25-10-1941 Letter from Tobruk (3 pages)

25/10/41                                                                       Pte Wotherspoon D.J.

                                                                                                                        D.Coy. 2/15 Bn.

                                                                                                                         A.I.F. Abroad

Dear Mother and everyone that loves me,


Well old darling I am writing what I hope will be my last letter from this land of sand and fleas. Tobruk is a lively scene these nights, troops coming in to relieve us and taking our chaps out. Some famous English regiment and one Scotts, pipes and all. Mine is the last Battalion of Aussies to leave. By the time this reaches you we should be back where it is nice and safe and I am looking forward to a spot leave in one of the big towns in Palestine . I haven’t had a day off so far. Passed through plenty of big towns but it was always in a convoy or train going from one camp to another.

          Old dear I am writing in a devil of a hurry, we only came out of the line 16 hours ago and I was one of the few very last to leave, five of us were left behind to do a creepy patrol in No Man’s land and we only caught our mates up here at breakfast time next morning – very tired –sleepy but happy we are always to come away from up there.

        Since then it has been one big bustle after another, handing over our gear to the chaps coming in, meeting them as they come from the Port in lorries and fixing them up in Douvers and eating places, we all have to help.

       We have also had to go through a rehearsal on getting on a Destroyer while a bombing raid is on, and believe me he has given our lads a lively send-off as each lot went out. Jerry is glad to see the Australians leave here. He is boasting already that as soon as we go he will take Tobruk, well he couldn’t while seven thousand Aussies were here anyway.

       Mummie what I want to tell you this time is about something that happened yesterday and to have you ready for it – you might happen to hear it. It’s about a recording that was made here yesterday – of the handing over of Tobruk – from the last of the Aussies to a Scottish regiment, and old sweetheart out of so many hundred men in the 15th. I was picked to do the part of the digger. The C/o hands over to the other C/o and so on right down and they make great speeches to one another, then handing over our underground homes, ‘Douvers’ is a simple matter, and this Scotty  lad is supposed to walk into my douver to take it over. Our Colonel told me he picked me for my Australian voice – so that’s that. The chap that made the record a B.B.C. man took all our names and who we wanted to notified about it, he wrote your address down Mum and said he would let you be informed to the very hour of it going over the air, but in case he forgets you could be ready –you might fluke it. They all congratulated me and told me I went over real goodo. I do hope you hear it old sweetheart. Now old Darling I can’t post this ‘till we get out of here – so I will add another page some time before posting. It is a 3 hr journey back to Alexandra from here and don’t they scoot along. I got very sick coming up and I may do the same on the return. Getting on here tonight is the worst part. Jerry sends over up to 20 bombers and gives us a rough time. We will be carrying a fair load and climbing up a rope ladder is no joke. But every one of the boys are so pleased to be getting away. Remember some have been here since April, well I only had ten weeks of it and it was enough for me for a start.

       My little platoon Sergt done me a great favour this morning Mum – there was a final service of old Soldiers out at the Cemetery early today and this Sergt Fred McGill knew I wanted to have a look there so he stood down for me and I took his place. It was such a lovely ceremony at the gate of the graveyard, they have a big Monument built and the Padre gave a beautiful Sermon. The bugler played The Last Post and Reveille and we done a bit of rifle work. I wanted to see the Cemetery to make a Poem up on the lads that are staying in this far off land. I will send it to the Women’s Weekly and I am calling it “Sleeping Heroes of Tobruk”. Must finish for this time old Darling, wish me luck for the voyage down and I will write you another page from there ere I send it.

      26/10/41      Well mother it is now Sunday and I am still in old hostile Tobruk – the Libyan land of dust – fleas – rats and Enemy. I am so very sleepy – tired at moment and my shoulders are sore from holding my full pack almost all night. I put it on – three blankets and ground sheet – clothes rifle and 100 rounds – full water bottle – 2 tins of bully and biscuits. I’d like to weigh it all, well I put it all on at 6.30 pm yesterday and I took it off here at daylight this morning. I rode in lorries into the bombed city walked a mile or so to the wharf – in small lighters over to an old wreck. Waited in spooky complete darkness for hours for the Destroyer that never come. What happened to it we don’t know yet. We have heard all kinds of tales but I think the Navy must have struck serious trouble.

