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112 Letter Home
from Diary of Bernard Strutt RAF No 1547070
27/7/42 I sent a photo of a girl I did not know to the xxxx today to find out if they would ask who she was. It’s been a day of writing letters all day long. During my many moves several of my notes are lost but as nothing really interesting happened it does not amount to much. I was posted from 134 Squadron on Sept 3(day of Rememberance) to another unit 55 RRP. We were due for pay at that the time. This unit was the most worst organised unit I had ever joined. After being with them for 3 days we had to move to Herbaria (?) by lorry. We were 2 days in the Sinai desert. On reaching Herbaria (?) we had no soap or blade no fags (English slang for cigarettes). When we inquired about pay we were informed we would not be paid for another week. We went to see the Padre to see if he could do anything. It was not much later before we had an open credit book with the YMCA. We were okay for a time. We moved from there to xxxxx Mxxxx for 3 days then from there to HMS Grebe at xxxxxx just outside Alexander which was certainly home from home. The cigarettes were 60 for shilling. Beer was xxx per pint. That was only two of the many things at that place. I was there for six weeks and then I s posted to 112 Squadron which I found out was the famous Shark Squadron. After the first two weeks with them we had a big nob come to give us a talk Air Marshall Carrington. He told us that we were going right up to Tripoli this push and that the Squadron would go up again. It was very browning as for most of the boys as this would be their 3 time up the Blue besides getting kicked out of Greece. Two days after Lord Trenchard said more or less about the same thing as before. He is a decent old stick.
/11/42 The Army had been pushing for ten days and this morning we had to move up to Burgal-loaf but was changed to El-Daba. We travelled all day until it started getting dusk. We had passed numerous dead Germans on the way up and plenty of graves. Some bodies were even on the road itself. We made camp on either side of the road for the night. While I was waiting for something to eat xxxxx xxxrking lorry came in. It was Italian with 14 Italians and 2 Gerrys they had come to give themselves up. We were just getting our grub when xxxxx (Fritz?) started his fireworks.. The troops round about us were celebrating bonfire night with “tracers” “flares” xxxx and “rockets”. It was a grand sight until Jerry spoilt it. He bombed and strafed us and set two our lorries on fire. During the rumpus the prisoners escaped. But as soon as it was all over they came back. I was a guard. Every time a kite came over they would flatten themselves to the deck. One Italian was continually drinking from his water bottle. Being inquisitive I found out that it was cognac. Was it good? I could have guarded them all night myself. The chaps name was Mark Rudolf 23 years old from Venice. He was well educated and had visited my place. The following morning we passed them on to some Army types who were going down for supplies. But we kept their lorry which happened to be their cook-house. We got to El-Daba at 9 o’clock and heard that 20,000 of the enemy had given themselves up and were driving their own lorries in. We were bombed that night again and they started another fire. We got to know that some of the enemy were still fighting to the rear of us.
8/11/42 Just heard that the Yanks have landed in French Morocco. There a 3 Divisions of Italians in xxxxx behind us cut off by the Greeks. There is plenty of loot at this place. Xxxxx, cigs, xxxxx and underware/milk. The gerry wore a lot of scent – when entering the camp of the enemy you would have thought it was a camp for French xxxxxx.
