An Australian army driver from Western Australia, Chas. [Charles] Parsons sent home written details about his 2,000 mile drive from Alexandria in Egypt to the front between Bardia and Tobruk. While published 1st May 1941 in an Australian newspaper, this journey would have taken place between 6th January and 21 January 1941.
Chas. Parsons describes the scenes of destruction, the lines of Italian prisoners of war, the noises of battle and the cold of a desert night.
1941 ‘2.000 MILES ACROSS THE DESERT.’, Pingelly-Brookton Leader (WA : 1925 – 1954), 1 May, p. 3. , viewed 05 Jun 2020, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article252273760
The full article is available via the links below:
…Mersa Matruh, prettily situated on the shores of the Mediterranean. As we approached, the beauty vanished and a slight devastation greeted us. Hardly a building had escaped damage of some description.
“Burying Italian prisoner at Mersa Matruh, Padre Phillips assisted the Italian padre.” January 1941-May 1941 (AWM Image PO5182.014, Photographer Robert Otto Boese)
Sidi Barranai it [the road] was badly blown about… we came across the first lot of captured Italian material. Hundreds of guns of all descriptions war were in neat rows; also dumps of other goods… a very sorry sight. It was blown to pieces and the wonder is how anybody could possibly get out alive from such destruction. Only parts of walls were left standing and utter confusion was everywhere… up to this point we had seen occasional smashed trucks and cars by the roadside; but now they started to appear every few yards, and also other equipment that had not been collected.
SIDI BARRANI – THE ONLY THING LEFT STANDING COMPLETE IN BARRANI WAS THIS MONUMENT PROUDLY COMMEMORATING THE LIBERATION OF LIBYA BY THE ITALIANS. 13 December 1940 (AWM Image 004418, PHOTOGRAPHED BY F. HURLEY).
Sollum with its pretty little harbor. We did not go through the town but took the “Hell Fire Pass” up over the hills – a rough, treacherous, windy track… it was an extremely difficult road to negotiate… the way to the Libyan border, was marked by miles of barbed wire. For miles now we had been meeting trucks of “Iti” prisoners packed in, standing room only – being conveyed to various spots behind the lines, and many of the trucks were captured ones.
SOLLUM – OVERLOOKING THE JETTY AND HARBOUR AT SOLLUM BRITISH TRANSPORTS ARE UNLOADING BENZINE INSPITE OF ARTILLERY FIRE FROM ITALIAN GUNS DIRECTED ON THIS POINT. 28 December 1940 (AWM Image 004945, Photographer F. HURLEY).
Approaching Fort Capuzzo, the roadside was littered with all sorts of equipment – big trucks, burnt, on their sides, on their nose, upside down, in hundreds of bits; tanks burnt and disabled, guns, rifles, clothes, motor bikes, boots, water bottles, gas masks, blankets – everything…In the distance we saw a big mass of black figures; they were thousands more prisoners, hemmed in by barbed wire and awaiting transportation. Fort Capuzzo is nothing but a heap of rubble…
FORT CAPUZZO, LIBYA. RUINS OF THE FORT AFTER THE HEAVY BOMBARDMENT BY BRITISH FORCES. 24 December 1940 (AWM Image 005274, Photographer James Francis Hurley)
Another bad stretch of bombed road, with many of Graziani’s tablets, milestones and victory monuments uprooted…. an occasional aeroplane smashed and burnt by the roadside.
FORT CAPUZZO, LIBYA. L/C W. BROOKS, PROVOST CORPS 6TH DIVISION DIRECTS TRAFFIC AT JUNCTION OF SOLLUM-BARDIA ROAD. HIS IMPOSING PEDESTAL IS THE VICTOR ARCH ERECTED BY ITALIANS AND IS ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF THEIR FLAMBOYANT DECORATION OF THE OTHERWISE FEATURELESS LANDSCAPE. 27 December 1940 (AWM Image 005264, photograph James Francis Hurley)
Everywhere are signs of absolute confusion and rout of the Dagos. They left burnt bridges, undamaged as well as thousands of pounds worth of most valuable equipment in the way of big Diesel trucks, guns, clothing and stores.
Bardia. 1941-01-03. Pile of provisions and clothing on the ground after an Italian Quartermaster Store was destroyed by the Allies. Note the soldier in the background, possibly from 2/2nd Battalion, with a large cloth, possibly a captured banner. (Original housed in AWM Archive Store)( AWM Image PO2038.078)
Hundreds of these Dago trucks are being used by English and Aussie boys, who are also wearing various Dago things – caps, hats, overalls, boots etc are blending in with our own khaki dress…. along the route were hundreds of empty wine casks. They like their wine like our chaps like their tea or beer. Not all the barrels and bottles were empty, as our chaps found plenty of them full and had quite a merry time.
BARDIA, LIBYA, 1941-01. DISABLED ITALIAN GUN, A 105/28 FIELD HOWITZER, AFTER BATTLE AROUND BARDIA ROAD. (DONOR: L. MOUSER). (AWM Image P00643.002)
… we were able to enjoy Graziani’s beautiful road. It is a magnificent road, excellent surface, good foundations, shiny knobs on every curve and every 200 yards are built platforms off the road to make turning easy and packing and unpacking of trucks a simple matter…
TOBRUK, LIBYA. 1941-12. ROAD BLOCKS USED ON THE EASTERN END OF THE BARDIA ROAD. (AWM Image 022175)
Arrival at the Battle Area
The night was beautiful- a full moon, mild and myriads of stars. Sometimes there would be a lull in firing, and then everything would go again – big and small, machine guns, rifles and anti-aircraft. The flash of the guns at night was beautiful … The cold towards morning is terrific. I slept in blankets, sleeping bag, pullover, shirt and balaclava… Most of the firing was being done by our fellows, and Tobruk was being pounded relentlessly by land and sea. The Dagos are well beaten here and the place will soon be in our hands…
TOBRUK, LIBYA. 1941. ITALIAN PRISONERS, CAPTURED BY THE 9TH AUSTRALIAN DIVISION, IN A TEMPORARY P.G.W. CAGE. (AWM Image 040628, Photographer G Keating)
Driving back to Alexandria
At one spot we came across about 24,000 prisoners straggling along the road. They were unattended and presented a sorry picture; they stretched for miles and naturally were most dejected, as they would be wondering, of course, just what treatment was ahead of them… I did forget to mention the thousands of petrol tins thrown everywhere across the desert. Mostly tins are carried for convenience, as each vehicle has to look after itself and those tins, twinkle and shine everywhere along the 2,000 mile trip we had…
LIBYA, 1941-12. FIGURE OF EROS MADE FROM KEROSENE TINS IN THE DESERT. (AWM Image 021710)