On the anniversary of El Alamein, Wilf gave me the following summary of what it was like to be at El Alamein with Monty's 8th Army.
"My feelings, bearing in mind what had happened previously at Gazala and in the most appropriate phrase I can think of, were "Fatalistic resignation". I just could'nt see how I was going to get through it without serious injury or worse, which I didn't, but, thank God, I didn't lose a limb. I am not ashamed to say I was scared as hell, I was part of a section of 8 or 9 who advanced towards dug-in Italians with Bredas, no more than 40 or 50 yards away. They opened up as we advanced and hit most of us, I hit the deck and jammed the rim of my steel helmet into the ground, it was an action that surely saved my life because a bullet smashed straight into it, it broke through the steel and dropped on the inside of the camouflage net which covered my helmet. I was on the right extremity of the advancing section, the lad on my left had been hit around his mouth and neck and was in a bit of a state. I can still remember his name, it was either Diggle or Dibble, I found out later that he didn't die from his injuries.
An officer leading us gave the order to charge forward. I did and threw hand grenades and we overran the enemy positions. I ended up in an enemy trench on top of a dead Italian. There was only the officer and myself who managed to get that far. I think if I was hearing this from anyone else I would find it hard to believe.
It was the following day when I got hit when doing the same thing in broad daylight and this time it was shellfire and, of all the places to get a shell splinter, it was beneath my left armpit. It penetrated almost, but not quite through to the front, no bones hit or no blood vessels, which I think is remarkable considering all the blood vessels there are there.
I was taken away by a modified 3-tonner with others who were casualties. The three tonner made its way out through a minefield. I passed through 2 or 3 casualty clearing stations over the next few hours, finally ending up at 106 South African field hospital late at night on 24 October. We were attended to and finally got to bed. The tented ward had 2 radio speakers and the song being sung when I finally got my head down was, " When you come to the end of a perfect day" !
That's some tale isn't it? And I would'nt blame anyone if they found it hard to believe.
Yours truthfully and sincerely
24 October 2011
Thanks very much to Wilf for this El Alamein memory. Wilf, there was no shame in being afraid. Time and time again we read of soldiers saying they were afraid and very likely they all were. But what is important is that despite this you didn't let your comrades down.
To see more material from Wilf click on the following WW2 Diary link
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Bill Cheall fought at Dunkirk, North Africa and Sicily, was in the first wave on Gold Beach on D-Day, and finally went to Germany. Since Bill's WW2 memoirs were published, many former comrades and families have come forward with stories and diaries of their own, all forming part of the jigsaw of Bill's war. The aim of these podcasts is to bring the memories to life and honour the soldiers, airmen and seamen who were connected to Bill in some way.
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