WW II, a British focus  



memories of Pte Tom Barker
1st Bn Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders

Tom Barker passed on October 1st 2008poppy.gif - 1571 Bytes


Having been in the north African desert now for some months, we were politely requested by our sergeant, "roight youse blokes drop what yu is doin' an' listen to me, kilt sporran spats and all the gear yu aint be goin tu be usin' in the desert, ah wan yu tu put it all in yu black kit bag, cos it's goin 'ome tu Blighty, (Britain), so all youse blokes wi' photy alybums ger rid of em cos yu aint goin' ter ev time tu luke at em not no more, o.k.". "But rest assured, youse will get it all back when all this is over". He forgot to add, "those of you that are lucky enough to get back to Blighty" (Home).

So we sorted everything out and put all the gear we could spare into the black kit bag, soon a pile of these were sitting on the sand. It was collected by truck later and we watched as our treasured possessions disappeared in the swirlin' dust as the truck sped along the dusty track.

The gear we retained was kept in a white kit bag and for a while we used this as a pillow until it was also whisked off to Alex and put in a safe place, so that later we could retrieve it at short notice. We ended up with more or less what we stood up in and a like uniform would be on it's way to Alex and the dhobi Walla to wash and iron and if it did not get blown up on the way to or from Alex then we could look forward to a nice clean pressed uniform for next week.

Most days the sky was clear with no clouds and the sun would be beating onto the sand and rocks, if you didn't think and decided to stop and have a sit down for a wee rest you could suddenly get a hot bum. The old hands would say nothing and sometimes we would get a new officer to take over while our bloke had a spot of leave in Cairo or Alex, this new bloke would jump out of the 15 cwt Morris P.U. (a 15 hundred weight Morris Commercial Pick Up Truck ) usually used by most officers as transport and keeping their esky of cold drinks in.

I remember one day on an exercise, one of these trucks was racing past us and he hit a bump and the esky in the back catapulted out and landed with a bang onto the sand. One of our blokes went over and upon finding a full frozen bottle of Johny Walker Scotch Whisky with the glass shattered he picked off the broken glass and walked on sucking the frozen whisky like an ice lolly. When we found him later he burped "I'm pissed, hic".

Having jumped out of the P. U., the new officer would, if he had anything about him, call everyone over and have a natter, like "I'm so and so and hope we can get on together", and sort of general "I'm o.k., Jack how are you". When the pleasantries have been exchanged he might terminate the confab by turning away and putting binocs to eyes sweep the shimmering horizon while muttering something like "how charming, nothing but miles and miles of shit coloured f--k all"

So we dug holes in the sand to live in, and put our ground sheets over the hole to keep the sun out, then we would make a brew of tea by half filling an old petrol tin with sand and soaking it with petrol, stick a match to it and walla, good as a gas stove. The petrol tin was about about 30cm W by 30cm B by 45cm tall and was made of thin tin and sometimes if the seam split you could lose all your petrol or have a nasty accident. The Germans had a far superior fuel container (Jerry Can).

The inactivity was boring, the same hot sun every day, the same bully and biscuits every day, the same warm smelly water laced with tablets to do in those nasty little buggers that were just waiting to do you a mischief, or to quote one burly Highlander "Ah woulny drenk thaaat watter, eff'n theres nae taaablets en et, ets foo o' wee creepie craaawlie thengs, an they dae thengs tae yer ensides, yince they ge'en." (once they get in ) and he would add "D'y no ken wha' ahm sayen tae yae.?"

The mail truck would come but no mail for me, so I just did what everyone else did, mooch round and have a yarn to this bloke, then make sure my rifle was clean, check my gear to make sure no creepy crawlies have got into my equipment, like a 15inch long centipede or a scorpion that owing to it's size could easily have been mistaken for a small lobster. Then scan the quivering horizon for little black dots or clouds of dust, then relax, for a short time anyway, because you can't relax for too long.

One day while the water truck was away and the officers P.U. was away, I was sitting in my dug out yarning with a couple of our blokes when one bloke stuck his hand up and put his finger to his lip. We stopped nattering and listened, and sure enough in the distance the sound of a motor. We peeked over the top and there was nothing but flat sand as far as the eye could see. To anyone stood on top looking round, he could not even tell there was a position here, then in the far distance was a tiny cloud of dust coming our way. So keeping an eye on it we waited till we were sure it was one of ours then continued with our debate. The truck was near our position when it stopped and a voice said "they MUST be here, we've been everywhere else . So one of our bloke suddenly popped up and asked "can I help you sir" to which the officer with the white knees, (fresh out from Britain) jumped and snarled "don't you salute officers out here then?" Well, poor bugger, I suppose our bloke did give him a bit of a start. Because the officer had slightly knock knees for a long time after that, we had a "knock knock, who's there?, whitney, whitney who?, whitney be in your shoes fer quids" and "there'll be knock knees over the white cliffs of Dover"..

The water truck came back before dark and we got an issue of half a water bottle and a tablet to put in it the very next morning. What wouldn't we have given for an ice cold glass of beer with the tears streaming down the outside of the glass.T.O.B.1997


2982252 Pte Barker T.O. 1st Bn Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, Born 23 May 1921.
Tom Barker