Monday, 9 August 2010

Desert Search

My grandparents' eldest son was a soldier in North Africa during World War 2. Tragically, he lost his life in battle towards the end of 1941. I wanted to pattern one of my characters in Karoo Plainsong on him - but I needed to know more. And so I began what turned out to be a most extraordinary 'virtual' journey to trace my uncle's final days. All I knew at the outset was that he was believed to have died at a place called Sidi Rezegh, although that was unconfirmed. I had no date, no record of his regiment, and no details of where he might be buried.

My entire 'journey' took place online, although I was in touch with people and resources on 3 continents. I found that Sidi Rezegh lies not far from Tobruk, in Libya. The battle there was fought during Operation Crusader, the Allied push to relieve Tobruk, which had been under siege from the Germans for most of 1941. I discovered that South African and New Zealand forces had been involved, and - most significantly - that the 2nd South African Irish regiment had been in the thick of the battle. With the family's Irish roots, could this be where he served?
We were soon surrounded. The German tanks towed heavy artillery, which had been used to bombard Tobruk. For 3 days the battle raged. We were pinned down in narrow slit trenches by machine gun fire just above our heads. We were unable to dig deeper as we were then on solid limestone..(South African Military History Journal)

Would I be able to confirm that this was where he fought and died? Or would he remain one of the unknown among the 4000 soldiers killed, wounded or taken prisoner?

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