THE FULL ROMMEL by Natalie Draper In   the   last   week   of   May   2008,   I   went   on   a   bespoke   tour   of   Tobruk   with   the   Western   Desert Battlefield   Tours   and   found   the   experience   amazing.   This   year,   I   decided   to   go   the   whole                 hog   and   do   ‘The   Full   Monty’   from   Cairo   to   Tunis.   Since   I   am   not   a   fan   of   Field   Marshall Montgomery    and    my    interests    lying    firmly    with    Rommel’s    Afrika    Korps,    I    laughingly                              changed   the   name   of   the   tour   to   ‘The   Full   Rommel’   and   waited   with   baited   breath   for   the journey   to   commence.   Written   below   are   just   a   few   of   my   experiences   on   this   mammoth                 tour,   this   is   not   an   official   report,   but   rather,   my   own   personal   recollections   of   a   brilliant battlefield expedition. Any spelling mistakes are, of course, totally my fault! Day One - 7th April The   most   annoying   and   bitter   experience   of   my   whole   tour   began   and   ended   on   the   first   day. Our   B.A.   flight   was   delayed   in   taking   off   from   Heathrow   airport!   Did   B.A.   not   understand                    that   I   was   chomping   at   the   bit   to   explore   the   battlefields   of   North   Africa?   Did   they   not   take           into   consideration   the   fact   that   nicotine   withdrawal   combined   with   frustration   is   a   dangerous mix?   After   what   seemed   like   eons,   our   jumbo   jet   was   finally   given   permission   to   heave   its              vast bulk off the runway and allowed to kiss the skies. It   was   my   first   time   in   a   jumbo   jet,   but   all   my   excitement   was   firmly   channelled   into   what   the coming   days   would   bring.   Would   my   journey   be   as   amazing   and   insightful   as   the   last   tour   I took?   Would   I   be   fortunate   enough   to   find   a   piece   of   shrapnel   at   the   holy   sites   of   Bir   Hakim, Medenine, and El Alamein? Only time would tell. After   nearly   four   and   a   half   hours,   we   blissfully   touched   down   in   Cairo,   the   adventure   could now   begin   in   earnest.   Steve   and   I   were   collected   at   the   airport   by   Mohammed,   our   driver   for the    duration    of    our    stay    in    Egypt,    and    taken    to    our    hotel.    Mercifully,    night    had    fallen    in                              Cairo,   which   meant   that   I   could   not   see   the   visions   of   the   traffic   chaos,   only   the   sounds.   We checked   into   our   hotel   for   one   night,   where   I   managed   a   total   of   about   four   hours   sleep.   This was   not   because   there   was   anything   wrong   with   the   hotel   or   my   bed,   but   because   I   was   too excited! Day Two - 8th April My   first   scheduled   stop   in   Cairo   was,   of   course,   the   Great   Pyramid   and   the   Sphinx.   I   was amazed   at   just   how   close   the   main   road   is   to   them   now.   The   mad   sprawl   that   is   the   city   of Cairo   has   enveloped   the   pyramids   like   crashing   wave   of   concrete.   Having   said   that,   they   are still   breath-taking   and   I   am   glad   that   I   was   able   to   see   them.   The   stop   at   the   pyramids   was     only   a   brief   one,   just   long   enough   to   take   a   few   photographs   (from   behind   the   fence).   As        much   as   I   felt   the   ancient   history   of   the   site   calling   my   curiosity,   it   was   nothing   compared              with   the   call   of   the   North   African   battlefields.   Steve,   Mohammed   and   I   stopped   for   a   quick coffee   near   the   pyramids   before   we   started   making   tracks   for   Alexandria.   I   have   never   had such   good   ‘wake   up   coffee’   before.   Arabic   coffee   is   better   than   a   sledgehammer   to   the   tired brain;   it   takes   the   enamel   off   your   teeth   and   implants   a   turbo   booster   to   your   centre   of motivation. In   our   steel   charger   we   began   the   journey   to   Alexandria.   As   we   travelled,   Steve   kindly   threw pieces   of   interesting   trivia   my   way   such   as:   Montgomery   closing   down   all   the   brothels   in           Cairo   and   there   are   more   people   living   in   Cairo   today,   than   in   the   whole   of   Australia.   I   was        also   told   that   the   whole   of   Alexandria   is   sinking   due   to   it   being   built   on   top   of   countless previous    civilisations    and    empires.    This    held    my    imagination    for    a    while    as    I    pictured              someone   walking   down   the   main   street,   there   being   a   crack   and   the   poor,   stunned   individual suddenly   finding   themselves   in   Roman   catacombs.   I   am   afraid   that   my   imagination   does   tend to run wild, especially when it has been super-charged with Arabic coffee! Our   first   stop   in   Alexandria   was   the   Hotel   Cecil,   where   Steve   and   I   enjoyed   an   ‘Ice   Cold   in Alex’,   never   has   a   bottle   of   Stella   tasted   so   good!   The   hotel   was   situated   at   the   end   of   a square,    quite    close    to    the    coast.    Upstairs    in    the    hotel    was    the    site    of    ‘Monty’s    Bar’,    a                      drinking    place    that    was    enjoyed    by    the    many    allied    soldiers    who    were    stationed    in                  Alexandria.   Probably   the   most   enthralling   thing   about   the   square,   for   me,   was   that   it   is   the same   today   as   it   was   back   during   the   Desert   War,   only   the   names   of   the   shops   have   changed. After   a   few   photographs   of   the   square,   including   the   large   statue   of   King   Farouk,   Mohammed drove   us   the   cemeteries   of   Chatby   and   Hadra.   