A Tune on the Old Fiddle by Roy Quinton
A tune on the old fiddle” WW2 Army style:- by Roy Quinton.
Our readership will recall that, at the end of my diary entries on 31st December 1944
I mentioned that my war ended about early February of 1945, when I (very willingly!!) allowed myself to be pulled out of the danger zone and sent back to the Rimini area as an Army interpreter. There are a few incidents, the details of which I feel our readers will be amused to read.
I will start off with a general description of my new situation. I was billeted, with others, in a vacant villa-(one of a row of villas still occupied by their owners)- along the sea front in a small suburb of Rimini, called Viserba. A substantial area of it had been reserved as “holiday” accommodation for our troops, when on rest from the front. On the ground floor a small bar had been set up, where we all congregated each evening. Next to the villa a unit of the South African R.E.M.E, under its Africaans-speaking Warrant Officer had, also, been set up. The South Africans were allowed to use our bar. Just a short walk along the sea front a number of small shops were to be found. A bit farther on one came upon a narrow, and very ancient, Roman stone bridge which spanned the river Rubicon –yes,.the very one and same that Julius Caesar finally decided to cross with his legions-( returned from victory in Gaul)- and, in doing so, automatically set himself on a collision course with the Senate in Rome.
The villa next to ours was owned and occupied by an Italian merchant, together with his wife and very good-looking daughter. The Africaans-speaking Warrant officer, I discovered, had established a number of profitable “enterprises,” in collaboration with the said merchant, and which mainly consisted of supplying certain goods from South African WD stock which were, at that time, totally unavailable to the Italian population. I should, perhaps, add that the Warrant Officer had, himself, established a second and very personal arrangement with the merchant’s daughter. Of course, he spoke English very well, too. I remember that, “in his cups”, at the bar, he would “rail on” about us British having no knowledge of the situation in South Africa and, for that reason, didn’t understand that the “Kaffirs”, far from being disaffected, were only too grateful to the Whites for looking after them!!!!!! We thought it best not to make any comments, in case they provided food for subsequent “punch-ups”!!
Our Captain, a very amiable Scotsman, who knew about my link with Perugia and with my future wife there, was responsible, inter alia, for signing the passes for the Corporal i/c the bar, to take out a 15 cwt truck for the purpose of purchasing barrels of wine and other goods, as required. For some strange reason, which I never bothered to investigate, the corporal and a couple of his staff, found that it was cheaper to purchase wine stocks back in Umbria…namely in the town of Foligno. This town was but a stone-throw from Perugia. The Captain suggested that I might like to accompany the Corporal on one of theses trips. I gratefully accepted!! It meant a “stay over” for the night as it was too far to make the return journey in one day. It was not difficult to arrange for the stay-over” to be in nearby Perugia!!
We journeyed along the Adriatic coast as far as the town of Fano, where we branched off westward, along the mountainous and badly-maintained road which passed by the town of Jiesi and finally took us straight to Foligno. On arrival at the wholesale wine merchant’s establishment, the Corporal began to bargain over the price. He said that, given I was with them and could speak the lingo without any difficulty, it would be quicker for him if I could give him a hand. Having established the agreed price, I was then told to ask him for the “usual” receipt for the money paid, and, to my amazement, was instructed that the receipt was to be made out in a considerably higher amount than was actually paid over to the supplier.!!!! The transaction having been effected, once outside in the truck, the Corporal then segregated from the cash he had received from our Captain back at Rimini an amount equal to the difference, which the Corporal then proceeded to share with his two men. On our return to Rimini, the Captain, completely unaware of what had transpired, accepted the receipt as true evidence of payment and which he could put through the accounts!! Naturally, I had been left in no doubt of what would happen to me if I were to “let slip” to anybody what had occurred!!!
On the journey back to Rimini, the next day, sometime in the afternoon, a tyre burst on the outskirts of Jiesi and had to be replaced. This was to the great consternation of the Corporal and his two underlings, for I gathered that they had managed to “acquire” an extra 15 cwt truck spare wheel and tyre which they intended to sell to an Italian living in Jesi. Having had to replace the spare wheel and tyre, they couldn’t risk selling off the other one they had “half-inched”, in case they had another puncture:-the lamentations of the three of them were almost pitiful to hear. Once again I was warned of what would happen to me if I ever disclosed anything to anybody else.
