Fred Mason meets Garry Lineker



Some weeks ago, BBC radio contacted me to ask if I would like to take part in a programme they were making about the Second World War. I agreed, and a gentleman came to interview me at home, which was recorded and subsequently broadcast on Radio 4. Later on, BBC television contacted me and asked whether I would be prepared to do something similar in Italy and of course, I readily agreed.

A little while later, two ladies from a film company in London, the director and producer of the programme, visited me at home to discuss my wartime experiences. We discussed the schedule of proposed events and I discovered that they wanted me to visit Italy, and once there, I was to be interviewed by none other than Gary Lineker! How could I refuse? Gary also interviewed another veteran in Italy prior to my arrival, and other veterans were interviewed back in the UK, to gather a variety of information.

When the time came, I was taken by car to my son’s home in Berkshire, who was accompanying me as a carer. Later, we were taken to Gatwick and flew to Naples on August 22nd . We were driven to a lovely hotel in Cassino, which was familiar to me, as I had enjoyed stays there several times before.

The weather was so hot that we couldn’t bear to venture outside. Early the following morning, when thankfully it was somewhat cooler, we left the hotel to drive out of Cassino up a steep, narrow, twisty road which was full of potholes to reach the Polish War Memorial, our filming venue. I climbed about 40 steps to reach the impressive, tall stone memorial where Gary greeted me. The film and sound crew were already busily setting up the equipment ready for the shoot to begin. The temperatures were also starting to climb up the scale.The filming had to be completed quickly because the crew had flights booked in the afternoon to fly back to UK and Gary needed to be back to do Match of the Day.

The filming sight was spectacularly situated. We sat near the edge of a wooded steep drop from where I could see for miles across the wide valley floor towards the imposing mountains beyond. Gary welcomed me warmly, he was very friendly, interesting and with a good sense of humour. He was easy to talk to and made me feel comfortable about revealing my personal wartime experiences. He explained that he wanted to particularly gain a greater understanding of the war in Italy because his grandfather served there as a member of the Royal Army Medical Corps.

Fred Mason with Garry Lineker


We discussed my army training in England prior to my despatch via Naples to Anzio, where I fought in the war, what life was like on the front line, how I felt during the skirmishes, my experiences in hospital suffering from malaria etc. We also talked about general topics such as football. The film and sound crew, were very professional, friendly and helpful and looked after me well, providing welcome shade in between takes as the temperatures rose.

During the interview, we enjoyed a few smiles when filming was punctuated a couple of times, by the sound of the Monte Cassino Abbey bells ringing nearby.


Once filming finished my son and I had an opportunity to take photos with Gary and the crew. Gary was gracious enough to sign a photo for my great-grandson of him celebrating the equalising goal in the 1990 World Cup match in Italy between England and Germany. We enjoyed a drink and a chat with him back at the hotel along with the director and producer before they had to leave for the airport. My son and I enjoyed another night in Cassino before returning home. It was a great experience for my son Robert and I to share, I would not have missed it for the world. Although it was very tiring for me, I felt proud to have been given the opportunity to record my wartime experiences. At my age, I feel that it’s very important to remember the sacrifices made by so many during the war. The experience was something I will never forget. At the time of writing this article the programme has not been on TV and so I don’t know how much of my interview will be shown, but hopefully it wasn’t all left on the cutting room floor! The programme was called Gary Lineker: My Grandad’s Untold War and was shown on BBC 1 on November 11th.

Garry Lineker with Fred Mason (right) and Robert Mason (left).


Fred Mason

Editors Note.

On 11th November at 9.pm BBC 1 aired a documentary entitled “My Grandad’s Untold War.” In which Gary Lineker was following in the footstep of his Grandad who was in Italy during the WW2 and it featured the battles of Salerno and Monte Cassino. It also featured interviews with some of our veterans, amongst them was  Fred Mason who went out to Italy be interviewed by Gary at Monte Cassino. The Italy Star Association received a request from the production company to contact veterans who were in certain areas at a particular time. After consultation with several veteran members who put them self’s forward they were contacted by the production company.