Along   the   way,   I   saw   such   historical   sites   as        the   original   site   of   the   old   Alexandria   lighthouse,   the   new   Alexandria   library   and   the   statue   of Alexandra the Great upon his horse Bucephulus. The   cemeteries   at   Chatby   and   Hadra   were   a   sight   to   behold.   Many   of   the   dead   were   from   the Great    War,    including    those    who    fell    at    Gallipoli.    They    were    peaceful    places,    as    many cemeteries are, and well-kept. Steve   proposed   that   we   not   stay   the   night   in   Alexandria,   but   push   on   to   El   Alamein,   in   order           to   give   us   more   time   on   the   battlefield   and   around   the   town   (which   is   actually   more   like   a        small city now). I whole-heartedly agreed, keen as ever for the sites of the war. That   night,   in   El   Alamein,   I   partook   in   the   pleasurable   art   of   the   hookah   pipe.   I   am   not   sure which   fruit   was   smouldering   itself   away   under   the   ‘tin-hat’,   only   that   it   was   as   sweet   and   as smooth   as   any   good   tobacco.   It   was   definitely   an   experience   that   I   shall   remember   with fondness. Day three - 9th April The    third    day    began    with    a    drive    to    the    Commonwealth    War    Cemetery.   Along    the    way,                          Steve    told    me    the    tale    of    the    ‘Sebastiano    Venier’    and    the    ‘Scillin’    Italian    ships    that    was          carrying   the   wounded   and   Allied   prisoners   of   war   back   to   Italy   in   1941   and   1942.   The   ships were   sunk   by   British   submarines   and   some   eight   hundred   lives   were   lost.   This   would   have been   sad   enough,   if   not   for   the   fact   that   the   British   knew   what   kind   of   human   cargo   it   was carrying and still decided to sink it anyway. The   Commonwealth   Cemetery   at   El   Alamein,   like   all   the   rest   of   the   war   cemeteries   was   kept        in   very   good   condition,   but   this   was   not   the   first   thing   that   I   noticed   about   the   cemetery,              rather   it   was   the   sheer   numbers   of   graves.   Seeing   the   size   of   the   cemetery   really   brought home   to   me   the   scale   of   the   battle   itself   and   of   how   hard   it   was   fought   for.   Steve   kindly        pointed   out   to   me   the   graves   of   VC   winners   and   also   the   grave   of   J.   Brill,   the   famed   artist           from Bardia. I took several photographs of the cemetery before we departed. Our   first   stop   on   the   El   Alamein   line   was   the   Ruweisat   ridge.   The   road   to   the   ridge   was   as cracked   as   the   Liberty   Bell   and   the   drive   proved   very   bumpy.   However,   I   didn’t   mind   in   the slightest,   since   we   were   heading   south   into   the   desert-proper   and   on   both   sides   I   could   picture our   soldiers   getting   ready   for   the   final   battle   of   El   Alamein.   Again,   I   was   surprised   at   just                    how   flat   a   so   called   ‘ridge’   was   in   North   Africa.   Living   in   the   Lancashire   hills   as   I   do,   if   a                 ridge    or    a    hill    is    not    steep    enough    to    make    your    nose    bleed,    it    is    deemed    flat.   This    is      something    that    many    writers    negate    to    inform    their    readers.    Ruweisat    Ridge    was    only    a                  ridge,   if   you   looked   at   the   slight   apex   of   it   on   the   horizon.   This   took   nothing   away   from   the           site    itself.   All    the    stories    about    the    fights    for    this    ridge    came    flooding    through    my    mind,                          aided   and   corrected   by   Steve’s   vast   knowledge.   We   saw   several   gun   positions   left   over   from the   war   and   were   lucky   enough   to   locate   small   pieces   of   shrapnel   and   a   few   spent   bullets.     Now   the   war   became   very   real   and   present.   I   remembered   the   graves   at   El   Alamein   and wondered how many of those dead had lost their lives right where I stood. We   continued   to   drive   south   towards   the   Bab   el   Qattara,   the   ‘Gateway   to   the   Depression’.        This   place   is   easily   recognisable   by   the   two   steep   ridges,   which   face   each   other   either   side   of the road. Just a little further more to the south lay the impassable Qattara Depression. Steve   took   me   on   a   short   walk   to   look   at   a   few   Allied   trenches/bunkers   that   were   relatively close   to   the   Bab   el   Qattara.   As   I   walked,   I   took   notice   of   the   very   hard,   rocky   ground   and imagined   what   it   must   have   been   like   to   dig   defences   with   just   a   small   shovel.   The   southern defences   were   in   glorious   condition.   There   were   remnants   of   the   original   sandbags   still   lying     on    top    of    the    trench/bunkers    and    the    defences    themselves    were    still    deep.    Steve    and    I explored   them   for   a   good   half   an   hour   or   so.   There   was   a   collection   of   exploded   and/or     defused   mines,   both   British   and   German,   so   I   just   had   to   take   half   of   a   teller   mine   home   with me.   I   walked   in,   through   and   around   the   trench/bunkers,   feeling   the   heat   on   my   back   and   the excitement   in   my   heart.   It   was   sad   to   leave   the   place,   but   we   had   to   push   on   as   there   were        still so many sites to see that day. Mohammed   took   our   steel   charger   down   the   Abd   Dweiss   (the   White   Road   in   Arabic)   towards the    Miteiriya    Ridge,    or    ‘Ruin    Ridge’.    