Photographic Treasure Trove

Discussion in 'North Africa & the Med' started by JimHerriot, Jun 7, 2021.

  1. JimHerriot

    JimHerriot Ready for Anything

    In seeking some further information regarding an American chap who served with the American Field Service prior to joining the RAMC I came across the photographs of one of his contempories which I hope are worthy of inclusion here (with apologies if they have previously appeared on WW2 Talk).

    Courtesy of the archives of the American Field Service and AFS Intercultural Programs (AFS Archives).

    North Africa and Italy, the photography and words of John Candler Cobb II.

    It Never Rains In The Desert.jpg

    This was our most memorable quote from Major Shaffer who ordered us to spread out our kits on the sand for inspection as dark clouds were threatening overhead. In memory of this baptism on our second day in Egypt, we echoed his words at many a platoon celebration over the next 60 years. Location: El Tahag Mobilization Camp, Egypt.

    Only 1800 Miles To Tunis.jpg

    Four of us, AFS Volunteers, were driving an ambulance out from Cairo along the Mediterranean Coast, to serve with the British 12th Light Field Ambulance (LFA), then at Marble Arch about a thousand miles West of Cairo. The ambulance broke down; so we hitched a ride with a friendly British Officer who was driving a 3-ton truck in a supply convoy and had room for us on top of his cargo. The Coast Road was strewn with an unbelievable array of destroyed military vehicles and junk, both British and German, evidence of the prolonged and bitter fighting back and forth. Location: Coast Road near Alexandria.

    British Humber Ambulance Driver March 1943.jpg

    These large and heavy 2-wheel-drive Humber ambulances were standard in the British 8th Army. They couldn’t handle loose sand or sticky mud as well as our nimble 4-wheel-drive Dodge ambulances; so we were assigned mostly front-line work. Note the 12th LFA [Light Field Ambulances ] hospital tent in the background. Location: 12th LFA [Light Field Ambulances], Marble Arch.

    HQ plus British Mobile Smithy.jpg

    Left Image) AFS Headquarters on the Move This was the mobile field office of Capt. Fred Hoeing, of the AFS 11 Ambulance Car Company. Note that under the American Flag can be seen a pair of AFS ambulances in the distance. The ambulances were dispersed in pairs at hundred yard intervals to reduce the risk in case of air attack. Fred Hoeing can be seen under the tent that is stretched over his three-ton-truck "Office", or "Bumf Engine" as we called it. Location: Tripolitanian Desert. (Right Image) Far from a Spreading Chestnut Tree The British Army blacksmith shown here is repairing springs for our ambulances. He could fix or make most parts for our ambulances. The springs can be seen laid out on the sand. The machine tools are inside the truck. The entire workshops could be packed up and away inside of an hour. This British Workshops Unit was attached to the AFS throughout the whole campaign and served us very well. Location: Tripolitanian Desert. The above two small prints are actually two of the 60 year-old prints that I developed and printed in the back of my ambulance in the desert at night in 1943. (I had to drape blankets over the windows for blackout.) I sent these very prints back to AFS, New York, with the captions and commentary attached, for use in raising money. After the war, I retrieved a few of them. Note the military censorship stamp and signature. Also note the pockmarks caused by sand on the glossy surface of the prints. The sand got everywhere.

    Breakfast In Convoy.jpg

    Breakfast usually consisted of oatmeal, biscuits, jam and tea. It was dished out by the British Army cooks soon after sunrise. Note the ambulances are dispersed in pairs at hundred yard intervals to reduce the risk of air attack. This meant a long walk to the cook truck. We ate sitting on the ground, and then got back in the convoy for another long day driving. At that stage in the war, the German planes usually tried to avoid hitting ambulances when strafing a convoy. That changed as things got worse for the Germans. Location: Libyan Desert near Sirte.

    Laundry In The Desert.jpg

    We had plenty of gasoline, brought by ship; but water was very scarce. Here, "Fox" Edwards is boiling his clothes over a desert stove, a fire of gasoline poured on the sand. Harry Hopper is hanging his clothes on a line between ambulances. Location: Marble Arch, Libya.

    With 10th Corps Through Wilder's Gap.jpg

    It was a wild scene, hundred of vehicles speeding, getting stuck, getting pulled out, churning noisily on several parallel tracks through this long ago reconnoitered secret route through Wider’s Gap, around the left flank of the German’s fortified Mareth line. Location: Wilder’s Gap, Tunisia.

