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4th and 6th Reserve Mechanical Transport Companies


page 125

NOW it's over the border into Libya, the barbed-wire hedge cut and rolled back 300 yards for the Division's 2800-odd vehicles to pour through, a river of metal and engines, grumbling and creaking and revving through the midnight hours of Tuesday, 18 November 1941. Military police with dim lamps stand by directing the flood. They're as calm and collected as cops on a country-town street corner, and men look out at them with admiration as they pass. But only briefly, for within vehicle after vehicle someone, responding to the power and the force close about him, infects his comrades, and they sing, shout and yell as never before, or after. For this is the great advance, heralded the night before by tremendous flashes of light from the north, a curtain-raiser from the gods.

But it's Onward, as the fernleaf badge of the Division says, onward nose-to-tail in the night, after resting by day, far apart, dug-in and camouflaged. British tanks arrive to escort the Division. The approach is over. This is Libya. And any time now the target will be firing back.

In the afternoon of 19 November the Division rolls off again ten miles north, just out of range of Sidi Omar's guns feeling for the advancing Indian Division. Dusk comes and with it parachute flares from enemy planes in the dark, wondering.

Ahead in the night the barren Libyan plateau stretches more or less smoothly to near Bardia, where it breaks up into a group of about five small escarpments pointing like a bony hand to besieged Tobruk. There is little difference in the heights of these small escarpments. Starting from near the coast, each escarpment is overlooked by the next by a few feet, a slight difference but a most important one to any army driving to Tobruk. Where the fingers draw close to Tobruk the New Zealand Division will meet its bloodiest fighting. No civilians live in this wilderness, no cities or settlements remain. The names which will flash round the world and linger for a few page 126 brief years around bar rooms and reunions in shabby halls—— Sidi Rezegh,1 Gambut, Belhamed, Bir el Chleta——are only map names for lonely inconspicuous ridges, patches of sand, hills little more than mounds, or an occasional drab well containing a meagre amount of flat, wretched water. The only road, held of course by the Axis forces, runs along the coast from the frontier to Tobruk. Faint tracks, worn by traders and camels across the centuries, criss-cross the plateau above the escarpments. The best-known trail leading from the east through the escarpment country is Trigh Capuzzo. This ‘trigh’ (Italianised Arabic for a caravan route) runs from near Fort Capuzzo past the Sidi Rezegh escarpment and into the far west.

1 Sidi (Saint) Rezegh, a learned Moslem scholar thought to be a direct descendant of the Prophet Mohammed, headed a religious school and had many followers. He died about seventy years ago and was buried near Gambut, Libya. His son is buried in the same tomb, which is visited at the beginning of every spring by many Moslems from Libya, some of them barren women. Pilgrims annually whitewash the tomb and plant sticks with rags on them. Bodies buried nearby are thought to gain sanctity from the saintly bones.