MY FIRST NOVEL TOM PARKINSON
FULFORD BARRACKS YORK September 1942
So, this is the day on the 17th of September in the year of 1942 that I leave home to join the Army.
After saying my farewells to Mother and Sisters I make my way to the bus stop in N. W. London to catch a bus to Kings Cross Station. On the bus, I pass all the familiar places that I grew up in and pass the turning where I was born (19 years ago) which was close to the big old Saint Silas Church. How I’d love to hear those bells ringing for Sunday Services and during week days.
We quickly passed all these familiar places as the bus speeds along and I feel a little empty inside and somewhat apprehensive as to what lays ahead.
On arriving at Kings Cross Station, I make my way to the platform and wait for the train to York.
I had my train ticket and travel warrant which had been sent by the Army along with traveling instructions and with my Calling Up papers which informs me that I have to report to the Rifle Brigade at York.
The train journey seems long and never ending but eventually arriving at York, the travelling took five hours (that being War Time travelling) I alighted and on the platform, we were met by an Army Sergeant whose loud voice called out “All those for Rifle Brigade line up here” and like lost sheep, we soon fell in. He orders us into columns of three, there being about fifty of us in all.
After a roll call of all our names, he says “Right lads, follow behind me for a nice long walk”, so in columns of three we set off.
The route takes us on the outside of YORK alongside the River Ouse, we eventually arrive at Fulford Barracks, we went through the gates and onto the big square The Parade Ground’. I did notice as we passed through the big gates the smart sentry on guard with his rifle and bayonet, he stood to attention as we passed in and gave us a smile, I found that little gesture most welcome.
On the Parade Square, we are split up into A, B, and C Companies. I am going into B Company. We are now taken over by a Corporal and marked to our different Blocks.
On arriving at B block, we are given a lecture by the Corporal on the ‘do’s and ‘don’ts’ of Army life, most important thing at this stage is meal times and Reveille.
We then fall in columns of three and march behind the Corporal to the Stores to get our uniforms, boots, socks, hats, underwear and kit bags where all our kit will stack into.
As you are going along this big counter you call your sizes out ‘Boot 7’ ‘Hat 7’ etc., as you pass along these are thrown across at you, there’s no time for questions although I did get one surprise at the Boot section, the chap passing the boots over used to collect the tickets on Saturdays at the local dance being located in the Boston Pub which was at Tufnell Park London.
Back at ‘B’ block we are now trying on and dressing in our uniforms, all our civilian clothes to be parcelled up and sent to our respective home addresses.
Our room in Barrack Block ‘B’ is long with a highly polished floor and double bunk beds down each side, with a large scrubbed table down the middle.
We soon learn about polished floors, we will all be detailed in turn to keep it clean and highly polished and the table will be kept really scrubbed spotlessly clean, the reason for this being some of the fellows laid their rifles and cleaned their boots on it.
End of the first day Thursday 17th of September and so to bed, that’s ‘bunk beds’, I’m on the bottom bunk of my allocation, after such a busy day we are soon fast asleep.
We are woken with a start next morning with a loud bugle call ‘Reveille’, it’s 0630 a.m. and ‘B’ Company Corporal shouting “Everybody Up! “,”Wash and Shave and on Parade by 0700.”
On Parade, we are instructed “You Will All Get Your Hair Cut” “Short Back and Sides, and “Then Everyone to have Vaccination Jabs”.
First, we go to the Cookhouse for breakfast, I line up with a well-spoken chap, taller than me and we go along the breakfast queue, hold out our mess tins and the Cook plonks a large ladle of thick porridge into our mess tins. The tall well-spoken chap turns to me and says to me in his posh voice “Oh What Horrible Stuff’ so I call this chap ‘The Tall Posh Fellow’. I myself love porridge thick or thin so I don’t mind, I get to know this fellow as we go along during our training.
Everybody has their haircut and then it’s into the Medical unit for our Vaccinations, the Doctor is giving us a big scratch on our left arm with a Victory ‘V’ sign and speaking the Morse code dot dot dash as he does all the new recruits. It seemed funny at the time but later on when we were all feeling a little sick and sore it wasn’t so funny.
Our next days are spent doing plenty of drill, marching up and down on the Barrack Square.
We are soon got into good shape and get to know our rifle drill; we eventually are taken to the Firing Range to learn how to fire these rifles. They are old rifles and have a kick like a mule against one’s shoulder when you squeeze the trigger and fire at the target and we are to do plenty of this.
We are to get fit with plenty of P.T. (Physical Training) and over the wooden horse in the Gymnasium, also boxing (lucky for me I’d done some boxing before joining up at our local St. Pancras Club), so I was able to defend myself and it did not come strange to me to get a few knocks.
The Rifle Brigade is one of the fastest marching units in the British Army being 142 marching paces to the minute.
Next in our training comes a 5-mile run in boots and shorts across the countryside, this was tough and we were glad to get back to Barracks and get those boots off! Needless to say, we suffered with sore feet.
A quite day comes along, we are to go along to the Big Hall for a square peg in a round hole test, i.e. ‘Proficiency Test ‘. In the hall, there are long tables with things like bicycle pumps, blocks of wood like a jigsaw puzzle etc. I’m alongside the Tall Posh Fellow so when we are given the order, we have to try and fix these things together as they are all in pieces. I start on the bicycle pump, no trouble at all for me, as we all had bikes in our street and knew how to take a pump to pieces and put it back together again but the Tall Posh Fellow calls across to me and says, “Good God, I’ve never fixed a pump before, my chauffeur does all this for me” but he seemed to get on O.K. and we all soon finished the Test.
Our next ‘Big Do’ is a week away at an Open-Air Firing Range. This place is North of York and the location is called Strenhall. Here, we are to learn all about the Bren Gun – it’s like a Machine Gun. We are taught how to take it to pieces, how to fire at distant targets in small bursts of fire, repeating in our minds ‘Johnny get your gun’ also at this stage we learn how to throw a hand grenade, then bayonet practice which was by sticking the bayonet into sandbags, hung up on a wooden frame and yelling swear words as though we were sticking the bayonet into the enemy. Incidentally the Posh Fellow turns out to be Gerald Lascelles, a member of the Royal Family.
Next on the agenda for us raw rookies is a turn down in the Butts, this is a long trench where you stand down the bottom and the targets are way above you as the others are firing at the targets just a few hundred yards away. When firing has stopped you have a long wooden handle with a black 6″ disk on the end which you hold up to the target and place it over the bullet holes indicating whether it was a bull, inner, outer or by waving the disc side to side of the target when it is a magpie, mind you it’s quite scary down in the Butts because some of those bullets seem quite close. The Sergeant in charge of the Firing Party takes down the scores of each individual who has fired at his own targets (sometimes he had someone else’s shots as well) by mistake.
When the Bren Gun is being fired it gets quite noisy down there, it certainly gives you a baptism of being under fire, After a week of this Firing Range at Strenshall it’s back to Barracks.
After a weekend of rest, on the Monday morning (we have now been here four weeks) we are taken out with the Sergeant by the name of Capper to the countryside to do some field craft i.e. how to conceal oneself with camouflage, this turns out to be interesting and funny at the time. The Sergeant has gone off across a field and we are to advance to where we think he has gone and try and spot him.
We go across the field line abreast with our rifles at the ready to spot anything unusual. As we get to the end of the field we come across a stream with some trees along the bank – everything seems quiet and nobody has spotted anything, when all of a sudden there is a loud cracking sound which was a branch of a tree breaking and to our surprise it’s the Sergeant falling out of the tree in his camouflage cover, straight into the muddy stream. Of course, all of us rookies fall about laughing – it was so funny and there is Sergeant Capper dragging himself to the bank looking like a scarecrow. He is fuming and not amused at our laughter and shouts
“One Day My Lads, You May be in This Position and Not Think: it’s so Funny!”, we all quickly say, “Sorry Sergeant” and that ends the ‘Field Craft’ for the day.
Next morning the Sergeant has us on an early Parade 0630 a.m. We think he’s still angry of us laughing at him about what happened to him yesterday.
He marches us across the same field but this time we have to look out for and pick up mushrooms, and we do find plenty which we collect in our tin hats, these we carry back to the Sergeants Mess at the Barracks. I suppose they will have them for breakfast. I hope there aren’t any toadstools amongst them because I’m not certain which is which.
Sunday morning is a nice time, we have a Church Parade and now we are good at marching. We form up on the Parade Ground and have the Rifle Brigade Band to march us off out of the Barracks and down the road to another part of the Fulford Barracks. The Band sounds good and it gets us marching at quick time (140 paces to the minute) which is more than most other Army Units, so we are filled with pride and enjoy the march.
It’s nice in the Church, we sing some very nice hymns. I think: most of our age group had been to Church and Sunday School so everyone was in good voice. When the Service was over we formed up outside and enjoyed the march back to Barracks. It was nice to have some of the local people and lots of young girls giving us a cheer and a wave on the way back.
Sunday afternoon and evening we are now allowed down to the town. We go after tea and we meet some of local girls in the Cafes, it seems quite a lot of them work at the Chocolate Factory which is Rowntrees, it’s nice having a chat with the locals but it’s no time for getting to know anybody well. The coming week we will all ‘Pass Out’ as fully trained Riflemen.
Monday morning the 30th of October 1942, a few more drills around the Parade Ground, getting us into tip top condition for the Pass Out which will be on Friday. This will now be 6 weeks that we have been here and we are all totally fit.
Wednesday is the day that we find out where we are going to be posted after our training. All the details are fixed on the notice board and I find that I am going to an Army Training School; there I will be taught driving Army vehicles of all sorts.
Friday, a lovely sunny day, we are all formed up on the Parade Ground with the Rifle Brigade Band at the front we are going to march around the Parade Ground, which is quite large, and where the Commanding Officer of the Camp will take the Salute. The Band starts playing a lovely marching tune, the Parade Marshal barks out his orders for ‘Companies to come to Attention’ and then by the order’ By the Left, Quick March! We are all so proud and march in quick step round to the Saluting Base “Eyes Left” and we all salute The Commanding Officer.
Saturday night we are all invited at the Women Army Training Corps CA.T.S.) Camp. They are also in uniform and doing their bit for the War Effort. We all go along including ‘The Posh Fellow’ Gerald Lascelles but we are all together like old friends. We get to the dance hall where a lovely band is playing.
We soon pick out a nice ATS girl to dance with and we are made very welcome.
News must have got out the ‘Posh Fellow’ was ‘Royalty’ because he soon had girls flocking around him but he joined in the fun and like us he really enjoyed himself drinking and plenty of dancing and talking with everybody. I hear that the ‘Posh Fellow will be going across the square to the O.C.T.O. that’s the Officer Training Unit where he will pass out as a Officer, in fact I heard later during the War that his brother was taken prisoner in Italy by the Germans.
A nice evening was had by all, just as well, as we soon will be going separate ways.
November 6th, 1942, I am leaving Fulford Camp York today and on my way to Aston-under-Lyne which is near Manchester. I met two other young soldiers on the train going to the same place as myself so we pal up together. We arrive at our destination, Aston- under-Lyne, it’s cold, dark and damp, and does not look very inviting. It’s an old cotton mill, a very large old building now named ‘Ladysmith Barracks’ each floor used to house the large looms i.e. weaving machines.
After reporting to the Regimental Office (this must have been the Old Mill Office) we are to go to the fourth floor where we found what looks like hundreds of bunk beds. We pick out spare beds and put our kit down ready to bed down for the night, looking around the floor which seems never ending and it does smell rather stuffy; we are soon off to sleep.
We were woken so soon with a Bugle call at 06.30 hrs. Like a mad house, everybody’s up, lots of smokers coughing with their cigarettes in their mouths, a quick wash, and down to the dining floor for a mug of tea and something to eat. The dining floor is as long as the sleeping area and the noise is like a Railway Station.
We are then outside on Parade and six of us are called by number and name to join our Driving Instructor, a Corporal. We join him for stage one of this Course (there are six stages). You must pass-out on stage one to go onto the next one which is stage two etc. The vehicle on stage one is a 15 cwt. Bedford open truck with five of us sitting in the back and one alongside the instructor in the front. I am sitting in the back with the other four, we are soon out in the countryside, now the instructor lets the first trainee take the wheel. First thing he does is jumping and stalling the truck and in the sudden jolt I’m tipped out of the back of the truck into the road, what a shock! Luckily for me I am wearing thick Army clothes and well protected and well protected on my head, “No harm done”, I said to the Corporal and we are soon taking our turns at the wheel.
We soon pass through the stages which included night driving on 3 Ton Trucks over the Pennines, almost like mountains, steep and bending roads.
Another stage was Half Track Bren-Gun Carriers which have tracks instead of wheels. These Carriers have a half like steering wheel very much like a boat tiller, you turn to the left and that stops the left-hand track and swings you round to the left, turn half right and you swing right.
Another afternoon is spent on motor cycles round a track circuit, so we don crash helmets and go round and round to get the hang of changing up and down the gears. When we are finished this we leave the bikes on the track and then we are transported back to
One nice thing about Aston-under-Lyne, one evening, our night off, we were strolling down to the local Y.M.C.A. where we could get a cup of tea and a cake. The lady behind the counter was very welcoming and asked how long had we been here’. I thought she was very interesting to talk to, when we said that we had lots of writing to do on this course she said right away “Come to my house tomorrow evening and you can do your writing and I’ll do you some ‘beans on toast.” That was a very nice offer so the three of us arrive at this very nice house with our notes, the house was situated on this square called Chester Square.
She had two young daughters, the eldest about twenty-four and the youngest about twenty. We were soon made welcome. The lady said that we could use the large front room from where we could do our writing, this we did and soon after we finished we were invited into the dining room for some beans on toast. It was most welcome being in a nice house with lovely Lancashire people. We got on well with the girls, Ann the eldest, her boyfriend was a Prisoner of War in Germany – he had been taken a prisoner in the Desert early in 1942.
Mrs Davies (Mayoress) Aston under Lyne
The Lady of the House was Mrs. Davies, it turns out that Mrs. Davies was Mayoress of Aston-under-Lyne. We were lucky to have met her and to have been made so welcome. We were invited back again and on our second visit we met another nice young girl who is a cousin of her daughters, thereby being the lady’s niece, whose name was Barbara, us all being young we all get on like a house on fire.
Mrs. Davies suggests that at the weekend the girls take us to Manchester for a treat to see a Wrestling Match at the Belle Vue Hall, the girls to pay, so we arrive Saturday night and go by bus into Manchester. The Belie Vue Hall was full and we really enjoyed the different bouts of Wrestling, the girls paid for all our fares and entrance fees. After, back on the Bus to 36 Chester Square for a nice supper laid on by our Mayoress friend, Mrs. Davies.
Back at Ladysmith Barracks we have some more training driving to do – night convoy driving over the Pennine Chain, a mountainous area North of Manchester. This was quite hair raising for us young novices but it would come in very handy during our future Army life.
The daytime convoy driving was much easier and more interesting especially when passing through some of those Lancashire villages, we had some lovely Tea Breaks at local dairies and, once again made most welcome by the ladies in these little places, nice tea and buttered rolls, a piece of cake, these are the nice things that we remember of the places and the people.
Well time goes by, we have been here eight weeks and now we are being posted once more, I am going to Scotland on my own to a place just outside Glasgow called Ruthend Glen. I go and say Goodbye to Mrs. Davies and promise to write and to keep in touch.
Now I’m off to catch the train to Scotland, I have my haversack lunch to eat on the train – I feel a bit sad having to leave the friends that I’d made at Aston-under Lyne together with my Army pals that I had met there.
Arriving at Glasgow I take a small train to Ruthend Glen – at the Glen I go to a place called Eglington Park – it’s a big Park. On reporting to the Regimental Office, the Sergeant tells me that I am booked into Hut 10 (a Nissen Hut) where I will sleep along with twenty others. I find out that the Park is full of Army vehicles, all brand new.
On parade the next morning the Sergeant gives us our instructions. He gives us the number of a vehicle and our job is to find this lorry or van and drive up to a path along by the main gate. There are quite a number of civilian drivers who take over the vehicles and take them to the docks which are then shipped overseas to battlefields of the war. This was hard work, lots of walking to find vehicles but good practice on different lorries and vans. I am here a fortnight and then I’m told to report to the Medical Room to see the Doctor for a F.F.O. i.e. ‘Fit for Overseas’. I have this medical and I’m passed as A. I.
Before I know it I’m on my way to another Army unit down south to Bramley. I get on a train at Glasgow at 7.0. p.m. and travel very slowly all night down to Euston, there I catch another train to Bramley. On arriving I’m sent to a Major Taylor’s Office. Ongoing inside I’m interviewed by the Major who informs me that I should have been here two weeks ago, a mistake was made in sending me to Scotland.
This unit that I’m now posted to is 21 Advance Ammunitions – they are going overseas and the rest of the unit is on Embarkation Leave. The Major informs me that this leave is nearly up so all he can allow me is three days leave and to be back by Saturday evening and I had to promise that I would do just that. I dumped my kit in one of the huts and then I got down to Bramley Station to catch a train to London.
On arriving home everybody was surprised to see me. Well, I have to make the best of this short leave and enjoy it with my family and friends. Time went very quickly and I was soon back on the train to Bramley camp. Arriving back at Bramley, near Reading, we were soon lined up and issued with tropical kit and pith helmets, but with no idea where we are going or what.
At 8 pm that night we were marched to the station and packed onto a train. It’s now dark and all the blinds are drawn on the train. The train pulls away and we trundle along through the night. It appears we are a unit of28 men, a Major Taylor, Captain Hornby, a lieutenant, a sergeant major, a sergeant and 2 corporals, most of the men are ammunition experts and there are 4 drivers including myself.
Morning arrives about Sam and we are pulling into some docks. We find out that it is Liverpool docks. When the train stops it’s everybody off and we line up and march a short way to the dock area. Here we see a large boat, never been this close to a boat before, it seems huge 20,000 tons, in fact. Soon we are marched up the gangway, on board and directed to our deck where we put all our kit down. We will be sleeping in hammocks. This is Monday morning, 11th April 1943. We have to keep to our decks and are given jobs to do, keep the place clean, etc. We are allowed up on deck – there are hundreds coming onto the boat, including the RAF units. We get a good view on the top deck, right opposite the two towers of a big building with clocks, a Liverpool landmark.
Thursday evening, we set sail down the big river Mersey, passing New Brighton – this was pointed out to us by someone who knew the area, then soon we are out to the sea. In the morning, we had arrived off the coast of Scotland where we are met by a Royal Navy escort vessel.
Out at sea the next day we are in convoy position, our ship the 20,000 tonner ‘Lindrapoera’ placed last in the convoy and just behind us is a Royal Navy Cruiser, up ahead we can see Destroyers and Corvettes which are weaving in and out of the convoy, above a Sunderland Flying Boat which was flashing Morse Code down at the Navy, soon the sea was getting rough and we are all beginning to be sea sick -what a rotten feeling – most everybody is sick.
After three days, it’s a bit calmer now, we are all called onto top deck by the Captain, we are all gathered around in sections and told where we are heading. It appears that it is Algiers North Africa. A cry goes up “Where is that? Never heard of it!” We are then handed a little book which has information about the place and that is where the local lingo is French and Arabic, on the back of the booklet there are French and Arabic phrases. When the Captain finished, we are dismissed and back we go to our respective decks.
Later there are several bangs and crashes and vibrations, we get back on deck very sharpest and find that the Destroyers and Corvettes ahead are dropping Depth Charges. I tell you it was most frightening – this spelt out one thing – there are U Boats in the vicinity, we get this confirmed by one of the crew members who must be used to action like this. Things settle down and all is quiet and well, back on deck it’s very dark but we could see a small vessel lit up, it appears that we are passing the coast of PORTUGAL and these lights are to indicate to passing ships that this is neutral waters.
On we go through the dark and early morning we had passed through the Straights of Gibraltar but it is too dark for us to know anyway we were asleep in our hammocks. With the morning comes Reveille, to the washrooms then on to our allotted Mess Deck where we line up for breakfast comprising of tea, bacon, bread. Today I am detailed for Guard Duty on the Deck along with other squaddies taking in rota with one at a time then change over one at a time. We have a stout rope which we fasten around our waists with the other end fastened to the inside rail running along the deck. What we are guarding we just don’t know but it is lovely out at sea which is now blue and very calm. Incidentally the rope is a precaution – if by any chance when the sea is in a heavy swell, it will save you being flung over the side and being washed away.
Seven days at sea now – we wake up early next morning there is a lot of excitement going on, we are now off the coast of North Africa – it looks pretty from a distance with the sun shining on the little white buildings and mosques. We pull into the harbour and our ship is tied up alongside a jetty, we are soon called together by Major Taylor and he informs us that we will be disembarking down the gangway with all our kit and weapons i.e. rifles, Bren guns etc. We form up alongside the ship, 28 of us in all. Once we are in line we are off with the Major leading the way into Algiers. It seems rather strange seeing the Arabs in their robes walking along and the women with their yasmak covering their faces, lots of Arabs sitting on donkeys, with some carrying heavy loads. We pass through but it’s quite a long march and also quite hot with the sun quite strong.
Eventually we arrive outside Algiers, to a large out-door swimming pool- the pool is empty but this is where we are staying until the unit moves on up front near the war zone – in the meantime we are sorting ourselves out, some are going to sleep in the changing cubicles and some are going to bed down in the open pool itself, the weather being quite warm that will not be a problem.
I settle down in a cubicle with all my kit and the other drivers, Wally Seamen, Hughie Hazel and Les Marshall. Wally Seamen is 30 years of age, so is Les Marshall, Hughie Hazel is 35, the oldest and yours truly 20 years young.
We are allowed to go down to Algiers during the evening, the four of us Drivers stick together and we have a look around everywhere and end up in Cafeteria Bar. On sitting at a round table, Hughie suggested “How about Egg and Chips?” We all agreed. Using our English/Arabic booklets, we order four Egg and Chips -we tuck into the meal and enjoy it. The Arab waiter comes round and says “Drinks?” – he shows us a bottle of Champagne. Hughie says “Oui Oui” and he fetches four glasses and so we all try this for the first time in our lives – it was chilled and tasted O.K. “Fancy that” we said after the bombing back home and the black-out, here we are drinking Champagne. Arriving back at the Swimming Pool we bed down and are fast asleep.
On parade the next morning Sgt. Harry Yeoulovis takes the Roll Call and everyone is present and correct. He reads out instructions for us few Drivers – we are to go by train to a seaport by the name of Bougie , so we collect all our kit together and march down to the station. At the Station, we meet the R.T.O. Military Policeman who informs us as to which train when it arrives, to entrain.
When it arrives, and pulls into the platform we spot two Pullman coaches and the rest of the train consists of goods wagons or cattle trucks – we quickly jump into the Pullman coaches, and make ourselves comfy for the journey there were just the four of us in the coach. We have with us a little tin stove which bums small blocks of solidified mentholated spirits so with our haversack rations we soon brew up some tea, and later on as the train moves on we have boiled and a fry up of eggs – we are enjoying ourselves and enjoying the journey. We sort out our sleeping positions as we will be traveling throughout the night so we lay two to a seat fully clothed, head to toe, not any luxury of pyjamas but very soon nodding off with the rhythm of the train. During the night, we wake up scratching ourselves ‘What’s up?’ Well, we are running alive with fleas and we are bitten all over – no wonder – the carriage had been used by Arabs.
As soon as we arrive at Bougie we report to the Medical Officer there, he orders us to two large tents and tells us to strip off all our clothes and to dump them outside the tent. Nearby were mobile showers so it was quickly through the showers and out the other side – we were given clean towels to dry and then out of the tent came two Medical Orderlies who dusted us down with D.T.D. powder, then in the other tent we are supplied with new tropical clothing, shorts and shirts.
We have come to Bougie to await the ship that will be bringing our transport, which will consist of one 3-ton truck, one Utility van and two motor bikes.
In the meantime, we are in a Transit Camp that is located on a hill which overlooks the harbour. All our messages and instructions are received from the H.Q. Office which is situated down by the Docks. We are sleeping in one-man Bivouacs, all our rations of food we obtain down at the Docks. We don’t have to wait too long for the Transport Ship which arrived on the 25tl1 April. On its arrival, we spend some time in the Dock area until our vehicles are unloaded.
When we are called, our 3 Ton Truck is at the Dock side with the two motor cycles on the truck and the Utility Van alongside. We have to sign for these and check firstly that everything is in order, which in this case was O.K. We fill up the vehicles with petrol and oil at the Dock pump. Our instructions are to make our way to Beja to meet up with the rest of the unit, there is a large convoy going up to the Front and we are to join this convoy, it will take about two days.
We go through some hair-pin bends and very high mountain roads. We are driving on the left-hand side of the road, some of the drops at the side of the road look very dangerous, you can see where some trucks have gone over the edge. We are told that these mountains are part of the Atlas Mountains, we pass one poor Arab with his mule and cart – the mule must have panicked with all the noise of the traffic because it was hanging over the edge of the sheer drop into space with just the weight of the cart holding it from dropping down, no chance of the convoy stopping – we just pass by.
The vehicles are really fantastic, included in the convoy are large Tank transporters with tanks loaded up -they certainly have a job around the bends.
I am driving with Wally Seaman in the Utility van, and Hughie Hazel and Les Marshall are driving the 3 Tonner. When we get to a clear bit, off we pull off for a brew up and a change of driving positions – we then start up and follow along until we get to our turn off point – when we do we are now on our own.
We have some of our haversack rations and when it gets dark we sleep inside the van. I was able to stretch out, Wally stayed inside the cab and kept ills eyes open for any unforeseen trouble which we didn’t have.
We pass along quickly next day doing our map reading and arriving at Beja and meeting up with others in the unit, our unit signs were on display – 21 AA.D – which was based near an old Arab farm type of building but there wasn’t any sign of any Arabs around the place.
We bed down with others in our blankets on the floor of the farmhouse; it was warm so we soon went off to sleep. In the morning, we were all on Parade in the farmyard and Major Taylor gives out his instructions, he says “We need two Despatch Riders.” He nominated Les Marshall (who had ridden a motor cycle in Civi Street) as the one with the most experience to be No.1 Rider and to take Parkinson being the younger one under his wing.
After being dismissed from the Parade Les and I sort the Bikes out which are 500cc Nortons, we check everything on the bikes, oil, petrol, tyres etc., then we report to the Duty Sergeant.
We have to go on a run to a forward unit, wearing tin hats, there is plenty of gunfire going on but at some distance away so we are out of range for our first run which is a slow run because of the pot holes so I follow Les Marshall as he has the map reference and knows where we are going.
We arrive at this unit, it turns out to be an Artillery Unit and when we arrive they are firing some heavy guns which were quite noisy. Their H.Q. Office is based in an old building. The Officer in charge asked us to come inside, we go in and the Officer gives Les message in an envelope already sealed, just a few words and we are one our way back with our first assignment completed.
Only a few days up here at Beja and word comes through that we are on the move again. The Germans, it appears are in full retreat towards Tunis and Bizerta and we are to pack our kit once more, this being an Advance Ammunition Unit which we are in, it is to be expected. We now know our destination will be the port town of Bizerta although the Germans are still occupying the place still we are informed, it won’t be long before the town falls to our infantry units.
We packed up all our gear and very soon we were on our way passing along some very dusty tracks, there are some sights to see as we pass along what was the battle areas. At one hilly part, we see about ten Bren-Gun Carriers that had been hit by a German Tiger Tank which had positioned itself above the low ground where he had easily picked them off, but in the end the Tiger had suffered the same fate as the Carriers by having the turret blown off probably by an attacking bomber.
Passing along with lots of death and destruction in evidence there were the graves with small wooden crosses of British, German and lots of American – not a nice sight.
BIZERTA. 5th – 10th May ’43.
Arrived outside the town at night and slept out in the back of trucks. Awaiting the fall of the town and the ‘All Clear’ was given in the morning, so we moved down close to the Town. By the way, did we have a lovely ‘kip’ in the trucks.
A small farmhouse type of building with a court yard was picked out by Major Taylor; this was to be our Headquarters for our stay in Bizerta. The place was empty so before anyone approached the house a Sergeant armourer and ammo expert went in to check for mines and booby traps.
When the ‘All Clear’ was given we took over the place. All us other ranks pitched out one-man bivouacs outside the wall of the courtyard. Officers and Sergeants took over the house with one part for each. Another small room was to be used as Regimental Office and another small section leading onto the courtyard was designated the cookhouse.
Outside the wall we other ranks were busy digging a square hole to place the bivouacs over, which gave us more room to bed down in and to place one’s kits which included a Lee Enfield Rifle, 50 rounds of .303, kit small pack. big pack, tin hat etc. Lucky the ground was quite soft for digging. Settling in this place and on the second day Les Marshall, Wally Seaman, Hughie Hazel and I wandered down to Bizerta.
We stopped at some empty houses and had a nose around and Les spots a lovely bath and wash basins in this particular house and he being a plumber in Civi Street thinks it’s a good idea to remove these back to our house with the courtyard. After he gains permission from Major Taylor we return with the 3 Tonner trucks in which Hughie was the driver and proceeded to remove the bath and wash basins.
Hughie was also a plumber so with tools from the 3 Tonner they soon had them dismantled and ready for transporting back to base. I think this was a masterpiece of work, the fixing of the basins along the wall inside the courtyard. The runaway was a length of old tin under the length of the wash basins and then it run into a small hole in the ground. The bath was more private and was outside the wall among some cactus plants, propped up on some old bricks. Water was taken from a 40-gallon drum which was heated up by burning wood underneath. A General Duty Man was in charge of this operation. So, the unit of28 men had somewhere to wash and shave and have at least one bath a week. Although this bath was open air it was quite O.K. with the North African climate which was quite warm.
At this stage, no one seems to know how long we shall be here, we know all combat fighting is finished here in North Africa. During the day, there are endless columns of German prisoners marching along the roads towards the Port of Bizerta. They seemed to be happy because they are singing the German marching songs. These are mostly from the Africa Korps and they all look like ‘six footers’ and they are bronzed with the sun.
Not much for me to do at this stage – a few trips into Bizerta on the ‘SOD Norton’. The Signals Office is near the port, at this moment of time there’s no Army Post Office.
Food wise, at the cook house run by Cook Bert Brown, is hard biscuits and tins of Macconicy (like a stew). This ‘Hardtack’ we soaked in our tea to soften them up, we soon get fed up with tills biscuit. A treat one day, Bert Brown had some flour and a few tins of plums, He had made a ‘Plum Pie’ which he was so proud of.
Les Marshall and myself, two Despatch Riders, were sitting around the courtyard and Bert calls out “Would you like a piece of Plum Pie? “, “Oh yes please was our reply”, a piece each, ‘What a treat’, delicious after not having had any bread for a few weeks. We gave Bert such praise and he was so pleased with our reaction that he offered us a second portion each, which went down a treat! From then on if we wanted a second helping of anything it was ‘More Brown Please’.
Still on food, which seemed a endless subject for soldiers, Les, Wally, Hugbie and myself strolled down to the Docks at Bizerta on a spare afternoon and just into port was an American Merchant ship and it so happens we got into conversation with some of the crew. They were pleased to have a chat with us Limies and once again food came up in the discussion and when we told them that we had no bread ration for weeks because the Mobile Bakery had not caught up with our Section as yet, we were invited on board the Merchant ship and were taken down to the ships galley and introduced to the ship’s cook. When he was told of our no bread story he took from some racks about twenty loaves of fresh baked loaves of white bread. ‘This was Christmas’ in May and three large, and I mean large, tins of pineapple chunks. After a few beers with these most friendly Yanks we struggled back to base carrying this most valuable load. We called Bert Brown at his cook house and place all the goodies on his table. Word soon got around of this precious gift from Seamen U.S.A.
Major Taylor arrived and immediately took over the bread situation; orders were given Gust like Jesus with his Bread and Five Fishes). Every man would get an even share of slices of bread and also of pineapple.
So important was this occasion that the Major said along with the wash basins and this ration U.S.A. us four Les, Wally, Hughie and myself, he would recommend us for some form of Medal. It just shows you how ‘Light Headed’ a few weeks of ‘no dough’ can make one. Unit strength is 28 men to share food with.
Must mention Madam Sieman; while doing my spell of guard duty, a small frail woman approached me, late evening it was, still light – there was no chance to say “Halt, who goes there?” She said in a perfect English voice with an American accent “I am starving” – I said, “I can’t help you now, come back tomorrow morning” (she did put me off guard). To our surprise she turned up the following morning and as it turned out she is American but married to a Frenchman who is she said is a Naval Officer with the French Navy. We didn’t know at this stage whether it was ‘Free French’ or ‘Vichy’. Somehow Bert Brown the cook gets a small amount of grub for her to have. She lives in a house not far from where we are, so obviously saw us arrive at our billet.
Madam Sieman invited us to her house one evening for a glass of wine; in fact, we did take up this offer and half a dozen of us turned up at her little house for a glass of red wine. The evening proved interesting, she seemed to have a few bottles of wine in the store but no food. A few songs were sung and her favourite was “Roaming in the Gloaming with a Lassie by Your Side”. We didn’t stay too long this first time but she insists that we must come again.
Madam told us she has a Brother who is a Doctor with the American Army out here in North Africa who she hopes will try to contact her. We leave early and go back to our one-man bivouacs to bed down for the night. Roll Call is 06.30 out in the courtyard. Everybody is present and correct and then a bite to eat.
The bread is lasting out well although not as fresh as when we brought it back from the ‘Yank ship’. Bert Brown has heated some tinned skinless sausages and they go down a treat with the bread and a hot mug of tea, there seems to be a fair stock of tinned stuff in Bert’s Store and it appears a fair ration of loose tea which he keeps in a small sack. I hear most units get a ration of tea loose because we do not have the privilege of N.F.F.I’s at hand.
Another issue is 50 Victory ‘V’s cigarettes. Not being much of a smoker, I’m not really bothered but there are plenty of complaints from the heavy smokers about these ‘fags’.
After Parade and we are dismissed to our different duties, the Ammo Stores Personnel go off to the ammo lines where all sorts of ammunition is sorted out and each Ammo Store man has a party of Pioneers with which to do the stacking and unloading from the lorries as they arrive to 21st Advanced Ammunition Depot – ‘that’s us’. This ammunition will in time be moved to where the Infantry and the Artillery will receive their quota as they indent for it.
Their dispatch rider’ will usually come to our unit with their message to indent for their quota or sometimes Les Marshall or myself would go to their units. We would know nothing of the messages as the envelopes were sealed. Although at this time the war in North Africa was at an end everybody seems so busy.
Had a big surprise during one of my trips up to the Ammo lines, when I got there some of the storemen were taking cover behind some lorries, it appears there were still a few Germans who had not surrendered and they were snipping down at our lads from the hills above, so I had to take cover with them for a while then later the rifle fire stopped, we never heard any more of them.
When I arrived back at base I reported the ‘Cowboy and Indian’ action to the Duty Sergeant in the office, I had a nasty surprise when I went over to my bivouac on my return, I had a solid Brillantine perfumed Californian Poppy which was the fashion in those days to smarten your hair down and to smell nice. It’s O.K. in civi street but not much good out here in North Africa, but you kept these things being young. Anyway, the tin had exploded in the heat of the day and the Brillantine was running down the sides of the bivouac so I had a lot of cleaning up to do before I could get bedded down for the night.
We had paid another visit to Madam Sieman’s little house where she invited us to sit outside in her small garden to have a glass of wine. While sitting outside she came out with something on a plate to eat. Placing the plate on the table, Madam gave us one each, when she went away Hughie said, “They are Frogs Legs.” I felt sick at the thought of eating one so I tipped these so called Frog Legs into my hat and then folded my hat in half. When Madam came back out of the house she was surprised at my empty plate and said, “That’s gone quick” – the other’s had to carry on eating theirs, so I had taken Hughie’s word that they were Frogs Legs.
Madam is very excited, she has received news of her Brother who is a Doctor with the American Forces and he plans via his news to visit and we are invited to this reunion when he arrives. I might as well stay on the subject because we are there when he does arrive and what an arrival’. He arrives in an American Army Ambulance, full top to bottom with all kinds of food and drink. The ambulance is flying a Red Cross Banner and, typical. Yanks driving very fast! When he comes to a full stop, out he jumps and he and Madam rush into one another’s arms for a tearful meeting, hugging and kissing while we stand and watch. Following behind the ambulance was a small truck with six Yanks, so now we have a party of seven Yanks. We are introduced to her brother as her ‘Life Savers’.
Soon, we are all joined together in the house, there are about six of us, the other six American’S start to unload all the ‘goodies’ from the ambulance and bring them into the house. Boxes of this and that and in the other ambulance there came out plenty of ‘Booze’. Soon we are all getting friendly and it wasn’t long before the drinks start to flow and everybody is getting merry. Later some Frenchmen arrive, these are friends of Madam’s.
Drinking and singing is now in full swing, Madam wants her favourite song ‘Roaming in the Gloaming’ (she must have some Scot’s blood in her somewhere). Then it’s all the ‘National Anthems’, ‘God Save Our Gracious King’ ‘American Star’s and Stripe’s’ and the ‘French March on National’. One or two are getting a little drunk, I myself don’t drink much, so, I’m quite sober.
Now the war tales begin to flow and the Americans from the small truck begins to show their ‘scars’ and a lot of bragging and high talk. We are enjoying ourselves with the food and drink when suddenly a fight breaks out between two of the Frenchmen and an American What it’s all about we don’t know but it’s not too long before U.S.A. and France are at war. Fists flying everywhere, (I think it’s time for us to go). I crawl out with Les Marshall and make our way out through the back door, looking at the size of some of them involved, most are ‘Six Footer’s’, this spoilt what had promised to be a nice evening, anyway it’s back to the bivouacs.
I woke up late the following morning and rushed down to the wash basins and to my surprise everybody is on parade outside the wall, answering to their name’s on’ Roll Call’, as it was a bit of luck, my name gets called ‘Parkinson’ as I’m washing so I was able to yell out ‘Sir’ and the Duty Officer carries on calling the Roll, so it wasn’t noticed that I wasn’t there but just the other side of the wall so I carried on having my wash and kept quiet, (I got away with that one). Come to think of it, I wonder if that is a record in Army routine, answering ‘Roll Call’ while having a wash.
Les and I ‘D.Rs’, report to Harry Yesdovic who is in charge of Office Routing and he gives us our ‘orders for the day’. I have been going with Les on ‘runs’ because I was the ‘novice’ and Les was the experienced motor cyclist in ‘Civi Street’.
Now I’m getting used to this bike which is quite big for a novice like me, 500cc Norton and quite heavy and me only eight stone, so my solo run this morning is to Signals which is down in the dock in Bizerta. It’s not an easy run as the road is jammed with all sorts of Trucks, Bren Gun Carriers, marching Troops and columns ofPOWs, German and Italians, and there’s plenty of dust! I arrive at Signals and get a welcome mug of tea from the Signal Boys. There were plenty of other D.Rs there, a little chat with some of the lads, collect our messages and back to Camp by about 11 a.m.
As regards the upset at Madam’s the previous evening, nobody seems to know what started it, so we thought we would go this evening and pay another visit to Madam (this is Les and myself talking outside the Office). Les had a run to the Army Post Office which was down at Bizerta but there wasn’t any personal mail for anybody, nothing seems to have arrived from the U.K. at this time. Some of the boys are disappointed because they so look forward to getting mail from home.
We found out from Sergeant Harry Yesolovic that the message that I brought back from Bizerta tells us we are on the move on the 1st of June along the coast through Turris to a place called Sousse, (never heard of it), that’s how much we know what’s going on.
So, packing up all the tents etc., will start soon, we will have two trucks from the R.A.S.C. because apart from our own unit’s gear there is quite a lot of ammo to be moved.
We manage to get to Madam’s during the evening but we are not to disclose to her where we are going when we leave. She is most upset about the ordeal at her house and her brother and his buddies have already left. The good point is that she has a good stock of food and supplies. No questions asked about the incident so we bade our ‘Farewells’ and leave.
Next morning all hands to the task of ‘down bivouacs’ and packing everything into the truck, we are sleeping rough for our last night here, it’s warm so ‘No hassle’.
1st June 1943 BIZERT A to SOUSSE
Now we are on our way leaving BIZERTA behind, always feels a bit funny leaving a place, rather like a little home sickness, seeing as a lot of effort was made by one and all at BlZERTA.
We are making our way to TUNIS first, Les and I are on our bikes, slowly following along with the Convoy, very soon we make our way up front, we soon found at the back that there was plenty of dust and exhaust fumes, so Les and I are riding side by side as we are traveling at about 20 m.p.h. we can call across to one another although all eyes must be kept to the front as the road is rather rough and pot holed. When you consider the Germans retreated along this road with tanks, armoured tracks etc. this is the state of the roads.
Some of the sights along the road aren’t very nice, each side of the road you can see burnt out tanks, trucks, British and German, so at times it’s like Hell, and also the graves of both sides, with the little wooden crosses and quite a lot of work has been put into making them as though they had been made in a Carpenter’s shop and all the lettering in bold Gothic. “THE GERMANS”
Quite a lot of our lads had their tin hats placed on their cross – I did also see a couple of Brigadiers hats with the red band around the peak of the cap. I never expected to see such sights – I am just twenty years old.
As we near TUNIS some of the landscape looks much better, with lots of green Cactus plants which were quite big and, of course, plenty of Palm trees with sand either side of the road, quite warm in fact HOT.
We pass through TUNIS without stopping and some of the buildings look quite modem and it seems a nice place and well kept. I noticed lots of Arab women wearing white silk robes and the usual Yashmak across their faces. This is quite noticeable because on our way here the women looked a lot poorer and were all in black and they followed behind the man who sits astride a donkey with up to four or five women loaded with bundles on their heads behind.
As we pass out of TUNIS I notice the Airport with big German planes scattered around, most are wrecked and standing on their nose, that’s a queer sight to see, must have been a hasty retreat.
We are pulling for a ‘Brew up’ along a stretch of open ground, we all need a mug of ‘Sergeants Majors’ tea so Bert Brown gets to work and brews a big brew, time for a chat and smoke for some with their Victory ‘Vs’, Ugh!.
We have about an hour here and then it’s on our way, soon we pass through ENFIDA VILLE and lots of small Arab places. Traffic is very heavy both ways, we are going to a place called KALAR KEBIRA which is a few miles North of SOUSSE.
We drive off the main road to SOUSSE, down a narrow road with Olive trees and Cactus bushes either side and, of course, plenty of sand – after about two miles we come to a small railway booking office, not in use of course, the rail lines are littered with overturned trucks, the name of the booking office is KALAH KEBIRA.
First things to do here is to unload the trucks of our equipment and Bert Brown is sorting out his cookhouse position to give us a dinner of sorts. Here we have new six-man tents so, that’s going to be more comfortable than the small bivouacs and us two D.R.s and two other Drivers will be in the same tent. We are to pitch our tent across the road from the booking office and rail line, the section of land is quite large and a sort of wall of Cactus bushes surrounds where we are to pitch our tent.
One surprise – another section just near us is full of Kraut P.O.Ws. who are waiting to be transferred to a P.O.W. cage – they are being guarded by a tough Infantry Unit, they are squatting in the sand and some are standing in groups, so quite a lot of talking is going on in Kraut language.
Anyhow our tents are soon put up and we pick our position in the tent, I’m right at the entrance which suits me just fine. By now Bert Brown has rustled up something to eat, I think it was tinned Corned Beef and tinned potatoes but it all went down well, especially after that long trip from BIZERTA.
Parades and Roll Calls will be taken in front of the Booking Office. The Major and the other Officers are using the building for their living and sleeping quarters, the bottom of the building as Regimental Office.
