Private Joseph Edward Holt

Army Number 3972333

Prisoner of War Number 252993


A Hero of the Battle of Medjez el Bab

North Africa




16.12.21. – 26.12.06

The following information has been compiled by Nick Lawson,
Grandson of Joseph Holt

Record of Service:

8 August 1940 - 12 February 1942 Welch Regiment

13 February 1942 - 21 January 1946 Lancashire Fusiliers

22 January 1946 - 5 December 1946 Loyal Regiment

31 May 1952 - 14 June 1952
Loyal Regiment Unit 5 Lancashire Fusiliers, Private class, Z/T Reservist Tilshead Lodge Camp, Nr Salisbury 1952.
Prepared for Korean War but no orders given.

Signed up

Dover Street Barracks, Salford


Pembroke Docks
Bulwark Camp
Bridge of Allan


Medjez el Bab

Was first to the top of the mountain before the battalion descended and crossed the river, and walking into the "Wall of Steel" of the awaiting German troops. Taken prisoner at end of the battle.

POW Camps:

Camp 70

Camp 66 Italy

M. Stanleiger 4F


Names to be checked. Two camps in Italy, 3 camps in Germany)


Soldier's Release Book - Class A

Holt has done well in the unit. An honest, reliable, hard-working man who can be trusted on his own. Sober style, good appearance and a pleasant manner. Willing type of worker.

During his latter years, Joseph became blind and Nick spent considerable time recording details of his grandfather's life and Military Service.

Further explanation is given in the text below

It is written as dictated to Nick

Joining the Army

I was working at Glovers Cables, in Trafford Park. I was quite happy. Unlimited overtime.
Then I was put in charge of the section.I was the fine wire drawer.I was very expert at it. I was doing really well.
Then on me 18th birthday, they put me on regular nights.I thought "Sod this for a game of soldiers".
So, I finished nights one morning at 8 O'clock.
(I was doing 16 hours shifts and getting a bit fed up).
On my way to work, I'd pass three big posters. These showed a
young soldier with all his army equipment.
I went to the recruitment office on Dover Street.
So, I came along on me pushbike. Every time I went to work I used to pass
this advert, asking for young soldiers to jointhe Army - 17 ½ to 18 ½.
So I went to the recruiting officer in Dover Street.
The recruiting Officer took all my particulars.
He said, "What's your job?".
I said "I'm a fine wire drawer, at Glovers Cables".
He said, "I'm very sorry, but that's a reserved occupation."
He could see how disappointed I was.
He said "I'll tell you what I'll do," he said, "Are you mobile?"
I said "Yes" He said "Tell you what. Have a run round the block, and come back
and when I ask you what you do
for a living, tell me you're a general labourer. I said "OK".
So I rode round the block, I come back. He pretended he didn't know me.
I said "Hello," He said "What do you want?".
I said "I want to join the Army. So he said "Well where do you work?" So I told him.
Then he said "Well that's a reserved occupation.
So what do you do?". So I said "I'm a general labourer."
"Oh," he said, "You're in the army now."

