"But I was not a pacifist. I was just as much a coward as anybody else. I think we were all scared out of our wits."
My regiment was 116th [Royal Welch Fusiliers] Light Anti-Aircraft [Royal Artillery]. And we went with 46th Division. In North Africa, the function of the light, when I say, talk about a light anti-aircraft regiment, they used the 40mm Bofors guns, which fired at low flying aircraft and just in daylight, they were no good. And they fired tracer shells. So our job was to protect the road, there was only one road up to the front and our job was to protect it from it. And the Germans, who happened to be the ones we were fighting against at the time, they had quite a number of aircraft that they used and they used their fighter planes for coming over and dropping one bomb or strafing the road as they called it, machine-gunning it with machine guns. And that was for a while and about from January 1943 to April 1943, when the Germans had a few more planes than the British. Because the German Air Force, as it was, they’d come all the way from El Alamein [Egypt] and they were all concentrated in this corner of, of Africa, Tunisia. And they had aerodromes at Tunis and Mateur and Bizerte. The British had a squadron of, seemed to us there were only six but they were Spitfires, at a place called Souk el Khemis [Morocco], which are about 100 miles behind the front. It was pretty hectic for a while and the Germans would come over every day and the road was winding in and out between the hills. And they would come down about 100 feet and just pick a piece of road and if there were any trucks on it, just machine-gunned it.
So as a result, most of the trucks, you’re not to, A, travel close together, about 200 yards apart and B, not travel in daytime unless they had to. And I remember one day in particular, in March, they had to move some troops on the R front, the large brigade, from the south of the division, south of the front and daylight because the Germans had attacked in the north. And they had to do the last few miles of the trip in daylight and we knew it would be pretty hectic. So my battery commander took me and his wireless set and we went away from battery H.Q. [headquarters] and set up beside a road. And as soon as it was dawn, the Germans came over, two at a time, and just machine-gunned the road. And we had to drive up the road to one of the guns and it was pretty scary.
The practice was because it was so dangerous to do it, they did it in daylight, you had to have two men. There’d be one man standing in the truck looking to the front and one looking to the rear. Because you had about two or three seconds to get out of the truck if they were going to strafe the road. I remember, we went out on this particular day and we’d only just started and we, somebody yelled that there was a plane coming. So we got, we stopped the truck and jumped off and went, ran off the road. It turned out to be one of these big cranes, a bird, but we were so scared that we didn’t…
However, we went along a bit and, and a plane had just strafed the road in front of us and there were, some of the guards had been hit. And we stopped to see if they could, we could help. But we went on and we went up to the place where we were going to, it was a road juncture called Djebel Abiod. And while we were there at one of the guns, there was a German Messerschmitt [Bf] 109 [a German World War II fighter aircraft] came over. And he flew out only about 100 feet, right, and he dive-bombed the road and he dropped a bomb, a 250-pound bomb right on the road. And the darned thing didn’t go off. It was a dud. And then we went back that way and we passed this great hole in the road. But it was just another bit of the charmed life, to my mind, God must have spared me or something because I could have been killed many times and some of my friends were but I, I came through. So I figured that God maybe had some further purpose for my life and that’s why I became a clergyman. I went to Trinity College.
But I was not a pacifist. I was just as much a coward as anybody else. I think we were all scared out of our wits. But it was the senselessness of it, you know. Now, I was ordained in 1951. Next year it’ll be 60 years. And I’m used to seeing people dying, all my life like nothing. And I’ll be 90 this year, so I expect to die any day now. But the thing that I remember about the war was they were so young, the people that died, we were all, you know, 22, 23 and it seemed so unjust.