The area in front of the building is quite large so we have parked there a 3 Ton truck a 15 cwt truck and the Major’s Austin Utility car and of course our two 500 Norton Motor Bikes. Things are soon being sorted out, Les and I wait around the office for instructions. Wally Seaman is taking the 15cwt down to SOUSSE to collect rations for the unit from the Ration Unit down in the dock area, SOUSSE being about a half hour drive, I am to follow down as afterwards to the Army Post Office and the Signal Office.
It’s a nice pleasant ride down along the coast road with the blue sea on my left coming to a small place called HAMON SOUSSE. I get to SOUSSE and find the Army Post Office in an area of small buildings which I am told was once used by the French Foreign Legion.
I show my Unit credentials and there are some bundles of mail for us – 21.A.A.D. – the lads will be pleased, then on to the dock area where the Signals are based and this time there is some official mail for us.
There’s quite a lot of activity going on around the docks, the Royal Navy are in port and quite some large ships berthed alongside. What I didn’t know, was that at the time these large ships would be protecting us later in our invasion of Italy.
Arriving back at Base I hand the mail and signals to the Admin Sergeant Harry Yesdovic which pleases him and I hear Wally Seaman has arrived with a truck load of rations including white bread, things are certainly looking up on the ration front.
During our meal break the mail is called out to those lucky enough, a problem arises here, one of the Ammo Storeman whose home is at Southend-on-Sea hadn’t had any mail since we left BEJA. It appears that a few weeks before we left ENGLAND he had got married on the quick to his childhood sweetheart and this had made him very distressed for not receiving any mail from her. To ease the situation Sgt. Yesolovic gives him permission to come with me on pillion to the Army Post Office to see for himself what’s happening with the mail, although we know that the letters come by sea and that can take up to a month but Airgraphs, as they were called, came to us a lot quicker.
We seem to have had a big influx of German and Italian P.O.W.s arrive just across from us and they are being allowed to walk around and across to our area. They are accompanied by a couple of Tommie’s from the Infantry.
They are mostly trying to talk with us, to barter their watches and pens etc., for cigarettes and funny enough the ‘Victory Vs’ those awful cigs. have been stopped and we are now issued with all the English brands such as Gold Flake, Player’s and Captains, so they will be lucky when a barter takes place. I did manage myself to exchange some cigarettes for a nice pen set in a leather case, which is still with me 56 years on.
Settled in, all our tents pitched, it’s very hot here now, we are lucky, someone has found a pomegranate bush just across and in between the Cactus hedge. Hughie knows a trick or two and shows us how to cut them in half and they squeeze them into our mugs to make a refreshing drink, at the same time Bert Brown our cook has managed to get hold of a load of lemons which he has cut up and squeezed into a Arab jar with plenty of sugar and this jar keeps very cool so we can get a nice refreshing drink.
An American Engineering Unit has arrived today and with their big trucks which have winches on them. They proceed to pull out all the trucks that were laying across the railway line in front of the booking office, and it was amazing to watch and see how quick they cleared the line leaving all the damaged trucks alongside the rail track. This is a vital rail between SOUSSE and TUNIS which would soon be in use.
At four o’clock this afternoon Sgt. Admin has arranged a swimming party – a truck will take us down to SOUSSE for a swim. Those of us who want to go and are off duty, which I am, go along with them. We arrive down at the beach and its pure white sand and the sea is a lovely blue and warm.
We spent a most enjoyable two hours, there was an old sailing boat wreck, we swam out to it and it was just right for diving off the side. This is quite a nice spot to be at the moment away from all the noise and dust of war.
It is the 3rd of June ’43, arrived back at camp and had something to eat at the cookhouse and then we sit around chatting.
KALAR KEBIRA a little Arab Village of sorts although nothing like an English village, mostly small hovels which we can see on the side of a small hill from where we are, it comes to life at night with dogs barking and donkeys braying, it’s so hot during the day and still, but they make up for it in the cool of the night.
We go to the tents to get some sleep but I’m soon awake, the Duty Officer came into the tent and wants a Dispatch Rider to take an urgent message down to SOUSSE. Lucky for me he wakes Les Marshall up for this run, I go back to sleep and when I woke up in the morning I look across to his bed and it’s empty, Les had not returned from that run. I get dressed and go across to the Office to make some enquiries but no one has any information.
A day goes by, still no news, I am called to see Major Taylor, the Major says we will call at all the known Military and Civilian Hospitals, so off we go in his car with himself driving, traveling around the Army Hospitals, which are mostly big tents with large Red crosses painted on the sides which made them easily recognisable. We had no luck in them; we came across a small French Civilian Hospital not far from SOUSSE. This Hospital is an out of the way place, it’s a wonder we found it, we go inside, and the nurses are dressed like nuns.
After the Major talks to one of the nurses, who looks as if she is in charge, we soon find to our horror that we have found Les Marshall and that he had died that morning. Apparently, he was conscious when he had been brought in although he was very badly injured. The Sister said there was no chance that he would have survived his injuries. On his 500 Norton, he had been hit by a Free French truck and left lying in the side of the road, who brought him in we don’t know, the Major and I are in shock by what we had found. It has been arranged that Les will be buried in the local civilian cemetery which is just outside Sousse.
The Major and I return to base to give this sad news to the rest of the unit, this is our first casualty since our short time in North Africa. Next day it has been decided to collect all of Les Marshall’s belongings and between us we would buy some of his things and all the money collected would be sent home to his wife. I bought his shaving kit which was bound in a leather case. All the money collected was handed over to the Major and he will see that it is sent home with a letter of condolence from us all.
Now it’s back to our duties and I’m feeling a bit alone, after all Les was my guide and comfort in this job we were doing as D. Rs in this strange country.
I am off to SOUSSE on the usual runs of the day, Signal Office first and then to the Army Post Office, well today there is loads of mail and lots of parcels. I will have to take the small mail and return with the 15 cwt for the big parcels, there was too much to pack into my Dispatch Panniers which hang on both sides over the rear wheel of the bike. I think the fellow from Southend-on- Sea will be pleased today, at last mail from his newly wed wife.
A few days later I’m doing the same run into SOUSSE and on the way, it’s so hot that I decided to pull up quite close to the beach, I park the bike and strip off and go for dip in the that lovely blue sea, a good swim around for 10 minutes then I walk back to the bike I am dry already with the heat of the sun and then I was on my way. When I arrive back at base Major Taylor is standing outside the Office with another person, the Major calls me over and tells me who the other person is and it’s none other than Les Marshall’s elder brother. He had been driving in convoy with his unit in the 8th Army and in passing our sign 2 A.A.D. he got permission to leave the convoy to visit his brother, not knowing the terrible news that awaited him.
The Major was saying to him “This is Parkinson and it could have been him but Les was unlucky enough to have been picked for that run”. The Major gave me instructions to take Les’s brother to the cemetery to see Les’s grave. We go on our way and not a word is spoken, we arrive at the grave which has a small wooden cross with his name, number and unit. Les’s Brother stands to attention and salutes, we stand for a while in silence, not a word said – I think we are both upset, Les was 30 years of age and leaving a wife and young sons. Les came from Kingsbury London.
A replacement for Les arrives to be second Dispatch Rider. He is a Welshman by the name of Davies and is 30 years of age with a good experience of motor bikes. I have been detailed to go to TUNIS to pick up a replacement bike, the one in Les’s accident being a complete ‘write off’. While I’m away Davies will use my bike. My lift to TUNIS will be on the back of an open truck which is going to TUNIS in convoy. It turns out to be a long dusty journey. I am going to stay overnight in Transit Camp. What J didn’t realize, sitting on the back of that lorry, was that I got a touch of sun stroke and spent the night in that tented camp cold and shaking. I get a lift across to where the Army Vehicle Park is situated and the new bike, but second-hand, is waiting for me. I sign all the papers for the transfer and prepare to get away as soon as possible. I tie my two blankets which I brought with me onto the back of the bike and I’m away. I open up the throttle to get some speed up but outside TUNIS I am pulled up with a jolt to a standstill. One of the blankets had come loose and had jammed up in the rear wheel, this delays me a good half hour trying to wrench the tom blanket out of the wheel. This gets me a bit worried as I don’t want to be out after dark through these Arab hamlets. I’m thinking Les Marshall was killed in the dark and here I am speeding along passing through ENFIDA VILLE, it’s been very hot and dusty. Another small place I notice was ALl BOUSAID that name made me laugh but coming up soon was something that would take the smile off my face. It was to become known in the Unit as the ‘TUNIS Roll’ by Dispatch Rider ‘Tom Parky’.
At about 20 miles from base I hit a pot hole in the road – of course everything happened so quick, one moment I’m sitting on the motor bike and the next I’m flying through the air crashing down onto the road and rolling over and over, my head lucky for me protected by my crash helmet but my legs and arms are taking a few knocks and I’m laying stunned and shocked. To my surprise I’m picked up by two Officers who had been traveling in their staff car some distance behind me and they had seen me crash. Lucky for me there were no bones broken just bruising. These two Officers agreed to take me back to base at KALAH KEBIRA which was on their route anyway. The motor bike was left at the side of the road to be picked up later – I couldn’t have ridden it anyway I was too shook up.
Arriving back at base the two Officers dropped me right outside the Regimental Office and Sergeant Admin. Harry Yesolovic comes out very quickly and is so surprised to see me step out of this staff car, so I do a lot of explaining to him about the crash and of course he wants to know where the replacement bike is. When he knows the story, he arranged for Wally Seamen the other Driver to go with a couple of other ranks to fetch the bike. After thanking the couple of Officers for their help I am after the cook Bert Brown for a strong cup of tea which he does for me right away. After a couple of hours Wally Seamen arrives back with the 15 cwt with the bike in the back – after unloading and inspecting the bike, it seems to be O.K., just a large dent on the front mudguard which can soon be straightened out.
Back at our tents at night I’m looking for a nice rest and sleep after the day’s event and my trip to TUNIS and back. It was a long journey hot and dusty and after being thrown off the bike and through the air because of the pot holes in the road it left me shocked, shaken and bruised, luckily, I survived, I am soon off to sleep. When I woke up in the morning as luck would have it there were no ‘call outs’ in the night. After Parade and breakfast, it’s to report to the old Booking Office around about 10 a.m.
I leave for SOUSSE and on approaching HAMON SOUSSE which is before SOUSSE itself there is Wally Seamen waving me down, he had just left SOUSSE in the 15 cwt. The news he has to tell me is that he has hit and killed a young camel and the Arabs are going mad so he has got away as quick as he could. I am thanking Wally for telling me this information because I have to carry on in that direction.
As I leave Wally and approach the place where the camel was hit I could see the crowd of Arabs so as I got close I made a quick decision and drove off the road across the sand dunes doing a half circle and then back on the road, no good taking chances with angry Arabs, I saw the camel lying in the road as I passed, that’s all I needed to see. I have heard some nasty stories about Arabs if you are caught out on your own with them.
Although us Dispatch Riders carry a .38 Revolver with six bullets in the chamber with a crowd of them you are better off doing a diversion and ‘on your way’.
After SOUSSE and back at camp and a few words with Wally Seamen about his ‘hit and run’, he has reported the matter to Sgt. Admin.
There is a truck going down to SOUSSE for a Swimming Parade, so I get permission to join in, it’s usually about 4 o’clock in the afternoon. Down at the beach we swim out to an old wreck of a sailing boat, we have great fun diving off the side and we are all enjoying this event. Some have climbed up the small mast and are diving off from there but tragedy happens. One of the Ammunition Storemen misjudged his dive and hits the deck rendering him unconscious and we are quite away from the shore – what action do we take’? It’s decided for some to swim ashore to raise the alarm and some to stay on the deck with the unconscious storeman
In the meantime, there are some other swimmers close to the shore with a large inner tube so we get them to come to the wreck with this tube, then the injured person is carefully lowered into the tube and we all swim gradually pushing and guiding the tube to the shore. There was a quick response to raising the alarm and an Army ambulance is waiting. The Ambulance staff come down to the beach with a stretcher and place the injured man on. He is taken off to the Military Hospital, somewhere in SOUSSE. That put an end to the swimming parade so we are taken back to camp on the lorry that brought us here. A report was made of this accident to the Sgt. Admin. all giving our versions of the event.
The latest news we heard of this Ammo. Storeman was that he had a very bad back injury and would be out of action a long while, in fact he never came back to our unit at all, it’s possible he was shipped back to England.
During the next few days I met a local fellow from the street where 1 lived in the U.K. by the name of Bill Powell. His unit was the Royal Army Service Corps. a water tanker unit they were camped just by us. Their job at this stage was supplying the P.O.W. Camps.
Apparently, the Germans and Italians used to line up behind the water tankers and get their small amount of water for drinking and cooking, Bill said they didn’t get much for washing. It comes about that some of the Germans and Italians had plenty of French francs on them and they weren’t going anywhere to spend them, so a little racket came about here, they quickly gave up their francs for a little more water. No harm done here says Bill Powell, not actually stealing just a little bargaining between enemies.
When I had met Bill, he was quite well off with the francs, it was at this stage that he asked me to change through the Army Post Office some of these francs into English Postal Orders which I did at about £20 at a time, we were allowed to send money home in Postal Orders at that time. Bill usually gave me a few francs for the trouble so it seemed quite O.K. making money out of the Germans and water.
Bill used to send these Postal Orders home to his widowed mother who, like all the mothers were getting bombed nightly by the Germans in LONDON, later on Postal Orders were only issued with the persons Army Pay-Book so there was no chance of any large amounts being issued.
The water for these tankers was supplied by various Rigs that pumped the water out of the ground which was done by the royal Engineers. I don’t know how they found the water sources but they did and we also got our supplies by the same method.
At night it was quite common to hear dogs barking and donkeys braying and those donkeys did make a loud noise, in fact, it kept you awake some nights so much so that one night I heard a few loud rifle shots and then all was quiet – I wonder what happened?
Next morning starting out from Camp and passing the R.A.S.C. Camp Site I got the surprise of my life. I had to stop and look make sure I was not seeing things, there sticking up in the sand were four donkey legs. It seemed that somebody had shot the donkey that was making the noise and quickly tried to bury it but not digging a hole deep enough and in their haste four legs were sticking in the air. Poor little donkey – another victim of this nasty war.
I carry on to the Docks at SOUSSE when I am on my way to Signals, I’m just driving along by the dock side, near the sea, when all of a sudden out of a disused building a naked Girl runs out and dives into the sea and swims around – ‘What a sight, any more surprises?” I say to myself as I carry on to Signals.
When I told the boys at Signals of the naked Girl they said yes, we know. She’s an Arab prostitute and was quite well known in the dock area. Yes, but if I had been going any faster I may have run her down – what a time I would have had explaining that one.
The new Dispatch rider Davies has run into trouble – while out on a run and in the dark, he had run into the rear of an Arab cart, the left side handle bar caught the comer of the cart and the clutch lever was pressed back onto his hand and he has lost two fingers. I am now visiting him in a Field Hospital where he has his hand bandaged up and he is explaining what happened to him, amazingly he seems quite cheerful but I suppose it has not quite sunk in what has happened to him. This night driving is dangerous here, no light to guide you on your way and these Arabs are all over the place at night. Lucky things are quiet and there are not many runs except the two runs to SOUSSE for Army Post Office and Signals.
At this time, I’m to do a spell of Guard Duty during the quiet period. On this particular duty, I am to go along with another driver in the 15 cwt Truck to a P.O.W. Camp to pick up a couple of prisoners who would be used at our Camp Base to do some manual work or whatever we may need them to assist in.
On arriving at the P.O. W. Camp, we are to pick out two prisoners who are both Italians – the Camp has both, Italians and Germans. I beckon these two Italians to get into the truck and the driver gets into his cab and I get into the back of the truck with the two Italians. I am armed with my Lee Enfield Rifle which is loaded with .303.
I call out to the driver O.K. to drive off and we are on our way back to our base – during the journey the elder of the two starts talking to me in English with an American accent and what an interesting story he tells, he has worked in the U.S.A. and now he was or had been with the Italian Navy Base on the Island of LAMP ADUS which is a Submarine Base. It was on that Island that he and other fellow Italians had been captured. Before capture there were about 1,000 Navy personnel there.
One day one of our Aircraft has to make a false landing on the Island of LAMP ADUS, the pilot had run out of fuel. As the Pilot is raising himself out of the cockpit, he sees a crowd of Italians running towards him and as they get near to him he puts his hands up and calls out “I surrender” and to his surprise the leading Italian shouts out “No, No, we surrender”. The Pilot not believing what he has heard calls back with his hands up and shouts “No I surrender.” Once again, the Italian shouts back “No, No we surrender.” In fact, they did surrender and the Island of LAMP ADUS was in our hands without a single shot being fired. The Italian who had lead this surrender was in fact the prisoner in the back of the truck.
I must mention their names, the English-speaking P.O. W. was Joe Donato from GENOA and his compatriot was Gino Tatorini from LA SPEZIA.
I now know that the Aircraft was a Swordfish and the Pilots name was Syd Cohen and he was now known as the ‘KING of LAMP ADUS’ after that episode in his flying career, his name given to him I suspect by his Squadron which I think was based in MALTA. The island itself is very small and is just off the North African coast and not too far from MALTA. After we had taken the Italians back to Camp base they were put to work and they proved such good workers that the Major requested them each time. The Unit was in need of extra hands – in fact they were kept on our Unit strength and came with us to ITALY later.
For the moment, we are still outside SOUSSE awaiting the day when the invasion of ITALY commences.
Everyday there’s always seems to be something interesting taking place, latest again for me. I am my way back from a run when I get a puncture in the rear tyre and the No.1 problem is that I don’t have a puncture outfit with me – in fact these are in short supply and I am out in the wilds from the main town of SOU SSE, it’s hot and dusty and sand everywhere, I must sit tight and wait I can’t move the bike.
After about half-an-hour I’m getting worried, ‘How long will I be here? and then in the distance I see a cloud of dust along the road and as it gets nearer I see it’s an Army ambulance with the distinctive Red Cross, I jump up and begin to wave the ambulance down. I am feeling hot and dry and hope that I can get some help here.
The ambulance slows down and pulls up with a sudden stop – the driver who’s on his own gets out and walks over to me – what a surprise, in the middle of nowhere we come face to face and he turns out to be a fellow by the name of Harry Toms who comes from the same street, where we were both born! In fact, we both went to the same school in NORTH LONDON. Harry and I shake hands and of course he is as surprised as me and the usual question “What are you doing here”. Lucky for me Harry has plenty of fruit and large pieces of water melon. We sit inside his cab eating and drinking water – after exchanging stories we put the bike in the rear of the ambulance – in between where the stretchers would be – and Harry and I drive off towards SOUSSE where he drops me off with my bike and we bid farewell. I get a lift from there back to Camp and the bike is picked up by our 15 cwt
KALA KEBIRA 1943
I had a few days leave after all these incidents where I could do as I please and Wally Seaman was on duty and he had a job to take one of our sergeants to Tunis airfield to be flown back to England. Wally said, “If you ask permission you can come for a ride with me.” Anyway, I got the OK and went on the ride, but I thought while we’re on our way, why didn’t I stay at base and maybe go on the swimming party.
So, going along through the usual places, we arrive at Tunis airfield which turns out to be used by the USA Air Force and our Royal Air Force. We go to take the sergeant to the RAP section. I did notice the big Flying Fortress of the USA. All seems to have slogans painted on the nose of the aircraft. One made me laugh, it had Jiga Jiga painted on the nose with a female figure. These Yanks have a great sense of humour. I wonder how that plane made out during its bombing raids. We were made welcome by the RAP, plenty to eat and drink.
We are now on our way back to base KALA KEBIRA and this is where I wish I had not been on this trip. Near base and round a bend, I knew there was a level crossing with no gates or any warning signs. I said to Wally “Slow down round the bend” but he took no notice. To my horror, going round the bend fast there was a goods train passing over the crossing. Too late, Wally applied the brakes but we swerved toward the train and in his swerving, I finish up my side alongside the train, with less than a foot to spare. When we stopped I just sat there and the shock of being so close to death, I could not speak for an hour or so after, but when I got my voice back I did let Wally have it!
The Unit has been very busy during its stay at Sousse, quite a few of the Ammunition Storeman had been going into Kairovan where they had been packing ammunition for the Airborne Forces, lots of Gliders are to be used and they carry Jeeps, also hooked onto Carriers which are loaded with ammunition.
The Gliders are towed by Twin Engined Aircraft, the tow releases the Gliders when they at the target area which in this instance will be Sicily. On board, the Gliders are the drivers of the Jeeps who in turn will drive them off the Gliders, these drivers are of the Royal Army Ordinance Corps attached to the 1st Airborne.
The other Twin Engined Aircraft will carry the Paratroopers who will be dropped over the dropping zone to gain a foothold to capturing bridges and other strong points. At this stage, we don’t know the date of this invasion into Italy but we know that it will be very soon.
Meanwhile back at Sousse lots of activity is going on at the Docks, the Navy’s there in full force, sailors walking about on the decks of the ships with their big guns and lots of Troop Carrying Craft berth alongside. With the many trips to the Signal Office in the Port of Sousse I get to see all the activity
Back at Kalah-Kebira which is our Camp Base site alongside is the railway. We were woken up early one morning around dawn by the roar of low flying aircraft, we were soon up in our tent, Wally Seaman is the first up “Get up quick” he shouts, looking up we see a wonderful sight, the Airborne Invasion is on.
The aircraft towing the Gliders are just passing overhead towing the Gliders and so low we felt we could almost touch them. The big Twin Engine Aircraft and the Gliders are painted with large white bands around their fuselage and they look very impressive. It’s not long after this exciting event that we find that we are on the move again, all the tents are struck and stowed away with all the rest of the Camp equipment, everybody is packing and looking after their own gear
We have a convoy of lorries supplied by the Royal Army Service Corps, we found out now that we are going back to Bizerta, so off we go it’s very hot and sunny and so it’s goodbye to Kalah-Kebia, I was looking forward to a change wherever that may be – there wasn’t much information at this stage.