Unfortunately,    the    ridge    has    been    plundered    by    the creation   of   a   new   water   canal.   However,   it   still   took   nothing   away   from   my   enjoyment   of   the place.   What   made   my   experience   even   better   was   that   Steve   was   able   to   give   me   a   blow   by blow   account   of   just   why   the   ridge   is   known   as   ‘Ruin   Ridge’   to   the   Australian   soldiers.   It                    was   very   easy   to   picture   each   part   of   the   story   and   I   almost   saw   the   Afrika   Korps   pushing        back the 50th R.T.R and 2/28th Bn into the Allied minefields. Soon    it    was    back    in    the    vehicle    for    a    drive    up    the    Rahman    track.    We    stopped    by    the          Marseilles   pyramid,   a   monument   to   ‘The   Star   of   Africa’.   Steve   corrected   my   knowledge   of              the   famed   pilot   and   gave   me   further   details   about   the   famed   pilot’s   life   and   bravery.   My              father   had   asked   me   for   a   photograph   of   me   beside   the   pyramids,   this   pyramid,   I   think,   leaves the others standing, if only for its sentiment. We   stopped   for   a   coffee   in   the   town   of   Sidi   Abd   el   Rahman,   which   was,   for   the   Germans,           what   El   Alamein   was   for   the   British   -   the   main   forward   base.   I   got   a   picture   of   the   old                 mosque   and   when   I   returned   home   I   looked   at   a   war-time   photograph   of   the   same   site.   The minaret of the mosque looks identical. After   our   coffee,   we   made   our   way   to   Tel   el   Eisa,   a   site   that   has   always   grabbed   my   curiosity and   imagination,   having   read   the   story   of   the   capture   of   Rommel’s   Wireless   Intercept   Unit           and   of   Alfred   Seebohm.   Steve   and   I   explored   the   railway   station,   the   tracks   and   the   fighting ground   just   to   the   north.   Steve   told   me   where   Seebohm   was   stationed;   but   unfortunately,   the site   has   been   quarried   out   by   the   Egyptians.   Still,   it   was   enough   to   know   that   I   was   in   the        area.   Modern   day   change   cannot   be   stopped,   despite   my   grumblings!   It   was   impressive   to think that the surviving Australian infantry had walked all the way here from ‘Ruin Ridge’. Steve   took   me   into   both   the   Italian   and   the   German   memorial   cemeteries,   which   are   not   far from   Tel   El   Eisa.   They   are,   naturally,   very   different   to   the   Commonwealth   cemeteries,   but                 my level of deep respect for the fallen remained the same. Before   we   went   back   to   the   hotel   that   night,   we   drove   around   the   town   of   El   Alamein   (on   the side   of   the   railway   station),   keeping   our   eyes   peeled   for   anything   of   interest.   We   soon   came across   an   enclosure   that   warned   us   not   to   take   pictures   of   the   explosives   contained   within.   I have   never   jumped   out   of   a   vehicle   so   fast   in   a   long   time.   Peering   through   the   narrow   bars, Steve   and   I   saw   a   multitude   of   aircraft   bombs,   mines   and   artillery   shells,   all   live   and   all   just           sat   there,   resting   in   the   warm   evening   sun.   I   had   ever   seen   such   a   fantastic   collection   before. My   heart   pounded   as   I   spied   shells   from   the   famed   88mm   anti-aircraft   gun;   my   favourite           piece    of    military    hardware.    We    were    soon    ambushed    by    a    group    of    Egyptian    soldiers,              warning   us   not   to   take   pictures.   They   appeared   out   of   nowhere   and   in   a   hurry,   but   their        attitude    was    calm    and    their    motivations    merely    born    out    of    curiosity.    With    reluctance    we returned   to   our   vehicle,   wondering   exactly   where   they   had   found   these   marvellous   pieces   of military metal. On   our   drive   back   to   the   hotel,   Steve   pointed   out   the   memorial   upon   the   ‘Springbok   road’ dedicated   to   the   South   African   troops   that   held   it.   I   tried   to   take   a   photograph,   but   by   this           time, the sun had set too low and my little camera couldn’t cope with the poor light. Day four - 10th April Day   four   started   with   a   return   trip   to   the   commonwealth   war   cemetery   at   El   Alamein.   As   the light   had   begun   to   fail   when   I   visited   it   last   time,   the   return   trip   was   so   that   I   could   take   some photographs   of   the   monuments   to   the   Australian   and   the   South   African   soldiers   engaged   in        the   fighting.   I   also   succeeded   in   signing   the   cemetery   book   as   it   was   locked   up   on   the   first        visit. Steve   then   took   me   to   the   military   museum   at   El   Alamein.   I   could   write   at   least   five   pages     alone   on   what   I   saw   both   in   and   outside   the   museum,   but   to   keep   things   brief   I   shall   just   say the    following:    The    tanks    and    artillery    pieces    outside    the    museum    were    exceptional                  (especially   the   88mm   anti-aircraft   gun!).   Inside,   it   was   a   case   of   spot   the   mistake.   As   we perused    the    displays,    Steve    illuminated    the    mistakes    made    with    the    uniforms,    guns    and equipment. It pays to have a knowledgeable guide! After   a   quick   coffee,   Mohammed   drove   us   and   our   steel   charger   to   Fuka.   The   old   Fuka           airfield   is   very   close   to   the   road,   but   the   landing   strip   can   still   clearly   be   seen.   