Diary Part 2. March 1941 to 30 April 1941
Saturday 1 March 1941
Did not have a very busy morning. Tried to get transport to collect Jack and Dan but failed miserably. Dust everywhere wind very cold. It had rained during the night and the Mess hut leaked horribly. Maj. Cameron and the C.O. moved over to my building temporarily – damn nuisance. L.A.D. shows no sign of moving. Tried to keep pace with the dust but did not succeed too well. Case came in with me after lunch and I got to work on a Tommy staff sgt. with an acute stomatitis and some nasty ulcers. Carruthers called in his car. Received orders to move back to Alex tomorrow – wish I were going with him. Took him over to the mess where he paid me for the whisky etc. Got him to take a message into Jack to be ready in the morning. He thinks the movement back means a concentration for Greece. Everybody seems to be going back. Dust still bad at night. Had a look at the Padres dug-out – also very comfortable but about a mile from anywhere. No air raid.
Sunday 2 March 1941
Picked up a truck about 9 A.M. and so in to Tobruk. Passed an Ack Ack battery (4 guns) manned and ready for action. Jack & Dan had made no attempt to be ready – very annoyed with me for trying to move them. I became annoyed too but eventually relented and let them stay and come out tomorrow. Tried to get a hot bath but a bomb had put the water main out of action. On the way back called at the Canteen bulk store – had nothing except toothpaste and shaving cream. Long convoys of armoured vehicles moving back along the Bardia road. Tobruk deserted – even the Palestinians gone. Park & Yeates feeling the strain but won’t admit it. Sgt. Busby cracked up . Also Donovan. Probably have to evacuate them. Had a major from 2/11 th Btn. in the afternoon. He had been through shelling but terrified of bombing – common opinion. Apparently Chappell at El Gazala. Hope he takes a few off my hands. Father O’Callaghan from 2/4 th (19 th Brig.) called in and stayed the night – was very interesting. Raid again but did not last long and did not appear to drop anything. Had a good bath in the X Ray Dept.
Monday 3 March 1941
Very hard to get out of bed. Received wonderful bunch of letters last night. One from Jim, Ding, Merle, and three from Bon including ₣1. Had been a bit miserable and brightened me up a lot. Late yesterday a Sig. (Brit) came in – suspected fracture and rayed him. Fractured through angle of jaw. Tooth in line of fracture and also fractured. Told him to come back today for wiring. Enormous sick parade this morning and about 11 A.M. Jack and Dan arrived. Still a bit troublesome but soon cooled down to former relations. Maj. Cameron definitely allotted the building to me. Should be very comfortable. Raftery of L.A.D. packing up and C.O. & Maj. Cameron moved out. Should be in full swing to-morrow. Inadequate parcel of teeth, felt cone, and Zelex arrived. Decided I must sit down and write to bon and the others.
Have told Bon about the bombing – not in detail – wondering whether I should or not.
Tuesday 4 March 1941
20 men arrived from 2/11 th Btn. at El Gazala. Flat out all day – mainly denture work. Jimmy Ryan their M.O. No sign of Hospital ship and L.A.D.’s still hanging round waiting for leave. Getting bit sick of working without a moment away from it. All day every day – others seem to get around and see a few things. Maj. Chappell supposed to be moving back which will leave two dental officers in Libya. Wish I had the time to sit down & write a few letters. Beautiful day – would be delightful to go wandering. Trying to decide whether to leave the dug-out or not. Camp in a hell of a spot – jumble of tents. Blackout seems to be only A.R.P. C.O. & Cameron keeping up the hush-hush policy – Mick Hogg very annoyed with them. They treat Maj. Murphy very badly. Mick Hogg came down to dug out after mess & talked till 10.30. So to bed once again without having written. Reconnaissance plane over at lunch time but no raid that night.
Wednesday 5 March 1941
More impressions – getting absolutely fed up with work. Can’t get away from it. Dreamt about Bon last night and been feeling homesick all day. Miss her horribly sometimes. Tich More of 2/4 th Fld. Coy. gave me a pair of gauntlets and a good pair of goggles – very welcome. A few Hurricanes and a couple of Blenheims buzzing about but no sign of Jerry. Hospital ship has not arrived yet. “Knight of Malta” ran aground off Bardia supposed to have 4 th A.G.H. aboard. 7 th Div. moved up –seem to be taking over from the 6 th Div.
Met Hoy of 2/15 th. Brig. Murray came to mess. Moving up tomorrow.
Very little air activity – we are wondering how long before they have another go.
Father Daly & Mick Hogg arrived back from Canteen with a bottle of O.P. rum. We had a go at it in the dug-out – nearly killed me. Burnt with a blue flame.
Thursday 6 March 1941
L.A.D.’s definitely moved out so occupied their orderly room. Spent most of the morning bunging people off – determined to have an easy afternoon. Succeeded quite well. Spent the afternoon moving my surgery and having a bath – also boiled up my handkerchiefs. Finished off Bon’s letter and had a very satisfactory day. Weather still marvellous. In the afternoon had a convoy in from Durna. Poor devils of 20 th Brig. were machine-gunned from the air on the Durna road. Must carry the old tin hat with me. Jerry is getting very cheeky – coming over in daylight. The Brig. was ill equipped with A.A. guns and the few they did have were not ready for instant use. The Jerries laid a long smoke screen over the convoy (about 200 vehicles) and kept popping in and out of the smoke for about 15 minutes. Several vehicles destroyed.
Friday 7 March 1941
Up late again and had the shave I forgot yesterday. Fairly large sick parade but go through them comfortably. Heinkel over about 11 A.M. had a look at us and cleared out again. Had a Lieut. in from 5 th R.T.R. was in France with 51 st Div. cut to pieces – French army corps failed to arrive. Must have been a frightful business. Finished up fairly early and talked to Case for a while. C.O. actually came round and offered an affable greeting. After lunch did a few jobs – collected Parks and went for a walk up to the top of the hill behind our building. More gun emplacements similar to those I saw in at Tobruk. Elaborate concrete dug-out with motor and generator in it. The Italian A.A. batteries all seemed to be operated electrically. Found a Breda light automatic and tons of ammunition. Must see if it works. After mess had a message from Maj. Chappell asking for Mercury. Two enormous explosions over the edge of the escarpment and great clouds of smoke. Couple of planes buzzing round overhead – felt uncomfortable for a few moments but must have been our own. Still no sign of hospital ship.