The sea looks blue as we pass along the coast road, passing once again through these Arab hamlets, get a laugh again passing through Ali Bou Said, ‘what did Ali Bou say? most of these places I got to know during my Dispatch Riding duty during the day and most places seemed deserted of Arabs.
On this trip, back to Bizerta the motor bikes are on the back of a 3 Ton truck, so I am a passenger in a 15 C.W.t. truck sitting alongside Wally Seaman who of course is driving.
I am enjoying the scenery, Palm trees and the blue sea although there is plenty of Army traffic passing by on the other side of the road so there was lots of noise and dust and once again the sad sights of war on both sides of the road. There were rows and rows of white crosses, burnt out tanks, lorries, shell and bomb craters which all made a very sad sight among the sand dunes, palm trees and cactus. We are pulled off the road to a wide-open space where we had a brew up of Char and Bully Beef sandwiches which was usual Army chow, also there are some water melons – these were quite large are of a red texture when opened and very juicy. We passed through Enfidaville and were soon on our way to Tunis.
Passing through Tunis we were out once more in the countryside again, we passed a large landing strip which was an American Base where we could see Flying Fortresses landing.
Quite a nice ride along the road and we ended up at a place just outside Bizerta. We had a long journey so the first thing was to erect the tents then Char, something to eat, then bed down. Bed is a couple of planks resting on ammo boxes with one blanket on top – although it’s warm. In the morning when we wake up we find that we have a lovely view of Bizerta Harbour.
What I noticed on our way here yesterday was that the place where we billeted when we were last here – the little white house with a courtyard – was now a pile of rubble it had been demolished by a bomb – just in time I reckon after we had left there.
Down near the Port there are lots of large tin huts and this is a large American Base where they have an Open-Air Cinema, further down the road there is a large Prisoner of War Camp which is full of German and Italians. Last night I had noticed that was lit up with floodlights, the Americans are in charge of this Camp.
We find out that we are allowed down to the American Base when they have a Open Air Cinema so on our first night, we go down there for some entertainment – you can rely on the Yanks for that! In fact, we go down which included Wally Seaman, Hughie Hazel and yours truly and a film. titled “Me and My Girl” the star was Judy Garland, what a treat it was the first picture that we had seen since we had left England in early 1943.
The Yanks have it well organised here and they have a bar and coffee shop so we really enjoyed ourselves on our night out.
Our second day here and we are informed by the Admin Sergeant Harry Y esso lovic that we are to receive new transport, our 500cc Nortons will be replaced with two 350cc Ariel’s and Major Taylor will have a new Ford Staff Car to be driven by Wally Seaman.
We rode our bikes down to a vehicle park – near here this park is stacked out with new transport and after a few formalities we left our old bikes and vehicle behind then rode and drove out with new bikes and Staff Car, things are moving along fast now tomorrow we are leaving here for somewhere overseas, down at the harbour we can see the L.S.T.s which we will be embarking on, all American crews man the craft.
Next morning a slow drive down to the harbour where we are lined up beside the Landing Ship Tanks craft 623 and given our orders on how to embark. Us drivers are ordered to drive up the ramps to the middle of the craft where there is a lift that which will convey us up to the deck – on elevating we are directed to a designated position where the transport is chained down, secured to the deck, this takes a time because there are other Army units also coming aboard. And those personnel not involved with transport just marched on. Wally Seaman in the Staff Car had a nice position alongside the ships rail with a lovely view of the sea.
It took some time for all the ships to load up – our 623 is now ready to sail and so we gradually pull away from the Port of Bizerta North Africa and into the Mediterranean Sea. The Convoy is all formed up and we are sailing in force, a Seaplane flies past us at deck level with the Pilot waving to us as if to say Cheerio and Good Luck. There is no hard and fast sleeping accommodation, everyone makes their own niche where ever. Wally Seaman and I decided to make the inside of the Staff Car our quarters on the trip, inside at the rear of the car is a map reading table which pulls out and folds up, this will be a good place to eat on when we get our grub, also we can sleep one in the front and one in the back, we are called to assemble on deck by Major Taylor who informs us that we are on our way to Italy and to make ourselves as comfortable as possible and will give us more information as we go along.
We pass Cap Bon which is a point in Tunis jutting out to sea, the sea is blue and calm – ahead of the Convoy is a Destroyer with another one at the rear for protection, not forgetting that these seas are War Zones. lin fact one American Sailor, in conversation, gave us the information not to worry if we are attacked by U. Boats as these L.S.T.s are flat bottom and any torpedoes fired at us would pass right underneath and out the other side, nice to know, we will sleep easy on the trip.
After a nice comfortable sleep in the back of the Staff Car it was a treat to wake up and see a calm blue sea as we sailed along and especially after that long journey from Kalab Kebira to Bizerta – at last I’m beginning to enjoy the trip.
It’s now time to go below to the galley to get some breakfast – Wally and I make our way below, we don’t need our mess tins, the American galley supplies trays which have different sections indented into the surface and the Cook dishes up into the sections whatever you ask for, what a treat egg, sausage, white bread, tea, coffee or fruit juice – these Americans know how to live at war – we take our breakfast back to the Staff Car and enjoy our meal on the map table looking out at sea. All our meals during day one are enjoyed like this.
Day two at sea – all is quiet and calm except during the day one of the ships has trouble with its rudder and has slowed down and is turning around in a circle – the Convoy ploughs on and soon the L.S. T. is left in the distance and we are out of sight of the craft.
Dawn on day three we sight a small island in the distance word goes round that it is Malta.
Onward we sail and the next island we see is Sicily, off the main land of Italy – we come in closer and closer and soon the Convoy slows down and stops just off the coast of Sicily and in full view of Mount Etna. With the sky clear and blue we can see the top of Etna – a wonderful sight to see, we are off the small town of Catania and in the distance aircraft are landing and taking off from the Airport.
All the Aircraft carry the insignia of a large white star markings of our Forces so this informs us how far our Army and Air Force have progressed although the fighting bad been heavy going on the way up through Sicily.
Major Taylor calls us together on the top deck to inform us that “We will not be landing at Sicily at any point and that during the day we will be landing on the mainland of Italy”.
We have been very lucky so far to arrive at this point without any enemy action – this has been mainly to the efforts of the Royal Navy who in the past year or so having sunk and destroyed a large part of the Italian Navy, so we thank them for our safe journey.
During the rest of the day it gave us time to move around the ship and take a chance to see my new bike 350cc Ariel, then look over and read the instruction book, I find that this is a good thing, the book is stored in the small tool box so you get to know what tools are supplied with the Ariel and reading the instructions gives you the confidence about the machine because once you are out on Dispatch Duty you are on your Tod.
It was very interesting walking around the craft, down below decks it was packed tight with all types of Army vehicles, Lorries, Tanks, Bren Gun Carriers and the personnel to operate them, the lighting is dim with the drivers just sitting around talking and it’s very stuffy, these will be the first off when we disembark in Italy. I’m glad that we were up on the top deck where we can get a clear view of everything.
The food has been good and the American Navy has looked after us well and their personnel have been very helpful in answering any questions that we have asked. Well the time has come and we at last pulled away from Sicily and once more formed up into a Convoy.
It is now dark and the throb of the ships engines can be felt and so we are on our way – Wally and I are back in the Staff Car for our last night’s sleep aboard this craft although we will be dozing on and off as we want to see what’s going on during the night. As we pass along the Italian coast we can see lights ashore from little villages otherwise not a lot to see.
We are pulling nearer the coast and the Convoy is forming into single file, we are going to enter into the harbour of Taranto, the home of the Italian Fleet. As our turn comes to sail through, the first sight that meets your eyes is the big ships of the Italian Navy which were sunk at deck level with smaller ones with just their masts showing, this is the result of our Navy who had carried the Swordfish Aircraft which had then taken off to drop torpedoes and bomb the Italian Fleet which was at anchor in the harbour – as could be seen they were completely taken by surprise.
That was the sight – a memorable one – that greeted us – it became quite light and we were able to see a lovely view of the town of Taranto which looked quite modem in appearance, as we pull alongside I see a man pushing a barrow full of fruit and people walking along with umbrellas up, so it’s raining.
Our first sight of Italy and it looks like England with the rain and the civilians dressed rather like we dress back home – after six months in North Africa with the heat and living near the Arabs it’s such a different scene. We are soon alongside our docking position and they start unloading down below driving off their respective vehicles down the ramps. All Units are formed up alongside the docks and are soon driven away to their bases wherever. We had an excellent view from the top deck and watched with much interest.
Now it’s our turn, we have to move along to the big square area in the middle of the deck onto the big square steel plate which is the lift, once in position the lift descends slowly to the ground halt, Wally’s in his Staff Car and I am with my Motor bike then off we go and meet up with Major Taylor and Sergeant Harry Yessovic, Captain Hornby was waiting along with other Admin., we are called together and are informed that our first stop is just outside Taranto in the countryside for a few days.
Major Taylor leads the small convoy in Ills Staff Car, I am riding along on my new 350cc Ariel, nice looking town this Taranto- the buildings all look modern but it changes as we go out of town to small farmhouses, the spaces around these dwellings are full of olive trees – I notice among the olive trees there are groups of women and girls working, and I can hear above the noise of the transport that they are singing and some stop and wave as we move by.
We arrive at a large flat area without any trees, the tents are unloaded and the first task is to pitch our own tents, the ground is wet, so a tarpaulin is laid down first then the tent and inside a couple of ammunition boxes with some planks of wood across will do for our beds, one blanket then that’s it everyone make their own comfort, first night here and so early to bed as such as it is, never mind we are soon off to sleep six of us to this tent. Waking up early by a commotion we find that the tent was laying over and was nearly touching the ground. The heavy rain during the night has made the ground soft and the tent pegs are nearly pulled out. First thing I notice is the middle tent pole which is where we had tied our rifles to was laying right over. The rain had got in and most of the riffles were laying in the wet. Must have been a rather heavy storm and we had all slept through it. There was a mad scramble to pick up our guns, most important to have one’s rifle clean and ready for immediate use. I was lucky, mine was on top of the pile. Knowing my rifle number helps me sort that out very quickly!
So far this is Sunny Italy – never mind Sgt Harry Yessolvic tells us we are moving again, back into Taranto Town tomorrow.
So, on the move again, tents to come down and away from the muddy field. Arriving back in town we take over an empty building overlooking the inner harbour, Taranto having an inner and outer harbour. The two harbours are separated by a large swing bridge which swings back to allow big ships of war to pass in and out. When closed it forms part of the road in and out of town.
Today we have blue skies so the views quite something all round.
We soon sort ourselves out in the empty building – us four drivers have a small room to ourselves, just bare, no home comforts.
We have been here five weeks by now, my time taken up mostly with runs cross to the sea port of Bari, another nice-looking town. Big Army Signals base here, which is where I am taking and picking up messages. No idea what’s in these sealed envelopes. These trips take up best part of the day, there and back. I sometimes pull up and listen to the Italian girls singing in the fields of olive grove, quite a nice sound their folk songs. I think they have got to know me passing by because they seem to know I am coming. They give a nice wave. I suppose they can hear the sound of my motor bike. These are very quiet country lanes. Not much more to say of Taranto except I had one spill off the bike just before the swing bridge, a little shook up but nothing serious.
We are now leaving Taranto and moving further across outside Bari, a little place called Bitonto. Once again, we take over an empty building. Must mention we still have the two Italian prisoners of war with us. Although now Italy has surrendered to us. They are as though one of us. Joe Donata and Gino Tartareni, still telling us the tale how they surrendered the Island of Lamp ad us. Being nearer to Bari my runs are quite short and easy.
BARI TO NAPLES – THE HARD WAY ’44
It’s during this quiet period – Major Taylor requests me to drive with him in the staff car to the Port of Naples, quite a journey so I am to take part in the driving. The port has been captured by our forces and a big General HQ has been set up there. Major Taylor is to attend a meeting with the Top Brass.
Taking some rations, etc. extra petrol in jerry cans, we set off from Bitonto, leaving early in the morning. The Major has the maps and is going to make his own route as opposed to the laid down Army route.
All goes well on the flat plains until we run into the mountain range which is on his planned route. Well, it soon becomes up one mountain and down another. This is turning out a hair-raising experience. I am driving up one and he’s driving up another.
We come to one pass which is controlled by what looks like Maffia people, two standing by a small wooden bridge. We stopped, waited to cross. When I looked at this small bridge and the sheer drop below I am wondering whether this will hold our weight. We are waved on by these stern looking people who are armed with rifles. Once on the bridge it’s beginning to rock and sway quite a bit. I am holding my breath here. What a relief when we reach the other side. Looking down we would have stood no chance if that little wooden bridge had collapsed.
Carrying on coming down to ground level, it’s got very dark. I am driving. We come to a bridge, driving across something made me stop the car nearly halfway across. I got out and walk a few paces and just make out in the dark that the middle of the bridge has been blown, leaving a big gap to the other side.
This is the work of the Germans in their retreat through this mountain range. 1 walk back to the car and in telling the Major, he gets a shock like me. If I had driven on a few more yards, we would have disappeared down into the river below. I’ll never know what made me stop the car at that time “My Guardian Angel” perhaps!
I reverse the car back off the bridge to a flat bit of ground and the Major says we’ve had enough for one day. We’ll park up here and sleep in the car, me in the front, him in the back. We manage to sleep till dawn.
Waking up we can see we are alongside this river. The Major looking at his maps thinks it is the River Calore – anyway our problem is to get to the other side.
After a brew up of tea and a sandwich we feel a lot better. It’s decided we will drive along the river bank to where it looks shallow enough to drive across. “Stop here, says the Major, looks OK here”, after a short drive. I drive slowly down the bank into the river.
Halfway across – disaster. We have run into deeper water. The water is coming through the car. We have to climb out quick and get onto the bonnet. The car has stopped dead, water has flowed over the engine and swamped the spark plugs and electrics. Here we are – wet to our waists sitting on the bonnet of the car watching the river flow by. After a while an Italian farmer appears on the river bank opposite, he is waving his hands in some gesture and disappears. When he returns he is leading a big ox with big horns on its head and in his hand the farmer has a big rope. He indicates he is going to throw the rope to us, to tie the rope to the car to pull us out of the river. At the same time, he is indicating he wants cigarettes and money.
We give him the OK. I get off the bonnet into the river, water up to my chest level. He throws the rope which luckily, I catch first time. I manage to get a tie on the front bumper, getting soaked into the bargain. After giving the rope a good tug to make sure it’s tight, I get back in the car sitting in water up to my waist.
With his Ox, he starts to pull and we slowly come out of the river to the other side. Lucky all our rations had been stacked along the rear window, keeping them dry. All the cigarettes we gave him, along with all our Italian money. He was quite happy with this and us, although wet, we were glad to be out of the river.
It took us best part of the day, drying out the spark plugs and electrics but we managed to get the engine running and letting it tick over for a good half an hour to warm and dry the engine out completely.
On our way again towards a place called Benevento, more mountains and getting dark again. Major Taylor driving, passing by Benevento, towards A vellino, now dark. We had had to keep stepping on the brakes when we started out to dry out the brake shoes, good job we did, you need good brakes up here.
In the distance, we can see a glow in the skyline. The Major said, “That’s the glow from Volcano Vesuvius which is still active” which means we are getting near to the Port of Naples, so that was a good guide line in the dark.
Passing through a place called Nola we are down at near ground level. Three cheers for that. Outside of Nola we pull in for another night’s sleep. Next morning it’s down into the centre of Naples to the HQ. It’s here the Major goes off to his meeting and to the officers’ quarters. I park alongside other vehicles and report to a duty officer where I am told where to get a shower and something to eat and drink.
Spent a couple of days here. Can see the Volcano Vesuvius.
Today we make our way back to Bitonto near the port of Bari. The Major has with him an American officer – it appears we are giving him a lift back to Bari. We are not taking the same route back. The Major has a new route, planned by HQ which we have just left. Make good way along this route, and just rather hilly as opposed to mountains.
During the conversation with our American officer, the Major tells him that before the war he was a pilot with a small airline in England. It strikes me, hearing this for the first time that he must have thought we were flying across those mountains on our way here. Glad that’s over and we are back in Bitonto after dropping the American off at Bari.
Back on my motor bike again, doing my dispatch rider’s duties. I am happy to be on my own.
On one run into Bari, I pass convoys of ambulances. It’s not till I arrive at Signals Office that I find out there has been a bombing attack during the night. A big explosion has taken place, one bomb having dropped down the funnel of an Ammunitions ship blowing everything and surrounding ships to bits. This caused hundreds of casualties, dead and wounded. The convoys of ambulances I’d seen were carrying some of these casualties to a hospital in Taranto. Bari could not cope with them all at once, so many casualties.
Our stay at Bitonto is short. We are soon on the move again. It’s been nice countryside around Bari and the roads have been quite good, making it much more enjoyable to ride a motor bike – got used to the 350cc Ariel now.
Now on the move, small convoy up nearer the Front, near Cassino, something like 150 miles, so this will take best part of the day, passing through places like Foggia, Caserta, until we reach a place called Teano.
On arriving it’s pouring down heavy rain so we have to unload and pitch our tents before nightfall. We are on high ground, with mountains in the background. After a lot of hard work and everybody’s getting a soaking we are pitched, and ready for sleep. Beds as usual, two ammo boxes with a plank of wood across, two Army rough blankets, as usual.
On awaking at daylight it’s stopped raining and the view around these mountains is spectacular. We can see some of them are capped with snow and with a clear sky makes a pretty picture. We are situated across from the small town of Teano, just below is a small railway junction and the railway lines run right up to Cassino.
The Ammunition trains will be stopped at this junction and unloaded here to be passed forward to all units, Artillery and Infantry. There is a small forward ammo dump at a place called Mignano which will be one of my runs during the day here.
On parade early morning, all counted present and correct, names called out by the duty sergeant. On dismissal, we make our way to the cook house which, at this moment in time, is from the back of a 3-ton truck. The cook is using like a blower type cooking oven which is fed with like a diesel oil and pumped up to give a pressure and when lit, gives off a good flame underneath a grill and his pots and pans, etc can cook a meal. A regular is porridge and bacon, sausage, all out of tins and mostly hard biscuit, and of course a big mug of tea.
During the day, some of our GO (General Duties) man will dig some slit trenches around the camp, in case of air attack, and I hear they are getting some old timber from down at the junction to build a small cook house for the cook.
So, this is what’s happening on our first day here which happens to be my 21st Birthday- just an ordinary day in the life of being a soldier with the 8th Army in Italy 1944.
After a few days, here I am taking my first trip to Mignano where there is one of our forward ammo dumps. Getting down to the major road, it’s slow driving, very bad little tracks, muddy and hilly, passing along lots of little wooden crosses, with tin hats on, some poor devils have met their end here, mostly English but a few Germans.
Finally reaching the main road of sorts, so narrow and packed with convoys of lorries, coming in both directions, making this very uncomfortable to be riding a motor bike. I am getting sprayed from both sides of the road, no chance of overtaking, too narrow.
I just carry on behind one lorry till I reach Mignano, here is the gap between the mountains where the road bends right to Cassino but the Germans have this road covered. In fact, as I arrive, they are sending over a few shells which are exploding on the hill sides. The dump is just round the bend on our side so the ammunition is out of reach. After spending some time there I take their messages and make my way back through the heavy traffic once more.
On arriving back at camp base, near Teano action going on here. Across the hills the Germans are bombing a place Capua and their fighter escort Messerschmitt 109s are flying very low over us. Everybody runs for the slit trenches for cover. Getting off my bike, I am the last to reach the slit trench. I could see the face of the pilot. Wally Seaman, my great friend, jumps out of the trench, pulls me in and we both take cover. What a brave act on his part, nice to have good comradeship at times like this.
Big trip coming off today, 12th March ’44 – down to Salerno, taking a very important message for an order for some leaflets to be printed, a base down there has a printing press.
I have been told when these leaflets are printed and sent back to us, they will be dropped over any small village or town, to tell the civilian population to leave as it will be shelled by our Artillery before an attack on a given time and date. But most for Cassino town.
Well I am making my way down to Salerno, once away from this area, the roads are not too bad so I am making good time. Just outside Naples the Auto Strada, Motorway, built before the war by Mussolini is in good order so I am speeding along this smooth road and enjoying the Vesuvius the volcano on my left, big and impressive, and the slopes alongside the motorway have lovely wild flowers, a nice day clear blue skies.
Passing Pompei on my left and Torre Annugiata on my right, it’s not long before I reach the outskirts of Salerno. Coming up to the place, you look down on it and winding road down to the beach area. Making my way down a lovely sight on reaching the road along the beach, I am surprised to see an Italian ice cream man, with his barrow. So, I pull up to him and order a big cornetto – what a treat after that long trip. Carrying on to this printing unit and giving my message to the duty officer, I am soon on my way back to our base at Teano.
Back at base the Ammunitions lads have been very busy. An ammo train has pulled into the siding and loads of the ammo is being unloaded by the Pioneer Corps under supervision of the officer in charge.
But this is all soon brought to a halt – the Germans are bombing across at Capua and once again they are flying low over us. A small American anti-aircraft battery has opened fire on the enemy planes so everybody runs for cover. I am nowhere near any slit trench so I run to a gully between some small trees. When I get there three young Italian boys and two coloured American soldiers are already in the gully so I quickly join them. Nothing said until as one plane passes over, black cross (+) on the side of the aircraft as plain as could be. One little Italian boy gets up to take a peek at the German planes. Then a loud voice from one of the coloured Americans shouts: “Boy you all keep still there. Than man canner see you and he’s goner shoot me.” Laughing to myself at this outburst, I notice the coloured American’s eyes rolling, showing the whites of his eyes, just like Will Best an American coloured actor who acted in Ghost Films before the war. Anyway, the little Italian spoke no English and the raid was soon over, no bombs dropped on us.