    In Convoy Wilder's Gap.jpg

    It was rough going. We ("Fox" Edwards and I) had a wounded German soldier on a stretcher in our ambulance. He was in great pain, so we had to go slowly. We fell behind our unit and found ourselves overtaken by the speeding, churning, and rumbling vehicles of the 10th Corps. All medical units were on the move, so there was no place to leave him. His condition looked pretty bad.

    Transfusions for Burned German Tankies.jpg

    During a brief stop, I recognized our friends of a New Zealand hospital unit traveling on a track parallel to ours. I went over to get medical advice for our patient; but when I got back, the whole convoy had moved off, including "Fox" Edwards with our patient in the ambulance (and, of course, all of my kit). The Kiwi’s were friendly and helpful, as always. They took good care of me for a few days while all units were on the move. Finally, the 12th Light Field Ambulance (LFA), to which we were attached, stopped near El Hamma and set up its tents. Here, I found "Fox" Edwards. We were able to leave our German patient here. We all worked night and day bringing in and caring for many more seriously wounded and burned soldiers (mostly German) from the Battle of Mareth. Location: Wilder’s Gap, Tunisia.

    Surgical Team Go To It.jpg

    In the heat of the midday African Sun, the surgical teams operated stripped to the waist and left the operating theater tent door wide open to get whatever breath of wind there might be. They had been operating day and night because they had so many seriously wounded patients, both British and German. In this photo, the surgeon is searching for a bit of shrapnel in a soldier’s groin. Location: 12th LFA [Light Field Ambulances], near El Hamma, Tunisia.

    More to follow.

    Kind regards, always,

  2. JimHerriot

    JimHerriot Ready for Anything

    More from the camera and pen of the late John Candler Cobb II.

    Wounded German Prisoners.jpg

    German orderlies and an Italian Doctor, all prisoners of war, are helping the overworked British orderlies care for these wounded German and Italian prisoners of war. (Italy was still fighting on the side of the Germans at that time.) Earlier, during a rapid advance, we found the 12th LFA [Light Field Ambulances] had moved up even beyond the ill-defined front lines. It had been taken over by the Germans. The British Doctors and staff were still there caring for their patients. We left our patients there. The next day when we returned with more, we found it again under British control. The German and Italian doctors and staff were still working there. Experiences like the above with the British Army Medical Corps convinced me that I, too, wanted to be a doctor. It seemed to me that the Medical professions were sanely trying to put people back together while everyone else in that crazy war-torn war had gone mad ripping everything apart. My Decision to Become a Doctor I applied in the summer of 1943 and was lucky to be admitted to Harvard Medical School when I got home 9 months later. Location: 12th LFA [Light Field Ambulances] near El Hamma, Tunisia

    51st Medium RA.jpg

    My ambulance was attached to this Artillery unit during the last month of the battle for Tunis. I worked under Doc. Brown, a great guy. Here the big guns are aimed at Takrouna, a small town on a rocky crag where the Italians were holding their last stand. Location: 51st Medium Artillery, Enfidaville, Tunisia.

    CP 51st Medium RA.jpg

    Major Leak is at the phone, Doc Brown is at his right, Dick Corse is standing with the sun on his face. I got to know these officers well. They invited me to their mess even though I was only a volunteer civilian ambulance driver without rank. We had been through a lot together and became good friends, continuing to keep in touch long after the war. One day while we were sitting at mess, the officer in charge of getting the shells up to the guns received an urgent order that a barrage on Takrouna must start in 5 minutes. I knew how shorthanded he was, because I had carried out several of his men who had been wounded. I was on the point of offering to help him; but I suddenly realized that if I did, I would be involved in killing people, to which I was conscientiously opposed. I sat on my hands. Location: Enfidaville, Tunisia.

    51st Medium RA At The Beach.jpg

    Doc Brown and Bill Cobb, Officers of the 51st Medium Artillery, with Bob Orton, AFS Driver, and myself (taking the photo), got away from the war for a few hours of R. & R. [Rest and Relaxation] and were soothed by the wind and the waves. Location: The "Medi" [Mediterranean] near Enfidaville.

