6th Battalion Grenadier Guards, March 1943, Captain Winder, R.A.M.C.

Discussion in 'The Brigade of Guards' started by dbf, Mar 11, 2013.

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    January - March 1943
    Courtesy of Rotherfield
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    The general scheme of the battle was to attack a feature known as the ʻHorse-Shoeʼ, which was thought to be an outpost of the Mareth line, and which commanded a view of low country which was vital to the attack of the main defences. Reports seemed to show that it was but lightly held. This being the case, it was though that there would be no difficulty - if it was held properly I do not think anything except a bloodbath could have been expected. The scheme was that three features should be assaulted by the respective companies, and that the assault parties should then proceed. The consolidating vehicles carrying anti-tank and machine gunners were to follow when Verey lights (red-green-red) had been fired.

    At 8pm the intelligence section were starting to lay the white tape which was to act as an axis along which the three columns of vehicles were to proceed at, I think, 100 yards distance. The line of a track was to be the Forming-up Line, and 100 yards ahead of that to be the Start Line. The RAP was the last serial to proceed along the start or tape line. I think I must have been lent the C.S.M.ʼs truck to carry the spare stretchers, because Reggie travelled in the back of mine. These two vehicles and the ambulances formed the rear-most party. I watched the assault parties go off - every man wearing a jerkin, which are fairly effective against spent S mines - and each carrying some form of implement to dig in with. It was anticipated that if we were successful overnight we should have a ghastly day following, being shelled and mortared unmercifully; hence the need for digging-in tools. I managed to get round to the Company stretcher-bearers, to tell them that their job was to collect and bring back as far as Battalion Headquarters or the tape, and that I would always be found along the tape. They all went off in apparent good heart, and I had little to do except for one SHAYLER, Arnie VIVIANʼs servant, who tried to make out that his ankles hurt him. However, I knew him of old and he was seen right off (double- jointed ankles was his own diagnosis).

    The assault parties were to cross the Start Line at 9 oʼclock and the barrage, to be supplied by the entire Corps, was to start at 9.45. They were to keep 150 yards behind it and advance under its protection. When it finished at 10.05 the assaulters should be within two or three hundred yards of their objectives and would have to risk the last bit, doing all the killing they could before the Jerries could get their heads up and give any opposition.

    Returning to my end of the picture, we got away and up over the Forming-up line without incident, following Nick OSBORNE and the reserve troop of anti-tank guns, and proceeded slowly to the Start Line over rough country, dotted here and there with olive trees. There were frequent halts as I imagined we had come up too quickly and were too far up.
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    At about 10.00, or shortly afterwards, I received the first casualties at about Point 4, which appeared to be a sort of quarry where the track took a right angle bend and started to go down into an arid, shallow wadi with a steep slope up on the far side. I must have stayed here alone for half an hour, sufficient to fill up one ambulance and collect about six walking wounded. These I collected into a clump and told them to stay where they were and to get onto any vehicle going back towards the camp. Most of these wounded thought that they might have been hit by our own barrage; in reality, it was probably an odd German mortar firing. Incidentally, we did hear that there was one gun firing short (confirmed later personally to me.) Apparently it is almost impossible to correct this once a barrage has started, as the gun cannot be recognised. The later casualties described intense mortaring, but there was no reason to suppose that all was not going according to plan.

    The fore-part of the serial had gone on while I was attending to the wounded so I proceeded down the tape alone and crossed the wadi and up the other side. The head of the wadi was steep, also the far side. I thought, in case of a withdrawal, that this might prove a stumbling block if anyone got stuck here. I caught up with the last party at the spot marked RAP, where there was a halt. A few casualties came along and it appeared that all had progressed well. The assault signal had been fired and the gunners had been pretty effective with their barrage. The R.S.M. had located a suitable spot for an R.A.P. (see map) and the engineers had blown away the bank to enable the transport to get into the wadi.

    I shall relate some of what I was told afterwards. The leading carriers negotiated the wadi and got onto the road where they were held up by the road blocks, the existence of which were not known, though I am told that on looking at the aerial photographs it is not difficult to see that there was ʻsomethingʼ in the road there. This proved to be the first obstacle - whether the wire was blown or cut I do not know but it was somehow overcome. This only left the minefield, which was an unknown factor. I donʼt doubt that mines were expected, as Germans had relied heavily on mines throughout their retreat but this minefield proved larger and more thickly sewn that anything anticipated.

