Preparing for Sicily









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The quiet period continued and Jim commented on his boredom and apparent inactivity but he suspected invasion would follow the fall of North Africa and this feeling might have been reinforced by the 'careless talk' films from the Ministry of Information that he had to watch. However, security had its time limits and he was able to reveal some of the past manoeuvres that he had been involved in. There were also a Leave in Jerusalem and a three-day Easter break to enjoy.

Western Desert, 12 March 1943

“I must tell you a lovely story I had from Fred today. I may not have told you that when we were in Tobruk just before Jerry took it this last time Fred contacted a pal of his there. He is in the Navy, a lieutenant, and has been in the Navy since the beginning of the war. He was based in Tobruk and came to visit Fred when we were living in a little ‘ole on the escarpment. It wasn’t pleasant at that time but got worse after we left. About two days before Tobruk fell he received an important looking letter from England. It must have been the last lot of mail to reach Tobruk. He opened it and lo! it was his calling-up papers for the Armed Forces! Can you beat it?”

Western Desert, 25 March 1943

“I’ve just completed my usual preparations for Guard – it’s a dirty day, cold and damp with a blustery wind blowing. I’ve had another cold but have got over this one without much trouble – it is going to be a nasty night for prowling around. I drew my K. D. issue today – that is the summer clothes issue – it is impossible to imagine a more unsuitable day.”

Western Desert, 27 March 1943

“Several weeks ago we attended a show compulsorily – two films by M.O.I. on ‘careless talk’. One was very good, the other while it was good enough in its inferences was rather overdone. I know there are unbelievably stupid people in the world, perhaps I’m not too bright myself, but I cannot see a man giving away reams and reams of plain unvarnished information re troop movements, concentrations, plans of attack, reinforcements, supplies, zero hour etc. etc. to the enemy when taken prisoner and supposedly to believe all the time he is saying nothing at all. It wasn’t even the result of particularly subtle questioning – he volunteers it all quite matily. Also I in my small experience of such things have never met an ordinary ranker who has known what is going on beyond a 200 yd. stretch from where he is!”

Jim referred to some photographs that Pip had at last received from him.

Western Desert, 2 April 1943

“If you have those then you should also have the twenty odd pictorial ones I sent – I think. I do hope they get there O.K. they’re quite interesting as well as costing lots of falloosh.”

View fom Mount of Olives

The twenty pictorial photographs are indentifiable from the captions printed on the back, to which Jim added his own observations.

The caption on this one reads: "Jerusalem. View from Mt. Olives" and Jim wrote "The Dome of the Rock is in the foreground. N.B. The graves of those awaiting the 'Last Trump' to sound in the valley".


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Church of Nativity"Church of Nativity. Exterior".

"The little square door into the church is in the background behind the bunch of people. It is said to be small so that mounted Muslims could not suddenly ride in to slaughter the Infidels - charming!"

The row of military vehicles parked outside the church suggests the photo had been taken recently.


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Lemonade seller

This could have been one of the non-professional photographs that Jim wrote to Pip about. There is no caption printed on the back and the white patch in the bottom right corner gives it a rather amateur look.

Once again Jim has added his own thoughts.

"'Lemonade Seller' Concoction actually made of herbs from the Sudan very sweet I believe but quite refreshing. Danger of typhoid or is it typhus as water used is probably of doubtful origin. Goes round clanking two brass plates together. Glasses at his waist on the left."

Of course all the photos, whether amateur or professional , had to be inspected and stamped on the reverse if they were to be sent back to 'Blighty'.


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The next long letter was dated four times before it was finally finished on 27 April, after another short Air Mail letter card had been completed and sent off.

Western Desert, 2 April 1943

“Tonight and for several nights to come I’m all alone in our little truck the rest being many many miles away. A lot of the drivel I pour upon your curly head is the fruit of idleness – a complete and perfect idleness such as can exist in the army alone and that only on ‘Active Service’ – what a misnomer that is!”

Jim asked about the quality of the stockings and lipstick he had managed to purchase and send home.

“It’s rather late about bothering re the lipstick as it is already purchased. I’m afraid it is very much a shot in the dark as I didn’t know the colour or rather shade you wanted. The one I have bought after many agonised probings in these mysteries is termed I think ‘Moyen’ presumably the name of the shade and delights in the name of ‘Soir de Paris’.”

While having tea in the NAAFI Jim met a chap named Jock Miller whom he hadn’t seen for many months. Jock explained that he had been investigated for a possible heart complaint and had undergone a series of medical examinations. He had been in and out of hospitals and even promised he would be discharged from the army as unfit before being returned to duty:

“Eventually he lands back at the unit to await an inspection by a real pukka pukka heart johnny ‘in a few days’ (this was two months ago or so) and is immediately planted on every heavy fatigue going. After a week of these fatigues Jock rebels, goes to see the Sgt-Major, and demands to know why he has been specially picked to move ‘all the bloody camp about’. The reason – medical report says ‘This man is suspected of heart disease but should not be given any special light work in consequence as it may cause him to worry!’”

“Vera Lynn has just finished telling us that she knows we’ll meet again some sunny day. I think it is time they changed that signature tune – it has had a very long run and there are others every bit as nice. The news says Long Stop Hill has been recaptured once more. It must be really deadly up there now – frontal attack is murderous under modern fire power conditions – our bezas fire 850 a minute – imagine it!”

