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To War With The Bays: 36 - No Longer One of the Boys

...Stan and I came back from a swim at 7.30 p.m. on Saturday 17 July to be met by SSM Strutt. He was waiting to congratulate me on the news that I had been awarded the Military Medal for saving the lives of our tank crew at El Hamma.

Next day Major Streeter, formerly our squadron leader but recently promoted to second-in-command of the Regiment, came over and said: 'Many congratulations on your award, it is something you deserve.' I felt proud and happy, and the rest of the troop were very generous with their congratulations...

Jack Merewood is honoured for his bravery in battle. To read earlier chapter's of Jack's vivid account of his wartime experiences please click on To War With The Bays in the menu on this page.

Our Squadron Sergeant-Major was Ronnie Strutt, a stern unsmiling man. On muster parade on 6 June, he announced that three men had been promoted to lance-corporal. I was one of them.

In my diary: ' ... I don't know whether I'm glad or sorry. Reckon I'm sorry really. Paddy sewed my stripe on for me.'

I suppose I felt sorry because once you get a stripe you are no longer 'one of the boys'. I wasn't sure I wanted that, though the stripe didn't alter me at all. However, it was a promotion. Afterwards I had to go to a lecture given by the Regimental Sergeant-Major entitled 'Now You Are an NCO'!

Ronnie meanwhile had just been promoted to sergeant.

That night Stan had a bad earache. I had some olive oil, so I put some in his ear and then plugged it with cotton wool. We lay there in our bivvy, sharing a bottle of beer ... and talked about home. Like me, Stan didn't have a girlfriend. He was younger than I, twenty-two, where I was now getting old twenty-four. But oh how we missed our homes and families. It was nearly two years now since I'd last seen them.

Next day Stan's earache was much better, but I had toothache. I went sick and had the offending tooth pulled out. Otherwise we kept in good heart, except that with the temperature rising to well over 100 every day, we both managed to catch colds.

'Bivvy' life was hardly luxurious. One night when we were in bed I felt something crawling up my leg. I yelled out and Stan struck a match as I threw back my blanket to reveal a dark green centipede, about three inches long.

We had been warned against these creatures: their feet were suckers and they had to be knocked off in the direction they were going, otherwise they would pull the skin off. In a great hurry I carried out these instructions, then clobbered the thing. It was a while before we went uneasily back to sleep. Fortunately, we saw no more centipedes.

We had no tanks yet but still had training, mostly talks. To keep us fit, we had 'swimming parades' where we piled into trucks and went to a nearby beach. This was one of the hottest areas on the North African coast, and the sea was wonderfully inviting. On one of these trips I was surprised to see Nobby Clarke. He had fully recovered from his head injury but had been given an administrative post instead of returning to the tanks.

Our tanks arrived, but we didn't have them long. After cleaning them up we handed them over to the 7th Armoured Brigade and returned to our makeshift military routine. We had lectures and talks on everything imaginable, including 'Crime in the Diamond Trade' and 'Frozen Meat'.

The weather continued hot, sometimes reaching 125 degrees, and the flies drove us mad. Sometimes, too, the wind would blow, and the sand got everywhere. We read, played cards and went swimming. There were trucks to take us into Tripoli where a NAAFI had been set up, so it was somewhere to have tea and cakes and lemonade.

There were a few good cinemas, showing the American films we liked, featuring Gary Cooper, James Cagney, Ann Sheridan and other favourites.

Back in camp a mobile canteen came round regularly so we were able to buy chocolate (to be eaten quickly before it melted), tinned fruit and cigarettes etc.

We were told that on 21 June we were to have a very special visitor, codenamed 'General Lion'. We duly lined up on each side of the road, and he rode slowly past in an open car, raising his hand in acknowledgement. To our astonishment we saw that it was the King. We had expected to see some high official but not the King himself. It was a boost to morale.

After the King's visit the whole Regiment moved - just a few miles, but it was a welcome move for we were in the midst of a heatwave and now the sea was right on our doorstep. We were burned to a cinder. My hair went blond.

On 10 July we heard news of the invasion of Sicily. This set us wondering, but a blue light was going around that we'd be leaving soon for England. Paddy Flanagan said: 'Jackie, mark the 13th of September in your diary, that's the day we'll be going home.' So I duly marked it with four crosses and we all started to place bets as to whether or not that would be the date, and where we would be sailing from.

Stan and I came back from a swim at 7.30 p.m. on Saturday 17 July to be met by SSM Strutt. He was waiting to congratulate me on the news that I had been awarded the Military Medal for saving the lives of our tank crew at El Hamma.

Next day Major Streeter, formerly our squadron leader but recently promoted to second-in-command of the Regiment, came over and said: 'Many congratulations on your award, it is something you deserve.' I felt proud and happy, and the rest of the troop were very generous with their congratulations.

We were told that soon some of us would be sent back to Cairo to collect a hundred jeeps and drive them to Algeria. Among the men chosen to go were Stan, Colin, Paddy, Ted Wanless, Jimmy, Sid Aster - and myself.

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