Saturday 8 March 1941
Fairly busy morning. Another batch from 2/4 th arrived for try-ins – also a number of Palestinians. Beautiful day again. Before lunch went along to building left by L.A.D. terrible mess. Found quite a good folding stretcher & table also a large bag of coffee beans. Pounced on a container full of tacks. Had been quarters for the gunners of the A.A. battery on the hill. Huge stove. Lieut. Robertson of 2/4 th Eng. came over to see Casey. Took him over to the mess. Hospital ship in at last and evacuation started. A few patients in the afternoon – not many. Came over to dug-out and continued a letter to Bon. Bill Werner made me some tea. Just at mess time dragged out to fix a Lieut. from armoured div. on his way back for 5 days leave in Cairo. Said German dive bombers very game – dive right at a Bofors. After mess everybody started producing weapons. Wonderful collection for a non-combatant unit. Murphy & Row out shooting with an Italian rifle overhauled by two patients. Row killed a running dog at 15 yds. with a .45. No raid. Saw a very light apparently from a plane but nothing further.
Sunday 9 March 1941
Up early and off to church in Casey’s room. After breakfast Ambrose turned up with an Italian gun tractor. Went for a ride in it. A very queer contraption – 4 wheel drive. Row & Casey photographed us.
A few patients kept trickling in. Barrett of 2/4 th A.G.H. with us for a few days – advance party ran aground in Knight of Malta near Bardia. Got all their equipment off. Going to set up in Barce. Wonder will they leave us here after that. Ambrose got his stripes the other day – very pleased about it. Went up the hill with him and Jack & loosed off a few shots from a .45. Father Daly gone off in his Fiat to the Canteen to get some beer. Arrived back with stacks of supplies. Spent the afternoon wandering about on the hill and in the various dugouts.
Monday 10 March 1941
A fairly busy morning. More officers from the 2/4 th A.G.H. drifting in. Seem a very decent crowd. Surgical team on its way back also with us. Ambrose succeeded in getting the “desert bug” going. C.O. came up to inspect our building. The nurses may be coming up and Casey will have to share my half of the building. C.O. thinks they might come up with the A.G.H. nurses. No certainty about it. 5 th R.T.R. still sitting round in the neighbourhood sending me work. Chappell seems to have moved right back which makes me the only Dental officer between Bengasi & Mersa Matruh. Should be one with British C.C.S. at Bardia. In the evening after mess Case & I went for a ride with Ambrose and Jack in the “desert bug”. Picked up Daly & Murphy and got a lot of fun out of careering over the desert. About time some more mail turned up.
Dust storm blew up in the morning but did not last long luckily.
Tuesday 11 March 1941
Apparently going to be busy every morning with little to do in the afternoon. Large no. of rest of 4 th A.G.H. turned up. Having two sittings in the mess. Seem a decent crowd of chaps. Amies is their dental officer but has not turned up yet. I shall be interested to meet him. Did the same old things all day until mess time. Had a few drinks and decided to get a Breda gun and do some shooting. Went off with Hogg & Daly in the little Fiat to a Wadi a few miles up. Inspected the smashed searchlight and picked up two quite good guns and plenty of ammunition. Must assemble one & get it going. More drinks when we returned and took one gun over to X Ray where Case was entertaining. Had supper of asparagus & toast with beer and whisky. Did not get to bed until after twelve. Will feel rotten in the morning. About 7 P.M. all in mess when wonderful fireworks display from Tobruk. Marvellous sight. Great to be able to watch from a safe distance.
Wednesday 12 March 1941
Weather yesterday and today marvellous. Woke up feeling very tired and almost missed breakfast. Crowd arrived from 2/11 th for dentures and another team all the way from Mersa. Rotten morning. Fairly busy in the afternoon but got some water on the coal stone and succeeded in having a bath. Father O’Callaghan of 12 th Brig. turned up again this afternoon so Daly on another party including the first from the A.G.H. Two more bulletins arrived – one the Christmas number. Started a letter to Bon but feeling terribly tired and will turn in soon. No sign of any air activity over Tobruk. Knight of Malta was looted very thoroughly by the A.G.H. & others. They have all the good tableware and electric fans – the ship’s bell and a host of things. Had an 11 mile trek from the ship to the road. Germans came over and tried to bomb her after she had been high and dry for about a week. Very amusing. The three priests have gone off half tight so I shall turn in before they come back. Wonderful to see and hear a few birds again.
Thursday 13 March 1941
Terrific crowd arrived – large no. from 2/5 th Btn. for dentures again. All our units up here have the same tale – and clamouring for dentures. 6 th Div. supposed to leave Aus. 60% fit. Something wrong with the figures. Major Amies arrived and contacted me. Seems a very wise chap. Am feeling a bit nervous of him. Have been too busy to keep my surgery decent lately. He came over in the morning and sat around to talk – put me off my stroke badly. Came over in the afternoon and luckily just as I struck trouble – cracked an upper 3 & 4. Hell of a job so asked him to have a go. He hopped in and cleaned it up in fine style. Had a great talk to him in the mess after dinner.
Wakened up at 1A.M. by terrific ack ack. Raiders came over in waves for about an hour and a half. Went to sleep in the middle of it. Felt very tired in the morning and must have looked a wreck when I met Amies. Did not have the time to shave.
Friday 14 March 1941
Up feeling very miserable and had a terrific morning. Amies has a “relief of pain outfit” and set up his head-rest on a chair. Was a great help. 2/5 Btn. arrived in force for dentures could not see them all. Had more discussions with Amies. Hard at it again in the afternoon until about 5 P.M. After mess Amies & I went up the Wadi with Row & Camroux with a .303 & an Italian rifle. Put up some good shooting. Came down to the dug-out later where we entertained him royally. He was amazed at our comfort. Gave him coffee and sent him away feeling very pleased with himself. We decided to get into Tobruk tomorrow to the store of captured Italian goods and collect a few things. I arranged to have Father Daly’s car. Park & Yeates want another officer at night. Cameron is being sent in. A.G.H. fellows going up in small parties in ambulances and odd trucks. Amies orderly seems very efficient. Must get the generator up on the hill working and start running a motor again.
