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New Zealand Engineers, Middle East

CHAPTER 9 — The Western Desert Railway

page 252

The Western Desert Railway

(January to June 1942)

To complete the additional section of the Western Desert Railway Extension in time for the Eighth Army's first offensive, the Construction Group and its Pioneer helpers had worked long hours for seven days a week through the torrid winds and dust of summer into the bleakness of winter.

But their efforts would have gone for nothing without the wonderful efforts of the transportation organisation in Alexandria, which was responsible for the supply, loading and despatch of the large daily requirements for the two miles or so of railway track. Often the material was loaded into wagons straight from the ships' holds and then the Railway Operating units had to fit the trains into a timetable of a very busy single-track line with three greater priorities—food, water, ammunition. The supply train nearly always arrived at track-head at 7 a.m. in spite of enemy interference, the odd hot box or a broken coupling, a tremendous achievement by the Operating Units and fully appreciated by the Construction sappers.

And then, while the Division moved up to and into the battle for the escarpments and ridges south-east of Tobruk, the Group had replaced twisted rails and splintered sleepers resulting from enemy bombing, bombing that did not prevent the Operating Group from running its trains.

Particularly large bombs, up to 1200 lb, were being used by the enemy air force at this time; one nearly hit an ambulance train at Wahas and another landed and then bounced right on top of Major Smith's car while he was away at a conference. Mafeesh car.

The campaign concluded with the deliberate enemy retirement beyond the seaport city of Benghazi, the second largest in Libya and the capital of Cyrenaica, to the easy-to-defend position of El Agheila, 500 miles west of Tobruk. There were, however, substantial hostile garrisons still holding Bardia and Halfaya.

The construction units managed a little leave and took their page 253 semi-permanent anti-sandstorm squints to, among other places, Alexandria, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem where, for a short time, they forgot brackish water, marmalade and flat limestone boredom.

The Operating Group had to wait until the traffic slowed down in January before it could get away in batches for a change of air; in the meantime it was instrumental in helping the Kiwis who were liberated when Bardia fell (2 January) to realise that they were really free men again. The ex-captive 7 Field Company sappers and about 800 others got their first surprise when they were lorried out to a railway in the desert where a railway had not, to their knowledge, previously existed. Soon they were bound for Baggush on a train driven by New Zealand crews, through block-posts manned by New Zealanders and past other trains run by New Zealanders. It was no time at all before the ex-PWs were swarming over the locos after hot water for tea-making and not much longer before, being in iron trucks, a fire was going and the billy being boiled therein.

British troops pressing the retreating enemy had eaten their Christmas dinner in Benghazi and, following a reconnaissance by Lieutenant Bishop who had been in the captured city in 1941, 17 NZ Operating Company, represented by Lieutenant McLenaghin1 and 27 other ranks, made the railway engineers' second acquaintance with that locality. The party, a selection of workshops and loco staff with sufficient traffic men to operate the Italian light railway, left by plane and road on 5 January. They went in two parties, one under Sergeant Arnold2 from Group Headquarters as senior NCO, but only McLenaghin's section arrived on schedule; the other got lost and came in the next day.

‘As usually happens in the Army no one on the aerodrome had the slightest idea who we were or knew anything of our arrival but after a lot of fruitless walking and telephoning we used a couple of loaves of bread (a rare commodity in those parts) to bribe a couple of Tommy drivers to take us up into the town where we took up temporary billets in a bombed out villa.’3

A day or so was spent in making an appreciation of the state of the workshops and rolling stock, in meeting transportation page 254 officers and in settling into more comfortable quarters. There was a wide choice of fully furnished deserted houses, but the sappers were touchy about colour schemes and choosy about furnishings, which they rearranged with acquisitions from other villas.

Careful patrol work located a partly burnt-out dump from which the army ration scale was supplemented with German barley soup, vegetables, and other not so easily identified ingredients. The fact that all the labels had been scorched from the tins added an air of uncertainty to the meals. A night operation by McLenaghin and Arnold produced a typewriter which, in spite of a distressing tendency to print accents above certain letters, enabled the Orderly Room to function more efficiently.

Lieutenant Bishop had found on his ‘recce’ that the railway which had been left in full working order by the Italians on the previous evacuation was now a shambles. Even the demolitions by British sappers on their evacuation, which had included the wrecking of the high-level water tower, the workshop machinery installations and the diesel locos, had not been fully repaired; craters in the marshalling yards and many Bomba inesploda notices testified to RAF interest, while the departing Germans, in spite of their publicised intentions to return soon, had added a few refinements of their own. In addition, a large washout had occurred on the Soluk line.

On the credit side the tracks from the docks to the yard were already under repair and a Dock Operating Company had got steam up in one loco which had, no doubt through an oversight, been left intact. As the line to Barce was not operable owing to damage and shortage of rolling stock, local labour was obtained for the job of filling washouts on the shorter Soluk line. Rubble from the bombed railway buildings was used for this purpose. Such was the position on the arrival of the McLenaghin party.

They started on the workshops first and patrols scoured Benghazi for equipment; local tradesmen were put to work on repairs to the rolling stock; a native electrician not only found parts to get the shop motor going but also told his new employers where an electric welding set might be acquired.

Trains were running to Tete by 17 January, the day that Colonel Anderson and Major Young arrived to examine the possibility of recovering the Benghazi-Barce line and using the material to extend the railhead beyond Soluk.

page 255

Headquarters Eighth Army, now completely confident that if the New Zealand Construction Group said it could build a railway from here to there in so many days it would be done, had told Colonel Anderson that it would like the Desert Extension carried on through Capuzzo to El Adem and how long would it take?

Colonel Anderson and Major Smith ‘recced’ the proposed route and replied that the only obstacles to a quick job were our own and enemy minefields, plus a hostile garrison at Halfaya Pass. Remove them, and with material arriving as promised on 7 January, there would be a line ready for operating to El Adem on 23 March. The first leg, Misheifa to Capuzzo, involved laying 86 miles of track in 53 days.

Let us take a look at the team that was to build the railway to Capuzzo, the ornate fort that 23 Battalion walked into unannounced during the CRUSADER campaign.

Eighteenth Army Troops Company was operating the water pipeline. The water was taken from the Nubariya Canal at the edge of the Delta, where it was filtered, chlorinated and then pumped on through boosters or repumping stations spaced at approximately 30-mile intervals to Charing Cross (or Mohalafa), beyond which point the South Africans were responsible Captain Learmonth4 took over the company on 4 January vice Major Lincoln, transferred to the command of 7 Field Company.

