Anzio by Fred Mason
By Fred Mason
I was nineteen years of age and on a troop ship going goodness knows where!
An announcement was made on the ship informing us that we would be landing in Italy at a place called Anzio. We wondered if that was where we were going.
After spending a few days in a transit camp in Naples, we were ordered to board another troop ship and we were told we were indeed heading for Anzio.
We were moved on to another transit camp and after a short while we were attacked by two German aircraft, cannons and bullets flying everywhere – this was our baptism to action and we were frightened out of our skins. We were then moved into some woods where we bivouacked for the night. A single German airplane appeared from nowhere and dived, dropping anti-personnel bombs amongst us leaving many injured and three dead, This was awful but we were to endure even worse over the next four months.
I think it was the middle of the night when we were taken to the front line by Bren carriers. It all seemed pretty quiet and so my pal Reg and I were taken to a slit trench where we tried to rest as best we could. Our rest did not last very long, as out of the sky came a mass of what we called “Moaning Minnies” – these were mortar bombs, and as they descended the air was filled with a horrible scream and then two thuds when they hit the ground and exploded. This was the beginning of hell! The weather at this time did not help as it snowed, poured with rain and the wind was brutal. If we could find some old timber or maybe a door from a ruined farmhouse to cover us we were lucky. Our first sight of the enemy was when a young petrified German soldier, who looked only to be about fourteen, surrendered. Time did not mean anything to us as we did not even know what day it was. We had other things on our minds. At the beginning of March the Germans carried out nine massive attacks and broke through in some places. Our artillery and the help from naval guns stopped them in their tracks.
The Germans were occupying a farmhouse some two hundred yards from our position and we were ordered to retake it. By ‘we’ I mean the Stafford’s and the Loyals who were the first to go in. The Loyals were driven back by machine gun fire. Artillery fire was directed onto the farmhouse and we were ordered to fire into that position with the Bren gun. After using a couple of magazines, the enemy started to throw grenades and we had to retreat to our former position. The Stafford’s then attacked the German position and suddenly a white flag appeared from an upstairs window of the building and one hundred and fifty German soldiers surrendered. They said that they had had enough, and their appearance showed this. For them the war was over. The weather improved slightly but the battle raged on, day after day, with shells, mortars, bombs, while we were still living in holes in the ground.
Eight days on the front line and five days back at B. Eschelon for a so – called rest. Artillery and the incessant air attacks could still reach us. So, we still “lived” in the ground, but at least we were able to walk around. On fine days British and American bombers saturated the rear of the German positions, roads, railways, gun placements, tanks and everything else belonging to the-enemy. Even after all-of this the Germans were still there and most were saved because of their concrete bunkers which were sunk well underground. An American bomber, a liberator, was returning from the attack and had one engine on fire. We wondered if he would make it. A few minutes later the plane returned, and all the crew parachuted out. The aircraft then nose-dived and crashed about 300 yards in front of us with a tremendous explosion. One of the crew, the rear gunner, landed amongst us and when we asked what had happened, he could-not remember as he was still in shock. What a lucky man.
So it went on, fighting patrols, company attacks, etc. Would it never end? Our food was brought to us, mainly after dark, and was left on the other side of the barbed wire. Men from Headquarters delivered it and it was always very welcome as it was hot and mostly tasty. Sometimes we would have a go at cooking our own food and one day decided to have some soya links (a kind of sausage). We had a little stand on which was a white tablet and when it was lit it lasted just long enough to cook a small meal. Our sausages were sizzling in a mess tin when a shell landed a few yards away sending mud into the slit trench and into our intended meal. We were so hungry that we ate the sausages and quite a lot of dirt.
People often ask if we were scared. Yes, we were scared – but of what – would we be wounded or killed? We blotted out such thoughts from our minds – self- preservation was of the utmost I suppose! We are now into May and at last we were off the beachhead and on our way to Rome.
After all we went through, I contracted malaria and after Rome fell, found myself in a military hospital. For some years after the war I suffered relapses. It has been said that our teenage lives were ruined by the war. Maybe that is true but we were only doing our duty and fighting for our country.
Was it worth it?
In the end we had to do it otherwise we might all be speaking German.
Would I want to go through anything like that again?
Never in a million years!