Tobruk diaries: Keep your ear to the ground
Bryant’s diary: Friday 10th October 1941
The day again was quiet, but artillery dispersed a small number of enemy on our front. I was detailed to take a party of seven men to Bir el Aziz to help make it into [a] strong post. We were just about to get on with the job when the Hun threw everything at us. Besides a variety of field guns he used a heavy gun of between 8in. or 9 in. calibre. The barrage was terrific and beggared description. To be there was...hell. During the first period the blast from the big shell rolled me over several times. During the second period of shelling we were ordered to retire during the next lull. This we did and eventually reached our lines. All my party returned safely, but a couple were so badly shaken that they won’t be much good for a while. We lost two rifles and one man received a slight wound on the wrist. The Hun shelled our positions all that night without break.
Cosgriff’s diary: Friday 10 October 1941
Usual blitzing – flares all over the place and making it look like fairyland. No Mass today. Very sick from painful night and ear a thousand times worse. Back to M&B and the hot water bag. Painful all day and it looks like a mastoid now. Len has me down for evacuation lying. Kyle to lead the advance party. Two bombs on beach hospital last night but one failed to explode. Not interested in much today. Pain eased off towards evening. Barbitone to make me sleep...
Bryant’s diary: Saturday 11th October 1941
Intensive shelling continued until almost 10 o’clock this morning. With the exception of occasional machine-gun fire from Bir el Aziz, which the enemy occupied in the night, the day was reasonably quiet. During the night 14 Infantry tanks and two platoons of “C” Coy are to attack Bir el Aziz, but enemy shelling was such at the vital moment that zero hour was made two hours later. The position however, was taken without any casualties, but our men immediately withdrew. During the night one of my men became suddenly ill and I did his patrol in front of the wire during the height of battle. Methinks this fellow was a cunning hombre, as artillery and mortar fire was very heavy. Our post received the heaviest drubbing, but we suffered no casualties. All became quiet at 3:30 in the morning.
Cosgriff’s diary: Saturday 11th October 1941
Bombs close during night and one in our paddock... Another bomb at beach – just outside officer’s mess... Tanks in show last night – knocked 3 off Jerry’s but I think 17th best in op. ’Sky and beer for the patient. All out kit bags went off today. Small mail in – Gardy, Tim, Elsa and Toozes. Ear much better today but still running freely – take alkaline after the M&B and it is not so bad... Heywood says he will be coming away with us. Letters from Marsh and he is not having much fun – Douglas Thomas will be returning to 4th. Eyetie officer taken prisoner last night...
Bryant’s diary: Sunday 12th October 1941
Just on dawn the enemy just drove up in trucks and occupied Bir el Aziz again. Cheeky as you like. Our ration truck can’t even get up to our post in the dead of night. Occasional bursts of machine gun fire were sent over our post without result, but on the whole a fair day. Late at night or early in the morning our post again received a hammering this time by hundreds of mortar bombs with casualties again. Our tanks went out once more last night, but any fighting they did could not be heard at our post.
Cosgriff’s diary: Sunday 12th October 1941
Blitz again – severe but did not last long... Could not say 2nd Mass as I had to go back to bed. Evacuating 320 of us tonight – me on a stretcher. Farewell to Crouch today. Eyeties attacked last night. Poles cleaned them up. Ear much better today. Send off with Red Cross beer etc at 4 pm. To No 6 wharf at 5:30 by ambulance – crowded with stretchers and very hot. I felt dizzy and perspired all the time. Slept at 10 pm. Carried out at 11:30 and left under the stars. Plane over dropping flares. Rush to get us aboard. I was nearly last on. Destroyer crammed full and I slept as soon as I was put down. Vale Tobruk. Our advance party on board...
Bryant’s diary: Monday 13th October 1941
The day was like the former ones with a machine-gun on our post most of the day.
Cosgriff’s diary: Monday 13th October 1941
No trouble about sleeping here – no war on at all. First thing was to enquire about my case but it just did not come – stranded now and feeling miserable. Read nearly all day and walk about the joint. Mary’s is just at the back of us... Major Voad keeping his eye on my ear. Discharge less and I am hoping it is OK. Met Gay Hill today and she is coming for a yarn tonight. Lent Ken Smith 2 pounds – he had a day’s leave – bought a shoddy dressing gown and a bottle of beer for me, most of which he spilt on the floor. Most of the officers are subalterns and pretty dry...
Bryant’s diary: Tuesday 14th October 1941
I had to take out a recce patrol in the night. We walked fair into fixed line machine- gun fire and the bullets whistled around us, but nobody was hit. We run [sic] into nothing for the rest of the patrol but expected to strike something any tick of the clock.
Cosgriff’s diary: Wednesday 15th October 1941
Slept like a log. Bath each morning here. Received an issue of boots, shorts and a shirt. No convoy in so no hope of my case coming. I am to go to 2 A.G.H tomorrow. Long yarn with Geoff Morris and they expect to move too. Idea seems to be no Aus. Hospitals in Egypt. Our advance party has gone up to Beitjinga but no news of final destination. One nurse here is tough as a wharf-labourer. No priest here and I live like a heathen now. Gay Hill and I talked for hours tonight. She wants to be married and become a VAD. I think I convinced her. Nurses here do well in the romance business...
Bryant’s diary: Wednesday 15th October 1941
We spent most of the night guiding infantry tanks to our post from which position they go outside the perimeter. We had to make a gap in the mine field and wire and close it up when the tanks finished their works. The tanks arrived all right but didn’t go out and we did all the work for nothing. This is an extra duty for the platoon.
Lecky’s letters: 15 Oct ’41
...I met [Chester Wilmott] ...the other day. Haven’t heard any of his broadcast but in reality heard those you heard and how! I was about a mile away at the time and saw the bomb fall – it was a very lucky shot...A huge flash of orange flame shot skywards followed by a pelt of thick grey smoke and debris which ultimately feathered up for several thousand feet. I ducked behind a mound to dodge the blast but even then it nearly knocked me flat. It went on “going off” for many hours with numerous minor bangs for hours afterwards...
Cosgriff’s diary: Thursday 16th October 1941
All good nights here...Fletcher told Johnston off today for saying it is a young man’s war. Allison Fletcher and I left for Kantara at 11 am. Busy stations and long crowded train. Lunch – scrambled over troops and luggage to dine... Met English officer – Somersets and talked to him to Ben-ha where we changed trains. The other two wanted to go on to Cairo but took my advice. Fletcher had a doz and a bottle of ’sky – beautiful country – streams and feluccas at night ships with head-lamps in the canal... no one to meet us. Scrambled to 2 A.G.H met Arthur Amils and admitted...