9/11/42 We are on the move again for a place named Sidi Haneish. I have never seen so much transport on the road before. It seems as if all the lorries in the MEF are moving. We have just been told to carry on to 074 LG or West Barrans that is 190 miles from El Rata. We had no breakfast this morning that was because we would make better progress and miss the bulk of the transport. Our lorry/defence lorry left the convoy to find the LG as two of the lorries had got flats. We were expecting our kites in this morning and the remaining part of the squadron tonight. Gerry has put oil and petrol in the water wells. We are having to have our water flown to us by Lockheed Hudson? We are not allowed to wash or shave. We are moving to Gambut(?) tomorrow which is forty miles from Tobruck. It is 04.45 in the morning and we are all ready for moving. The whole wing is moving and there are about 500 lorries all moving breast wise off. We passed a British Cemetery with about 35 graves in, miles from anywhere. We stopped the night at Lide agiz just over the Egypt-Libya Border. The last man on guard went and got himself lost this morning owing to the heavy mist. We picked him up two hours later. We have just come down the escarpment leading to the drome it’s a ticklish ride. There are numerous wrecks of German and British kites here. We have just had a JU88 over. Six of our Spitfires went after him so you can guess his fate. I have just wrote an Airgraph to Ernest on the quiet because one of our pilots is flying it down. It is xxxxxxxxx as we should wait while the PP caught us up. We tossed a coin up for who should go for petrol and water, you see besides doing guard we have to xxxxx x xxxx for the M.I. We left today for Gazala from there we had to move on to Martuba. When the……………. ….. ………………………….17 miles the other side of Tobruck. On he way to Tobruck there several exposed xxxxx of the Germans not to mention rifles and kit thrown all over. The harbour is packed with wrecks of ships. One body we went past had shell right through his guts two legs were on side of the road and the top part of his body on the other side. It started to rain and I got drownded We had to wait an hour before we could get on the airfield out of the rain while our Army rounded up the Gerries that were loose. There was a great assortment of kites on it even to Gliders. I should guess about 200 kites altogether at Sidi Haneish there were 500.We shall have to stay here longer than expected owing to the rain.
Nov 17 1942 We got a shock this morning when we awoke. Everything got soaking wet even our beds and blankets. We were in a nice stew then 7th Army came out of Tobruk to take up the renewed offensive.
Nov 18 1942 Our kites have not come yet because they would not be able to land with the rain. But the sun is out now drying the runway up so Gerry had better start looking out for himself. We have seen some lorries going up the road as Gerry is bogged in. He is expected to make a stand at Elegela where there are a lot of marshes. The rest of the Squadron arrived last night . Two of the boys have just received some good news. They are going home. When they were told they could not believe it. Anyway at the time of writing a Douglas has just taken off with them in it (good luck boys). We heard on the radio (Russian News) that Tobruk had fallen and that there was fierce fighting at Mluba St beats filming when we had passed through and went on the xxxxxx The reason is that the news we get is two days old even though we are in the front line. Gerry just paid us a visit and dropped a few bombs. The CO went after him so I guess their kite won’t get back. Xxxx xxxx got my A/C through from Sept. We had a Gerry again this morning the CO went after him got on his tail and found there was no response from his guns. The reason was we were on 48 hrs inspection and they had taken his guns out. The Squadron has just joined a Yankee Group (57 Fighter ?). Our pilots have gone on leave as we are having a rest lets hope we get some leave as well. There is a rumour that we are going to another theatre of war. We are expecting a mobile canteen so that we can get a few fags and soap as we have not got any of these articles since we started off we have not had a canteen although surrounding squadrons have. Our kites are on cover as there is a big convoy in the Med going to Bengazi. We are on the move for an airfield which is about 320 miles from here. It looks like our dream of Tripoli for Xmas may come true. It is great to be on the move again after being in one place all the time because that what it seems like. The surrounding country is getting more cultivated it looks more like the English countryside. There is a sight here that would make your eyes pop out. A long spiral road crammed with traffic, troops xxxxxxx xxxxxx and big trucks there are also a lot of Yank Tanks. I should really have a photo. We are stopping for the night in a place you would search for in England for a few days, Well this morning after only being on the move for a short time the country gradually changed back to desert. During the night Gerry started his pranks again dropping H.E.s and xxxxx