Robert John Parker
Note from the editor. I have now added all of the parts of this interesting story together. Robin Hollamby
John Robert Parker – (known as Jack Parker) 1924-2012
Look around the mountains
In the mud and rain
You ‘U find scattered crosses,
Some without a name.
Heart break and toil and suffering gone
The boys beneath them slumber on,
For they’re the D-Day Dodgers,
Who stayed in Italy
We were on the move again to our designated regiments, after going to Lancashire Fusiliers, I don’t want to talk about them as they were mundane, I joined the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment in January 1945 and I caught up with them in a place called Arezzo. I remember at this time being in a pub full of squaddies having a drink when some idiot Italian came in firing a gun at random all because someone had clonked him over head with a bottle, miraculously nobody was hurt. The military police carried him away and everything calmed down and everyone continued drinking.
Word came through that we were moving up into the line. Talk was that they were very short of infantrymen, a few more dullards to kill off. Talk became quieter with the thought of home never very far away. Laughs became a bit more forced and you began to think as to what you would do in a tight situation.
Would you be able to stand the sound of shell and shot, watching your friends die and blow hell out of Jerry at the same time? A few hours later that would be put to the test. The Major C.O. gave us all a talk of how he was going to give Jerry a bloody good eye full and a punch up the arse, how we were good men and we would do our bit for our country. In other words, how to survive and he prattled on for about half an hour with a load of bullshit.
We climbed into the back of the wagons which were waiting to take us to our dropping off point and I don’t know how long we were travelling before we turned off the road onto a smaller road up a valley which was more like a cart track and came to a stop because we couldn’t go any further. We climbed down and unloaded the ammunition and the trucks went away and we all wished we were going with them. Everybody lined up to carry their share of ammunition with hand grenades tied to your belt together with mortar bombs and full magazines of ammunition. You were a walking time bomb and with all that weight plus 24 pounds of Bren machine gun it was slow going. The sergeants shouted for us to get into our sections and we moved off slowly but surely along a track until we came to the bottom of a hill. We turned right and about 20 yards up a hill we followed a path and was told not to wander off it because there were a few mines ay the side. Everyone was glad it was still only late afternoon as trying to look for mines in the dark would have made us very apprehensive. The load we were carrying was beginning to make our shoulders ache but there was no chance to take the packs off for a breather as we had to be at the top of the mountain by night fall in order to take up our position as reserve just behind the front line.
When we arrived at the top, we were designated our trenches and as the cooks had arrived earlier, we were able to have a meal. We settled down with our eyeballs strained and listening for any slight sound. After midnight an officer came to me with a message that I had to deliver to headquarters. He had orders not to give it to anyone, as it was something, which they were afraid if Jerry receiving so off I went with my .45 revolver at my hip just like John Wayne. I had gone about half a mile when we heard someone shout “Halt! Who goes there?” My reply was “Players Please”, as this was the code for the day. If I had replied other than please, the sentry would have shot me. I carried on a bit further and got stopped by the Gurkhas; another half a mile saw me stopped by the mule team. They were very important as they were the only means of transport the infantry man had to carry up ammunition, rations and so forth; it was a very dangerous job indeed. Stop the mule trains from coming up and the infantryman was useless. Jerry knew that and he sent out patrols to try and stop them at night. I carried on trying to see if there was any enemy around, ready to go to ground if anything happened but I arrived safely at headquarters. I gave in the communication and had a brew, as there was no reply to my note, it was back up that bloody hill again. At least all I had to carry this time was a revolver and 10 rounds of ammunition. The same sentries stopped me when I was going back, so I was ready with my reply, no please this time. I arrived back safely and into the dugout, where in the morning I prepared guns for the following night when we would be in front line. We had been moved up so that we would be ready to take over at night.