Ninth Railway Survey Company still worked from its Almaza headquarters. Over the New Year it had staged its first almost complete concentration since its arrival in Egypt but within a few days was again at work in four countries: in Palestine on a base ordnance depot at Haifa, in Syria on rail extensions at Rayak, in the Sudan on a contour survey at Shallal, in Egypt on the line from Ataqa to Adabiya and finally on the Western Desert Extension. Company Headquarters, apart from administration, carried on with an important function it had assumed on its own responsibility as a kind of rear base for the Construction Group. Twice weekly two lorries were sent up with supplies and equipment of such a nature as could not be readily obtained through routine channels. The securing of such items by more or less, mostly less, regular short-circuiting methods was important, for what a ton of requisitions could not secure page 256 from the red tape fastnesses of Garden City was often made available through the good offices of an RE officer or sergeant at Almaza.

Farther west again, 17 Railway Operating Company was working the Daba-Matruh section of the Egyptian State Railway, with 16 Company responsible for the sandbagged block-posts and railheads on the 92-mile Desert Extension from Similla to Misheifa.

No. 2 Section, 21 Mechanical Equipment Company, lately filling potholes in the roads around Alamein, arrived by train at railhead on 31 December and set up camp at mile peg 108. The sappers spent New Year's Eve quietly on their bunks contemplating a really worth-while job at last, a job of railway building to supply the forward army. They had spent the previous evening with 13 Construction Company and had heard something of the conditions they were likely to encounter.

They had also heard something of enemy interference with train running and track maintenance: they were told of locomotives straight from England with raiders' bullets in their boilers before they had completed one trip; of workshop sappers who patched them up where they stood at least sufficiently well to limp back to the Egyptian Railway workshops in the Delta; of construction gangs called out at all hours to repair bomb damage to the permanent way. Sometimes it was worse than that, as when the train at Misheifa was bombed and German prisoners were killed in the wagons. The doors were prised open with picks and chisels and the tangled mass inside buried in two common graves.

The new arrivals had plenty to think about as they got the feel of the machines they had taken over from 13 Railway Construction Company and pushed the formation a mile or so ahead of the platelaying start line.

The locations at that period of the various railway groups were:

HQ NZ Railway Maintenance and Construction Group (Colonel J. E. Anderson), Qasaba.

10 Railway Construction Company (Major Marchbanks), 109-mile-peg camp.

13 Railway Construction Company (Major Trevor Smith), Wahas Station.

HQ NZ Railway Operating Group (Colonel A. H. Sage), Matruh.

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16 Railway Operating Company (Major F. W. Aickin), Similla.

17 Railway Operating Company (Major G. T. Poole), Daba.

HQ 9 NZ Railway Survey Company (Major W. F. Young), Almaza.

The actual line building was to be undertaken thus:

A detachment of 9 Railway Survey Company (Lieutenant D. U. White) on location.

No. 2 Section, Mechanical Equipment Company (Lieutenant Hazledine-Barber), on formation.

10 Railway Construction Company and two Indian Pioneer Companies on platelaying.

13 Railway Construction Company with one Indian and one East African Pioneer Company on ballasting and servicing.

A three- to four-mile gap was to be kept between each group and, as in the first leg, the location was planned to pass close to depressions where spoil for the raising of levels could be more easily obtained; conversely, cuttings were avoided wherever possible.

It had been impressed on the Mechanical Equipment sappers that no matter what happened the formation must be kept well ahead of the platelaying gangs. To that end the eight caterpillar tractors with an assortment of carry-alls, two bulldozers and a grader were to be worked in two shifts, commencing at 6.30 a.m and ending at 6 p.m. Four standby drivers were to take over during tea breaks, five mechanics were detailed to service the plant, and a pegging party of four marked the width and level of formation. Everybody else was on truck-driving or ‘Q’ duties. Major repairs were to be the responsibility of 13 Construction Company which had a mobile workshop and a supply of spares.

If any sheik-on-camel-with-palm-fringed-oasis-in-the-near-distance illusion still lingered in the minds of the Mechanical Equipment sappers it was dispelled while building the Desert Extension Railway. The bitterly cold winter mornings were seldom without a wind strong enough to whip up particles of stinging grit into the operators' faces. Often enough it would increase to gale force and sweep up billowing clouds of yellow, blinding dust.

When it was quite impossible to see the other machines the men dispersed their equipment and returned to camp; with page 258 water rationed to one bottle a day, all that was possible was to rinse the dust out of eyes and mouth and think about a hot shower.

Hovering over the strip of new-turned and levelled desert, seldom gaining much and never dropping noticeably back, was a small dust cloud. That cloud hid 10 Construction Company, a party of 9 Survey Company, the Indian pioneers—and four long thin barrels of an English ack-ack battery pointing watchfully to the sky. They were working a technique perfected on the Mohalafa-Misheifa stretch.

The surveyors with theodolite and long poles left a line of guiding pegs behind them. Tractors roared up dragging steel rails that the Indians had unloaded from the construction train and left them in pairs alongside the formation. Lorries on the other side of the strip lurched up and backed smartly while more Indians with sharp-pointed picks dragged and dropped the heavy sleepers neatly into place. Other trucks raced up with fishplates, dogs and bolts, which were laid in heaps as required. A rubber-tyred tractor with compressors and bits was close on the heels of a party marking the spots on sleepers where the dog holes were to be bored. As soon as the last hole was finished the first line of dogs would be in position to receive the leading leg (the first rail) carried by a gang of specially drilled Indians and placed with exacting care. The leading leg was fully dogged down and fished up, then the gauge leg (that is the second rail) was fished up and dogged to gauge at the ends and at the quarter points. Finally the track was pulled into line.

There were occasions when the going was bad and the dust cloud got too close to formation head. Then the Mechanical Equipment section worked a third shift in the moonlight so that there should be no delay for lack of a formed bed on which to lay track.

The impression may have been given that, rails having been fastened to the sleepers, all the Operation sappers had to do was to drive their trains along the ever-lengthening route. It was not like that.

The Construction sappers following the platelaying had to lift the track to a perfect level and pack under the sleepers with desert sand. Sidings, platforms, loading banks, telephone sheds and other ancillary works had to be built before trains could operate at speed.

In the hectic days before and during CRUSADER there were page 259 dust-storms when visibility was almost nil and the engine crews pushed their trains along blindfold. There was no through braking system, and often the driver did not know whether the complete train was following properly behind him or whether the couplings had parted, in which case there would be a pile-up somewhere. In normal conditions the driver would, from time to time, give a pre-arranged whistle signal, whereupon the brakesman would lean out of the van and show a green flag or light. But in a bad dust-storm the driver would not be able to see his brakesman's signal and just trusted to luck and the feel of the train.

There were no proper fixed signals on the line at this period and the train crews made their own safety rules, rules that the compilers of the Military Railway Manual had never envisaged. Caution signals made from kerosene tins holding hurricane lamps—an orange light by night, a flag by day, or, in bad visibility, a detonator placed on the rail—warned the driver to get his train under control; another red or green light or flag nearer the station indicated whether the train was to stop or keep going.

