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On The Frontline
'Hope I get to shoot some Germans' I think as I stand waiting to sign that piece of paper on the 6th of September 1939. You know the one, the one that sends you overseas to fight in the war, this war in particular is the second one within a period of twenty years..
“Next!” the recruiters shout, signaling to me that it's my turn. I move forward with a brisk walk as the nerves come flooding into me, making me stop and think. 'Should I be here? Should I do this?' I quickly give my details to the recruiters before I decide not do this and then hurry off. Preparing to tell my parents of what I had just done.
I walk home, debating in my head, how I'm going to inform them of how I'm shipping out on the 12th of September to fight in World War Two. I imagine they won't take this well. They'll probably try to talk me out of it. I'll say, “Mom, I'm eighteen! I'm legally allowed to join myself”. There'll be tears and anger. But they'll get over it. I know, I'll promise to write to them whenever I get the chance. That'll seal the deal.
Just as expected, it doesn't go down well. Mom cries, Dad yells. I try to explain that I want to serve my country, that I want to get into the fighting. To me, I don't feel right knowing that I could be doing something to help and until now there hasn't been an opportunity for me to do that. When this opportunity arose, I leaped at the thought of finally being able to do something. The argument ends with me promising to write every chance I get.
My suit for this journey arrives the next day. Green and brown, the colors of the army I now am part of. I look stunned as I gaze in awe to the left hand side of the chest, there on a white strip, is my name in big black lettering. This makes me feel gracious and aware of what I'm getting myself into.
The day of shipping out arrives. Mom and Dad take me to wellington to catch the boat to wherever the first assignment is. “We get a briefing on the boat” one guy said as he walked past toward the boat. I gathered my things, said the emotional farewell to Mom and Dad, not knowing if I would ever see them again, and headed onto the boat. Once on the boat, we were ushered into a room, for the briefing I guess. I guessed right, we were told where we were stationed for the next two months, what contingent we were in and what position we were going to be. I was in Egypt on the frontline and a private. After the briefing, we were allowed to go back into the deck to wave goodbye to our parents. As the boat left the dock, Mom and Dad stood there, waving and crying as did I.
As we spent the next three weeks traveling to Egypt I made one close friend, who goes by the name of “Captain O'Donnell”, who promised to inform my family, if anything happened to me over the next 2 months, I promised to do the same for him. Captain O'Donnell was the same age as me, coming from the same situation as me. We both felt the need to help out somehow, and when this opportunity arose, he jumped at the opportunity just as I did. Over the three weeks, we got familiar with our weapons and crew. I, myself, had a high powered rifle. In my crew there was around fifteen people. All wanting to 'shoot' some Germans, and teach them a lesson. We all learnt certain strategies, variously catered to our contingents movements over the next two months. I have to say, the sleeping arrangements weren't all too pleasant but it was worth it.
We reached Egypt after the two weeks was up. Just as planned. The first thing we did was join up with Britain on the foreshore. Britain was our sister contingent, the one we would be fighting with, for the next two months. From there, we would leave to journey to our various stationary locations. Mine as I well knew, was the frontline. My crew now had twenty five people instead of the original fifteen. This meant new strategies and new ranks. I however stayed a private.
The first target of attack was Cairo, the Germans had a front set up there, this particular mission was one of importance, this front was an air force supplier. If we successfully destroyed this front, then we would have an advantage in the air against Germany.
The plan of attack began at one pm, expecting to take around two – three hours. My crew, was one of the first to go toward the base. As we walked, the front men looked out for snipers hiding away, ready to pounce. Then all we hear is this one snigger, and then it began. Both sides began firing bullets at each other. The conflict lasted a total of thirty three minutes, with only two causalities. The mission succeeded with a sniper on my side, shooting the snipers from behind. We took the air force base supply center, easily if you look at it from a strength perspective. We were definitely the better side. Sadly enough, one of those two causalities was O'Donnell, and that left me to do what I had promised to do, inform his family. So I began to write the sad letter...
“Dear Mr and Mrs O'Donnell;
I regret to inform you;
but your son died today in combat.
Due to military confidentiality rules;
I am unable to name the place of death.
I offer my condolences.
