Promotion for a Desert Rat

Troops carrying a dummy Stuart tank, 3 April 1942.

Troops examining captured German MG34 machine guns, 22 April 1942.

Stephen Dawson was a Bombardier ( Corporal – see below ) in the Royal Artillery. He had survived the greater part of the Siege of Tobruk during 1941, and experienced Tobruk Hospital when evacuated out, only to be returned in time for the final battle. He now found himself in the base camp area near Cairo, living in a tent in the desert. His unit was re-organised and transformed by the arrival of many new troops from the UK. Stephen Dawson’s diary records the daily life of those in the front line, whether in action or otherwise:

The monotony of this life was rudely broken last night, when some stranger (there are many strange NCO’s and men wandering about here nowadays) came to the door of our tent with a list in his hand and said “Is Bombardier Clarkson here?” “NEVER HEARD OF HIM!” I bawled rudely, – I always like to reply thus to such questions, if there is any doubt of the matter.

Undaunted, he looked at the next name on his list. “Well, is Bombardier Dawson here?” “Yeah, that’s me,” I ungrammatically replied. (How we degenerate!) “Right,” said the battery oce “runner”, “Report to the Sergeants Mess at 7:30.” “Whaffor?” I demanded, “Mess waiter or something?” “Oh no,” said the “runner”, “You’re a lance sergeant.” And with these words he disappeared.

After brooding on this statement for a few minutes, I realised that bullshit did indeed baffle brains, and that I was now a lance sergeant (signals). So I proceeded to the Sergeants Mess, and found the RSM giving a talk to other new three-stripers, on the etiquette of the Mess and so forth. This was outside the door. At the conclusion of his brief address, RSM Essler said, in his famous staccato manner, “… And Hif you want to come in, the Mess is open to you tonight.”
….

This morning I was taken into the Mess (auspicious moment) by a friendly sergeant. Handshakes and congratulations; like joining a club or something. Stan Ling greeted me, and Ken White, and Herbert Golding (“X” Battery clerk) and Bill Oxley.

Certainly it’s nice to drink tea out of cups and eat off china plates and be served by a waiter instead of having to queue up for food. However – I don’t know – I was quite happy as a bombardier!

This afternoon I moved out of my homely sub-section tent and into the sergeant’s tent, which, I notice is situated cunningly convenient for parades, mess, and early morning tea issues! Around me are Jack Tabor, Bill Oxley and Don Pounds (Battery NCO i/c Sigs).

In the evening after dinner there was mass beer and singing in the Mess.

Stephen Dawson’s whole diary can be read on Blogspot.

Salvaged German petrol cans or 'jerricans' being inspected at a depot in the Western Desert, 21 April 1942. The robust German cans were considered far superior to the British 'flimsy' can and highly prized.

A soldier takes a bearing from his Fordson WOT2 15cwt truck, 20 April 1942.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

CaitieCat April 3, 2013 at 12:58 am

Glad to be able to contribute in some little way to this fascinating and thoroughly engrossing site. :)

Editor April 1, 2013 at 8:12 pm

Many thanks for picking that up. Wikipedia tells me:
Originally, the Royal Artillery had corporals (but not lance-corporals) and a bombardier was junior to a corporal and wore a single chevron. Unlike a lance-corporal, a bombardier held full non-commissioned rank and not an acting appointment. The rank was equivalent to second corporal in the Royal Engineers and Army Ordnance Corps. In 1920, corporals were abolished in the Royal Artillery and bombardiers became the equivalent and acquired the normal two chevrons.

CaitieCat April 1, 2013 at 7:11 pm

I think a Bombardier is actually the Artillery version of a corporal, rather than a private, or at least so it was when I served in an artillery regiment with the Canadian Forces. An artillery private is called a Gunner.

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