Ksar Rhilane 10th March 1943.
This is written to honour the soldiers that took part in this action. The battery largely composed of Miners from Denaby Main and surrounding area, who at this time were attached to the remarkable French officer General L'Clerc, who crossed the Sahara Desert from Chad on foot along with his mainly black soldiers of the Free French Foreign Legion.
The Denaby Battery had been allotted the vital task of covering the flanks of the New Zealand "left hook", 8th Army and the Free French Forces.
The Battery found themselves at a small outpost Ksar Rhilane a Saharan oasis in Tunisia, forming the pivot of the whole operation.
Against them General Rommel sent a force of armoured cars of the 10th Panzer Division charged with the task of wiping them out.
All ranks including the office staff were ordered to dig additional trenches after they had been mustered with rifles. All day shells were exploding round the post, all expected to be blown apart or at least to have to fight their way out.
Ding dong battle
Above an air battle was taking place with enemy Messerschmitt 109's, Stuka bombers and Italian Reggiance strafing the area. The Western Desert air force of Hurricanes, Spitfires and Kittyhawks arrived on the scene and a ding dong battle went on, it was like Dunkirk again which many of the 159 Battery had experienced but this time the Bofors guns precise barrage pinned down the attack with deadly effect.
Enemy shelling stopped
By 5:00pm Rommel's forces began withdrawing, although two German Messerschmitt 109's and four Italian Reggiance were still attacking the Unit area, releasing bombs but causing minimal damage.
At 5:30pm all enemy shelling stopped, but at 6:00pm a German Fiesler Storch air craft flew around the west edge of Unit position on a low trajectory of twenty feet, the Bofors gunners engaged with it, but despite its low position it managed to escape.
It was suggested at the time that it was either Rommel or some other General checking the area. A report received at Battery Headquarters said that 18 German armoured were constructed.
cars were knocked out, and seven guns abandoned, with thirty to fifty German soldiers killed. The 159 Battery had one casualty with shrapnel wounds, but transport and equipment was damaged.
Major battle honour
Lieutenant Bill Abey was awarded the Military Cross and sergeant Harry Botwood the Military Medal for outstanding leadership in action.
As a gesture of thanks a pilot of the Western Desert Air Force flew over the 159 Battery gun sites and dropped cartons of cigarettes.
Rommel's last action in Africa On the 12th March the 159 Battery Commander Major Alistair Wylie lunched with General L'Clerc and the French General issued an Order of the Day, thanking everyone, and indicated that a major battle honour was due to the 159 Battery, for their excellent performance in battle.
It was later learned from the General that his patrol had not sighted an enemy within fifteen miles. This was the German General Rommel's last action in Africa, being recalled after this event.
Our Christmas Trip
On Sunday, 9th December, 2001 our Mexborough Heritage Group had arranged a day trip to Skipton. 30 members and visitors filled a bus and we set off at 9 am and soon hit white frost on the motorway. This notwithstanding the sun came out just as we pulled into the car park and we dispersed, with hundreds of others, to explore and enjoy the medieval market. The stallholders were dressed in many versions of costume, from sacking to yellow satin and that was just the men!
The many shops were visited and, at one of them, miniature mince pies and a mouthful of sherry greeted us. Cups of tea and hot mulled wine were consumed, and later I had a treat which took me back 70 years. Finding the restaurant full and queuing we had piping hot fish and chips from the paper sitting on a now wall. When I was a child, the chips were wrapped in old newspapers but tasted just as good. Later, we visited the sweet shop where hundreds of glass jars of all the old-fashioned boiled
sweets were lining the shelves. Oh, the nostalgia kicked in strongly for me as from the age of seven I was brought up in a little "house" sweet shop and served children with Yorkshire mixture, Mint rock, Mint imperials, Aniseed Balls and many more in triangular paper bags at 1/2d (one half old penny for 1oz (ounce)).
Two of our members visited the castle and found that very interesting and enjoyed it. At four o'clock we waited for the candle-lit procession and it duly arrived, preceded by a twenty piece brass band -utterly silent! We are going to play carols in the church yard they said, but we hadn't
time to wait and made our way to the car park along with thousands (yes) of people and hundreds of buses. Our bus driver did us proud and arrived only 6 minutes after the said deadline of 5 o'clock and yes, our feet were now pretty cold and we all cheered when it arrived. With the heating full on we arrived back in Mexborough safely.
Anyone lucky enough to log onto the 1901 Census before it sank under the deluge of hits? The Public Record Office estimated 1.2 million eager amateur historians each day would search through what was 2.5 million pages, before digitising, their estimates were way off the actual demand. More than one million people tried to log on in the first three hours, the demand peaked at 13 million in one day, the system could not handle the demand and the web site was closed down after a few days. By the time you read this newsletter the web site should be available again after improvements.
The 1901 census contains the names, ages, addresses and mental health of 32 million people. After asking for names, addresses and occupations the question was asked as to the state of mind of the family, whether they were deaf and dumb, blind, lunatic, an imbecile or feeble minded. The population of England and Wales was actually 32,527,843 compared to 52.7 million in 1999. These figures give us a population density of 558 people per square mile in 1901, around 900 per square mile in 1999, we only had 152 per square mile in 1801.
If you are lucky enough to access the site, searches can be carried out under several categories, name, place and address. There is a small charge for the service, presumably our flexible friend, for 50p users can look at the transcribed details from the census return, another 50p buys the details of all the other people listed at that address and for '75p a look at a digital image of the census return. Money raised will help fund the digitising of other censuses.
There are 100,000 websites dedicated to genealogy, these sites are tremendously popular with the over 50's in particular. Many retired people spend hours during the day hunting for that elusive ancestor, finding great satisfaction when discovering a distant relative. The older we get the more interested we become in tracing our ancestors. Perhaps it's a sign of the times, people working away from home, family scattered round the world, the rapid changes in technology, the world of our grandparents and their parents seems very remote and relatively basic and we appear to be desperately trying to have some contact with it.
The web address for this site is www.pro.gov.uk. For those without easy access to a computer Mexborough library has several computers upstairs, available free for public use. Try your luck but not for a week or two!
All the society's archives are now in place in the library, thanks to those members who cleared Julia's house, they had room for a Christmas tree this year, the first time for a few years. The archives now need sorting and organising, any members who would like to help please do so, it would be much appreciated.
We hope to open the room at the end of January on Saturdays at first and maybe Friday afternoons when we get established, please come down and have a look, there's bound to be something of interest that you haven't seen.