At night the enginemen worked under a tarpaulin blackout cover so that the fireman could shovel coal without advertising by the glare of the open firebox that a train without head or tail lights was on the road. Then there was the hazard of spread or damaged rails through tanks and other heavy vehicles crossing the track at unauthorised places and the always possible peril from sand drifts and derailment.

The authority for trains to move between stations was through the ‘telephone and ticket’ system. One station rang the next asking permission for the train to proceed, and if the section was clear consent would be given. A ticket was then written out at the requesting station and handed to the driver.

To avoid stopping the heavy trains, tablet slings were made out of fencing wire and tobacco tins, the ticket was placed in the tin and the contraption held out loop foremost to the oncoming engine. The driver put his arm through the loop, at the same time holding out his own sling with his ticket for the section he had just passed over.

Coaling was done at Similla, generally by Egyptian labourers and occasionally by Libyan prisoners who volunteered for the duty, and sometimes by African soldiers. Major Aickin did not think much of the Libyans:

page 260

‘With the Libyans we always required four times the number necessary to do a given job. One quarter was always making tea, another praying, the third quarter visiting the latrines (provided the sentries were vigilant enough to stop them polluting the surrounding desert) while the remaining quarter worked half heartedly. They were overpaid at a shilling a day and found.’

All wagons for the desert extension were marshalled into train loads at Similla with gangs of sappers working round the clock. Most of the shunting was done at night under strict blackout conditions. The shunters used hand lamps with the glass blacked out, leaving only a small circle of light visible. There weren't very many accidents to men or machines.

As promised, but only just in time, a track was cleared and fenced through the minefields and the line went steadily westwards. Hirsha, Habata and Mawi block-posts came into being and operating staff had to be thinned out to provide for the extra sections. The 13th and 10th Companies were scheduled to change places and jobs at the end of January and rivalry between the two construction units was keen. Now the platelaying sappers could only lay the rails that arrived each day, but Major Trevor Smith, whose company was about to take over the platelaying, had been insistent that given a sufficient supply of material, adequate plant and enough skilled men to spell each other, up to four miles of track could be laid daily. The 10th was inclined to agree that given all the material and all the breaks it might be possible.

Work had ceased on the 14th owing to the non-arrival of the supply train, and when it turned up that evening with another due on the morrow it meant that both loads would have to be laid before the third train congested the line.

Hardy New Zealanders and swarthy Indians waited in the morning sun for the first rails to be distributed. Soon the leading rail was moving westward with the gauge rail following close behind; rail after rail, chain after chain, the two steel lines rolled across the wooden sleepers. The cooks did their share and sent out tea and scones.

When time was called three miles and 500 feet of rails had been laid. It so happened that by way of a change the construction train arrived on the 17th with sixty-pound rails but no plates or bolts. Sleepers were put down but no rails could be laid. The next morning was fine and dustless and the supply page 261 train arrived on time with seventy-five pound rails and bolts and plates for each weight of rail. It was discussed and agreed that an attempt be made to break the four-mile barrier.

Work began smoothly and it was not long before the spiking party was close behind the sappers boring dog holes in the sleepers with their high-speed pneumatic drills. When the construction train moved forward at ‘smoko’ it travelled across three-quarters of a mile of new track; nobody knew quite how it happened but in one memorable hour one mile of track was laid and by lunchtime two miles were finished—in itself a decent day's work.

The pace was on without any conscious effort; the Kiwis wielding the spiking hammers pushed the sleeper borers to the limits of swift accuracy. Work was interrupted by the change from sixty to seventy-five pound rails and by the necessity of having two turnouts laid in by 13 Company. The Indian gangs were slowed up by the necessity of picking over the rails and discarding short and imperfect lengths. The wind rose sufficiently to hinder the men securing the rails with dirty threaded secondhand bolts.

Word got around that there was a record in the making, and as the various jobs petered out Kiwis and Indians hurried to trackhead and watched the men on the linking and spiking hunting amid the oddments of material for the final rails. A dozen were tried before the last perfect length was spiked down by the sleeper borers, who had taken over the hammers from the exhausted spikers. Two hundred and seventy-three all ranks of construction men of two nationalities had completed four miles of track laying in a working day.

On account of the differing conditions and the fact that the New Zealand railway men were equipped with many mechanical aids, tractors, trucks, compressors and pneumatic augers, close comparison cannot be made, but on the Kassala project, the Kut-Baghdad and Baghdad-Hilia lines the average was never better than 1½ miles per day, with up to two miles in a single day.5 In 1897 on the Halfa-Abu Hamed line of 230 miles the average was over 1½ miles per day. Once only, three miles were laid in one day.6

By this time railhead was getting uncomfortably close to Halfaya, which was still held by the enemy, but the day after page 262 the record-making run (19 January) the South Africans removed the last obstacle to a direct approach to Capuzzo by capturing the place.

Meanwhile Colonel Anderson and Major Young had looked over the Barce-Benghazi line and decided that the rails could be recovered and used for the Benghazi-Soluk extension. They were back with their report at Rear Headquarters, Eighth Army, at El Adem on 25 January, but they found there little inclination to discuss railway projects. General Rommel was driving eastward again.

In Benghazi trains were being run by 22 January from the wharves to the dumps with loads of bombs and petrol, and rumours of an enemy breakout were discounted. Three days later the railway sappers were on the steamer Mausang bound for Tobruk. They were seen off by a cautious Italian plane, which appeared to dislike the attentions of a destroyer escort and shortly departed. A tougher friend of his turned up soon afterwards and picked on the little, overcrowded Mausang. Her anti-aircraft armament was not impressive, consisting of one Breda of temperamental habits, operated by two Aussie naval ratings assisted by Sapper Tim Tangney.7 As for the passengers, mostly native Africans and Mauritians, they had already ruined any captured Italian arms they had by using them as crowbars to open cases of tinned fruit. That left only the Kiwi sappers, whose knowledge of rifles was not extensive.

‘I became conscious that it was almost impossible to hold a rifle properly when wearing a life jacket, realised that there was no time to remove it and just waited. When the plane (coming in at masthead height) was about 400 yards away, taking our cue from the Breda, we tore into him as fast as we could reload. It was impossible to miss at that range and the Italian must have got the biggest bloody surprise of his life, for he banked steeply, dropped what appeared to be a torpedo and got out of it as fast as he could go.’8

The torpedo was avoided by a quick turn. It was a chilly night run into Tobruk but the sappers were in very good spirits, induced partly by the encounter with the aircraft and partly because Charlie Tombs9 had traded an Italian dress sword for a bottle of whisky.

