THE FULL ROMMEL by Natalie Draper 7 to 23 April 2010 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 2/28 th 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 undiffused 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!