1st December – ALGIERS.
0430 The rest of the Battalion marched 10 miles with full kit to Quai de Passageus.
0900 Bttn arrived at Quai and spent the morning lying in the sun. Ship is expected any minute then not until 1300hrs and then at 1400hrs. The Bttn split into two parties. F2 consisting of A & B and part of HQ under Major Wise and F3 C & D Coys and the rest of HQ Coy under the CO.
1430 The Bttn embarks for Bone.
1725 The convoy leaves harbour in a most beautiful sunset. The Navy very kindly gives the Army some whisky, gin and beer to be sold at Navy prices. The Doc (Wilson) makes an excellent barman. Great shortage of water on the ship as it had no time to replenish.
2nd December – AT SEA.
Ship along Quai at Bone 1100hrs and troops are very quickly disembarked during an alert and march 1 ½ miles to Tobacco factory.
Major Allen left Algiers for Bone with MIT party. It is found that Captain Kendal taking the transport off J3 landed at Bone on to Souk el Arba.
CO pays many visits to Camp Commandant to find how long we will remain here. General opinion is we shall move forward at once when complete as tactical unit. Co meets Brigadier Gough (ex 1 RIrF), who is commandant at Bone. The town is pretty but dirty and full of unpleasant smells.
3rd December – BONE.
0100 Orders received to send forward as many troops as possible in 9 TCVs. CO finally decides to send forward D Coy and part of HQ in 8 TCVs with ammunition. Lieut Buck(s) spends day trying to find battalion luggage landed at Bone off SS Aviva. He finds some of it in four dumps in different parts of the town, not even sorted into units.
1345 After certain difficulties the Rowlette force (D Coy, ½ A/Tk platoon, Signals, Mortars and ½ Pioneers) gets away and is told to report to GPO Souk el Khemis for further orders.
2030 CO, Major Maxwell and Adjutant dine with Brigadier Gough, who has a lovely villa on the sea front. C Coy have sea bathe. All Coys march into and visit Bone.
2230 Bombing ….some dropping near Bttn billets.
4th December – BONE.
From midnight to dawn, continuous bombing and AA from fire. Bosche drop many parachute flares. Eight or ten bombs drop near Bttn billets, which was a veritable death trap in the event of a direct hit. It is a two storey building full of glass – tobacco and troops and void of any fire extinguishers.
2100 Adjutant spends three hours trying to phone 6 Armoured Division and when he gets through can’t hear a word.
2115 Bombing starts and soon a patrol ship and ammunition ship explodes with a roar. Raid continues all night with the Hun dropping his load onto the harrying fire. Bttn building is shaken by a close stick of bombs.
5th December – BONE.
0400 Bombing ceases.
0915 Lt Cassidy and 50 men dig slit trenches for dockers. Quiet day. Most people busy packing presents they have bought in Bone.
1930 Orders received that a train party would proceed at 0418hrs on 7 Dec 42. At 2240hrs, orders received that the party would proceed at 0418hrs on 6 Dec 42.
2300 Lt Carruthers reported that the M/T party from Algiers was 6 miles outside Bone where it was harbouring for the night.
6th December – BONE.
0230 B Company parade and move off for the station.
Slight enemy air activity during early part of the night.
Orders were received during the day that the rest of the Bttn (Bttn HQ, HQ Coy and A & C Coys) will leave by road for Divisional concentration at Souk el Khemis tomorrow. All ranks spend day packing and reloading transport. CO will be glad to leave Bone because of danger from lack of sanitation.
7th December – BONE.
0430 Reveille, Bttn gets ready to move and leave the tobacco factory in the dark. – a difficult manoeuvre well carried out.
0700 Column moves off and takes route : Bone – La Calle Teboul – Lacroix – Fernana – Souk el Arba – Souk el Khemis. Many civilians in villages gave the V sign and in one place displayed French, American and British flags.
1530 Carruthers returned from forward recces with information that column is to go into harbour as road ahead was being heavily dive bombed. Bttn harbours and has a meal and all ranks look forward to a night’s rest when at 2100 Staff Captain arrives and says Bttn is to move forward.
2300 Column moves off – driving extremely dangerous and difficult.
8th December – ON THE ROAD.
Early AO. 1 TCV of No 14 platoon fell 50 feet down mountain side – 12 casualties – but none killed.