One evening, a couple of days later, I was standing at our bar when in strode the South African WO, his face as black as thunder!! He said he had just noticed that a spare 15cwt truck wheel, which he had left at the back of his REME caravan, was missing and he was, he said, in no doubt, but that one of our “mob” had “half-inched” it. He further added that, unless he found later that those responsible had replaced it where they had found it, he would bring the matter to the Captain’s attention. Strangely enough, a couple of evenings later, I “ran into” the merchant next door who, knowing that I spoke good Italian, drew me aside and said that he had recently purchased a spare wheel and tyre from the Warrant Officer but that somebody had subsequently stolen it from outside his garage. He was absolutely furious and asked me to make some enquiries. I decided I would not get involved!!
On the same evening, the WO entered the bar and, in a loud voice, announced that he was glad that somebody had shown some good sense and had dumped the spare wheel back behind his “caravan” again. I later gathered that there had been some kind of an altercation between the WO and the Merchant, for the latter had accused the former of being complicit in the disappearance of a “spare” 15cwt wheel left outside his garage.!!!. How the matter was eventually “patched up” between them I do not know but it seems to me that, given that theft of South African Government property was involved, the WO probably found it appropriate not to stir up any more trouble about the matter!!! Anyway, I decided that I would not seek to go on any more wine-purchasing trips down to Foligno!!!
It was not possible to be in Viserba for very long before getting to know some of the local people and I did get to know one family very well. After the war I introduced my wife to them on one of our many annual trips down to Rimini for a couple of weeks holiday. They actually came to England to spend a holiday with us, one year.
Anyway, whilst at Viserba, they informed me that, as the front approached Rimini, the Germans were beginning to ransack things. For this reason, since they had some acquaintances who were citizens of the nearby tiny Republic of San Marino, they had made some arrangements with them for my friends to travel to San Marino in a van, bringing with them a lot of possessions to be buried in the back garden. Up to that time, the Germans had left San Marino alone. However, later on, the territory of the Republic was invaded by both German and Allied troops. Anyway, with the subsequent departure of the Germans and arrival of the Allies, my friends wondered whether I could help them to travel to San Marino and dig up their belongings. The problem was that Allied troops were forbidden to enter San Marino without passes. However, being in charge of the issue of passes for our “mob”,, on the very infrequent occasions upon which they happened to be required, I made one out, added a fictitious signature to it and, upon their having acquired some transport, we managed to convince the British Military Police at the frontier crossing that all was in order, and crossed over and took the mountainous road leading up to the administrative area of the Republic, where most of the inhabitants of that “postage stamp” size Republic live. On arrival at the house of their San Marinese acquaintancies, however, my friends were “fed” the story that the Germans had dug up the “gear” and taken it away!! My friends were convinced that the people they had trusted had themselves dug up the stuff and sold it!!… a lot of effort on my part for nothing.!!! Happily, neither on the way there nor on the way back did the “Redcaps” query the pass I showed them at the frontier crossing. I could have ended up “on jankers” otherwise.
There is just one more recollection of my time in Viserba and that is of the occasion on which, one afternoon, one of our chaps came charging in and excitedly shouted out that a mine had broken loose in the Adriatic and was “bobbing about” in the sea about three hundred yards from us. Once apprized of the situation, the Captain told us to fetch our rifles and try to hit one or more of the sensors sticking out of the mine as quickly as possible, in order to ensure that it exploded before the damned thing beached!!! We all joined in and, within a matter of 50 seconds or so, the thing “went up” with a tremendous roar, shaking us and everything else in the vicinity to bits.
This interesting little period of time came to an end on the 2nd May, with the official end of the Italian campaign and with my being sent up to the Lido Island of Venice, to engage the civilian labour for the 8th Army Rest Camp being set up there in the disused Italian Naval barracks, located there.