An Army At Dawn (The War in North Africa, 1942 - 1943), the first volume of The Liberation Trilogy by Rick Atkinson, was a book of firsts.
It was the first book in which I purposefully tried to trace my father's footsteps when he was a man of the barges during WW2. (The invasion of North Africa in November, 1942 was his first D-Day of three).
It was the first book in which I wrote 'prose' or 'prose of war' as a marginal note. I envisioned Mr. Atkinson being forcefully caught up in the words, phrases and sentences , and the events - seventy years old in 2012 - drew breath and lived again.
I have since read others in which some paragraphs go beyond being the repository of mere facts and details, and illuminate the reader in a unique, poignant manner, but An Army At Dawn led the way. Excerpts follow.
The TORCH Plan, on Paper
Three hundred warships and nearly four hundred transports and cargo vessels would land more than 100,000 troops - three-quarters of them American, the rest British - in North Africa. Task Force 34 would sail for Morocco on Saturday morning. The other armada would leave Britain shortly thereafter for Algeria. With luck, the Vichy French controlling North Africa would not oppose the landings. Regardless, the Allies were to pivot east for a dash into Tunisia before the enemy arrived.
In Britain: All the confusion that characterized the cargo loading now attended the convergence of 34,000 soldiers on Hampton Roads. Troop trains with blinds drawn rolled through Norfolk and Portsmouth, sometimes finding the proper pier and sometimes not. Sober and otherwise, the troops found their way to the twenty-eight transport ships. All public telephones at the wharves were disconnected, and port engineers erected a high fence around each dock area... Thousands struggled up the ramps with heavy barracks bags and wandered the companionways for hours in search of their comrades. A distant clatter of winches signaled the lifting of the last cargo slings. And a new sound joined the racket: the harsh grind of a thousand whetstones as soldiers put an edge on their bayonets and trench knives.
In America: Dawn on October 24 revealed a forest of masts and fighting tops across Hampton Roads, where the greatest war fleet ever to sail from American waters made ready. The dawn was bright and blowing. Angels perched unseen on the shrouds and crosstrees. Young men, fated to survive and become old men dying abed half a century hence, would forever remember this hour, when an army at dawn made for the open sea in a cause none could yet comprehend. Ashore, as the great fleet glided past, dreams of them stepped, like men alive, into the rooms where their loved ones lay sleeping.
pages 38 - 41
About those same days in 1942 my father wrote, very matter-of-factLy, the following (in part):
We left Greenock in October, 1942 with our LCMs aboard a ship called Derwentdale, sister ship to Ennerdale. The 80th and 81st flotillas, as we are now called, were split between the Derwentdale and Ennerdale in convoy, and little did we know we were bound for North Africa.
I became an A/B Seaman (Able-bodied) on this trip and passed my exams classed very good. We had American soldiers aboard and an Italian in our mess who had been a cook before the war.
In the convoy close to us was a converted merchant ship which was now an air craft carrier. They had a relatively short deck for taking off, and one day when they were practicing taking off and landing a Swordfish aircraft failed to get up enough speed and rolled off the stern and, along with the pilot, disappeared immediately. No effort was made to search, we just kept on.
One November morning the huge convoy, perhaps 500 ships, entered the Mediterranean Sea through the Strait of Gibraltar. It was a nice sun-shiny day... what a sight to behold. (pages 23 - 25, "DAD, WELL DONE")
Heykel was clear. He wanted a duplex, one made from gray barn board. I said, AOK.
Fortunately, I had one piece of 'gray on both sides' barn board from Handley Mill, Fenelon Falls. (More will not be available until three feet of snow is removed from Handley's lumber piles, sometime in April, maybe).
["I call it a 'tall boy' w side feeder"]
["The roof will be painted red next week"]
I made two more from western cedar and will assemble and paint them asap.
My walk to The Club takes 20 minutes and along the way I mull over deep questions or mysteries. E.g., why are there suds in the Thames? When will I be able to walk in a spring coat? What's the name of that tree with long seed pods on Ridout St.?
Answers: I don't know. Maybe soon. Northern Catalpa (according to Google).
One last question: I started small, like the sign says. But will my walks and workouts make me taller?
Last week I planned to 'cut another dozen' birdhouses (on Thursday) and then set up the sander. Those plans went out the window. I added a screech owl house to the mix, then got back to houses for smaller birds.
["I found screech owl house plans on the interweb"]
["I modified them a bit, e.g., to get a fancier roof line"]
["The best old western cedar will to the trick!"]
["Six small BHs using lath (top right) from an old house"]
I'll likely get around to sanding 30 birdhouses later today, but not outside in the sun.