0500 After extremely arduous drive, Bttn is met at Souk el Khemis by guides and led to a harbour 15 miles further on in mud.
0730 Bttn all in.
0915 CO and Adjutant go to meet Brigade commander at Teboursouk for orders. Then recce a defensive front and move Bttn in at once. Everyone in battalions works splendidly and made the best of some bad staff work. Very heavy ran all day.
9th December – TEBOURSOUK.
Bttn holding defensive positions astride road : Teboursouk to Medjez-el Bab in very good anti tank localities. Everyone busy digging in and covered in mud. All ranks living in the open.
Brigade Commander and Commander Armoured Brigade visit Bttn at various times and CRA 6th Armoured Division.
Major Maxwell detailed for independent mission by Brigade. CO objects to his officers being detailed by name without his consent.
10th December – TEBOURSOUK.
1130 CO conference of Company Commanders.
1800 Lt Cassidy and his platoon of C Coy move to a position east of Goubellat whence they will carry out recces to try and locate enemy.
2050 Orders received that carrier platoon would recce road through Medjez for enemy as 30 enemy tanks were reported attacking Medjez.
11th December– TEBOURSOUK.
Carrier Platoon went out soon after first light to recce road to Medjez and returns at 1300hrs and reports no enemy in Medjez. Enemy since suspected on either side of road Medjez to Goubellat.
Brigadier and Brigade IO called during the morning.
Weather still showery which at least kept the dive bombers away.
1630 C Coy proceed to spend six days patrolling No Man’s Land and to report situation of enemy.
Lt McKenna assumes appointment of QM in place of Lt Carson.
2100 Liaison Officer arrives from Division, and ordered one section of infantry in 15 cwt to report to the French battalion in Testour for the purposes of liaison and shortening the L of C of Maxwell’s party.
12th December – TEBOURSOUK.
0930 CO and IO and Captain Rowlette went into Testour to visit the section there. Found them comfortably settled in and on good terms with the French.
1115 CO and IO walk out to see B Coy who are in a more exposed position that the other two Coys. Most of the men were drying their blankets etc in the sun.
1745 Section in Testour reported that the French there had two German prisoners dressed in civilian clothes.
2040 Divisional LO and ordered carriers to patrol Rd Medjez to Testour and to contact Guards Brigade at Medjez owing to enemy infantry infiltration across road Medjez to Oued Zarga.
2230 Carriers passed Bttn HQ on way to Testour.
2300 News anxiously awaited in vain from C Coy.
13th December – TEBOURSOUK.
0810 Information received from Carriers that patrols had been sent through Medjez and south to Guards Brigade and no enemy had been seen
0830 Warned of danger of parachute landings.
0830 Administrative conference at Bttn HQ.
0930 2 i/c went forward and recced Bttn alternative position. CO is told to … an Arab to go to Tunis but says that his job is not that of a spy, even though he is the only Arabic speaker in 5 Corps.
1000 FGCN on Corporal Black for drunkenness.
1300 News at last from Maxwell that his force had been heavily machine gunned and bombed on the previous day but C Coy itself had not suffered any casualties. His patrols had been sent out to locate the enemy.
1755 Message from Carriers stating no enemy ground activity had been encountered but plenty of enemy air activity.
Bttn HQ mess indulges in the luxury of eggs for tea at the expense of their precious cigarette ration. Opinion is divided as to the wisdom of the PNCs unconsulted decision.
Pioneer platoon have now finished road for transport in harbouring area and are now to set about an underground Bttn HQ.
Beautifully fine sunny day.
14th December – TEBOURSOUK.
0900 CO visits the gun lines of C Battery 152 Field Regiment RA who are in support of us. He goes to see the local Sheikh named Abdul Huq. He and the IO exchange greetings and the CO obtains information that is sent back to Brigade.
1200 Wireless silence is broken and information is received that one Coy is to be at 1/2 hr notice to move wef 1215 hrs. D Company is warned and Captain Rowlette goes immediately to 26 Armoured Brigade for a conference.
1215 A and B Coys warned that D Coy will be moving.
1300 B Coy send section to Testour to relieve the section provided by D Coy.
1815 D Company proceed forward as part of Combat Group consisting of 16/5 Lancers less 1 squadron, 1 Battery 72 A/T Regiment less 2 troops. 1 Squadron Derbyshire Yeomanry less 2 troops and commanded by OC 16/5 Lancers.