This programme was not commissioned nor made by The Italy Star Association.  The above information about the programme was posted so our website visitors were made aware of the date and time it was broadcast. Thus enabling as many people as possible who have an interest in the Italian campaign to watch the programme. The Italy Star Association accepts no responsibility for its content and any inaccuracies that it contained. If you feel the need to comment about the inaccuracies contained within the programme they should be taken up with the BBC or the production company.

7 Comments

  1. Rosemary Gregory

    Hi. I’m really looking forward to this documentary as I have a gut feeling that Gary will be following the same route as my father did. He was killed in the battle on the 17th September 1943. I never knew him as I was only 11 months old, but he knew me! so I will be saying a prayer for him! I have been contacted by the ‘detectives’ and provided my DNA for a match, but it doesn’t look as if I will be able to go over for an official military honours burial! Hope to perhaps do a tour one day.
    Rosemary Gregory (nee Wilkinson daughter of Harold George Wilkinson, Sergeant)

    Reply
    1. Frank de Planta

      Rosemary.

      I go to the Cassino Memorial a lot so if you would like a photo of his name on the Memorial, I will happily get you one. He was killed at Salerno with 1/4 Hampshires and his body has never been found hence him being on the Cassino Memorial.

      I am out in Salerno guiding a group on 1-4 Apr 20.

      Regards

      Frank

      Reply
  2. Val Meadowcroft

    I was very pleased to see Gary Lineker’s programme from Salerno. A member of my family, George Thomas Robinson, who was a Royal Marines Commando, was killed at Salerno on 18 September 1943. He was my mother’s cousin and they had been very close friends. My husband and I have visited the Salerno Cemetery and took my mother with us to see his grave.
    I am very grateful for Gary’s look into this apparently forgotten episode in the 2nd World War. I learned so much from it. Thank you.

    Reply
  3. Keith Melville

    Garys programme was superb and very poignant. My Dad was in North Africa and then became a D-Day Dodger all the way through Italy. Excellent the Italian Campaign is at last getting some merited recognition in light of the terrible sacrifices made by individuals. Well Done Gary Lineker!

    Reply
  4. Frank de Planta

    I applaud the programme for raising awareness of the Italian Campaign. Gary Lineker summed it up brilliantly when he said that it is ‘Important we give as much respect to those who were here as we give to those in other places.’

    I thought that Gary Lineker was superb and he mastered his brief very well and came across as very genuine.

    Some of the factual stuff was poor and the researcher needs a kicking.

    As the two Armies pushed up passed Naples, we were told that seven Divisions were withdrawn from Italy. That did not happen until after the fall of Rome in Jun 44 – some seven months after when we are told. At the fall of Rome, we had a lot more Divs in Italy than the Germans, not less.

    The programme gave the strong inference that Stan was on Monte Camino – which William called ‘murder mountain’, but that was very much a 56 Inf Div battle – which William’s 214 Fd Amb RAMC supported. 46 Inf Div came in on the left of the feature during the Second Battle of Camino in Dec 43 but were certainly not on murder mountain. I am not sure why Monte Camino was never mentioned even though it featured heavily in the early part of the programme. Terms like Bare Arse Ridge and Razor Back Ridge give a strong clue as to the hardship.

    The filming that showed Lloyd Clark and Gary Lineker describing the 46 Inf Div/128 Inf Bde assault over the river to Sant Ambrogio on the night of 19 Jan 44 was all filmed much further up river on the Rapido where the 36 US Inf Div and ultimately 4 Inf Div crossed. Lloyd Clark carefully explained how the troops crossed the Rapido – which was actually the Gari at the point that they were filming, to reach Sant Ambrogio whereas in reality 128 Inf Bde assaulted across the Garigliano – at a much wider and deeper point. He also explained that a ‘couple of thousand’ men made the crossing which is not correct. Only two battalions of Hampshires got anywhere near the river and, if each of their four Rifle Companies were full, 880 men would have made the crossing. None of the Rifle Companies were full so my estimate is that not more that 600 attempted the crossing. He did not seem to understand that the majority of an infantry battalion provides support to its Rifle Companies and would therefore not have been included in the initial crossing.

