A wash bowl made from a petrol tin.

Feb 15th, 2012

Wilfred in the Western Desert Winter 1941/2 standing in front of  the truck he drove.

On the recverse Wilfred has written:  This must have been a warm day because I have taken off my Greatcoat. Note the two pullovers however. I certainly did not undress further than this in two or three months.

Familiar desert features are the wash bowl made from a petrol tin, the German water container by the front wheel and the ‘kettle’ for making tea (if you were lucky enough to have the ingredients) a great comfort in the cold of the Libyan winter



First Letter from Wilfred and a burial in the desert.

Feb 15th, 2012

7635484 PTE W Tattersall

7th Motor Brigade Group

Ordnance COY LRS

7th Armoured Division MEF

4th  March 1942.

My Dear Harvie,

I write one of my rare letters to tell you that I am quite well and that I hope you yourself are better. You will know that I saw Gilbert for a day – he told me that you had sugar in your urine and that you were having an awkward time sorting out things to eat. This surely be a double nuisance in wartime and it is a good thing that you live on the Island where you can not only obtain good meat but more of it, perhaps than on the mainland.

My seeing Gilbert was sheer luck. A month before he landed I should have had no more hope of meeting him than of seeing you, for I was a thousand miles away from here. [they meet in Cairo and I think Wilfred spent the winter in Libya – admin] And one never knows where one shall be a month hence. Gilbert, I believe, has now gone to India; at least he remarks in a letter that he is moving and hopes to meet Desmond Mooney again sometime.

I have not the slightest idea where I shall go next, and if I did I could not tell you. but I can tell you what everybody knows, that there are other theatres of war, and even other deserts, than this one: and personally I have a wild hope that I shall see a change of scenery at last. But you never can tell.

I had quite an exciting winter. I complained last summer that nothing ever happened to us. [during the summer of 1941 the brigade were withdrawn form the front line to re-fit and re-equip as its vehicles and equipment were worn out from battle with the Italian army- admin] I had not been dived bombed or machine gunned, nor seen any tanks in action, nor been fired upon, nor anything like that. All this was remedied during the short winter and on many a day I have had quite enough excitment for the time being. I have seen one morning alone four German planes shot down all around me, a most satisfactory sight. And once I buried in the desert an airman whose parachute had failed to open – Gilbert says that the gods were gruesomely granting my ancient wish to be a grave-digger. For me the chief misery of our campaign was the bitterly cold wind that blows across the desert in winter. I always wore two pullovers, two pairs of socks, a scarf, gloves and a Greatcoat, and still one might at times have been clad in a bathing costume – or so it seemed. If the wind dropped it became pleasantly warm in the middle of the day , but this was by no means every day. I was glad at least to come down into this area, which is always warm – now in fact it is becoming too hot for battledress and I suspect that we shall be changing back to drill very soon. The summer lasts from March until November; there is a long Autumn but practically no spring. You may be surprised to know that the desert in summer is cooler than it is here, because it is fresher. One does not ooze sweat there as one does in this district. The real torture of midsummer is not the heat but the ubiquitous flies.

Gilbert and I had a photograph taken together to mark the occasion of our wartime meeting. I have not enclosed a copy because we arranged that he would send one to you, May and Hilda whilst I dealt with Pat [Wilfred’s Fiancée – admin] Auntie Bertha and Emma: but no doubt you will receive one soon. [He did and I will post it up – admin]

We are having our Christmas Dinner this week as it happened that on December 25th we had only bully and biscuits – and a ration of Rum to put in our tea. Here however there is plenty of everything but potatoes, and I am almost sick of seeing onions, beans and tomatoes which are great crops in this country. Eggs are also very common; they are smaller than the English ones and an order of bacon and eggs means that you get four eggs with a suspicion of bacon. There are three meatless days a week for civilians but this does not apply to H.M. Forces who can buy it any day in their own service clubs as well as what they get in barracks. Cigarettes are plentiful and are fairly cheap at the odd price (for soldiers) of 1/01/2d. [one shilling and a half penny – admin] for 20. But most other things are very dear. I recently bought a Rolls razor for £3/15- formerly 25/- in England I believe. Beer is up to 1/8 a pint ‘twopenny’ bars of chocolate are 5d., and everything is on the same scale. I suppose you yourself will be used to this state of affairs also, in addition to the rationing which of course does not affect us, even in restaurants.