We were told Jerry would be coming to test us at night because when we moved up to the front line Jerry could see us. We were exposed to him when we went over the hill and he would be able to see us from a farmhouse about two and a half miles away. Three nights went by with just a few mortar bombs and small fire but nothing to get excited about. The forth night all hell let loose with mortar bombs, machine guns firing, bullets flying overhead like angry bees with some a bit too near for comfort and some making a dust just in front of you. Everything was getting hectic with Germans running about, some getting shot when all of a sudden; something plopped at the side of me. All I remember is a bloody great flash: I must have jumped in the air like a jackrabbit. As I came down I didn’t know if I was still in this world or the next. The first thing I did was to feel to see if my wedding tackle was intact, then my legs. I felt blood trickling down my leg and my pants had more holes in than a sieve and my great coat had a bloody great piece taken off my elbow. I didn’t realise my arm was injured and I kept on firing if only to keep Jerry’s head down. By now everything had calmed down. Eventually it was time to retire and let the day staff takes over, every morning Johnnie Gurkha gave everyone chapattis as we came out of line, they warmed you up alright, you often needed a gallon of water to cool off. When I got back I went to the first aid man who looked at my elbow and told me to go straight to the Medical Officer immediately. I trundled down to see the M.O. who looked at my injuries and sent me to hospital and he gave me a shot of morphine, I went to tell my officer and proceeded to the dressing station. I won’t mention much about the bloody traps that Jerry fixed up, like when going to the toilet in a house, you could end up pulling the chain and having your balls blown away, or stepping on a doorstep and being blown to pieces. A found fountain pen could blow up in your face when you tried to take the cap off, also cameras and innocent looking balls which when you gave them a kick you could below your leg off. On the 4th April 1945 at 1.30 in the morning was the date it all happened on Monte Grande, near San Clemente, near River Solar. Little did I know that in another month the war would be over as I walked down the mountain with my leg swelling more and more.
No one accompanied me down the mountain so walking was made more difficult as I did my best to get to the dressing station as I was classed as walking wounded. Different soldiers in the artillery kept bobbing up and asking what was going on last night in the line, as they knew something was going on but they didn’t get involved. The 25 pounders didn’t fire: it was the long range snipers who were doing all the firing, the Howitzers. You could hear the shells passing overhead and exploding in Jerry lines. I hobbled into the dressing station where a doctor took a look at my knee, re-bandaged it and gave me a fag and a cup of tea. I was told to wait outside until the ambulance arrived to take me to the next dressing station. It was like that all day from 5am until 6pm, travelling about two miles at a time. I then changed into another ambulance and had another fag and cup of tea. It was a shuttle service for men with their legs off, some with their sight damaged, all different races and creeds, white, brown, black, some shouting with pain at every jolt of the ambulance. Eventually I got to the main hospital, which was just a lot of marquees, got out of the transit, and I joined the queue to see the doctor. I sat down and an orderly came and took off my bandages ready for the doctor’s inspection. He came round and examined my arm and leg, which by now was the size of a football, He told me to go to the X-ray department in the next tent, where X- rays of my elbow and knee were taken. The radiographer didn’t think there was much wrong with my knee and he told me to go and get something to eat. I was starving by then, as I had nothing to eat for 24 hours. I went into the canteen and got a big plate of meat and potato. I had just got sat down and had a mouthful when a voiced shouted for Pt. Parker; ‘the surgeon wants to see you.’ I thought this was something trivial but I left my dinner and said I would be back in a minute to the chap sat at the side of me but he said he didn’t think so if the surgeon wanted to see me. He was right, when I saw the surgeon he said that he was afraid that he would have to take a piece of steel out of my left leg. The X-rays also showed that there was a small piece in my right leg also but they weren’t going to operate on that, as it was too small to worry about at the moment. I was told that my left elbow was full of dirt and the bone was exposed to the air but they would clean it up. After that examination I waited while the orderly gave me a shot of morphine after about 10 minutes the surgeon arrived and told me to climb up on a trestle table, he then proceeded to cut my pants away, as it was the only way to get them off. All that I can remember is the doctor giving me a shot in the arm and he told me to start counting. I got to 10 and the final curtain fell; I don’t remember a thing until the following morning when an orderly woke me up. I was in a Nissan hut in a double bunk and the orderly asked if I wanted any breakfast, too true I wanted some breakfast and after 10 minutes he came back with egg and bacon and a cup of tea, which was what I wanted more than anything. I scoffed the lot and had no hang over from the operation whatsoever. The orderly said that we would be moving out that same day to another hospital in Florence. They carried me out to the ambulance and there were four of us in the transport A Sikh with a leg off, a chap who had lost an eye and a lad who had his appendix removed.