    It was wonderful to see Fred Mason. I am not sure why he was interviewed up on Point 593 at the Carpathian monument because he was in 2 N STAFFS at Anzio for the Cassino battles. The programme would have been more accurate if he had been interviewed in the wadis at Anzio or below the Flyover. The programme was quite clever because Anzio was never mentioned in the interview so the viewer would not be aware that he had no direct link to Cassino.

    I thought that the programme missed a really important point that was directly relevant to what Stan and his fellow medics in 185 Fd Amb endured. 185 Fd Amb supported 46 Inf Div from Sep 43 to Mar/Apr 44 but, unlike the Div who were withdrawn to North Africa for rest and rebuild, 185 Fd Amb stayed behind in the Sujo hills beyond the Garigliano and took responsibility for 28 Inf Bde in 4 Inf Div who went on to fight in the Fourth Battle. 28 Inf Bde had recently arrived from elsewhere – Gibraltar I think, and came with a Fd Amb so 185 Fd Amb had to stay behind. No rest for these men. In effect, they were in the front line from Sep 43-Jun 44 which is quite something.

    I would have liked to have seen a bit more of how 185 Fd Amb supported 28 Inf Bde in the Fourth Battle – because 2 KINGS and 2 SLI had a really horrible time on 11-13 May 44 and 185 Fd Amb would have been in the thick of it.

    I was particularly disappointed that there was no mention of Clark’s decision to turn 90 degrees to the left and march on Rome instead of blocking Route 6 and destroying the right wing of the German Tenth Army. That is the key moment for Cassino/Anzio and created a lot more work and pain for 185 Fd Amb during the rest of their time in Italy.

    Gary seemed to have a lovely time driving around in his jeep but he was doing it on the road up to Hove Dump which was never in the 46 Inf Div area of operation. Whilst it made for great photography, the programme would have been more accurate if he had driven around the Sujo hills where Cheshire and Harrogate Dumps were – and 46 Inf Div operated from. The scenery up there is equally impressive.

    I would like to have seen a bit more on how the medical evacuation plan worked from injury on the front line to treatment at the Casualty Clearing Station in Sippiciano. It would have brilliantly illustrated what an amazing job the Fd Ambs did in this part of Italy.

    I thought that Lloyd Clark was an Anzio guru so I am not sure what he doing talking about the detail of Cassino sitting outside the Doctor’s House on Snakeshead Ridge.

    Call me a pedant but if a story is committed to film, it is forever and needs to be correct.

    Regards

    Frank

    Reply
    1. peter emery

      Frank i totally agree with your observations, below is my post on the Royal Hampshire Regiment facebook page to put the historical record right as many members handn’t make the link with the Hampshire Regiment. I also forwarded the it to Mr Lineker via his agent with my thanks as I thought he did a good job in highlighting the often forgotten achievements of those who fought in the Italian campaign even if the research material he was given was inaccurate in some parts.

