War Diary Notes from Wilf Shaw - Wadi Akarit 1943
Letter from pal Fred Zilken
Remembering Jimmy Wilson with honour
I was back In the Signal Platoon now, which is where I should have been all along, but for the Signal Sergeant, when at Frome, having his knife in Jeff and myself, and having us both posted to Z Coy as rifle Coy replacements. I got back into the Sigs by having a word one day with Sgt Lindsay Smith who had been Signal Sgt for some time. I was co-signaller with Bill Wright, one of the original crowd way back at Aske Hall in 1940. The battle here was the by now familiar heavy artillery barrage against dug in positions situated on the high ground across our front. Unlike Alamein, the attack took place in daylight. Ginger, (Bill Wright's nickname) and myself were attached to B Coy, one carrying the 18 set, and the other the spare batteries, plus all the other equipment of course.
We started our ascent Into the hilly ground, through the white tapes laid down by the Engineers - suddenly we were under heavy fire. We got the order to deploy, we scattered widely, men went up on anti-personnel mines or hit with shell and mortar fire - Ginger and I dug in fast and lay praying and sweating it out but at least this time, unlike Alamein, I was in a position where I didn’t have to contend with deadly small arms fire. I dont recall exactly how long we were pinned down - it seemed chaos all around us, with cries of "Stretcher Bearer!" and everybody trying to shout out commands of one sort or another.
A Bren Carrier went up on a mine right beside where we were lay - the crew spewed out and tumbled to the ground in a daze. We could hear a lot of small arms and automatic fire from up front, then comparative silence. We got the order to move forward - we moved through a ravine between the hills, part of which was under fire from 88 millimeters. We came to a halt again, right next to slit trench which had been used by the Italians, a shell crashed down, not far away from us. We dived in the slit trench - the Italians had used it as a toilet and it stunk to high heaven. We moved on again - glad to get away from the 88's and the stink - we moved forward right through the hills and into the clear beyond. I couldn't understand what a new army boot was doing lying on the ground nearby - I picked it up, then dropped it immediately, the foot was still in it!
Into action at the Wadi Akarit
In the battle for Mareth and Wadi Akarit alone, the 6th and 7th Green Howards had 500 casualties. As an advancing force, these would be either killed or wounded. The Signal Officer, Capt Levins, was himself one of the wounded - there were others in the Signal Platoon that at the time I knew well but whose names now I have forgotten.
I don’t have to tax my memory about any of those awful times, they are engraved all too indelibly in my mind - this time, I wasn't one of the casualties - I was one of the survivors, but my nerves were near to breaking point.
Akarit was almost the end of the campaign in North Africa. The last encounter with the Afrika Corps as far as we were concerned took place at Enfidaville, just a few weeks later when we were stuck for days on end in a kind of large orchard, which was infested with the largest and most voracious mosquitoes we had ever seen - they just never stopped biting us. Fortunately for us, they were non malarial.
My mind seems to be a blank from the time we were at Enfidaville - I dont remember at what port we boarded the Orantes or when. The one thing I can bring to mind is being on board the Orantes and sailing about in the Med for quite a while before we eventually landed on Sicily on the 10th of July.
I find it hard to believe I climbed that Wadi Akarit now - what a desolate God-forsaken place it is
Postcript about the battle of Wadi Akarit, WW2
Wilf's WW2 memoirs of Wadi Akarit, 6 April 1943
Read on for 92 year old Wilf Shaw's memories and war story of Wadi Akart and lots more about Wilf's war.
"We got the order to deploy. We scattered widely, men went up on anti-personnel mines or hit with shell and mortar fire."
6th Battalion, Green Howards
Following is the content of a letter to Wilf, written by pal Fred Zilken about the battle and Jimmy's death:
"I was scared to death of being up front, but even more scared of running away. Another thing, Wilf - that Wadi Akarit 'do' in Tunisia - me and Jimmy Wilson were with D Coy as we advanced against those Italian positions - Jim was carrying the 18 set, I was operating and carrying the batteries - as we advanced across the open ground - shells and mortar shells were dropping around like rain - I said to Jim, 'Lets make a run for it - get into a slit trench' but then a mortar bomb shell landed - must have been at our feet!! A deafening explosion - and I felt a sharp pain in my top right hand thigh, and at the same time, I saw Jimmy riddled with shrapnel crumple to the floor. I could do nothing for him.
I have often thought - why did I only get one piece and Jimmy got death? There was just 2 feet between us - Jimmy had lengthened the lead between the 18 set and batteries, just a couple of days before, whilst we were still moving up. I can’t understand how Jimmy was killed and I got away with just one piece of shrapnel - it's still in my back, I didn’t know until I went for an X Ray for an appendix operation!"
Wilf said, "Jim Wilson was such a lovely lad - so inoffensive, but fully committed to the job he had to do. I tried unsuccessfully to contact his family at Billinge, St Helens after the war, and I would love to hear from any relatives or friends of his".
Click to view Jim Wilson's entry in the Green Howards Roll of Honour in a new window.