As we arrived at the hospital, there was no way we could see where it was. I was loaded onto a stretcher and put into a ward; there were Germans across from me. A young nurse came over to me after about a quarter of an hour and asked if I wanted anything, toothpaste, toothbrush, cigarettes, chocolate or anything like that. I told her what I wanted and she brought all the things I had requested. I was told not to get too comfortable, as she would be giving me a bed bath later. When she did start washing me I was thinking all sorts of things, like when she reached my private parts would I be embarrassed. As it was she told me not to be embarrassed and washed me all over but left me to wash my own private parts, as she went to get me a clean pair of pyjamas as the only thing I had on was my underpants. When she came back she had to cut down one side of my underpants so that I could get them off and then cut up the side of one leg of the pyjamas in order for me to get them on. She told me she was 24 years old and from Durban. She also said that after the war I should go out to South Africa where there was plenty of sunshine and money and that I would get a really good job out there.After I had been in hospital about for days, the young nurse. came one evening and said that I was being moved to Rome the following day. I would be flying down in a Dakota and then going to a hospital, which specialised in my kind of wounds. The following morning, she came to say goodbye and I admitted that I was a bit apprehensive about flying to Rome, what if old Jerry decided to get in on the act and shot us down. I was loaded onto the plane and fastened down so that I would not be slipping about all over the place and was given a sick bag. The pilot who was an American assured us that there was no chance of Jerry shooting us down because it was a hospital plane, marked with red crosses. As we taxied forward I couldn’t see anything at all. The only way I knew that we were in the air was the up and down movement of the plane when it hit an air pocket, it then dropped like a stone and bounced back up again. A nurse came round and gave all of us on the plane a boiled sweet when all of a sudden the plane banked and I could see the ground and all the houses. It was then that I knew we were going to land back on terra firma. The plane pulled up and the doors opened and we were carried to the side of the runway to wait for someone to designate us to which hospital we were going. A chap came round looking at the label tied to the stretcher and mine was for 55th General Field hospital, I was placed in the ambulance and off we went with about four ambulances in a convoy.
This was somewhere south of Rome and it seemed to take ages before we got there, and as we started to climb I realised that this hospital had once been a sanatorium and was placed at the top of hill. I was unloaded again and put into a holding ward until my wounds had been attended to, they then put me into a ward where I remained until my release and I was better and could walk about. My wounds had begun to stink horribly and a nurse came and said that I was to eat nothing after midnight as I was going down to be operated on the next day. I can remember the orderlies coming and taking me down to the operating theatre and putting me on a slab. The sister came and started to take my bandages off and there was a great piece of sticking plaster around my leg about six inches above the knee and the same below it. The sister told me to grit my teeth as the next bit would hurt and she proceeded to lift the plaster up pulling out all the hairs on my leg before giving it a good pull. Talk about tears coming into my eyes, but she told me not to be so soft and that it didn’t hurt it wasn’t her leg. She must have pulled all the hairs off my limb but I didn’t have time to dwell on this as someone came and stuck a needle in my arm and I was out for a count. The next thing I remember was the following morning and all I wanted was a drink but I couldn’t have one because it would have made me sick. What a rotten day, nothing to drink or eat. Later that day the surgeon came round to have a look at my elbow and tut tutted over it, walking away. The nurse bandaged it up and left. On my right was a Jewish soldier who had been wounded and he kept moaning and groaning all the time. The other soldiers kept shouting for me to shut up; it was very upsetting especially when you are knackered through lack of sleep. The nurse kept going to him and trying to pacify him. One chap told me that he had been caught by German machine gun fire and was pinned down. He had to wait until dark before he and his section could move out. The German machine gunner had caught him before he was flat on the ground and a bullet had entered his shoulder, gone straight across his back and came out of the other shoulder, just missing his spine by an eighth of an inch. He had about 40 stitches in his wound and he was obliged to sleep on his stomach for about three weeks. It must have been rotten, not being able to turn on your side. The days went by very slowly, but one day I awoke feeling rotten and I didn’t want any breakfast. The nurse came and asked me why, but I said that I didn’t know, I just felt sick and rotten. The doctors came and had a look at my elbow and stood back, it seemed they didn’t like what they saw. They had a hurried consultation and called the sister who re-bandaged my arm and gave me six pills, M & B’ s they were called, to kill the infection in my arm, they were like horse pills, I had a job to swallow them, every morning she came round with these pills, I detested them. I could eat nothing for about four days and the nurses and doctors came and were concerned as all 1 had was a drink of water every now and again.