15th March ’44
Today we see the bombing of Cassino Town from 9 o’clock in the morning, by the USA Airforce, wave after wave of bombers pass over the town dropping their bombs. We have a very good view from our position. We can see the explosions taking place, one after the other, big clouds of dust rising up from the town. I hope they dropped some leaflets on the place beforehand.
This went on for most of the morning. During the afternoon, I make a trip down to our forward dump Mignano and when I get there a shock awaits me. The dump has received some direct hits from stray bombs, meant for Cassino and wiped it out. Lots of ammo blowing up, some of the lads on this dump were killed in this raid. So, I make my way once again along this crowded and dusty road back to our base Teano. I report what I’d seen at our forward dump to our duty officer a Captain Hornby and further action will be theirs.
The cook house has been built and things are going along OK. All meals are well prepared and we have a couple of spare tents with tables and stools inside to sit on. Nice to be with Wally Seaman and Hughie Hazel at this meal time to get together and chat over things, and what they are doing. Wally’s driving the Major around in the staff car, quite a lot for the Major to organise the ammo disposal to all units. Convoy of lorries are in and out all day, picking up their ammo for their units Artillery -Infantry, who fire this off at quite a rate. Big battle area this Cassino.
CASSINO – ANZIO
Our next big surprise from this area soon after the bombing of Cassino Town. We look back in the sky towards Naples one morning and can see great big clouds of smoke and dust rising miles into the sky. Word soon goes round – it’s the volcano Vesuvius erupting but what a wonderful sight from where we are and with a clear blue sky must be 40 miles away as the crow flies.
And as night fell we saw a red glow in the sky. We learn later from lads who had been down in Naples during the eruptions that they were caught out in it and were showered with ash and cinders dropping like rain and make some of the lads quite ill with the fumes.
Lucky for the Major and myself that the volcano did not erupt during our trip to Naples early in the year. We were quite close at the time and it was glowing then, but the next few days no smoke was seen so it must have settled down.
Just as well the Major has just come back from a meeting at GHQ Caserta. He has everybody on parade and we listen to what he has to say.
We are on the move again – this time to a place called Anzio, a beachhead south of Rome where there is heavy fighting going on and he warns us we will be sitting on a “powder keg” with the hundreds of tons of ammunitions the unit will be dealing with. Sitting on a Volcano he says. Then to our surprise he says if any man thinks he can’t deal with this move he will try to get replacements so step forward now. Nobody moved. “Right” says Major Taylor, “we pack up tomorrow and we will be on our way.”
On our way means after all our lorries are loaded, making our way down to the Port of Naples, arriving there late afternoon, we start boarding the LSTs – “Landing Ship Tanks”. The front of these ships opens with a ramp lowered down, the lorries back on the LSTs so as to drive straight off when we arrive at Anzio. It’s not just our unit going on board, there are lots of others, some fully loaded with ammo and stores.
After they are all on, I go on with my motorbike last on facing the front of the ship so that means I will be first off.
We have some very nice views of the Bay of Naples from top deck. We can see Vesuvius the volcano quite plainly from here- good job it’s settled down and is quiet and not erupting. Seven o’clock (pm) and we are on our way – there are other L TS in the convoy – it’s evening time and it’s still light with a clear sky, and we are soon passing the Isle of Capri to our left and Ischia to our right and then soon out to open sea.
As it gets dark we bed down underneath the gun turret which now has an American sailor manning the gun above us. During our time trying to doze off, the sailor above starts singing so we are soon lullabied off to sleep. All’s been quiet during the night and we are awoken by the ship’s Tannoy speaker. “Hear this, Hear this, when we dock 15 mins to clear the ship.” It’s now dawn and we can see ashore. Gun flashes and some explosions going on rather like a firework display with lots of Big Bangs. Time 4AM. We are to relieve another unit already on Anzio, a 3AAD 3rd Advance Ammo, so they will be pleased they are coming of the beachhead and we are coming on.
ANZIO 1st April 1944
The ship has been manned by an American crew and they have looked after us, giving us coffee and snacks, and they have been very cheerful and helpful. They have been on this trip before, the beachhead has to be supplied nightly with men and food and ammo, and wounded taken off to base hospitals.
Every man takes his position ready for landing, all the transport is down below so I make my way down. What a noise! All the lorries with their engines ticking over fast, smoke from their exhausts like nothing on earth.
There are lights all along the sides so you can see through the haze of the smoke. I reach my bike right up front and kick start it, and rev it up ready for the off. We can feel the motion of the ship and the noise of the engines and then suddenly a stop.
Right in front of me the bow begins to open and then the ramp lowering. I can see daylight as I sit on the bike. I get a clear view. We are in the harbour of Anzio. As the ramp reaches the dockside and down. I am off, no time to look round to see who’s coming behind.
I drive fast alongside the docks and turn left to a road out of Anzio. I had to look for signs 3AAD none to be seen yet, I carry on and on. After a few miles, I am getting a little worried, then I see signs which say Drive Slowly Dusts Brings Shells. I am getting near the Front. All of a sudden two Military Police stop me by waving me down. “Go any further son”, one says, “and you will be a prisoner of war. The Germans are just up the road, they tell me. I had missed my turning to the left which would have taken me along the coast. I quickly turn round and speed back, catching up with the rest of the unit who were just arriving at the position of 3AAD which consisted of two small flat roof houses and a larger house overlooking the sea.
Before 3AAD left they put us in the picture of the place behind the two small houses. They had constructed two dugouts below the ground and advised us we would soon be needing them as the Germans shell most nights and heavy.
1944 Anzio Beachhead April
Beside these houses runs a big stretch of land which is stacked with Ammunition of all sorts, artillery shells, mortar shells, small arms, i.e. Bullets by the caseload and cordite. Yes, we are going to be sitting on a volcano – Major Taylor’s words!
Good Luck lads say the personnel of 3AAD and off they go, back to the docks to catch the LST ship back to base at Naples.
The bigger house across the road is situated on a cliff top and there is a flight of stone steps down to the beach. The unit before us 3AAD had made a nice job of fixing outside toilets in the big garden made of wood with three places along, over a big ditch. No running water and a place to wash, right overlooking the beach at clifftop with a drain off, running down to the beach.
Water for washing and cooking will be drawn from a well which is between the two flat roof houses. One of these houses will be the Admin office run by Sgt Harry Yesdovic and a CPL Ron Reaclman, plus two young unit clerks.
Outside on the ammo site Major Taylor and a Captain Horby with a couple of Sergeant Ammo experts and some corporals and ammunition store man will be in charge of the distribution of the ammo to units on the beachhead assisted by men of the Pioneer Corps and trucks of the Army Service Corp will do the carrying.
The other small house, one room for dining wooden tables already there, and the other room for sleeping but I think more sleeping will be down in the dugouts – one has to crawl on hands and knees to get down, and it’s very stuffy and dark down there.
So here we are, settling in at Anzio.
Before they had left 3AAD unit had mentioned that the beachhead was overlooked by the Germans from the Albans Hills in the Frascati area, and could see most of the movements on the beachhead.
Not much notice was taken of this at the time but we soon jumped early next day when we were having breakfast. The Germans sent over a salvo of shrapnel shells, bursting over our heads. Lucky everyone was wearing their tin hats when we all dive for cover. Tin hats have to be worn at all times here at Anzio, no casualty this time.
My first run on duty is back up the road where I’d taken the wrong road on my first day here. I am going to a unit up near the flyover, a bridge across this road which we now know as the Rome road. The road is very badly potholed, and now I have the feeling I am being watched by Jerry* from those hills as I drive along. (*Jerry – nickname for Germans)
I arrived at this unit who are based around a farm house. I go inside the part which is their makeshift office and speak with the duty sergeant. He has a message to take back for more ammunition to our unit. While there, some heavy shelling takes place, with shells falling around the farmhouse. Lot of noise and clouds of dust, in fact, some bits of loose ceiling drop down. But nobody takes any notice. I can see they are used to these close encounters.
I take the message in sealed envelope and slowly make my way back to our unit.
I notice more things now along this road. Lots of artillery dug in, covered with green netting. A big field hospital, also dug down, with just the tops of the big tents showing with bid red cross markings. Everywhere alongside this road is jam packed with different units, lorries, tanks, anti-aircraft guns, bofor guns.
We soon find out where we will sleep every night down the dugouts. Shelling starts very heavy as soon as dusk and night falls, and we are packed down here. We can hear the shells, dropping into the soft ground around us.
The dugouts were dug right behind the small flat-topped houses so the shells coming would have to hit the house before the dugout. Only one man chose to sleep in the house, Wally Seaman who was a fatalist, and when a shell blew a hole in the side of the house, he still refused to sleep in the dugout.
So, this is our life, very noisy and very busy.
Some moments are interesting to watch, especially when an Ammunition Ship arrives off shore. The organisation is wonderful. A convoy of DUKW Amphibious vehicles driven by the Army service corps drive down the beach into the sea and out in convoy to the Ammo ship, a big space between each vehicle. The first one to arrive is loading with ammo which is in rope nets and lowered into the DUKW then he turns round to the shore, up into the ammo dump where it’s unloaded and stacked. This goes on all day supervised by Major Taylor. But to make the operation more interesting, the Germans are sporadically sending over shells into the sea with a big splash, on and off during the day. I was able to watch this operation and I never saw one DUKW get hit.
Being beside the sea gave us some extraordinary sights. One occasion the Royal Navy intercepted two midget two man submarines, intercepted by mine sweepers, three of them surrounded the midgets and slowly forced them ashore right to our beach. A guard was sent down and as soon as they beach out step two men of from each submarine dressed in frogman suits, and they were captured on the spot.
Apart from shelling during the night, we get an early can from the Germans’ big guns, early dawn. We learn the names – our nicknames Anzio Annie and Anzio Archie. They are very big guns and fire, we are told, 17 miles away outside Rome.
You can hear a boom in the distance and what seems like minutes, the big shells pass over head like the noise of an express train. They are aimed for the port of Anzio to try to hit any incoming shipping.
During one early morning, I was detail on Rosta to help the cook with breakfast, just the two of us out there. The cook is going to do porridge first, and while he is heating it up and stirring, he asks me to draw some water from the well, our water source here. All going along fine until BOOM followed by another BOOM. We know what that means. Anzio Annie and Archie. Looking round I see the cook disappear to the dugouts, leaving me on my own. I hear and feel two big shells pass over head so I think it’s time for me too to disappear. It’s later when we all surface we find all the porridge is burnt and no one’s going to get any breakfast. We are in front of the Major for this act and he asks me what my excuse was for leaving my post. “Well, sir” I said, “the cook who’s in charge left, so I thought it was my time to leave.” He gives me a small grin and dismisses me from the charge.
During the day, I make a few trips down to beachhead signals for different messages and also over to the American side at Nettuno, not much distance to travel here. Back at the run up the Rome road, which is in the middle of the bridgehead, I have a run up there at 5pm every evening, and it seems as soon as I start this run the Germans start shelling this road. I can see shells dropping in a field to my left and right. I can’t drive fast as the road is potholed with previous shelling’s. It’s scary. I am sure they can see me from those hills but no time for stopping, keeping going, no choice.
Each day here brings some excitement. One morning everything seemed quiet, clear sky, sunshine, we watch three of our planes, looked like spitfires or hurricanes, flying low out to sea from the beachhead. And to our surprise, flying in well above our outgoing planes, three German planes with their black crosses on the wings, small bombers as they flew over us. And then, all hell broke loose, all the anti-aircraft guns Bofors along our side of beach opened fire at once. Ta Bang, ta bang in one big barrage, every German plane was hit and blown to bits in the sky. Big balls of tire with the explosion of their petrol and bombs going off. Those of us who had managed to take cover inside the buildings were OK but some were caught with falling debris, and sustain some wounds, having to be taken to the field hospital.
One of my next runs was to visit these lads and my first inside look. On my way in I notice the mortuary tent, with flaps open and bodies laid out in rows – that sent a chill down my spine and further on lay a small heap which gave me another shock -limbs wrapped up in brown field dressings – no mistaking what they were. I must say I felt a little sick. I was not expecting to see this. Carrying on I found our four wounded lads, two laying on beds, the others sitting up. One had head wounds and the other three arm and shoulder wounds by falling debris. I spent half an hour with them. I think they are still in a state of shock. Major Taylor will visit them later today.
Full of surprises, Anzio! Arriving off shore a mile of two, a couple of big battleships escorted with three destroyers.
What’s going on? Whatever, we have a ringside seat, the seat being on top of one of the flat roof houses with four of us, Wally Seaman, Hughie Hazel sitting on the edge of the roof. The destroyers are steaming in front of one ofthe big ships but well in front and across their bows. They then start making a smoke screen, the three of them, backwards and forwards, until it’s like a big wall of smoke. Then the big ships steam towards this smoke wall and then big flashes from their guns, they fire, the shock waves and the noise reaches us ashore. Bang Bang Boom. What’s going on? The big ships then turn and sail away from the screen, but then return and repeat the action.
But soon a reply from the Germans, a couple of shells fall into the sea. Plop, a big splash. They are trying to get the range of the ships. The destroyers have sailed out of range. It’s now a duel between the big ships and, we think, the big guns of Anzio Annie and Archie. The noise is loud. Each time we see a flash, we wait for the vibrations to reach us. A couple of hours of this, interesting entertainment, no hits scored by the Germans, all shells falling short. I don’t think the big guns were hit either. Back to duty.
After a busy day starting with watching the big ships engaged in battle with the enemy’s big guns, and lots of runs on messages to different units and including another trip to the field hospital, with mail for the lads who were wounded in the air attack. They are getting along fine and are in a cheerful mood, the nurses are looking after them well. Although the big hospital tents are dug in the ground, they are vulnerable from enemy shelling.
Another night down in the dugouts, hot and stuffy, just a torch for light, not at all comfortable, about 12 of us sleeping head to toe. Lots of shelling going on during the night, you feel the thuds of the shells exploding outside but we manage to get off to sleep.
In the morning, we crawl out up to the top, on looking around, I can see where the damage has been done and in particular my bike, Ariel 350cc. A shell has dropped beside the bike and funnily enough it’s still standing. It’s like a pepper pot with holes all over it, even though the frame itself, the petrol tank like a sieve, one look and that bike is a write off. One or two other trucks and lorries are also badly damaged.
On our morning parade and roll calls the Major takes stock, some replacements are needed so that I can still carry dispatch duty. The Major has given me the loan of one of the officers’ jeep, a small open truck with four-wheel drive. They are very sturdy and good to drive, easier driving over potholes and also, I can take a passenger, and already I have a request from a Cpl Ron Readman to come for a ride on my 5 o’clock evening run up the Rome road. It will be nice to have a little company for a change, seeing how I always feel scared on this run.
One of our lads, a very nice Scot chap who likes classic music and often talks of different composers, has been sent back to base at Naples owing to nervousness and he had been very empty for weeks. I met his replacement, a fellow by the name of John Flanaghan who was brought up overnight from Naples. Over a mug of tea, I find we are both the same age, 21 years, both born on the same day and year, 6.3.23. He will work on the ammo dump, an ammunitions storeman. Ron Readman Cpl asks to come on the five o’clock evening run. We have several units to calion. We start up the Rome road as we call it. The Royal Engineers have done some filling in of the potholes so we have a smoother ride in this jeep. As usual, the Germans are sending over a few shells which are exploding to my right. As we go along Ron does not seem to mind not a big barrage. I suppose one has to say and remembering the 21 st Psalm on this trip “Yea tho’ I walk through the valley of death, I fear no evil for thy rod and thy staff comfort me. ” Yes, a great comfort is Ron Readman. He really enjoyed being away from his office – just a small room in one of the flat top houses. We are back in one hour – no great distance to travel here on the bridgehead. I expect he will want to come again – he was very excited – Ron being a Methodist was my staffl
The Royal Engineers have fixed up some mobile showers, just along the coast from us, near a water point, so we can go along and shower, in turn. I don’t know whether the Germans have heard of this but during my turn up the shower unit, he started sending over some shrapnel shells which burst overhead, so it had to be a quick wash and out, makes one very nervous being undressed while that’s going on outside.
I had an occasion while I was driving the jeep, Sgt Harry Yesolvic requested me to drive him and an armed escort with a chap under military arrest who was being sent to detention camp. I know not what for but the camp is right up front, behind the line. On arriving, the place is a barbed wire encampment. As soon as the chap under arrest went through the camp gate, he had to run at the double by the military guards who shouted out their orders. I watch for a while as Sgt Harry passes over the paperwork, not a pretty sight to watch other chaps doing their things at the double. But I hear some chaps who thought they would be sent back to base often committing some offence were soon sadly mistaken, this was a tough place to be. In fact, I had never heard of the place during my travels on Anzio.
The weather is getting warmer and sunny so anyone who wants a swim can go down to the beach. Across the road is a big villa type house which is standing on top of a cliff, about 30ft down. There is a stone stairway down to the beach. Underneath the cliffs a cave. We think the owner may have kept rowing boats in there, some boat tackle lying around gives us a clue. I have been down for a swim a few times, along with other chaps. Wally Seaman loves it and any spare moment, he’s there.
The Royal Navy are patrolling off the coast and we think the Germans are having a swim further up in their section. Things are reasonably quiet of late although at night quite a lot of activity going on, lots of tanks coming ashore, you can hear the rattle and squeaking of their tracks, so it looks like a big build up.
And I did notice, during my day runs, quite a lot of big guns being dug in by the Royal Artillery and soon covered over with camouflage netting, so lots of reinforcements taking in place. And more ammo ships arriving, so our boys are busy and the stuff is brought ashore with the Royal Army service corp driving those amphibious DUKWS, quite a sight to see.
The dump is stacked out now and Major Taylor has been busy organising, and everybody’s working hard. What’s in store? We soon fmd out in a few days. Early one morning all hell breaks loose, every big gun of ours starts to fire, the noise is deafening, and off shore the big Navy ships have arrived and they begin to fire. It’s like Dante’s Inferno! This goes on for most of the morning, you can’t hear one another talk, by midday things quieten down.
Yes, it’s the breakout from Anzio, the Germans are in retreat and everyone’s on the move, it won’t be us yet. All the ammunition we have in stock will have to be moved forward and that’s going to take a bit of time.
After a few days, everything is peaceful and calm. We move across the road to the Big House which is, in fact, a nice seaside villa overlooking the sea, and no more sleeping in the dugouts making ourselves comfortable. Wally Seaman and I are having a lovely room looking out to sea.
For a few nights peace on earth until the Germans return in force with an air raid late evening, and start dive bombing the ammo dump. Ammunitions start to explode. Everyone runs for cover, this time down to the beach to under the cave. As we were running I saw two people run into each dugout but most of are packed down into the cave, it soon filled up.
And now the dump is blowing up, shells are being blown into the sea, such big explosions, we have to spend the night packed together.
And then the sea washes right up to the cave entrance so we are now trapped both ways. We watch with anticipation but lucky the tide ebbs back and forth but does not enter the cave. Once we notice this we relaxed a little, although the explosions are still taking place. I had thought I could swim out of the cave but wondered how many could not swim. What thoughts go through your head. Next morning, we still can’t get out. The Germans were flying low and dropped heavy stuff on the dump, so they have made a good job of their bombing.
We had spent a night and day down in the cave before we could come back up. The explosions had blown loads of shells over us into the sea, making a big splash. The noise had been deafening, the whole place rocked and shook like an earthquake.
Up above the scene was devastation all round, both the dugouts had received direct bits, and as two men had gone, one into each, they were both killed.
Our new replacement John Flanaghan was one and the other was Cpl James McLintock from Scotland, the other John Flanaghan was from Collyhurst, Manchester and had been with us but a few weeks. Both are now buried at the beachhead cemetery Anzio.
Cpl James McLintock was a great piano player. We had an old piano we had picked up in our travels, and it was always loaded onto the trucks when we moved. Here at Anzio it was kept in one of the small rooms, and James McLintock’s mother used to send him the latest song music sheets, with all the latest hit songs. When they arrived in the mail, James McLintock and another cpl used to play for us the latest tunes so with our beer ration, we had good singsongs. So, James will be sadly missed.
The clearing up here will take some weeks so I am told, in the meantime, my DR duty will now extend to Rome. My first day trip to Rome was quite exciting and interesting, although a bit bumpy up along the middle road which we called then as the Rome road, under the famous flyover bridge which had been for some time the front line, and it’s been said if the Germans had broken through at that point and straight through to the Port of Anzio, we would have an been made Prisoners of War, thanks to our tough fighting men that never happened. And as I pass along and see some places where this all took place, tanks burnt out, craters, shell holes, buildings blown up, what a mess. Also, I am thankful on this first trip there are no shells bursting near me as I pass along.
Soon leaving Anzio behind and onto Rome along the Appian Way, lovely countryside, beautiful trees and lots of Roman ruins and pillars lying on the ground from a thousand years or so ago. Yes, this is one trip I enjoy but I will be coming each day while we are still at Anzio.
My first sight of Rome is one of great excitement, I always wanted to see Rome and here it is. I enter through one of the arches “Porta” straight pass the Colosseum, along the road towards the famous Forum. That’s a sight worth seeing, carrying on pass the large monument to Victor Emmanuel ex-King of Italy, and then onto a large Square to Army Post Office and Signals office.
Forgot to mention I am on a new motorbike a Triumph 350cc so it’s been a really nice ride and it’s now warm and I am wearing KD shorts and shirt. KD dress is tropical wear for Army. With this dry hot climate, it’s ideal for riding a motorbike, and much better to see all these sights as I go along. While here I find there is a Red Shield van run by the Salvation Army with nice English ladies serving tea and cakes, so I line up and take a break for tea and have a chat with other DRs who were on trips for their units, like me.
