The Battle of Sidi Rezegh Immortalised through Verse
My late father never once related details of his wartime experience to even his closest family. He must have had his reasons although I can’t help feeling that invaluable personal experiences have passed on with him “to higher service” as his M.O.T.H. comrades might say. However, he did leave behind a comprehensive record in the form of a wartime log, plus notes, personal correspondence, photos and press cuttings. I consider myself fortunate in being able to piece them all together to reconstruct his entire military career for posterity.
Some of the revelations I have chanced upon reinforce yet again the irrepressible spirit that is often associated with men under the most catastrophic wartime circumstances immaginable. One such discovery (also proudly recorded in the anals of South African military history) is a poetic account, by author unknown, of the Battle of Sidi Rezegh on Sunday 23 November, 1941, taken from the Wartime Log of my late father, Bombadier R V Kilgour who was there with the 3rd Field Regiment S.A.A.
(With apologies to the 5th S.A. Infantry. Brigade)
It was upon the fateful twenty-third
That our brave “Pongoes” pledged themselves to die.
They were equiped with bows of gwarrie – bos
And flasks containing “Gin”, “Chateau” and “Rye”.
Scarce had they dug themselves into the sand,
When they were jumped by Rommel’s bugle band.
They were amazed and wist not what to do
So fled into their burrows deep and true.
Up spake their leader B F Strongi-tharm,
Who quaked lest his brave boys should suffer harm,
“Up every archer”, “Bend your bows”, quoth he,
“And we will make these Aryan mongrels flee”.
The bows were bent, the arrows, forth did hum,
And quaking Huns were pierced through the thumb!
Alas! Our archers were behind the times
They’d not yet heard of Gerry’s 109’s.
Up looked Ray Kilgour the archer blonde and bold
And spake “Ker-rist” what’s this I now behold?
What kind of bird is this with whirling head
Which from its nose sprays streams of red hot lead?
And lo! another kind of bird I see
Who from her stomach throws her eggs on me
A hideous square tailed fowl with zig-zag wings
And belly tightly packed with grievous stings.
Still nearer came the wildly clanking band
Tan steeled chargers through the desert sand
And soon those rapid shooting bowmen found
That they’d been duped and ringed around.
‘Twas sure the hand of fate had crooked dealt,
And wracking heartache on that day was felt.
“Those gallant archers”, said some Airforce wag
“Had thrown themselves into the Axis bag!”
And now they’re all reclining in the land,
Where Mussolini rules his jackal band
Each cursed day they moan their cruel fate,
And say they also serve who simply sit and wait.
An article by Leslie du Plessis titled: “Sidi Rezegh – A name and a day to remember”, which appeared in the Johannesburg Star, 19 September 1966, corroborates not the “flights” of poetic fancy mentioned above but rather the courageous events which gave rise to them.
“Afrika Korps panzers shot like a great arrowhead of steel at one lone brigade”.
“Men without tanks to help them then hurled themselves at the merciless monsters”.
“The Springboks stand at Sidi Rezegh is comparable with the immortal two days stand of the South Africans against the Germans at Dellville Wood – Smuts”.
Here is an illustration accompanying the original poem in my father’s wartime diary: