Sedjenane was the first major action for the 16th DLI, but it is also one of its least documented battles. By the time the Battalion History was written in late 1945 there was hardly anyone left in the unit who had direct experience of the action. Thus, though the Battalion's first two Military Medals were awarded for actions at Sedjenane, neither Sgt Joe Drake MM or Pte John Leadbitter MM are mentioned in the Battalion History or indeed in the narrative of any other account that I have seen.

Most of the published accounts written since have perpetuated the understandable vagueness of the Battalion History with regard to what exactly was happening on each specific day of the Battle. Matters are further complicated by the fact that official records are very imprecise about when the Battalion sustained its losses--for more on this, see the Roll of Honour section of the site. What is incontrovertible though is the fact that 16 DLI sustained casualties of around 50 killed and perhaps 100 or more wounded and well over 200 or so taken POW over the course of the Battle--and this for a unit with a nominal strength of less than 800 men.

It's undoubtedly true that Sedjenane was a chaotic and costly disaster for the Battalion, but over the course of the first day alone, February 27th 1943, 16 DLI mounted no less than three separate major frontal attacks on the German-held hills north of Sedjenane. At dawn on March 2nd, a further major, final and disastrous effort was made. And then, on the afternoon of March 3rd with the Battalion virtually destroyed, Major TGL Ballance, L/Sgt Joe Drake and around 20 men of the Carrier Platoon fought 16 DLI's own version of the Alamo. With only two Bren guns, they held off a major German attack on their position for over two hours, until all their ammunition was exhausted.

The official history of the German Parachute Engineer troops the DLI were fighting notes that their attacks were mounted with a 'Prussian exactness.' The courage of these soldiers should not be forgotten..

A Personal Perspective: Friendly Fire, a White Flag, the Commandos and the French

The research that has ultimately led to this website began because I was initially unable to square my late father memories of a white flag, a momentary truce and combat alongside a Commando unit at Sedjenane with any of the published accounts. He put his memories on tape very informally in 1995. By a remarkable stroke of luck however, I was able to verify his story. In 1999, via Henry Brown MBE of the Commando Association, I was put in touch with ex-L/Sgt J C H Southworth MM, of No 1 Commando, who was awarded the Military Medal for actions at Sedjenane on the first day of the Battle, February 27th 1943. In 1999, Mr Southworth kindly wrote down his detailed memories of that day and they tally almost exactly with those of my father. His account is in the pages that follow, as is that of his old No 1 Army Commando comrade Cpl William Ling, who was also there. The key role of No 1 Army Commando during the first day of the battle canít be overstressed and it is impossible to understand it without taking full account of their actions

The late Major Harry Craggs MC of the 70th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery, the artillery unit that was usually attached to the 16th DLI and 139 Brigade, was awarded the MC for his actions at Sedjenane. Major, then Captain, Craggs was a Forward Observation Officer with the 16th DLI for the entire period of the Battle.

In 2003, Major Craggs' son Chris Craggs sent me what must be the final and crucial piece in the Sedjenane jigsaw puzzle, a remarkably detailed blow-by-blow typescript account of the Battle. This definitive eyewitness testimony seems to been commissioned in 1945 for a unit history of the 70th Field Regiment. It's as fresh and immediate now as it was on the day it was written and takes pride of place in the collection of eyewitness testimony that follows. Many other items will be transcribed as time permits, including the first-hand memories of Sgt Charles Bray and CQMS Jimmy James of D Company, Pte Tom Turnbull and Pte Syd Shutt of B Company and my father's C Company Platoon mates, Pte George Forster and Pte Les Bernard.

At one stage I was hoping to integrate these various perspectives into one unified account, in the usual God-like military historian's style. An unfinished draft version along these lines, which integrates my father's, George Forster's, Jack Southworth's and William Ling's memories, is included here. However, I now feel that the accounts are better read raw and unedited as they are. Read them consecutively and make your own mind as to what happened. The Battle was different for each Company and for each man who took part, while the fact that for most the action C Company was out on a limb alone on 'Jobey's Bump' is a further complicating factor. If the accounts that follow are confusing and sometimes contradictory that's because warfare itself is incredibly confusing. And one can learn a lot more about its true nature from the study of a costly defeat than from an easy victory.

NEXT PAGE: No 1 Army Commando at Sedjenane, Eyewitness Memories

Sedjenane: the Forgotten Battle
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