xxxxx bombs. We can see him strafing the road and nearby camp. The xxxx xxxx bombs are a big bomb or case which when released in turn opens and releases small bombs xxxx xxxxx. We have been told that we are only stopping at Airfield for tiffin then we shall carry on to a place called Belandah (6 Dec 1942) 15 miles from Agedabia. W have not far to go for I can see a village ahead of us that must be Agedabia. Just a moment here comes trouble I am riding in a lorry that has 12 500lb bombs and a trailer with 900 gallons of aviation juice and Jerry has to pick this time to start strafing and bombing us. A 109 was diving on a Yankee bowser that had 2,000 gallons of juice when an army truck deliberately drove in front of it and forced it off the road and took all the cannon shells and therefore saved the bowser from going up. The driver and mate were wounded badly in the legs. We are stopping for the night only 15 miles from the drome . We just got settled down and then we had to move to a drome 5 miles away. This is the day I like best for everyone starts talking of what they would be doing now if they were at home. Well the same xxxxxxx for us is beginning to let none of it xxxxx that one of the boys had of looks we would all be mad. We had a xxxx of Black Watch here today on the way back from fighting. We took them a few packets of fags and bars of chocolate as they had no fags for 3 weeks. We did not tell them that it was the first lot that we’d had. The Stuka we captured xxxx brought xxx them up. Gerry was over at breakfast time and killed 14 of our boys just a little way from us. Our kites have just taken off. Lets hope they shake Gerry up. Our pilots had orders to get any Gerry recce kite at all cost. Rumour of a big show on the 15th of this month. Just to give you an idea of what solitude means out here, A chap here Alf Wilks has been out here over two years and on the desert all the time (married) he is playing crib with a non-existing partner every time he scores points he gives out a bloodcurdling laugh, Our boys have just put up a big artillery barrage. Pilots have just taken off to bomb Marble Arch. The CO got shot down in flames but landed on our side of the lines (Sqn/Ldr Billy Drake, 11 Dec 42). He has just come in flying a Hurricane. I have just had an Airletter from Ida she says get those Nazis down. It happens that 5 minutes before our post just shot down a Junkers 88. I was not on the guns at the time but I am now so keep your fingers crossed. Our pilots are keeping a constant shuttle service up. You can bet Jerry’s having a hot time. He will wish he had not started this war. I have just heard that we are moving in a short time.
Extract from 112 Squadron Records of aircraft lost
16/12/1942 I reported sick this morning with a sore throat and got slapped in hospital. I have not got much news to write about except that I don’t feel xxxx and that the Gerries is in full retreat.
26/12/1942 The MO says I’m okay now. But I am out of fags its grim. We are staying here until after Xmas. Its my turn for guard and that lets me out for Xmas night not that it matters a great deal for it is not like home where one could have a reasonable time but here it s all sand and more sand. We are wondering what sort of Xmas we shall have here. The CO gave us a talk and what bit I did hear it isn’t going to be too bad. But I guess its no use hanging up my stocking up tonight. We had a football match on with the pilots including the CO – we won. Just afterwards the pilots chased our dignified Adjutant and took his trousers and pants off him. It was a pretty good Xmas dinner considering the circumstances we are in. We got a mobile canteen run by USA and the fags were 8 piastres or 1/8 a packet. We got some Egyptian comforts today consisting of 1 handkerchief 2 Turkish Delights (between two) and 1 packet of biscuits (6).
29/12/1942 Our Medical Corporal Frank Parsons has just gone or at least the kite which is taking him to the boat has just taken off. The Squadron mascot a big Alsatian dog has also gone with him. I have just seen the most marvellous sunset with all the colours from white to red its indescribable.
31/12/1942 We moved this morning. We had not been on the road long when when of the yank lorries hit a mine. The MO gave us a tot of RUM – New Years Eve you know. Someone was getting a bashing from Jerry it seems to be Agheida. It’s a good job Jerry didn’t come after us as both sides of the road were mined. We took the desert track and shortly alright but when we got it, it was like mud. But we drank it. You get like that out here. We’re waiting for the drome to be finished. We are three miles from it.
5/1/43 We moved up to the drome then Jerry came. The guns were clogged with sand and wouldn’t fire.
6/1/43 We’ve had a very tricky time today for Jerry was over at each mealtime (3 times) bombing and strafing. It helped to pass the time away. He lost 3 or 4 kites each time he came.
7/1/43 Gerry has been over again 3 times. But he was a little early each time and we are expecting him a fourth time. Excuse me he’s knocking at the door now, prompt 5 o’clock. He lost 15 109s for the cost of 50 casualty mostly wounded.
