In North Africa the tables had turned. After spectacular advances and remarkable successes against the Italian forces that outnumbered them, the British Army now found itself retreating in some disarray.
Les Vernon was with the same Heavy Anti Aircraft unit as Kenneth Rankin but was now in a a rear guard unit covering the retreat back to Egypt. Other troops passed them before they began their own retreat:
Most of the time there was a sandstorm blowing, and we saw the now all too familiar sight of the army streaming back, twenty-five pounders, tanks, water trucks, etc., though for some reason bombing of the road by the enemy was confined to night attacks. The situation became more confused with every hour, with rumours and counter rumours. …
The plan as we were given to understand was that we could defend the pass until it was blown up, then blow up our guns and climb down the 300 foot escarpment to pick up our trucks, which would previously have gone down with our kit and the married men.
One night we awoke to hear the sound of clanking enemy tank tracks carried on the wind. The next day our R.A.S.C. drivers were disinclined to stay with us and threatened to leave. A Lewis gun was therefore mounted over them and they were warned that they would be shot if they attempted to leave. Soon after, contact with the pass and everyone else having been lost, we realised that our comrades in Tobruk were either beseiged or captured. It was decided to leave as planned.
The Bedford with me in it, was at the rear and had a Lewis gun mounted in the back, together with a quantity of beer in straw cases, chocolate and toothpaste, salvaged from the abandoned N.A.A.F.I. With the heat, jolting, and stamping about, the floor of the truck soon became a sticky mess of straw, chocolate and toothpaste.
The sandstorm that had resumed and shrouded our escape grew in intensity. The enemy tanks must have decided to outflank the pass in case it was blown up, or we were thought to have an anti-tank capacity. Most of us had had little sleep for days and our driver was no exception. With the severity of the sandstorm he could only see by opening the split windscreen and pushing up his goggles. I looked at his eyes and they seemed like two red balls.
So we decided it was time to relieve him, and in the back of the truck he at once went to sleep, still jolting about in the sticky mess. When the change round of drivers took place we noticed that oil was spurting from the rear axle, and all doubted whether we would get on much further.
Through a gap in the sandstorm we glimpsed an Italian C.R.42 aircraft fly across the road, but the sand blanketed us again and he did not return. While we waited an ambulance stopped to see if we needed help, and then pressed on towards a Guards armoured unit that we had passed. We later heard a crump and learned subsequently that the C.R.42 had bombed the ambulance and all the occupants had been killed.
See Kenneth Rankin Lest We Forget : Fifty Years On