days or so after that we kept pounding away - not always from the same spot - two more gun-pits were added to my tally. But no matter from where we shot we gave 'em 'ell. But when the break-through did come we had a chance of a quick look-see at some of the area we shelled, and literally you could step from shell-hole to shell-hole. So no wonder they pulled out. After the break-through we had a fairly easy time - catching up with his rearguard once at Fukka but although we had to duck into our holes once to dodge a couple of shells it was rather a case of having it all our own way.
No doubt one of the reasons for not catching him again after that was that we were bogged for 3 days. It just pelted down and turned the desert into a quagmire - sleeping on a pile of rocks with pools of water all around was the only answer and surprising as it sounds the rocks seemed comfortable. We just ambled along until we reached Bardia where we had just on a month's spell - doing the usual training?? that we do when not actually in action. It wasn't a bad spell - a few games of football etc helped it along, but the route marches weren't so hot. We left Bardia early in December for waht has been said "The NZ's amazing outflanking manoeuvre". The only amazing thing about it was the luck we had. We travelled over what was described as unpassable country on the map and in one or two spots it was tricky going - but we got where we set out for. That was well behind Jerry's main Agheila Line. We got into position at night, did a bit of sneaking about you might say and (wonders will never cease) bulldozers dug our pits for us.
There we were - in enemy territory - behind his lines - not knowing how much stuff he had or where he actually was - just waiting till daylight - and anything. As it happened we had the Huns bottled up a bit for some reason (probably he had had enough), he didn't want to fight and by lunch time ha had found a bit of a gap and poured through it as fast as he could being chased by the tanks etc that were attached to us and being given a few shells to hurry him along. Once again it was a case of pick up sticks and at 'em, so we travelled along inland and struck his rearguard at Nofilia where we had the chance of putting a few stings in his tail as he retreated. We didn't go any further for three weeks or so - but stayed put and had Xmas and New Year in comparative peace and quietness. Not a bad meal - a pice of turkey and pork - spuds and gravy followed by plum duff, a bottle of beer, cigarettes and chocolate - quite a fair effort. While we were here parcels and mail caught up with us so we had many frying pan meals - oysters, whitebait and mystery fritters - plenty of cake, shortbread & fritter, in all it was a good time and as usual wherever the Kiwis stop the inevitable football filed springs up. Many games were played and I had my fair share of them.
After that we went further West and helped to build an aerodrome - the first day on the drome we were bombed by half a dozen fighter bombers but after that the system of warning and the colossal amount of ack-ack around the drome dampened the Luftwaffer's ardor. It was a great sight seeing the "3 tonner derby" when the warning shot was fired, all the chaps just threw their shovels etc into the trucks, climber aboard themselves and the driver put his foot down on the accelerator and went flat out as far away as possible - what a dust, what a rush and what a sight, better than all the scenes in a "Covered Wagon" film.
From there we did our sheep-dog act to tripoli. We kept below the Axis forces all the time heading them into areas where the RAF and the armour could deal with them. We travelled sometimes by day and sometimes by night always keeping within sound of the scrapping but not within sight until the last day or so - then we could see it and once were almost in it but actually never catching up with it. I was surprised at some of the ground over which we passed with so little fighting. A resolute Army could have put up a good scrap in many places and given us plenty to do and think about, but evidently the Axis had had enough. We trtied to sneak a bit nearer to Tripoli the night before the 8th Army entered it but a few shells from dug-in tanks (as they turned out to be) landed alongside the column - so we pulled out of range and bedded down for the night.
In the morning the tanks had gone so had all the rest and we finished the job, Tripoli had fallen and in three months with odd rests in between had travelled over 1500 miles from Egypt to Tripolitania. But what a treat it is to be here. We are camped in an olive grove with patches of grass here and there and a frings of gum trees around us. It does the eyes good to see green growth and plenty of trees and to have all the water we want instead of seeing, eating and sleeping with sand. Since we have been here I have dug my tent in properly and made myself quite comfortable. Had you been here a week ago you would have thought you were in a Chinese laundry from all the washing on the line - on the trees - on the tent ropes etc etc. Even yet I haven't quite finished all my washing nor had as many baths as I need but I am gradually seeing the natural colour of my skin again. It shouldn't be long before a chap is thoroughly, decently clean again.