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Thirteenth Company was a bit unlucky, for when it took over the platelaying from the 10th on 26 January, rougher going commenced in fairly broken country. A succession of sandstorms carried over into February, the supply trains were irregular and, when they did turn up, brought unpredictable miscellanies of ironmongery. Even the rails were of such varying length that often the sleepers had to be respaced.

The unit took a few days to settle down before it distinguished itself with a record, perhaps not so spectacular as that of its rivals but the kind which is rarer—accomplishment over a period, without any favourable conditions. Trackhead was at the 134-mile peg when work began on Sunday, 1 February. In the week that followed the Mechanical Equipment Section, with three of its nine carry-alls out of action for varying periods, averaged over 2¼ miles of formation daily. They had to put in fourteen culverts with the platelayers breathing down their necks. The last sleeper spiked on Saturday was 150 miles from Similla, an average of a few yards short of 2¼ miles per day for the week.

Neither company achieved that again.

Certainly there was no immediate opportunity of improving on the performance. General Rommel had been halted on the Gazala-Bir Hacheim line, 30 miles west of Tobruk, on 6 February and it was expected that very shortly he would be chased back again. In the meantime the defences at Sollum and Halfaya were to be strengthened, to which end there was need of a spur to hold sixty wagons at Abar el Silqiya near the top of Halfaya Pass, and one to hold forty at the 128-mile peg near Mawi. They had to be made ready at the double, necessitating the reduction of the Capuzzo railhead to second priority with a new deadline—25 February.

It was also at this period that changes took place in 18 Army Troops Company dispositions. The Matruh-Garawla section of the water pipeline was to be handed over to a South African unit, leaving 18 Army Troops Company responsible for the maintenance and operation of all pumping stations and pipeline from the Delta up to but exclusive of Garawla, but including the Alamein position pumphouses and the line to the Fuka wells.

No. 4 Section, now commanded by Lieutenant Mawson,10 completed the hand-over on 10 February, and went back to a page 264 camp at Sidi Bishr near Alexandria. The sappers did a training course by day and visited Alex by night and wondered how long it would last. It lasted until 1 March, when two jobs were put in hand at the same time, the laying of a hundred miles of 10-inch supplementary pipeline from Abd el Qadir to Daba, and the construction of improved loco water-filling facilities and fuel tanks for diesel-driven pumping stations.

The Capuzzo railhead, situated at the 162-mile peg just two miles past the fort, still standing, but very much the worse for wear, was reached on 18 February, seven days ahead of the timetable. The depot itself, a main marshalling yard, a balloon loop with sidings and branches, was ready on 13 March. Other jobs were the finding and spreading of spoil over the unloading areas and the building of a 16-foot-high shelter ramp for the protection of locomotives against bombing attacks. A dummy railhead was also provided for the mystification of the enemy and fitted out with all the dummy amenities. As a final effort to fool the ‘shufti’ planes, Fort Capuzzo was dismantled stone by stone and used for making roads around the railhead. Sic transit gloria Mussolini.

A highlight in the period of unremitting toil, frequent sandstorms and poor rations, was the periodic arrival of the YMCA mobile canteen provided by the staff of Woolworths (NZ) Ltd. It brought luxuries like New Zealand tobacco, tinned fruit and chocolate; necessities such as toilet gear and primus heaters. It showed talkies and shorts of New Zealand scenes to men who for months had seen nothing but desert. Word of its coming was passed along from camp to camp and its welcome was a warm one.

Sunday, 15 March, was declared a public holiday for the construction sappers who, with the exception of odd breaks caused by bad weather, had been working a seven-day week since January. Two lorries took all who wished on a conducted tour of Halfaya (long since renamed Hellfire) Pass, followed by lunch at Sollum Bay and the first swim for months. The return was by the Sollum Pass road, with a tour of the Barracks captured by the Maoris and a short stop by a few lonely Maori graves on top of the bleak escarpment.

There was a three-weeks' break in construction and the opportunity was seized to get the men away on leave and to change-of-air camps.

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The Operating Group did not have the benefit of this break—on the contrary. The enemy had declared an open season on railway trains and 16 Company, responsible for the 162-mile section between Similla and Capuzzo, found that the work was beyond the capacity of a normal operating establishment. A draft of two officers (Lieutenants H. E. McLenaghin and T. B. Lucy11) and 100 other ranks was transferred from 17 Company and stationed between Misheifa and Capuzzo, where full loco facilities were necessary.

These extracts from the New Zealand Railway Operating Group war diary for March will make the point that running trains in the Western Desert at that period was not monotonous.

Place Date
EL DABAA 5 1600 Enemy aircraft dropped bombs and also machine gunned the locality. Track sustained slight damage, telephone and ‘Staff’ communications also severed, necessitating the initiation of Pilot guard working.
EL SUT 7 1000 No. 12 train attacked by enemy aircraft while standing at El Sut. The engine was struck by cannon shells and armour piercing S.A.A. The Engine (disabled) was subjected to further attack at 1300 hours when additional damage was caused.
WAHAS 7 1024 No. 5 train attacked by enemy aircraft while standing at Wahas. The engine was hit in a number of places and disabled. Train again attacked by 1326 hours and three personnel slightly injured.
MAZHUD 7 1030 No. 2 train attacked by enemy aircraft while standing at Mazhud. In addition to the engine being damaged and disabled the engine driver and fireman were scalded by escaping steam causing them to be evacuated to a C.C.S.
MISHEIFA 7 1030 A ‘light’ engine was machine gunned by enemy aircraft on morning of 7 March when leaving Misheifa for Capuzzo. Slight damage only to two auxiliary water wagons attached to the engine.
Between KASSABA & GERAWLA 7 0500 Enemy aircraft dropped bombs at Kilo 271 (between Kassaba and Gerawla) about 20 Yards from the Mainline. Telephone and ‘Staff’ communications were severed.
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A subsequent examination of the track led to the discovery of 2 UXB12 near KASSABA Station and 1 UXB near Kilo 271. All traffic over section suspended until 1800 hours pending advice from a Bomb Disposal Squad that line was again safe for traffic.

