Monday, April 06, 2015

E -Eritrea - 1942

Four generations: Three continents: Two world wars: One village   
 These are tales spanning four generations spread across three continents in between and after the two world wars of people who set forth under different circumstances from one small village called Agaramangudi.   
The story line traverses through different time lines, locations or incidents with no particular order. The only order being the alphabetical one – A to Z meant purposefully for the A to Z challenge. These posts can be read as standalone posts, but would be best comprehended if you read them along with their prelude provided as a link.

Click here for prelude D -Delhi 1979 

Eritrea -1942

As the ship sailed the port from Bombay, Lieutenant VenkitaKrishnan along with thousands of soldiers from the British army geared up for the war against the Germans. In about three weeks they would reach the Gulf of Aden where they would await the instructions from the British high command for the march ahead. With more than 200,000 volunteers enlisted, the Indian army that fought for the British in World War II would become the largest volunteer army in 1945 enlisting about 2.5 million men from the sub-continent to fight for the British in North Africa and later on in the Europe.

At the Bangalore Cantonment, it was the Madras Sappers and miners that Kittu had been enlisted into.  A Sapper’s job as Kittu and his battalion from Bangalore and the rest of the country would learn soon after was to be responsible for tasks such as building and repairing roads and bridges, laying and clearing mines in order to enable the rest of the battalion to march into the enemy territory.

It was late in the Indian summer of 1942 that a ship carrying thousands of Sappers sailed from the port of Bombay towards the Gulf of Aden.  From there the Sappers would march into Eritrea in North Africa.

It was under Lt. Colonel Preston an Englishman who had an instinctive understanding of terrains and landscapes as much for machines and artillery that Kittu along with other members of his platoon learnt their part in the war they were fighting for the British.
As they marched on in Eritrea and other parts of North Africa, they cleared paths, built roads, connected valleys, crossed rivers and mountains by building numerous Bailey bridges. 

A Bailey bridge was a portable, prefabricated bridge designed by the British engineer Donald Bailey around 1940. It had a simple way of assembling together a bridge that consisted of light weight metal and wooden components that would be assembled by the sappers to connect a deep valley or a river gorge from where the battalion could cross an impossible to conquer enemy territory.
Once a Bailey bridge was assembled and used it could also be easily disassembled so as to cut all access for the enemy to chase the invading or retreating army. (Thus probably was coined the term burning all bridges).
The battalion, commanded by Lt. Colonel Preston marched into parts of North Africa where they were fighting the Germans. In the war Italy had allied with the Nazis and were invading parts of Eritrea where the British troops occupied, initially with the intent of taking defensive measures before the rest of the army could come over for a massive overpowering attack on the Germans.

The battalion travelled far and wide, more often on foot and sometimes in Army trucks and Jeeps.  They set up tents and surveyed the geographical spread and sent codes to the marching army giving clear instructions on the way ahead. As they piloted the terrain, clearing up road blocks, laying road ways and connecting places ahead they would build temporary bailey bridges to march across and move ahead.   

It was here that Kittu met and worked with Harpal Singh, a fellow Sapper in the battalion with whom he shared a tent. Together they specialized in assembling and disassembling Bailey bridges.

Harpal, was a young Sikh from Lahore. He had joined the battalion in Lucknow and was trained to be a Sapper and Miner before he was sent off to Bombay for travelling ahead with the rest of Sappers and miners to the Gulf of Aden where Her Majesty’s Army from the British Commonwealth were fighting the Germans.   

Totalling 36,000 men, the British Commonwealth army attacked the Italians and the Germans and followed the retreating Italian Forces into Europe. 

To be continued : F - Florence - 1943


  1. WW II my fav topic ! By the time Gen Auchinleck decided to do anything , Rommel had driven them nearly to the sea :-) kinda confused, is this historical fiction or you stumbled across a place called 'Agaramangudi' - I wish you did :-)

  2. So interesting to see your family and what they were doing. Shows how each family was a part of history that is quite significant. oh I didn't forget last year and whom you wanted me to write about for the letter M:)


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