CHAPTER 13 — The Battle of Alam Halfa
The Battle of Alam Halfa
The desert battle which raged through the first week of September 1942 was, for once, a winning defensive battle. It turned out to be a critical one for Britain, for from that time forward we were fighting a winning war. As a battle it did not go entirely according to plan: no battle ever does: but it was decisive enough. Rommel's thrust towards the Nile Delta was repulsed with heavy losses, especially in tanks, and it became Eighth Army's turn to take the offensive.
The general plan was to give the enemy every chance to advance at will through the southern end of the Alamein defences. In doing this he would have to wallow through a series of sandy-bottomed depressions—Alinda, Munassib, Muhafid and Ragil—whilst being contained in these defiles. The further his line of advance was stretched the more vulnerable became his flank and the greater the number of his troops who came into the trap, whilst the bad ‘going’ used up his precious reserves of petrol. To ensure that the route was voluntarily taken, General Montgomery had contrived to have fall into enemy hands some maps of the Alam Halfa area on which the going had been wrongly described. It was known that the enemy was in grave difficulties over supplies of petrol, so having passed well clear of the New Zealand positions in the south of the line, he would naturally try to swing north and pillage supplies of petrol in the Eighth Army's rear area. Once committed to the big gamble of opening this attack, Rommel was doomed to failure, for where he would turn north on the rising ground at Alam Halfa, our reserves of armour sat ready—ready and waiting on ground of its own choosing—in hull-down positions, where our tanks could bring down plunging fire on the enemy as he struggled up out of the soft going. It was calculated that at this stage Rommel would have his columns stretched to the limit, and that by the time our armour had begun to repulse the head of the columns the greatest possible number of troops would be trapped, and trapped in range of our guns.
It was then that the guns were meant to open up properly and our light armour was designed to get in amongst the soft-skinned transport from its flank.page 212
The Divisional Cavalry, however, had other work to do before this situation arose. It had to keep contact with the flank of the advancing columns and report progress; it had to goad them along with a few probes from the flank, not showing strong resistance, not getting too much involved, but generally giving the enemy false confidence whilst pricking in the flank. Thus also the enemy would be forced to use extra men as flank guards.
On 22 August the regiment began to take part in the Corps' practice for the forthcoming battle. From the south-west corner of the New Zealand Box, three lines of minefields, completing the Alamein line, ran down towards Himeimat. These were covered by columns of 7 Motor Brigade and 4 Light Armoured Brigade. July Column was instructed to retire before the enemy, but not without making it as difficult as it could for him to open gaps in the minefields. After that it was to swing north and complete a line on the east flank of the Divisional Cavalry facing south. This manoeuvre alone was calculated to cause at least half a day's delay.
While it was being practised Major Robinson of A Squadron, who had ideas to post his attached anti-tank guns well forward in Deir el Muhafid, rehearsed the rather tricky job of withdrawing them under cover of smoke laid down by shells from his tank troops.
During the day Lieutenant-Colonel Nicoll had as his guest General Horrocks, the Corps Commander who was controlling the manoeuvres.
The Divisional Cavalry, as divisional mobile reserve, was also given another job to do about this time, namely to dig gunpits and lay mines in the north-east corner of the New Zealand Box, whither it might be sent should 5 Indian Division be pushed back on the Ruweisat Ridge and the New Zealand Division's positions be threatened from that quarter.
Intelligence reports, taking into account Rommel's characteristic consistency, calculated that he would open the attack about the time of the full moon, the 26th. So as each day passed, the Eighth Army waited a little more impatiently as that extraordinary lift in morale, which the new Army Commander seemed to have instilled by his mere presence, grew within the Army. His habit of letting himself be seen by the private soldiers showed immediate effect; as can be read in Colonel Nicoll's diary, where he comments that during a tour round the forward minefields he had run into exalted company, and adds— page 213 perhaps with some concern—that he ‘had never seen an Army Commander so far forward.’ That, of course, would be all the more noticeable to a private.
Mr Churchill also visited the Army during this period and met representatives from all units. From the Divisional Cavalry were the CO and Sergeant Sperry, the only other rank with two decorations. Again, Mr. Churchill's mere presence—most people were quietly convinced that his private wish was merely to get himself shot at once again—had this same effect on morale. Undoubtedly, at the time, these occasions were needed in the Eighth Army.
