Veteran Stories:
Geoffrey Jell

Army

  • "Ismailia Egypt on the banks of Suez Canal", January 1943.
    227 Field Park Company of Engineers just arrived in Egypt. Grouped on the Banks of Suez Canal Ismailia Egypt.
    The whole company together after 12 weeks ship voyage and now undergoing desert training in the Sinia Desert.

    Geoffrey H. Jell
  • Regular Army Certificate of Service, 1939-1946.

    Geoffrey H. Jell
  • Regular Army Certificate of Service, 1939-1946.

    Geoffrey H. Jell
  • Wartime wedding picture : Pauline and Geoffrey both 19 years old, April 11th, 1942.
    Church type weddings were not encouraged.
    Registry office officiated

    Geoffrey H. Jell
Enlarge Image
Listen to this story

"We just let go, we knew we had to win, we had to beat the Germans and that was it. Whether we, whichever way we did it, we had to do it, so that’s why we didn’t care."

Transcript

The date we arrived in Egypt was, oh, just around Christmastime, 1942. Just before Christmas. We didn’t really know that it was going to be a battle for Alamein. We knew that things were becoming exaggerated in certain areas, that with a million troops, that were in the desert for a start, we knew that something was going to happen there. And then when our operation, we were known as an E&M Company, Electrical and Mechanical Company, and our job of course was to make sure that all these suppliers were ready and that the many things that they needed were ready to go. But we weren’t given any information on when it was going to happen or to what extent it was going to be.

Coming off the ship, onto the docks and all our equipment was on the side of the banks of the Suez Canal, I thought, well, you know I’d better take a hammock with me and sleep on a hammock, not sleep on the desert. Well, I rigged this hammock up between boxes and it was fine until about 1:00 in the morning. Then it was so cold at nighttime that the cold air come up underneath the hammock and I just couldn’t stand that anymore. So down onto the desert I went and that’s how we slept, on the desert and we were like in the hussars tank camp as well. We all slept on the desert. We had no beds as such.

We had palliasters, they call them, they were bags that were full of straw. And we slept on those where we could get hold of the bags. Otherwise, we slept straight on the desert on rubber sheets.

We built dummy tanks for one thing, making them of cardboard and we’d move them from one area. I don’t know if you’ve had any historical information on that area but the Qattara Depression was 20 to 30 miles from the Mediterranean. So when the Germans approached into Alamein, they were confined into this restricted throat area. And now they didn’t know, the Germans had no idea where the attack was going to come, whether it was going to come on the north side, which was the Mediterranean side or the south side, which was the Qattara Depression side.

But they knew it was going to come, but they were looking at the strengths of the battalions and the most strength was with the Australian and New Zealand regiments. But they were moved from one side to the other. They moved it from the south to the north, north to the south. We put tanks in some areas where we knew there wouldn’t be any troops and of course, the German air force would periodically take aerial photographs, trying to pinpoint exactly where this push was going to come. But they didn’t really know because we kept moving.

And of course, we didn’t really visualize what the tactics were and why. But of course, General Montgomery did and he wasn’t going to tell us, you know. We just had to do as we were told. And we thought, well, gee, why are we moving here again? Well, why did we move back there again? Well, doesn’t he know what he’s doing, you know. These are the sort of things that went through our mind at the time.

And once that Alamein got started and we were, our job then was to make sure that all the facilities were in place and that the pumping equipment was ready and the minefields were cleared once the troops had cleared the front line. And then off we went into the desert and the first stop of course was Capuzzo and Tobruk. And then in Tobruk of course, it was completely smashed to pieces and our job then was to make sure that we’d put some of that stuff back into operation and pumping again, pumping gasoline into big storage tanks that the Italians had built. They were concrete storage tanks, they were buried in the desert and some of them were in Tobruk. And we had caves underneath these tanks, these one million gallon gasoline tanks, there were caves underneath. That’s why they called us the desert rats because we used to come out of those caves during the nighttime and pump our gasoline into these big tanks.

And we could hear at the time the amount of explosive charges, the guns that were being fired at the time. And it, they started off at about, I think were 900 to 1,000 guns that were started off firing into the German lines. And we could hear them many miles away because we were about 20, 30 miles in the rear at that time. But we could hear them even in Alexandria, which was 60 miles away, they could hear the guns going. And we knew that that was it,that was the start.

You’re in the desert and we’ve been away now for quite a long time. We thought, well, sheesh, the things that we’re going through and what is happening, we thought, well, we would like to go home but we’ve decided that, and it wasn’t just me, we all thought this, we’d never ever see home again, so we just didn’t care. And I think it was a good thing to do, to think of it this way.

We just let go, we knew we had to win, we had to beat the Germans and that was it. Whether we, whichever way we did it, we had to do it, so that’s why we didn’t care.

Yes, we were happy to see the end of the war, that’s one thing. When it did finally finish, we were happy to … Well, as a matter of fact, when we landed in Toulon, I thought, oh, at last, we’re going home. No way. We didn’t go home even then. But once we did get into, at home into England, of course we felt there were other problems. I mean, I was married in 1942 before I went overseas. My wife and I, Pauline and I, we were married in New York in 1942, just before we went overseas in April. Then I went overseas. So I’m back again and now I have a wife to worry about. So work was very scarce, food was still rationed. There were no housing. Everything was depressed. So that’s what we went back to – nothing. And that was the depressing part.

Looking back on the whole thing, immigrating to Canada, I think that the allied forces, the people, the soldiers and all those people that are engaged in the war that immigrate to this country should be looked at as veterans, not just for one country but forCanada as well as England. Not just England alone but here as well. I mean, we didn’t just fight for England, we fought the world …

Follow us