World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

Ted Burns 


By Actiondesk Sheffield

People in story: Ted Burns
Location of story: Amirya, Cairo
Unit name: Royal Ordnance Corps
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 Ted Burns.


Ted Burns

The last few days of June 1942 brought a great deal of changes for lots of us stuck out in a sunny climate and no finance to help us enjoy what was going to be months of hanging about. An iron structure of discipline of parades and marches, kept us occupied in case our thoughts took us back to the days beyond Matruh. Keeping ourselves busy doing a good job, left little time for pandering.

All along I had the feeling that I had a lucky star looking after me, if I could survive the debacle of France and now, as bits of the true story of the retreat from Matruh came to us, I was convinced that if I kept my head I would survive this army game.

At the time when we were told our evacuation of Matruh was imminent, and we heard the heavy armoured vehicles moving up to the front. We could not have been more wrong than to assume the unmistakable clank of tanks and mobile guns were ours. They were leading armoured divisions of the Axis.

Their patrols had discovered a stony part of the desert leading into the Quattara Depression, and whole armies had passed us by at Matruh, with only half a mile of sand dunes separating us.

Neither side knew the other was there.

After a couple of weeks of Amirya, work predominated for the few of us chosen to help with depot duties, including vigilante guarding. In the cold dawns of these guards, I found I was surprised to see so many people coming and going, and everybody seemed to know exactly what they were doing.

When on guard duties, I visited each of the men under my control at the specified time, their nonchalance was irritating, until one of them explained that my men were also being checked on by the garrison Regimental Sergeant Major. This was to me, not on. When the Company Sergeant Major dismounted us at dawn, I asked if I could "...have a word?" To my horror he opened up and told me he was having the same trouble, and asked what did I think he should do.

I had no answer, but it got things moving for me as I was required to attend the Company Office forty eight hours later. Arriving at the office a bit too early, the Sergeant Major took the opportunity to tell me I was the lucky one, he gave me the news of my being transferred to the Royal Ordnance Corps. I started to object - saying I was a Service Corps man. Cocking his head to one side and raising an eyebrow, he warned me not to look a gift horse in the mouth, as if talking to himself, he moved away muttering some- thing about men from the Corps should never be transferred to the infantry. That bit upset me no end, I thought I was far too tall for the infantry game, and it was with relief when I was told that a lorry was leaving for Cairo in two hours, and I would be on it, I was being sent to the Ordnance base depot at Abbassiya Barracks, situated on the outskirts of Cairo, close to the moneyed people's territory. At least that was what I was told by a regular who seemed to know his way around.