Saturday 15 March 1941
Beautiful day – had rained during the night. Another frightfully busy morning. Determined to get away after lunch so did not go near the place after then. Many of my patients from 2/5 th producing guns and tyring to sell them to me. Sold a few to the A.G.H. officers. Still trying to get more ammunition for my .38. After lunch went into Tobruk. Quite a few changes since I was there last. Just outside was a plaque & a large notice :- “When Red flag showing – air raid on – do not enter the town – disperse and take cover.” A few unfamiliar bomb scars from raids since I left. Saw Saxby but was very evasive. Went along to Italian store. Amies delighted & started to pick out all sorts of things. I went back to Saxby and got two chits for expendible [sic] stores. The staff sgt. gave us open go so we grabbed quite a few non-expendibles [sic]. I got a decent big steriliser. No time to go anywhere else so after I had pinched a couple of acetylene lights – back to Pilistrino. Talked for quite a while after mess. Amies told me the details of his senior degrees. Almost has me persuaded to have a go at them when I get back.
Sunday 16 March 1941
Father Cosgriff taking the Masses in Tobruk so Daly slept in until ten. I went over to work and a couple turned up including Maj. Cameron. Old Mc. came over & drove me down to mass at ten.
Weather still very pleasant. From my surgery window can see the deep blue of the Mediterranean beyond the edge of the escarpment. McMullan of 2/2 Amb. about 5 miles away – Amies keen to contact him. May get the chance tomorrow.
Political officer – a Major in this afternoon with toothache. Fixed him up. Was in once before. Beautiful big Pontiac car. Suggested I should go out to a village where he is living and has a large no. of Senussi gathered there. Wants me to spend a night with him. I jumped at the chance – would be most interesting. He is responsible for natives from El Gazala to Sollum.
Monday 17 March 1941
Hard work again all day. Amies succeeded in getting a message though to McMullan of the 2/2 Amb. inviting him over for dinner. At the moment 4 Btns. on our books. 2/5 th, 2/6 th, 2/7 th (12 th Brig.) and 2/1 st Pioneers. Still no air activity except for occasional Blenheims, Hurricanes, and Wellingtons. Amies insists still on working. Place a bit of a muddle with two of us there – will be glad in a way when he is gone. McMullan came over about 4. Very nice chap. Was working 70 miles past Bengasi. He confirmed my opinion of dive bombers. Very glad to get out of the place. Says a Greek campaign imminent. Arranged to have lunch with him tomorrow. Had a farewell drink with some of the A.G.H. chaps & Mick Hogg.
Tuesday 18 March 1941
Could not get to work quick enough. A chap from 2/5 th was to bring me a camera. It was certainly a beauty – 2.8 Kodak Retina. However there were several minor defects and I was not prepared to pay -/10 Gyppo for it. Offered him ₣7 but he would not sell. Flat out again. At 11.30 A.M. a car from McMullan called for us. They were camped in wadis about10 miles out. When we arrived we found they had to move out. Had no lunch. Eventually came back in a truck with Bob McMullan (Sydney Dentist). More work this afternoon and R.M.O. (Capt. McPherson) of 2/8 th arrived to tell me that Brigade was moving early in the morning. Leaves me with about 15 jobs on my hands. Last time I will be caught like that. After mess went back to the X Ray dept and had a bath. Feeling pretty lousy today. Will write some letters and turn in. The old dugout a marvellous refuge after a hard days work. Been in Tobruk sub-area 7 weeks today. Wonder how much longer. Getting very tired of working all day every day. Very few units try to help. Expect impossibilities and complain when they do not materialise.
Wednesday 19 March 1941
Still tons of work. About 11.30 A.M. car arrived from 2/2 Fld Amb. for Amies & myself. Quite an interesting drive out about 8 miles along Bardia Rd. Saw a lot of Artillery which I had not seen before. Ambulance camped in a succession of rocky wadis. Arrived there to find them packing up – sudden movement order. McMullan bundling his things together. Pretty rough life in an Ambulance. Waited for McMullan’s truck to be packed & take us back. Car had to go on ahead to Mersa. Had a good long talk to McMullan. Some queer ideas but also some very valuable ones. Told me not to let the job get me down. Worked in the afternoon and sat up late with Amies talking about all sorts of things. Gave him a requisition to take to Barce with him. He is to leave early in the morning. Colonel Littlejohn a great chap and a brilliant surgeon.
1800 ton ship struck a mine in the harbour – blew her stern off. Lot of P.O.W. aboard & Australian guard. Many lost. Sunk in 4 minutes.
Thursday 20 March 1941
Did not wake up in time to see Amies off. Knuckled down to work on my own again. Getting fed up – expected to do too much. Still plenty of Tommies and Palestinians. Dan Buckley not too good – got some fever that is going about. Jack Ross also – sore troubling him. Must get him up to Barce to have it fixed.
Major Thomson received movement order. Very pleased to be leaving Libya. Rudd of 4 th A.G.H. to relieve him. Nurses supposed to be arriving. Looks as though I shall lose my comfortable quarters. Comical secrecy becoming annoying. Expect me to work like a slave and consider me last. Spent the afternoon in a very bad temper. Casey in Tobruk x raying casualties from the mining in the harbour. About 40 very bad cases. Some remarkable escapes. Case will probably be very comfortably quartered again although I shall be stuck anywhere. Tried to lean back in the traces & rest but finding it impossible. Started to write to Bon tonight but Daly has arrived back from Gazala and feels companionable.
Friday 21 March 1941
Just the same as any other day.