Place Date
Near FUKA 7 0510 Enemy aircraft dropped bombs in the vicinity of FUKA Station. No damage resulted but a 500 lb UXB near FUKA Station caused a suspension of traffic until 1430 hours.
Between GALAL & EL QUTT 7 0525 No. 538 train bombed and machine gunned at KILO 197 (Between Galal and El Qutt). Two bombs landed 6 feet from the line causing the first three wagons (ammunition) in front of van to become derailed. The derailed vehicles travelled along the sleepers for approximately 100 yards until two of them capsized. Clearance of the track and relaying of damaged portion was completed early on the morning of 8 March.
W.D. Extension 7 Daylight running of trains on Extension line suppressed meantime as a result of enemy bombing attacks on that date.
MISHEIFA 8 0915 Enemy aircraft machine gunned station Yard causing damage to one engine and wounding one Sapper (Operating personnel).
11 Lt.-Colonel A. H. Sage relinquished appointment of A.Q.M.G.(M) Western Desert Area. Area merged with Eighth Army and Alexandria.
Near Nile 26 2000 Enemy aircraft bombed No. 139 CAPUZZO-MISHEIFA (Mixed) train resulting in the death of 19 soldiers and the wounding of 69 others. 2 carriages, 11 wagons and 1 brakevan were all more or less badly damaged by bomb splinters.
SIDI HANEISH 26 2000 Enemy aircraft made bombing attack on Station, and No. 267 MATRUH-CAIRO personnel train which had just arrived as attack commenced. 5 soldiers were killed and 19 wounded. All were passengers on the train.
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The windows of all the carriages were blown out and all cars were pierced by shrapnel. The station building was partially destroyed and one E.S.R. employee seriously wounded.

Place Date
Mile 119
W.D. Extension
27 2330 Enemy aircraft bombed and damaged the track.
Mile 103 28 0915 Engine 9329 machine gunned. Engine driver wounded and evacuated to a C.C.S. Vacuum pipe of engine damaged.
Mile 119 28 0945 No. 150 MISHEIFA-CAPUZZO train machine gunned. Construction Group personnel working at this point were also machine gunned, 4 killed and 16 wounded. Steam pipe of engine (9317) damaged.
Mile 132 28 1000 No. 147 CAPUZZO-MISHEIFA train machine gunned. Fireman wounded and evacuated to a C.C.S. Engine (9307) damaged and disabled.
Kilo 182
31 2128 Track damaged by enemy bombing. Personnel from 17th NZ Rly. Op. Coy (NZE) assisted with repair work which was completed 0350 hours, 1 April 42.
EL QUTT 31 No. 267 MATRUH-CAIRO personnel train machine gunned while standing at El Qutt waiting for repairs to track to be effected. Seven casualties were caused comprising 4 Military personnel, the Egyptian Railway Guard and two Libyan P.W., all of whom were wounded.
Mile 146
(Between Arad & HALFAYA)
31 0715 No. 165 DOWN personnel attacked by two enemy fighter aircraft. One of the A.A. crew of train killed and one wounded. Engine (9325) damaged by machine gun bullets and cannon shells.

Major Aickin, commenting on this period, says:

‘It was obvious we could not afford to lose our locomotives at such a rate…. In any case the British Railways could not afford to hand locomotives out to us like children's toys to be destroyed in a week, and accordingly something had to be done about it…. All trains henceforth were provided with two page 268 anti aircraft teams, each occupying a wagon at opposite ends of the train, one being armed with machine guns of various types and the other with Bofors or Breda guns.’

The construction teams who received a share of the blitz were full of admiration for the train crews. A Mechanical Equipment Company historian, in mentioning that No. 2 Section's camp was not shot up while others in the vicinity were, continued:

‘Most heavily attacked of all and a sitting shot for these raiders were the trains themselves, which were later forced to carry their own barrage balloons and ack ack guns. Everyone on the Railway Construction operation took their hats off to the New Zealand engine crews, who in their noisy cabs were liable at any moment to be the target for vicious hails of cannon and machine gun bullets, but though casualties were inflicted by these unheralded attacks, they continued bringing their trains through cheerfully and dauntlessly.’13

In spite of it all there was some rugby and soccer played and at Similla the sappers had built a nine-hole golf course in a wadi. To locate the balls more readily they were painted red.

On 23 March 5 Brigade passed Capuzzo on its way to the green hills of Syria in one of the wildest dust-storms ever experienced.

Track laying on the Capuzzo-Belhamed length began on 3 April and was to be finished by 31 May, which involved 72 miles of railroad being built in 59 days. Thirteenth Construction Company carried the work forward until 10 May, when the lead was again taken by 10 Company at the 204-mile peg between Gambut and Waikikamoukau.

Since entering Libya some latitude had been permitted in naming the stations: the first one safely west of the border at the top of the Halfaya Pass became, naturally enough, Hellfire. Keen to do their Indian friends and helpers honour, the sappers named the next station Rumbalbelipur. Capuzzo remained Capuzzo, then came Gundagai, Killarney, Gambut and, to put New Zealand characteristically on the map, Waikikamoukau. No. 21 Railway Line Maintenance Section of No. 2 RE Telegraph Company installing train tablet machines found these flights of poetic fancy too tough for other than Kiwi tongues, as well as being far too long to inscribe on train tablets. page 269 Waikikamoukau became Sandilane and Rumbalbelipur reverted to its native Musaid. But the railwaymen always called it Rumble.

The first part of the section offered no special difficulties other than those involved in avoiding air raids, which, as has been pointed out, were directed mostly against the trains. There were of course the usual short deliveries due to unbalanced supply trains and the recurrent sandstorms. However, at the 194-mile peg the country became more difficult, necessitating much culverting; between the 202 and 205-mile pegs there were two small bridges and one large rock filling.

The train operating story in April was much the same as in March—air raids that often scored hits and caused casualties. The Army posted more and more anti-aircraft defences at block-posts and the Air Force supplied balloons to be towed from special platforms behind each engine. Experiments were being made with an armour of slabs made with a bitumen shingle mix to protect the engines.

Army Intelligence warned Similla to expect a blitz on 4, 5 and 6 May, but Providence stepped in and provided sandstorms in the evenings instead of, as usual, in the mornings. The raiders countered by dropping on Capuzzo the hardware destined for Similla and damaged forty-nine wagons. Instead of dodging bombs the sappers at Similla ran a cricket tournament. There is a story of a six-foot driver just off duty who was clean bowled by his commanding officer, but followed through with such vigour that he lost his bat, which nearly woodened out one of the outfield.

The 21st Mechanical Equipment section arrived at Belhamed for the formation work on 16 May, but instead of completing the marshalling yard or the loop, carried on across the Axis Road towards Tobruk, where a dummy railhead was built before the real one at Belhamed. This was a somewhat subtle piece of deception, for the enemy had not been fooled at Capuzzo where the dummy was made after the real loop, and it was hoped that it would be thought that the same procedure was being followed. Trackhead reached the site of the Belhamed depot on 19 May with twelve comfortable days to complete the loop and amenities before the deadline date of 31 May.