1930 No 8 Platoon who are guarding the battery in support fire at light on hillside which started to twinkle when enemy planes were overhead.
A Company moved across road and took up positions held by D Coy. So we now have one Coy on each side of the road in very strong positions but there is no depth.
2030 The last of the Combat Group passed Bttn HQ. It is thought the Group in harbouring this side of Testour is ready to strike at enemy attack on Medjez-el-Bab either from the west or the east.
2045 Co 2 i/c and Adjutant sit in the moonlight with a bottle of gin flavoured by the olives presented by the Sheikh Abdul Haq.
No news has been received from Maxwell for 48 hours.
Lt Hanna, who was sent to Bone on 12th for NAAFI supplies has not yet returned.
Brigadier wants name of officer for Divisional Camp Commandant.
Spencer’s name submitted.
15th December – TEBOURSOUK.
Quiet morning. 2 i/c goes out with Brigadier to complete a recce for a Bttn position.
1400 Lt Hanna returns from Bone having done over 500 miles and brings back truck full of NAAFI items worth about £230 including nearly 100 cigarettes per man, spirits and beer, soap (greatly needed) and many other things. A truly magnificent effort. He also collected the mail (first received) from FPO.
2 i/c gets busy allotting the stores and everyone is happy.
1430 CO and Adjutant go and visitD Coy now in Testour. They are well settled in and seem to have no troubles at all. The CO and Adjutant see two Arabs shot in Testour for looting after air raids.
Carrier patrols still go out nightly to patrol the road from Testour to Medjez.
Another fine day but the nights are getting colder with heavy dew.
16th December – TEBOURSOUK.
2 i/c busy clearing up the remainder of the NAAFI stores and collecting in thousands of francs. It is intended to send Lt Hanna back to Bone for refill of stores.
1300 Capt Ferriss (2 i/c C Coy) arrives back with news of C Coy and collects up NAAFI stores and mail. He also brings a letter to the CO from Maxwell. He says that Lt Cassidy who was sent out on patrol is 48 hrs overdue.
1630 Brigadier arrives. Has just been to Division and is worried by the news that the Adjutant and IO gave Divisional LO about enemy positions they received from Ferriss.
1700 The CO and Adjutant go to Divisional HQ and take letter received from Major Maxwell.
Another fine day.
17th December – TEBOURSOUK.
0545 Lt Hanna leaves for Bone to collect NAAFI stores.
0930 CO decides to have a bath. Before he is more than half undressed first the APN calls to see him and then the Brigadier.
1030 Xmas airmail letters are sent off with the hope they will arrive by Xmas. A general “make and mend” day. The RSM teaches Adjutant to ride a M/C.
1800 D Coy leaves Testour with their Combat Group and take up positions east of the Medjez to Goubellat road.
1830 Pioneers have finished the command post and the CO holds a house warming party for officers of HQ Coy.
2045 Brigadier arrives and warns the CO that the Bttn will be moving up to a line East of the Medjez to Bou Arada road tomorrow night with the intention of sending out patrols to as far east as the general line Pont Du Fahs to Ksar Tyr and to gain patrol ascendency.
2130 CO holds conference of heads of department in command post.
2350 Brigade operation order No 1 arrives – copy is marked C and attached.
18th December – TEBOURSOUK.
0645 CO and IO with 2 D/Rs and signals operator, AA guard and driver set off to recce new are with Brigadier.
0800 OC A and B Coys, and their D/Rs, Provost Sgt and MTO go forward to meet CO at El Aroussa at 0930 hrs.
1000 2 i/c holds conference and ties up ends for move.
1330 CO and IO return from recce.
1500 CO holds conference and issues Bttn OO No 1 marked D.
1730 A Coy moved off to take over from Coy of 2 LIR in area south of Goubellat.
1800 Main column moved off and arrived in new positions as laid down in OO No 1 by 2200hrs. Beautifully clear warm moonlight night which was just as well as the road was tricky and narrow.
19th December – IN THE FIELD.
0800 Difficulty in obtaining situation reports from Coys. ie C Coy at Goubellat and A south of Goubellat. 2 i/c spends busy day arranging the Q side of this formidable force now under Command. CO visits A and C Coys and takes IO.