       At last after waiting so long, we heard a loud voice roar “Prepare to move” Ah – thinks I, the Destroyer, I will be one of the first on. But instead I was one of the last back to our old Wharfe. So disappointing, everyone so sad, half our mates gone safe in Egypt , us turned back. What now? Out in lorries, not dozens – almost a hundred, still in darkness, a lurch and bump, I roll over mates, bruised a bit, our lorry has run off the road and turned turtle. And I scramble, some chaps can’t get up with their heavy packs. I help some up, we jam in other lorries in ones and twos, five trucks came to grief all told. Mind you this is such a quiet description. There were bright flares falling at times, our pretty ones going up in thousands, roar of planes overhead, bang bang of our Ack-Ack as they send up barrage after barrage, Boom, Boom, as he lets his bombs go, a screaming awful noise as one comes down nose first, aren’t we pleased, “Got him” we shout.

       It is the Poles first night on the transport driving, they cannot follow the dusty roads as the Aussies can, and officers are going crazy trying to make them understand. Finish walking the last mile home. I know the feeling now of a packhorse that has been carrying a heavy load all day. We tumble down in the sand anywhere, blow the Bombers, we are tired and sleepy and I slept till 9 o’clock . I just heard we are having another go tonight lets hope they get here this time. If not we are lost till the moon goes on again. Wish me luck once more Mum old sweetheart of mine. I send you all my love and I am always thinking of you and all my Brothers and Sisters. Cheers and I will write when I get below.


       11/11/41    Mother mine, here I am still in this old place Tobruk, the jolly old Destroyer never came for us and we have been here ever since – waiting for the old moon to rise and shine and fade away – so the big bold British navy can steam up to us and sneak us out in the darkness. Well our waiting days are nearly ended – or – so we hope and where would one be in a war zone like this – if he wasn’t game to hope. We hope to be leaving tomorrow night or it might be the night after that, still the navy will never let us down, it is the best cobber we have. In the mean time we have been doing plenty of work but in much nicer surroundings. We go out on working parties digging slit trenches for chaps to jump into during air raids and rigging tents over the hill at the beach hospital – we take dinner, Bully and biscuits and tea and sugar, and have it where we work. Every one is happy and the Tommy Officers often get a shock with the care-free Aussies. We are camped in a big valley called Wadi here, and we are in caves in the sides of the big stoney hills on either side. The big blue tideless Med. Ocean and we have all the swimming we wish for. I have had more surfing than ever I had before. Jerry doesn’t shell us here, but he sends over his bombers and drops – what the boys call his fresh eggs – but he don’t do much damage. When I hear them whini down Mum, I and everyone else too – fall flat on the ground, that’s if I am outside walking about, if in my Douver I huddle close to the stone wall and I hold my breath as it hurtles to the earth, and then the explosion – perhaps five or six all told and I say to myself I’m not hit – another let off and we all come out, ask where did they land, who was hurt, there is always some unfortunate cops it, and we go with the stretcher bearers and help carry the wounded down. Sometimes he waits till we all run out and whirr – down he comes again and opens up with his eight big machine guns and sprays bullets about like hail in a December storm out west. But thank my lucky stars – I have never been under that kind of fire yet.

       Each company have a cook of their own here and we eat in Platoons, mine about 26 strong, all get in a big cave and have our meals. At night there is a wireless over in an English Officers Quarters and we go over and stand outside in the cold, dark and hear the news at 8.O’clock. All the news here comes relayed from an African Station. The dust storms are getting worse and worser and hardly a day passes without one. But our present worries will soon be over. There is a feeling that every one of us poor old left behinds will get a week leave down in Palestine . I have a tenner in my pay book and am looking forward to seeing some of the famous towns of the Promised Land. Jerusalem should be interesting for a few days. I will send you a parcel from one of these places Mum, some small souvenir which I will decide on. You may not receive it until some time next year. There is a rumour that after we are rested and reequipped we will be going up to Syria – but I will let you know more about that at some later date. I will close once more, the big red Libyan sun is sinking over the escarpment Hill and the boys are coming out of their holes like rabbits, for their stew and rice or maybe tonight its macaroni so I will have to jog along or miss out, so cheerio old Sweetheart and fondest love for this time.

  From Dave