      Last night on Armistice Day , BBC aired a documentary called “My Grandad’s War” recounting Gary Lineker’s grandfathers wartime experience in 185 Field Ambulance RAMC who were part of the 46th Inf Div. Normally I don’t like these productions as they are riddled with historical inaccuracies. But this is a poignant tribute to the “D Day Dodgers” of the Italian campaign is a must watch on BBC I Player. Other than Lineker’s grandfathers unit , no other unit is specified in the programme but for the record you should be aware that 185 Fd Amb was in support of 128 Hampshire Inf Bde (2, 1/4 and 5 Bns of our Regiment ). The documentary details the Tigers assault on Beaches at Salerno and the heavy fighting on Monte Camino in Nov/Dec 43 (referenced as “Murder Mountain but mainly involving 56 Lon Div). Lineker then crosses the River Rapido (also known as river Garigliano at that point ) which was assaulted unsuccessfully 2 Bns on the night of 19/20 Jan 44 during the first battle of Monte Casino. The bns referenced in this moving account were in fact 1/4 and 2 Hampshires. Only one company succeeded in crossing the fast flowing river, (Y Coy , 2 Hampshires) among them my late father, a 19 year old acting LCpl whose boat capsized and his section were swept away. He dropped his helmet , pack and rifle and dragged a mate ashore, an 18 yr old from the same home town Fareham. They held out until first light the next morning on the far bank and finally surrendered to the Pzr Grenadiers of the crack 15 Pzr Div after the Bde abandoned all further attempts to re-enforce them across the fast flowing river. Sadly his mate took fright at daybreak and was cut down by burst Spandau MG making a forlorn dash for the river an incident that haunted my father to his dying day.
      Lineker then goes on to recount the final successful yet hard won assault of the Rapido in the 4th Battle of Monte Casino on 11 -13 May 44. This time 185 Fd Amb supported 28 Inf Bde of 4 Inf Div (2 Kings , 2 Somerset LI and of course 2/4 Hamphires!). The documentary references Pte Soldiers swimming across the river several times assisting the boats and casualties, one of whom was a soldier from 2/4 Hampshires, Pte Grainger. He had been awarded a BEM for saving a downing man at Salerno and crossed the river 3 times under intense fire. He was award a MID posthumously as he was killed the next day. The Hampshire Padre mentioned was Capt Edwards who swam the river several times to give succour to the wounded and dying Kingsmen, Somersets and Tigers on the far bank. At one point his Jeep drove to the home bank and only halted when machine bullets kicked up dust around the wheels. In total disregard to his own safety, he got out leisurely raised the red cross flag and unloaded a stretcher and dressings and assisted casualties back over the river, He was awarded the DSO. As the moving story is recounted Lineker was moved to tears (so was I ). The Bde finally successfully secured a Bridgehead on 14 May and one of the last wounded brought back across the river was Capt R Wakeford OC B Coy 2/4 , wounded in the face both arms and finally both legs. During the battle he had got detached from the rest of the coy and armed with only a pistol and accompanied by his orderly Pte J C Baxter and they took a German position, when the rest of B Coy caught up Baxter handed over 20 German prisoners. Later Wakeford would lead from the front again taking out several machine gun positions and not accepting medical treatment until after B Coys reorganisation was complete. Baxter meanwhile gathered a leaderless group of Bren gunners who had lost their NCOs and assaulted the final German positions before organising the evacuation of his OC!
      2/4 had 170 casualties during the battle including 50 killed . Wakeford was awarded the VC and Baxter an MM.
      I visited the Garigliano/Rapido and at Monte Casino GWGC Cemetery in Jul to pay my respects to my fathers fallen comrades and our brother Tigers.

      Reply
  5. Frank de Planta

    Peter.

    Excellent note. I was disappointed that at Salerno they just had Peter C-A waving his arms about not saying very much of value. With a bit more imagination, and given that 185 Fd Amb supported them, they could have recounted the ghastly story of the German armour driving down ‘Hampshire Lane’ and running over the soldiers. 185 Fd Amb would had to be involved in clearing up the mess.

    I also noticed that the programme studiously avoided ascribing the D Day Dodgers jibe to Lady Astor – who always denied uttering the term in the House of Commons. Hansard now records every word of any speech or riposte but I am told that this has not always been the case which is disappointing.

    I suspect that the producers were worried about being sued.

    I am off to Salerno with a group on 1-4 Sep 20 if you are interested.

    Regards

    Frank

    Reply

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