    Temporary Graves Free French.jpg

    N.b. No words from John Cobb (the photo does indeed say it all)

    An Ambulance No More.jpg

    This might have been my ambulance. While I was driving wounded patients near Enfidaville in April under enemy fire, a German 88mm shell landed under my ambulance, buried itself in the ground, and didn’t go off. I probably owe my life to the forced workers in the munitions factories in Germany who may have been fixing the fuses of those 88mm shells, so that they failed to detonate. I like to think they were conscientiously opposed to the Nazi Regime. Be that as it may, about half of the 88mm shells fired at us that month failed to detonate; so my ambulance is OK (shown in this photo right side up), and I am here to tell the tale. Location: Near El Hamma, Tunisia.

    With my field glasses I could see our position in the olive grove in the distance; I could look right down into my slit trench where I had been lying when they were shelling us. I shuddered to remember how scared I had been, like the little bird in the olive tree over my slit trench who had crapped on my head as enemy shells came screeching through the trees and crashing around us.

    Victory In North Africa.jpg

    Crammed in here with us were all the junior officers of the 51st Medium Artillery: (L. to R.) [Left to Right], Bill Cobb, Gordon Ellis, Bombardier Jones (Medical Orderly), Bob Orton (AFS Volunteer), Dick Corse, Doc Brown, Tom Jones. At midnight, the Colonel whom we had neglected to invite, torpedoed our party, said we were too rowdy, and sent us all to bed. We had been through a lot together, had bonded, and remained in touch for many years after the war. Location: In the Back of My Ambulance, Tunisia.

    British Tankies.jpg

    Returning from action at Tunis.

    More to follow, but will leave you with a link to an obituary of John Candler Cobb II

    John Cobb Obituary (1919 - 2016) - Albuquerque, NM - Albuquerque Journal

    Kind regards, always,

  3. Trux

    Trux 21 AG Patron

    For anyone interested in the AFS, and it was a very interesting unit, I can strongly recommend the on the spot writing and water colour painting of Clifford Saber. He was a member and served in North Africa. The book of his work, some 180 pages, was published in the US in 1959 and I have had my copy for a very long time. I can not now recall how I came by it.

    4jonboy, Wobbler, CL1 and 1 other person like this.
  4. JimHerriot

    JimHerriot Ready for Anything

    Dear all. regarding the AFS photo archive, a word of caution when searching (and the reason I've posted no direct links to photographs).

    There are photographs of the departed (battle casualties) from all sides within. I will not be posting any of those said photos here.

    For my reasons why see caption from one said photo below (and if any should follow it up please be prepared for what you will find)

    "They probably took a direct hit from a mortar bomb, or perhaps an anti-personnel mine. There were about a dozen of them, British soldiers familiarly called “Tommies”, sitting in a circle drinking tea and reading mail from home. They were hard to count; body parts were scattered all around. I was so upset by this scene that I forgot to focus my camera and had trouble holding it steady. Location: Near Mozza Grogna, North of the Sangro R. [River]."

    The words of John Candler Cobb II.

    Always remember, never forget,

  5. JimHerriot

    JimHerriot Ready for Anything

    Preparing and on to Italy.

    The photographs and words of John Candler Cobb II.

    New Engines.jpg

    Sgt. Jack Oxley ran the British Army Workshops in a genial and effective way, as I found out when I volunteered to help put a new engine in my ambulance. I helped Fitter Jack Skinner, who is shown on the left in this photo. We worked all day, except for the hottest afternoon hours, in the shade of these olive trees. Location: Our British Workshops, near Tripoli.

    Loading at Tripoli.jpg

    Note that the dock is a ramp constructed on top of a sunken ship, lying on its side in the mud of Tripoli Harbor. The blood had been obtained from volunteers like us, in exchange for a can of beer. The hospital ship was probably preparing for the invasion of Italy. We were soon to follow. Location: Tripoli Harbor.

    LST Loading Tripoli.jpg

    It took us several days aboard this American LST (Landing Ship, Tank) to reach Taranto Port (on the heel) of Italy. We slept in our ambulances and ate good old U.S. Navy food. It was a smooth and uneventful crossing. Location: Port of Tripoli, North Africa, At Night.

    On The Med.jpg

    Bernie Wood (lounging) and Hodie Metcalf (sitting) on top of the ambulances listening to records in the warm sun. Location: Crossing the "Medi" [Mediterranean] in convoy.

    Termoli Harbour.jpg

    Location: Termoli, on the Adriatic Sea.