After collecting some message and post for our unit, 21AAD, I make my way back along the Appian Way to Anzio. On returning to our base, a nice surprise, I have been picked along with Hughie Hazel Wally Seaman and a few others for a week’s rest, camp down at Salerno, south of Naples, and we are to be taken down by a 3ton truck. We won’t meet any Germans on this trip as they have withdrawn north of Rome, leaving Rome an open city where no fighting took place.
On the next morning, we set off and we have packed a few things. We are taking Route Six which will take us through Cassino, and what a sickly sight. It is when we pass through everything looks grey with mountains of rubble and piles of grey dust, like Hell on earth. Looking up at the Monastery, that’s just rubble, glad to get through a place of sadness. With hundreds of little wooden white crosses which shows how many of our boys are lying dead here.
On down route Six, passing Caserta, the palace there which was used as GHQ and many times I’d gone there for messages, quite a nice place, lovely gardens. Soon passing through Naples and looking and seeing the Volcano Vesuvius, all quiet now after the eruption we saw from Teano, near Cassino.
Arriving at Salerno, you come down quite high to the small town. We go through our side along the beach, a big area with large tents and huts. Here we will do as we please for a week, right by the beach, weather hot and sunny. After being in the back of a truck for a few hours, we are glad, first for a dip in the sea. We are allocated our tent. Wally, Hughie and myself to share, just the job for we all get on together.
There are one or two shows being put on by ENSA, an Army entertainment unit, and there are two large buildings where we will go for our meals, this is going to be an enjoyable rest, away from noise and danger. We spend most days sleeping late and after meals, into the sea.
On one occasion while lying on the beach, a little Italian boy calls out to us and points out to sea. We jump up and Hughie spots a body in the water. He does one run and he’s swimming out and on reaching the body, he does his life saving act and fetches the body ashore, and immediately starts resuscitation, the body being a man and was looking a bit blue. Hughie was working fast and he certainly knew his stuff. There was water coming out of the man’s mouth and other parts lower down. An ambulance was called “Army” being on standby, and as soon as they arrived. Hughie was doing fine and the man was now coughing and sputtering still, with water coming out of his mouth. It turns out that this man was, in fact, a Canadian soldier, on leave like us and had got into difficulty. He was taken off by the Army Ambulance to hospital, details were taken of this event and Hughie’s name, rank and unit.
Happy ending, the Canadian lived and to top it all later on Hughie received a silver lifesaving medal from the Canadian Government and, of course, a little reward for the little Italian boy. The medal, in fact, Hughie received about 6 months later. We all enjoyed the rest here at Salerno, nice surroundings, lovely sea, lovely views, good food. But now packed and making our way back to Anzio.
This time we take Route 7, along the coast road taking in some lovely sea views, passing through Naples and seeing the Isle of Capri and Ischia, lovely sights further along this coast road through Formia and Gaeta and Terrcina.
Outside of Terrcina, the Pontun Marshes, a place that had been drained by the Mussolini Government before the war, i.e. 1939. But the Germans in their retreat had blown the dams that held the water back from the reclaimed land. So now the marshes were now flooded again, the water was up to the edge of the main road, so our little convoy of trucks had to drive very slowly indeed.
30 June 1944 Back to Anzio from leave, one week.
Arriving back at Anzio, clearing up work still in progress and lots of Army Service Corp trucks being loaded to take the ammunition that survived the recent bombing to be taken to the units north of Rome, where the war is now taking place.
Only back here a few days and a new order comes up, every available man who can drive will be mustered together and taken down by convoy of trucks to move a complete vehicle park from south of Naples to north of Anzio.
A vehicle park contains every kind of lorry, motorbikes, halftrack – that’s tracks at the back of the vehicle instead of wheels, plus some armoured cars.
I am included in this group so we sent off in this large convoy of lorries early morning. We are instructed that the plan is to arrive at the Naples Vehicle Park late afternoon and leave there as dark falls so as not be noticed by any enemy aircraft that may be flying around.
Taking Route 6 again pass Cassino and Caserta, I find this sitting in the back of trucks not very comfortable, plenty of dust and bumpy roads, and seeing as we have not long been down this road for our week’s leave at the rest camp, not too exciting.
Arriving at Naples, we are served some tea and a sandwich, and soon allocated a lorry or whatever. In my case I am lucky, a 15cwt truck. Everybody checks oil, water and tyres, and we are soon lined up into one big big convoy. 7pm now in the evening and we move off. Dark, follow and keep in line behind the vehicle in front – that’s our instruction.
Back this time once again Route 7 coast road, dark and not much to see, a long slow drag, mile after mile. During the night, as we go along a couple of trucks have come to grief, the drivers having fallen asleep at the wheel and ended up down the ditch along the road side, no stopping for them, the convoy must not stop for anything.
Worst to come when we pass through Terrcina, coming up to the roads through the Pontun Marshes. The road’s very narrow, feeling very tired, now a very long day and through the moonlight we can see millions of mosquitoes, right across our windscreens, very distracting.
And once again a few more trucks have come to grief, going off the road into the water. Thank God, it’s not deep, so I think the drivers are OK. I noticed a couple standing up to their waists. Carrying on and arriving at Anzio just as dawn is breaking, we arrive at a big open piece of ground where all the trucks etc. will be parked, and then we get a lift back to our various units.
Well, that’s what I think we shall call a hard day and night. Glad to be back with our little unit, like being with the family. I get granted a day off which I shall spend in bed, catching up with sleep.
We have had a rough time here on the beachhead but we are having it easier now, the war is taking place north of Rome.
We are to get a day’s leave into Rome each week, and a 3-ton truck will take those whose day off it is will get a lift into Rome and picked up at 7pm beside the Roman Colosseum.
Added bonus for me. I will also take a turn during the week to drive this liberty lorry. So plus, my day’s leave in Rome and driving the lorry and my despatch rider’s duties, I am going to see a lot of Rome.
My first detail to drive the lorry will be to take all the sergeants, ours and other units near us. Instructions are for the driver! Lorry must leave Rome at 7pm sharp. Anybody not at the Colosseum by that time is left behind. Drivers to stay with the lorry but allowed to leave it for normal purposes, i.e. Toilet, drinks, we are to take haversack rations, sandwiches, cheese, corned beef.
My first trip, I had pulled outside the Colosseum, all the day tripper sergeants had all gone on their way, I was just settling down for my lunch inside the cab when a nice looking young lady knocked on the window. I opened it and she said in broken English “Please I am school teacher and we are starving, no good food for long time. Please can you give me some.” I was so taken aback by this request that I wrapped all my rations together and gave her the lot. With tears in her eyes she took what I had and said “Grazie, grazie, thank you, thank you” and disappeared.
Our Major Taylor had met a nursing sister at the Beachhead hospital, during one of his visits, and this turned into a nice romance for him and her – and wedding bells were soon to ring. And during our easy spell here at Anzio they decided to get married in Rome. Wally Seaman, lucky fellow, was to be their driver for the week, using an American jeep. And Hughie Hazel and myself were able, during one of our day leaves to meet Wally in the jeep and with sunny weather, Wally took us on a guided tour of Rome, and we are in shorts and KD outfit short sleeve shirts.
Going back to my first trip with the sergeants, there were two missing so I had leave them behind at dead 7pm.
One big building in Rome was taken over by the NAAFI and turned into the Robenson Club, a place where you could get a dinner or tea, and listen to some very good music, violin, cello, etc mostly Italian and usually a very nice Italian signorina singing lovely songs. And of all things a barbers to get a haircut, a room where you could get a manicure. I thought I’d try both. I liked the manicure most, a lovely beautiful signorina doing your nails.
Rome is a wonderful place, the sights, the Roman Colosseum, St Peters, the Forum and, of course, the well-dressed ladies and the sunshine making this place like heaven. We have been lucky to spend some time here and thanks also to the Salvation Army ladies serving tea from the Red Shield Club, it’s been like a touch of home.
August ’44 Anzio
Back here we are able to go down to the beach and enjoy some lovely swimming, the sea looks nice and blue, and the sand on the beach is just what makes a nice seaside resort. When we finish our duties, it’s where we spend most of our spare time.
We have been living in the Big House, villa with the stone steps leading down to the beach since the breakout of the beachhead, and it’s lovely waking up and looking out to sea. What a change from those horrid dugouts.
Not far from here are some lovely grape vines – white grapes and we are able to go along and help ourselves. They are just ripe now, so that’s a little luxury we are enjoying here. And some of the local people are drifting back. One lady who owns one of the small flat roof houses we used to occupy is back with her two young daughters, and she’s looking for some of her tables and chairs, not forgetting when we had arrived, everybody had already fled. We do our best to help her and return some things. I think she’s glad to be back and she, at least, bas her house standing, except for a shell hole one side of the house.
It looks like we are moving very soon, all the clearing up is done. What ammunition was left has been sent forward to a place called AREZZO and that’s where we shall be heading, north of Rome.
Today all our equipment is packed, all lorries loaded, Royal Army Service corps supplying most of the lorries and it’s goodbye to Anzio after the months of good and bad times here. So, it’s up along the roads under the famous flyover where so much action took place, still some German tanks wrecked, of course, lying around. I bet it was some of those which gave us some nasty turns.
So on to the main road, the old Appian Way, quite a nice ride, lovely trees, all different shapes and, of course, plenty Roman ruins as we pass along. I am enjoying the ride on my motor bike and I keep up alongside the Major’s staff car which includes a couple of other officers with him, Wally Seamans driving the staff car.
Soon we arrive and are passing through Rome seeing all the sights again, but it’s no stopping slowly through and out into the countryside, north of Rome. After a few hours we stop, for a brew up of tea, off the road into a big open space, some sandwiches are eaten and a smoke and a chat amongst ourselves.
And then soon on our way, very hot now, plenty of sunshine. Passing through a place called Terni and onto Foligno, then arriving along the road passing Assisi, where the Patron Saint Francis lived and made the place famous.
Passing alongside Perugia we get a good view of the big Trasimeno lake which looks wonderfully blue. Instruction from the Major we will make our way down the lake side and have another tea break and a possible swim in the lake. The view is absolutely beautiful; on arriving down at lake side, a big area, we stop and cook, get a brew of tea going.
In the meantime, those of us including me, make for the lake for the intended swim, but what a shock, the lake, now we are down at its edge, does not look blue any more. In fact, it’s dirty grey and muddy and no way inviting enough for a dip so that’s a disappointment on this very hot day. So, we have to make do with a nice mug of tea at the pull up area.
So soon on our way again, our destination is a place called Monte San Savino which is 12 miles outside AREZZO. Driving along the country lane, the heat is scorching, you can feel the heat coming up from the road.
We arrive at Monte San Savino, a small railway stop, in fact not in the main village which is up above us overlooking the small station. We pull in alongside the booking office which is empty, the trains are not running because the Germans, in their retreat, had blown up some of the rail lines, putting everything out of action. We start to unload all our equipment and get ourselves organised.
Alongside the rail track, a small siding, where there are some goods trucks, about ten in all, this is where we will be sleeping and our transport will be parked alongside the trucks. Everybody is picking out which trucks they will sleep in, us drivers will be together.
Over at the small booking office, it will be used as an office, it has ground floor and a floor above. The floor above will be used by the office Admins – that will be their sleeping quarters, Sgt Harry Yesolovic in charge.
It appears that Major Taylor and Captain Hornby and the other officers are going up to the village, to pick out some more comfortable accommodation. Off they go, the officers and we are stowing our kit, etc. into the trucks, very nice scenery around here quite pleasant.
Our cook soon gets his cook house organised, stowing lots of his pots and pans etc inside one truck, the weather being so nice, he is going to cook outside.
We have some wooden fold up tables and stools so we are soon sitting down for a meal, mostly out of tins, tinned potatoes, meat, beans, no bread at this stage, hard biscuit. Over at the small booking office, there is a small area where we have put a 40-gallon drum of petrol, which was brought in one of the trucks. This is where I shall fill my motor bike with petrol, and Wally Seaman will fill the staff car. The drum has a hand pump which you pull back and forward to fill your vehicle. Whatever you fill your tank with, you have to make a note of in a small book to be kept in the office.
After our meal washed down with a nice mug of tea, we have a stroll, Wally Seaman and I. The area is small farms, pigs in the fields, quite big and fat, they are. Have not seen any cows as yet. I have an idea the Germans have taken what was here in their trucks when they left.
Already the local farmers seem friendly, especially the young boys and girls who seem interested in our arrival. Across the line there is another two-storey building. Wally and I walked over to take a look. We found it houses some electrical machines for producing electricity. There seems plenty of space downstairs and up. Maybe we could move in here. Ask Sgt Harry? Our first night sleeping in the rail truck a bit stuffy and smelly.
On parade 7am outside the small booking office, everybody lined up in columns of threes. Orderly Officer and a Sgt Major Medcock. “As your names called out, reply with a Yes, Sir.”
After parade, I report to Sgt Harry Y, my duties here are given to me.
8.30hrs Run to Apo Arezzo Signals 55 area HQ 55 area Back at Monte by 11.00 hrs
Report Stock Office at Rail Booking Office MS
1430 hrs To Signals 55Area Arezzo DID For Union Jacks – Army newspaper
HQ 55 Areas
17.30 hrs To Signals 55 Area Arezzo DID HQ 55 Areas
To Arezzo and back 24 miles, three trips makes 72 miles in all, each day
APO i.e. Army Post Office 55 area code for signals MSV Monte San Savino
Our ration strength is now 198 personnel including attached service corp i.e. transport. The ammunition has followed us up from Anzio and the ammo personnel now have the job of stacking and sorting, the fields around this area are being used to place the ammunition. These are called the ammo lines. It’s spread out each line, having different stacks of ammo.
It appears we are going to employ some local labour, men to help unload and stack the ammo, and local girls, teenagers, to do stencilling on the side of some ammo boxes in white, all supervised by Ammunition Storemen. So, we have quite a big area here, and I will be doing some runs up and down these lines.
In the meantime, the run to Arezzo is quite enjoyable, although the road surface is rough, the countryside is beautiful and road winds up and down, and some of the farm girls come out to wave as I pass.
Nearer to Arezzo, I come across a Bailey bridge, built across a small river, the Bailey bridge having been built by the Royal Engineers, the original bridge having been blown up by the Germans on their retreat.
enjoyed myself when I approached the bridge. It had a ramp and I open the throttle and drive up the ramp fast, and this took me a few feet in the air. Of course, these trips were OK during the hot weather but not so nice when we got a heavy down pour of rain, which we did from time to time. In fact, some of the dips in the road became flooded and I could not drive through, too deep, the only way out was to wait for a lorry to come along and wave him down, and ask to put my bike in the back of the lorry, to get to the other side of the flooded area.
Well, we had asked Sgt Harry Y if we could move across to the house across the line opposite the booking office and he had given us permission to move. We took our kit and made ourselves comfortable downstairs, some went up. We made up beds with two ammo boxes with planks of wood across and your army blanket on top of the wooden plank, and kit bags on the floor. No pillows, just roll up an old pullover.
Our transport was left over by the rail trucks. We settled in quite fine until one night in pitch black I was awoken by noise and commotion. I stood up and I found myself standing up to my waist in water. Someone luckily had a torch. We managed to make our way to the door and looking out in the dark, we made out a river sweeping along fast along the disused rail line. We stood there until break of dawn and we could see what was happening. A river somewhere had burst its banks? Who knows where, there were chickens floating by, all sorts of farm debris.
On daylight, looking across to where my motor bike had been, I could not see it. It was under water and all those in the trucks were stranded. It wasn’t until about mid-morning that the water began to drain away, and we were able to get across the rail tracks and then I could see my bike with plenty of mud covered over it. After the big clearing up, the Major had come down from the dryness of Monte San Savino, to see what the flood had caused in damage etc.
He made the decision there and then that we would all move up to Monte San Savino. Expect we would still use the booking office for parades outside, the clerks inside and the petrol position away from the village.
A winding road up and up, needing slow driving for the trucks, with all our equipment. On reaching the village square, the Major is waiting. All trucks to be parked in the square. Accommodation has been commandeered. Major Taylor has picked out the local social club for us other ranks and a building on the comer of the square as the regimental office.
We soon settle down here, it’s quite a nice place. Our place in the local social club is nice and comfortable. There is a small hall which had been used for dances in the club. There is still a rack with the name of the next dance hanging just below a small balcony which must have accommodated the small band. The next dance was valse or waltz. This is going to be used as our dining room for all meals. What luxury! All this after Anzio and the dugouts. There is also a small billiard room with the table and cues and balls, also a shower room which is going to be put in order.
Over at Regimental Office, the top floor has a bath and more spare rooms for sleeping and for once here we will be able to hang up our mosquito netting above our homemade bedding i.e. two ammo boxes and wooden planks, always carted around with us. I shall be able to keep my motor bike down inside the door of the social club. It has a big hall. Everybody’s happy. No fear of any floods up here, and we have lovely views overlooking the countryside of Tuscany.
Everything is fine, except one big thing – no electricity at all anywhere in the village of Monte San Savino or anywhere else in the area. The Germans in their retreat had also blown up the local power station. We had managed anyway without lights so we have used hurricane lamps and torches all along since and during North Africa.
Where the evenings are still light we manage to stroll around the village. We have one wine bar which is open for drinks, such as red and white wine and Vermouth, in the square, so our first evening a small group of us sat outside and drank a few glasses of wine and talked.
Some of the locals stop and made some conversation but we have not a lot of Italian in our vocabulary as yet but we are sure to pick a lot up, in fact, we have some phrases in our army news sheet we get each week. In fact, I collect these once a week during my runs to Arezzo. I shall make a good effort to learn as much as possible. It will help me in my job being out on my own most of the day.
After a few weeks, we are very much in a good routine and getting to know some of the local people. We parade every morning in the square at 7am for roll call and then into the dining room for some breakfast. We are now getting some fresh vegetables from the local farmers, including tomatoes i.e. Pomodoro, see learning already. Had some with the bacon at breakfast -lovely! And we have plenty of fruit, apples, pears and, of course, delicious white grapes, bunches of them, nuts of all kinds, peaches. This time of the year in Italy fruits are plentiful.
Parades are taken in the square now. After Parade one morning I was approached by a local, old chap, with a request to take a doctor’s prescription to a chemist i.e. Farmacia in Arezzo, and to pick it up on one of my return trips. We have found out that the people here have been cut off for a few months and have had difficulty in obtaining medicines. This prescription was for his elderly wife, so I agreed to do this.
After a few more weeks here, news of this request for the chemist prescriptions soon got round the village and I was soon being asked for a few more favours. I was already picking up newspapers for our ex POW, Gino Tarterinni who was still with us since North Africa. *POW Prisoner of War
The National paper, Colle della Sera was out in print at Arezzo. This kept Gino informed of what was going on in Italy, his home town was La Sepezia which at this time was still under occupation by the Germans. Of course, all these requests were a pleasure to do because we became fond of the locals, this being our first time since leaving England to have any close association with anybody outside Army life.
My next request was of a different kind and a nice one at that, from a young girl by the name of Nara, a dark-haired beauty who I’d got to know during my strolls rough the Square. Nara was living right on the Square in an apartment with her parents.
My age at the time being 21 years and hers 18 years, we soon gave each other nice smiles when we passed by and when I came back from my trips from Arezzo, Nara always seemed to hear my motor bike coming, which was very nice and I looked forward to seeing her lovely smile.
Nara’s request was would I give her a lift into Arezzo to pay a visit to the Dentist for a check up on her lovely white teeth. This was a difficult request because we were forbidden by Army law to give lifts to any civilians at any time but with her beauty and charming smile, plus her gorgeous figure, I am afraid Army laws did not cross my mind at this time.
I arranged to meet her at the bottom of the village at 8.30am on my first run to Arezzo, the next morning. It’s a winding road down and taking it slowly. When I arrived, she was there, out of sight of any eyes. Funny how although our languages are different, we are getting by. I explain to her as she gets on the back of the bike, she must hold on very tight. In fact, I think she liked this idea, she put her arms around me in a big hug and I must say I enjoyed the big cuddle. Off we go through the lovely Tuscan countryside, up hills and down dales, Nara laughing over each bump so we approach my favourite part of the trip, the Bailey bridge build by the Royal Engineers, across a small river. These bridges have a big ramp onto to the bridge. This is where I accelerate the bike to a high speed and hit the ramp which takes us a few feet in the air. Nara’s absolutely thrilled and screams out with laughter and says “pui pui * quando tomato”. “Again again when we come back.” *pui pui – more more
After dropping Nara at her dentist, I picked her up on a later run back and repeated the same run over the bridge and back to Monte San Savino. We both enjoyed the trip.
Out to the Ammunitions lines is also proving a nice run. IfI arrive at one section around midday, I find some of the ammo storemen inside a small farmhouse where they have got friendly with the farmer and his wife. They would be sitting down having a midday snack, except the wife had made a nice big plate of spaghetti for them. When they heard the noise of my motor bike approaching, the wife would come out to the door of farmhouse and beckon me in and say, “Vengo Vengo” “Come in” “Si accomdi” “Sit down” and serve me also a nice plate of spaghetti, and the farmer would pour a nice glass of red wine. These are some of the nice things of being in the Army in Italy.
One other section I go to they have taken on local girls to do stencilling on some of the ammo boxes and when r arrive r am made fuss of by the girls. They are crazy about motor bikes and want to know when can they come for a ride on the back. There is one girl r like a lot by the name of Dim a, and when I arrive, she’s the first I see and the look and smiles tell it all. Love at first sight!
One good thing that comes out of all this friendship – it has been arranged we would have a social dance up in Monte San Savino and invite all the families, mothers, fathers, daughters etc. I don’t know who’s organising this but it’s going ahead. In the meantime, one clever sergeant is arranging light up in the village. He has come across a massive electro dynamo, and to drive this to produce electricity, he needs an engine to couple up to the dynamo. His plan is half a dozen of us would go with him in a 3-ton truck to a vehicle dump where all the scrap and damaged vehicles are. In the dump are out of action tanks, half-tracks and Bren carriers. He thinks the Bren carrier engine would be best suited for his purpose. We find a carrier with an engine that looks OK. They have a V Eight engine, so we all set about with spanners, unbolting. When everything is done, with ropes and large pieces of wood, we heave the engine out onto the back of the truck and back to the Square in Monte San Savino. With the electro dynamo coupled up to the Bren carrier engine, he has coils of thick wire, must be an inch thick. This is laid out from the Square to what was a small cinema, the inside is rather like a small opera house, with boxes all around.