    After the barrage had cleared and the Germans had time to collect themselves, they started sending over three-inch mortar rounds at enormous speed. They knew the range of any given place to the yard and the wadi received special attention. I was told afterwards that the proposed RAP site received about a dozen, one after the other, and that there was very little chance of anyone living through it who was not dug in. The machine gun fire became (in the wadi) like hail as it was mixed with tracer, everyone had a good idea of how much there was of it. An unlucky shot from early mortar fire caught a Portee at X as it was going down to the wadi, and set it on fire. This of course, lit up every vehicle for miles, and also the anti-tank guns and teams who had, I imagine deployed on either side of the track and were taking up positions to give some assistance when the counter-attack came. Hence the losses in 2 Company were very heavy.
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    The situation at the RAP was not very healthy as we were exposed on a sort of plain at the top of a rise. To go back and get into cover meant going into the wadi of soft sand, which I was very loath to do. The mortars were landing round us pretty plentifully and I made those who were not actually doing anything lie down to minimise the risk of casualties. I did all examination and dressings in one of the ambulances. After every case I was very glad to get out, as they seemed to rock with the blast and werenʼt perfectly light-proof. An improvised blackout with a blanket over the front ventilators kept on blowing down with the blast. The walls of an ambulance are only canvas and, of course, no protection. Some holes were put through as discovered afterwards, but I didnʼt notice andy at the time.

    When I heard that a counter-attack had gone in I realised that there was little or no chance of our advancing, so I started to dig an RAP about 8 foot square and as many slit trenches as possible. In this we were assisted by some of 2 Company Gunners. At this time I had only one ambulance which meant that the lightly wounded had to be dressed in the ambulance and then taken out again to lie in the slit trenches. To complicate things, *Guardsman COURT came in with a bad abdominal wound and finally died in the ambulance. We carried him away for a distance of about 50 yards, and left him there.

    *N.B. Spelling Guardsman COURT - Guardsman CORT
    CWGC - Casualty Details
    Guardsman FRANK CORT 2621482, 6th Bn., Grenadier Guards who died age 22 on 17 March 1943
    Son of Harold and Louisa Cort, of Belgrave, Leicester.
    Remembered with honour SFAX WAR CEMETERY

    A number of Gunner casualties were brought in by means of a ʻWhiteʼ, which is long enough to get a stretcher inside; this seems the most effective method of bringing casualties from a heavily attacked area. Ours were brought in Jeeps and carriers which is by no means so successful. At one time a ʻhoneyʼ tank appeared and it took all I could do to stop him going over the slit trenches with the wounded inside. It ran up one wall of the RAP but it didnʼt come inside.

    At one time there must have been about 20 slightly-wounded waiting to be evacuated, and these remained until i got the order to evacuate all the walking wounded. Previously Edward HOVELL had come back on foot, saying that he had been sent back by Geoffrey GWYER, as he had been ʻslightlyʼ hit in the back, and had fainted. He said he could manage on is own and asked if there was anything he could do. I suggested that he should collect up the walking wounded and try to organise their evacuation. I saw him off ʻdown the tapeʼ, after explaining where they were. He returned in about 2 minutes and said he couldnʼt find them. I wasnʼt surprised at that as he hadnʼt been far enough - so off he went again. Where he went to this time I donʼt know, since he reached a casualty clearing station without going through our field ambulance; so at present how this was done remains a mystery.

    CWGC - Casualty Details
    Captain GEOFFREY CHARLES FRANCIS GWYER, Mentioned in Despatches, 67092, 6th Bn., Grenadier Guards who died age 27 on 17 March 1943
    Son of Cyril and Constance Frances Gwyer, of Kirbymoorside, Yorkshire.
    Remembered with honour SFAX WAR CEMETERY
    Grave/Memorial Reference: XIII. D. 8.
    Last edited: Aug 29, 2020
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    When the moon rose we found ourselves on the skyline. My first intimation of this was coming out of an ambulance smoking a cigarette. The shower of tracer bullets all round me very soon forced me to the ground. As there was a lull in the casualties at this point we all sat in the RAP. Any head appearing above it was the signal for a burst of tracer. Bill ANSON came back and asked for some stretcher-bearers to try to get some wounded who were collected in a wadi into a Jeep. Sergeant GRAHAM and THICKETT went with Reggie. From the accounts of all three, the wadi was an inferno of flying steel. They all however returned, and brought in a lot of wounded. At about 5 oʼclock as dawn was near breaking, I heard vaguely that we were withdrawing. I didnʼt know quite what to do but started to make ready for a general move. At about 5.30, Bill ANSON gave me more definite orders and, as some of the Portees were turning round, I managed to get quite a number of the now fast-arriving wounded onto these. Just as we were about to move, John WIGGINS came up with three carriers fully laden with wounded. He had only come to dump them and collect more carriers to go back to look for Peter EVELYN. I saw him start off as dawn broke, with about four carriers, and this was the last I saw of him. Later I heard that he, Peter and Pepsi were all seen to bail out of a carrier which had had a track blown off, and so we presumed that they had all been taken prisoner together.