One morning the surgeon came and had a look at my arm, he had a quick talk to the ordinary doctor and I overheard someone say that if it didn’t get better in the next few days it would have to come off. After that the nurses kept asking me what I would like to eat, ice cream, tinned fruit but there was no way I could eat anything. That evening the nurse came and said that I was going down to the theatre the following morning and I panicked thinking that there were going to cut my arm off but the nurse said that they were only going to clean it up, I didn’t feel much better after the operation and I had got to the state where I didn’t care what they did. A nurse came and asked if I felt like anything to eat but I said that I didn’t but would like something to drink, she came back with a bottle of beer and I drank it. The next morning I was feeling a little better and I look under the blankets at my legs, arms and stomach, they were just like matchsticks; I must have lost a lot of weight. Two days after I was eating a little food and feeling a lot better. The doctors seemed pleased with my recovery and looked at my arm again, smiled chatted and walked on. No more pills! According to the nurse they wondered if they would have to perform plastic surgery on my elbow, as they didn’t think there was enough flesh on my elbow to pull together and cover the bones in the joint. They kept on dressing it for a few more days and then surprise, I was taken down to the operating theatre in the morning. I hoped it would be the last time for any more cut and thrust. The doctors managed somehow to pull the flesh together over my elbow and tied it up so that I could move it, so that there was no stretching the flesh and tearing the stitches apart. 12 days later the stitches were taken out and it was successful, but very sore and tender. The arm was still in one piece but there was still no chance of getting out of bed even for my 21st birthday, 5 June 1945. About dinnertime a nurse came with a nip of whisky to celebrate and it tasted bloody horrible but I had to go along with all the best wishes and chat and make it look like I was enjoying it, I don’t know how she knew it was my birthday and it was very good of her to do it or even think about it, she was a Geordie, and a captain. The entire nurse had pips on their uniform so that the men would not become too familiar and you called them all sisters.
About three weeks after I was wounded, one of the nurses came into the ward and said that the armies had stopped fighting in Italy. The Germans had surrendered but nobody believed her at first, but then a big cheer went up as everyone was thinking that now they didn’t have to go back to the front line and live like rats. All the talk then turned to when we would be demobbed. Everyone started to get better very quickly with the thought of going home uppermost in his or her minds. No one would believe that the war was over with the amount of wounded still arriving at the hospital.
The day finally arrived when I could get out of bed. I was allowed to get dressed and sit at the side of the bed. The next day I could walk a few steps but then all of a sudden I had to sit down as I went very dizzy. Things started to get better and after a few days I could walk outside in the sun, as long as I had a stick with me. My legs were like jelly after all that time in bed. The uniform for the sick and wounded was a pair of light blue pants with a light blue jacket, white shirt, red tie and black shoes, just like a walking flag. Nobody could fail to see you. I was getting stronger by the day now and I went to the hospital cinema and saw Frank Sinatra in a musical. I was also putting on weight but I still looked like scarecrow, just skin and bones. After another week I was called to have another medical to see if I was fit enough to be transferred to the convalescent hospital in Rome. I passed the test and was given three weeks of exercise to strengthen my leg and arm. I arrived at the place of recreation; it was a nice place with two swimming pools at the front of the hospital. The depth of water in the pools was four feet and this is where I spent all my time, lounging in the sun and swimming all day. My limp was beginning to disappear and my leg did more exercise after being stiff in bed for such a long time. When I was wounded my family were sent a telegram the day after it happened. My mother didn’t want to open it by herself in case something bad had happened so she waited for my father to come home from work that night. He told me later that his heart sank and he knew he would have to open it but they were both hoping that it would not be as bad as they were thinking. As he read it, he started to smile and told mother that I had only been wounded in action. At this my sister cried because they didn’t know just how bad I was.