Pembroke Docks

There was 6 other men, all joined up at the same time, traveling
down at the same time so we got together.
There was a lot of bombing at the time. It took over 14 hours to get down.
The military cook wouldn't give me any supper at first.
He said "You've had your day's rations - it's on your papers here."
He said "that's ten shillings and six pence for the unexpired portion of your day's
So the army officer said "Don't talk bloody stupid." He said, "What's that in
there?" he said, pointing to my book,
"He said that's tomorrow's breakfast, for the company."
So the chef said "That'll do".
He said "I'll cook them up, and make some sausage sandwiches".
We had a right blow-out.
You wouldn't believe it! I had the biggest plate of sausage sandwiches
I'd ever had in me life!
The next day when I was making my way to the cook house,
we crossed the parade. The parade officer pulled us up.
He said "Who do you think you are?". He told us you never cross
the parade ground unless you are fully dressed.
He said, when you're on the parade ground, you are on duty.
So we never did that again.
There were about twenty oil tanks round the barracks.
The parade ground was in the same place where they brought in
oil to make petrol, you know. This made it a key target.
This Luftwaffe came over.
They dropped a bomb. Most people dived over into the moat.
There was a very big Oil Depot there. A huge Oil Depot, by the
Navy and they bombed that.
They had to send fire fighters from all over the North West, from Scotland and
from the South of England, to fight this blaze.
Well, not so much to fight the blaze, but to contain it, to stop it over flowing,
from going into the sea.
There were several ships that sank in the Pembroke Docks.
You know, war ships.
A lot of fire fighters, trying to control this blaze. A hell of a lot. And we lost a lot of men as well.
The National Fire Service, and they lost a lot of lives.
There was a big distillery on the oil depot.
One of the firefighters got trapped inside, burned alive.
Some of our lads were trapped in there with him.
They'd never even worn their uniform.
We had to leave Pembroke, but we couldn't go off marching yet
cos we'd had no regular army training so then we went to a place
called Bulwark Camp.
They sent us for training with The Royal Engineers.
They soon put us through our paces.
Lancashire Fusilier
The powers that be, up above us,
they must have thought they could walk on water.
They give us the chance to join any regiment we wanted.
The choice of which battalion, you know.
Anyway, I had opted for the Lancashire Fusiliers
and was sent to the second battalion.
Duxford Airfield
All the catering was done by the RAF and they had better
quality cooks and better rations as well. This was just the way it
was organized. The RAF dining room was run on a cafeteria
You could go in there and have three breakfasts if you wanted.
We got big and strong, you know.
Everyone else in the army was on Compo Rations, which weren't very good.
This was run by the RAF. They were on twenty four hours a day.
They had to keep the canteens open 24 hours a day and with no
Set meals. Due to the hours of the rank and file, they just had to
keep it open, with no set meals.
It was very democratic at Duxord. There were no rigid
demarcations between ranks. All the directional planning was run by a Sergeant. In peacetime, before the war a road was built through the air base.
In ran straight through the air field. Aircraft on one
side, dorms and lodgings on the other. I was having a marvelous
time at Duxford airfield. A marvelous time. I had the run of the
RAF facilities.
The RAF controlled the main road. There weren't many of us.
I worked down on that road a lot back then. My main job was to
have road blocks on the road to stop every vehicle coming in and
out. I must say we were very official.
Marching to Carlisle
They took us the length and breadth of the country.
We were marching towards Carlisle. Along the way they gave us dehydrated briquettes.
You'd put water on them till they soaked and soaked and soaked.
Just outside Carlisle we had to Bivouac.
We were told to clean up. We had to polish our brasses, polish the bayonets.
They wanted us to look good.
But then when we got to Carlisle, It was like a hero's welcome.
The Lancashire Fusiliers had had the freedom of the city since the 14 / 18 war. A band came up, a regimental band.

They were from Preston or something. The women came out in the streets, and the children.
There was never a set of soldiers as proud as us at that time as we walked
through Carlisle. The reception we got, it was a through they thought we'd won the war!

Training in Scotland

The gent with the red cross over his head is John (Mucky) Mason and the gent with the blue cross over his head is Joe Holt

This photo is so large I have split it into 3 sections below Lefthand side, Middle, and Righthand side,
click on any of the photos to enlarge it

We were marched up to Scotland. Bridge of Allan just outside Stirling.
Other troops were arriving to join us. It was a sight for same
yes to see your company coming over the hills, and miles behind
you see another company coming behind them, with another company coming behind them. Before long, there was an entire battalion together.
All we were trained in was Assault Landings, Assault Landings, Assault Landings.
Then they realised very few of us could swim.
I was at Bridge of Allan just outside Stirling.
And they made us strip off and jump into the water.
It was about 6 foot deep.
I tried to learn to swim there, you know.
That weren't so bad, although it was bloody cold.
We could hear all this giggling and laughing. There was a clothing factory nearby.
All the women had come out and were watching us off the bridge.
That's when we realised, there was a factory on the bank of the water.
There were girls working at the mill.
And they'd all lined up on the sodding bridge, watching us.
What with our little pinkles, you know. You'd have a little pinkle too in that cold water!
They took us from there. They knew they couldn't teach us while we were being watched. So they took us to the swimming baths.
They didn't have much luck there either.
There were very few of us knew how to swim.
Almost daily, we had to run to the top of the Wallace memorial
and back again, across the water.
We'd always come back soaking wet! We used to have everything ready for
inspection the next morning, dried out and polished, everything.
So, we were up most of the nights. We were bloody exhausted.