Dust storm blew up but worry me little now. Still no official notification of the nurses’ arrival. Was told Sunday but nothing definite. C.O. has not mentioned it to me. Everybody getting very fed up with the orderly room. A.D.M.S. rang C.O. to find out why someone’s batman had been put off a couple of times for dentures. He is damned inefficient and at times bloody annoying. Thomson talking airily of Greece. Also a bit of a B.F. Casey deciding where to live. Not keen on tent so I might go into a dugout with him although I am very comfortable where I am.
Spent tonight stripping and cleaning a Breda light automatic. Succeeded in putting it together again so felt quite pleased with myself. No large Australian units in the neighbourhood now but hordes of Tommies and Palestinians.
Wind very fierce and very cold now.
Saturday 22 March 1941
Dust storm again.
Major Thomson left to rejoin the 5 th A.G.H. Apparently going to Greece or Thrace. Major Rudd arrived yesterday from 6 th A.G.H. to take over the lab. Heavy morning’s work again. Told that nurses were coming. Casey to move into my portion of the building and no provision whatsoever made about me. Was more annoyed than I have ever been yet. Work harder & longer than any other dept. but considered last. Refused to move until provided with a place to go. Orderly room very obstructive. British engineers to fix place for the nurses. Shall get fed up soon & go back to Tobruk. Casey also very annoyed. complained openly for the first time. Sent Buckley down to hospital yesterday with some form of local fever. Told to start moving out tomorrow. Pointed out necessary adjustments to other building. No help offered. After mess got to work on the two Breda guns again. Got both working and then read for a while. Had some hot coffee & so to bed.
Sunday 23 March 1941
Beautiful day but cold. Had a few patients just after Breakfast. Engineers did not turn up by ten so Case & I gave our respective staffs the day off to make moving impossible. Engineers turned up eventually about 11.30. Just had a look round.
After mess went over again with a book. Did a few patients & then sat in the sun with Case. Decided to have a bath and got the chip heater going. No water came through so discovered cistern turned off. C.O. & Cameron arrived in the middle of things and told Case we were not to have any more hot baths – a waste of water. Made us both furious. 50 nurses for 4 th A.G.H. arriving within next few days – complicates their plans rather. I become the chief problem and am determined to stay where I am until I get the help I require. Still very crooked about the bath question. Only have one once a week and then in about 4 gallons of water. Too many bloody old women around.
Monday 24 – Wednesday 26 March 1941
Have missed the whole of this week – too busy and events happening too quickly.
Heard rumours that the 4 th A.G.H. were to return here and we were to take over in Barce. did not believe it but it turned out to be true. Col. Littlejohn & Col. Cooper arrived on Wednesday and stayed overnight. Very annoyed at having to return. Barce a beautiful place. We are all very happy about the change. Lately we have all been miserable and bad tempered – sick of the dust and dirt. No air raids to spark us up.
A good deal of indecision about the site for the 4 th A.G.H. A.D.M.S. no bloody use at all. The first news I had of the arrival of the A.G.H. and the reversal of arrangements was on Monday when the C.O. arrived over at my surgery with Colonel Furnell. A.D.M.S. (9 th Div.) seems a very decent lively sort of chap. Gave me a note from Amies. Also announced his determination to prevent the dental gear in the store at Tobruk from going back. Amies told me all about the little villa he had obtained at Barce and the way he had planned things. Enclosed a plan. Whole scheme seemed to have been tackled thoroughly and was most attractive. Stands apart from the hospital and in about
1 ½ acres of land with a garden and fruit trees. Thought it extremely decent of him to think of sending me details so quickly.
C.O. and company still observing hush hush about everything. Repaired the C.O.’s plate and took the opportunity of asking some point blank questions. He said advance party to leave on Saturday (light section) and rest to follow in a few days. Decided I would like to go with the advance party but did not like to suggest it. Jack and the other two very pleased at the prospect of a change. Casey the only one who demurred. He says we are safe and comfortable where we are and things we have gone from the frying pan into the fire. Heard that the roads up round Barce and Bengasi are still being bombed and machine-gunned – not a pleasant thought. 15 th Brit. C.C.S. definitely operating at Durna. Dentist has a marvellous surgery. Australian who fixed up his electric gear was in one day and waxed lyrical about it. We can hardly believe that we shall be in fertile country soon.
The whole of the 9 th Aus. Div. are taking over here – all the other units seem to have gone back now. Sorry to see the last of the 2/4 th Engineers. Have been working on the O.P. of a section left here – Lieut. Biddle. Kept me posted as to the movements of his section. The first unit which have done this but I was being very cautious after the 2/5 th Btn.
Thursday 27 March 1941
Tons of hard work again. Spent last night talking to Littlejohn and Cooper. Apparently going to have surgical, x ray & dental depts. at our old site in Tobruk and the rest tented. Hospital ship arrived today complete with the A.G.H. nurses and our own. No evacuation started.
In the afternoon Amies arrived. Very surprised to see him down so promptly. No sooner arrived than Littlejohn hauled him into Tobruk. Most of the A.G.H. had arrived by this. Went in to see him after mess and he told me quite a bit about Barce. Insisted that I should go up with our advance party as frightful amt. of work to be done. Mentioned it to the C.O. who pointed out that no-one would die for lack of dental treatment. Told him I was to see Amies again and should be able to give him adequate reasons for my going on ahead.
Furnell left us today.
Friday 28 March 1941
Flat out all the morning and in the afternoon dropped everything and went in to see Amies. Got Father Daly’s car and Mick Hogg came with me. Evacuation in full swing and nurses coming ashore. Amies flat out getting his surgery set up. Succeeded in getting the two buildings originally fixed up and allotted to our nurses. Very suitable spot. We went off to see A.D.M.S. He was on board the hospital ship. Hung around the docks and saw our nurses. All look well – noticed that “Mrs Brampton” not amongst them. Eventually saw Saxby but was no help at all. Could not trace chair and unit in Italian store. Had been sent away to be crated. A Capt. Collier replacing Munden. Supercilious sort of cow wielding an elaborate fly whisk. got back to camp thoroughly disgusted with Saxby and company. Saw the C.O. who agreed to let me go on advance party. Showed him the plan of the building Amies had chosen but he was completely uninterested.