8/1/43 Gerry was over before I was up but nothing happened. Our Liberators were over the drome that Gerry was operating from and blew Gerry out of it.
9/1/43 The Sharks arrived today also Gerry was over today otherwise nothing happened. The lorries of the other party have just pulled in. Our fighters met Gerry before he could get to us.
12/1/43 Gerry came over pretty early this morning. He dropped his eggs then our fighters chased him off. He doesn’t come very low now as he has learnt to respect our Lewis guns and rifles.
13/1/43 Our kites have just come back from a raid with 5 missing. Two of the missing kites have just returned shot up. The other 3 are presumed POW.
16/1/43 My birthday [20th] I have been saving a bottle or rather ten of beer for a week for this day.
17/1/43 I went for my LAC Board at 11 o’clock and was told to go and pack as we were moving at 12 o’clock.
18/1/43 We have just passed a place where there was a tank battle there was 9 of ours knocked out..
19/1/43 We are passing through some fascinating country the kind you see on the screen in a Foreign Legion picture. Well we’re there the place is 100 miles from Tripoli. But right out in the blue. [Ben Dufur?]
20/1/43 Our kites came in this morning. This is the day when we said we would be in Tripoli. On this drome there is something like 300 aircraft, bombers and fighters and still more coming. The bombers operate at night from here and away to some other dromes then come back here at dusk to start again.
22/1/43 We heard last night through unofficial quarters that Tripoli had fallen.
23/1/43 Tripoli has definitely fallen. The bombers were operating from here again last night. The squadron got their 200th kite down today.
25/1/43 We are on the road once more but this time we are going back the xxx old wing which has moved up to Castel –Benito. We passed through Tarhuna village. The majority of young girls had been raped.
26/1/43 We started off at 5 o’clock this morning by the light of the moon for our destination which is 15 miles from Triploi. Well we’re here it sure is a xxxxxxxxxx place. Gerry left about 150 aircraft some damaged and some okay. Our squadron has taken over a three engine kite a Lorry. It ‘s been raining all day our clothes are all wet. When we woke up this morning we found our shoes floating (we always dig in) and the water was very near up to our beds. Two boys had drowned in their sleep.
30/1/43 I went into Tripoli this morning but it was not up to much, The people seem to be too frightened to come out. I have just heard that Montgomery and Churchill are paying us a visit and I am to be a guard of honour for them. My LAC Board has been put off until after they have been.
3/2/43 Churchill and Montgomery arrived at 4 o’clock in a Liberator. This morning I went into Tripoli and there was a big parade in aid of Churchill and his sidekick. There were hundreds of tanks and guns and troops lined up for him. I bought an handbag for Ida(?).
7/2/43 The first party have moved to a place 50 miles from here. The rain has stopped us from following on as the place is bogged, the kites wouldn’t be able to land.
11/2/43 We haven’t moved yet and is still raining. There are supposed to have been six spies dropped around here and we are to be guards until they have been captured. The rest of the gunners came back to be a guard and give us a night off as we have been on 4 times in succession.
15/2/43 We are moving tomorrow. I have just bought 18 shillings worth of wine (7 gallons). Bill got pissed and came in camp on a horse. Later on they all got pissed except me (I was pissed the night before). Then Bill and xxxx started fighting up until 1 o’clock in the morning. Then suddenly I met them and they were the best of friends.
12/2/43 There are 68 of xxxxxxxxx. this morning. We have just arrived at Alassa and from here we can look into Tunisia. The kites are on shuttle service.
19/2/43 I have just had my board for LAC and have been shown the results – I passed alright. At present there is a big sandstorm blowing sand everywhere.
19/2/43 I have been up for my paybook. They have had it for 3 weeks now. And I have just found out that I have got some progressive pay to come. I have just fetched my pay-book back unfinished and have just had an inoculation.
[From RAF Regiment
Formed at Castel Benito as “A” Squadron RAF Regiment in February 1943 in the Light Anti-Aircraft role, it later served at Mareth, Gabe, Azizia, Benghazi, Khanka, Helwan,, Gaza East and Hadera, disbanding in April 1944.]
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