Sent to War
They took us to Glasgow onto a ship called the Viceroy of India.
This was a landing craft including planes, so we knew something was going on.
But we didn't know we were going to North Africa.
Churchill wanted Rommel cleared out of Africa altogether.
One of the first objectives was Blida airport.
That was under the control of Vichy France.
When the Germans invaded the low countries, the Vichy government
negotiated a separate peace under a man called Laval.
He cut the country in half.
Our naval craft couldn't get in at Algiers City. The navy chap who was guiding
our boat, he kept traveling round the coast until he
found a spot we could safely beach it. When we landed it was a good spot.
We didn't even get our feet wet.
The landing Officer was overjoyed. He said we had saved about
18 miles of marching since we'd landed ahead of our objective.
We were supposed to have gone to Blida airport.
We marched to Blida airport. No sooner had we got there, than
the aero planes landed.
We had a cup of tea brewed in England from the air crew. It was lovely.
The best cup of tea I'd ever had.

Blida Airport

Well, we got to Blida airport, being helped by the French Foreign Legion at first.
They were like out of Beau Geste.
They had their kepis on and all the lot, just like something out of Beau Geste!
At Blida airport, the French were going to fight us.
They sent General de Gaulle over (part of the Free French).
He warned the Vichy fighters that if they didn't allow the Brits to take the airport over,
he would help them flatten it.
At five to eight, down came the Vichy flag, and up came the free French flag.
This was the all clear and in we came.

Orders to Advance

We marched for two or three days until the trucks caught up with us.
We soon put paid to the Germans there.
Armed with military grenades, rifles and bayonets, we saw them off.
We still had to clear the hillside of them because they were fighting us from
all directions off the hillside, from prepared positions.
We were attacking at night time. I don't think the Germans were used to
fighting at night time. We cleaned the Germans up in no
time. But the paratroopers had buggered off. They had other fish to fry.
We were sheltered from fire by the hillside.
The Germans had proceeded to prepare positions. It was a grim task.
It was terrible.
They told us not to take any prisoners. So we didn't. We had rifle and
bayonet and grenades. We cleaned each position off, as we
went up the hillside. When we got to the top of this hill.

That was a grim business. Very grim. We didn't take any prisoners.

We were encouraged not to. "Kill, or be killed.".

We didn't take the threat lightly. I don't think any prisoner was taken.

I was the first up to the top.

Me bayonet was all bloody. It was terrible. I was covered in blood as well.

Medjez el Bab
(One of the LF's Battle Honours Click here to go to it)

Crossing the River
We got to the top. I was one of the first to the top.
Looking down we could see right across the valley.
And there was the river Medjez down below. We had to cross
that. Even now to this day I don't believe it.
In full view of the enemy we had to cross this river.
The river Medjez. Oh it was bloody deep.
We had to fire ropes across, and hook them to these trees.
We had a right bloody job getting across there.
We fired ropes across, wrapped around trees, pulled them tight,
then we had the feet on one rope, and we walked across.
A rope bridge it was.
We swung across with our hands on the top rope,
feet on the other. We'd just crossed the River Medjez.
We'd just crossed the river.
When we landed we stayed overnight until we dried out.
Then they lined us all up, in 14-18 fashion, extended order.
Rifles and bayonets in hand. They said we were marching on Tunis.
I thought this couldn't be right. Well it wasn't bloody right.

