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To War With The Bays: 35 - Return To Tripoli

...On the morning of 12 May the squadron was in an olive grove near Tunis. We were told that two men from each tank could go into the town. Buck and I were chosen and a truck took us in at 11 a.m., coming back to collect us at 5.30 p.m. My diary has little to say about those few hours: 'Big place, but could get nothing to eat there. Had some wine. Plenty girls!' There was much evidence of the fighting: the town had only been taken the day before...

Jack Merewood tells of relaxing days after epic battles in North Africa.

Weapons taken from the enemy were supposed to be handed in, but I kept the gun I took from the German officer. It was a small neat Mauser. The bullets were not in a revolving chamber as they are in a pistol, but in the handle of the gun. A spring in there pushed them up as they were fired. It probably held about twenty bullets, but I found just eight inside.

After the war I brought gun and bullets home - and my mother had a fit. She wanted nothing to do with the war, least of all a gun and bullets.

The Government knew thousands of us would have brought guns home. It was against the law, but they declared an amnesty. Anyone who had a gun should hand it in to a police station, and no questions asked.

At this my mother insisted I get rid of the gun. So I handed it in - but kept the bullets. This wasn't good enough: she couldn't rest. To keep the peace I had to get rid of them; so one day when we went to Bolton Abbey, I stood in the middle of the bridge over the River Wharfe and dropped them one by one into the rushing water below.

On the morning of 12 May the squadron was in an olive grove near Tunis. We were told that two men from each tank could go into the town. Buck and I were chosen and a truck took us in at 11 a.m., coming back to collect us at 5.30 p.m. My diary has little to say about those few hours: 'Big place, but could get nothing to eat there. Had some wine. Plenty girls!' There was much evidence of the fighting: the town had only been taken the day before.

Tunisia was a French colony. The population was mainly Arab, but most spoke French besides their own language. I had been pretty good at French at school so once again this came in useful. The Regiment moved to a pleasant area just outside Tunis, near a small village and by the sea.

The squadrons were close together again, so Ronnie and I were able to see each other. We went to a concert in the village put on by the local people. There were lots of girls in it, singing and dancing, and we enjoyed it very much.

From my diary of 20 May: ' . . . Today is the Victory Parade through Tunis and most of the boys are there, only me left on our tank. The boys got up at 5 a.m. to go. I'll bet the place is crowded. Washed a shirt. Filled up with diesel. Wrote letter home ... went to concert again tonight. Same as last night, a few different girls, enjoyed it again..."

My diary gives no indication as to why I didn't go on the Victory Parade, and I can't remember, but I don't appear to have been too perturbed or disappointed.

To explain why I was filling up with diesel, some of the tanks we recently acquired had diesel engines instead of petrol. They were more powerful, and also no sparks were emitted from the exhausts as they were with petrol engines, so making them safer when on the move after dark.

No. 4 Troop still had their pig and were taking good care of it.

On 22 May we went swimming, 'had lemonade and apricots in village'. The 23rd being Sunday there was a church parade and afterwards: 'Went swimming. Stan, Des, Hersch and I walked down to village had beer and bread and rissoles. Grand day out ... At night drank some cold water and a drop of wine.'

The 'nightcap' had a disastrous effect on me for I hardly slept a wink and was sick twice. Nevertheless I went into Tunis and met Ronnie there. 'Walked round and round then bought a loaf, found a seat beneath the trees and had salmon and bread. An old lady gave us a couple of glasses of Muscat each. I wasn't feeling too good.'

I suppose there was little wonder but: 'In afternoon went to ENSA show Laughter for Tonight. Excellent show, really enjoyed it.' The ENSA concert parties were made up of professionals who, as their contribution to the war effort, travelled round entertaining the troops and were much appreciated.

Our short 'holiday' was soon over, and now we were to move back to Tripoli of all places, 500 miles away. The tanks weren't going with us, but could follow on later. We left one driver with each tank, and the rest of us packed up and piled into trucks.

27 May: 'Rained very heavily during the night and everybody got wet. Up at 5 a.m., and on our way by 6.30 a.m. At 12.30 stopped and had a brew, and bread, jam and bully. (Buck and I supplied jam, tea, sugar and milk now none left.) Moved on, but only for another hour or so. About two o'clock stopped for the day just outside Kairouan. Dried our bedding. A lovely day.'

We continued south, bypassing Sousse and Sfax. Once we stopped to pick lemons to make lemonade, another time we 'bought' apples from an orchard with cigarettes. We were always near the sea, so at every opportunity we went in for a swim.

We spent one night just north of Gabes, after being on the move from 5.15 a.m. to 5.30 p.m., and as we passed next day through Gabes and Mareth there was still plenty of evidence of our activities a couple of months ago. Then we left the green of Tunisia behind and crossed the border into Libya, and back to the sand.

When we were in Egypt, our money was in Egyptian pounds and piastres; in Palestine, mils. In Tunisia we had francs, and now in Libya it was back to British Military Authority money in shillings, made legal currency.

All this moving back and forth meant that we were constantly passing through different time zones, and were often an hour 'across' when we either forgot, or didn't know, the time had changed.

On 30 May we arrived where we were destined to stay for a while, about twenty miles from Tripoli, close to where we'd been about two months before. There was 'plenty of sand about' but 'tons of mail'. We were issued with 'mosquito-proof bivouacs, one between two men. Stan and I decided to share. We were a mile or two from the sea, but there was a swimming pool nearby where we swam at every opportunity - even at night, for there were lovely starry evenings.

One day, nine men per troop were allowed to go into Tripoli, and Stan, Des Darch from Somerset (a recent addition to our troop) and I went together. The town was very different from the last time we were here. We were given tickets to go to a cinema and saw the film Mrs Miniver, which was very good. 'Had ice-cream, cakes and lemonade. After film had more cakes and coffee.'

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