Spirits within the Divisional Cavalry were always lifted by the same thing, more equipment. On the 25th the last eleven tanks, bringing the regiment up to full establishment, were delivered. The thought did occur to Colonel Nicoll to re-establish the regiment on the basis of one complete squadron of tanks; but he abandoned the idea. At this time, too, he was offered Crusaders instead of General Stuarts but he elected to retain the Stuarts. The Crusaders were fine looking tanks and, if anything, more comfortable to live and fight in and very fast, but mechanically they were not as reliable as the ugly old ‘Honeys’ which roared round the desert looking for all the world like bath-chairs gone juvenile and skittish.
On the 27th the regiment had as its guest for several days a very fine and charming gentleman who, incidentally, was most disgusted to have to leave just as the fighting started. He was Colonel (later Brigadier) Bobinski, Commanding Officer of the Polish Carpathian Lancers, whom General Anders, in his book, had occasion to mention. The Carpathian Lancers were the reconnaissance regiment of the Polish Division and Bobinski came to Div Cav to study its establishment, tactics and methods. He was a delightful guest and the regiment was very flattered by his interest, and even more flattered by his praise since his unit had been the one which, as horsed cavalry, had stood up against the German panzers during the attack against Poland in 1939.
Four days had passed since the full moon and still no major Axis attack had been made on the Alamein line. Impatience and confidence permeated the whole Army.
The Divisional Cavalry was disposed along the edges of the allotted depressions with A and B Squadrons forward and C Squadron in reserve.page 214
When the attack did come nobody was surprised or worried. Everybody for once was ready, and though the codeword TWELVEBORE came through in the small hours of 31 August and the regiment was ordered to stand to, there were even a few who at the cheerless hour of 2 a.m. could raise at least a cynical smile. Those who were doing picket at the time could afford some sardonic satisfaction that for once everybody had to share the same sleepless discomfort.
The fight began well. There was nothing to cause undue excitement, and in the Div Cav everybody's attitude seemed to be just a normal type of pre-breakfast chagrin that the Germans should choose this of all uncivilised hours to start a blasted battle.
Some days previously Colonel Nicoll had sent Lieutenant Tom Ward to the July Column as a liaison officer with a wireless link direct to RHQ, so during the opening stages of the battle, when current reports of the retirement of the column were of vital interest to Div Cav, they were coming, not with several hours' delay as they worked back to Corps Headquarters and down again, but direct and even while the movement was actually in progress. This was a vitally fortunate step to have taken when, by 7 a.m. on the 31st, July Column, which had done its delaying at the first two minefields and retired behind the third one, passed through B Squadron, Divisional Cavalry (which had swung down there to give it a hand) and through some misunderstanding, disappeared out of sight and away to the east. B Squadron stood its ground, nevertheless, all day and at least managed to discourage any advance through part of the minefield. The real embarrassment came the next day, as we shall see. The Corps Commander ordered July Column back on the flank of B Squadron but it never managed to get there. Probably the enemy had lifted mines there fairly quickly and was already advancing past the line. Certainly, throughout the day he did advance quickly, even though engaged all the time by 4 British Light Armoured Brigade, and by dark his leading elements were in Deir el Muhafid.
That night Rommel most likely thought the battle half won. He had cause to: but he had one or two things yet to discover.
The Divisional Cavalry had been able to hold its positions all day and the squadrons remained where they were in battle positions for the night. The CO was startled a bit about half past four in the morning when the General, in one of those impulsive moments of his, suddenly rang up on the telephone page 215 and ordered the regiment to ‘lift the minefields in front and patrol vigorously westward.’ Nicoll, with awful visions of having to face the entire Wehrmacht, together with every Italian from Mussolini down, rolling towards him hurling fire and brimstone, said he would ‘try and do so immediately but it might be rather difficult to lift the mines in the dark’, coupling this with the remark that Div Cav had seen ‘an entire Anti-tank regiment pulling in right opposite the front at last light.’
‘All right, Nicoll, all right you're the expert. You know you've the finest unit in the Division.’
It was a very puzzled Commanding Officer who got in touch with the G.1 to see what this was all about and why the General should suddenly make that remark on a very ordinary morning, and to ask, incidentally, if the ‘Old Man ever goes to sleep during a battle.’ However, all the satisfaction he got was that the ‘Old Man’ was in a high good humour with the progress of the battle and was very pleased with the way Div Cav had acquitted itself so far.