Seventeenth Operating Company, which had a large number page 270 of its men at Capuzzo under command of the sister unit,14 was to take over the whole section westwards of Misheifa on 24 May. The rest of the Company moved up on the 19th, the day the track reached Belhamed, and began to make camp. They were lucky to make a safe landfall for the moon was out and so were the raiders, but the anti-aircraft batteries got them through safely. Misheifa again took the last hammering of the month when a petrol train standing on the balloon loop was bombed and set on fire. Sapper King15 supplies the sequel:

‘Lieut Hec McLenaghan and Lieut Jim Morgan16 were the officers in charge at the time and they took steps to try and save some of the wagons on the burning train. Jim Morgan got the shunting engine from the yard and with the engine crew took it round the balloon loop with the intention of pulling away the rear portion of the train. Hec McLenaghan meanwhile had gone over to the train, and although several wagons were a mass of flame and drums of petrol were every few minutes exploding and being thrown 20 or 30 feet into the air McLenaghan went in between the wagon next but one to the last one actually burning and unhooked the couplings just as the wagon he uncoupled burst into flame. The rest of the train was pulled away to safety…. As far as I know this act of heroism by McLenaghan was never acknowledged probably because neither he nor Jim Morgan reported it. I actually witnessed the whole incident from a couple of hundred yards distance.’

It was about this time that rumours began to circulate to the effect that the days of 10 Construction Company in the Western Desert were numbered.17 They were not without foundation. South African and Australian engineers were working along the coasts of Syria and Palestine from Haifa to Tripoli, building a railway that would connect Tobruk with Calais and Hong Kong, enemy permitting such a journey, and the New Zealand Company was to change places with the South Africans. It was expected that the first of the Springbok units would be ready to move at the beginning of June.

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There were other and larger moves afoot, moves initiated by General Rommel. The attacks along the railway during April and May had been diagnosed as something more than enemy restlessness, and the all-out blitz on Malta, six raids daily throughout April, had not been misunderstood. Authority expected malignant developments.

A conference of all commanding officers in 91 Sub-Area was held on 25 May and plans were discussed for the evacuation of non-essential units, should such a course become necessary. The word HOPSCOTCH was to be the code signal. Rifles, ammunition and tin hats would be carried at all times.

Work went on as usual while German armoured forces, ten thousand vehicles loaded with men and material, began the great outflanking march that was intended to destroy the Eighth Army. In essence Rommel's plan was to move swiftly around the inland flank, destroy the British armour in the open area behind the Gazala line, then wheel north and take the line itself in the rear. A decision was expected within twenty-four hours, with the capture of Tobruk and the opening of the road to Egypt following as a matter of course.

The strategy bore resemblance in reverse to the CRUSADER campaign and in its results was somewhat similar. The Eighth Army was almost wrecked, retired many hundreds of miles, and three weeks later was groggily sparring for time while reinforcements, including the New Zealand Division, hurried across Syria, Palestine and Sinai.

At midnight 26–27 May the Deutsches Africa Corps recorded in its war diary:

‘In bright moonlight the D.A.K. rolls on towards the enemy. Morale is superb and everyone is tense in anticipation of the first encounter with the English. At midnight there is no report regarding the enemy nor have the troops on our right and on our left any contact with the enemy.’

In the early afternoon Don Rs tore around the construction gangs delivering the HOPSCOTCH signal and there was some hurried packing. The evacuation plan as it affected the New Zealand sappers was that Eighth Army was to provide rolling stock at Gambut for 13 Company and attachments and at Belhamed for 10 Company and attachments, while the heavy plant would be entrained at Sandilane.

They were to move back to Qasaba, 250 miles to the rear, until it was seen how the battle was shaping.

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Seventeenth Operating Company would continue to run trains forward from Capuzzo for the time being and 16 Company would carry on as if there were no attack. It is interesting to note the varying reactions to this purely (at the time) precautionary move.

Twenty-first Mechanical Equipment Company's war diary is quite unconcerned over the matter. It packed up, drove its heavy equipment to Sandilane siding, where the flat trucks were supposed to be but did not arrive. It formed a convoy (Lieutenant Ellis18) and moved under its own steam to Qasaba, while Captain Tustin19 and party stood by to load the plant when the train did arrive on the following day. Even then there was no room for six tractors and an assortment of carryalls and graders, which were then driven 60 miles to Halfaya evacuation siding. It took thirteen hours with the graders hooked on behind the carry-alls and the tractors roaring along in top gear. Captain Tustin and some spare drivers took turns in dashing ahead to get the billy boiled before changing places with the dust-encrusted drivers. They did not know that while they were moving along in ‘line ahead’ they were mistaken for enemy tanks and were very lucky not to have been shot up.

Thirteenth Construction Company had had a bad night with bombers over in force and nuisance machine-gunners spraying the place with random streams of bullets. There is a sour note about the diary entries for the 27th. ‘At 1700 hrs received pre-arranged codeword for Coy to shift back to Qasaba as Jerry had started push. Thereupon, we took part for the first time in that well known British operation—“evacuation”— ordered by Eighth Army because we were “non-essential” troops and we and our valuable plant and equipment had to be got out of the way.’

Tenth Company were more peeved over the timing of the message than anything else:

‘Codeword for evacuation reached Orderly Room at 1600 Hrs and DR's sent to warn Indian Coys and to contact officer at Trackhead. An unfortunate time to arrive for most of the personnel were on their way home and it meant returning to collect tools after dinner.’

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No. 4 Section (Lieutenant Treloar20) of 13 Construction Company, a sub-section of 21 Mechanical Equipment sappers and a platoon of 1217 Indian Pioneers remained behind to attend to essential maintenance. By 30 May the Group, less the details mentioned, had settled in at Qasaba among the clean white sandhills close by the beach. It had been virtually the base from which their enterprise had begun, and there was a reunion dinner at which New Zealand lamb was served—the first since leaving home. As the diary diplomatically puts it, there was ‘considerable alcoholic fraternization between units of group during evening’.

From the early hours of the 27th, when 3 Indian Motor Brigade, which at some time must have been in close contact with the Kiwis and learnt some of the language, reported that there was ‘a whole bloody German armoured Division in front of them,’21 there had been one long confused battle until the night of the 30th, when the enemy were apparently in general retreat.

There was a conference on 30 May to discuss the details of the now officially confirmed move to Syria. The Group were still discussing their ‘flight into Egypt’ (their own description of recent movements) when a warning order was received for 13 Construction Company and 1203 and 2209 Indian Pioneer Companies to stand by for a return to Belhamed.

The Company, with attachments, moved out on 1 June. Camp was established at Belhamed and 4 Section, plus the Indians who had remained behind, joined them there. Track laying did not start until 4 June, during which period part of the unit was engaged in repairing the damage resulting from a serious derailment of a tank train at Musaid. The Mechanical Equipment sub-section built a deviation over which 138 Indian Pioneers laid new track, 2 Section (Lieutenant Andrew) of 13 Company re-railed the locomotive, and 17 Operating Company helped to pull the damaged wagons clear. It was a quick job and earned the special commendation of the Commander-in-Chief.

