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March 4th

The enemy attacked fiercely in the village itself and the coy there was almost eliminated: the reserve company was despatched to counter-attack but after gallant fighting failed to clear the village during darkness. During a short spell of quietness an attack developed against the sector immediately in front of BHQ. A German officer, for about two minutes, amidst complete silence, shouted out his orders to his troops : he then cried the signal for attack and the inferno started up again with the Bosche shouting and singing, enemy concentrations falling on our positions and the terrific roar of our own MGs and Brens. This lasted for about five minutes (time approx 0100hrs) and then quietened down except for the screams of wounded and cries in German and English for stretcher bearers. A wild figure, shouting 'Kamerad' jumped into the BHQ area and was found to be one of our own men who had been captured in the village and stripped of his equipment, but had then escaped and did not know where he was.

Shortly afterwards I got my line through and spoke to Capt Welsh. My phone was in the culvert under the railway. I had just found that he and party were OK when there were two very bright flashes and bangs in the tunnel, which could not have been, more then 10 yds from me. Enemy had found their way to the opposite side of the railway embankment and had thrown grenades into the culvert. I did not stay to investigate and had just got clear when an MG opened up firing through the tunnel. [Number] 36 grenades were thrown in retaliation. During this time the men in BHQ and my own men had been deployed defensively with weapons at the alert. My wireless set was out of touch with the Regiment and I think the brigade set had also lost contact. Major Tighe did not return from Brigade.

Towards dawn the enemy continued sporadic attacks and it was obvious that the enemy who had infiltrated could not be cleared until daylight. The RAP which was in the railway tunnel in the villge was cut off with the enemy on the top of it. My attempts to call for DF failed but just before dawn the brigade set got through on key. The signaller was taking a high priority message, but I told him to use any priority he liked but to get through immediately a message to gunner SUNRAY at brigade a call for all SOS and DF, and to keep firing until told to stop. This quickly came down absolutely magnificently and at about the same time my own set regained contact. Apart from raising everybody's morale by at least a l00, apparently one of these DFs caught an enemy dawn attack and broke it up completely.

Soon afterwards I contacted Capt Welsh and laid a fresh line to him, so that gunner support was again co-ordinated and he took control by observation. I relayed orders to the battery by wireless to Lt Hancock, (GPO 279 Bty), and at the same time brought down fire as required by Col Myrtle. The infantry now commenced mopping up but it was found impossible to clear the enemy firmly established in the village, and some of the enemy snipers were never dislodged so that BHQ area amongst others was not healthy for the unwary. Enemy attacks continued with heavy shelling and mortaring and it was obvious that we were being attacked in greatly superior strength (it was later realised that we were opposed by seven battalions, and it was also found that the enemy thought he was attacking a division. At first light, one of our bren gunners hit an enemy ammunition vehicle which exploded with a terrific roar and covered the area with a pall of smoke. A Churchill tank was 'brewed up' which added to the cloud.

Our guns were firing continuously with very good results except for one unfortunate incident when a series of short salvoes (I'm not sure but I think medium) fell on the cookhouse at Bn HQ and killed three men. Capt Welsh was controlling DF fire on enemy attacks of as many as 100 men, and the tank squadron was doing magnificent work. During the morning the Lincs 2-in-C went back to report the situation to the brigadier. Towards mid-day the Commandos on our right flank in the area of the mine were overwhelmed: it goes without saying that they had fought to the last and I think I am correct in saying that their survivors were less than 10 in number.

Whilst I was talking to Col. Myrtle he was wounded, his 2-in-C had returned by this time and after a great deal of persuasion, and after the final plan had been made, the CO was evacuated. Enemy small arms fire had now worked completely round both our flanks and was well to the rear. The final plan, therefore was one of withdrawal, to prevent the battalion from being surrounded. It was my impression at the time that the Lincs were the only surviving battalion in the area but apparently a battalion of Guards was on its way to take up a position in our rear. My own appreciation of the situation (not of any practical value, I must add!) was therefore that our only hope was to withdraw whilst there was still a possibility of doing so and attempt to form a new defensive line. (When I first heard of a withdrawal I realised that there was still a hope for us, because otherwise it had become apparent that it was to be a fight to the last man, and most of us had given up all hope, except to die at great cost to the Bosche--true, but perhaps too melodramatic!?)

The withdrawal plan was to evacuate each company in its turn as an ordered body, leaving behind a small covering party of mortar and brens manned by about half a dozen men under Major Bell. A Coy, Capt Welsh and myself in our carriers were to be the last to withdraw before the covering party. A check post was established by the adjutant about one and a half miles down the road: three tanks were to remain behind to move last behind the infantry, and before everybody withdrew they were to fire as much as they possibly could. Capt Welsh and myself were timed to leave at 1445 hrs. I told Capt Welsh to evacuate his OP which he did successfully with all his equipment, and we then got together and laid on a big fire plan to make as much noise as possible and to cover the known enemy infantry approaches whilst the battalion slowly evacuated. By this time one or two companies had left the Sedjenane area on their way back, and as the area was under Bosche observation as far back as the check post and beyond, the enemy realised what was happening and brought down a terrific volume of HE fire, particularly on the area of the bridges, in the rear of the battalion position, and along the road. Our guns, tanks etc, were also firing at rapid rate and the volume of noise was intense. When the time came for Capt Welsh and I to go, the evacuation had proceeded in very orderly fashion and well up to time so that apart from two or three men of the covering party there was nobody in sight. I set off first, but as the route out was along a riverbed and