When I arrived at the British 55th General Hospital with my arm still being tied up and very sore, a lady came to my bed and wrote a letter for me, telling my parents about my wounds. That I had no arms and legs missing and to set their minds at rest that I would be all right. I also sent a letter to another girl, the only one who wrote to me all the time I was in the army, just telling her what had happened and could she pass the news on to all my friends. My sister Ada went to church and asked the vicar to say a prayer for me on the Sunday. When I left the convalescent home I had to go back to the regiment via a transit camp. Here there were lines and lines of tents and I was given one of these to sleep in. The people who ran the camp had a good grip on its new entrants and I was shown where to go for meals and told to fall in for guard duty after dinner. Five of us marched off to a compound where we were to look after a batch of Russian political prisoners, who were housed in rows and rows of wire and barbed wire about 12 feet high and with even a wire roof over the top of the compound. We didn’t know whether it was to keep them in or to keep others out. We eventually found out that it was to keep the KGB from getting to them. Their families were housed about half a mile away and every other day the women were allowed to visit their men folk in the compound.
After four days we were relieved of our duty and we were glad to end the boredom of it. The army didn’t get a chance to put us on a guard again because after breakfast four of us scarpered into the city of Rome. As one of the lads had a brother who was in the paratroopers and was stationed down south in Bari, we decided one day to thumb a lift there to see him. So early one morning we went down to the main road to thumb a lift arriving late in the evening. Our friend went to see his brother and stayed overnight. As it happened his brother and a few of the other paratroopers were going to Naples the next day and we cadged a lift back with them. When we arrived in the town we thanked them and our friend said goodbye’ to his brother and wished him the best of luck. We then started walking before eventually getting a lift to a place called Capua. It was late at night when we arrived and we decided to make our way to the police station to see if we could stay there. They received us very well and wanted to know how we had come to be out at night in a place like Capua. It was the first time I had ever slept in a police cell. After two days’ absence from camp, everything was just as we had left it when arrived back. After a good shower and brush up we went into town that night for a drink or two. One of the lads said he knew a good place for a drink, and as we followed him to the bar it was full of squaddies. The Americans were there in full force, together with Polish, French and other nationalities. Everyone was having a good time when all of a sudden this Japanese American jumps in the doorway brandishing a bloody great knife, shouting and screaming that’s the girls were his and he was going to go through them all. He was either on drugs or had a skin full of spirits. He made everyone move away from the bar and his eyes stood out like dog’s balls. He was mad. As he was making all this noise someone must have gone out and told the American M. P’s what was going on as they dashed in and clouted him across the head with a baton, then threw the soldier into the back of the wagon just like a sack of spuds. He would wake up the next morning with more than a headache. Everyone was glad the fracas was over and soon becoming jovial again after the silence and there was no blood spilt. All good things come to an end and the next morning after our little upset in Rome, the sergeant came round and said that all the men in the loyal regiment who were waiting for transport back to the regiment would need to be ready at 10 o’clock at the main gate, so that was it. I had been in Rome over a week but never got to see the Vatican or St. Peter’s Square, or the Spanish Step, or the Trevi Fountain where it was supported to be lucky if you threw coins in. I had been across the bottom of St. Peter’s Square and I had seen the Coliseum. When you are young there is no time for anything like sightseeing. When I look back now, I wish that I had seen all those things of magnificence.