By first light on 1 September B Squadron had every cause to live up to this opinion as the enemy was well past its flank and beginning to work in behind it. Without the cover of the July Column the squadron was presented with a very difficult problem of disengaging, whilst at the same time pivoting back on its northern flank to fall into the same line as A Squadron. This was managed, however, quite successfully and without breaking the squadron's line, though the enemy, who followed close on the heels of the squadron, was allowed to push farther north than intended for that sector. However, nothing came of it and no damage was done to the general plan of the battle. RHQ had to make room also and it was moved back about 3000 yards to Divisional Headquarters.
During the morning the two A Squadron tank troops carried out the orders which the General had given during the early hours. They did not have to go far to find something to be aggressive with. They found a group of eight Italian M13 tanks near Point 98 and engaged them hotly. They were not credited with any knocked out, but they did drive them off to the west hot-foot before they were recalled.
Such little incidents used to give quite a lot of quiet joy to the regiment at the expense of the GOC. He had a habit of ordering the most outrageous things to be done. Someone went off to do it in a great flourish and, as often as not, ran into grave page 216 difficulties; whereupon the General ordered them to stop immediately while he sent help, at the same time counselling the CO not to let them ‘do anything silly, now.’
As the morning developed Div Cav became engaged with its full share of the battle. Ten tanks and two 88-mm. guns advanced up out of Deir el Muhafid looking for trouble. They got it, and pretty smartly, for Colonel Nicoll brought down fire on them from 26 Battery, which was attached to the regiment, and drove them back, but not before one at least was knocked out on the spot. First hit on this tank was actually scored by John Pavey1 of 34 Anti-Tank Battery, also attached to Div Cav. In some classic shooting he scored five hits out of thirteen at a range of over 2000 yards.
To the 23rd Armoured Brigade, on the Divisional Cavalry's east flank, B Squadron's retirement with the enemy hot on its heels, and then this engagement, all appeared as a big attack on the squadron's rear. The brigade reported it accordingly to Corps. By 3 p.m. orders had come to RHQ from Corps Headquarters to ‘engage immediately’. The Divisional Cavalry, enjoying the battle immensely and justifiably proud of what it had achieved in the past thirty hours, had long since anticipated that order and was in the happy position of being able to ask: ‘What the hell have we been doing since 0600?’ The Corps Commander was well pleased to know that the regiment had been in the thick of things all day and to learn what it had done, and called up especially to say: ‘Well done, Div Cav’.
The two squadrons, A and B, remained where they were through the night though the enemy crept up fairly close. At first light on the 2nd, Colonel Nicoll called for and was supplied with his first ‘stonk’. This was a concentrated shoot from the whole Divisional Artillery, and was perhaps tried out for the first time during this battle. Later it became quite the practice and one became used to it, but at this juncture it was a most delightful novelty. All one had to do was to send back a map reference together with a codeword, in this case oxo, and in a few minutes every gun in the Division had shells wailing down on the spot. On this occasion the ‘stonk’ came down on the northern edge of Deir el Muhafid.
This was a definite reminder to any enemy that any attempt to advance northwards round about there would meet with a page 217 warm reception. Nevertheless the enemy armour was not yet completely beaten at Alam Halfa and it was still briskly probing all along the northern flank. It was at this stage that Sergeant Peter Cullen2 lost his life. He was killed by an anti-tank shell which deflected off his open turret lid. The regiment took his loss badly as everybody liked him. Bad luck seemed to have gone with him all through his service, right from the time when his armoured car had capsized and rolled on him in Greece.
The 2nd September actually marked the turning point of the battle, though by now its focal point was almost entirely to the east of the New Zealand positions at Alam Halfa. The Divisional Cavalry spent the day gleefully watching at close quarters the RAF medium bombers employing their pattern-bombing technique. Several squadrons of these bombers ran a shuttle service over the enemy throughout the whole battle. They came in close formations of eighteen, chose their target as they approached, wheeled over it, and at a given signal dropped their loads together. You could watch them with field glasses and sometimes the signal could be seen in the form of a flare fired from the leader's aircraft. Away came the bombs, looking for all the world like a shower of yellow rice. To be below them must have been terrible. Presently a patch of desert erupted in founts of dirty grey smoke and brown dust from a hundred different places. These all merged into one and floated gently upwards to disclose the damage.