All the seating has been taken out and the floor will be the dance floor, all be it a bit sloping down to the stage, a clever bit of work all round. The locals have been helping in this.
The first try out a tank with petrol supplied to the engine which starts up right away and the dynamo working, lights appear in the cinema, although at first, they are fluctuating with the engine. But Sgt cleverly soon adjusts the engine to run smoother. So, a Saturday evening has been arranged for this Social Evening, with people from the village and the surrounding countryside will come. Transport will be arranged to pick up the outlying people and our cook’s going to bake loads of cakes and goodies, so we are looking forward to our first ever social.
The Saturday night arrives and everybody’s excited. The transport arrives with all our guests. I myself and Wally Seaman and including our ex POW, Gino Tarterimi are standing down at the stage end, watching all our Italian friends we have made file in. They go to each side of the hall and settle down in the opera-like cubicles. All at once I notice Dima and her mother, father and sister have arrived and settle into one of the cubicles. Soon everybody’s settled in and how nice some of the Italian girls look. Beautiful, in fact.
The lighting is holding up very well. On stage, a piano accordion starts to play, really catching tune, Italian, of course, played by a local man. It’s now time to think about dancing and I think I am going to make a bee line for where Dima’s sitting with her family. To get to these cubicles you have to go through a door near the stage, up a few stairs and along a corridor. When you come to the cubicle, you have to knock on the door. As I have said imagine the boxes at an opera house, in a much smaller size. I arrived at the door and knock. I hear the mother’s voice, “Entra” I open the door and come face to face with the family. “Mama” I say, “permesso danza con Dima” “Si si” says Mama. I suppose I should have asked Father first, never mind. Hand in hand I walk down to the dance floor with Dima to dance a lovely Tango. Boy, what great excitement! My first dance for two years! After the first dance, one has to escort your partner back to the cubicle. The evening went off a treat, and when I had taken Dima back to her box, i.e. like the Opera House, her mother invited me in to sit with the family. It was lovely, a nice surprise, and during the evening, mother invited me to their house for dinner on Sunday, in about a weeks’ time.
Looking round the dance floor, I noticed Nara, the dark-haired beauty from Monte San Savino who I’d given a lift to Arezzo on the back of the motor bike. She also saw me and gave me that lovely smile. Must have a dance with her at our next dance. Also during the evening while I was sitting with the family, a knock came on the door. Mama says”Entra” and who appears none other than Major Taylor. He has come to request a dance with Dima. I’d stood up with a start, feeling a little embarrassed, and feeling even worst when she said “No” so he about turned and went. I think he must have seen what a beauty she was, and how we were enjoying ourselves. No more said of that incident! Thank God!
During the dance interval, everybody joins together for the tea and cakes, and of course a little local wine. It’s nice mixing with the locals and we seem to be able to get along in spite of our difference in language but we are picking up more words as we go along, which I find very interesting.
After Parade one morning, Sgt Harry Y says “Parky, I have a surprise for you, your old motor bike, the 350cc Triumph, you are going to take it in exchange for a new one.” So, I have to go to a vehicle park just outside Arezzo. When I go into the park office and sign up for this exchange, I drive away with a brand new 500cc BSA, with big despatch bags each side of the rear wheels, colour green. This is a much heavier bike, like the old 500cc Norton on which I first started my despatch riding duty in North Africa.
The weather now has lost the summer touch, plenty of rain and muddy roads. In fact, around the town or Arezzo where the roads have been chewed up with tanks etc it’s quite flooded in parts, quite a splash driving through, the new bike gets quite a ducking. I have to change my despatch rider’s boots for wellingtons. The boots are laced up to just below the knee, and the water gets through the eyeholes, which gives you wet feet. Plus, your legs get wet through as the rains runs down the petrol tank which you sit astride. So, after a few hours in wet weather, you are glad to get back to base, i.e. Monte San Savino, for a dry out. Not complaining – just explaining the job!!
On arriving back at base one day there had been an explosion on one of the ammunition lines. It appears owing to the wet weather we have been having, lots of cordite had got wet, and it had been arranged to dry it out inside a hut, the bags of cordite being placed along shelves. Inside the hut would be an oil stove at low temperature.
In charge of this was a great friend of mine, a Peter Faquhar, a Scot from Aberdeen. The news I hear is that Peter thought he would turn up the heat to get the cordite drying quicker but, unfortunately, this extra heat caused the explosion and Peter got badly burnt and is now in hospital down at Arezzo.
My next trip down there I would go in and visit Peter in the Military Hospital. What a shock when I saw him, he is in an isolation ward on his own. My first sight he is bandaged, just like the invisible man, from head to foot, just his eyes showing, lucky for his sight he wore glasses which had saved his sight. His first request to me is would I write to his mother in Scotland and tell her he has broken his wrist and that I am writing on his behalf until it’s better. Well, this rouse lasted a few weeks until his mother had been informed of his serious injury by the War Office. She now knows and thanks me for writing on his behalf. Peter will not be returning to our unit, he will be shipped home to Scotland and family.
Before he went Dima, her mother and sister rode on their bikes to see him, a return of 24 miles. They had got to know him through me. I had visited Peter every day, giving him some comfort and reading his mail to him.
Following up my invitation to Dima’s house – “Casa” at Ciggiano for dinner. I am going today on Sunday, it’s about a 3-mile walk, although very nice countryside. I start out about 2pm. I think Dinner will be around 5pm. Officially we can’t use army vehicles for anything outside army work. Anyway, I expect to be offered some wine to drink with the meal and they are very generous with the wine, these Italians.
Farmhouse Ciggiano- Papa.Diana, Mama, Dima
Taking my time, I arrive about 3.3Opm after passing some interesting farm places, plenty of big fat pigs around, and lots of rows of grape vines. This is the famous grape growing region of Chianti.
Arriving at Dima’s family house, you first come to a half circle courtyard. Here Dima’s father has some workshops where he has a machine for cutting com during harvest time, and other places where he, in fact, makes farm carts, even down to the wheels, also they have a large vineyard and produce local wine.
Through the courtyard up some steps to the house, Dima’s waiting at the top of the stairs with her mother who gives me a kiss both sides of the cheek, normal Italian custom. “Benvenuto, benvenuto” says mother, i.e. Welcome welcome – a big smile from Dima. Inside to the dining room where waiting is the father and sister Diana, greetings once again. Father says “Si accoundi” “Please sit down” I can see the wine glasses, big ones at that, and father pours out a large glass of red wine for me and mother – Mamma hands me a small plate of homemade biscuits. The girls have a glass of wine but very much diluted with water.
Conversation is rather difficult at first but it’s about Peter Farquhar who got badly burnt. I manage to explain that he will be sent home to Scotland and will take no more part in the war.
Then they ask, Mother and Father that is, about my family back home in London. I manage to convey my family history and the girls were very interested. When I told Mama and Papa i non spo sato i.e. I am not married and non ho fidanzato i.e. no serious girlfriends, at the momento. And now Mama calls “mangiare” i.e. food and we take our places round the dining table, Mama serving first Pasta, long thin ribbon type about ~ inch thick, with nice and tasty sauce, more wine. Then baked rabbit, they breed their own rabbits, but this tastes very nice. Back home my mother made rabbit stew, of course. We were, and many families before the war 1939, quite used to rabbit for dinner. More wine and, of course, I forgot to mention salad with those lovely fresh Italian tomatoes, Mama cutting large slices of homemade bread and putting it on your plate. Getting full up -large portions! And then a big homemade cake.
I had brought some chocolate for the girls, Naafi issue and a packet of cigarettes for Papa. For Mama I had managed to fetch a small bag of salt from our army cook. Very much in short supply sale*, so Mama was very pleased with that, just what she needed for her cooking. Sale* Italian for salt.Dima – first love- Ciggiano
After dinner, we sat in another room with nice easy chairs and the girls, Dima and Diana got out some Italian song sheets, and entertained me with some nice signing in Italian, very enjoyable.
After all this, I am taken for a walk up to the village and meet a young girl by the name of Nella, a friend of Dima. Nella is very nice looking and was very excited to meet her first Englishman. Looking back down from the village, Papa points out in the distance his grape vines, quite a huge spread. And now after a tour of the village, not a lot up there, just one bar, a small shop, church and hall, and right at the top, out of sight, the local cemetery where all the people of Ciggiano end their days. On our way, back down to the house, Dima points out the church hall and says “Tommy Venga come one Saturday evening to the local dance held in the church hall. “Si si” says I.
Back at the house, it’s more cake and coffee, and after a small rest, I have to say “Ciao” and I promise to call again. I make my way back to Monte San Savino, back to HQ.
Monday morning on my way back to Arezzo, first trip of the day, going along fine on my new BSA 500cc approaching a smooth piece of road, near the Bailey bridge, with the ramp, I open up the throttle for a nice bit of speed, ready for my run up the ramp, when all of a sudden, the bike wobbles left and right. Before I could steady it, I was thrown in the air, coming down hitting the road with a bump, and rolling over and over. At the same time, I could see the bike crashing against the side of a small house, and could hear the horn sounding as it stopped there. I am laying in the road, in a state of shock, lucky my head was protected with my crash helmet because as I rolled over, my head was hitting the ground. I can feel my legs have been knocked about a bit and my elbows.
I am laying there when two military police arrive in a jeep, what luck they were passing this way. They steadily help me to me feet and put me in the jeep to take me to Arezzo hospital. Before we move I ask them to take out from the bike my mail and messages. These were kept in the pannier bags at the rear wheels of the bike. When they return to the jeep one sergeant said, “Bike’s a write off, Son.”
Down at the hospital I am treated for cuts and bruises to my legs and arm, but feeling shook up and aching. Transport comes from Monte San Savino to take me back. The medic gave me a stick to hobble along with. News must have reached the village. As I got out of the truck there was a crowd of locals waiting and watching. Looks like a couple of weeks rest for me.
Back to duty, after the crash, spent a week and a half hobbling around Monte San Savino, got to know lots of locals, all enquiring about accident, enjoyed their company, managed to sit outside the bar a couple of times, nice and relaxing.
I am now on my way down to Arezzo to pick up another motor bike “BSA 500cc a write off Unlucky Green” Sgt Harry Yesulovic tells me. I am to pick a nearly new one, a Matchless 350CC smaller engine but with telescopic forks to the front wheels.
This will be my 5th bike now since North Africa. Out of the five, two crashes, one blown up at Anzio, any number of fall offs so off I go again with the Matchless which I must say is a much smoother ride, not so much shock coming from the front wheels, no pannier bags attached to the rear wheels, so I shall carry a big shoulder bag. If there any big mail for the lads i.e. Parcels etc, a 15-cwt truck will be used.
One afternoon about 4pm it came into my head to call at Dima’s house for a surprise call. I am taking a chance against Rules and Regulations, arriving at the house, unexpected. Father’s working in the courtyard. Mama spots me and straight away “Tommy Tommy” she says stay for “Pranso” – dinner. She comes down the stairs, goes straight to where the rabbits are kept and comes out with one. I follow her up the stairs. Both the girls come to the door and greet me. Then to my great surprise, Mama gives the rabbit a blow to the back of its neck which kills it stone dead, then places it on a sharp hook outside the door, and skins it there and then. Next into the kitchen where it’s cut up into sections, and then it’s being cooked and baked ready for the meal. Talk about fast food, fastest I have seen.
Well, this is farmhouse, countryside and this is their custom and I remember the old saying “When in Rome” I enjoyed that meal with chunks of homemade bread. No wine, large glass of water this time.
I have to leave soon after thanking Mama for their hospitality and I am soon on my way, speeding along on the new bike.
We are having quite a lot of rain so I am finding driving conditions a bit rough, plenty of mud and pools of water in the ditches, as I drive along. Good job I have the wellingtons, save my feet getting wet. Although these Army Dispatch rider’s coats are supposed to be waterproof, in fact, in the heaviest of the rain, it soaks through.
Coming up to Christmas ’44 no difference in the routine. We are still here since August. All the ammunition is being loaded onto trucks and sent north of Florence where all the action and fighting is taking place. Service corp company is doing the transporting. Our lads and the ammunition storemen arrange all the loading and sorting – a tough job and dangerous.
Another dance to take place at the cinema Monte San Savino just before Christmas. This will cheer us all up. No transport laid on this time, so this means Dima and her family won’t be coming, just most of the near locals. The night arrives and I find myself dancing with Nara, the lovely girl I gave a lift on my BSA. Good job I had no passengers the day of the crash. Lovely girl Nara, so warm and friendly and a beauty at that. All evening we dance together, she wore some kind of magical perfume which was unusual to say the least. Nara came to the dance on her own so I am able to walk home with her and as she lives just across the Square that was OK, and the dance finished at 1O.30pm. Nara asks for another ride on the bike which I readily agree to date soon i.e. Subito she says. I give her a good night kiss and bid Buon Notte i.e. Good night, and walk back across the Square thinking to myself what a lovely girl and how fortunate we have been to arrive at this place, peaceful lovely country Tuscany, and to be mixing with young people again.
I do get my leg pulled arriving back at the billet. “Who’s it going to be” says Wally Seaman, “Dima or Nara.” I must say I like both these ragazzi i.e. Girls very much so I shall stay friendly with both while we are here at Monte San Savino.
Well, Christmas ’44 came and went, and its soon New Year 1945.
I have received a letter from home from my mother, telling me my best friend who went to school and grew up with has been killed in Italy. She had met his mother in the local market in our neighbourhood. I am very sad to hear this news. Billy Bass was his name, and I did not know he was in Italy. He had got married and his young wife had a baby, very young – he would be 22 years of age. We don’t know at this stage where he was killed.
A different trip today to a small place called Lucigano, 5 or 6 miles, but through nice hilly country passing along this route. I pass a Prison Camp housing civilians – who they are I have no idea but as I pass they come to the wired fence and wave. I had been along this way before, and passing by a bend, I’d noticed 6 graves just above a small wall, edging a farm. They are English graves with small white crosses. I had not stopped because there are so many – it would have been impossible but later I would have cause to think: about those graves on passing – they are at eye level.
Next, I pass a small farm where a bomb had dropped and caused a very big crater. The lone farmer was in the process of filling it in – I suppose to get his ground level again for sowing. This is going take him quite some time I can see.
Further along two big German tanks perch on a small hill, silent now and deserted so quite a bit of action has taken place in this area.
Leaving Lucigano, making my way back I thought about giving Dima’s house another call. These thoughts come into my head speeding along on this matchless motor bike, nice and comfortable. Getting near Ciggiano I change to go into gear four when my clutch cable breaks, leaving me in third gear which means I can’t stop or if I do, I’ll never get started again.
I carry on till I see an opening to a big field. People are working on the field. I swerve into the field, do a quick round circle and out again, going back on my same route, keeping the bike in third gear until I reach base – that was a lucky break. Had I broken down off my official run, I would have been in great trouble. No visit to Dima’s that day.
After my failed attempt to pay a visit to Dima and her family at their lovely country farm type house. I have been invited to stay there for a weekend so this being my weekend free of duties, I have a pass signed by Sergeant Harry Yesulovic, all above board with Army Rules and Regulations, So I am now on my way with weekend kit, cigarettes for Dima’s father, a little salt for mama’s cooking.
After a nice walk through this Tuscan countryside which is really beautiful, trees, rolling hills and friendly farm people. As you walk along passing alongside a flowing stream, so peaceful away from the sounds of war. I arrive and am greeted by Dima. I am going to have a room to sleep in by myself, next door, to stay with Dima’s grandparents, “Nona and Nonno”. I put my stuff down in the room, a nice big bed and dresser, with wash stand. Being an old building, sinks etc have not been installed, bearing in mind this is an old country village and this being early 1945, a nice window overlooks the countryside with spectacular views. Settling my things in the room, I go across to Dima to join the family for evening meal, and this being Saturday, Dima asks me to join her and friend to the local dance here in Ciggiano.
The meal was very nice, a nice bowl of soup, Italian special. There’s a salad with fresh lettuce and these lovely Italian plum tomatoes, followed by main meal, chicken roast rabbit and cooked pigeon, roast pork along with side plate of pasta. I don’t know when I last saw such a spread of food, in fact I don’t think I have. But these people are very hospitable so you have to eat not to offend and then comes the wine, red, that is chianti.
Sitting down was Dima, Diana, sister and a young girl friend, Nella and, of course, mother and father. The girls only drink diluted wine, water added. A very nice evening. We manage some conversation, albeit hard at times to get through but we had some good laughs, all being young at heart.
The dance starts at 7.30pm so I go across to my room for a wash and brush up and come back to find the girls all ready and looking nice. Dima was wearing a pure white dress and she did look so attractive, and also Diana and Nella. Because this is in their small village they are allowed to walk up to the village hall with me alone. Walking up a small hill takes us to the hall, a bright clear evening with a big bright moon shining, very romantic, this must be heaven.
On reaching the hall, most of the local teenagers are here. I am the only outsider here but made very welcome, with one or two using their small amount of English in talking with me, and of course myself trying out my limited Italian.
It’s amazing when I look round and see all the young girls and boys of the village, all dressed in their Sunday best clothes, all looking very smart and the girls most attractive. One would think or hardly think there’s a war going on some miles ahead of here, and of course, a get a timely reminder that I am the only one in uniform and until a year ago this was enemy country. But I must say I am pleased to be here.
The small band begins to playa waltz and the music is very lively, played by an accordion, piano and a saxophone. I turn to Dima and say “piacere dansare.” “Si si” says Dima, and soon we are enjoying ourselves. Lucky, we both can waltz with ease, although their waltz is a little faster than our English Waltz, with lots of more turns. We get plenty of smiles as we go round the floor. Funny I never felt out of place in this small hall. End of dance, next I must ask Diana, sister ofDima. I found this one a little more difficult, a Tango but once again very enjoyable.
Next, I must be polite and ask Nella, which I do. This time a foxtrot. Slower, Nella and I manage a little conversation going round. Question “Sposato Tommaso?” “No no Nella” “I am non sposato – not married. “Anyway, at this moment I am glad I am not – I have no worries back home.
Talking of back home 1940-1942 going dancing was different. Most of the dance halls in London were fairly big halls and lots more people. The bands were a lot more modem, so the floor was much more crowded, and, of course, we had the nightly air raids so when the warning went, we had to take cover, the band used to stop and announce “Alert – take yourselves to an air raid shelter.”
Sometimes the raids were very heavy so that was the end of the dance for that evening, or otherwise if it was just a small raid, we would carryon dancing.
Back here in Ciggiano the war has passed along, so these people are soon getting back to their very quiet country life. End of evening out for us, the three girls and me, back to Dima’s house for a drink of wine with homemade biscuits, a little chat with Mama and Papa, of sorts – no one speaks any English but we get by.
A wonderful evening and made most welcome by everyone. 1 say “Buono notte” to everybody. I make my way across to grandma’s place to my room, lovely and peaceful and I am soon off to sleep.
After a nice sleep, I was awoken by the crowing of a cock-a dol-do. After a wash and brush up, I depart back to Monte San Savino, walking. I said my goodbyes and Mama says “Veni ancora, Tomasso corne again.” I hope so.
It’s around about April ’45 now and Sgt Harry Yesolovic informs me I am due for a week’s leave at Florence where the Army has established a rest camp. So, I am taken by lorry down to Arezzo where I join up with a party of others due for leave, sitting in the back of the lorry with the others we make our way. Quite winding and hilly and dusty roads so we are all glad when we finally arrive at this camp.
It’s a building with lots of rooms and a big hall which is the dining hall. After dumping my kit into the room where I shall sleep, I make my way to the hall for something to eat. Quite a crowd of people from other units here, also down for a rest and straight away I meet a fellow by the name of Harold Webber. Harold, can you believe it, lived next door to me in our old street St Silas, we are both pleased to meet one another. Harold has just come off of the line and north of Florence, and he has been having a rough time of it and he’s really shaken up, having seen the medical doctor, he was sent straight here for rest.
We pal up right away, not having seen each other since round about 1940. Here we can do as we please, no duties at all, lay in bed as long as we like and stay out around Florence. It’s soon after our meeting we meet another fellow by the name of Reg Davies and he and I were in the same class at school and soon after, another fellow called Len Woods, also from the same street. So now it’s four of us roaming round Florence at night, visiting all the bars and enjoying ourselves.
Our next meet up is with some Canadians who were as crazy as they come, in fact, they had driven into Florence in a Sherman tank as though it was a run-around about, how they got away with it we’ll never know.
They were good company but we ditched them and stayed foursome together. Main reason they liked the bottle too much and soon were getting drunk which caused problems with the Red caps, i.e. Military Police, and they were a little bit too loud.
We enjoyed ourselves, us locals telling each other our stories, how long we had been in Italy and where we were, etc. But the week flew by very quickly and it was Goodbye and back to our units.
July 1945 Goodbye Monte San Savino
One cannot imagine how we are all sad to leave this place, it’s been a place of great friendships and love, in my case, love for Dima and her family, and my great affection for Nara, the lovely little Italian beauty who always wanted to be with me on the back of the motorbike.
We are now early morning on Parade in the Square, lined up for our departure from here, not a soul around, just us. It would have been too emotive had our lovely friends came out to say Goodbye, and I know Nara who lives on the Square would have been in tears, and quite a few of our Unit 2lAAD also, including me. We had been fortunate to have stayed here so long, even the officers and sergeants, corporals had connections with families here.