The following morning it was back to the regiment, to a place called Doberdo, somewhere near Trieste. I reported to the officer to find out what was happening and what we had to do. I found a biva tent to sleep in which was my first priority and then report to the officer commanding. He told us that we were now doing jungle training. He asked me how long I had been out there to which I replied two and a half years “sir”, so I was sent to Venice instead of the jungle with some other lads on a fortnight’s leave. We had a marvellous hotel, a rest camp we called it. The Hotel Splendide was situated on an island just off Venice. Before the war it cost £50 per night to stay there. One of the rooms in the hotel had photos of all the famous people who had been staying there. One of them was the Prince of Wales and quite a lot of film stars and variety artists and other dignitaries of all nationalities. Across the road was the NAAFI where you could go and sit on the roof garden with a pint of wallop taking in the sunshine. I had to be careful as I hadn’t been in the sun for about five months and I had to take my time getting a tan again, as I didn’t want sore shoulders and back. You could get to Venice on a local ferryboat, which took about 10 minutes and have a ride up and down the canals. They looked very picturesque on the front of magazines but it didn’t show the turds floating on the canals or the smell when it got very hot. I suppose it will all have been cleaned up since then but I can remember the Eighth Army Club being at the top end of the square next to the canal.
I enjoyed my break with all the other lads but I had to go back to my unit and the routine then was that mem who had been in Italy or Africa for over two and a half years got up in the morning and had breakfast, after which we fell into our ranks! We then went swimming, costumes at the ready and marched about 10 miles or so to the beach where we stayed all dy. Dinner was provided on the beach. I went swimming in the sea one day after a route march and as I was swimming about 200 yards off shore, something bumped into me and spun me round in the opposite direction to where I was going. At first I thought it was a shark and headed back to the beach in record time, I never swam as fast in my life and I kept out of the sea after that. I couldn’t tell my mates why I didn’t go back swimming as they would have taken the micky out of me and I wouldn’t be able to live it down A lot of the lads had no swimming costumes, so went into the sea naked. A couple of days after this episode, we moved to a place called Cosmons, or something like that. There was no chance of a swim now as we were in the middle of Italy.
When we arrive in the village, the population turned out to greet us and started shouting “Canaddeses”, “Canadians”, and when we shouted back no Inglese, everything went quiet and the crowd disappeared. They must have known that they wouldn’t get their own way with the English. Rules had to be obeyed and the English soldiers had no money, not like the American and Canadians who had money to throw away. The English soldiers were poor in comparison. That is why the population didn’t bother with us. Every day a platoon would go on patrol outside the barracks just to keep the soldiers occupied. I was out with my pals walking in the main street one hot stifling day. I was sweating profusely not taking any notice of anyone when one of the lads shouted to look out for the sergeant major but before I could get my hands out of my pockets, he was on top of us. He spoke to me and asked why I was walking around with my hands in my pockets and I replied that my hands were cold. He went berserk. The lads were laughing and made him worse, he must have thought I was taking the piss. The Italian population was standing by watching the proceedings and wondering what I had done wrong. He shouted for my name and number, and he put me on a charge 252 insubordination. I was a disgrace to my regiment and I didn’t give a toss and carried on to get a drink of plonk and a laugh. Next morning on parade my name was called out and I had to report to the commanding officer. I got all spivved up with plenty of spit and polish. The sergeant major was waiting for me with bullshit baffles brains and my turn came to march into the office, the usual quick march, left, right, left, right, knock your hat just as you were going into the office and stand to attention. The interrogation then started, what did I say to the sergeant major and before I could answer I was told to shut up, it was like something out of a Charlie Chaplin film. After a lot of blether, he told me my sentence, confined to Barracks for fourteen days. Out I marched, nearly running, picking up my cap off the floor and went back to what I was doing earlier with the lads. They asked what did I get and when I told them I was confined to Barracks, they said that was a bit harsh for what I had done. To be confined to Barracks meant that I had to report to the duty officer of the day at 6 o’clock in the morning and be on parade when the bugler played Reveille.