    CWGC - Casualty Details
    Major PETER GEORGE EVELYN 47090, 6th Bn., Grenadier Guards who died age 33 on 17 March 1943
    Son of Mr. and Mrs. J. H. C. Evelyn, of Wotton, Surrey; husband of Patricia Evelyn.
    Remembered with honour MEDJEZ-EL-BAB MEMORIAL
    Grave/Memorial Reference: Face 11.

    The wounded who came off the carriers were a bit of a problem, as we were almost full up. However, we managed to stuff them in somewhere, with most of my staff clinging on to the sides of trucks. We started to trek home. The base of the wadi was very churned up and I though for one awful moment that we were going to get stuck. We made our way back head-to-tail and receive no shells as parting presents, though I was told that they had started.

    We got back uneventfully to our positions and I started to organise for a large reception. I saw Sergeant HUGHES about making beds first, and then the Drill Sergeant to commandeer all available blankets. This he did very well and I was never pushed for want of them. There were not enough stretchers to lay every one on one, so they had to get off and lie on the ground. We laid them out in small wadis and ditches near the track, to be as convenient for ambulances as possible and to provide some shelter in case shelling started. Luckily none came over until, I think, evening but it may have been the next day.
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    Reggie and Sergeant ROWE brought me cups of tea periodically. Oddly enough, I was neither thirsty or hungry, although I had had nothing since about 6pm the night before. With the aid of the staff I selected the worst casualties, and sent them off first: 8, if I remember rightly, with a sitting case in each. Of these I thought that Sergeant ENTWHISTLE, who was badly affected by blast was the only one who would die, and eventually he did. He had no visible injury, but the whole of his face was swollen and cyanosed; he was breathing in short pants and unable to speak. Two of the others, Sergeant MARTIN and STANDER were put on the DI list immediately, but pulled through.

    CWGC - Casualty Details
    Serjeant MONTAGUE FREDERICK ENTWISTLE 5381648, 6th Bn., Grenadier Guards who died age 26 on 17 March 1943
    Son of Albert E. and Mary A. Entwistle, of Chalfont St. Peter, Buckinghamshire.
    Remembered with honour SFAX WAR CEMETERY
    Grave/Memorial Reference: VI. E. 15.

    I was attending to TRANLIS who had a nasty wound in the head when he told me that Adrian TRIMMER-THOMPSON had been blown up in the same carrier and had been killed instantly. This shook me more than anything else - Dumbo, of all people. I donʼt know why the news of his death affected me so much at this time but I was almost on the point of tears.

    CWGC - Casualty Details
    Lieutenant CHARLES EDWARD ADRIAN TRIMMER-THOMPSON 200081, 6th Bn., Grenadier Guards who died on 17 March 1943
    Remembered with honour SFAX WAR CEMETERY
    Grave/Memorial Reference: II. AA. 8.

    Luckily, at that moment I saw Russell ROWAN brought in, his jacket absolutely and literally red with blood. I was so overjoyed to see that he, at any rate, was still living that it cheered me up immensely. He had a huge gash over his right temple partly filled with a blood clot almost the size of an egg with a small ʻsquirterʼ somewhere concealed. I determined to try my luck with simple pressure first and, after a shell-dressing, put on a ligature bandage and pulled as hard as I could. His pulse was still remarkably good; I cleaned his face and attended to some others and returned in about a quarter of an hour. There was no sign of any oozing, so I though he was capable of standing the journey without transfusion. I was proved right, because the ADS formed the same opinion on him later and sent him in to the MDS. Had I had sufficient time I should have given him one there and then.
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    At almost nine oʼclock a scout car arrived with the CO and Sergeant LAYCOCK. Bill KINGSMILL brought the commander over to me - he was holding a First Field-Dressing to his mouth and there was quite a lot of blood on his jacket. He was sobbing bitterly at the state to which his battalion had been reduced. I heard afterwards that twice he had appealed for support, which had been denied him. I felt very sorry for him. His wound went from the mucous membrane on the right of his mouth diagonally down to the left of his chin. In the cavity there appeared to be pieces of his broken bone or teeth. Both ambulances were full at that moment, but luckily another one from the SCOTS GUARDS drew up and the orderly asked me to see to a man who was bleeding badly. It proved to be a sergeant with a pulped knee, who already had on an inefficient tourniquet. I applied my own special rubber one which I always carried and all was well and installed the CO and gave him a shot of morphia. He protested loudly as he bared his arm that he was not going to have it, but naturally did in the end. I have mentioned this about the SCOTS GUARDS ambulance because the two things he said to me when he returned were that: a) I had advanced towards him with a darning needle and, b) I had sent him off surrounded by SCOTS GUARDS! What a memory! Sergeant LAYCOCK had two gaping holes in his back, through which the movement of his lungs were visible. He seemed remarkably fit from this and actually only died *ten days later.

    *N.B. The date of death given as 21st, so 4 days after the attack.