“I wonder what happens after N. Africa falls? Some form of invasion obviously – but where? One place, two places, twenty places at once – and the result?”

Jim was clearly annoyed that credit for progress in the war didn't seem to be given to the most deserving.

“I see the Tees & Tynesides have at last had a few words of praise vouchsafed to them instead of the eternal 51st Div. Give me 50 Div. and you can keep your 51st! The Highlanders came straight from home, fresh, new, keen and went into a line already straightened up for them. The 50 Div. had been in the line with us for nine months, stood Jerry off at the minefields for a week, fought their way out of a strongbox on half a mug of water a day in early June, walked through three Italian divisions one after the other and then a crack Jerry division burning all their transport that they didn’t want for themselves, fought their way into and out of Tobruk, fought a rearguard at Sollum, Matruh, Daba, Fuka, turned straight round at Alamein and pulled Jerry up in his tracks. Then they stayed there constantly counter attacking, took a full share in the Alamein battle and went straight back up to Tunis where they are now. Maybe it’s just jealously for the good name of the old 8th Army! My most vivid recollection of them is of the evening of May 26th, the first night of Action. I was refuelling the tanks about 7 pm – dusk and the infantry of 50 Div. were just going into the attack. We were under slight shell-fire but about half a mile ahead it was pretty thick. They charged straight through us in lorries all in battle order and disappeared into the thick of it flat out. They were all singing – guess? ‘Jesus wants me for a sunbeam.’”

In a letter card sent off before the previous long letter was finished Jim reported that he had just returned from leave in Jerusalem and was enjoying a three-day Easter holiday which consisted of doing nothing. Pip must have been asking about his travels since he left England and he wrote what he could:

Western Desert, 25 April 1943

“To answer your question re our desert perambulations is now permissible I believe and the answer is the neighbourhood of Giovanni Berta between Derna and Benghazi, not very far according to modern standards but in those days we had no ‘luxuries’ in the shape of transporters and the tanks did it on their own flat feet – sometimes 60 or 70 miles a day. Having tootled all the way there we thereupon tootled all the way back to attack Bardia on New Year’s Day.”

“Your other answer by the way is Glasgow not Liverpool.” Perhaps confirming that he sailed from the Clyde back in 1941.

Western Desert, 13 May 1943

“Please accept my apologies for the long gap in the mail. It must be nearly three weeks since I last wrote to you. The reason is that I have been rushed off my feet with work these last two weeks working often till 11 pm… Today for instance I’ve travelled over 150 miles in a truck there and back – result more or less Nil. Still – c’est la guerre.”

“I suppose today (or yesterday) is one of the milestones of this war ‘when all organised resistance in Africa ceased’ – twelve months bar a week or two after Jerry’s big attempt which nearly came off – a queer world. I should feel all elated etc. but I don’t – I’ve seen nobody who is – everyone seems almost disinterested.”

“I was talking to an RAF officer yesterday who told me he has an Iteye prisoner as batman. The said Iteye firmly believes that the Axis still hold Tobruk and that our days in Africa are numbered – nothing can shake his belief and the wireless he dismisses with a ‘Pouf’. He has little faith apparently even in his own news from Naples.”

Western Desert, 20 May 1943

“I’m in rather a typical Naafi tonight – a long barn-like building with indifferent lighting, indifferent food and the usual babel of noise. A typical Naafi pianist is playing on a typical Naafi piano – he is one of the ‘oompah’ type – his feet go up and down on the pedals until his whole body catches the rhythm and he jogs up and down in his seat. A game of ‘Housy-housy’ is in progress ‘Full house this time gents’ ‘Eyes down looking for a ‘full house’. The game alternates with the piano – cooperation at its worst.”

“… I can’t see how we can be again condemned to desert fighting as there ain’t any no more! I’m not sorry I can assure you – though it had its points – it was clean pathologically, dry and warm – not to be despised those points.”

Western Desert, 5 June 1943

“I’ve had a parcel from 20 Anf posted in the middle of February. I noticed that some fags were included and as I had none, poured out benisons but alas, they were all hopelessly moulded and were perforce ‘slung’.”


The Regimental History informs us that, after months of inactivity, training and leave, "On 24 June the Battalion moved to a very hot and dusty tented camp at Suez. There was no leave into the town and time hung heavily on our hands." Jim recalled that "They all went by train except me who for some reason was told to drive a captured Fiat diesel 10-tonner with two fitters all the way to Suez. I never knew why!"

Western Desert, 16 June 1943

“Fred made an honest endeavour to cut my hair this morning but he is a little out of practice and that combined with blunt scissors produced a terraced effect – still it’s as well to have any hair to cut I suppose – maybe I won’t have any at all soon as I seem to be definitely past the high water mark.”

“There aren’t a great number of British ATS out here – at least I’ve never seen many. I don’t think there should be any at all but that is a private opinion – as well as the opinion of a Private… It is all part and parcel of the New Democracy. Habet (sic) – the Old”

After an Airgraph sent on 24 June when he informed Pip that his feet were stained a violent purple from treatment for Athlete’s Foot, there was no further communication until a telegram dated 21 July.

“All well and safe please don’t worry all my love dearest Jim Taylor”

Jim was in Sicily.

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