All personnel on jankers lined up to be inspected and if you were pulled up for having dirty brasses, marks on your uniform etc., it meant another extra day. After inspection you returned to your billets, marched down to breakfast and then reported again to the orderly officer, then have your dinner and report again after dinner, and back to work with your platoon. It was the same again at tea time you had to report before and after, in full service order at 6 o’clock then an hours drill and marching at the double, sometimes for an hour and a half if the sergeant or officer didn’t think you had done good enough. You would be dismissed back to your billet where you would start polishing your boots and brasses for the final parade of the day. Then lights out, everything spick and span, your rifle clean. After another inspection by the officer of the day, you would return to your billet and clean all your webbing and brasses ready for the next day. You would clean your webbing with toothpaste; it would come up lovely and white. You went to bed knackered only to start again with the same routine for the next 14 days. You couldn’t relax for a moment, the brasses and your gear had to be spotless every time you were inspected. It got a bit tedious towards the end of your jankers. The day finally arrived when I could go into the town and have a drink and go to the cinema. After about seven days of freedom I was put on a charge again and brought before the company commander. One of my mates had done something wrong, and it must have been serious because he was locked up in the battalion jail and I was caught passing some cigarettes to him through the cell window. I was caught red handed by the duty sergeant and landed straight into trouble again. Out of the six weeks jankers, I did five weeks confined to Barracks.
I must have been going through one of my bad moments as I was called one of the awkward squad and could have received a spell in the jail for what I did and that meant no pay for the length of time I was in there. My money would also be stopped from going home to my parents, but things turned out all right and I was thankful for that. This time I hated every minute of my confinement but there was only one winner and I had to put up with it. If you showed resentment and became awkward, they made you keep running around the square with your full pack on, when everyone else had gone. They would grind you down until you were too knackered to do anything. After I had finished my second round of jankers, I had a week or so of freedom before I received another seven days’ confinement. There was a sergeant who had his knife in me, he was not my sergeant and he had said something to me that was a bit nasty, so I had replied and told him too F*** Off. He must have thought it was me who had shouted at him when he came into our barrack room one day. He had told us to do something and when he went out of the room, everyone shouted for him to piss off. He came flying back into the room and said that he would have our guts for garters and he ranted and wanted to know who said it. He then went out again and the same thing happened. Everyone was taking the piss as they say, he came back again and wanted to know who the wise guys were, he must have thought it was me, as I was next to the door. He waited for the first opportunity to get someone and it turned out to be me, who suffered for it. He was a right shite hawk, out of seven weeks; I did five weeks confined to barracks.
Someone came running one-day shouting that the war was over and everybody went berserk. One of the officers said that the Americans had dropped a bomb on Hiroshima and wiped it off the face of the earth. No one bothered then about what they had done so long as it was finished, with no more people having to die and there would be no need to invade Japan. This saved thousands of lives. The time now was for bullshit, like making the tent lines straight and putting stones along the front and painting them whiter and where the grass was worn, painting the area green so that it matched all the other bits.
One day we marched towards a hill in the distance and when we got there found that there were doors built into the hillside with Italian men working inside. I think they were the Italian equivalent of our War Graves Commission as one of the men opened a door to a long tunnel and this was stacked up with coffins containing men from the First World War. There must have been about five or six coffins deep on either side of the tunnel. There were names and everything on the coffins and we couldn’t understand why they had not been buried.It turned out that the ground above had been a battleground during the First World War between the Austrians and the Italians but the ground was just rock so they couldn’t dig graves so instead they created tunnels, to save them taking the bodies anywhere else.The next move was to Brescia, a prisoner of war camp looking after the SS guards and women from Girda. It was a very quiet place to be but the problem was at night when the Italians came and tried to get into the camp. It was then you had to be on your toes. Some of the men who had been abroad for six or seven years were demobbed from the prisoner of war camp. They had never seen their wives and children. Three of the lads were sent home because they had caught VD from too much sex. They were men with the longest penises and they were married so I don’t think they would have told their wives what they had been doing to get the disease. One chap’s girlfriend would come down to the camp and stay all day hidden in a secret place, just having sex. Nobody knew what was going on but he ruined his life over a bit of fluff, he was a sexaholic.
One day we helped an Italian farmer, when we had finished he invited us to tea and we didn’t like saying no, but we weren’t looking forward to it but we went and we shook hands with his wife and family. Tea-time arrived and we all sat down around the table and we were handed a plate full of meat and vegetables which tasted very good, my mate and I got stuck in and finished off our tea with a drink of wine. When we came to leave we thanked the farmer for his hospitality and could he tell us what the meat was that we had eaten for tea, as it was very tasty. Catto, he told us and not knowing what catto was, we thought it was rabbit but we found out later that it was actually cat. If we had known, then we might have been sick but it tasted just like rabbit.