    CWGC - Casualty Details
    Serjeant WALTER LAYCOCK 2612635, 6th Bn., Grenadier Guards who died age 30 on 21 March 1943
    Husband of Eliza Alice Laycock, of Liverpool.
    Remembered with honour SFAX WAR CEMETERY
    Grave/Memorial Reference: III. F. 8.

    The main rush was by now over and the majority were very minor wounds that the staff dealt with. A Gunner RMO and CHESTNUT (LFA) turned up to help me, which gave me an opportunity to sit down and collect myself and get shaved. There was little else to do, so I watched the mustering of Companies at dinner. Some of them seemed frightfully short, and altogether about 250 appeared to be missing. One dead man was brought in, RHODES by name, and he was buried in the afternoon.

    CWGC - Casualty Details
    Guardsman GEORGE RHODES 2620991, 6th Bn., Grenadier Guards who died age 29 on 17 March 1943
    Son of Thomas William and Jane Rhodes; husband of Annie Alydia Rhodes, of Stanmore, Middlesex.
    Remembered with honour SFAX WAR CEMETERY
    Grave/Memorial Reference: III. AA. 26.

    At teatime came the news that we had to take up a defensive role, in case the opposition counter-attacked which, for all we knew, they well might. The remains of the Battalion was divided into one Rifle Company, the remainder of 2 as an Anti-Tank Company with 4 guns, and the residue of Carriers and machine-gunners into a composite H.Q. Company. A remnant Company, 3, was formed to absorb any men that could be spared from B Echelon and those returning from hospitals, etc. To begin with it was only one Platoon strong. A few stragglers turned up from odd places, but the rest of the day passed quietly enough.

    The next day was the most wretched that I can remember. Shelling of the companies started early, in fact as we discussed afterwards, as soon as anyone showed themselves. The gunners just behind us were fairly active and we had our fair share of the action. Guardsman PRESTON was killed during the morning and was buried in the afternoon. The ceremony had just started when a salvo came over and all had to throw themselves flat. The irony of it was that PRESTON was a pal of RHODES and had helped to dig his grave the day before. He was killed by blast without a wound on him.

    CWGC - Casualty Details
    Guardsman HARRY PRESTON 2622124, 6th Bn., Grenadier Guards who died age 26 on 17 March 1943
    Son of Henry and Ada Preston, of Leeds, Yorkshire; husband of Edna Preston, of Leeds.
    Remembered with honour SFAX WAR CEMETERY
    Grave/Memorial Reference: III. BB. 26.
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    I went back to the ADS with TOOTILL in the afternoon. While we were in front of the Brigade axis, a shell landed awfully close. I didnʼt pay much attention to this at the time until I saw other vehicles were receiving individual attention as well, and then I realised that we were being deliberately fired upon which was not so pleasant because you cannot hear a shell coming in a car. I got a full list of casualties of the ADS to check on our ones, and started home as it began to rain. On the way home I ran into John BOAG in a wadi near some of his guns. I hadnʼt seen him since he married Mary TINDELL. We had not time to stop and chat, which was rather a pity.

    Almost halfway back, we were made to go a different way than that which we had used to come, as the shelling of the old route had become rather more than a joke. This route was only partially marked and we had a couple of runs into unknown country. Eventually however, when we got back it was still raining and I was greeted by a joyful rumour that the SCOTS GUARDS were standing-to in expectation of a counter-attack. This was actually false and was entirely a ʻlatrine-o-graphʼ. The next few hours were very miserable and spirits were very poor; reaction had set in and shelling was frequent and accurate. Two or three landed in Brigade Headquarters, luckily causing no damage. SCOTS GUARDS Headquarters was hit frequently, and that only 300 yards away. A SCOTS GUARDS Corporal was sitting bomb-happy in a slit trench. THICKETT took it into his head to burst into tears, and I left him to the others. We had tour meal under a tarpaulin and were at least dry, but rather cramped. As darkness came on, the shelling ceased, and I for one was grateful.

    This day of reaction was most marked - everyone was very jittery, although naturally some showed it more than others. Sergeant WHYTE, of boxing fame, became a flabby jelly; he started to stammer and his mess tins knocked one against the other (partly put on, I thought), and referred to the battle as ʻbloody murderʼ and to the .... that his gun time had had from the mortars. The men must have been more unlucky than the gun, as Sandy GORDON later discovered that there were only two marks on it! However, as he was upsetting so many other people I sent him to B Echelon.

    Previously I had sent three back: BURRAND, amnesia - DAYKIN, all to pieces (I didnʼt actually see him personally as eh came in when I was away at the ADS) and Sergeant WATTS, hysteria as a result of losing his platoon (for which he blamed himself) - quite wrongly, of course. He responded well to treatment, asked to be allowed back, and was sent for a week to B Echelon. He then returned to duty and behaved well, as far as I know, and was later wounded at ENFIDAVILLE. He was the only ʻbomb-happyʼ candidate who returned and did well.
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    The following days were spent in collecting the remnants of equipment, re-allocating and distributing that of the 250 that were no longer present. I put in for a number of scissors, stretchers and shell-dressing bags to make me up to strength and over. I also took the opportunity to refit with socks as it seemed to be a field day in the QM stores since everything was being written off as ʻlost in battleʼ. I also acquired a pair of patrol boots, which stood me in very good stead for the next two months, as my black army ones had suddenly become too tight at the toes. I donʼt know whether this was due to heat or what, but after 24 hours wearing at a time, I could scarcely walk comfortably.

    George (?), a baby desert rat, joined us here. It was alleged by Sergeant GRAHAM that he was found wrestling with Reggie MORLEY one morning and had him down for the third time. On Friday evening, the 19th, a report came in that a SCOTS GUARDS patrol had found some of our wounded. We sent out an ambulance to go part of the way and a carrier for the rest.

    Later in the evening, WRENCH and three wounded men turned up. WRENCH had done a very good job and had looked after these chaps for 48 hours and still had some water and rations left. He had also heard the whereabouts of two other wounded and some valuable information on the enemy movements in the last 48 hours. This information agreed with what the Intelligence Officer thought was happening concerning M.T. movements and guns, etc. and was therefore useful corroboration. WRENCH also said he knew where his other wounded were, and described a piece of the wadi that Bill ANSON and Reggie MORLEY would be able to identify. They went out with a carrier and stretchers as far as possible and walked about, but were unable to find anyone. Two or three reasons may account for this, 1) errors in identifying the right spot, 2) movement of the wounded themselves or 3) possible capture by Germans. They were shot at quite a lot owing to cigarette smoking. An excitable officer in the SCOTS GUARDS told Bill to put his cigarette out. Bill proceeded to light another from his automatic torch and a kraut loosed of a further shower of bullets. ʻAnyway,ʼ he said, ʻwhat are you doing out here?ʼ ʻIʼm looking for a machine gun nest,ʼ was the Scotʼs reply. ʻWell, there it is,ʼ said Bill, ʻnow you can go home!ʼ
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    Chris OLDFIELD arrived up in the Battalion from the IBD. The three wounded men brought in by WRENCH all proved to have foot injuries, probably from ʻSʼ mines. When I got the boots off, the wounds were very green and smelled to high heaven. I fitted them up with sulphonamide and marked their card ʻSmell ++?Gas Gangrene?ʼ Reggie had a further shot with Pat BUTLER to find their wounded men the next night, but was again unsuccessful.

    Shelling continued daily, the SCOTS suffering more casualties, although we did not. Colonel TALBOT came up to see me from the Field Ambulances and we had some heated words in quite a friendly manner. I gave him a piece of my mind on the subject of the R.A.M.C. - he showed his ignorance by admitting that he thought that an RAP was a permanent structure, not a site of medical operations which moved about. He did not appreciate me collecting chloroform ampoules direct, as it implied that QM was inefficient. As BALL was present this made things rather difficult. I did however point out that by going direct, my Battalion was the only one which had been able to use the ampoules effectively because we had had the opportunity of a good demonstration to all concerned. We parted friends however, and he asked me to put all complaints and suggestions down in writing, so that he could have time to look them over. In spite of this little difference of opinion, he has since been extremely helpful and has not borne any ill will.

    On the last day a funny incident happened. VENYARD, John NEVINSONʼs servant, solemnly backed a truck into the wadi, which at this point had very steep sides. It went straight over and remained hanging by its front wheels. Shrieking and catcalls had no effect. VENYARD came out and said solemnly, ʻIve gone a bit too far this time!ʼ Bill KINGSMILL observed sarcastically that the wadi had changed its position overnight!ʼ

    On Sunday 21st we moved at night to a position on the left of the COLDSTREAMS which had previously been occupied, but the occupants had left before we arrived. It was almost a mile from the old site and the track to it was in full view of the OPʼs in the MARETH Hills. My RAP site itself was alright, but entering it meant exposing ourselves to fire for about 100 yards. Naturally, I only discovered this when daylight came - after we had done our digging. It has struck me more than once that MOʼs do not exert enough care in the selection of sites, possibly because many are junior and take work on the basis that they are located without finding out whether it is the best position or not. We were on the crest of a hill, and the companies were in a valley and part of the plain in front of the MARETH Line. Shelling continued, but was either in front or well behind; although there were a number of high air-bursts quite near us.
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    The following day a round of shelling brought in two more casualties, Sergeant GRADY- COX, dead (alleged to be 47 with a son in the Air Force), and Sergeant HUDSON with a bad abdominal wound. Apparently some gunners were moving on the skyline and these shells were directed at them. Unfortunately one struck the top of a palm tree and exploded, wounding these two. Sergeant GRADY-COX had a few wounds on him, but I think it must have been instantaneous blast that killed him. Oddly enough, we heard nor more shelling after that, and I think I am right in saying that this was the last bout of shelling from this part of the MARETH Line. Of course, we did not know this at the time.