After   a   few photographs   and   Steve’s   tales   about   the   famed   S.A.S.   raid   in   1942,   we   returned   to   our   vehicle to make our way to Mersa Matruh. In   Mersa   Matruh   Steve   and   I   went   inside   the   Rommel   Cave   Museum,   where   he   had   set   up   his headquarters   for   a   brief   time.   Although   the   exhibitions   in   the   cave   were   sparse   to   say   the     least,   it   did   have   two   very   good   items   which   are   definitely   worth   seeing.   The   first   was   an original   Nazi   flag   from   the   war   and   the   second,   and   definitely   better,   was   Rommel’s   leather coat, which had been donated by Manfred Rommel. I did not want to leave! In   the   town   of   Mersa   Matruh,   Steve   and   Mohammed   both   went   for   a   shave   and   a   haircut, which   was   an   experience   to   watch,   since   they   removed   stray   hairs   from   the   face   using   strings. I was told that this procedure hurt a lot. It looked it. Before   retiring   for   the   night,   the   three   of   us   went   shopping   in   Mersa   Matruh   and   stopped   for   a few   beers.   A   few   days   ago   I   had   had   an   Ice   Cold   in   Alex,   now   I   was   having   a   luke   warm   in Mersa Matruh. I also had chance to have another go on the old Hookah pipe - very satisfying. Day five - 11th April Today   was   the   day   that   we   were   to   be   leaving   Egypt   for   Libya;   however,   there   was   still              plenty    to    see    along    the    way.    We    drove    through    Charing    Cross,    Sidi    Barrani,    Buq    Buq,                      Sollum   and   the   famed   Halfaya   Pass   (Hellfire   Pass).   I   was   able   to   get   photographs   of   all   these places.   Unfortunately,   it   was   not   possible   to   go   up   the   Halfaya   Pass,   but   actually   seeing   it   did go   some   way   to   satisfying   my   curiosity.   As   we   drove,   a   small   Ghibli   began   to   blow.   Before                          I   had   left   England   I   had   wished   to   experience   a   sandstorm   and   I   think   that   it   was   very   nice   for Steve   to   arrange   one   for   me.   In   fact,   the   weather   that   I   encountered   on   my   tour   was   part   of           the   charm   (or   maybe   that’s   just   because   I   am   British   and   am   consequently   obsessed   by weather!) Mohammed   dropped   Steve   and   me   off   at   the   first   Egyptian   gate   on   the   border.   We   had   to        walk   to   the   first   gate   of   the   Libyan   side   of   the   border.   When   we   saw   Talal,   Steve’s   partner,           and our Libyan driver, I could have kissed the road in gratitude! Our   first   stop   in   Libya   was   Sidi   Azeiz   and   we   travelled   through   a   stronger   ghibli   to   get   there. There   were   rumours   that   there   was   a   minefield   around   Sidi   Azeiz,   However,   we   saw   no evidence   of   any   mines.   I   am   proud   to   say   that   I   saw   Sidi   Azeiz   in   a   sandstorm,   talk   about making   it   real! After   Sidi Azeiz,   we   visited   Bir   el   Nukhtar,   King’s   Cross,   Fort   Pilastrino,   Fortress HQ, Red Eagle Corner, Ras el Madauuer and the ‘Pimple’ - all sites in and around Tobruk. It    had    been    a    long,    but    very    enjoyable    day.    My    camera    was    loaded    with    seventy    more photographs and my pockets were bulging with shrapnel! Day six - 12th April It   was   superb   being   back   in   Tobruk.   It   has   to   be   my   base   from   which   to   operate   in   the   whole        of   North   Africa.   As   a   result   of   my   high   excitement,   my   sleep   was   suffering   heartily,   for   I                          was too eager to be on the road again. On    this    day    we    visited    Ed    Duda,    Sidi    Rezegh    (which    I    have    finally    mastered    how    to          pronounce   properly!),   Point   175,   and   El   Adem.   You   will   have   to   forgive   me   if   I   have   the                 order muddled up. Then    came    the    chance    to    bring    a    wishful    fulfilment    into    reality.    Since    my    last    visit    to                                  Tobruk,   I   had   always   wanted   to   ride   in   the   back   of   our   desert   pick-up   to   Bir   Hakim   and   back, now   it   is   a   firm   memory.   With   the   sun   blazing   down   upon   me   and   the   wind   whistling   in   my        ears,   we   drove   down   to   what   has   to   be,   to   me   personally,   the   best   battlefield   in   the   area   -   Bir Hakim.   Although   there   were   less   mines   on   show   than   there   had   been   on   my   last   visit,   my higher   elevation   meant   that   I   could   look   inside   the   gun   positions   that   I   had   not   seen   when   I     was inside the truck. It was fantastic! When   we   reached   Bir   Hakim,   there   were   at   least   five   dust   devils   blowing   in   the   south.   While our   most   excellent   driver   made   his   famous   BBQ   inside   the   blockhouse,   I   explored   the   ruins           on   my   own.   I   could   have   spent   five   days   there   and   not   discovered   boredom   for   a   single second. When   it   was   time   to   go,   I   climbed   back   into   the   back   of   the   pick-up   and   we   headed   for   the Aslagh   Ridge   and   Sidi   Muftah.   It   is   amazing   really   just   how   many   places   can   be   reached        using the Trigh Capuzzo - what a road! After   Sidi   Muftah,   we   decided   to   go   to   Alam   Hemza.   There   were   warnings   issued   about   un- diffused   and   unmarked   mines,   so   the   going   was   slow.   I   have   to   give   it   to   Steve,   there   was   no way   that   he   was   prepared   to   call   it   a   day   and   go   back.   