But air activity was not entirely confined to the RAF. The Luftwaffe, though overshadowed these days, was also active, particularly after dark, and paid much attention to the New Zealand Box. Its night tactics seemed to depend on moral effect rather than upon physical damage. During the battle of Alam Halfa the New Zealanders were introduced to a new kind of anti-personnel bomb which in the dark was both spectacular and alarming. It was a butterfly bomb which emerged in numbers from a single canister. This canister burst apart in mid-air releasing the smaller ones, which became charged on falling when an outer casing swung apart and began to revolve, setting the fuse at the same time as giving a delayed and erratic descent. These ‘breadbaskets’, as they were soon nicknamed, made a flash in mid-air followed by a number of smaller ones, and then a further series of flashes as they landed, popping and banging all over the place. On one night of this battle the Hun delivered page 218 over the New Zealand Box quite a pyrotechnic display with his butterfly bombs, with parachute and Very flares, and with occasional indiscriminate bursts of tracer. Indeed, Colonel Nicoll in his diary comments that it was ‘like the Auckland harbour on New Year's night.’
All the while the RAF was seeking compensation for this a mile or two farther south where the medium bombers' 24-hour service was kept up unrelentingly. At night-time, as each squadron arrived, one aircraft would unload parachute flares to illuminate the target. Then down went the bombs; and one by one the flares burned out in the air or landed on the ground. But before the last of these had died another stick of them lit the sky again.
What a pounding those troops suffered; and what a pounding for a hopeless cause! Three days and three nights they suffered it, what time they struggled against the softest surface of the desert. By the night of 2 September the armoured spearhead was dulled, damaged, bent; and Rommel was forced to accept utter failure for a gamble which was doomed, had he known it, from the start. He had no course but to turn tail and find his way back as best he could, leaving behind him a large proportion of his precious armour knocked out, and with great quantities of his petrol—just as precious—used up to no effect. But the extent of his greatest disaster was not revealed to the Allies until later. His troops, now so close to the Nile Delta, expected to be enjoying leave in Cairo within a week. To suffer as they did in the advance, and then to realise gradually that the whole venture was a failure, was too much. Morale suffered badly. And, what is more, they had to fight all the way back.
As soon as the advance was judged to have lost all forward momentum, in fact, when the greatest number of the enemy was in the trap, then was the time to spring it. Plans were made for the New Zealand Division to strike southwards from Alam Nayil down into Deir el Munassib and there bar the enemy's line of retreat. This attack was set down for the night of 3 September and was to be carried out by 5 Brigade and the British 132 Brigade, with 26 Battalion being used to deepen the salient to the west. The British brigade was very raw indeed, being fresh out from England. The men had not even got their knees browned when they took over from Div Cav a fortnight previously and it was very evident that they had much to learn. They seemed surprised, almost incredulous, to be on an actual battlefield and not on manoeuvres; one of them had even asked page 219 where the nearest Naafi was. He was thirsty, and it being only 9 a.m., the trooper whom he approached asked why his water bottle was empty. The reply was startling. He had not drunk the water, but under orders from his Company Sergeant-Major had used it all for shaving!
The enemy's retirement began to gain momentum during 3 September and the Divisional Cavalry maintained its patrol line along the northern flank all day whilst 4 Light Armoured Brigade and 7 Motorised Brigade harassed the enemy from the east. After dark, when the regiment was ordered into the Box to take up the role of mobile reserve for the impending attack, B Squadron remained where it was ready for orders to swing back down to the positions it had held the previous week on the third minefield.
The balance of the regiment was to follow up 132 Brigade and pass through its objective, in the early hours of 4 September, down to Deir Alinda, where it was to exploit the success of the attack by playing havoc amongst the enemy transport there and generally to do the same as the other light armoured formations had been doing further east. Presumably this was also to be the prelude to an infantry consolidation still further south to seal off the enemy columns entirely from the west.
The infantry attack was timed to start during the early part of the evening. It was planned as a silent attack, so for quite a while after zero hour, nothing much of interest was to be seen. It was, however, somewhat nerve-racking for anyone within the Box since the Luftwaffe was trying to create as much distraction as possible away from the southern areas by cruising about at low altitudes and turning on the pyrotechnic display just mentioned.
