All posts tagged North Africa

Thurs. a.m 8.30 Jan 6. [1944]

Father has gone to dig sand at the sea. The channel from tunnel is wandering too far round and has to be dug straight thro’ sand-link so that it runs swiftly. It is hardly light enough to see yet but he was to be there at 8.a.m. He has gone in uniform, new trousers and old tunic. They are warmer than civ[ilian] clothes and it is rough and cold. He put on a mac. under coat thinking he might do with it to work in.

Think Russians are really over old 1939 border at last, after being falsely reported to be for several days. Still there’s a good many more miles to go yet before Ger is reached. Our planes seem to be coming home, heard a few go out in the night. Gen[eral] Montgomery in Royal Box at theatre with 14 years old son, was cheered. He is getting around so quickly people can’t keep pace with him except the son and he seems to stick closely to him. I don’t remember if Gen. Mont. has a wife. I know he has a mother and 5 brothers.

Had a letter from Emmie yesterday. Her mother had an accident at work on Wed last week. A bobbin flew out and hit her leg and ankle and she is very badly bruised. It will be very painful. Emmie had a busy time when she got home Sat. She was vexed they had not sent for her. The next door neighbour had been very kind and helpful, cleaning and getting coals and doing everything for them. Mr. R sent Father an envelope addressed “from Dad to Dad” containing razor blades. Rene saw env. and wanted to know what it meant. Father said “Well I’ve had a very sharp letter from Mr Russell.” Rene’s face was so droll, we had to laugh and tell her. Of course she accused him then of having eaten one, he was so sharp.

Jean has just called for a “cup of tea”. Took it up and find she has a rusty voice. I sincerely hope that doesn’t mean she has another cold. She went to village yest. aft. and was quickly back saying there were soldiers everywhere and she had fled. By their talk in P.O. she gathered they had just arrived in Eng[land] from B.N.A.F. [British North Africa Force]. They were sending telegrams to let their people know but could not send an address as they only expected to be here a night or two. Betty El[ston] was besieged, a lot of them trying out their French on her, until she refused to answer in French. Expect they were a bit surprised at first when she answered their enquiry as to the cost of tel. in French, by telling them (in Eng[lish]) but when they asked her “Francais parlez-vous” she said “Non”. Mrs Stow went to the rescue and registered Jean’s letter and helped B[etty] generally and Jean, as she said, “fled”.

Had two letters from Emily L, one written Sun to say Jess had been taken to Hos[pital] with poisoned arm (it must have been delayed) and one written Tue to say he was home again. He had a spot or two on his elbow and she thinks his jersey-sleeve may have chafed them as he rolls his shirt-sleeves up. The poison ran up his arm in a pink streak and formed a lump under his arm, and was up to his head and in his back. He just missed septic pneumonia she says. It would be a great shock as little Tom [Lewis] died of that. However she was pleased to have got him home and expected he was on the way to recovery. There are plenty of them to look after him and she says the enforced rest may do him good, as he was working very hard and probably run down. She said she would write again.

I am afraid our blanket is warming somebody else as it has not turned up and it was posted Dec. 20th. Very vexing for the Russells and disappointing for us. I hope if it was stolen it went where it was really needed and is not carefully laid by, by someone who steals for the sake of stealing. Went in “The Rest” yesterday found I had exaggerated damage by mice (during my first cold and bronc[hitis]) by about 3 times. One more in trap in cupboard but trap in bedroom as left until I put my foot in it. I reset it and cleared up some papers after giving Sprogg the dead mouse, when the trap sprung again, I turned to go look why and Sp. was sheepishly walking out of the other room, he had evidently tried to sample the cheese. Set it again and went home as it was very cold, big icy frost tho’ tubs were not so frozen. Got all clothes dry and ironed. Rene washed at Bev[erley] and was hoping to find them dry.

The channel through the ‘sand-link’ was associated with the ‘outfall’ from ‘the basin’ from land to sea close to ‘The Point’. The clearance operation, involving teams of local men, was necessary every year or so. See ‘Elvers‘- A Reflection by May Hill’ and associated notes.

