ANZAC Lt. Peterson’s letters from the WW2 battlefields

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Here are some excerpts from my grandfather’s letters of what it was like on the battlefields –

TOBRUK – 1941

We were wakened by the drone of Italian bombers which have a distinctive note and easily recognizable at night…we heard 1/2 dozen explosions & wondered what they would be bombing…about 30 minutes later we got a message to go immediately to the prisoner of war compound as they had been bombed…

…it was a most ghastly sight imaginable. The prisoners without blankets were huddled together for warmth and had lit fires and their own planes had dropped big 500lb bombs…

…there were bits of bodies everywhere, like a slaughterhouse – brains, livers, arms, trunks. I couldn’t describe it. The bombs landed right into the huddled mass of prisoners & blown them to pieces. The doctors and the boys worked like Trojans doing amputations in the field. Arms and legs were put in a stack like a wood heap and to make it worse some desert dogs were having a feast on the remains. On of our blokes was doing an Italian, who had his arm just hanging by a bit of tissue, hacked the arm off with a jack knife. When he returned a bloody dog had the arm in his mouth. And was streaking over the hill when an MP shot it with his revolver. We worked all that day and through the night & done around 300 operations on the spot. Near one bomb crater we shoveled bits and pieces in the hole and covered it in…it is not so much the shrapnel but the concussion that does the damage”

CRETE -1941

”we were in an olive grove with wounded men under every tree before we got word to get going and they gave us hell here, the guns tipped toward the men under the trees and straked is with machine guns. I nearly took a soilly here. I heard a plane roaring down & looking up saw a Messerschmitt 109 diving straight for me. You should have seen me move. I dived for the nearest tree and just got there before he opened up with his machine guns (6 of them, 3 in each wing).  The chatter of them was deafening as he flew as low as 100ft from me, the b———-d…any man on Crete who never prayed was a bloody liar…

…anyway I had the job of getting 300 walking wounded to the beach which was 45 miles away (they told us 7)…what a march keeping our movement secret & taking cover by day and moving only at night…the hours of daylight would drive you crazy…a road was being done over by Junkers 87s and heard Jerries trench mortars landing very close so I said to Kev & Bill “let’s go” daylight or not I was moving. Bill told me he’d had enough and couldn’t stand it any longer then I noticed for the first time he was bomb happy (shell shock) his head was  nodding nineteen to the dozen, eyes staring and hands shaking…

…water was scarce. My mouth like blotting paper and we were in rotten condition until we came across a bombed truck so we drank the radiator water (rust, oil and all). It was like nectar…I never thought hunger was so crook…I couldn’t keep my mind off food, even dreamt of it and of the crusts I’d wasted (Kev admitted the same)

NEW GUINEA – 1942

Meanwhile Private Jenkins was sent through by jeep to act as a guide…however about 50yds from the corner; a sustained burst of MG fire whistled around us which was tragically funny as I looked behind to see the boys moving up the track. After the burst I dived for cover in the tall Kumai grass and when I looked back there wasn’t a man to be seen because when I dived they all dived too. We stayed about 1/4 hour and I decided I couldn’t stay all day so I decided to risk it and make a dash for it…a man every two minutes…without mock heroics my knees were knocking as I got to my feet and darted 200 yards long and expected to get one in the guts at any moment…

…to my sorrow around the corner we came across poor George Jenkins who had been the guide- shot-our first casualty and we’d only been in the place 5 minutes and a sniper had got him. The bullet had plowed through his scalp from ear to eye and his face was a mess. Poor bugger. All he was worrying about was that he wasn’t able to tell us about the snipers and was we alright? I slipped a shell dressing on his skull and carried him back – lucky bugger he’ll go home now…

…this bloody war is a terrible mental strain. You can get shot anywhere with snipers (who never live more than two hours anyway after they’ve climbed the trees) because our boys comb the branches with Brens and they dangle like rabbits from their perch). I’ve lost about 2 stone since I’ve been in action here. It’s tough believe me….

….as we were coming back (it was dark) I am in front treading safely- a stick cracks and we prop, listen and sneak on. When I tripped over a wire stretched across the path I went cold with terror – a booby trap…I flopped to Mother Earth waiting for the explosion – which never materialized. Quickly as possible we moved on fearing a delayed action grenade…the trouble with the front line is that it is so fluid that they are everywhere…

Another letter from New Guinea

Are we giving the Japanese fighting boys a belting!!…yesterday when our 25 pounders started up behind us was it accurate? I’ll say. The Japanese scattered in all directions squealing like girls were blown to shred..they hate our mortars. You can hear them quite plainly in the bush screaming and squealing like animals when our mortars lob on them and as they bunch together like sheep and don’t disperse it’s like shooting clay pigeons…

...I’m not exaggerating when I tell you the fighting is going on at a 20 yard range yet you can’t see them and they can’t see us. A patrol will he on the track and meet a patrol of Japanese suddenly 5 yards away. It’s a case of whose quicker on the draw. Our boys have really got Nippon beat at this game they seem dull witted and before they wake up, our blokes have generally riddled them…

…I’m applying for a recommendation for decoration for two of my blokes – Nicol and Lennar to the OC as they’ve done a marvelous job. Hope they click although honestly every man in the show deserves one

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