Many years after the end of the Second World War, Ben Reynolds daughter asked him what the most important personal thing in his life was. His answer was ‘Freedom’. In his story, he tells you why he considered ‘Freedom’ the most personally important thing in his life.
When Ben was just sixteen years old, a member of the Territorials and an apprentice carpenter, he was, to use a word from his memoir, ‘embodied’ into the British Army the day before War was officially declared for the second time against Germany.
Finding himself eventually serving in North Africa, up against the might of Rommel and his Deutsches Africa Corps, during the period when Rommel and his men were pushing forward across North Africa, he was amongst the many servicemen who learned the hard way, to appreciate the tactics of the man who was to become known as ‘The Dessert Fox’.
On June 14, 1942 a decision was made by the British and Commonwealth Forces to retreat from the Gazala Line, which subsequently led to the axis forces taking Tobruk.
Ben was taken prisoner on June 18, 1942 in Northern Libya. He spent 18 months in various prisoner of war camps and 58 days on the run throughout German occupied Italy. Finally reaching the Allied lines he found himself under suspicion as a spy for the Germans, almost being shot for treason.
Picked up by a German patrol while he and twenty of his men were attempting to get back to the front somewhere near Tobruk, they and as it turned out, many soldiers from a number of other regiments had been rounded up by the Germans and held in a depression in the dessert, waiting for further orders.
Deprived of water and food, they spent the nights freezing and the days in extremes of heat before water arrived, along with a hard tack biscuit and some tinned beef.
But this was just the beginning for Ben Reynolds and the men held captive. Loaded eventual into cattle trucks they were sent to a Concentration Camp run by the Italians, who at that time where still allies of the Germans. Despised by all sides they had their uses and running the Camps was one of them.
His story details the deprivation experienced in this first camp, the temporary luxury of the second one, which turned out to be for captured officer rank only and the basic facilities of the third camp he was sent to inside German lines.
Finally deciding to escape he was almost caught on the first attempt but was successful on his second attempt. He spent the next 58 days on the run in German occupied Italy, relying on the goodwill of the occasional chance met local villagers to help him along the way: His purpose was to find the British/Allied line and eventually to get back to England.
Told in a manner which is so matter of fact, almost casual, this in no way detracts from the magnitude of his experiences; it simply makes them so much more as there are no frills added for effect. This is the real deal, this happened. He was one of the ones who survived, being able to eventually tell his story; many did not.
Written down in an attempt to put the horror of the war years in perspective and to allow him to let the past remain in the past, it is a reminder to all that there is nothing pretty about the art of warfare, just devastation and destruction, which goes on to last a lifetime.
Ben Reynold wrote his story in 1970 in the hope it would eventually be published. He died in August 2008 aged 84, after a long, enterprising and enjoyable peacetime life.
|Publisher||New Holland Publishers|