    CWGC - Casualty Details
    Serjeant SIDNEY COX 2611193, 6th Bn., Grenadier Guards who died on 24 March 1943 Remembered with honour SFAX WAR CEMETERY
    Grave/Memorial Reference: II. BB. 14.

    We were relieved about midnight by the DURHAM LIGHT INFANTRY who had had a pasting, it appeared, at the Wadi. They arrived about 4 hours late and hence the reason for our not getting away until midnight. We relocated a few thousand yards, crossing the main road, and took up positions again in front of the MARETH fortification. We expected an unpleasant time and dug in until dawn. This was relatively easy as there was a deep wadi which just fitted the trucks and ambulances, so it was only a question of cutting away the banks. We dug until dawn on arrival and then had breakfast and went to sleep until dinner time. We stayed here two nights, and very pleasant it was.

    The forward Companies were about 2 miles away on a ridge watching the fortifications. No shelling was heard and all was very peaceful.

    Humphrey LONER and Peter MARSHAM joined us here. Sergeant HENRY had a lucky escape from a Teller mine - it went off under the wheel of a Portee near where he was standing. Clad only in shorts, he was peppered all over with small pieces of stone - no other wounds as far as I could see. At about noon next day we set forward to advance, we were told, as far as the forward positions. When we got there, a few minutes halt developed into an afternoon in which tanks and Brigadiers and Divisional Commanders passed us. This seemed a bit odd until we were told that we were going to push on to what looked like a position in the line itself, as it appeared that the Germans had cleared out. During the past few days the NZ Division must have done their left hook and come up behind MARETH. We only advanced for about an hour after darkness and came to lie on what we called ʻthe Plainʼ. We close-laagered that night and scattered at dawn. The Officers Mess Truck joined us here for the first time since the ʻBasinʼ.
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    Next day we got an order to start burying the bodies of our men who were killed on the Horseshoe Feature; apparently the smell was appalling in the main road, and had attracted the attention of some big-shot passing by on the road. Reggie, MORLEY, HODSON and WRENCH went off with a digging party. Bill KINGSMILL would not let me go as we were to be employed on mine lifting, and my services were for the possible living, not for the certain dead. Mine lifting is a horrible job; the idea was to clear a track about 30 feet broad to allow the armour to get over the plain to connect up with the trench until it meets a road this side of the MARETH Line. By this time it appeared that the MARETH Line had been abandoned - and the 8th Army was pressing on. There was a well on this plain which was plastered all around with box mines. These seemed the predominant type here, namely the 3 inch and the 4x6 inch, laid along the verges. PENZER, Nick VILLIERʼs servant, got a blast from a mine when travelling in a scout car. The eye looked pretty bad and subsequently had to be removed. He was a marvellous patient. He and one other were the only casualties in two days work.

    Reggie came back exhausted, and I had to fill him up with brandy before I could get him to talk at all. The bodies, he said, were in a terrible state and he didnʼt let the diggers see them. Two ghastly things he did tell me: firstly, that the bodies were in various states of decomposition - some gave the appearance of only having died recently and yet the battle was 14 days ago. If these poor lads had really been alive for 10 days or so, then their agony must have been something awful. Secondly, that some of the ones wounded in the legs and unable to move showed evidence of struggling on the ground, there being obvious marks where they had struggled to move themselves.
    This business had been very slow, since most of the wounding and death had occurred in the minefields, and to make certain that no one else was damaged the way had to be prepared by the Sappers. The Sappers did not at first arrive in the requisite numbers and when they did their Polish mine-detectors seemed to be partially out of order. They cleared the most obvious bodies from part of the minefield on the first day, bringing in about twenty. They repeated this burying on the second day and brought in about another twenty. On the third day, as we had stopped mine-lifting, I went and joined him with Bill ANSON. I meant to take my camera to photograph the graves but forgot at the last moment, and the only one I have of them was taken by Reggie the next day, and is of Jack ALSOPPʼs grave.