Saturday 29 March 1941
A very eventful day. Advance party supposed to be delayed till Monday. Had to ask for the information. Left the surgery & went for a ride with Case & Mick Hogg in the desert bug. Back about 11.30 A.M. & set off in car with Maj. Rudd to a spot about 26 kilos up Durna rd. A wayside house with very amusing signs painted on it by one of our engineers – took some photographs. Section of 2/1 st Pioneers occupying the building. 4 lonely graves by the roadside – three Free Frenchmen killed in the battle for Tobruk and a pioneer killed about a week ago by a booby trap. Trouble with the radiator of car & late for lunch. After lunch told to be ready to move out at 7 A.M. tomorrow. Off into town & saw Amies. He gave me some compo & impression plaster and so back to camp. Heard rumours that unit to move as a whole at midday tomorrow. Rang up orderly room who confirmed it. At present the time is 9.30 P.M. and the following officers have no idea of our projected move tomorrow. Murphy, Row, Parks, Yeates, Casey, Hogg, and the three padres. This afternoon M.P.’s confiscated Padre Daly’s car and C.O. refused to do anything about it. – “Not on the establishment”. Obviously the loafer the wisest man in the army. Everybody very completely fed up. About time some protest was made.
Sunday 30 March 1941
Spent all morning packing. Difficult to leave all the odds and ends we had collected in the dugout. Was waiting for a truck about 1 P.M. when one of the R.A.S.C. drivers offered me a seat in his. It was loaded with the cook’s gear so we did not travel in convoy but went ahead. Fast trip to Durna in about 3 hrs. Passed large convoy of ten-tonners carrying pertrol. Desert most of the way – near Durna passed Italian aerodrome with about 20 burnt out aircraft there. Durna a lovely sight from the pass. Fearsome hairpin bends down the side of the escarpment. Went right through and camped about 4 kilos. out near a deserted brick factory. Walked over the hills to a beautiful little sandy beach.
Others arrived about an hour later. Had tea and set up my valise beside a truck on the ground. Slept well.
Monday 31 March 1941
Up early rolled my valise and an early breakfast. Maj. Murphy had wandered from his bed and lost himself. He slept on a board behind some bushes and saw the Great Bear go round the Pole Star in the wrong direction. Got away early but had to travel in convoy this time. Passed through very pleasant country dotted by homes of Italian settlers. Pleasant little village of Berta. At pass over escarpment into Barce another lovely sight. A basin in the hills very similar country to Darling Downs – red soil. Pleasant little town. Beautiful big hospital building. Casey & I got a pleasant well-furnished rooms – real beds again. Rear party of 4 A.G.H. still working. C.O. showed me a poky little place where I was supposed to work. Succeeded in finding the villa chosen by Amies. A beautiful little place. Told the C.O. I would work there so sergeants made their mess in the other building.
Tuesday 1 April 1941
Formally took over the hospital from the A.G.H. I started work too. Quite a few patients arrived. Put off some and went down to the town with Case to find Capt. Temple of the R.E.’s. Could not find him. Had a look round the town. Tiny little shops and typical wog quarter. About a mile & a half to the town from the hospital through an avenue of gum trees. Found a rotary converter lying in my villa with a lot of plumbing gear. All feeling very pleased with our comfortable working and sleeping quarters. Very good drawing on the wall of one room of a Heinkel machine gunning John Bull – apparently done by some German. did some writing in my room before mess in the afternoon. Hoping they would leave us some time in the place. C.O. held a conference after mess and most of us got a lot of complaints off their chests although that was not the original purpose of the meeting. Promised us regular officers meetings to discuss the affairs of the unit.
Wednesday 2 April 1941
Settled down to work again and decided that Jack & I would fix up the plumbing ourselves. got to work on it in between patients and had almost the whole afternoon. Jack apparently quite a good plumber. Started to hear rumours that all was not going so well in the desert and that we intended to abandon Bengasi after destroying everything of value. All sorts of wild rumours about. Completed the plumbing job and felt quite pleased with ourselves. Not much furniture about. Badly in need of tables for the surgery. Must try to get the electricity fitted up and a phone on. Very warm so abandoned the battle dress & took to drill. Old Mac took the former down to some wog in the town to have it cleaned.
Thursday 3 April 1941
Work as usual – but not a great deal of it. Some wogs arrived who had apparently been given a contract for emptying the hospital cess pits. We set them emptying ours for a start. Their equipment consisted of 5 44-gallon drums lashed to a card drawn by a donkey, and about 6 Arabs with kerosene tins. Took them all day to shift 1000 gallons.
More rumours that our forces were falling back to the escarpment about Tocra after blowing everything of value up and mining the approaches thoroughly. The 2/13 th Fld. Coy. had been doing a lot of mining and demolition. Had blown up all the water points behind them. After mess the C.O. called us together and told us we would have to be ready to move by the morning and that transport would not be available for all our gear.
Dashed down and got the dental gear all packed and ready in order of preference and then packed my own gear in a similar manner. Piled it all outside our quarters. Mick Hogg would not bother about his own gear.
Friday 4 April 1941
Got away about 3 A.M. 8 of us in back of 3 ton truck with all the gear we could get on. Everything dumped in everywhere. Myself, Park, Murphy, Yeates, Hogg, McCleod, Camroux and Fletcher who hid in the truck earlier. Park a bit shot. Sang and whistled all the way up the escarpment. Nightmare journey in the pitch dark. Road cramped with traffic in either direction. took hours to get up the escarpment.
Made Durna about 10 A.M. Held up again for hours at the escarpment. Plane came over & “ack ack” let fly. Got out of the truck and dived for cover behind a wall. No bombs dropped. Amazing that we were not molested more. A wonderful target. Fast trip to Tobruk – arrived about 4 P.M. Our sisters fed us and we were sent to Pilistrino again. Had a damn good sleep. Lost my stretcher and most of my underclothes and socks in the flight – also a few shirts. Lucky to get away with the rest. All my dental gear saved. Large proportion of C.C.S. equipment lost. 6 ten tonners arrived too late.