The next few days were spent, restocking and recuperating, ready for the next mission in two days time. Planes were parked and ready to go if needed, Bags were packed and measured. Gear was polished, and packed. Soldiers learnt their movements for the following mission coming up.
I decided at that point, that tomorrow I would write home, to let Mom and Dad know that all was well so far. Tomorrow came, and I did just that, I wrote home, I wrote to them of O'Donnell's death, mentioning very little. .
“Dear Mom and Dad;
I promised I would write and I am now;
Things have been busy here in Egypt.
I haven't been injured yet;
so I'm pretty pleased about that.
A close friend of mine died in combat yesterday;
So I'm grieving at the moment;
I'll be fine.
Send love to Nana and Granddad please.
I was informed that Captain O'Donnell's body would be sent back to New Zealand in four days time, because O'Donnell's family had received the letter and were arranging a funeral, which sadly enough, none of the crew could attend. Also with O'Donnell's gone, I found myself relying more on Lieutenant Corporal Hickey, a small man of thirty three who had previous experience in military. A great one to look up too. He also promised to inform my family if anything happened to me, I did the same.
The next plan of attack was to move closer to Egypt without being noticed. This included packing everything up and moving it, via truck. This proved to be successful, although taking two hours to do so. Everybody had jobs to do, mine was making sure the weapons were accounted for. We moved toward Egypt without disturbance. This made our general very happy. It meant we could set everything back up without worrying. “A Success” our generals exclaimed.
With our food rations running short, we had to quickly figure out a plan to get food. General Issac, figured out a rough plan of going to a nearby base set up around ten kilometers down the road, to get food supplies. This had to be done at night, so there was no chance of being seen. As we moved toward the base, the darkness grew heavier and heavier. Eventually we had to use our night vision goggles to see. We reached the base without a clear threat, and gathered about two weeks worth of food, having already used our first two weeks worth of food, having been there for two weeks. “Time flies fast, when you don't have a calender with you” was a well used phrase when everyone realized we had been there for two weeks already. A plan was thought out, nearby bases would hold spare food for our crew, wherever we went, whether it be Egypt, England or wherever we were fighting depending on the month, as far as I knew we would be in Egypt for the full two months. We had to make contact with all the bases to confirm the plan. Contact was by telegram those days. We sent out a telegram saying the following..
“We wish to inform you;
you must have spare food for us;'
We are fighting on the frontline with twenty five men;
Our food runs out pretty quickly.
This is an order from the high commander Alex O Donald.”
The bases accepted it. Like they were required too.
The next month and a half flew by, we completed around five missions in that month and a half. Due to the high level of confidentiality on these missions, I cannot mention what we did. Over that time, we had around six causalities. None of which were I or Lieutenant Corporal Hickey. We both suffered no injuries. I wrote to Mom and Dad once more over that time.
Two weeks were left before I would see Mom and Dad again. Well atleast I thought. In amongst those two weeks, while completeing a mission, I suffered from a bullet wound to the leg. I spent three days in a hospital ship off shore, before being cleared out to head home on the next avaliable plane. They arranged for me to take a plane as it was a quicker mean of transport. Once on the plane, I was allowed to call, Mom and Dad to let them know of my arrival home soon. Mom promised to be at the airport when I arrived.
I arrived on the plane to Wellington airport, I was lifted out on a stretcher as I couldn't walk, this brought tears to Mom's eyes. She later took me to the hospital for further treatment, like required. The doctors, xrayed my leg to see if the bones weren't shattered and well they were. This meant surgery, three hours of it. Mom called Dad and told him of the surgery required, he rushed over to be with Mom while I went into surgery.
I woke up after ten minutes, very dazed and concerned. Mom was there, Dad was asleep, which was understandable, they probably hadn't had much sleep while I was away, I smiled at Mom to let her know I was awake, she sigheda sigh of relief, thankful to know I was awake.I was only in recovery for two months, leg in plaster cast for most of that time. Intense physio was required, as to be expected. I got the full feeling back in my leg. I spent a week in hospital after the surgery. Mainly to learn exercises and physio techniques to help assist the healing of my leg. Mom and Dad stayed with me the whole way. They were absolutely amazing.
I'm not sure to this day what the doctors did. I'm very thankful they did whatever they did. I didn't go back to the war, after seeing it for its true colours, I would rather not go back there ever again.