Ballasting of the Belhamed Depot was finished by 10 June, likewise the formation past the dummy railhead as far as 225½ mile peg. The Mechanical Equipment section left for Qasaba and a section of 39 South African Railway Construction Com page 274 pany took over. By this time it had again been demonstrated, as at Sidi Rezegh, that a lost battle need not necessarily stay lost, and the Eighth Army's counter-attack had been turned back in what has been called ‘this mournful and unmitigated disaster, in the account of which there can be no comfort for our arms.’22

The following day (11 June) the southern bastion of the British line was lost when the Free French garrison was ordered to evacuate Bir Hacheim. The next morning Belhamed was ready for complete use, the Kiwis again left for Qasaba, and the line was in the hands of South African engineers and 138 Indian Railway Construction and Maintenance Company.

Two days before Bir Hacheim was evacuated 10 NZ Railway Construction Company left for Syria by rail, with the rear party following by MT. Civilian buses were waiting at Haifa, but the Syrian border had been closed to civilians because of sabotage. The Company thereupon took over the driving itself and Adloun was reached at midday on the 12th.

After the desert climate the humidity was almost overpowering and the men spent the rest of the day on the beach. They were to take over on the 14th, the same day that the recall signal went out to the Division to return to Egypt.

No. 2 Section, Mechanical Equipment Company, left Qasaba on 12 June for a destination which, after many guesses, proved to be a fly-infested spot at Kilo 40, about two hours' journey from Alexandria, where they were to dig pits for harbours for huge Liberator bombers. It did not work out that way but they must be left there for the time being.

The 17th carried on working traffic between Capuzzo and Belhamed, with a rail-motor patrol trolly reconnoitring the line ahead of the trains. They took up urgent requirements and brought back petrol and other valuable supplies.

On the 14th Gazala was evacuated and an attempt made to hold on the line Acroma-El Adem, some 20 miles eastward and so much closer to railhead. After three weeks of almost unrelieved disaster, strength was again being collected for a counter-attack against an enemy who, it was thought, could not push on much farther without a pause for reorganisation. The situation, however, continued to crumble and the Gazala-Tobruk road was cut during the night 17–18 June.

Seventeenth Railway Operating Company was ordered to retire from Capuzzo to Misheifa and to haul back everything page 275 on wheels. The 16th cleared this rolling stock through to Similla, where an English ROC moved it to Daba, and finally the Egyptians hauled it back to Alexandria. The 17th Company then moved back, first to Garawla and finally to Burg el Arab, on the line between Alamein and Alexandria.

Even if an army is withdrawing it still requires rations, ammunition and other supplies. Sixteenth Railway Operating Company continued to work traffic forward to Misheifa, with a few trains going right through to Capuzzo, then more or less in no-man's land. On 20 June the unbelievable happened and Tobruk was captured about the same time as the first formations of the New Zealand Division were arriving at Matruh. Railway transport then became too hazardous, so to avoid the risk of losing any rolling stock men and machines were pulled back to Misheifa, which again became Eighth Army forward railhead. Only 92 miles (Similla-Misheifa) remained operable of the 223½ miles of New Zealand built Desert Railway Extension. There was worse to come. Major Aickin was warned that a further withdrawal by Eighth Army was more than likely, in fact extremely probable, but that he would get eight hours' notice to cease removing stores from advanced supply dumps and pull out.

Just to keep things in perspective, a cricket match was played between 16 and 17 Operating Companies the day after Tobruk fell, but a section of the New Zealand Mobile Dental Unit who chose this moment to arrive to put the railway teeth in order was invited to postpone its operations to a later date. The invitation was accepted without delay.

Every man that could be spared was put to patching up and making ‘runners’ of rolling stock put out of action by enemy air raids, which had grown in intensity as the battle drew nearer to Tobruk. What could not be made movable was blown up. Tents and gear of the nine block-posts between Similla and Misheifa were stacked alongside the track in readiness for a quick take-off.

Enemy planes had not been active along the railway since the fall of Tobruk, but on the afternoon of the 23rd they came back in force. Major Aickin has a comment regarding the enemy tactics:

‘I venture to say that if they had studied their targets better and concentrated more on the bottle-neck leading out of Misheifa, they would have had more success than they achieved by bombing the railway, as they did, at half a dozen different page 276 places. Had the track been blocked for a few hours at the East end of Misheifa, the prize which the enemy might have secured could have been substantial, and Rommel's supply problem would have been greatly simplified…. he might have captured several trains with locomotives complete, to say nothing of the stores.’

On the same afternoon General Rommel was nearing the frontier wire and arranging for the Italians to hold down the Sollum-Sidi Omar position while the German Africa Corps swung round the British left and drove for the coast between Sidi Barrani and Matruh. At Matruh New Zealand Divisional Engineers were working like beavers laying anti-tank mines.

Also on that same evening, about 8.30, the Area Commander at Misheifa received the evacuation order and passed it on to the railhead. Group Headquarters at Matruh was asked for confirmation and replied with Kiwi terseness, ‘Get out smartly—repeat smartly.’

There was some fast movement. Train No. 9, comprising about sixty empty wagons, which had arrived less than an hour previously and at the time was being loaded with troops, departed at 8.40 p.m. No. 11, the first evacuation train, left at 9.38 p.m. with troops and stores; No. 13 with stores and armoured and other vehicles left at 10.48 p.m.; No. 15, a small train with a diesel-electric shunter, left at 11.30 p.m.; No. 17, a long two-engine troop-carrying train, left at 12.30 a.m. on 24 June.

Counting trains that had left Misheifa before the evacuation orders had been received, there were nine trains on the 92 miles of track between Misheifa and Similla. The enemy was overhead—and the front train had ripped up five miles of track with a derailed patched-up wagon. Indian maintenance sappers worked feverishly to get the sleepers and rails back into alignment while eight trains and Rommel's tanks moved eastwards.

Above the toiling sappers and the wrecking gang working on the derailed truck, enemy planes wheeled and circled and turned the friendly darkness into daylight with flares. After a while they tired of the view and left for their ‘target for tonight’, which was a recently evacuated airfield nearby. It was a lucky break.

The best that could be done was to bring the damaged stretch of line up to a standard permitting crawling traffic, and five trains, each taking up to three-quarters of an hour, passed safely over before first light. In the meantime tablet control page 277 had been done away with and all trains were worked up as close as prudence permitted. Providence was on the side of the Kiwi railwaymen that night for bombs were dropped at various points along the line but did no serious damage.

