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To War With The Bays: 38 - Another Long Journey

...Ben Gardane is in Tunisia, near the Libyan-Tunisian border. We stopped there for one night, and the only thing I remember about it is the flies. Flies were no novelty, but Ben Gardane's took the biscuit. As we ate, we had to keep waving our arms to fend them off. Ron Grist and I were standing one on each side of a jeep with our food on the bonnet. Ron put some jam on his bread. He turned to talk to me and in a split second his bread was a mass of flies you couldn't see the jam for them....

Jack Merewood goes on another long journey through the heat and dust of North Africa.

For earlier chapters of Jack's vivid account of men called up to fight please click on To War With The Bays in the menu on this page.

We continued through Tobruk yet again, now peacefully settling down. Two Sudanese were hitchhiking to Derna. I picked one up and Stan the other. Unfortunately for them we stopped for the night about twenty miles short of the town, so they had to pick up another hitch.

It rained very heavily that night, but next day it cleared up and we had a wonderful view as we descended Derna Pass into Derna. The country now was greener and less austere. Twenty miles south of here was the bare and sandy place where we had spent the months around Christmas, now safely a memory.

Next morning Stan and I picked up two more Sudanese who were bound for Benghazi. The Army now had troops and bases in these coastal towns, and in Benghazi we filled up with petrol and water, drew rations, and I had my desert sores dressed by a medical orderly.

We stopped for the day just fifteen miles west of the town to do maintenance on the jeeps. Some of the boys took a trip into Benghazi but Stan and I decided not to go: there really was little of interest, and we took advantage of the stop to do some washing and letter-writing.

The following day we were on the move again, and I picked up yet another Sudanese, who asked for a lift to Agedabia. When we stopped for the night on the way, I dropped him off to get another lift, but he turned up again later and stayed the night so he could travel on with me.

Next day we did 101 miles and my mileometer passed the 1,000 mark. My Sudanese friend had decided he wanted to go further than Agedabia so he was with me as we drove through El Agheila, then right off the road to the seashore where we parked for the night on the beach. My passenger was enjoying this. He slept there too and was with us when we left next day.

Then it was on down the long, long road we'd travelled on the transporters months ago ... The kilostone still said 'Nufilia o' and we still never saw Nufilia. My friend and I were now on first-name terms - 'Jackie' and 'Rehab'!

7 September: 'Went down to the sea and had a swim (eight of us in one jeep.) Got some eggs. Cigarette situation rather bad now ... plenty Arabs here and millions of flies.'

We were bound for Tripoli, and stopped in Homs, where Rehab finally left me after being my passenger for five days.

In Tripoli we filled up with petrol and attended to necessary repairs. I had a puncture mended. Then we stocked up with rations, including fresh meat, and had fried steaks that night for supper. Just west of the town we stopped for a couple of days. During the night Ted Wanless was taken ill, the cause appeared to be a sardine sandwich he had bought in the NAAFI. However, he recovered by the time we were ready to move.

There was an army hospital now in Tripoli, and I went there and asked if by any chance Sister Furnival was on the staff. Unfortunately she wasn't. They told me she was now on a hospital ship. I was very disappointed at this, I should have loved to have seen her again.

A couple of months before, I had marked 13 September in my diary with four crosses. This, according to Paddy Flanagan, was the day we should be going home. As we crossed the border once again into Tunisia, I showed the diary to Paddy and reminded him of his forecast. Poor Paddy, somehow he must have got the wrong information. He was a great man, tough on the outside but for me always had a soft spot. There was never a wrong word between us.

Ben Gardane is in Tunisia, near the Libyan-Tunisian border. We stopped there for one night, and the only thing I remember about it is the flies. Flies were no novelty, but Ben Gardane's took the biscuit. As we ate, we had to keep waving our arms to fend them off. Ron Grist and I were standing one on each side of a jeep with our food on the bonnet. Ron put some jam on his bread. He turned to talk to me and in a split second his bread was a mass of flies you couldn't see the jam for them.

We passed once again through Mareth and Gabes, reliving the awful memories of those places, then north through Sfax and Sousse.

17 September: 'Bound for Tunis through small towns and villages. Through Grombalia where we were a few months ago after our last day of action, and through Hammam Lif where we used to go swimming.'

We only did fifty-four miles that day. One of the officers had gone ahead to the Regiment to collect the mail. There was great excitement when he arrived back with a jeepful. I had thirty-four letters!

18 September: 'Reveille 5 a.m. and moved off at 7 a.m. Stan and I made the breakfast as usual. Through Tunis and Medjez El Bab, through beautiful scenery on very good roads. Up mountains and round thousands of corners with picturesque villages here and there. Finally arrived at La Calle, a lovely little Mediterranean fishing village. Walked round the village and had some wine.'

We were now in Algeria, nearing the end of our journey, and on 19 September parked the jeeps in a field on a hillside on the outskirts of Bne. My mileometer read 2,329, which meant I had done 2,301 miles in the twenty-three days since we left Cairo. We slept there that night, bitten by mosquitoes. With no reveille next morning we slept in.

About twelve o'clock, lorries came to pick us up and take us back to the Regiment. I had enjoyed those three weeks, and said a sad farewell to my jeep.


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