    CWGC - Casualty Details
    Captain JOHN RANULPH ALLSOPP 63352, 6th Bn., Grenadier Guards who died age 35 on 17 March 1943
    Son of Lt.-Col. the Hon. Ranulph Allsopp, and Margaret Allsopp (nee Whitbread); husband of Audrey Carteret Priaulx Allsopp (nee Fellows), of Windsor, Berkshire. B.A. (Cantab.).
    Remembered with honour SFAX WAR CEMETERY
    Grave/Memorial Reference: II. AA. 4.
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    We went in a Jeep - the smell of the dead of the dead bodies was still very noticeable. We left the care in a part which had been cleared of mines and wandered onto the positions taken by 3 Company. I was called over by a Guardsman to see Reggie who had spotted me arriving. He and a few others, BROOKS, his servant MORLEY and WRENCH, were literally in a Valley of Death. There was a shallow depression such as might have been caused by a large explosion only there were a few legs and arms sticking out of the churned earth. I could make out the shapes of their bodies; their battle dresses green and damp. On the ground beside this hole were two blankets, on each lay the body of what had once been a man. The bodies were swollen until they seemed to burst out of their battledress. They gave me the impression of giants, until we looked at the remains of their faces. I say remains as the flies and maggots had done their work successfully and nothing was left except the skulls and, in some cases, a covering of greasy, green parchment. Reggie took me aside and asked me whether I would examine some of the bodies to see whether there was any evidence that these men had been shot and then dropped into a common grave.

    The first man I saw was Corporal RAINEY, who had a clean hole through his skull and no other mark on him. This is not quite true; I should say, no other obvious mark on his battledress, as far as I could see. I turned him over and stuff that looked like black motor- oil poured out of a hole in his skull. This strongly suggested that he had died as a result of one bullet through his skull, but in all fairness, this may have been received in the course of battle.

    CWGC - Casualty Details
    Lance Corporal PERCY NORMAND GEORGE RAINEY 2621815, 6th Bn., Grenadier Guards who died age 29 on 17 March 1943
    Son of Charles and Eliza Ann Rainey, of Marston Magna, Somerset.
    Remembered with honour SFAX WAR CEMETERY
    Grave/Memorial Reference: III. AA. 21.

    I saw Malcolm STRANG-STEELE next, who was wounded in the head but the rest of his body was in such a state that it was impossible to say whether the head wound was his only one. Lying with Malcolm at the bottom of the pit was C.S.M. LAIRD. Why were they of 1 Company lying in 3 Company positions? I have theories which will be explained later on.

    CWGC - Casualty Details
    Lieutenant JAMES MALCOLM STRANG STEEL 176736, 6th Bn., Grenadier Guards who died age 24 on 17 March 1943
    Son of Maj. Sir Samuel Strang Steel, 1st Bt., and the Hon. Lady Strang Steel, of Philiphaugh, Selkirkshire.
    Remembered with honour SFAX WAR CEMETERY
    Grave/Memorial Reference: III. AA. 19.

    CWGC - Casualty Details
    Warrant Officer Class II JOHN KEYS LAIRD 2612204, 6th Bn., Grenadier Guards who died age 31 on 17 March 1943
    Son of William and Annie Laird; husband of Violet Dorothy Laird, of Shrewsbury, Shropshire.
    Remembered with honour SFAX WAR CEMETERY
    Grave/Memorial Reference: III. BB. 21.
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    Before I do so, there is one point of interest - most of the bodies had loops of wire (signal) through either side of their webbing belts, looking as if they had been lifted, not dragged, by these temporary wires. I say lifted as, a) their belts were not dragged, and, b) the position of the wire was suggestive of a pull from above, not along the ground. If there was a means of lifting bodies it seems a little odd, since a) the wire would have had to be procured (not in itself difficult), b) it would have to be cut in the required length, c) two strands of wire is a bit thin to carry a man with, when you have a perfectly good handle in the shape of a web belt and d) the length of the wire would make carrying by hand very difficult, as the bodies could scarcely be lifted off the ground. The only explanation I can offer is that they therefore bent over vehicles, slipped wire through their belts and pulled. The conclusion to this is that they must have been alive at the time, because I cannot see the Germans risking their lives over dead men. The inference of LAIRD and Malcolm being in this particular gave has led me to the suspicion that this may have been the work of Peter EVELYN. He was last seen beside a carrier driven by John WIGGINS and with him were DURHAM and Mark BONHAM-CARTER. My feeling was that possibly Peter, being deemed the Senior Officer (Question: Tomʼs whereabouts?) was given a limited time to collect any dead that he could find, and with the help of this party, got together the eight or so that we found in the common grave. This order may have been given him in the site of No. 3 position. He, of all people, might have known where Malcolm and LAIRD were lying and consequently had them brought to a common grave.