Emma sends me a good deal of postcards and airgraphs containing practically no news; but it is a pleasure to see the writing just the same. I gather she was upset because she could not supply you with anything to eat in her house. She told me also that you were having to register again for this war work business. I hope they do not take you. I cannot think they will because you are obviously not fit enough for any continuous effort. You need your strength for health and also you never seem so fit as when you are on the Island.

One gets used to the Army. Although I have been in it only for eighteen months and, with everyone else I look forward to the day when we shall be out of it again and back in blighty – yet I can hardly imagine myself now in civilian clothes. There are good days as well as bad ones and pleasant situations as well as miserable ones. No doubt one will look back to them with a certain amount of pleasure, and be in some danger, perhaps, of boring everyone with one’s reminiscences. Certainly one is never satisfied. I am at present rapidly becoming tired of eating, drinking, going to the cinema and shopping – yet we used to dream of such things in the desert – and I look forward again to the less formal life in the field. There, to say the least of it, the time goes by more quickly – or so I think at present. Yet only a short time ago, on coming into this area in which we had not been for a year (excepting on leave), we just goggled with pleasure at trees and water and green fields and cascades of purple flowers flowing over garden walls. The very air of the city was a pleasure – for a change. That is what months of the desert life does for one; but now, dissatisfied as one always is, I am ready for ‘fresh fields and pastures new’. And I hope I get them.

According to Gilbert( I am glad to  hear) our monetary affairs are quite sound and even improving.[Wilfred is talking about the family interests in the Manchester Cotton Industry -admin] Hilda told me that one or two of the Mills had repaid their capital but I don’t know which or how much. Apparently they are all standing as yet. I spend quite a bit but even so I must be accumulating quite a credit at the bank (for once) since there are limits to the purchases a Private can conveniently make. I hope that we shall find ourselves alright in the queer world that will surely exist after the war. Not that I worry about it. Tomorrow is a day that may never come: but even if it does it will not be likely to bring the problems we anticipate. No doubt, however, I shall have enough to get married with, even if I have to drive a bus after that – and I could easily do that now!

I like this Russian news very much. It inspires the hope that when eighteen months have passed I shall be back in England. I certainly think that this year will show definately which way the wind blows.

With sincere best wishes: look after yourself or, as Emma would say ‘think on’ from Wilfred



42nd General Hospital at El Ballah.

Feb 13th, 2012

Gilbert’s caption reads 1942 Egypt. El Ballah: Officer’s Quarters. 42nd General Hospital: Canal Zone. He is on the Suez Canal at a military camp which again became important in the 1950’s during the Suez Crisis. The picture is, of course , Gilbert – admin.


Dear Auntie

Feb 13th, 2012

[Again this is from Lieut.G Tattersall 42nd General Hospital M.E.F. and the same date 5th Feb. 1942 and addressed to Miss B. Tattersall Ash Grove, Oriel Road, Didsbury, Manchester.  Auntie Bertha was an important part of the family’s life being their father’s sister, daughter of John Brown Tattersall who was an important character in the Manchester Cotton Manufacturing Industry during the late 19th and early 20th century. Both the Grandfather and their father, Herbert, had died by the time of the War so Auntie Bertha was the surviving important member of that older generation of the family – Admin]

Dear Auntie,

I have arrived safely in the desert but have arrived at a time when tarmacadam pathways, electric lighting, hot water, stone floors for tents and buildings and similar luxuries have been installed. Fairly warm during the daytime, it is very cold at night, but the cold is dry and quite bearable; far more bearable than the heat which destroyed my complexion while on the boat. This ever present sunshine should produce pigment in my skin eventually. I hope you are well again and enjoying yourself during a Manchester winter, free from raids. Medicine is going to be interesting here: everybody is very keen on work in the Hospital. (I censor my own letters!!!)

Love Gilbert


Gilbert “Living luxuriously in the Desert”.

Feb 13th, 2012

[Gilbert has put his address down as Lieutenant G. Tattersall 42nd General Hospital M.E.F. (Mediterranean Expeditionary Force) The 42nd General Hospital is obviously a Field Hospital but I was not sure where it was until I found the photograph which I will put in a future post – admin.]