Saturday 5 April 1941
Spent all day assessing our losses and getting some more sleep. All sorts of wild rumours starting. Affair at Barce badly bungled by someone. Could have got everything away. Row very annoyed. Got a bit shot at night with Mick Hogg and Daly.
Sunday 6 April 1941
(Frantic rush from Pilistrino)
Up late and all set for a day lazing round. Hogg lost everything at Barce. Went into officers stores and he bought a valise and a few odds and ends. Saw Amies and offered to help. Had not been back long when truck driver arrived to say that the nurses were suddenly being evacuated on the hospital ship and that the Huns were only about 15 miles away. Rushed everybody into trucks without any kit at all and off to our new site on the beach. Terrible business. Row went back and spent the night there getting stuff away. Casey, Hogg and myself spent a miserable night in a dugout. Dust storm blew up. Things obviously not as bad as rumours made out.
Monday 7 April 1941
Moved into a tent with Row, McCleod, Casey, & Hogg. Got ourselves fairly comfortable and Row got his pressure lamps out. Getting used to sleeping on the ground. Will certainly not bother about buying another stretcher. A few air raids. Messing in P.O.’s tent out of mess tins still. Got the wireless rigged up.Tuesday 8 April 1941
Heard that reason for our safe flight from Barce was that R.A.F. Hurricanes were circling over the German dromes and would not let them off the ground. 2/15 th Btn among those fighting the rear guard action.
Wednesday 9 April 1941
Air raids. First at dawn and several during the day. Move into tent on sea shore and dug tow very good slit trenches. On dawn attack a 42mm shell landed between our tent and next one. Riddled on tent and a couple of pieces went through ours. got me out of bed where I had decided to stay and I streaked for shelter.
Nobody hurt. Six Junkers came over low about 10.30 A.M. Ack Ack chased them up towards Durna where our Hurricanes were waiting and got all six of them. Spent early part of night in slit trench again. Feeling very sleepy – hope they don’t disturb us again to-night.
Thursday 10 April 1941
Air raids almost continually. Came right overhead in the late afternoon and dropped about 6 on the A.G.H. Major Swartz killed, Row badly wounded. Mick Hogg shocked but unhurt. “Jockey” Brown & Tomes killed. Patrick and Williams wounded. Payard very badly shocked. Also in same raid hit hospital in town. Major Chambers killed. In each site many patients killed and injured – direct hits on wards. All felt very gloomy. Slept fully dressed and leapt into trench at slightest sound.
Went up to Tobruk in the morning and did some dental work with Amies.
Friday 11 April 1941
After a night partly in bed & partly in slit trench, had a bath in the sea and so on up to Tobruk. More air raids. Getting a bit jittery about them. Saw Row and he seemed very cheerful. Patrick very bad. Williams might lose a leg.
Hitch-hiked my way back before lunch. All sorts of frightful rumours about. Best to listen to none of them. R.A.F. & R.A.A.F. doing a wonderful job. Place seems to be alive with Hurricanes. Gunfire almost continuous and sounds quite close. Slept in my trench but was most uncomfortable. Couple of air raids during the night but only heard one of them. Casey and McCleod refuse to sleep in a hole. I don’t think I shall again. It is too damp. Worked on the trench until late in the afternoon.
Amies down at Beach hospital giving a hand. Does not apparently intend doing any more dental work. Once again I become the only dental officer functioning in the area.
Saturday 12 April 1941
Dust storm and air raids. Went up to hospital at Tobruk again and worked all the morning – not many turning up. Couple of air raids on while I was there. Left the camp during an “alert” and did not know. Once again got a lift back. Went over to the A.G.H. after quite a spectacular raid. Three “Stuka’s” came over us very low and the “ack-ack” got two of them. One fell into the sea and the other about two hundred yards away from us. Before he crashed he put a “cannon” shell into our tent. Exploded inside and put holes in a lot of my gear. Came in just over my valise. Amies acting as sort of adjutant along at the A.G.H. Very busy trying to get adequate shelter prepared for patients. Impossible job for so many. Red cross markings inadequate.
Decided to sleep in the tent tonight although still a bit jittery.
Sunday 13 April 1941
Easter Sunday. Night was very quiet – did not have to take cover once. Went up to Tobruk again – work interrupted by air raids. Had lunch at the A.G.H. and got back on to the beach about 4 P.M. Had to walk back so took the opportunity of having a look at the plane shot down yesterday. Some say it is a Junkers 88 not a Stuka.
Patrick died of wounds. Row not too good – developing a pneumonia as a result of the concussion. Had been decided that part of C.C.S. to run 100 bed hospital in underground shelter below Admiralty house. Casey, Hogg, Yeates & Park. When I got back from Tobruk they had all gone. Shall miss Casey’s company.
Got to work on the trench again and widened a section sufficiently to take my valise. Slept in it but was not too comfortable – fierce air raid during the night.
Monday 14 April 1941
Air raid about 8 A.M. – made breakfast rather late. About 30 planes came over. I believe we shot down about 10 of them. Dropped another bomb near hospital in town just behind ward 7. Nobody seriously wounded. Worked again at A.G.H. but spent most of time running into air raid shelters. About 5 raids during the morning. After lunch came back on a truck and attacked my trench with great determination as our tent had been pulled down. Made a decent job of it with the aid of timber washed up on the shore. Lot of tents being taken down and the men going into dug-outs. Everybody busy all day getting patients on to two hospital ships that came in.
One left about 6 P.M. and a dozen Jerry dive-bombers came over and tried unsuccessfully to sink her. Loading the other one until about mid-night. Some of the bombers brought down again. Slept well and soundly in my very comfortable dug-out. Lined the sides of it to prevent earth trickling down on me every time I moved.
Tuesday 15 April 1941
Wakened about 6.30 A.M. by a raid but rolled over and went to sleep again. More raids later so did not get to Tobruk until about 10.30 A.M. very quiet for rest of morning and until now (about 4.30 P.M.). A bit of artillery fire going on somewhere now. Saw Fryberg and Casey at lunch at the A.G.H. Fryberg gave me a lift back to camp. No more raids and had a very quiet night. Heavy artillery fire audible in the distance in the early evening.
