MY WAR WITH JOHN JARVIE – A WAR CORRESPONDENT RECALLS THE BATTLE OF SENED, TUNISIA

By Sgt. James Burchard

YANK Staff Correspondent

SOMEWHERE ON THE TUNISIAN FRONT—If, after all this is over, anybody ever asks me if I ever saw a battle, I am covered. I just returned from a three-day battle, and I shall be willing to tell them how I shot a .45 at a Stuka, but I also shall be forced, out of sheer intellectual honesty, to admit that all that is danger is not necessarily the enemy. My closest call, as a matter of fact, came not from the enemy, but from the magnificent disdain of a fellow correspondent named John Jarvie, who fears neither God nor Jerry.



Jarvie is a red-nosed Scotchman who writes breathless epics for Australian newspapers.

I went forward as to war with his character on Sunday morning with an armored division making ready to attack. Jarvie was sleeping out a mild jag in his 1932 Bugatti when I waked him up a couple of hours after dawn, and said, “Come on, we are going to the front.”

sened tunisia sherman tank 1st armored divison

M4A1 Sherman on the move in Tunisia



Jarvie and I and the Bugatti soon were speeding at the rate of 18 miles an hour toward the Tunisian front. It was a very impressive sight. Tanks, studded with guns, and half-tracks, and scout cars, and artillery, and infantry spread out all over the valley. A very impressive sight, with all of them rolling over the 30-mile road toward Sened, which is a dismal little joint that has just got to be captured if you want to continue eastward.

There undoubtedly is a first-class battle in the making, I said to Jarvie. Jarvie said I was right.



sened tunisia WWII 9th division

American GIs of the 9th Infantry Division on the move in North Africa

Both wheels of the Bugatti were out of line, but despite the wobbling we made steady, shimmying progress toward the battle. About noon, Sened was in sight. Many strafed American vehicles were on the road, victims of Messerschmitt’s and Stukas. German planes had employed their favorite tactics of zooming out of the sun. Nine Stukas got in a very solid lick, and Messerschmitt’s blew up a couple of half-tracks and a scout car and smacked a motorcyclist in his belly. One half-track driver continued to fire a .50 caliber machine gun despite a hunk of shrapnel through his left foot. No Germans, however, even bothered with our Bugatti. Even the altitude couldn’t disguise the prehistoric feature of our crate; it wasn’t even worth a good machine gun burst.

Two miles from Sened, the great Australian correspondent broke his silence. He stopped the Bugatti and addressed an American sergeant.

“Is this town,” he asked pontifically, “one of ours?”

The sergeant nodded politely, a sort of non-committal politeness.

Jarvie nodded back in a similar manner and remarked:

“American tanks have done their job. Let us advance into this town and observe the unspeakable carnage. My readers, clinging as they do to my every word, will enjoy my first-hand account of such terror and utter destruction.”

The sergeant nodded once more, but more vaguely than before.

German 88’s were shelling a bit too close to the road so, readers or no readers, Jarvie swing the wheel of the Bugatti and we got the hell off the road.

A mile from Sened, I noted that we seemed to be all alone, half a mile ahead of the American armored column, but I had no fear. All we had to do was drive into Sened to witness our victorious tanks.



john jarve sened tunisa wwii

“Jarvie,” I said, “There must be a number of field mice about!”

Suddenly, queer spurts of dirt appeared beside the car.

I turned to Jarvie and said, “Jarvie, there must be a number of field mice about.”

Jarvie turned to me and said, “Jim, those are not field mice. As I was a machine gunner in the last fiasco, I can speak with authority. Far from being playful field mice, those are machine gun slugs.”

“And what, Jarvie, is that?” I asked, pointing to a huge cascade of African earth being hurled in a great shower in the air.

Jarvie did not answer me. I turned to repeat the question, and saw the driver’s seat was empty. Jarvie had deserted me and the Bugatti. Jarvie was headed for the hills from whence cometh shelter on such occasions. I followed Jarvi, who for a man 52 years old can certainly run like hell. We retreated full speed, straight toward the rear of our lines, finally establishing contact with a reconnaissance car that led our armored units.

“I wonder,” said Jarvie to the company commander, “How they have so much fire power when we have taken the establishment up there.”

“You stupid son of a bitch,” the company commander said. “We haven’t taken the town yet.”

“I was misinformed,” Jarvie said, apologetically.

“And you and that other damned fool,” the company commander said, continuing his tirade, “were leading the American attack by 800 yards.”

“Eight hundred yards?” said Jarvie. “You mean we have run back eight hundred yards?”

“Eight hundred yards and through a bloody mine field,” the company commander said.

“You hear that?” Jarvie asked me.

“And how you’re alive right now is something I’ll never understand.”

“Neither will I,” said Jarvie. “Neither will I. Nor my readers for that matter.”

At this stage, I left Jarvie. I said, “Jarvie, you and I have come to the parting of ways.”

“We leave, I hope, “he said, “as friends.”

“Yes, as friends, but better a live friend than a dead pigeon,” I said. Jarvie clasped my hand warmly.

I did not see Jarvie again that day. At dark, the planes and the artillery folded up for the night, and we dug into foxholes and went to sleep.  On the second day, the Stukas and the artillery dominated the show, dominated even Jarvie and his Bugatti.

But on the third day, our gang moved into Sened and knocked hell out of the enemy.

They also blasted a dozen tanks and took 90 prisoners. I do not know where Jarvie was during all the excitement. I am told he was the 73rd of 90 prisoners taken, having gotten mixed up amid the enemy lines. However, I offer this solution as pure rumor, since newspapermen also can sue for libel. I am much too fond of Jarvie to be sued by him for libel. But even at that it would be safer than going to the front with im. Next week he is getting the wheels of the Bugatti re-aligned. So, when you start that European offensive up north, if you see a Bugatti with re-aligned wheels on the streets of Berlin, withhold your fire, will you, Joe, because it will be Jarvie. Poor Jarvie.

For More on the War in North Africa See:

An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943


Yank: Memoir of a World War II Soldier (1941-1945)




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