The stage was now set for the final thrust. Roughly speaking, two Armoured Divisions and two Infantry Divisions were concentrating in the Medjez area for the job.
The new task of the 78th Division was to cover the concentration – with orders that “under no circumstances” would it be interrupted. We took up our positions, the concentration was interrupted – and the final thrust commenced on May 6th.
It met with great success and by the evening of May 7th, it was known that our Armour had reached the outskirts of Tunis and in some places was fighting in the town itself.
The 78th Division was now given its last task – to tidy up Tunis, this task was sub allotted as under:-
11th Brigade – Carthage and the aerodromes to the north.
36th Brigade – to guard the northern flank.
The Irish Brigade – Tunis.
This was a fair and pleasant prospect for the Brigade. We’d been capturing Tunis in our imagination since last November. The name, Tunis, to us had a meaning all to itself. It conjured up ideas of cool marble palaces, real baths, beds, tables, chairs, washing in a basin, perhaps even pulling a plug. Actually, these ideas didn’t materialise, but this didn’t prevent our pleasant hopes.
It meant the end of a job well done.
We hoped it meant we’d soon get a rest. We also felt that the Brigade had been given great honour in being allotted Tunis.
Plans were made late that night for the 30 mile move forward at daylight and I went forward to a spot ten miles from Tunis to get my final orders.
The situation in Tunis itself was still a little obscure. There was supposed to be a good deal of street fighting going on, and we knew there might be a goodly number of Bosche there. We had to be ready to fight for it.
The main road, 10 miles from Tunis presented a curious spectacle that morning. Guns and lorries – practically nose to tail were thundering past us all bound for Tunis. As it would be a good two hours before my Brigade arrived – I thought I might as well get a closer view of the town and its street fighting – so I pushed my jeep into this long column – rather like a Derby Day – and sailed along with it. There was nothing war like happening on the Medjez – Tunis road. Once could hear the sounds of a battle about 6 miles to the north – there also seemed to be fighting going on a little to the south. But all was peace down our street.
After a few miles, we topped a rise, and there glistening in the early morning sun was Tunis. This was quite a moment.
Shortly after, we passed a mile long column trudging towards us on the dusty roadside. About 3,000 prisoners. Bosche and Italian, soldiers, sailors and airmen – a mixed bag. It was a pleasant – though smelly sight. No one was paying any attention to them – everyone was too busy on their particular job. But both sides seemed satisfied that they were moving in the right direction in the right manner. We passed several more of these pleasant – and smelly sights – before I reached the outskirts of Tunis. I soon found the chap in charge of the Armour – and got his news. He couldn’t give me much information about the street fighting. He said he hadn’t heard of much – but of course, he was only holding a few road blocks in the town and they were chiefly worried about too many prisoners. However, if we were really after a bit of street fighting, he thought, they’d probably oblige in the dock area, and the southern end of the town. I couldn’t see or hear any signs of fighting, and any of the local inhabitants, who were up at this early hour seemed to have on their best clothes and to have a festive air.
I hurried back to meet my Brigade to get them forward as quickly as possible – while the going was so good.
The London Irish and the “Skins” debussed at the entrance to the town. The former were to clear up the dock area, and the latter to go on parallel western routes clearing the remainder of the town. The sweep was directed towards the south. The “Faughs” took a roundabout M.T. ride, approaching the town from the south, in order to bag any of the little Herrenvolk, whom the “Skins” or the London Irish might get to bolt.
The troops were all loaded up with bombs, PIATs, mortars and petards – all set for a belly full of street fighting – and the last lap.
But we hadn’t included the people of Tunis in our plans.
Those good people had just begun to realise that their ordeal was over. The arrival of the tanks put this idea into their heads – but they weren’t quite certain about things until they saw the infantry – good solid infantry – trudging along the street. Here was somebody you could get at, clear, slap on the back, give wine, throw flowers at, embrace, kiss (I hereby place on record that I was kissed twice) and 300,000 people proceeded to do these very things. The battalions were engulfed. I had never seen anything like it. The inhabitants of Tunis had gone quite mad.
We hadn’t any street fighting. There was no fight left in the Bosche. He’d had enough. At any rate, it was an impossible – he couldn’t have seen us to shoot for the crowd – and we were a bit hampered too.
Every now and then we collected prisoners – 50 here – a hundred there just to show that our minds were still on our work; but everyone felt that they were a nuisance – and that it had just like the Bosche, the ill bred, thick skinned coot – to keep butting into a party, which didn’t want him. Two pictures stand out in my mind.
The good, solid infantry soldier – decent chap as he is – humping his load – and with a happy, smiling, sweaty face, pushing his way good humouredly through the crowded streets of Tunis. You could see that he thought all foreigners were a bit potty – but these were being potty in a nice way.
The second was Pat Scott on top of his carrier. His two great feet sticking out like twin bumpers, his pipe in his mouth, and a wide grin on his face. Three flowers of sorts had got caught in his shirt collar. The happy warrior at ease. Surrounded by a seething mass of pleasant lunatics.
It was a day none of us would ever forget, and it compensated us for much. It is sad to think of the number of good chaps who missed it. But what they’d done had made it possible.
The “Skins” and the London Irish pushed their way through Tunis and connected up with the “Faughs”, three miles south of the town. The latter had had a similar non fighting day.
The Brigade thus blocked the narrow strip leading from Tunis to Cap Bon; and I think that being in position before dark says much for Irish discipline – with our many distractions during an unusual day.
Brigade headquarters set up shop in a corn field and ended the day with a curious incident. A small party of Bosche was reported to be hiding about a couple of hundred yards away. Douglas Room and a few men of the Defence Platoon rounded them up. There were seven of the Hermann Goering boys. We’d started and ended the campaign with them.
After a few more days fighting – tidying up the approaches to Cap Bon – the campaign was over.
The Irish Brigade now got its rest.
They’d earned it.