Hospital ship in the harbour down by the stern. Damaged by a near miss but nobody injured. A very deliberate attack. Her complement of wounded taken off by two destroyers. A.G.H. still busy painting huge Red Crosses but apparently not much use. Feel damned uncomfortable on journey to and from A.G.H. Can’t hear anything in truck. If we see people
Wednesday 16 April 1941
Woke up feeling very miserable with acute attack of colic. Have had it off and on for a few days. An air raid warning about breakfast time but nothing developed. Went up to Tobruk and had a very peaceful morning – not interrupted once. Colonel Cook came in and told me Jerries very short of water. Two officers and 6 men arrived on foot from Durna – been dodging Hun patrols for 7 days and drinking the water from enemy radiators at night. Quite a few casualties on previous day. Mainly Huns in the ratio of 9 to one Australian. Some of our lads had the chance to get in close with the bayonet and the Huns did not like it. Very cheerful atmosphere in Tobruk. We have been cut off for about 9 days now and are looking forward to our eventual relief. Front line in places only about ten miles away. Lack of aerial activity probably due to supply difficulties according to Group Capt. Spockman (O.C. aerial defence). No 3 Squadron R.A.A.F. still showing up every day.
Thursday 17 April 1941
Feeling much better this morning after another quiet night. Listened to B.B.C. news after breakfast. Navy got 5 planes on the ground at El Gazala and sunk a convoy of 5 supply ships & 3 destroyers coming over to Libya. Large no. of prisoners taken here yesterday. Passed the cage this morning and noticed a big increase in no’s. About 700 taken & 200 left dead on the field. Saw Tich More of 2/4 th Engineers. Boys hopeful of more prisoners tonight. Navy shelled Capuzzo and I believe we have retaken Sollum & Bardia. Still no aerial activity until about 4.30 P.M. About 18 Huns came over but did not drop anything near us. Another alarm about 5.30 but nothing happened. Am wondering what will happen tonight. got a new battle dress today and spent the afternoon altering the trousers & sewing on colour patches etc., and did some washing in the sea including my own body.
Friday 18 April 1941
3.40 A.M. Heavy raid. Many alarms during the day. Lot of very heavy bombs dropped along at the A.G.H. Only one man injured. Made enormous craters in the stony ground. Probably 1000 lb. bombs. Passed over us fairly low & I heard the big bombs whistling on their way down. Thought every one was certain to hit me. Horrible feeling. Actually did very little damage. Alarms all day but no more bombs dropped.
Very little news from the front seems very quiet at present. A Hun gun started shelling the harbour but one of the monitors went out and a few salvoes soon stopped them.
Hurricane patrols very active. Buzzing about continuously.
Saturday 19 April 1941
Very heavy raid – came over in waves from 4 A.M. till 6 A.M. parachute flares. None landed near us but dropped a lot in town. Convoy of barges came in early loaded apparently with tanks and artillery – very cheering. On my way to work when a solitary Hun came over very low and very fast. Ack Ack whizzing everywhere. Could not get the door of the car open for about ten seconds seemed hours with bullets everywhere. Got to a little hole in the ground & cowered there until it was all over. One alarm during the morning.
Another very solid raid in the afternoon. About 18 big bombers. Dropped one big one in the courtyard at H.Q. but although it ruined the building no one killed and very few injured. Came over us very low & fast and chased out to sea by ack –ack & Hurricanes. Believe we got 8 of them. Went to bed feeling a bit jittery but nothing happened.
Sunday 20 April 1941
So far a very quiet day. Heavy clouds and a light rain – makes living in the open rather uncomfortable. Dug-outs not wet yet but very damp. No air raids during the night – woke up early this morning and heard a plane buzzing about over the clouds but nothing happened so went to shop again. Had plenty of work to do in Tobruk but was not interrupted. Heard that A.D.M.S. slightly injured in yesterday’s raid. Front still very quiet. 43 rd Btn. cannot find any sign of Jerries on the Bardia side. Saw a few new tanks bushing about – apparently warming up for the fray. Hope they case them off soon – getting a bit sick of this life. Be glad when we get back to base to rest and refit.
Hurricanes patrolling above and below low clouds all the morning. do not trust them until we can see them.
Monday 21 April 1941
Raid again in the early hours of the morning. Hit and run game – a few shots fired and it seemed to clear out. As far as I know nothing dropped. Couple of warnings during the morning but nothing much happened. During second alert our Hurricanes shot down a reconnaissance plane. Our fighters very active all the morning. One flight of 6 new planes arrived – apparently to reinforce us. More work to do now that things are less active on the perimeter. Apparently Jerries have retired in some sectors. Heard over B.B.C. results of latest battle on perimeter. We got about 33 tanks. 2/15 th Btn. have suffered heavily. Everybody quite confident of holding Tobruk indefinitely. Two large ships came in this morning – troops and rations. C.O. tells me the 2/5 th Fld. Amb. arrived. Must try to contact Jacobs and see how he is. Another air raid alarm on now – can hear a few planes but I think they are Hurricanes – Terrific air raid just over. About 45 planes – they seemed to be everywhere. Wonderful Ack Ack barrage. Apparently heavy Heinkels or Junkers escorted by fighters. Wonder what damage if any. Came right over us low but dropped nothing.
Tuesday 22 April 1941
A peaceful night without any disturbances at all. Two alarms about breakfast time but beyond a little ack ack fire nothing much happened. Got caught in the little Fiat again on the way to Tobruk. Could hear nothing but could see everybody dashing for cover. We had no shelter for about ½ mile so lay flat in a few small depressions about 6 inches deep and felt very insecure. Alarm did not last long so we resumed our journey.
Very busy morning only one more alarm. Heavy artillery firing earlier in the morning. We sent a heavily armed patrol out and took about 450 prisoners – have heard no details yet. Very few casualties coming in. Travelled back in an air raid but did not know it was on. Could not hear anything in the truck so it could not have been very severe. Did a fair bit of damage in the harbour yesterday – got two ships but missed seven.