2130 7 Platoon attacked by 30 German infantry who obtain 10 men as prisoners. Before the attack the Germans bombarded the area with 4.2 Mortar fire and one of the last shots set light to the platoon ammunition dump and probably dazed the section that was captured.
An exaggerated report was first reported to Bttn HQ by A Coy and Carrier Platoon was sent up immediately (25 miles) as mobile reserve.
Lt Cassidy and 2 fusiliers reported missed for 5 days. Lt Cassidy and his platoon went out on patrol. He sent back the platoon less 2 fusiliers as he said he could do the job better without them. He did not return.
20th December – IN THE FIELD.
0830 The CO and IO go to see A Coy along the El Aroussa to Bou Arada road. An ME 109 came out of the low flying clouds and put in a burst of machine gun fire through the car and disappeared within a few seconds. CO was hit on the right side of the head and IO through the skull. Also the AA sentry was slightly wounded. The driver (the only other occupant was not hit and was able to return to Bttn HQ immediately and collect the MO. They were all immediately evacuated to 165 Field Ambulance at Djebedi Ahmed, which was quite near at hand. MO returned and reported that the CO was not serious, Lt Carruthers grave and Fusilier Smith slightly hit. All three were later evacuated to MDS Thibar. Major Allen saw the CO at the Field Ambulance station before he left.
Major Allen spends day with A Coy and returns at 1700hrs. There is a stream of visitors all day and right up to 2359hrs to Bttn HQ of all units under command and from LOs from Brigade and Division. Brigade clamouring for information of A Coy show last night and also require more information of enemy prisoners.
Communication is not easy. A Coy positions are 8 miles in front of Coy HQ, and Coy HQ is 25 miles away from Bttn HQ along a road which is a death trap from the air by day. Bttn HQ is 30 miles forward from Brigade HQ.
Bttn now has under command a Squadron of 16/5 Lancers, Battery 152 Field Regiment, Troop 72 A/Tk Regiment, 2 sections 51 LAA Regiment, Squadron Derbyshire Yeomanry, 1 section 5 Squadron Royal Engineers, Sub section Divisional Provost Coy, Coy 1 Field Ambulance.
2200 Major Baxter arrived from Corps. He is a camouflage expert. The Pioneers go out with him and during the night erect 18 dummy tanks and 24 slit trenches with the aid of our Pioneer platoon at a point East of El Aroussa.
2300 B Coy takes over from C Coy at Goubellat and report the takeover is complete. C Coy comes back into reserve for a well deserved rest. Maxwell, in particular, has put up a good show and carried out extensive patrols and sent back interesting and useful information.
Major CHB Allen assumes command in place of Lt-Col Maccartney–Filgate evacuated to base. Lt Daly takes over duties temporarily as IO and has a very long day. Sgt Lloyd, Intelligence Sgt, also has a busy day and puts up a good show.
21st December – IN THE FIELD.
0830 All forward Coys report a quiet night. Lt Duke, B Coy, takes out patrols and confirms rumours that there are enemy in front of Coy positions. A Coy report no enemy patrols met during the night.
C Coy has a “make or mend” day in reserve except Maxwell who is acting as 2 i/c. He visits forward Coys and arranges patrols for tonight
1400 B Coy are dive bombed for half an hour and suffer three casualties – men in the signals operation but the set is ok.
1655 Major Allen gets warning order to move. There will be a conference at our HQ at 1930 to discuss it.
1950 Brigadier arrives and conference is held, the following attended: OC 152 Field Regiment RA, OC 92 A/Tk Regiment RA, CO 1 RIrF and CO 2 LIR. The new positions are agreed to. 6 Innisks to move up tonight and 2 LIR the night after.
2130 The Bttn moves off, and takes up positions around Goubellat.
22nd December – IN THE FIELD.
0400 Captain Houston OC B Coy is captured. Cpl Doyle states this is how it happened: “Captain Houston went forward driven by Cpl Doyle to look forward for 10th Platoon. After he got out of the car, he walked along the road for 30 yards. He crossed over the road several times and must have passed the enemy patrol before he was captured. Cpl Doyle, who was still in the truck, was pounced but was able to turn his truck and get away.
0450 On Cpl Doyle’s information, Major Maxwell and 6 picked men and 1 section of carriers go forward to investigate. A few shots fired, Maxwell attacked with grenades – definitely killed 2 enemy. A piece of grenade – probably thrown by the enemy gets Maxwell in the calf.