For   this   I   was   exceptionally   grateful!     Our   driver   drove   us   through   the   positions   from   the   First   Battle   of   Gazala;   there   were   jerry     cans,    ammo    boxes    and    pieces    of    shells    and    mortars    everywhere.    It    was    amazing.              Unfortunately,   we   were,   again,   racing   the   sun.   It   was   important   that   we   get   back   to   the   main road   before   the   sun   kissed   the   horizon,   or   the   going   would   be   dangerous.   We   got   within   just eight   kilometres   of   Alam   Hemza,   before   we   had   to   turn   back.   Everyone   was   gutted,   but        there’s   no   arguing   with   the   sun.   We   came   out   on   the   coastal   road/Derna   Road   through   the Gazala escarpment, which was great to see. Day seven - 13th April On   this   day   we   explored   the   bunkers   near   Wadi   Magrun.   We   saw   Cocoa   1,   2,   and   3   in   the distance   and   spent   many   a   joyful   minute   exploring   the   concrete   bunkers   that   faced   out   across the   deep,   vast   wadi.   Steve,   Talal,   our   driver   and   I   took   a   walk   through   one   of   the   bunkers,        using    our    lights    from    our    mobiles    and    my    trusty    torch.   The    bunker    was    still    in    excellent condition.   We   found   various   graffiti   inside   the   bunker   and   even   where   the   old   toilets   would have   probably   been.   We   came   out   a   few   metres   further   inland   and   were   able   to   appreciate   the self-contained   nature   of   the   defensive   positions.   We   also   explored   the   outlooks,   which   had been   chiselled   into   the   rocks   on   the   wadi   face   and   there   were   saw   graffiti   from   a   Private Knightly   from   Australia.   It   might   have   been   carved   while   this   soldier   was   on   sentry   duty,   to           him a way to pass the time, to us a window through time. We   stayed   on   the   side   of   the   coast   near   Tobruk   and   drove   to   Wadi   Auda,   where   the   Allied Beach Hospital ruins still stand. After   a   coffee   very   near   the   site   where   the   9th   Company   (anti-tank)   of   the   104th   Panzer Grenadiers   met   with   Rommel   after   they   had   taken   Tobruk,   we   drove   to   the   eastern   side   of Tobruk,   to   explore   the   Z   bunkers   there.   Along   the   way   we   passed   the   site   where   General Balbo’s airplane was shot down by the naval guns of an Italian vessel. Friendly fire indeed. The   Z   bunkers   on   the   blue   line   and   now   in   danger   of   being   consumed   by   the   workings   of   a stone-cutting   company   and   unfortunately,   we   saw   evidence   of   where   they   had   been   dug   up and   cast   aside.   However,   on   the   wadi   cliff   edges   that   face   the   sea,   we   were   still   able   to   locate     a   good   sample.   These   too   had   look-out   posts   (pill   boxes)   carved   into   the   rock,   Machine   gun positions and sangars for the guns. It was an excellent day, the exploration and investigations were most enthralling! We   drove   to   Fort   Cheteita   as   the   sun   began   to   descend   and   explored   the   remaining   ruins   and the   sites   of   the   medium   and   heavy   guns.   Unfortunately,   once   again,   the   sun   was   ready   for           bed before we were and we had to make tracks back to our hotel. Day eight -14th April This   was   our   last   day   in   and   around   Tobruk   and   it   was   sad   to   think   that   we   were   to   be   leaving it.   Before   we   left,   Steve   took   me   to   the   last   resting   place   of   the   Liberator,   the   Lady   Be   Good, which was situated near the old Italian HQ of Tobruk. After   a   brief,   but   longing,   look   at   the   Acroma   (Knightsbridge)   cemetery   and   the   famed   Weiss Haus,   we   said   goodbye   to   our   driver   and   began   our   journey   to   Benghazi.   Along   the   way,        Steve   and   Talal   kindly   allowed   me   to   take   a   few   photographs   of   Bomba   Beach,   which   is significant   to   my   father’s   regiment   the   14th   /20th   Kings   Hussars.   We   passed   beside   Derna           and into Al Bayda (Beda Littoria). On   my   last   visit   Steve,   Talal   and   I   had   discovered   the   landing   area   where   Keyes   and   the   other commandoes    landed    in    order    to    commence    their    respective    raids.   This    time    we    were    to      explore   the   area   further,   hoping   to   locate   the   actual   caves   that   the   commando’s   shored   up   in. We   found   a   potential   site   of   the   ’commando   caves’,   which   was   on   the   property   of   a   local.           With   his   kind   permission   we   were   able   to   assess   the   cave   and   deduce   that   although   it   was large   enough   to   hold   twenty   or   so   commandos   plus   their   equipment,   it   looked   different   from Steve’s    original    photographs.    The    local    man,    by    the    name    of    Abd    Alkakarm    Alghassi,              informed   us   that   his   family   lived   inside   the   cave   when   he   was   a   small   child.   He   recounted   to        us   the   tale   that   soldiers   had   come   to   investigate   the   cave,   but   left   when   they   saw   that   it   was inhabited.   Alkakarem   Algahssi   also   told   us,   to   our   delight,   that   there   was   an   old   man   in   the neighbourhood   who   remembered   the   night   of   the   landings   and   kindly   said   that   he   would   set        up an appointment for us to meet him the following day. On   our   way   back   to   Al   Bayda   we   managed   to   gain   entry   to   Rommel’s   old   QMHQ   building, known   as   the   Rommel   House,   near   Sidi   Rafa.   This   was   an   exceptional   treat   as   usually   entry        to   the   house   is   forbidden.   