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Poem of North Africa

February 28, 2012

Each post entry on this blog builds chronologically on the ones before. Journal entries are written in italics. Comments are written in bold print. I gratefully acknowledge the sources I used to follow and understand Al’s journal and have listed them on the page, “Where to Learn More”.

Mar. 9.

Landed Oran, Algeria in North Africa at 1300.Debarked 0100, and sent by trucks to Canastel replacement depot.

April 16

Embarked British transport in convoy –

April 17.

Departed Oran – in the Mediterranean sea.

The above journal entries are all that Al wrote about his 38 days in North Africa.  And yet, it affected him enough to inspire his poem, Poem of North Africa, copied below.  Research about that time period and what went on at the Canastel replacement depot in Oran didn’t reveal much.  So, while I will discuss Operation Torch, when the Allied Forces battled the Axis powers in North Africa, I had to take a more personal route to understand  Al’s time in Algeria; that is, I talked to men who had also been there or nearby. My father-in-law, who was in Bizerte, spoke of how hot and dusty it was.  My friend, Ken, a navigator who flew in and out of Oran, Algeria during that same time period explained that there was nothing really for the men in the replacement depot to do.  They were understandably bored. When you remember that they’d just been confined to a transport ship for 12 days, in crowded conditions, you can begin to feel their frustration.  And his poem mentions a few other complaints which were probably quite common among the young men.

Poem of North Africa

Out in this windswept country

North Africa is the spot;

Fighting flies, mosquitoes, and dust storms

In the land that God forgot.

A place for the dead or the wicked—-

Eating that dry-red dust;
Doing the work of a ******
And too damned hot to cuss!
The smell of the goats and the Arabs
This is the place to get blue –
Out in this windswept country
Eight thousand miles from yo
But we’re the boys of “old Uncle Sam”
Earning our meager pay
And guarding the folks with millions
For a buck-sixty a day.
No one cares if we’re living
And no one gives a damn
Our visits to nearby cities
Are greeted with a snub and a slam
We’re the soldiers of the U.S. Army
But it is more than we can stand
Hell, folks, we’re not convicts
We’re the defenders of our land.
For the duration, we must take it
And miss the best years of our lives,
Struggling along on rations
For Christ knows how we exist
No liquor, women or nite clubs
And nothing at all like a kiss
Driving on to endless monotony
And swear that “Home was never like this”.
We hate the sight of the dessert
and we hate the rotten smell
The gratitude extended us
Isn’t “thanks” but “go to hell” —
We don’t ask for glory and credit
For the fight has just begun
But, by God, when this is over
Der Fuhrer had better run!
Yes, we’re the boys of America
And we can match our enemies’ class
Someday, we’ll catch old Hitler
And shove North Africa up his — .

The Allied Forces made the decision to fight for control of French  North Africa to ensure safe passage for troops and supplies through the Mediterranean Sea, to rid the area of Axis forces (125,000 strong) and of their coastal artillery such as tanks, planes, warships and submarines.   German and Italian forces controlled a narrow strip of the Mediterranean coast – Morocco, Algiers and Tunisia.  The campaign, called Operation Torch, had 3 beachheads, one of which was Oran.  Issues encountered included infrastructure  (roads few in number and poor in quality, unable to to withstand the impact of war.  Water was scarce, sanitation was primitive; malaria, typhus and other diseases were prevalent.  All these factors impacted preparation and existed for the military to deal with after. As the campaign wound down, the leadership began to flesh out plans for an invasion on Italy.   

The African campaign gave the U.S.and British military forces a chance to test supply, communications  and support lines.  Support had definite deficiencies.  There was no plan to deal with the wounded soldiers who couldn’t return to the front.  They could’ve been retrained as cooks, mechanics and so on but there were no training programs in place.  By January, 1944, there could be as many as 10,000 men  available at the Canastel replacement depot, half of whom were classified as “limited service” due to injuries.  With nothing to do, men got bored.  In some cases, skills were allowed to deteriorate as well.  Now, you can re-read the poem and, maybe, understand.

Campaign in North Africa (Wikimedia Commons) (Public Domain)

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