After his wife died suddenly around 1934 Bernard Montgomery totally immersed himself in military studies which probably led to him becoming an exceptional general. Their son’s name was David.

Jess, here, was Jesse Lewis [May’s sister Emily’s husband].

Tom Lewis, son of Emily and Jesse, had died, aged 9, in 1939. He had been stung on the ear, by a wasp, while resting at home after returning from Louth hospital following treatment for an eye problem. His tragic death had left Emily with one surviving son, Frank, and six daughters.

Have you read an introduction to May Hill & family (includes photographs) and explored ‘The Casualties Were Small’?

Mon Oct. 25th 8.20 A.M [1943]

A thick fog this morning and rather cold at present. Hope it clears as I told Rene we would wash. So far I have done no Autumn cleaning and it’s time I did. We had another letter from Ron 16th Oct written on 2nd and Emmie one dated 6th so it is nice to be up to date again. He sounds very cheery in all of them. I wrote him a long letter last night and enclosed a 1944 calendar. We are sending a parcel this week for his birthday, Nov 26, and Xmas. We, at least, Rene got a nice leather writing case, a small one, at Sk[egness]. It has no zip but is very soft leather lined Kid. It cost 17/11. It won’t take up much space in his kit which is the main thing and will just keep his unanswered letters together and perhaps a snap or two. Emmie’s gloves have arrived, she is very chuff and she says he has bought Xmas presents for us all. Do hope they come safely. He is sleeping in a little bivouac tent now with Roy Paget his pal. Hope they have better billets for the winter as I think the nights are very cold. Says there are a lot of little lizards, very pretty and quite harmless which go like quicksilver when disturbed.

Mr Wilkinson A.R.P.W [air raid precautions warden] came for his [Ron’s] address on Friday. The B[ritish] Leg[ion] is sending parcels. It is over a year since we saw Ron. I can still see the train pulling out with Ron waving from a carriage window, and how I felt as if he was taking a part of me with him, feeling as if I must strain my eyes for as long as I could see him, knowing it might be that it was the last sight of him we should ever have. Emmie did get to Peterboro’ for a few days and he got to Yea. for a few hours. It is a year since the tide turned for us at Alamein and we won that first big battle on the borders of Libya and Egypt. Godfrey Talbot described it on Radio and the white cloud on the desert of 600 white crosses. Now 800 more British have laid down their lives in Italy in just over a month, more than that because that is only 5th Army and then there has been all the fighting in Africa and Sicily. It is a mad, bewildering, world.

Keith and Marian are here, it would be a sad homecoming, the first since Raymond’s death was reported.

“He sleeps where Southern vines are dressed
Above the noble slain.
O’er him the myrtle showers its leaves
By soft winds fanned.”

Roy Paget was Ron’s RAF friend in his unit in North Africa and Italy.

Mr Wilkinson, here, was very probably the retired policeman, Jack, the father of ‘Spitfire Ace’ Royce Clifford Wilkinson (see 29 May 1943). He used to recount his son’s exploits to Joe Kirk and fellow drinkers in the tap-room of the ‘Vine Hotel’ (see Village Map).

Godfrey Talbot was one of the best-known BBC war-correspondents.

The ‘Southern Vines’ epitaph was based on lines, slightly changed, from two verses of ‘The Graves of a Household‘ by Liverpool-born poet Felicia Dorothea, née Browne, Hemans (1793-1835). May had copied the original into her ‘Poetry’ exercise book when a pupil at the village school.

Have you read an introduction to May Hill & family (includes photographs) and explored ‘The Casualties Were Small’?

July 23/ 43.
The Captive.

All’s over then, the battle lost, and I

A “prisoner of war” in Alien hands.

My misery, and sorely wounded pride too deep for tears or words.

I sit and watch their reinforcements landing on my native soil.

My aching wounds and heavy heart,

In deep despair, await the order to embark,

And sail away in a prison ship to a prison camp.