Met Bishop Riley at A.G.H. He says 7 th Arm. Div. is out in the desert behind the Huns and an Indian div. is pushing up. Thinks the Bardia road will be clear soon – we are all hoping so. Got some more mail & snaps from Bon.
Wednesday 23 April 1941
Terrific air attacks from 11 A.M. until 4 P.M. almost continually. Junkers dive bombers escorted by absolutely terrific barrage and our Hurricanes went up to give battle. Dog fights going on over our heads for about an hour at one stage. A nerve-wracking experience – the dive bombers screamed over the hospital as they dived on the harbour. Moral effect much greater than any material damage. Hit a small oil store which gave out columns of smoke but beyond that almost no damage and very few casualties.
Altogether 4 different raids after two alarms before I left for work. Bad case of shell shock in the shelter with us for about an hour – did not do our nerves much good. Been quiet since and we hope tonight is peaceful.
Another raid just over – once again fierce dive bombing but little material damage. Hit a small R.E. store and a few drums of oil gave out terrific clouds of smoke. Looked much worse than it was.
Thursday 24 April 1941
Enemy aircraft buzzing round in the early hours of the morning – mine laying. No bombs dropped. Otherwise strangely quiet all day until 5 P.M. when dive bombers came over again. Raid did not last long but was intense. Only one alarm while I was in Tobruk but nothing happened. Very few patients turned up. Quiet gave me a chance to settle down after yesterday’s onslaught. Saw D.A.P.M. this morning – said that another 150 prisoners came in this morning. Am planning additions to my dugout to increase my comfort. Believe we got 12 planes yesterday and lost three. Was pleased today with my nerves – thought yesterday that I was on the point of cracking up. Took some determination to face the journey into Tobruk this morning.
News from Greece not good although our few troops must have done wonders. Line very quiet here only patrol activity and occasionally the artillery bursts into action.
Friday 25 April 1941
Another early morning raid but seemed to be mine laying again. Numerous alarms during the day but very little happened. Saw them bombing a ship on its way in but failed to hit it. Had another letter from Bon dated the 5 th. Probably worried about us by now. Hope my letters go through quickly. Staff ward has news of a new son – his 5 th son & 6 th child. A good omen for me. Busy morning in Tobruk – got sick of alarms so worked through one with one eye on the sky. Went down to the docks after lunch and saw Case & company. A real labyrinth but lower levels completely bombproof. Saw the ships they got the other day – not too badly knocked about. Extremely heavy artillery fire this afternoon. Lay in my dugout with a mystery yarn. Very little news still. America seems to be coming closer to joining us. Our garrison acquitting themselves very well. Have shifted P.O.W.’s cage out on to the point. Get rid of them fairly quickly.
Saturday 26 April 1941
Two alarms in the morning after a perfectly peaceful night. Fierce dust storm developed which has lasted all day. Not even an alarm so far. Seems to have kept everyone quiet. Had a busy morning but got back to camp early in the afternoon. My dugout one of the few free from dust.
Padre Camroux back from the dock hospital. Says he is to be transferred to the 2/15 th Btn. Does not seem too happy about it – rotten luck. C.O. apparently spent most of the day in my dugout.Sunday 27 April 1941
Curly and Con had been working all day on my dugout and have made a very good job of it. Everybody been coming down to admire it. Startled a few minutes ago by seeing a large mine drifting in. Got off the beach pretty quickly but it drifted further on and some of the A.A. chaps are trying to hit it with rifles. Major Murphy just been down. He is feeling very gloomy about the situation in general. We have good reason to really but I never doubt the outcome.
Monday 28 April 1941
Huns came over in the early hours of the morning again. Did not drop anything near us. Listened to news – Churchill very encouraging but does not belittle the effort necessary. Busiest morning I have had yet in Tobruk. Numerous raids but no warning – made work difficult. Got through them by 2 P.M. and so back to the beach.
Had a bath in the sea and changed my underclothes. Feels much better.
Heavy raid later in the afternoon.
Concentrated on the harbour mainly but hit nothing. Also large numbers of them seemed to be attacking our artillery on the perimeter. Planes about all night and a few burst of Ack Ack. Did not sleep very well. In the early part of the night saw three clusters of flares dropped from planes some distance away.
Tuesday 29 April 1941
Couple of early morning raids but had breakfast in peace and so to work. Two alarms during the morning. During one they dive bombed the harbour and got the old “Jakala” – had to beach her. Was having lunch in the mess when someone shouted “here they come”. No time to get to shelter as we heard about 6 bombs whistle and crash almost immediately. Frightful scramble in the mess. Everyone flat on the floor and under tables. Dropped about 200 yds. away with a frightful crunch. Left for camp straight after lunch. One bomb had made a good big hole in the road we travel every day. They hit the Beach Hospital again – killed 4 wounded 8. None of our fellows involved.
More raids during the afternoon – 45 planes in one lot. Altogether 6 raids in less than 12 hours. Becoming quite accustomed to it now although I remain cautious. They shall be less cheeky when the R.A.F. returns in strength. Probably busy elsewhere at present.
One of bombs dropped on the hospital landed about 25 feet from a red cross about 50 ft. sq. Bombs were dropped from an enormous height in lunch time raid. No warning at all.
Wednesday 30 April 1941
After another disturbed night more morning raids. Got away after an all clear and made good time to Tobruk. More alarms bursts of A.A. and similar disturbances all morning. Heard them whistling again. I hate the soft whistle of a bomb. The sound of the explosion is a great relief. Once again bombed from about 15,000 ft. and hit Indian part of Beach Hospital. No news of casualties. Blew at least one tent to pieces. Did not wait for lunch but left for the beach during an alarm so anxious to get back. Uneventful so far – a few alarms but nothing doing. 3 tank carrying barges arrived this morning & unloaded safely. Father Daly going back to Alex as soon as is practicable. Father Steele very bright & encouraging. Told us how 17 th Btn. cut a German machine gun btn. to pieces and are now armed with their guns. Every man has an automatic weapon of some kind.
Sound of heavy artillery fire on perimeter – shaking the dugout. Just been dive bombing raid a few miles away – could see the whole thing – using very big bombs.