5th February 1942

Dear Harvie,

I am living luxuriously in the desert. Electric light, hot water, hot meals, comfortable mess, a bar, sufficient cigarettes, a comfortable camp bed with a ‘Lilo’, a mattress and pillow all wrapped up in sheets, blankets and strapped in my canvas valise. As snug as a bug in a rug.

One could go into a town nearby for dancing, cinema’s and cafe’s, but the transport problem is difficult and one would worry how to get back into the desert again. The answer may be a Taxi!

The presence of Majors and Colonels ready to check up upon one’s efforts is disquieting but I feel that they will check up in a fairly kind  manner

I am not anxious to leave this encampment except perhaps to buy a camp table and wash bowl. I hope you are quite well and that everything in the cottage is going well. [Harvie is having some alterations done – admin]

Cheerio – Gilbert


“Tut Tut” chaps

Feb 9th, 2012

[Perhaps I should apologise to Halifax as well now – admin.]

Camp Reception Station

Clifton Road

Halifax  26th November 1941.

Dear Harvie,

Excuse me writing a letter on the back of your letter to me, but it happens to be so convenient at the moment that I cannot resist.

I am in a town which is rather small, covered with a pall of smoke, and the shops are somewhat wretched: but if I can find a good quality leather helmet in the place I will have it sent on at once.

This is another temporary posting, and the aspect of army medicine here is slightly different from elsewhere. I inspected the barracks the second day I arrived (“sanitary inspection”) and enjoyed myself thoroughly poking my nose into odd holes and corners. The barracks are a derelict and abandoned cotton mill. I amused myself by pulling the chains of the lavatories to see if they worked, made sure that the windows would open and shut, had more electric bulbs installed, ordered odd corners to be thoroughly cleansed, inspected the gymnasium, cookhouse, butcher department, detention room: indeed everything that occurs in a complicated barrack system. The building is gloomy and needs “burning to the ground” as Mother would say, but that is only from a civilian point of view. From the army point of view it is fairly suitable.

Another day I was brought in for the purpose of condemning a consignment of Luncheon Roll as “unwise to be used for human consumption” which, as it smelt sour,  and was to be eaten raw, I was very willing to do.

Tomorrow I give my first lecture on the dangers of Venereal Disease. I shall either grow eloquent, or be struck by an enormous diffidence, and not remember anything about the subject.

The M.O. here shouts at people quite unnecessarily. On certain occasions I wish I could do this. I have been asked to rebuke certain soldiers lately, and my method is the ” Tut, tut,” method: which is somewhat unsatisfactory. I have an irresistible feeling that I must laugh at the foibles of the troops.

The Officers Mess is several miles out of Halifax up a valley, and is an old largish house in a small estate – Jumples House, Jumples Crag, and reminds me of Wuthering Heights. Indeed this is the West Riding and we are not many miles from Haworth.

It is probalble that we shall be on the next draft abroad. Don’t send me any money for the helmet. It may never reach me.

Cheerio – Gilbert.

[He was on the next draft abroad – admin]



A Rare Letter from Harvie.

Feb 9th, 2012

This letter has survive because Gilbert wrote a reply on the back. Harvie was the original keeper of most of this archive. The conditions that the other brothers had to cope with later in the War it is not surprising that his letters were not kept. – admin.

It is sent from the Isle of Man to Leeds and dated November 20th 1941.

Dear Gilbert,

Many thanks for your letter. You seem fated to return to Leeds, but I gather you prefer it to Edinburgh.

I expect I shall find myself somewhere in England before long as I see in the papers that the Government are going to call up C3’s and C4’s to work in Arms Factories. It would be a change anyhow as there is not much doing here and now that one’s movement is restricted by petrol rationing it is quieter than ever.

Is it possible that when you are wondering around the town you might pop into a shop and buy a motorcycling helmet – a leather one with flaps over the ears – not a skying cap – that is if you pass the right kind of shop.?I can’t get one here and I get frozen to death on the motor cycle and I have to use it more and more because of the petrol shortage. 7 1/4 is about the size I think. The shop will send send it on and I will repay you by return if one does arrive – or tell them to send the bill.

Well cheerio for the present.

Yours Harvie



Apologies to Edinburgh – admin.

Feb 9th, 2012

My address is The Cockburn Hotel, Edinburgh until 10th November 1941.