    Brewed Up.jpg

    There was a fierce tank battle here on the road to San Giacomo, from Termoli, The Northerly advancing British fought off a fierce German Counter-attack. The Adriatic Sea lies peaceful on the horizon. Location: On the Adriatic Shore.

    Always Remember.jpg

    Location: At the First Crossing of the Sangro R. [River].

    "PREB" Poem by "Fox" Edwards, In Memory of Vernon W. Preble They wrapped him in an American flag And stuck a wooden cross in the soft ground at his head. It was his last slit trench. "I guess I won’t drink any beer for a while" was all he said when they pulled his burned body free. The fire had scorched his eyes his face his hands and body. Pinned down In the torn and mangled ambulance, trapped, he fought clear of the flames in the sickening seconds after the roar of the bursting mine. It was a brave fight for life. He lived four days more. They found him beside his ambulance that the mine had burned and killed. An ambulance in war Is part of those who live in it, drive it over steep hills and through rivers where shells are dropping. It is like a live thing helping wounded men, and where men who can not be saved sometimes die. His ambulance would not go on without him. They picked him up from beside the charred wheel that he had held at Mareth, Enfidaville, the Sangro River. His life meant many lives saved. We loved him for his tousled boyishness, and because of the times he made us laugh when laughing was hard. It took guts to say "Guess I won’t drink any more beer…"

    Volunteer Preble Resting Place.jpg

    Location: Near Lanciano, Italy.


    After the battle of the Sangro, refugees could walk across the temporary Engineering Corps bridge that replaced the old stone bridge demolished by the Germans. They seemed so happy to be getting out of the war zone. Location: Sangro River Crossing.

    Kind regards, always,

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  6. JimHerriot

    JimHerriot Ready for Anything

    More Italy.

    The photographs and words of John Candler Cobb II.

    Forming up for Casino.jpg

    Being "Seasoned Troops", we had been chosen to work again with our old friends, the Kiwis (now reformed into the New Zealand Corps) for the second major assault on Monte Cassino. Its purpose was to drive out the Germans and open the road to Rome, up the Liri Valley. So we left the rain and mud of San Vito without regrets and drove for two harrowing days over the Appenines and down into the rain and mud of Presenzano. There we joined with the 1st New Zealand Casualty Clearing Station (CCS) for the job at hand. Location: At San Vito.

    1st NZ CCS Presenzano.jpg

    The smaller tents in the foreground housed the Kiwis. The surgical and hospital units were in the larger tents behind. Location: Presenzano, near Monte Cassino.

    Canadian AP near Ortona.jpg

    My ambulance is at the door to the First Aid Post in the basement of this bombed-out brick builing. Here, the wounded were stabilized for transport back to San Vito. Note the temporary graves in the foreground and the overturned, blown up German tank on the left side of the building. Even the trees could hardly survive the intense shelling and bombing of the battle for Ortona, which lasted many months. Location: Near Ortona.

    Captain Ragaul.jpg

    I was assigned here to work with this "Reccy" outfit. They were billeted in the old castle and village on top of this conical craggy hill, surrounded by snowy peaks and greening valleys. By day, we could watch the German soldiers at their posts across the valley. At night, they and the Indian soldiers would sneak down into the valley to lay booby traps and shoot at each other. In the morning, I would go down and pick up the wounded. It was a kind of game, but deadly serious. The Front Line had been stable there for months. Location: Civitella, in the Appennini Mountains.

    Indian Recce Unit at Civitella.jpg

    The Indian Soldier looked bored of guarding his armored vehicle. Location: Civitella, Appennini Mountains, April 1944.

    Coco with Browning MG.jpg

    Coco, with his Guerilla followers, the Patrioti, manned little posts like this in the valleys below Civitella. They worked closely with the Indian Army "Reccy" unit and became an important force in clearing the Germans out of these mountains. Location: Guerilla Hideout in the Valley below Civitella.

    Injured Civilian.jpg

    Location: Lama dei Peligni, below Civitella

    Always remember, never forget,

    Last edited: Jun 7, 2021
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  7. JimHerriot

    JimHerriot Ready for Anything

    Dear folks all, just by picking the "when" option of "WWII" within the search engine of the American Field Service photographic archive brings up 2,211 results.

    I have but scratched the surface here.


    Cobb, John Candler, II

    May it prove invaluable.

    Kind regards, always,

    Last edited: Jun 7, 2021

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