I Was There! - I Was One of the Nine Who Came Back
The closing scene in the glorious stand of the 155th Field Battery R.A. on Feb. 26, 1943, in Tunisia, was briefly described in page 77 of THE WAR ILLUSTRATED by one of the nine survivors who got back to the British lines. The conclusion of Gunner Bryce's story (contained in a letter to his wife) appears here, by arrangement with the News Chronicle.
When we were finished at last I found myself alone and surrounded by Germans on all sides. It was dark. A miracle happened and it poured with rain, making it pitch-black so that you could not see in front of you.
Some Germans passed within one yard of me. My only means of getting away was to crawl through a river, over a field (Germans occupying this spot), and then over a road where German tanks were spaced every 20 yards apart. After taking four hours to crawl through the river (I was so weary I nearly fell asleep lying in it) I came to the road where the tanks were.
My heart was in my mouth as I slowly began to wriggle across the road with both the sentries on each tank looking at me. To me it seemed ages before reaching the other side, although it was only four yards wide. Every second I expected one of them to take a shot at me. After getting across the road I rolled in a ditch on the other side. Another four yards on I had to cross a single railway track which, being higher up, was more exposed.
That was also quite a job, as the stones which the track lay on were all loose (a couple did roll down and it sounded to me like the world crumbling). While halfway over the track a Very light shot up – right from the spot I had been in on the other side of the road. I thought I was sure to be spotted, but my luck held.
Getting over the road and the railway was a hell of a job, as my clothes were squelching with mud and water every time I moved. Anyway, after the railway, I continued crawling in the stream until the dark blacked me out (it was only the pitch-black night and rain that enabled me to do it). I was able then to get up and start hiking to the nearest mountains. I thought once up in them I would be fairly safe.
I did intend to lay up during daytime and move by night, making for a British base about 40 miles away. Anyway, during that night, clambering over rocks, etc., made so many wild dogs (Arab ones) start howling that I decided to keep going during daytime.
This I did and after four days – from Friday till Tuesday – I arrived at our base, just a bit worn out, dirty, etc., but after a wash, shave and some food was as right as rain again. Luckily I had my water-bottle with me and a bar of chocolate – which kept me going those four days (the chief thing I missed was a nice cup of tea).
I'll always remember on the Sunday afternoon around dinner-time I laid down to rest and, a bit peckish, thought of you back home and pictured you just having dinner – and all the lovely dishes I could be eating.
I went over several lots of ranges before sighting our base. At first it was very disheartening to keep on seeing more hills in front of you after you had just climbed one, but when I looked down in the spot I was making for I moved quicker than at any other time. That first night in the hills I felt like crying when I thought of all our fellows who are now missing. They were very brave and didn't care two pins.
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