Night time

They had us all lined up there. Rifles and bayonets, in extended order.
And we just advanced on them.
There was a long stretch of open ground, with no cover.
The Germans must thought it was manna from heaven, because we ran
into a wall of steel.
No two ways about it.
The Germans were waiting half way across.
They came out with half tracks and all sorts, followed up with the infantry,
Stukkas bombing from the sky.
They were armed to the
teeth. Half tracks surrounded us (half tanks, with caterpillar
tracks and half wheels)..
This was a place called Medjez al Abar (Medjez el Bab).
And they sent Stukkas over, dive bombers. And shelled us with 88 millimeters.
They had the 88 millimeter guns and the aircraft machine guns.
It was a young battalion.
We was all just young soldiers.
It wasn't really a battalion at all.
The Stukkas bombed us to pieces.

I got took prisoner. Apart from me and the Platoon Officer, not many others survived,and it was a miracle any had.
We were waiting for the Germans to fry us out.
He said "What's the matter soldier?". I said "I'm trying to count how many of us is left".
He says "Don't worry,", he says, "You lads did all that could be expected of you,
and you couldn't ask any more."
And he says "Don't worry about it". So I didn't after.
We were caught out in the open. Surrounded.
The German Captain came to us saying
"Come on, Aus Tommy, Aus… Get up.".
So I got up. Me and several mates, including the Officer.
They took a few of us into a big barn.
When you've got a German soldier pointing an 88 millimeter gun at you,
you didn't argue twice with it.

This one German was searching me. He emptied my pockets.
All as I had on me was a photograph of Amy and an
empty cigarette case. "Kein cigaretten?" When he saw an empty cigarette case he was disgusted, so he filled it
and he give me a couple of extra packs in me pocket as well.
And they were English Cigarettes. So I said "Where d'you get English cigarettes from?"
He said we were in Tobruck. That's when I knew Tobruck had been taken.

German Medical Officers

The German medical officers and orderlies, took a great deal of care.
As soon as they were satisfied that the wounded had no live ordnance on them,
that's arms, you know, they gave them
all a shot of morphine, to stop the screaming. But they wouldn't touch one of the
wounded until every item of equipment was taken off them.
There had been one or two unfortunate incidents when they had been tending to
the wounded and it had blown up on them.
And I had the painful task of taking their equipment off them, and putting it
all in a big pile, which the Germansset fire to from a safe distance.
It didn't half go up with a bang, bloody hell!
We carried the wounded in for the officers to examine them all.
I said "This one's dead".
But the medicals would say "Nein, not dead". And they weren't.
See, I was passing them off for dead cos it was very difficult to
tell a dead person from one who was badly wounded.
Very difficult because they're in a state of shock and their lips
turned blue.
And their eyes, they'd just roll, you know…
I was carrying some of the wounded. There was one stretcher.
Well it was a door not a stretcher.
I had a young German officer. He had had his dose of morphine.
He was highly delighted because he thought he was a prisoner of
the British. It was probably as well for him that he wasn't,
because we took no bloody prisoners .
The German officers who were with us kept telling me "he won't
last". He didn't. We got to Tunis, tuned his head round and he was dead.

Handed to the Italians

Anyway the Germans flew us to Sicily in Junkers 52's.
From there, they flew us to Naples and they handed us over to the Itie's.
The Ities were highly delighted. Highly delighted they were.
Because we'd taken most of their troops in the Western Desert
while they were fighting the Abyssinians.
And then they'd gone up and down in Rommel's Africa Corps.
They were delighted because all the Italian prisoners that had been taken had
been exported all over the commonwealth -
as far away as Canada, and Australia.
The Ities knew we were coming.
They had a big cauldron of soup waiting for us.
We had nothing to eat out of. They'd given us nothing. So we held out our hands.
The German's went mad when they saw this.
They were shouting at the Ities. So then they brought out plates.
This was no good, because the soup was just going everywhere.
The Germans had another go at them. So then they ferreted around and some
of them found Italian army mess tins.
The soup actually tasted quite good in the end. And the tin they gave me, I kept
that with me for the rest of the war,
in the camps in Italy and Germany. If it wasn't for that tin, and the Red Cross
food parcels,
I'm not sure how I would have survived it.