We are on our way now down to Arezzo Rail Station. We are going by rail to Naples to a transit camp, awaiting our next destination. I am following the convoy down to Arezzo, one last thing I am doing. I have heard that Nella has been rushed into the village hospital at Ciggiano with appendicitis, so I managed to rush up to see her with a bar of chocolate (NAFFI) and a small bunch of flowers. She was so surprised to see me at this last-minute rush. Tears came to her eyes. I give her a quick kiss and then goodbye, and then I am speeding along to meet the unit at Arezzo.
At the station, we are loading into goods wagons all our army gear including my bike. When we are loaded, we are in like cattle trucks where we shall make ourselves comfortable for the journey down to Naples. It’s hot so we leave the doors held back to let some air in.
It’s a fairly long trip. We pass through some lovely countryside but the mood is very sombre amongst us. We feel homesick already for our little Monte San Savino, nobody seems happy or in good spirits. We pass through the outskirts of Rome, can just see St Peters in the distance, and then onwards, quite an uncomfortable journey in these trucks, rattling and rolling along.
Now passing through Cassino – what a shocking sight to see, the whole place one heap of rubble, grey dust, total destruction, the place of death for many young lads, a very sad sight.
Onwards! A view comes into sight in the distance, Vesuvius the Volcano we had seen erupt from our position at Cassino in March ’44. This tells us we will soon arrive in Naples, our destination, we will be glad to get off these trucks. On arrival at Naples station, unloading begins, and we are soon on our way to the transit camp outside Naples in some woods where we will put up our tents for our stay here.
There are other units here so there’s already a cook house installed where we shall join the other units for meals. After a day, here I am soon doing dispatch duties into Naples – Army Post office, collecting any mail which may have followed us down here but none on my first visit. The Post Office is along the main seafront and not further along is Signals HQ. I called in there – no messages.
A nice ride along the seafront, lovely views across the Bay of Naples with Vesuvis, the volcano dominating the skyline. “See Naples and die” they say – hope not!
Back to camp for a meal of sorts. Afterwards the Major has us on parade to tell of our next destination “Japan Far East”. Everybody’s shocked at the news. The war in Europe finished in May so we all thought we would be heading home for England. The war in Japan is still going on. Just these few words from the Major and we are dismissed. No date fixed for anything more.
While we are here we are getting local day leave, and our first trip is an organized trip across to the Isle of Capri. I go along with Wally Seaman and a few others, meeting down at the dock side, where there’s a small boat waiting. Going on board, Wally and I pick a position at the back of the boat, sitting with our legs dangling over the side.
A beautiful day – blue skies and a lovely blue sea. The boat sets off like an old steamer chug chug very slow. Most enjoyable and the view across the bay fantastic. In the sea we can see fish, small ones, flying fish, coming out of the water and then dipping back in again.
The journey takes about an hour and we land at the Picola Marine. Four of us join together, walking round the small harbour. We come across an Italian with a big open car parked along the bay. In his broken English, he beckons us. He’ll take us around the Island for cigarettes and some Italian lire, so we all chip in with our packets of cigarettes and money, and we are soon seated in this big limousine for our trip round the Island.
Must mention first approaching the Isle of Capri from out at sea, it looks like a small mountain and as you get closer you can see roads twisting around to the top, plenty of greenery, trees of all sorts and little houses dotted everywhere, not at all fiat, as one would imagine on an island.
Anyway, off we go in the limousine up the winding roads. The Italian driver is going to take us first to Anacapri, to a little church right near the top of the Island. On arriving he pulls up outside the church. What a lovely ride up here, the views were fantastic with a vista back down to the little port we arrived at, looks quite high from Anacapri. On entry to the church we have to take our big boots off. Can see why when we are inside. The whole floor is a work of art in mosaic, a complete picture of the Garden of Eden. The colours are a sight to see and the workmanship is of the highest order.
We spend an hour taking all this in. Outside the church are seats of stone but also finished in mosaic, all over, with more interesting pictures, so far worth the trip up here.
We go down to what is called the town square, very small, but very interesting, little alleys opening up into passage ways, with small shops and cafe bars. Our driver takes us to a cafe where we have a bite to eat and drink. Once we are sat down with our eats we can see through the windows once again the fantastic views.
After the meal, we are being taken down to where a famous singing star lived, Gracie Fields, star of stage shows and films, of the late twenties and thirties. Although she is not here at this time we are allowed in by the caretaker. Now another wonderful sight awaits us into her garden. Lemon trees, tropical plants and flowers, etc. Walking to the edge, it overlooks her private beach, although a way down, by quite a few steps – once again views across the Bay of Naples.
A tree in the middle of the garden has a seat made round the trunk, and on top of the seat, more colourful ceramic tile. These are made in exactly the picturesque scene as the ceiling in the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican in Rome.
Her house is a long one storey building, which is closed to us at this time, and is a white colour, very fitting to the lovely surroundings. This must be a place of peace and quiet to live in, so she picked well to buy this place, until of course, the war came along.
It’s now time to leave and catch the small boat back to Naples. We are looking forward to the trip back across the Bay. It’s been a wonderful day out and has cheered us all up.
Been here now a few weeks – had a couple of runs down to Salerno – a nice ride along the Autostrada, a new motorway built by Mussolini, the Dictator of Italy before the war. Each side of the road, peaches are growing along the banks which look like they are getting ripe, no time for stopping, a nice fast road, so enjoyable with no pot holes.
Arriving near Salerno, it’s a steep run down into the town and it needs a more careful drive, slow is the word. I find the ice cream man is still there along the beach road, so time for me to have a stop and enjoy ice cream cornetto, making the best of this part of Army life.
When I arrive back at camp, plenty of good news. We are not now going to Japan. It appears the Americans have dropped an Atom Bomb and the Japanese have surrendered. None of us knew what an Atom was but we are all glad we are not going there. In the meantime, we are here awaiting our fate once more.
Transit Camp Naples 1945
Fate nearly took a hand for us during one meal break. After the lunch, we return to our tents to find a big tree had fallen right across our row of tents and completely flattened all of them – had we been in the tents at the time, our fates would have been sealed, flattened and stone dead.
This is a big wooded area and the trees are quite tall. This one must have been ready to fall. Lucky nobody was hurt but it took a couple of days to recover our kit. A local woodsman with saws was able to cut some of the tree across the tents. A move to some empty tents near the cookhouse was arranged.
Although we are not to be here long, a few trips down to the beach for a couple of swimming parades, all the unit together including the Major, Sergeants and we all enjoyed being together in the sea, swimming and sun bathing. The weather – sunny and hot.
A few trips into Naples on the bike, a very crowded place, of course, all us military, English, American, New Zealanders, and all the people of Naples, sights and sounds to be seen.
One nice trip came up. Major Taylor has picked me to drive him in the Fordson Staff car on a trip to Pompei, a few miles outside Naples. This is the little Roman town which was covered in volcanic ash during the erupting Vesuvius in about 79AD, killing hundreds of people the site was discovered in the 1920’s by some local farmers, digging in the area.
On arriving, the Major has a guide to take us around and explain the history of the place. All the little streets have cobble stones and lots of the little houses are still intact, as they were in Roman times, the Baths, and an Amphitheatre, where their games took place. Shops like wine shops, with earthenware jars still good today. Inside some of the houses there are lovely wall paintings, all with a history of the times, giving one an idea how the Romans and the women dressed. The colours were brilliant. This must have been a wonderful place to live, until the disaster happened.
Sad news today. On Parade. Roll Call. Sgt Harry Yesolovic tells us the news – our unit is now to be disbanded and we are to be split up and sent to other Army Companies. In my case, I am being sent to an armoured vehicle park at Ancona, north, on the Adriatic side of Italy.
No sign of the Major on parade, we think he’s too upset to tell us the news himself. We have been together best part of two and a half years, through lots of hard times but this news today seems the hardest of the lot.
It’s like leaving a family. We were so close together. We spent most of the day together, talking over our good and bad times. I say my farewells to Wally Seaman, my greatest friend of all. He has been a great comfort to me and help with some sound advice along the way. And Sgt Harry Yesolovic, he was always a great person to work under. Also, Corporal Ron Readman, a very gentle sou1. These and all the rest of21AAD have been. It’s been a pleasure to have served with them during the war in Italy.
ANCONA September 25th 1945
I leave next morning on a convoy from this transit camp at Naples. A long and dusty journey ahead, with other soldiers sitting in the back of the lorries. Although we don’t know each other at the start, we soon do on the way. Once again passing up through Caserta and then branching across to Pescara, and then along the coast road to Ancona, a very tiring trip. Was very glad when I was dropped off at the vehicle park. I am the only one for this drop off. The convoy carries on wherever.
This is a big wide-open place and I report to the Regimental Office which, in fact, is a row of very old run-down houses. The Orderly Sergeant books me in and tells me where I will be sleeping and stacking my kit. I get talking to my room mates and get the information what we do here. It appears all the tanks from the Battlefield are brought on the tank transporters to here, where they have to be de-kitted.
The American tanks, Shermans, are being returned to USA under the lease and lend agreement. The English tanks i.e. Churchills will be sent back to England.
A few weeks here, getting used to driving these tanks just down to the dekitting sheds. A different way of life for me after being used to driving around to different places on my motorbikes, a little bit boring I find. But soon news comes around that I am due for leave for England. Those of us who have been long time serving overseas will get a month’s leave.
My time will be 31 st October till 31 st November 1945, so I soon get my kit packed and I leave Ancona station along with a crowd of others, our first stop will be Milan, where we stay in a transit camp overnight.
After the overnight stay, it’s march down to Milan’s main line station. We board the train, six to a compartment, sort ourselves out, a non-sleeper this train. I bag a place to sleep on the luggage rack, being small I can manage to stretch out. The others sort themselves out on the floor and seats, no luxury here.
This train will travel through Northern Italy, Switzerland and France. On the way, we will have stops for food. Our first stop was Domodossola on the Swiss-Italian border. Everybody gets off and into Nissen huts where we sat down to a very nice cooked meal, served by very nice and beautiful Italian girls, a most enjoyable stop.
En Route for England Oct. ’45
Before we enter Switzerland, we have to go through the Simplon tunnel which is a few miles under the mountains between the two countries, also the steam train engine is changed over to a Swiss electric to pull us through the tunnel into Switzerland. This takes about half an hour. Very hot and stuffy through there.
But once through, there is lovely scenery and bright. One stop, a place called Brig. We are not allowed off the train but the platforms are crowded with Swiss people waving little Union Jacks and the little children asking for souvenirs, about half an hour here and then on our way.
Passing alongside the lovely Lake Geneva – wonderful scenery and sights, soon reaching the French borders and again change of engine, back to steam. On our way, again but everybody bedding down for a night’s sleep, myself up on the luggage rack, a bit rocky up there but we are soon doze off. Daylight and our first stop in France for food, the train stopping alongside Nissen Huts, this time being served by French girls who seem a lot more serious than the Italian girls. Soon back on the train. Our next port of call is Calais on the English Channel, nearly home but not quite.
Transit Camp Calais October ’45
All off the train into the transit camp. It’s taken best part of three days since leaving Ancona, Italy. Now we find we can’t get onto the boat for England, owing to rough seas and the fear of floating mines.
We spend two weeks here wandering through cafes and bars before we finally board the boats and cross the channel which is still rough and it doesn’t take me long to get seasick.
Soon the White Cliffs of Dover are in sight, quite an emotional feeling after the last three years. All off the boat by trucks to the rail siding, and on our way late evening and dark, speeding along through deserted stations, a bit different to our welcome in Switzerland.
Arriving at Victoria station, crowds packing the platform waiting to meet their loved ones. Nobody knows when I would arrive so it’s the tube to Camden Town and a 24-bus home. I’d quite forgotten how going about this London travel.
I arrive home at about eight pm where Mother’s waiting to greet me. How nice to see everyone. After a nice meal of fish and chips, I am soon off to bed, it’s been a long and emotional journey, and in four weeks’ time I shall have to travel the same route back to Italy again. Good, I say to myself.
My first impression on being home again was not very good. I found London in Oct-Nov 1945 cold dark and damp. Everything felt closed in. Walking round on my first day, all the friends but a few I knew seemed to have married or moved away. I did get invited to a party with a couple of girls I knew but I found this rather boring and those people I did meet seemed like strangers to me.
I suppose my heart was in Monte San Savino. Very hard to explain how I felt but the time went by. During the third week at home I received a telegram from the Army with a posting to “38 Vehicle Park at Forli North Italy” So end of leave and back to Italy, now end of November 31st, 1945.
Funny feeling again, am I here or there? Mother came to the bus stop to see me off, Goodbye and off once again down the same road I’d left in September 1942, passed the old St Silas church. This time I am going to catch a train from Victoria Station. On arriving, loads of soldiers and sailors also returning from leave and packed. It’s now evening and dark. We arrive at Folkestone and all alight, met by RTO* and told we would be staying overnight to catch the ship in the morning. Along we go to old houses along the docks. *Rail Transport Officers.
On arriving, the old house where I am staying, top floor, up and up with all one’s kit along with others. Pick out a place on bunk beds, soon bedded down and off to sleep. Used to sleeping anywhere now!
Morning looking out the window, view across the harbour, I can see a ship berthed alongside. Soon everybody’s up and on the move. Marched down to the docks, formed up and wait our turn to board the ship. We are told we will get a mug of tea with a bite to eat.
On we go up the gangway, pick your own spot to sit or stand, it doesn’t matter. It takes just about one and a half hours to cross the channel to France, Port of Calais. On arrival at Calais, we board a train which will take us back to Italy. Funny I feel good about this. The train journey will be the same as when we came home. Very slow, about three days, stops on the way in France for meals, we were well looked after, food wise served at our tables by nice looking French girls, cheers one up, a few hours each stop.
Through Switzerland, no stops and steam train is changed to electric. What a clean place Switzerland is, with fantastic views, mountains and rivers, and small villages, so pretty and along Lake Geneva, passing through the Simplin tunnel, under the Alps.
Soon into Italy with a stop at Domolossa. Once again, lovely views off the train and into the Nissen Huts for a lovely meal. This time Italian girls serving us, just as pretty as the French, a bit more friendlier I think.
These trains we come on are very old and rickety, no comfort. I am sleeping up on a luggage rack, being the smallest of those in our compartment. Train packed out. You would not think the war was over in May 1945. What are we doing going back again? I would soon find the reason in my case.
Back on the train, next stop Milan and this time we stay overnight in a transit camp. I leave early morning, now a train to Forli. It’s very foggy this morning and damp. Slow moving. On arrival at Forli I am met by the M. Ps, shown my instructions and lam taken by them to the place where this unit is based. As I arrive and am dropped off, I find it’s an old disused hospital. I make my way to the regimental office base at the bottom of the hospital.
On reporting to the duty Sergeant, I give my name and number. After some time, checking, the Sergeant says to me “Right lad up the fourth floor. We sleep on the floor here, no beds or bunks, take a couple of blankets from the storeroom. You will be first on that floor.” After struggling up those stone stairs, I arrive at the fourth floor, a big long ward, nothing in it whatsoever. I put my kit down and lay my blankets out for my place. I find a wash room along the ward. On trying out the taps, cold water of course – well, a disused hospital.
I make my way down to the floors below and find they are full up so I get talking with some of the chaps. We are all from different units, so we soon make ourselves known. I find that this floor has organised themselves as regards lighting. They have installed some big batteries from disused lorries along with the head lights, lamps and fixed them together and given themselves light at evening time.
Back up on my floor it’s dark and cold so the only thing to do is to bed down with my two blankets, soon asleep after a long journey from England.
Up at dawn, a quick wash in ice cold water and down to the bottom of the building for a bite to eat in the dining hall. Wooden tables, with wooden forms for seating. Quite a few other soldiers here from other units. At least there is a nice serving of hot porridge, a dried egg, with some local Italian bread, which goes down a treat.
FORLI December 1945- March 1946
On Parade at 7.30AM, names called out, all present and correct, then given our instructions. I am the only new one here. I soon get to know everybody in a very short time. Here at Forli, we are taken by truck to the disused airfield of the place. It appears that most of the tanks that had been used in battle were brought by tank transporters in this area of Northern Italy to Forli. The main reason for this – the tanks were to be de-kitted and returned to the country of origin i.e. English tanks, Churchills, and American tanks, namely Shermans to America “under Lease and Lend.” *
*Lease and Lend – Tanks, guns, etc. Return after the War to USA.
At the end of the main runway are two big Nissen sheds for de-kitting and at the other end about a mile or so the tanks are parked. The storemen are taken down to the de-kitting end and us, who will drive the tanks to where the tanks are parked. We are given instruction by the sergeant in charge how to operate each tank, checking fuel, oils, etc. And then were told “Right lads, you taken this one or that one.” All very exciting to start with. My first tank, a Churchill, I get inside threw the hatch open and into the driver’s seat after all the checks. Once inside very compact. The main gun is in the middle, the other side where the crew would operate the gun when in action, including a small arms gun, a wireless section and a tools section, plus the shells to be fired section.
In front of the driver’s seat, a small round door is pushed open, allowing a clear view forward, although I imagine during battle operation that would be closed.
The tank is operated for steering by two metal sticks, pun the left stick this locks the left track and then the right track, still working swings the tank round to the left; for the right turn, pull the right but for straight ahead both sticks in the ahead position.
Well, here I go, press the starter button and it roars to life, a great big noise, press down the big clutch pedal, engage the gear into first, a very big clutch and a very big gear lever, press down the accelerator, and I slowly move down the runway, keeping straight in line, all the way down, quite noisy inside here and stuffy, seems a long way down the runway. I am going slow, my very first trip. On arriving both sticks pull back stops the tank, switch off, outcome the store man and start de-kitting, tools, wireless, any ammo, small arms, all packed in big wooden boxes.
Next operation is to drive down to a greasing bay where the tanks are greased and checked, all the work done by German prisoners of war, supervised by English personnel. After this the tanks are parked ready for their return.
We, the drivers, are taken back up the runway, ready to fetch down our next tank.
The only difference for me was a Sherman tank next time, very much the same thing, except sitting in the driver’s seat your head comes out through a hatch, a much smoother ride. These Shermans, they have big rubber pads in between the tracks so this is a day’s work here.
After our day’s work, we are taken back to base, which is the disused children’s hospital, with no home comforts, for our evening meal and then it’s a stroll down town to Forli, just a few shops and a small high street, soon get bored walking up and down there.
There is a hall which serves as a NAFFI or YMCA where you can mix with other units and a few chin wags and exchange our different things we are doing here.
There was some excitement one Friday evening. The NAFFI had arranged a dance for all the English local units “Black Watch “and us with other units. We all arrived looking forward to a nice evening. All the local girls were invited and a nice local band.
All went well and a nice evening was had by all until the dance ended when we all started filing out the entrance. We were met by a hail of gunfire from the roof of the building, opposite. The fire was directed above our heads so everybody dived back inside the dance hall. It appears they, the NAFFI, had forgot to invite the Polish force in the area, and it was some of these Polish hotheads had decided to take it out on us and give us a scare. But it didn’t go down well with the Black Watch boys and lucky for the Poles, we never carried any arms, small or otherwise, while off duty. I think there could have been another outbreak of war. A message got through to our Military Police who soon cleared them off the roofs.
Here at Forli other duties include guard duties on the airfield, where we work during the day. It worked out two-night patrols a week, sometimes you would be dropped off at intervals up the runway and then patrol back till you met the other guard, and then during the night, you would be picked up and guards exchanged. Sometimes you would be on an armoured car manning a machine gun with a driver and sergeant in charge.
Reason for all this, we had some small track vehicles called snowmen all white and the tyres inside the tracks were exactly the same size as the small Italian FIAT cars, so groups of the local Maffia were getting through the fence and doing some stealing of them.
One night I was manning the gun on the armoured car and the sergeant in charge had a small search light switched on and caught some Italians in the beam. “Fire” he said to me and I proceeded to aim right at them. Before I pulled the trigger he said “NO NO Not at them, over the heads” which I did, hitting the wall of a house. They all scattered, lucky for them, the sergeant had given me last minute instructions. What a relief for them, and me!
I have often wondered about the people in that little house. Were they asleep and did those bullets I fired penetrate through the wall? What a shock for them, late at night, if they did.
Next day we are back at work with the tanks, up at the airfield and an incident occurred. I pulled up at the greasing bay and the tank in front of me pulled away, and I saw a German reach for his tool bag which he bad left on the track of the tank but he got his arm caught in the track, and it pulled his arm out of his socket. I jumped out of my tank and rushed to him and, in the meantime, others had rushed to help.
He was quickly put in a jeep and rushed to hospital. I did manage to offer him a cigarette. But his reply in English was “No thanks, I don’t smoke.” I did hear the poor chap died in hospital at ForIi. Glad when that day was over, leaves one quite shocked. This poor fellow never made it borne to Germany.
February – March 1946
Army Life here at Forli carries on most days the same, not much different as each work day. It appears everyone has now been given a group number i.e. mine is Group 48, given on one’s age and length of service overseas. This will determine when one will be discharged and sent back to England to Civi Street. The higher the group, the sooner you will be sent home. Looks like I will be here for some time. And yet at the beginning of March I am called into the Regimental Officer with a big surprise.
It appears those with building trade experience would get a B release which I had. Could leave for England within the week now – 15t March 1946. So, packed up, I am on my way, same route up Northern Italy, through Switzerland then France. A wait a week at Calais because of rough weather at sea and floating mines, can’t take any chances at this stage, so say those in charge.
At last, a boat across the English Channel to Dover, and straight onto a waiting train, with crowds of other soldiers on our way to demob. We are going to a place North of England called Hereford, the demob centre.
We stay here a few days, all our kit to be handed in, including rifle and rounds of ammunition. Next, we are issued with a full kit of civilian clothes, a nice suit, a hat and shoes, all to fit your size.
Then into Regimental Office to be issued with a rail pass for my train journey back to London. Everything happened so fast, hardly had time to get one’s breath.
But here we are safe and sound back home, after leaving in September 1942 and now March 1946.
END of my story of my life as a Soldier.