A long-awaited return to Tunisia

As I headed for the Algeria-Tunisia frontier my path began to diverge from that of my great uncle more than the 75 years that separated our two journeys.

A number of reasons for this existed, some more prosaic than others, for the most part coming down to the practicalities of modern travel (I, for instance, didn’t have the back-up of a standing army of several thousand troops).

The generally eastward trajectory of the green arrows representing my uncle’s journey made it look simple enough. The reality was more complex, with multiple instances of him travelling back and forth along the route. He was sent to work at Tunis on at least three occasions during his year in North Africa.

My great uncle's general route through North Africa (green arrows)

Continuing on my uncle’s tracks I visited a number of sleepy and out of the way Tunisian railway towns that no tourist in their right mind would consider detouring to for even a second. When the driver of a minibus shared taxi asked me why I was headed to Bouficha, for example, and I replied I was on holiday, his incredulous reply was ‘in Bouficha!?’

Bouficha demonstrated our diverging paths well. My uncle was rushed here, on Tunisia’s eastern coast (a little south of Nabeul) from the Algerian border. He crossed almost the entire width of the country without stopping, in order to reconstruct the rail lines the army required to continue the push on to Tunis (which eventually capitulated six months after my uncle first set foot in North Africa).

I aimed to take a more logical route across the country wherever possible. Even so, I didn’t linger for long in Bouficha. I spent only as long as it took me to fail to identify a hill in one of my great uncle’s photographs before moving on.

A hill somewhere near Bouficha

I could have remained in the area searching every angle of every inland mountain for days and still failed to come up with the goods. I was more successful in Tunis, capturing modern images of the souks and medina, as you will see from the one and half minute photo montage.

Behind the Lines photo montage 1 from Ian Packham on Vimeo.

With North Africa as safely in Allied hands as it could be hoped, the military focus switched to Italy. My uncle landed at the port of Naples after a voyage of three days across the Mediterranean. I will be heading there too for the second much longer leg of my Behind the Lines journey, but unlike those involved in the war, I’m able to await better weather in Europe first.

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