Joseph " Joe" Holt
16.12.21. 26.12.06

Survived by his wife Mary, son Brian, daughters Valerie and Pamela and 5 grandchildren and 7 great grandchildren.

Joe's Funeral took place on Friday 5th January, 2007.

At the service his grandson Nick Lawson read the eulogy thus:-

"I mentioned the war, so what of these war stories?

As you all know he was in the Lancashire Fusiliers.

He was in the Second Battalion.

As you also may know, I've been spending the last year with Granddad, and

he has achieved a goal which he has had for a long time, to write his stories.

The memories of his childhood and his
war stories.

Now obviously, due to physical conditions it was difficult for him to write those himself, so I have been helping him with those.

We made a lot of headway. I'm not going bring up any of those stories.

Especially not any that would embarrass him…

I'm not going to talk about the time he got his own back on the

bully in the Battalion by filling his face cream with boot black

I'm not going to talk about the time when he was swimming with

fifty other soldiers in the river in Scotland, training to swim

their birthday suits) and he heard a lot of giggles, and all the

women from the local artillery factory had come down and they

had come down to watch them. I'm not going to talk about that.

And I'm not going to… Well, no I'm definitely not going to talk about that.

But the over whelming message from his stories is coming back to what I said before.

That he was a man who saw the bright things in life and the positive things.

And for all the pain and difficulties that he had gone

through the most poignant stories from the war camps, are human stories:

How he gave up a week's supply in the prison camp in Germany of

tea-bags, feeding them through a fence to a boy who wanted to

give them to his mum.

A little German boy (whose mum was from Manchester!)

Another story - he gave up his chocolate (from Red Cross food

parcels) one of the prison guards who didn't have any legs.

"The poor bugger" he said, he'd been forced back into the army

after losing them both in the Great War. Granddad used to look
after him, and give him chocolates.

These are the stories that stand out, the human stories.

He was a hero in many ways, but most particularly, a hero for

being our role model, and a shining example for us grand kids,

and the great grand kids.

He was a hero in every way not least because he was in a very bad

battle - the Battle of Medjez El Bab in North Africa.

I can't sum up those experiences, and this isn't a military funeral,

but I do want to read a couple of comments that have been made

by fellow members of his Battalion and fellow members of the

Lancashire Fusiliers

Captain Joe Eastwood wrote "Your Grandfather was indeed a

hero having survived the battle of Medjez El Bab. My prayers are

with your family. Stand easy Joe".

Somebody else has written "I have a great respect for men like

your Granddad who fought in the wars and made sacrifices for

us. They made the world a better place and have my eternal thanks"

And then last, a woman called Barbara, whose father was a Major

in charge of Granddad's Battalion, in charge of his actual second


He worked alongside him, and he knew Joe. She sent me a letter

saying "My Dad always was proud of being a Lancashire Fusilier

and always said what good blokes he had with him in those times".

I'd like to finish with a reading, written by another new friend of

Joe's, a guy called Fred Hirst (8th Army Veteran) who was also a

former prisoner of war in Italy until he escaped.

Oh! Desert soldier do not fear, you're for final posting, collect your gear.

With uniform pressed and boots that shine, Hurry along there, keep in line.

Soon you'll reach your destination, with your new Commander of all creation.

Look to your front with head held high as you join that Regiment in the Sky.

Goodbye dear soldier, goodbye dear friend. Now you have reached your journey's end.

Our thoughts of you we will fondly keep, whilst in your new barracks you soundly sleep.

I know Joe as he passed he was very peaceful.

He was surrounded by the love of the family.

Gran, he had great peace because you were with him every

day…..every day.

I want to finish by echoing the words that were spoken to him by

the Major he fought with in the battle.

These words were spoken just before they were captured, just

after the battle.