It   is   only   through   Steve   and   his   contacts   that   one   can   actually   get past   the   large,   locked   gates.   I   felt   honoured   indeed.   We   took   plenty   of   photographs   both outside   the   house   and   inside   it,   while   Steve   told   the   tale   of   the   Keyes’s   raid   to   the   police guards. To say that they were enthralled would be an understatement! Day nine - 15th April Today    we    went    to    our    appointment    with    the    old    man    at    the    dog’s    nose.   Abd   Alkakarem      Alghassi    joined    us    in    our    meeting    and    on    our    subsequent    explorations.    Through    Talal’s interpretations,   Steve   told   our   new   friends   about   the   tale   of   Keyes,   which   helped   them   to understand   what   they   had   heard   about   that   fatal   night   back   in   November   1941.   The   old   man, who   was   as   nimble   as   a   young   gazelle,   took   us   to   the   top   of   a   ridge,   just   behind   the   town, where   there   were   two   graves,   which   hold   the   bodies   of   two   Italian   soldiers   that   were   killed   by the    commando’s.    We    then    headed    for    the    large    wadi,    through    which    the    fully-ladened commando’s    travelled    to    reach    Sidi    Rafa.    As    we    explored    the    potential    sites    of    the          ‘commando    caves’,    there    was    an    exchange    of    valuable    information.    Steve    was    able    to compound   his   vast   knowledge   about   the   story,   learning   the   names   of   the   two   Arab   guides        who   had   abandoned   the   commandoes,   their   fate   and   the   activities   of   the   commando’s   and   the Italian   patrol.   With   the   help   of   our   new   friends   and   Steve’s   prior   knowledge,   it   is   very   likely        that   one   of   the   caves   we   discovered   was   the   actual   commando   cave.   Steve   told   us   that   it   was tactically   in   the   right   location   and   that   it   even   resembled   the   photographs   he   had   of   it   at           home.   It   had   been   a   great   Alan   Quartermain-like   adventure   and   I   was   very   happy   to   have        been part of the discovery. From    the    dog’s    nose,    we    drove    to    the    Omar    Mukhtar    Village,    situated    some    10    -    15              kilometres   from   the   Wadi   Kuf   and   the   old   Byzantine   fort,   which   is   now   the   Libyan   Palace,           near La Laigma (spelt phonetically). We   reached   Benghazi   just   as   the   sun   was   beginning   to   set   so   had   to   make   the   commonwealth war   cemetery   our   first   stop.   I   am   grateful   to   say   that   a   special   effort   was   made   to   gain   access to the Benghazi military cemetery too, as this was another of my special requests. Day ten - 16th April Today   we   began   our   very   long   drive   to   Tripoli,   some   1050   kilometres.   Again,   for   me   the weather   was   spectacular   as   we   drove   through   a   sandstorm,   which   became   quiet   heavy   at times.   The   first   stop   on   our   way   was   Beda   Fomm   and   the   nearby   ‘pimple’.   As   time   was   of                 the   essence   for   this   mammoth   journey   we   could   not   afford   to   do   a   proper   reconnaissance   of the   area,   but   I   am   very   grateful   to   have   been   afforded   to   time   for   as   many   photographs   as   I wanted. After   a   similarly   brief   stop   at   Agedabia,   we   headed   for   Mersa   el   Brega   and   the   famed   fort   at           El   Agheila.   Here   we   stopped   for   about   half   an   hour   and   I   was   able   to   explore   the   fort’s   ruins           at some length. On   this   day   we   also   stopped   at   the   ruins   of   the   Arco   de   Fellini,   also   known   as   the   Marble           Arch.   Unfortunately   the   arch   had   been   blown   up   some   years   previous,   but   we   found   where        the   Libyans   had   kept   a   few   of   the   remains   and   I   was   able   to   cross   off   another   hopeful   off   my list. After    driving    past    the    Sirte,    Waddon,    Buerat    triangle    we    approached    the    ruins    of    Leptis          Magma   just   as   the   sun   was   setting.   It   had   been   a   long   day   indeed   and   Talal   did   an   excellent job   fighting   against   the   sand   storm.   The   ruins   were   closing   as   we   arrived,   but   again   thanks   to Talal   we   had   special   permission   to   quickly   look   at   the   amphitheatre   and   the   old   main   gate.        Due   to   the   encroaching   night,   my   photographs   came   out   dark,   but   I   take   this   as   an   excuse   to return some day! We   reached   our   grand   hotel   in   Tripoli   after   driving   through   Homs,   a   place   which   is   famous   to my dad’s old regiment. Day eleven - 17th April After   a   very   restful   sleep   in   the   best   hotel   I   have   ever   stayed   in   (the   site   of   the   old   Ottoman caravan   meeting   place)   we   took   a   tour   around   some   of   the   sites   in   Tripoli,   these   included: Omar   Mukhtar   Street,   the   Red   Fort,   the   mast   of   the American   ship,   the   USS   Philadelphia,   and some   of   the   market   stalls   in   the   city.   We   also   visited   the   old   Italian   civilian   cemetery,   where Balbo   used   to   be   buried   (his   body   is   now   back   in   Italy)   and   the   commonwealth   and   military cemeteries. We   also   visited   Cathedral   Square,   which   used   to   be   called   24th   December   Square   and   was   the site   used   for   the   ending   scene   in   the   film   ‘Ice   Cold   in   Alex’.   