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POW: Diary of a Prisoner of War
D Nell


From Page 1:


I had a tommy-gun with an empty magazine, a loaded Webley .38 revolver and six spare rounds for it. I was alone.

A short while ago I had had a group of eighteen men: twelve of them were signallers, all that were left of my signal platoon, together with six men of the mortar platoon who had attached themselves to me and my lot for moral comfort.

Believing that we were about to be over-run by the Germans, my little band of reluctant heroes panicked and ran. My wild, indignant shouts to them to come back were mere cries in the wilderness: an infinitesimal addition to the multitude of battle noises of that desert night. They ignored me and disappeared into the darkness. For a few moments I stood considering my situation. The remnant of our battalion had been lying low in a ‘wadi’ a few miles south of Mersa Matruh waiting for darkness before trying to break through the enemy who had encircled us. But the Germans had seen us and had come to get us.

Altogether there were one hundred and thirty six of us, commanded by our colonel.

The only weapons we possessed in addition to our personal weapons were a two-pounder anti-tank gun, which had successfully knocked out several of the enemy’s troop-carrying vehicles before darkness had rendered it useless, and a Bren gun for which there was only one magazine. There were several boxes of ammunition but only this one magazine. As a Bren magazine held only twenty eight rounds and the gun fired at the rate of about six hundred rounds per minute one magazine gave roughly three seconds of firing time. We could be said to have been at a disadvantage. Also, I had my tommy-gun, initially with three magazines, each holding twenty four rounds. It had not been my gun really. I had acquired it when it had been abandoned by a corporal of the R.A.S.C. who had been attached to us, when he decided that he no longer wished to take part in our conflict with the Germans. I don’t know what happened to him but I picked up the gun and the spare magazines when the alarm was given that the Germans were advancing towards us.

I was directed to take my little group to a bit of high ground which overlooked that side of the ‘wadi’ from which the Germans approached.

They reached us just after darkness had fallen. We allowed them to come very close, hoping that they would miss us in the darkness and then go away. However, one of them wandered into a little bunch of our blokes. Someone, with a breezy friendliness, a little forced, said to him, “It’s a lovely night, mate!”

From Page 35:

6th May 1943
I received seven letters today: One from Mrs. Austin, one from Barkley’s Bank, two from Evelyn, and two from Pam. Barkley’s claim that I have no money to my credit with them. This will have to be sorted out after the war. I’ve written to Evelyn and Dad today. Margaret Hebden says that Sheilah would like to receive a card from me. Later, perhaps. Our issue of lettercards and post cards doesn’t allow for pen-pals.
There are some very nice rumours of Tunis having fallen again and the Russians are maintaining their pressure on the Germans. Keep it up, Joe! (Joe Stalin.) Roll on the end!

7th May 1943
There was nothing in today’s newspapers about Tunis. But, of course, in Italy, if it’s bad news it’s ‘no news’. But Mussolini has made a speech which usually indicates that he is being more devastated politically But it is ever so cheering to know that the Russians keep going the right way. But what are our people doing in Africa? Time will tell. And we have lots of time at our disposal.

8th May 1943
I received two letters this morning: one from Evelyn and one from Pam. One of them posted in March and the other in January. Jerry got his next of kin parcel today and he has given me a tin of tooth powder. A ‘next-of-kin’ is allowed to send a personal parcel of clothing and toiletries once every three months. Some of the fellows have already received several. This was Jerry’s first. I have not yet received any. Obviously they are being stolen in transit. Mainland Europe is destitute and these parcels contain goods which are not available in Europe. We are told that the ordinary Italian people don’t have underwear. Their soldiers don’t even have socks! Nuns from the nearest hospital visit this camp ostensibly to visit prisoners who are in the camp hospital which is situated in the outer compound. These men are dying. Quite openly these nuns come up to the inner fence to offer a bread-ration for a pair of Marks and Spencer underpants. These transactions are done quite openly. Having acquired her pair of ‘St. Michael’s’ the exuberant nun simply turns her back on the man who has received her bread ration, and steps into her new knickers. Obviously delighted! This would be funny were it not so pathetic. They seem to know when these next of kin parcels are expected. What a country!
I managed to buy seven sheets of foolscap paper today. Even ordinary writing paper is scarce. But fresh air and lice are still in abundance.

9th May
I have been strolling around the camp with Bob Jackson. We had an interesting talk and have agreed to do this every evening. Today’s news is good. Tunisia appears to be absolutely finished now but Mussolini vows THEY WILL RETURN! Who does he think he is kidding? Or should that be ‘Whom’? – must watch my English!
It seems the Italians are short of workers and we have been informed that those prisoners who are selected for work and refuse will be taken by force. We are surely winning!

From Page 50:

Wednesday 8th September 1943
Yesterday’s newspaper reports were quite satisfactory for us. In the south of Italy our forces are continuing to push back the Axis troops who say they are outnumbered. They claim, also, that the Allies’ equipment is superior to theirs. We are hoping that our troops will move up quickly and embarrass the enemy so much that they won’t have time to move us prisoners. The Russians also are doing well. The Germans are talking about their own ‘elastic’ defence. This would indicate that they are being pushed back! Budapest has been declared an ‘open city’.
Autumn is with us again. There is a noticeable nip in the morning and evening air. I have had to take my blanket into use. Have just written a lettercard to Evelyn and a postcard to Pam, and I’m hoping that it won’t be long before I’ll be with Evelyn again. Optimism!
2030hrs Rumour! ! ! A bloke has just told me that an armistice has been signed between the Allies and Italy! I wish it were true.
2100hrs It’s not a rumour! We have just been informed officially that an armistice between the Allies and Italy was signed on 3rd September but was kept secret until the admission of it would be advantageous to the Allies.
2300hrs The BBC News was read out to us. The Germans are evacuating the Donetz (Russian front) and Stalino has fallen. And the Italians are said to be fighting the Germans. Good for us!

© Copyright MechAero and D Nell 2004

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