I started to learn to drive but what a performance. I kept trying to set off with the brakes on and it just wasn’t pulling as it should and the instructor said that I had just burnt the brake blocks away but I managed to get the hang of it eventually. There was plenty of room to drive because it was a disused airfield. The driver came to me and asked if I wanted to drive some soldiers who were being demobbed to the railway station in the three tonner. So everyone got aboard and the instructor told me to drive off and I went very care4fully down the road which was full of potholes, the wagon swayed, bounced and shook until it got to our destination. All the passengers were upset at being all shook up and said that they wouldn’t drive back with me even if they never got home. There was as small American contingent billeted at the side of our camp and we were allowed to visit their canteen for a hot dog, cup of coffee or whatever. I got talking to some of the Americans and they said that every one of the girls serving behind the counter was a hooker in civilian life, you could have a bit on the side if you tapped them up. Everything was geared to sex, to keep the men happy. If an American was after a woman they would call it “arse”, if you asked for a “fanny”, you would be classed as a pouffter.
Another service I used to do was to escort prisoners to Verona to pick up supplies. There was a bus from the camp to Brescia, but there was no fraternising with the prisoners, no talking to the Italian women and I was armed with a rifle in case of trouble. There was no stopping for a drink or they might do a bunk. If you were caught allowing them to go for a drink or converse with the ladies, it was curtains with so many days in the glasshouse with loss of pay. Many of the Italians liked the Germans, they said that Germans were good men but the English were bastards. Two of the lads who were escorting German prisoners were caught allowing them to go for a drink, they got a bit of time for disobeying orders and that was tantamount to being a traitor. I went to a film show given by the medical officer about syphilis and gonorrhoea; about what to do and what not to do, and to use the condom you were issued with. The next night he was strutting down the street with a hooker on his arm. After all his jabber the day before about not going out with the local girls as you would get a swollen knob. There were special places you could get treatment straight away after having sex, so that you were safe from disease. I was called into the officers’ den for another load of jankers, so I thought, here goes, my heart sank but I was relieved to be told that I was going on leave for a month., it was called L>I>A>P There was about 15 of us going a week later. I had to behave myself for a week or else I would have had my leave put back for another week or two.
When you went home you had to take all you kit with you, full service marching order with your kitbag. Some of the lads had not been out of the UK long so they pestered you to take something home for them and post it when you arrived in England. Time came to call in with my kit, everyone was counted before we could board a lorry, taking us to Milan, and we got on the troop train and eventually got on our way. Everything had to be done by the letter, no such thing as get on the train and away we go. After hanging around for about two hours, we were off with our next stop at Dommadosier, to change trains. The Italian train was unhooked and the Swiss train coupled up to take us through Switzerland. We arrive the next day at a place called Susanne., I think it was, and the train stopped in the station. Nobody was allowed to get off the train and Swiss police or soldiers patrolled the side of the train to stop anyone from making a quick dash. There were people selling watches on the station and they must have made a lot of money out of the soldiers. I think everyone bought a watch, if not for themselves for someone at home as a present. As we were traveling through Switzerland, we would be a few thousand feet up the side of a mountain going like the clappers with lovely scenery. We slowed down somewhat when we got to France but we carried on bypassing Paris. I could see the Eiffel Tower about tow miles away but that was the nearest we ever got to it. We arrived in Calais after three days traveling. We got of the train and marched off to the ferry, which would take us back to Blighty. We were feeling a lot better now and far more excited. In two or three hours we would be back home. There was just one worry, would the customs officers stop us when we got off the ferry. There was no need to worry as they just let everyone go passed. It was hard work carrying all your gear, kitbag and packs made all the heavier by things you were carrying for your mates who were left behind. In Italy. Landing at Dover, the customs men were a bit stricter and asked us where we got our watches.
This marks the end of the story so far. Robin