March 2nd

I contacted C Coy Commander, attended his orders and worked out a small fire plan. His attack was to take place at 0600hrs. I packed up my OP and moved with C Coy HQ to the area of the start line at approximately 0515hrs. Attempts to tune to D Troop gun position failed, and after some difficulty I returned to 449 frequency. The fire plan came down successfully (it consisted of three small concentrations) and the attack with two platoons forward started on time, which was just after first light.

The reserve platoon and C Coy HQ with myself moved forward as the leading platoons got about half way to their objective. At about this time very heavy MG fire and mortar DF opened up and the leading platoons were completely pinned down. The reserve platoon was despatched but similarly could make no headway Contact was lost between Coy HQ and the platoons, and by this time Coy HQ was coming in for some of the enemy's attention.

I fired HE on to the objective crest and a smoke screen to try to get the platoons forward, but the heavy MG fire continued through the smoke. The Coy Commander and I decided that we should move back to the area of the start line, which was a reasonably good OP area, to try to get some control of the situation. As we came through a defile on the way our parties were separated. I left my OP party at a suitable point near the end of the defile and set off alone to recce an OP. I had walked about 20 yds into the open when two Bosche with a MG opened up at me at a range of about 50 yds and out of the corner of my eye I saw British soldiers being rounded up as prisoners about 200 yds away. I didn't stay long to investigate but ran back to my party, told them to grab the wireless sets and leave hastily and independently for a rocky area which I pointed out about 200 yds away to the SE. We did this, chased by four Bosche with two MGs (as far as I can remember there were four of us with one rifle and one revolver).

We carried water bottles strapped to the back of our webbing, that is covering the small of the back, my OPA felt a blow in that part and dropped as though dead: he had been smoking a cigarette which he continued to hold. The Bosche walked past him and as the remainder of us got under cover they walked away. He rejoined us and rattled a bullet in the inside of his now empty water bottle. After this it became a standing order with my party never to be relaxed, that water bottleswould always be carried in that position.

By this time there were no other British soldiers in sight and it was obvious that the enemy had successfully counter-attacked and mopped up. I withdrew to Bn HQ whilst Major Hudson fired smoke and HE in an attempt to extricate any of our men who could get away. On arrival at Bn HQ I met Major Hudson, found that he had brought up Lt Silvers to take over an OP at the mosque. The attack had been a failure and the DLI had suffered very serious casualties again and were now less than a company strong. C Coy Commander and his Sgt Major had got away but the other Coy Commanders were missing.

I was now sent back with my party to the battery waggon lines and arrived there at approximately 1500hrs. I found that the battery captain had made general preparations for all round defence of his area: under his leadership the drivers etc were concerned about the situation but in good heart, particularly as some troops across the road had withdrawn quickly leaving rations and tea which our chaps did not propose should be allowed to waste.

Major Hudson called on his way back to the gun position, having left Lt Silvers in position at the Mosque, My OP party reorganised and had a meal at approximately 1700hrs. Capt Welsh received a message from RHQ that the 6 Lincs were taking up a defensive position in the village of Sedjejane and that he was to report to their CO as soon as possible as OP officer: a battery commander of the 5th Medium Regt, Major Tighe, was going to act as LO at Lincs Bn HQ. The waggon lines were approximately half a mile on the west side of the village, and after taking over and equipping my carrier, Capt Welsh set out to join the battalion.

During this time stragglers were coming past the waggon lines and rumours reaching us said the Foresters, in a defensive position east of Sedjejane had bean fiercely attacked and disintegrated, that the only troops now east of the village were a troop of Commandos and the guns of 449 battery. At about this time, too, mortar bombs fell near the railway close to the WLs and shelling could be heard in the area of the village and to the east of it. I was now in command of the WLs and I doubled the pre-cautions for defence of the village area, as the sounds of battle came much nearer and some of the stragglers reports were alarming even if obviously exaggerated.

At about this time, approximately 1600hrs, a report was received that casualties had occurred on the gun position. Armstrong, F Troop Bren gunner, had been wounded by shell splinters and that Barker was missing after going out from the troop position as the gun position was under occasional SA fire.

The BC's carrier now arrived at the gun position under Sgt Milner, with the body of Major Blaxland, OC, 279 Battery. We learned that control had been lost in the Forester battle, by both infantry and gunners, and that there was no news of the FOOs with the Foresters. Major Blaxland had set out in his carrier to reconnoitre the position and find out what information he could, when, just round the corner from the battery gun position he had met the leading vehicle of a force of German AFVs at about 30 yds range. After engaging the enemy with a tommy gun he had ordered his carrier crew to withdraw under his fire and had been killed by MG fire and grenade. I detailed BSM Gooden to prepare a grave, and fortunately as Major Blaxland was being buried, Padre Hunter arrived and was able to read a short service.

NEXT

HOME