The Eighth Army advance reaches Agheila

General Montgomery, GOC 8th Army , inspecting a coastal defence gun at Benghazi, 7 December 1942.

In North Africa the British Eighth Army continued its pursuit of Rommel’s army westwards. Whilst the resistance in Tunisia had stiffened, in Libya Rommel was falling back in as orderly fashion as possible, putting up brief rear guard actions that killed a few men on both sides and attracted little notice. Now they reached Agheila where Rommel had established his defensive line in late 1941 and from where he had launched his surprise assault in early 1942. After a year of fighting the two armies were back roughly where they had started from.

Keith Douglas was leading his squadron of tanks in the long advance, and saw intermittent action. He was still recording the strange twists of fate that befell men in war:

We fought an action, mainly against Italian gunners, before Agheila.

They fought very bravely, and the crew of one gun allowed Tom’s tank to get within fifty yards of them before firing. Unfortunately for them, they missed him, only carrying away the ration boxes on one side of the tank, and he overran the gun, actually crushing one of the crew under the tank.

In this action, the M.O. was badly wounded, and for a long time was in danger of losing an arm and a leg. But later we heard that he had managed to keep both, although they would never be 100 per cent useful again. His driver was killed outright.

That evening, going into leaguer after dark, Raoul who had just completed his first real day in action since reioining us (he had had little to do on the reconnaissance) had his elbow smashed by a stray shell and was taken away, back to Alexandria, out of the war, having been in action only three days and wounded twice.

See Keith Douglas: Alamein to Zem Zem

A piper of the Camerons leading his comrades along the road near Aghelia, 19 December 1942.

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Gavin Mackay November 14, 2013 at 12:19 pm

Reference your 11 Dec 1942 page, the photo captioned “A piper of the Camerons leading his comrades..”

Strictly speaking, the man actually leading the platoon is the officer (wearing a Balmoral bonnet) marching immediately the piper. He is my father: John Mackay, originally from Callanish, Isle of Lewis He was wounded at the Mareth Line, and subsequently in Sicily, and still occasionally picked shrapnel from his back for the rest of his life. He became a headmaster in the North of Scotland after the war, but continued to serve in the TA, including a period in command of the Ross Battery of the Lovat Scouts.

The picture, shot by the Army Film & Photographic Unit, is actually a frame from the opening scenes of the film “Desert Victory”. I saw the film in 1971, and obtained prints of the picture – and of a subsequent close-up as the cameraman zoomed in on the piper and the officer as they passed – from the IWM, which I gave to Dad. He passed copies on to the piper, who lived close by. My father died in 1988, and the picture hangs in my study as I write.

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