At daylight (24th) the RAF shepherded the last of the trains into Similla and maintained air cover over the Similla-Mersa Matruh area. That night the enemy was on the coast road only 32 miles west of Matruh. All traffic staffs had boarded the last train as far as Charing Cross, which with Siqeifa block-post was kept in operation and ran three more evacuation trains, the last of which arrived at Similla in the early hours of 25 June. That night the enemy lay in front of the Matruh defences, Field Marshal Rommel (he had been promoted after Tobruk) was planning a right hook to isolate Matruh, and 2 NZ Division was heading for Minqar Qaim, part of an escarpment about 25 miles due south, with the intention of being an embarrassment in the coming battle.

Sixteenth Company were ordered to evacuate by rail and MT back to Daba on the afternoon of the 25th, leaving only Lieutenants Chapman and McLenaghin and 35 other ranks, plus the Mohalafa and Siqeifa detachments, to help 193 Company, RE, by marshalling trains for the east. They came out on the last train from Matruh and rejoined the Company, which after several stops and starts arrived on 29 June at Alexandria.

Thirteenth Company, whom we left at Qasaba after completing the Belhamed railhead and finding the 10th had departed, stayed there swimming and resting until the 25th, when they began an adventurous train journey that included dispersing all night in the scrub-covered desert near Fuka while enemy aircraft did their worst, getting out and repairing the track after another raid, spending a couple of days in Cairo, and finally, on 2 July, finishing up at Khalde, about six miles south of Beirut.

April was the last normal month that 18 Armoured Troops Company was to experience for some considerable time. Air-raid warnings were not very numerous and the unit diary mentions the cleaning out of storage wells, salinity injections from the Fuka wells, chlorination of drinking water and the like. No. 4 Section had commenced the second tower for a Braithwaite tank to supply the railway locomotives with water, and two ditchers working on the pipeline were having trouble in rocky country.

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May was different. An urgent request for 2000 drums of water was received. Headquarters Detachment had nearly forgotten what a water drum looked like and had none in stock. The next day the order was stepped up by another 500 drums, then within twenty-four hours another 770 had been added. Drums were located, cleaned, filled, and began moving to the water-front within a week. Demands for drums of water poured in and the sappers worked a ten-hour day trying to fulfil the indents. The supply of containers ran out and the water ship Eocene was got ready again. She sailed in convoy from Alexandria for Tobruk with 2400 tons of water and 2200 tons of petrol, with Sappers Bain23 and Withington24 to operate the pumps, and was torpedoed en route. The New Zealanders were picked up unhurt.

Water barges Nos. 3, 4 and 5 lying at Matruh were to be re-equipped forthwith and crews supplied ready for operation by 1 June.

Out in the Western Desert the pipeline had been trenched as far as Daba, and the railway storage tanks and cisterns finished at Hammam by the end of the month.

Daba received special enemy attention right through the month. Entries taken at random from No. 1 Detachment's diary show how a Kiwi line-of-communication unit reacts to a crisis.

May 8 2050 hrs. 3 or 4 planes over El Dabaa dropping parachute flares with reckless abandon followed immediately with most determined attack to date…. 5 Beduins killed in a slit trench. Ammo train set on fire and completely destroyed, fire lasting 5 hours. All telephone wires down. First blood to El Dabaa AA defences. 1 Junkers 88 shot down into PLOC camp and burned together with crew of 4.

May 9 2359 hrs. All quiet at El Dabaa thank heavens.

May 11 1230 hrs. Visits approximately every ten minutes from irate and thirsty individuals who had had their water supply reduced—very busy day.

May 17 1400 hrs. Coldstream Guards arrive and were defeated at cricket by this section.

May 24 1600 hrs. Visit from 193 Railway 2 I/C to enquire why his buckshee supply of 10 tons pipe water per day had been nipped in the bud.

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May 26 1000 hrs. Drew sterilising powder and other assorted poisons25 to adulterate our drinking water and took some to wells. Viewed bomb craters around wells.

Yes, May was different. So was June.

Railway Construction Group and Railway Operating Group casualties for the period January-July 1942 were:

16 Railway Operating Company
Wounded 4 Died on active service 2
17 Railway Operating Company
Killed in action 3 Wounded 10
10 Railway Construction Company
Died of wounds 5 Wounded 15
Died on active service 2
13 Railway Construction Company
Killed in action 1 Wounded 4
Died on active service 2
9 Railway Survey Company
Wounded 1
HQ NZ Railway C & M Group
Died of wounds 1 Wounded 1

1 Lt H. E. McLenaghin, m.i.d.; Upper Hutt; born NZ 16 Sep 1917; fitter; wounded 7 Dec 1943.

2 S-Sgt E. W. Arnold; Christchurch; born NZ 7 Dec 1908; clerk, NZR.

3 Letter, Lt McLenaghin.

4 Maj A. J. Learmonth, m.i.d.; Meremere; born NZ 1 Sep 1901; civil engineer; OC 18 A Tps Coy 1942–43; seconded to Indian Army 1944–45.

5 R. Trevor Smith, ‘Military Railway Construction in Middle East, 1941–43’.

6 Life of Kitchener, Vol. I, p. 208.

7 Sgt T. M. Tangney; Waiouru Mil Camp; born Timaru, 30 Oct 1918; fireman.

8 Letter, Lt McLenaghin.

9 Spr C. Tombs; Lower Hutt; born Blenheim, 22 Oct 1901; fitter.

10 Capt K. J. Mawson; Wellington; born Wellington, 17 May 1909; civil engineer.

11 Lt T. B. Lucy, m.i.d.; Rarotonga; born NZ 3 Aug 1905; stationmaster.

12 Unexploded bomb.

13 D. D. Alderton, manuscript history of No. 2 Section, 21 Mechanical Equipment Company, p. 27.

14 During the three months the 17 Company draft was working with 16 Company its casualties were two killed, three wounded, four scalded during attacks on locomotives, one injured in a shunting accident and twelve evacuated through sickness.

15 Sgt G. J. King; Christchurch; born Christchurch, 9 Dec 1900; station-master.

16 Lt J. W. Morgan; born NZ 1 May 1900; railway guard.

17 Maj W. F. Young took command of 10 Construction Company on 17 May. Captain Halley, promoted major, became OC 9 Survey Company.

18 Capt J. D. Ellis, m.i.d.; born Dunedin, 24 Sep 1915; engineering student.

19 Capt C. J. Tustin; Lower Hutt; born Hastings, 9 Nov 1913; civil engineer.

20 Maj A. A. Treloar; Lower Hutt; born Wanganui, 3 Apr 1911; civil engineer.

21 Quoted in Crisis in the Desert, p. 24, an official South African war history.

22 The Tiger Kills, p. 123.

23 Spr J. Bain; born Scotland, 22 Nov 1899; enginedriver; died Lower Hutt, 2 Mar 1951.

24 Spr H. R. Withington; born NZ 13 Apr 1917; prospector.

25 This diary entry might give a wrong impression. Wells and aqueducts were not poisoned but were rendered useless with quantities of bone oil and salts.