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To War With The Bays: 39 - Five Hundred Miles

...During his time in Tunis he had made friends with a French family by the name of Leautaud, and, having the use of a pick-up, he took me to meet them. They were nice friendly people and had a lovely daughter about twelve years old, called Lucienne.

They invited us to spend the coming Sunday with them. We went in the afternoon, took Lucienne swimming in the sea, then returned to their house for a meal. They had invited some of their friends, and after we had eaten we had a singsong - in French as no one spoke English. It was after midnight when we left. It had been a most enjoyable day...

John Merewood enjoyed some blissful times in North Africa after fierce combat and long dusty days of travel.

We spent the night of 20 September, 1943, in a transit camp near Bne. Reveille was at 4.45 next morning and at 5.30 we left for the railway station. There we boarded cattle trucks and moved off at 7 a.m.

It was very hot, our truck was crowded, and progress was extremely slow. We travelled all day and all night, with sleeping almost an impossibility. We had brought what was left of our rations, and occasionally when the train stopped for a while, we'd jump off and brew up. At one stop we used the last of our tea, sugar and milk.

Our journey ended when we arrived at Medjez El Bab about 5 p.m. We were back in Tunisia.

When we left on our trip to Cairo, the Regiment was near Tripoli. Now all the Regiment including the cookhouse, had moved all the way back to Tunis, and we were picked up at the station by trucks to rejoin them.

Our SQMS was 'Topper' Brown. He and I were quite friendly and he had asked me to get a certain book for him in Cairo. He was delighted when I handed it to him. Topper was always with the Echelon, never up with the tanks, but I'd see him when we were all together like this.

He was an extremely good musician, and could play a number of different instruments, one of them the accordion, which he carried with him. Strains of music could often be heard coming from his tent at night, and sometimes I'd call in there and listen to him play. He had written a few good songs, a couple of which I learned by heart, and still remember.

The Regiment together again meant that Ronnie was here. He had been promoted to SQMS and moved to 'HQ' Squadron, so now instead of handling the affairs of just one squadron he was in charge of the paperwork for the whole Regiment.

During his time in Tunis he had made friends with a French family by the name of Leautaud, and, having the use of a pick-up, he took me to meet them. They were nice friendly people and had a lovely daughter about twelve years old, called Lucienne.

They invited us to spend the coming Sunday with them. We went in the afternoon, took Lucienne swimming in the sea, then returned to their house for a meal. They had invited some of their friends, and after we had eaten we had a singsong - in French as no one spoke English. It was after midnight when we left. It had been a most enjoyable day.

We were due to leave the area in a few days' time, so Ronnie and I went into Tunis again to say goodbye to the Leautaud family. Lucienne asked if we would write to her and we promised we would. I'm sure Ronnie did, and so did I for several years.

On 1 October we moved to the railway station. Four cattle trucks had been allocated to C Squadron, and all the kit we had packed up the day before was loaded into them. Dave Beauchamp, Ted Wanless, Ted Ryan and I were left on guard. Then the rest of the squadron (except the ones who were going by road) arrived, and we all piled into the trucks along with the kit. The train finally moved off at midnight, bound for Algiers.

2 October: 'Moved and stopped all night, then more stops than moves all day. It rained during the night and some came through the roof. I think this truck has square wheels or else one has a lump on it the size of an ostrich egg. When we came to a halt, the cooks made breakfast, stopped at Soul El Arras at 9 p.m.'

Next day we were still on the train. At one point the railway ran near the road and we passed some of our road party. Then we came to a halt at a station and were there for twelve hours - from 3 p.m. to 3 a.m.

I bought a bottle of Muscat at a buffet, and we passed the time between meals made by the cookhouse playing cards, reading, and drinking wine. It was a very cold night, and was still cold and raining when we got under way.

During the day we came to a steep gradient and the engine didn't have the strength to climb it pulling all those trucks, so the train was divided into two halves and the engine pulled up each half separately. Even this was a big effort, and as the engine strained up the hill it produced a considerable amount of soot. When both halves reached the top they were joined together again.

Perhaps to compensate a little for our discomfort, the French Red Cross served us free cups of tea. The 500 miles from Tunis to Algiers took us four days. We were as glad to leave that train as we had been to leave the Talma at Alexandria.

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