Date: 2nd November 1941

Dear Harvie,

I find this northern capital very chilly,  and free from 5 o,clock every day  I can find nothing to do after that. I have time enough to rush onto Princess Street to a bookshop for an “Everyman”. I know of no fashionable drinking places. The Caledonian Hotel, if that is the best place, is not up to much and the homely meals given in the above temperance (Gilbert’s underlining – admin) hotel are preferable.

The Medical Inspection room in the Castle is just about the worst I have ever seen, and the strain upon its accommodation and its resources are very wearing to the spirit.

However, if on my return to Leeds, I am again posted to a wild valley in Wales, I shall probably look upon my stay here as comparatively marvellous. I had myself vaccinated – this being the third day. No effects yet, but presumably I shall feel dreadful by next Friday if it takes. (malaria? – admin)

Cheerio – Gilbert


Nothing Doing

Feb 7th, 2012

No. 11 Depot of T.E., R.A.M.C.


Beckett’s Park, Leeds.  [now a building of Leeds Metropolitan university – admin]

Dear Harvie,

Thank you very much for the bathing costume. I think I should like to take it to warmer climes.

At the moment there seems little chance if embarkation. It seems more possible that we shall be posted temporarily elsewhere. In the meantime I am doing nothing. We wait every morning until the senior officer of our draft reports “Nothing Doing” and then we are free for the day. I usually go into Leeds for coffee, lunch and cinema, or to the theatre – for instance this afternoon I may go and see “On Approval” with Burlly. K. Barnes and Diana Churchill.[any ideas ?- admin]

In the evening I have dinner at the Mess, and read, write (and drink) until bed time.

Yet I should prefer to have something to do. I have just been back from 48 hours leave: i.e. 48 hours at Gatley [where sister Hilda lives – admin] 48 hours not including travelling.

I went to see Auntie Bertha in bed – she looked very well. [more of Auntie Bertha later – admin] We had afternoon tea downstairs without the strain of Auntie Bertha watching every mouthful. Of course Rhona giggled and so did we, [Rhona is Hilda’s other daughter – admin] and I could imagine Auntie Bertha listening to the sound of merriment from the room below.

I have been filling in the gaps during the day by reading in the Penguin series “Vile bodies” and ” I, Claudius”. I am now reading a biography of Sir Francis Drake by A.E.W. Marsh and “The Idiot ” by Dostoevsky.

There is no news at present. I haven’t even accidently tripped up a General recently.

Cheerio – Gilbert


September ’41 – Gilbert to be posted abroad.

Feb 5th, 2012

St Swithun’s School

Winchester 28th Sept. 1941

Dear Harvie,

You may well be at Hilda’s house and have heard the news, but if not I have been officially warned that I shall be posted abroad for service at any moment. I have been given permission for seven days embarkation leave, provided that it does not interfere with any course of instruction I may be about to attend. I am attending a course of instruction in tropical hygiene and medicine for the first ten days of October at the

“Royal Army School of Medicine, Millbank, London S.W.1”.

and after this I shall return to Winchester and ask for permission for leave and if I get it I shall go to Manchester. I shall be due to return to Winchester Helter Skelter even if I do get away.

Now come the moment to buy a tin trunk. If you are in the Isle of Man when this arrives can you please send me my bathing costume to the above address?

One of the privileges of being killed on military action abroad (or in England for that matter) is that death duties are exacted up to an amount of £5,000, and then after that only at a reduced rate. As a privilege it is a doubtful one, but one may well bear it in mind.

The economy goes on apace while I remain here. In London next week however I shall probably be somewhat extravagant.  I can imagine being enthralled by gadget’s for abroad at Fortnum and Mason’s. Strange if I got a complete tropical kit and was posted to Iceland or Murmansk. However a course in tropical medicine is a good indication. Egypt is not the only place abroad, consequently there is very little chance of arriving up on Wilfred’s doorstep, or up the pole of his tent. [Wilfred is already in Egypt – admin]

I hope the “Doctor’s Dilemma” is in London. I should like to see Vivien Leigh and Cyril Cusack. Cyril Cusack is from the Abbey Theatre Dublin if I am not mistaken.

One or two parties in this mess have thawed me out somewhat. Last night I went to the Officer’s Mess in Whinchester: one of the high spots of the place.

Cheerio – Gilbert.