We   visited   the   site   of   the   bar   in which John Mills and co enjoyed their long awaited beer. The   Hotel   Waddon,   where   Rommel   spent   much   of   his   time   in   Tripoli,   was   still   there   and   I   got           a   few   great   photographs   of   the   place.   On   the   route   out   of   Tripoli   we   visited   Sabratha   and continued to the Tunisian border. Reading   about   the   distances   in   North   Africa   is   one   thing,   but   having,   so   far,   driven   from              Cairo   to   Tripoli   it   becomes   clear   that   reading   it   and   doing   it   are   two   totally   different   things.                 No wonder a large percentage of Rommel’s fuel was spent transporting it to the front lines! Day twelve - 18th April After   passing   through   the   security   at   the   Tunisian   border,   our   first   stop   was   the   town   of   Ben Gardane,   the   last   place   taken   by   the   8th   Army   without   a   fight.   From   there   we   headed   to   the battleground   of   Medenine,   or   actually,   Metamour.   Again,   we   were   able   to   see   the   battlefield from   the   road   and   while   it   was   still   possible   to   see   a   few   gun   positions   and   of   course   the        famed ‘saddle’, much of the evidence from the war (shrapnel, etc) was gone. Steve    and   Talal    then    took    me    near    the    Wadi    Zeuss    to    see    the    ‘Horseshoe’,    which    was      captured   by   the   201st   Guards   Brigade   in   March   1943   and   the   military   museum   at   Mareth.   I enjoyed   the   museum   very   much   as   they   had   a   few   of   the   original   French   bunkers   and   a     couple   of   pieces   of   British   and   Italian   artillery.   Inside   the   museum   a   group   of   local   school children   were   being   given   a   tour   and   Steve   was   asked   if   he   would   like   to   give   a   talk   about   his Grandfather. This he did to the interest of the children. We   continued   on   our   way   to   the   Wadi   Zigzaou   further   along   the   Mareth   Line   where   Steve           told   me   fascinating   stories   about   his   Grandfather’s   regiment’s   experience   in   March   ‘43.   We spent   a   long   time   walking   through   the   trenches   and   gun   positions   on   the   line   and   for   me   this was the most enjoyable part of my Tunisian experience. Day thirteen - 19th April Thirteen   is   ‘unlucky   for   some’,   but   for   me   it   was   another   excellent   day.   We   travelled   to   the        Wadi   Akarit,   made   famous   by   Operation   Scipio.   Steve   told   me   a   plethora   of   facts   and   stories about   the   Wadi   Akarit   and   I   am   grateful   to   him   for   correcting   my   knowledge,   cutting   the                    truth from the fiction as it were. After   Akarit,   we   went   towards   the   hills   of   Faknassa,   El   Beedy   and   the   hills   at   Roumana.           Steve   and   I   climbed   to   the   top   of   the   smallest   hill   at   Roumana   and   found   a   lot   of   small   pieces of   shrapnel.   The   hill   afforded   us   excellent   views   of   the   surrounding   terrain   and   it   was   easy   to imagine   the   approach   of   the   allied   Valentines.   We   were   spotted   by   two   locals,   who   climbed           up    to    us    out    of    curiosity.    Unfortunately    neither    Steve    nor    I    could    speak    either   Arabic    or                  French   so   our   conversation   was   somewhat   muted.   However,   Steve   was   able   to   tell   him   that           we   were   at   Roumana   because   of   the   war   and   the   Arabic   nodded,   obviously   recalling   what        went   on.   He   said   “Merde”   (French   for   sh*t),   which   we   took   as   a   reference   to   the   heaviness   of the fighting that took place below our feet. Having   descended   from   Roumana   we   drove   to   the   bottom   of   Fatnassa,   to   look   at   the   French memorial to the Indian troops who fought there and then on to the Wadi Chaffar. The    Wadi    Chaffar    is    a    significant    place    for    Steve    as    it    was    here    that    his    Grandfather’s          valentine   was   knocked   out   by   a   line   of   anti-tank   guns.   We   explored   the   ‘German’   side   of   the wadi,   which   was   just   on   the   outskirts   of   a   local’s   olive   farm.   With   Talal’s   kind   help,   Steve                       got   permission   to   walk   a-ways   around   the   olive   trees   and   the   owner   was   nice   enough   to   spare time   to   talk   to   us.   Steve,   through   Talal   told   the   story   of   his   Grandfather   and   the   events   at           Wadi   Chaffar.   The   local   could   recall   the   story   and   between   them   they   were   able   to   both increase their knowledge of that fateful day. After   saying   our   thanks   and   farewells   to   the   local   man   we   went   to   the   Commonwealth   war cemetery    at    Sfax,    where    Steve’s    Grandfather    is    buried.    We    also    visited    an    old    Italian              cemetery that is located behind the commonwealth one. That   night,   back   at   the   hotel,   we   met   Talal’s   good   friend   Haadi   and   went   out   for   dinner.   Now here   is   a   word   of   warning   -   if   you   do   not   care   for   hot   food   it   is   no   good   telling   this   to   the           waiter.   What   is   hot   for   us   English   is   like   ketchup   for   them.   Steve   and   I   had   what   could   only have been napalm on our burgers! In future I shall employ a taster! Day fourteen - 20th April On   the   way   to   Sousse,   we   stopped   at   El   Djem   for   a   coffee   and   a   look   at   the   shops   (sometimes you   can   find   antiques   from   the   war).   