Don: Army Tales

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Don passed away this morning at 4 am. He was very peaceful, breathing quietly, as he had been most of the day, then he simply stopped breathing. Photos above show him with me at my mother’s memorial a few months ago, a photo of Don with us last week, then photos of them both in 2008. Don’s ashes will soon join my mother’s at the memorial garden.

Here is his last story about his war experiences with the Australian Army, 7th Division Cavalry.

EVACUATION CYPRUS – BONJOUR SYRIA

The word passed around quickly. We were on the move again. Sadly we were about to say farewell to Cyprus but where we were bound we knew not. Ho! Hum! We will no doubt find out. So pack your kit, a sadly onerous task which took all of ten minutes. So now we sit and wait and indulge in conjecture as to our next destination. Crete; no! Cairo; could be! Palestine; no way! Greece; you’d have to be kidding! Back to the Suez Canal, sounds of mass desertion! As usual no-one got it right. One thing was for sure we weren’t taking any of the tanks, carriers, battle-buggies, two pounders AT guns, or Vickers Machine Guns with us. Just Webley 45s, rifles and bayonets. So it didn’t look like any sort of action ahead for us.

Trucks arrived and we clambered aboard grousing because we weren’t getting nice comfortable buses. Any way the local buses were hardly more comfortable than the back of a 3 ton truck. The trip from Nicosia to Famagusta along dusty gravel roads was a most enjoyable experience and the cheerful cussing was continuous. By far the best bit of the trip was getting off the trucks when arrive at the Famagusta docks about five o’clock (1700 hrs).

Word was passed around that we were to be picked up by Brit destroyers after dark and in the mean time we could chomp on our bully and biscuits. The Brit unit nearby would supply us with tea. So we prepared for an al-fresco dinner and an eager wait for more pleasant transport. So we waited! Time passes and so did the night,  No destroyers and even more important no rations. About 0900 hrs a Brit truck arrive with dixies of tea. We had a choice of black, no sugar or no tea!

Again about 1300 hrs we were advised that we would be picked up tonight. What we wanted to know was when do we eat. Even a tin of bully sounded like a feast. The Brits weren’t able to supply us with rations only tea.

 So we waited and survived on Brit tea for another thirty six hours before those destroyers arrived about 0300 hrs on the third night.

They sneaked into the port with hardly a whisper or a ripple, like two canoes. The HMS ‘Havoc’ led the way ( I can’t remember the other ship’s name. I’ll try and find it later). A gang plank was smartly set up from each ship and we quickly obeyed the order to get aboard in single file. As we started up the gang plank we were smartly grabbed and hauled aboard and our kit bags and equipment were whipped of us and piled on the deck, We were guided down below deck where as we filed past we were handed a mug of cocoa and a ships biscuit then guided back where we tried to find a spot to sit. Slowly we were displaced by piles of equipment, rifles and kitbags.

In less than half an hour, with about 250 cavalry personnel aboard each ship we were on our way out of the port. We were no sooner clear of the port when the Skipper (I presume) ordered: “Full Ahead” and the Havoc waggled her tail and took of at “Flank Speed”, whatever that was or is but I’m guessing it was close to thirty knots.

About an hour later as the sun rose we were able to guess at our direction and the naming of our destination was on again. Anyway about mid-morning the guessing game was over and land was dead ahead. Officers appeared from some secret place and started ordering all and sundry to each find a set of equipment, a kitbag and a rifle we could sort it all out after we disembarked.

As we drew nearer we could make out houses, mostly white with tile roofs on rising ground then all of a sudden we were in port. And those ships slid into the dock like canoes, were smartly docked and gangplanks were there again. We were urged off the ship at the double and no sooner was the last man off the gang plank before it disappeared aboard, mooring lines were hauled in board and the ships were moving and on their way out of port off on the bright blue sea. Sadly not long after this HMS “Havoc” was sunk while on a supply run to Tobruk

Now the haggling over who owned what in the way of equipment was on in earnest. Slowly everyone got a set and hopefully the right kitbag. All this was stopped by an announcement from the CO.

Apparently we were supposed to be met by a convoy of trucks some three days ago. They were no longer available at the moment and it was going to be necessary for us to shoulder our gear and march to the top of Mount Carmel. “MOUNT” Carmel! You got it mate! Quick MarchLeft, Right, Left, Right, Puff, Puff.

So we marched all the way to the top where we moved into some place that looked like it had been taken over by the military for some purpose that we were never told. What we were told was; “Sit Down” while arrangements were made to get some rations for a meal. Apparently the rations that had been supplied for us were used by the occupants over the last three days. “They” were likely to come to considerable damage if rations weren’t supplied pronto.

About 1400 hrs a truck pulled into the compound and brought a beautiful aroma with it. Mouths started to water and tummies rumbled. The CO appeared and said that he was sorry but the only rations he could get was bread and butter. “BUTTER”. We hadn’t tasted butter for about six months! In no time there were a couple of files of starving diggers lined up and ready to receive. When the first few received their ration is was a half loaf of HOT bread and a quarter of a pound of “BUTTER”.

When I received my ration I headed for a safe spot, squatted down and then pulled the centre out of the loaf, unwrapped the butter and placed it inside the crust and then squashed it flat to spread the butter. In no time at all I had butter spread over most of my face but a good quantity slid smoothly down my gullet to moans of pure ecstasy. A fair few of the drippings were directed onto the centre I had pulled out and in its turn it followed the crust. 

Don laughing

That was one of the most memorable meals I had during my stay in the Middle East.

We spent that night in the open and in the morning a convoy of trucks arrived to transport us further north onto Syria. But that is another story.

10 thoughts on “Don: Army Tales

  1. Christine, my thoughts are with you and your family at this sad time. Your wonderful memories of Don will keep him alive in your heart.

  2. Dear Christine
    Thank you for sharing your lovely stories and photos of Don, a super tribute to him. I am so sorry for your loss and I am sure he was peaceful and happy in the knowledge that you were around.
    Take care
    Gilly

  3. In the span of just a few days Don has come alive for me at the end of his life through your posts. What a nice way to recognize him. It will stay with me.

    How wonderful for him to have you and Stuart to provide the home and help he needed in his final months (and, although I’m unaware of them, I’m sure many years before). Caregiving can be taxing, but there is a reward. I think knowing you have helped someone die well brings the highest honor to their life because it is a gift of time.

    I wish I could be there to look in your eyes as I say this:
    You, Stuart, and Don have my deepest respect.

  4. I’m so sorry to hear of your loss. Many thanks for sharing Don’s story. His writing is so vivid that I can see each scene.

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