As the attack developed one could see the signs, and from them could form some kind of imaginative picture of what was going on and how far the assault had progressed. These signs took the form of the usual crop of Very flares fired into the air, and bursts of tracer from the enemy machine guns fired on fixed lines. One could recognise vaguely the individual weapons from a distance by the direction of their fire and their source, and could even form some sort of imaginative picture of the character of the gun crews by the length and frequency of the bursts as they squirted along in flat arcs looking like little fiery beads on an invisible string. The progress of the attack could be visualised by the fact that, one by one, these strings of beads ceased to appear.page 220
On the 5 Brigade front, to the south-east, though the RAF was still keeping the sky permanently illuminated, there was little to be seen. There was a certain amount of shellfire coming back on to the Alam Nayil ridge, but one gained the impression that it was being put down as part of a previously arranged programme. Actually, during the advance, 5 Brigade ran into quite a lot of excitement when the Maoris went beyond the northern edge of Deir el Munassib, their final objective, and got down into the depression itself. There they raised Cain amongst the German transport. All this, however, was out of sight of the start line and the 5 Brigade front appeared relatively quiet.
But to the immediate front, that of the British brigade, there were all the signs that affairs were not happening as they should. The usual Very flares soared upwards and tracer squirted about the place, but none of this seemed to be getting quenched. Right on the axis of the brigade's advance something large, presumably a lorry, was burning fiercely and illuminating the whole battlefield. This vicinity seemed to be attracting a great quantity of mortar and shell-fire. Enemy aircraft had been attracted, too, and were adding their share to the confusion.
What actually had happened was that the brigade's transport —and there was far too much of that—advancing on a timed programme, had telescoped up on the assaulting companies which were late crossing the start line, and had got shot up. In no time some of it had been set on fire and the assaulting companies, with Brigade Headquarters now right on their heels, were forced to advance without the protection of darkness and were thrown into confusion by the heavy enemy fire on the spot.
The Divisional Cavalry, less B Squadron, was supposed to have followed close upon Brigade Headquarters and be ready to leap-frog through the forward battalions at first light. But Colonel Nicoll, realising that the brigade was rather unwieldy and in danger of bunching on the objective, wisely decided to let the advance go ahead in the meanwhile and hold the regiment back near the start line until the early hours of the morning, when the brigade should have had a chance to consolidate. His two squadrons would then have been able to move forward much more briskly and without interfering with the advance of the infantry support weapons and the attached reserve of tanks.
So Nicoll sent only one troop of three carriers forward with Brigade Headquarters to send back word when the Brigade page 221 Commander thought the time ripe for the exploitation to begin. The damage done to this troop gives some indication of what would have happened to the regiment had it gone forward and become tangled up in the crowded area taken up by Brigade Headquarters.
The liaison troop, under Lieutenant Don Ross,3 brought up the rear of the Brigade Headquarters, crawling nose to tail through the minefields below Alam Nayil. The crowding and slow pace were his first worries, indicating as they did a similar lack of dispersal should the advance not go quite as it should. Furthermore, once the Brigade Headquarters was clear of the minefields and took up its position about half a mile forward, it was still far too crowded. The result was that the support weapons and the reserve of infantry and tanks began to suffer heavy shellfire. Within five minutes heavy mortar fire was coming down as well and casualties were rapidly mounting among the infantry. The Div Cav troop suffered this with them for the best part of an hour and it was more or less inevitable that it should receive its share. By midnight practically the whole troop were casualties and all three carriers as well. When the first carrier was hit, Ross tried to move away a little until things quietened down. He had gone only about fifty yards when the next carrier was hit and he had to crowd all three crews on to his own. He kept easing away to the east with the intention, if necessary, of getting back to RHQ round that end of the minefield, but he had gone only a few hundred yards, and was still under heavy shellfire, when the carrier hit a mine and blew up. Now completely immobile, he advised Squadron Headquarters by wireless while the troop immediately set about digging slit trenches. The first man took a mighty swing with a pick and sunk it into a mine, so that plan was smartly abandoned and only shallow shelter was scratched in the surface sand for the wounded whilst the remainder took cover behind the carrier. After a while Ross decided to send back all who could walk, he himself remaining with the wounded. Making their way back, some of the men were given a lift in a truck belonging to 27 MG Battalion. It in its turn hit a mine, thus raising the tally of one of the Div Cav men to being four times blown up in a night without becoming a casualty. Strange things happen in battle. When the first carrier was hit a bottle of rum placed handy on a shelf flew up in the air and came page 222 down on the head of its owner, Jim Norton,4 without even breaking, adding no doubt quite a little to his discomfort since at the same instant he suffered shrapnel wounds in two other places.