Over   coffee,   Steve   told   me   about   the   Germans   holding           El   Jem   for   a   considerable   time   and   deploying   anti-aircraft   guns   on   the   roofs   of   the   shops   and houses. It is information like this that makes the coffee all the sweeter. In   one   of   the   shops   Steve   and   I   found   what   looked   like   an   88mm   shell.   It   was   so   hard   to pretend   like   I   wasn’t   interested   as   Steve   haggled   for   it.   Eventually   he   brought   them   down   to              a   price   that   I   was   happy   to   pay   and   the   shell   was   mine!   I   could   have   whooped   through   the streets   like   a   banshee!   (However,   on   my   return   home   I   discovered   that   the   shell   was   not   an 88mm,   but   a   British   3.7”   anti-aircraft   shell.   My   holy   relic   has   become   a   useless   bit   of   British junk!    -    only    joking!)    So,    now    we    went    to    the    Commonwealth    cemetery    and    the    French                  Foreign   Legion   cemeteries   at   Enfidaville,   then   on   to   Takouna   and   the   Garci   Hills.   I   greatly enjoyed   visiting   Takourna,   it   is   an   awe-inspiring   spot,   especially   when   Steve   tells   you   the   tale        of   the   Maoris!   We   also   visited   the   memorial   to   the   Commonwealth   and   Italian   Folgore   troops who   fought   there.   Unfortunately,   the   sun   was   yet   again   quitting   before   I   was   ready   and   we        had to return to the hotel as we had lost the light. Day fifteen - 21st April Today   we   visited   the   enormous   Longstop   Hill,   Medjez   el   Bab,   Madjerda   valley   and   the   area           of   Massicault   and   Tebourba.   As   we   drove   up   Longstop   Hill   I   was   reminded   very   much   of           home,   a   stretch   of   old   England   in   the   middle   of   Tunisia,   who   would   have   thought   it?   Again Steve    filled    in    the    vast    holes    in    my    knowledge    about    the    Tunisian    campaign    and    really              brought history to life. On   this   day   I   visited   what   was,   without   a   doubt,   the   most   naturally   beautiful   Commonwealth cemetery   in   the   whole   of   North   Africa,   the   Oued   Zarga   cemetery.   Set   among   rolling   fields   of yellow   flower   and   poppies,   this   cemetery   lies   near   to   the   man-made   reservoir   and   is   a   totem     for peace and tranquillity. Steve   and   Talal   also   took   me   to   the   Commonwealth   Cemetery   at   Medjez   el   Bab,   which   lists those units who were seconded from other regiments during the Desert campaign. As   we   headed   back   to   our   hotel   in   Tunis,   we   stopped   off   at   the   German   cemetery   at   Bordj Cedria.   Unlike   the   other   two   monuments   to   the   German   war   dead   (Tobruk   and   El   Alamein)        this   was   not   a   Teutonic   castle   fortification.   The   site   looked,   for   all   sense   and   purposes,   like   it had    been    erected    in    three    hours.    It    resembles    a    concrete    graveyard    and    was    most disappointing   to   see   how   the   German   government   had   chosen   to   honour   their   dead.   It   was   all the   more   sad   because   this   was   the   site   where   the   famed   15th   Panzer   Division   had   finally surrendered. However, I once again returned to the hotel, tired, but happy. Day sixteen - 22nd April Today   was   our   day   off.   Talal   had   probably   looked   forward   to   this   day   for   the   past   week   as   he had   done   so   much   driving.   However,   a   baby   in   his   neighbouring   room   served   to   wake   him              up early. The poor man had to kiss his lie in goodbye! I   spent   the   day   playing   around   on   the   beach   and   going   over   my   notes.   One   thing   that   has        been   consistent   with   my   tours   with   Steve   is   that   I   find   out   more   truths   about   the   Desert Campaign than I could ever read in any books. This   was   not   a   totally   obsolete   day,   however,   as   we   made   a   special   visit   to   the   American   war cemetery   at   Carthage.   I   had   never   been   to   an American   cemetery   before   and   the   place   served to    be    exactly    as    I    expected    it.    Meaning    no    disrespect,    but    I    left    the    cemetery    with    the propaganda   that   America   had   lost   more   men   than   any   other   commonwealth   country   and   that        if   it   had   not   been   for   their   presence   in   Tunisia,   Britain   would   have   lost   the   whole   war,   not   just the Desert Campaign! To conclude: Once   again   I   had   a   thoroughly   enjoyable   time   with   Western   Desert   Battlefield   Tours   and           loved   every   minute   I   was   there.   Libya   is   definitely   my   favourite   North   African   country   and   I came    away    knowing    that    I    had    seen    only    a    tiny    bit    of    what    is    actually    out    there    (I    am                  currently    saving    for    my    next    trip!).    In-between    Steve’s    knowledge    and    his    stories    of    the          soldier’s   experiences,   my   thirst   for   knowledge   about   the   Desert   Campaign   has   only   been heightened.   Talal   was   a   total   superstar,   enduring   the   ‘punishment’   of   the   long   drive   with   his always-present good humour and laid-back style. While    I    was    in    North    Africa,    the    Icelandic    volcano    blew    and    to    get    my    experience    in perspective,   I’ll   say   that   I   was   most   disappointed   about   two   things:   Firstly,   that   they   started                 to   allow   flights   back   into   the   UK   and   I   couldn’t   have   an   excuse   to   stay   longer,   and   secondly, that I had to be back in England due to other commitments. I would highly recommend Steve as a guide in North Africa, for me, there is NOBODY better!