Night’s casualties – 2 Coy commanders, and 20 ORs and not even an identification to show for it.
1000 Adjutant goes to Division. Sees Divisional commander and explains last night’s show. CO spends day going around Coys and attends conference at Brigade HQ at 1800hrs.
It is decided to move Bttn HQ after dark to the protection of D Coy. Bttn HQ is not well armed. Most men are specialists and mostly carry pistols.
1800 Bttn HQ moves down the road to Goubellat and harbours in from where B Coy was dive bombed the day before. A fig farm with plenty of cover with a commanding view of enemy positions – the only evidence of the strafing the farm had the day before are two dead cows lying rotting in the yard.
23rd December – IN THE FIELD.
0600 Five fighting patrols are sent out during the night. The intention being to maintain patrol supremacy on Goubellat Plain, east of Goubellat. One patrol reported at 0600hrs that they had heard firing. The reported A/Tk gun found destroyed and another with the crew missing. There were signs of resistance of both gun crews.
1300 Sgt Maguire of Carrier Platoon, while out in daylight patrol captures 4 German prisoners (the Bttn’s first ones), three are wounded.
They were ably interviewed by Lt Daly our German speaking officer, and then the non wounded men sent to Brigade with all equipment. The prisoners were identified as 3 Parachute Div commanded by Lt-Col Koch. They were depressed because they could find any tanks.
2200 Patrols were sent out to search area east of Goubellat during the night. Lt Buck takes out two patrols and searches positions east of A Coy area.
24th December – IN THE FIELD.
Although did not get any prisoners, he brought back a full and comprehensive report about the whereabouts of the enemy.
25th December – GOUBELLAT.
A and C Coys move to new position north of Goubellat during the night and 2 LIR take over from them. Move was completed by 0725hrs.
1000 CO conference. Bttn will be relieved tonight by 1 RIrF and go into a reserve position behind Goubellat.
1300 Adjutant visits D Coy at 1300hrs and finds a good Xmas dinner being cooked. Coy HQ has roast turkey being carved with a jack knife and stuffed with chopped biscuit and tinned peas, followed by duff flamed with whisky. He then visits Lt George’s platoon and finds they have eleven chickens and 24 bottles of champagne. All this had been given to them by the owner of a French farm.
Royal Irish Fusiliers take over from the Bttn during the night and then Bttn goes into reserve, after its first taste of battle. We lost 1 killed and several missing. The experience gained has been enormous and the morale of the troops high.
26th December – GOUBELLAT.
A day of “make and mend” and reorganising.
27th December – GOUBELLAT.
Another day devoted to administration.
28th December – GOUBELLAT.
Orders received that the Brigade will take up a better position in the hills to our rear.
29th/30th December – GOUBELLAT.
0200 The Bttn transport arrives.
0215 The marching personnel sent out. It takes the transport column nearly 2 hours to go less than 4 miles.
0400 New farm is established in a farm where there are also some French soldiers. The morning patrol visited all fig farms south of the Goubellat to Mahmoud road, and found nothing.
1100 Enemy shell Goubellat and two enemy M/C combinations seen between Goubellat and Mahmoud.
1120 Enemy shells fall in area Sidi Mahmoud. It is possible 2 LIR who are on our left may be called away tonight. If they do so, we must hold their position as well as our own. Patrols are sent out but nothing is found during the night.
Information is received that 2 LIR will not be moving.
2330 B Coy who have been attached to 1 RIrF returns as Goubellat is now in No Man’s Land. They had to return via Medjez-el-Bab.
31st December – IN THE FIELD.
Daly went out with 2 platoons from C Coy to 2 farms where Germans were seen during the day. Returned soon after midnight with nothing to report.
CO spends morning going around Coys. 2 i/c ties up Q problems and goes to Teboursouk. New RC padre comes to lunch at Bttn HQ and padre with 2 LIR has lunch in command post. Lt Duke is interviewed by CO and is brought into Bttn HQ. CO decides to take Lt Mc Caldrin out of the A/Tk platoon and give him Duke’s platoon.
One platoon of A and one platoon of C came into Bttn HQ for the day for wash, shave, hair cut and rest. This was greatly appreciated.
Men want news. CO and Adjutant decide to produce a bulletin called the “Branch of the Sprig”. First copy is ready for distribution after breakfast.