Feb 27th

At the conference, orders were roughly as follows:

Information: The French had lost contact with the enemy so that enemy localities were not known. It was known that they were in Bourges des Monopoles. Own Troops for operation: DLI Battalion and a Troop of Commandos with 70 Field Regiment in support.

Intention: To clear the road Sedjenane--Bourges de Monopoles and retake Bourges de Monopoles.

Method:The road Sedjenane-Bourges de Monopoles running north crossed the Sedjenane marsh (about two miles), crossed the Sedjenane River, ran through a defile about 1000 yds broad and two miles long, crossed another river and then passed the hill Bourges des Monopoles.

The operation to be in three phases:

1) Two Companies up on either side of the road to cross the marsh and move north on either side of the defile.

2) Half way along the defile the third company was to follow up along the road in the defile.

These are the only parts of the orders which need concern us, except that a start time was arranged from the village of Sidi Mansour (about half way across the marsh) which should enable us to reach the ridge at first light.

There were to be two gunners with the DLI, both carrying their wireless sets. Myself with party as FOO with D Company, who were leading on the right, and a party from the Mediums with Battalion HQ. The medium gunner had not arrived at the conference which caused me some concern.

At the conclusion of orders, I organised my party on a 'humping' basis and moved to the assembly point. As the orders had finished very late, companies, particularly D Coy, were also very late and we did not move off until first light. At the assembly point I saw a Major with an 18 set walking on his own and asked him if he was a gunner; he replied 'Yes'. This reassured me considerably as I thought he was the medium gunner. (He is now Lt Col Worrall MC, OC DLI and was a Light AA gunner attached DLI for experience at the time).

We moved off in file across the marsh and my most vivid impressions of these moments are of the terrific volume of noise from the bullfrogs in the marsh, the extremely heavy dew on the grass, and the sight of the ill-clad soldiers of the Corps France D'Afrique rising from ditches, very sleepy and tired, as we approached the river.

C Coy, the reserve coy, stayed in the assembly area in the village. The bridge over the river was crossed first by A Coy, who were going to move up on the left of the valley and then D Coy who were to be on the right. A Coy moved towards the hills on the left and D Coy used the river to make their way across the other side of the valley. As D Coy were half way across the bridge, very heavy small arms fire opened up on A Coy from about 30-40 yds range, as they moved to the crest of the ridge and they were practically annihilated immediately. Heavy mortar DF fire opened up at the same time on the bridge and the riverbed along which D Coy were moving. A few casualties were caused but the Coy crossed the bridge and continued their advance to the hills on the right of the valley. BHQ and B Coy were now moving up the centre of the valley but halted on coming under small arms fire from the area which A Coy were to have covered. There was no news of A Coy except from a few demoralised, mostly wounded, stragglers, who told gruesome stories, which were later proved correct.

Whilst this was happening, I was accompanying D Coy HQ but received a message over the infantry net that the OC wanted me immediately. I moved back along the river bed to the area of the bridge and left my party, established my wireless set, and attempted to find the CO. My first effort was unsuccessful and I had to use some caution to dodge the attentions of enemy snipers. On my way back a mortar bomb blew me into a pool in the river and I had to swim 15 yds in my equipment to get out again. I rejoined my party and fired a target at the area from which I thought the small arms fire was coming, although I could not pinpoint it. This raised my morale and I set off again to try to find the CO. This time I succeeded as I met his runner and I took forward two signallers with a 21 set. After speaking to the CO, I established myself in the centre of the valley about 400 yds from the bridge. He told me that A Coy had been 'shot up', that B and D Coys had suffered some casualties, but that D Coy were going to press on: he was going to withdraw B Coy to reorganise: that he had no gunner with him: that I was to stay where I was so that he could find me again: that I was to fire smoke and HE at an area of the hill on the left which he pointed out to me, to aid the withdrawal of B Coy and to perhaps enable any survivors of A Coy to get out. I did this, and saw a few men of B and A Coys withdraw past me. After I had finished firing the time must have been approximately 1100 hrs. I could hear a lot of small arms fire from the hills on the right where D Coy were but could not give them any support as I was out of touch with them by wireless. In my own area and in the hills on the left there was no sign of enemy movement and enemy sniping gradually died down: infantry stretcher bearers cleared away the wounded and in turn disappeared.

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