Tobruk Diaries: Illness, Moans and Mutiny
For information on the locations mentioned in this blog entry, see the Eastern Mediterranean map in chapter 1, page 5 of the Second War official histories:
Bryant’s Diary: Friday 28th February 1941
We travelled all last night and arrived at East Kantara this morning where we had breakfast. We crossed the Suez Canal and boarded a train. We travelled all day for Mersa Matruh. At a railway station called Tanta a...“Gyppo” robbed me of 20 piastres when I brought some bread. He paid some of my change in Italian money. I spotted it though, but the train started to pull out and all I could do was to abuse him. When we got into the desert we ran into a couple of beautiful sand storms and you couldn’t see more than ten yards in front of you. Then we ran into rain. As a matter of fact it was very cold.
Cosgriff’s Diary: Friday 28th February 1941
Pino defunctis [For the dead]. Len lit fag off candle after Mass. Packed by 10 am, rolled tents, lunch at 11:15 hard ration of biscuits and herrings. Lorries...thin on board, Knight of Malta and filthy small tub – Captain English, crew Greek, R.A.F. Navy and us aboard. Sailed 4 pm – no meal served. Seasick at 8:30 and to bed. Storm met at 10 pm and...everybody sick, troops flooded in holds. Vomit, blood and ruined uniforms. J. Horan mending wounds all night. (Month spent in Egypt doing nothing. Good times at Alex. Wrote many letters – received few. No word of parcels sent from Colombo).
Bryant’s Diary: Saturday 1st March 1941
We arrived at a station and were transported by M.T. to military barracks at Mersa Matruh. It was cold and we hit the place about 6 o’clock this morning. We were allowed to sleep until 2 o’clock in the afternoon. We cleaned up around the place and during the afternoon some land mines went off and nearly shook the place down. We had two rum issues today. Two blokes couldn’t drink theirs so I showed them how. I missed out in the second issue.
Bryant’s Diary: Sunday 2nd March 1941
We had a quiet day today. We went for a march in the afternoon to the township of Mersa Matruh. I imagine that this was a pleasant holiday resort in peace time, but now it is only a ghost town – practically deserted. The scars of war are evidenced by the damage done by bombs to various buildings. There is no doubt about the effect these bombs have. Where they hit is nothing but destruction while shrapnel arks can be seen on the buildings around the craters. Of course, Gyppos, living up to their reputation, went for their lives, soldiers and all, and haven’t come back yet. When we finished we went and had a swim in the Mediterranean. We received our orders tonight to get ready to move on in the morning. It looks as if we are going up to the front.
Cosgriff’s Diary: Sunday 2nd March 1941
No Mass – too rough – and everyone too sick and no room. Navy has taken over ship and set it on its course. Sea a bit better. Had tea made with salt water – no fresh water. Helped clean ship and empty that filthy stinking hold – uniforms, hats, bags ruined – horrible show this morning. Drank lemonade – sick again – no shave yet. Stew for dinner – first meal since Friday. Passed Sidi Barrani – wasting time as Tobruk port open only from 9 am. Hope to arrive tomorrow early.
Bryant's Diary: Monday 3rd March 1941
We left by truck at 9 a.m. and arrived at Buq Buq at about 5pm. The trip was made over pure desert. During the journey we passed a considerable number of abandoned and destroyed war material. Sidi Barrani was in complete ruins.
Cosgriff's Diary: Monday 3rd March 1941
Awakened at 3:50 am by grounding of ship. Plenty of bumps and breakers visible – coast steep. Order to abandon ship – only water bottles to be taken. Three men off in the life-boat with life line – 12 volunteers to haul life-boats ashore and abandoning starts – Only the boat-load overturned – injuries not severe. I nearly last off – in water to waist. One meal floated ashore – one meal and then off for the road – 6 miles. R.A.F. and free French with no water. Hit road at 5pm. Caught Aussie truck – oranges and water. Two sick parties left. Tom and the donkey transport. To British C.C.S at Bardia. Meal wine cognac and good beds.
Bryant's Diary: Tuesday 4th March 1941
Left Buq Buq this morning hit Sollum just before lunch. Sollum was badly knocked about, but it is hard to understand how the Italians lost any engagement here. On the Libyan side is a very steep spur which completely dominates the township. We passed through barbed wire entanglements in Libya. Just beyond the border stands, or lies in ruins to be exact, Fort Capuzzo. We only passed on the outskirts of Bardia and the only thing of interest was the enormous number of smashed trucks in a gigantic wadi. All along the road were captured Italian guns and material as well as crashed planes. Tobruk is a pretty place and the approach to the port is very scenic. We camped just west of the township. During the night I ran into Les Short, Arthur Reilly, Noel Ford, Broughton...and Jack Delph of the 2/4th Bn. They were all well and had passed through the actions unscathed.
Cosgriff's Diary: Tuesday 4th March 1941
Awake and poverty-stricken – one razor among 14. Got boots clean eventually. Party to ship to see if salvage possible. Meet of officers, wrote home. Plenty of Eyeties here – aota Catholica. To Bardia in afternoon – well shelled – only 4 Aussie graves. Land mines and Creek bombs. Millions of pounds worth of Eyetie stuff. News this arvo of possibility of salvage. C.O. – hopeless – not raising a finger to do anything- wired Burston – everything lost. Australian beer arrived 8 accas a bot.
Bryant's Diary: Wednesday 5th March 1941
We spent all day at Tobruk and the majority of the fellows spent the day throwing “Eyetie” hand grenades and firing their rifles. One or two were slightly hurt, and it was a wonder some were not killed. Doug Benham had one lob at his feet, but only suffered a few scratches. Some of the boys drunk some of the Cognac and nearly passed out. They were very sick.
Cosgriff's Diary: Wednesday 5th March 1941
Awakened early – to embark at 6:30 at Bardia – Moans and Mutiny – Scare. Eggs for breakfast then trucks to ship – rough ride of 12 miles. Good quantity of stuff on shore. All my gear ashore including Mass kit D.G. All worked to shift stuff from hold – up to trucks. Sergeants looking – plaque of S.H. missing. Stew for dinner – R.A.F and French a nuisance. Camels and donks – paid in ship’s bucker? Good day at beach with a wreck – 14 ft in sand – to play with. Terrible ride home. Saturday in dust – Mass kit – kit bag here, case and trunk to come. Cooper, Steel and Ackland to go ahead tomorrow. Mass Cras [Mass tomorrow].
Bryant's Diary: Thursday 6th March 1941
We set sail for Derna and the road was pretty good all the way. The convoy suffered its first casualties when it was attacked by dive-bombers. Two men from the 2/13th (an officer and private) were killed by machine-gun bullets. Two trucks and one sedan were destroyed. Derna is a very attractive town with palm trees and the typical white, angular buildings of the Near East. A steep winding road from the precipitous heights unfolds beautiful panoramic scenery. At the Derna aerodome are about 16 or 17 destroyed Italian planes wrecked on the ground. Two 2/17th Bn men were injured when they were run down by a motor truck during the black-out. I had a swim in the sea and felt a lot less grubby.