Still stuck in Tobruk

A patrol around the seaward side of the Tobruk perimeter, summer 1941.

Stephen Dawson was another soldier stuck in Tobruk. He had very similar experiences to Kenneth Rankin:

2nd July 1941

Stifling, today. Thank God I had a swim last night. It must be over 100F in the shade now. The time is 3p.m. Within an hour or two the heat will decrease perceptibly. (If only they’d make some more tea!) The flies are ghastly, they’re developing that madness which characterised them last autumn – hurling themselves at one like fanatics, eager for the slaughter. (I shall go “tonti” myself if I don’t get a drink soon!)

Haven’t shaved for a week or more; only three razor blades left. However the tobacco issue has arrived and once again it is not “Chess”. This time it is the old favourite “Capstan Navy Cut” There is a 4oz tin here which will be divided, very, very carefully (shred by shred!) between Bombardier Tiny Plane and myself.

We have been besieged in Tobruch nearly 3 months and we’re no nearer relief than we were when we arrived. We are being forgotten – I’ve had no mail worth mentioning for eight weeks now and they’ve forgotten to send us any smokes, razor blades or matches. What is that paragraph in Dickens, when they went to release old Marette from the Bastille? “Buried alive. Eighteen long years. Dig, dig, dig, dig. “Would you like to live again?” “I don’t know”. Ah! Happy ending! Grant has just bought a mug of tea up! About half a pint, I should think. It’s too hot to drink, yet and there’s not much of it but still – here it is!

A terribly sultry day this; the heat had hardly abated when I came off duty at 8p.m. The others were sitting on rocks at the bottom of the wadi. During the day we had drunk (in an unusual number of brews) the whole water ration, leaving none for tomorrow. Whilst I was shaving (there was a little salty washing water) someone brought down a 2 gallon can of our emergency supply and that quickly began to go. Everyone was desperately thirsty.

Eventually Naden and I set out on a water expedition, in the lorry, just after dark.
Red gun flashes winked on two sides of us as we set out. Further away, AA shells burst in the sky and an aircraft droned. Once we thought we might have taken the wrong track (in the minefield). We weren’t at all sure but after a short discussion said “Maalesh” (never mind or to hell with it!) and pushed on.

We reached Bardia Road – known as Regent Street – without untoward incident, so it must have been the correct track! Our next stop was at the water point, miles away towards Tobruch town. We pulled in here and had about three pints of “drippings” between us. It was just as pleasant and refreshing as a halt for beer, at an English pub, in happier days!

Then we went on, in the moonlight, cautiously stealing past the Rear Evan encampment, to the old water hole in the wadi. It was practically full! Cool, fresh water. There must have been over 100 gallons in there. We brought away four cans – eight gallons – which eases the whole situation. I drank about half a gallon myself, so should get dysentery now, or a dose of “Gyppo Tummy”.

When we got back, at midnight, the others were still awake. There had been some shells fairly close.

Stephen Dawson’s diary has been reproduced as a blog, see Soul of a Poet.

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