By 5.30 a.m. on the 4th it was obvious that the Divisional Cavalry would not be able to get down into Deir Alinda through 132 Brigade. On the 5 Brigade front the objectives had been reached but the Maoris had overshot them and were not consolidated; so a route through that brigade was impracticable and the whole regiment was sent to its old positions east of the Box. Nor were those who had been with it overnight sorry to go. Like everybody else there they had suffered a very wakeful night indeed, and at first light RHQ and part of one squadron were horrified to find themselves parked right against a huge stack of New Zealand Engineers' mines. They could only stay there, keeping very still and hoping they would not be noticed, but when the word came to move off they did so with a briskness which no doubt drew much praise from their neighbours concerning the efficiency with which Div Cav got off the mark.
A Squadron became the reserve for all day on the 4th while B and C Squadrons were sent out to the edge of Deir el Muhafid with the artillery Forward Observation Officers watching for suitable targets for a ‘stonk’.
Virtually the battle of Alam Halfa was over. The Axis columns rolled steadily westwards through 4 and 5 September. Everyone in Div Cav was disappointed to be robbed by pure accident of its chance to get in amongst them, particularly as they had been previously getting stories of their opposite numbers in formations further east harrying the retiring enemy. They had been licking their chops at the prospect of a day's similar sport in Deir Alinda. Nevertheless, on the 5th, tank troops under D'Arcy Cole, Dan Ormond and Jack Reeves did manage to get at the enemy a little and do some shooting, Ormond actually penetrating right down into Deir el Muhafid.
Two days later, near the same place, he earned a bar to his MC. Probing about here and there, he ran across a minefield through which the Germans had a gap covered by anti-tank and machine-gun fire. He stopped his troop and walked forward under machine-gun fire to make sure that the gap was genuinely clear of mines, then got back into his tank and charged through and right on to one post, so close that he could not bring fire page 223 to bear on it. Down he jumped again, shooting two men before his pistol misfired. The other three in the post he took to with fists and boots—and he had a nippy little kick when he played second five-eighths at school—and bustled them up, thoroughly subdued, on to his tank. By now the stationary tank was under anti-tank and high-explosive fire from a flank and this was too much for the three prisoners, unnerved as they were. They jumped down and tried to run away, but Ormond cut them down with a burst from the anti-aircraft machine gun on the outside of his turret before he opened up on and silenced the anti-tank gun. While this was going on the tank suffered a direct hit of HE,5 and though it temporarily blinded the driver, Ormond managed to guide him straight at and over the top of the gun, the survivors of which he wiped out also before setting off back to the rest of the troop.
The General was at RHQ at the time and was highly delighted to hear the current reports coming back from B Squadron while all this was going on. He demanded that the prisoners be sent back to him as soon as they arrived at Squadron HQ. There is no record of how the CO explained the lack of prisoners later, for only those present were to know the full facts at the time. Nor is there any record of what sort of a bloodthirsty fellow he thought Ormond was.
Perhaps there is some explanation for Dan Ormond's extreme aggressiveness and disregard of danger that day. The day before he must have felt deeply a loss which saddened many people within the Division, particularly amongst 22 Battalion and the Divisional Cavalry—above all, amongst the regiment's original B Squadron.
On 6 September Lieutenant-Colonel John Russell, DSO, was killed while commanding 22 Battalion. John was too good a soldier to die so soon; but what other fate could you expect of a man of such tenacious courage? Fate was unkind to him. It should have allowed him to be killed crashing forward at the head of an assault instead of allowing his humane instincts to be the cause of his end. He was driving through a gap in a minefield to see a friend—he had close friends everywhere and only an hour or so previously had been to see his ‘first-born’, B Squadron—when a carrier ahead of him blew up on a mine. John knew only too well the awful mess a mine makes of a carrier crew and jumped down to rush forward and help. He jumped on a mine himself and was with his Maker that instant.page 224
If it was an unkind means, it was at least a kind end. There were no lingering cruel wounds, no uphill fight against inevitable death, none of that ghastly effort—though John would never have faltered in making it—to mask his suffering when he saw his hurt reflected and magnified in the anguish in his friends' eyes. It was clean and sudden. Fear, a stranger in his life, could not intrude in his death, which came without warning and came when his heart was abundant with kindness.
1 2 Lt J. Pavey; born Somerset, England, 18 Jul 1911; farm manager; accidentally killed, 9 Sep 1953.
5 High explosive.