    I went away from this scene and left Reggie to his own work, as I though that I might be more useful treating other bodies. I walked along the defence works which were opposing us and found places where trenches hand caved in, the state of the ground looked as if it was drenched in oil and the small and the flies made the presence of bodies pretty plain. I did not have to do much digging to discover whether they were ours or not. I knew all our equipment only too well; a piece of tunic, or a pair of boots were quite sufficient to identify one of our own chaps. I did not relish this solo walking very much, as I though the place would be mined for a certainty. So I stuck to the defensive side of the trenches and trod in the heels of the jack-boots that had been planted before. I was very careful not to go too far afield of the attacking side. The area of the minefield seemed to be mapped out by large stones but this may have been entirely imaginary and the stones lying there by accident. There was however a well-defined footpath, recently made, which led in the direction of No-Manʼs Land. This had one or two kinks in it which looked quite recent, and I should imagine it led to an observation post. I thought it likely that it may have been mined at the last minute, and so did not venture down with no purpose in mind. I saw an object lying in a slit trench near a machine gun post, which, revolting as it was, aroused my interest so much that i had to point it out to Bill ANSON who was likewise impressed. I donʼt think we shall ever forget this sight. An enormous man, (he must have been 6ft 5 inches or so, judging by the size of his legs), was (according to my story) in the machine- gun post and felt the call of nature. He retired into the communication trench which was not as deep as the gun pit. I imagine that this occurred at the moment that the barrage started. The first shell had decapitated him completely, and his head was nowhere to be seen. All that was left was this enormous torso of a man lying down in a trench, with his trouser and long pants (hence my certainly of nationality as our men had on short pants) pulled right down over his boots. In his left hand were a few pieces of paper.

    I mention this is detail, as the sight of this dead headless giant fascinated me. He bore no signs of rank, as he was clad only in a cotton shirt and jersey. He must have died at the onset of the barrage, as he would not have risked so elevated a position when once the barraged had started, judging by the shell-holes all around. I crept away from the most forward position and examined a place where I should imagine the wounded had been stripped judging by the quantity of blankets and clothing which was bloodstained and lying around. This must have taken place in daylight, as it was quite exposed. Perhaps it was only a QM dump as there did not seem to be any vehicle tracks leading away from it and if the men were carried by stretchers, it must have been in daylight. From there, I saw further North two or three crosses, and I went on to investigate.
    Last edited: Aug 29, 2020
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    I was now almost 1/4 of a mile away from the others and I began to think how small I was at this moment. To be wandering over this unknown land looking for bodies of men, probably braver than myself, who had trod this ground under terrifying circumstances. Todd SLOAN, Tim RIDPATH and Walter *HAYDEN (whom we unearthed) had been near this spot in the heat of the battle; in darkness, not knowing where they were going - their only instructions being that they should hold the heights agains all opposition. They had gone forward and others followed, and yet here was I unscathed but more frightened, not so much physically but mentally, that I should have been unable to do what they had shown that they had been able to do.

    CWGC - Casualty Details
    Lieutenant JOHN KNOX WALKER SLOAN 165003, 6th Bn., Grenadier Guards who died age 24 on 17 March 1943
    Son of Robert A. W. and Jean Knox Sloan, of Elshieshields, Dumfriesshire.
    Remembered with honour SFAX WAR CEMETERY
    Grave/Memorial Reference: III. BB. 12.
    CWGC - Casualty Details

    Lieutenant THOMAS GUY RIDPATH 149120, 6th Bn., Grenadier Guards who died age 23 on 17 March 1943
    Son of E. Guy Ridpath and Carina Ridpath, of Westminster, London.
    Remembered with honour SFAX WAR CEMETERY
    Grave/Memorial Reference: III. AA. 22.
    *N.B. Spelling HAYDEN - HADEN

    CWGC - Casualty Details
    Lieutenant WALTER CAMERON HADEN 124541, 6th Bn., Grenadier Guards who died age 36 on 17 March 1943
    Son of George William Cameron Haden and of Ann Haden (nee Fothergill).
    Remembered with honour SFAX WAR CEMETERY
    Grave/Memorial Reference: III. BB. 22.

    The ground was stony with sparse grass with Lavender Marenthis (apparently, according to Armie VIVIAN, this species is unique to this piece of country), a small pale blue ʻeverlastingʼ flower on a rather dark green hardened and flattened stem. I expect I walked as usual, with my hands in my pockets and my eyes glued on the ground ʻlooking for sixpencesʼ, as the family would say. In this case, I was looking for the little spikes of anti-personnel mines or any disturbance of the earth that might conceal one of these beasts. I had been walking for the most part on plants and grass which were green, as I had a feeling that even Germans cannot uproot plants and then make them grow in the hot sun without making them slightly withered.
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    Grenadier cemetery, Horseshoe feature in background, before the graves were moved to Sfax
    CWGC - Cemetery Details

  20. Rotherfield

    Rotherfield Senior Member

    It is 70 years ago since this battle and as far as I know only one Grenadier who fought in the rifle companies still lives.
    His name ---- Len Bozeat M.M. sadly now very frail with memory loss I class him as one of my closest friends and hopefully he will be on parade at Black Sunday (Regimental Remebrance Day) at Wellington Barracks on May 19th
    We Will Remember Them

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