World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

Jack Allen 

We Desert Rats

By actiondesksheffield

People in story: Jack Allen
Location of story: Tunisia, North Africa
Unit name: Desert Rat, 8th Army
Background to story: Army


This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Roger Marsh of the ‘Action Desk – Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Carole Cooper.

My uncle Jack Allen was a Desert Rat in the 8th Army during World War II. The following poem was written by him during his time in the desert in 1942.

We Desert Rats

We live in the desert, believe me it's true
If you envy us, we'll change places with you
We eat sand with our breakfast and with our stew
And not only that, we breathe the stuff too
We're nothing but, Rats in the Desert

We dig trenches and dug outs, we dig them by hand
Then we live somewhere else, isn't life grand!
When we can, if we can, we sleep on the sand
The mysterious East, the Promised Land
It's 'oh!' for people who don't understand
But think of us, as Rats in the Desert

We've not had a bath for ten weeks or more
We can't shave too often, our faces are raw
The sun and the sand make our feet rather sore
I do wish I knew who started this war
And what the hell they started it for
Perhaps to make us chaps, Rats in the Desert

We work by day, we work by night
Doing things we know will give Hitler a fright
And if he isn't wise it will just serve him right
Cause it's that guys fault we're out here to fight
And living like, Rats in the Desert

But we're getting used to the Desert, flies and grit
We don't bother about time, beer or kit
We visit each other to chat, smoke and spit
It helps pass the time by just a bit
We play like Rats in the Desert

And when this war's over and we're back on the boat
And we anxiously wait for this to float
We'll draw our back pay and credits in notes
And think of the time when these verses we wrote
And we were Rats in the Desert

Oh! to see a Desert Rat now the spring is here
Nothing to do, Nothing to say, no money, no fags, no beer

My home is the centre of nowhere
by the side of a desert track
And if folks care to come up and see me
sometime you'll find me in my Bivouac

The way that I dress isn't style
but there's no-one here to care
I just knock about in khaki rompers
with buttons off here and there

Water out here is a problem, I've not
washed since a week yesterday
But that doesn't matter as I've no soap,
you sunburn quicker that way

And at meal times it seems strange
with no hall to sit in
It's hard tack and bully or biscuits and fish
or some fruit from a tin

We don't hear the call of a bugle
not even a Janker parade
Sometimes I forget I'm a soldier, as on
Friday's we don't even get paid

Hitler sometimes sends his planes over to
stop us from resting
But the AA lads just open up and make it
more interesting
And at night time it's so peaceful, off to
work and no queue for a bus

Oh! to be a Desert Rat
Robinson Crusoe had nothing on us!!

Jack Allen

Jack Allen died on January 10, 1999 aged 90.