Oh! Little home, I see thee now,

My wife and dark-eyed baby girl and little son,

Receding from my sight for many a day.

I leave thee now and I must wait,

In impotence, with idle hands,

While war’s deep waves roll ever nearer thee;

And haply may engulf thee in its tide.

I speak no word, I cannot. Deep despair

Has fallen on me, body and soul are one great mound of poignant misery.

Soon, I shall rise and lift my heavy load, to bear it like a man but now,

I watch the conquering foe come in.

My heart is bleeding inwardly, I see there go,

Lost hopes, lost battle and most bitter blow, lost liberty.

My cup of woe is full, I live not, but endure.

‘Italian, Captive and UNhappy’ in the Daily Mail, Friday July 23rd 1943.

‘Italian, Captive and UNhappy’ in the Daily Mail, Friday July 23rd 1943.

Following their victorious North African campaign, the Allies had turned their attention to Italy. May’s son Ron was  amongst many RAF and other military personnel who were transferred from North Africa to Italy.

‘The Captive’, an original draft, was inspired by an item ‘Italian, Captive and UNhappy’ in the Daily Mail, Friday July 23rd 1943.

The poem has been added to the poems collection on this site. It also appears in the book The Casualties Were Small which contains over twenty of May’s poems as well as selected diary extracts, including those which suggest the background to each poem, accompanied by many nostalgic photographs.

Have you read an introduction to May Hill & family (includes photographs) and explored ‘The Casualties Were Small’?

July. 14/ 43.
A Prayer for Peace.

Last night I lay upon my bed,

Hearing the ’planes pass overhead.

Some came in and some went out,

While others hovered round about.

Oh Lord, I started then to say,

But paused again, how could I pray

To God for life and safety when,

For every plane The Germans sent,

A score to them from Britain went.

It is a war for truth and right,

And we for justice hard must smite.

But oh! The little children’s tears,

The aged and the mothers’ fears,

They come between me and my prayers.

Of what more value is my life,

Than theirs in all the world’s great strife?

At last I pray if ’tis thy will,

Oh leave me with my loved ones still.

Or if the time has come to die,

Oh send death swiftly Lord I cry.

I thought [and there then] rose to mind,

The time when Herod tried to find

The Saviour Christ when he was born,

And slew between the dark and dawn,

All little children far and near,

Not knowing Jesus was not there.

These too were innocent of wrong,

But died the victims of the strong.

God saw it all and us he sees,

Fighting for right or on our knees.

Those children died and Christ was saved,

The way to life by them was paved.

Christ lived on earth his perfect life,

Then died to save the world from strife.

No one more innocent than He,

And yet He died upon the tree.


Oh send to us the knowledge Lord,

To live in peace and not by sword.

Let sacrifice be not in vain,

After this time of sin and pain.

Teach us to walk in righteousness,

And God the Trinity confess.

The poem as above appeared to be a draft and no re-written version has been found. The lower part of the double-sheet was damaged, so that the words shown in parentheses are a suggestion and two lines (……….) towards the end could not be deciphered.

At the time May wrote the poem (14th July 1943) she must have been feeling rather uneasy, having listened to news of new military action in Italy and having received Ron’s letters in which he could not reveal his own location after transferring to Malta from North Africa where the Allies had been victorious. May was unhappy that the war was taking a great toll in casualties, including civilians, on both sides, as well as spoiling the simple pleasures in life such as she expressed at times in her Diary (e.g. see 16 May 1943) “…Birds are singing, and it is so calm and quiet. War seems very far away, but that is a fallacy…”

More news of Ron’s whereabouts did emerge during August although May did not write in her Diary until the later part of the month.

The poem has been added to the poems collection on this site. It also appears in the book The Casualties Were Small which contains over twenty of May’s poems as well as selected diary extracts, including those which suggest the background to each poem, accompanied by many nostalgic photographs.

Have you read an introduction to May Hill & family (includes photographs) and explored ‘The Casualties Were Small’?