And this is to you Gran… Mary, as well as to Granddad,

"Don't worry. You did all that could be expected of you, and none

could ask any more than that." Thank you! "

The Web Site is indebted to Nick Lawson, Joe's Grandson who has provided the information shown above.

G. Pycroft
January, 2007

Bill Sutch is in his 90s and lives in Colchester.

He does not have a computer, but he tells me that his daughter will ensure that he gets to see this tribute.

He wrote this letter to me:-

Dear Joe,
Thank you for your letter.

Here is a small account of my time abroad with the LFs.

We landed just outside Algiers in November 1942, with no opposition from the French, and we pushed on inland to take our first objective, which was an airfield ( Blida -Ed )

We hung around here for a few days whilst the politicians came to an agreement with the French to fight on our side.
We were then moved by train and truck towards Tunis.

We were then given orders to attack Medjez El Bab.

We were told it would be easy as there were only a few low grade enemy there.
Unfortunately this was wrong, as Jerry was waiting,he hit us with everything,Machine Guns, Mortars,Artillery ,and to make matters worse, our CO Lt Col Manly was killed by machine gun fire.

My Company managed to get across the river and we took a lot of casualties.
We were then dive bombed and we were given the order to withdraw back across the river.
( The Bn lost 32 killed and 47 wounded, as well as 60 men missing-Ed )

We then took up defensive positions along the front until April when the big attack went in ( Hill 512-Ed)

Unfortunately I was wounded in the hip on the first day and after receiving treatment rejoined my Bn, only to be wounded again not 2 hours later !
I had shrapnel in my arm,legs and back and I was evacuated to hospital.

I recovered in time to join in the assault on Sicily and then into Italy.
It was here that we had a tough time at Termoli.
Jerry attacked us with tanks and as the bridge over the river behind us had been blown,we had no support.
I was thinking that maybe this would be another Dunkirk but luckily the Engineeers did a good job behind us and our tanks saw off the Jerries.
We then went Northwards over the rivers Trigro and Sangro until we got snowbound in Castel Del Sangro.
Eventually the weather improved and we crossed over to the West to prepare for the assault on Cassino.
We had an uncomfortable time here,we were only yards away from the enemy and couped up, not being able to move during daylight and taking casualties.
(Read the Ghost Gunner of Cassino on this site, the story of Mucky Mason DCM-Ed )
After Cassino, we advanced up the Liri Valley, where the incident involving Jefferson VC took place.
We advanced quite a distance towards Rome, but were then given a well earned rest in Africa ( 5 days R&R in Qussassin in the Canal Zone, they even managed to celebrate Minden day there -Ed )
We enjoyed the Civvy street atmosphere again but we were taken in by the locals and pickpockets which caused some retaliation.
Me and my mate had gone to a dance in the town and the Redcaps told us to get back to barracks immediately as they were expecting trouble.
True enough, fights started everywhere.
I saw two squaddies from the Irish Brigade pick up a local Arab and throw him completely through a plate glass shop window !
We hastened back to our billets and it was not long before we were back in Italy to continue the fight.

( Gothic line phase-Ed )

We were on high ground when the winter set in,in defensive positions near Rapiani on the road to Imola.
We were billetd in a large farmhouse with very thick walls which made me feel quite safe from the shelling, which would only shake the walls.
However, Jerry must have brought up a larger gun and we got a direct hit.
I was a lucky man, I only had shrapnel wounds to the hip and back, but there were 6 killed and nine wounded by the hit.
I spent my time in hospital at Perugia and it was here that I was told that as I had been wounded 3 times I was eligable for return to the UK.

I was given a railway warrant to Naples where I called in to see my mate Dixie Dean who had lost both legs in the same incident as me.
Unfortunately he had been evacuated back home earlier.

I eventually arrived back in Blighty in March 1945, after spending 2 and a half years fighting abroad.

I was posted on attachment to the Duke of Wellingtons Regiment at Colchester and there I stayed until my final demob in June 1946.

All the best.

A wonderfully understated story of some fine soldiering by one of the men who saved the world for us.

Please comment on this string to show Bill our appreciation.

Omnia Audax XX