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May 24

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59 ? A Hair-raising Experience

Our squadron was due to go back into action now but B Squadron was sent instead, so we weren’t unhappy about that.

Some of us went into Forli. The town had only just been taken and was practically deserted, though there wasn’t much damage to the build?ings. There was a canteen but very little else. On the way back the driver ran the lorry into a ditch, and we had a walk of about a mile to the squadron.

It continued to rain, and for the first and only time ever, we were issued with gumboots. ‘Not before time’ was the general comment.

We weren’t far from the front line, and could see and hear the battle for Faenza. 9 December: ‘A barrage been going on all night, and what a barrage. We can see the guns flashing all along the plains. Infantry about a mile from Faenza. In the evening came the news that we were moving in the morning, but without tanks. Taking over A Squadron other side of river. As Dave and others going on a few days leave tomorrow I have to stay here.’

The towns of Rimini, Cesena, Forli, Faenza, Bologna and Modena are in a line along the foot of the Apennines, the mountains being to the west, and to the east the wide flat plain of the Po Valley. This was the line the fighting was following.

Next day all leave was cancelled, and the squadron left in lorries, leaving tanks behind, we’re coming back for them some day. After journey over terrible roads, had lunch then transferred to Bren carriers which took us as far as they could get.’

Our troop was to take over the tanks of an A Squadron troop, so we left the Bren carriers and had a walk of about three miles along a track ahead, in places ankle deep in mud. We were taking over these tanks because some of them were so bogged down they were unable to move.

11 December: ‘Last night we had a terrible walk. Done about two miles then Colin cracked up, said he couldn’t go on, an extreme case of “shell-happiness”.’

Colin just broke down and was almost in hysterics. Sid and I volunteered to take him back to the Bren carriers, while the rest of the troop waited. With Colin’s arms around our shoulders we squelched our way back along the track. Another driver was there, ‘Busty’ Ranson, so we left Colin, and Busty came with us to take his place.

Once more, along with him, we trudged through the mud to rejoin the troop. It was extremely heavy going. There were scattered farms in the area, some occupied by German troops, and as it was now dark we half expected to end up as prisoners, but we kept to the track, and at 1 a.m. finally reached the farm we were bound for.

We had made it to a big barn, half-filled with hay. The New Zealand infantry were here, and the farm was shelled regularly during the night. When it came light we saw a number of bodies in the field outside, three or four Maoris and a Rhodesian with a huge piece of shrapnel embedded in his head.

Some of the surrounding farms were occupied by our own troops, but it was difficult to keep in contact with them. That morning a patrol of four men had been sent out on reconnaissance but they never came back. They must have gone to the wrong farm and had either been killed or taken prisoner.

About 200 yards up the field in front of us one of the A Squadron tanks was hiding from the Germans against the wall of a barn. Dave had gone up there the night before and relieved the tank commander. Tonight I had to go, taking three men with me to relieve the crew. My diary I think, puts it mildly, when it says that this was a ‘pretty hair-raising experience’.

In the dark Haley, ‘Lofty’ Crisp, Busty Ranson and myself prepared for the ordeal. We crawled up the field at the side of a hedge. Here it was grassy, and though wet there was little mud. We had to go slowly, because although we knew in which direction the tank lay, we couldn’t see it, and didn’t want to suffer the same fate as the earlier patrol.

We’d crawled about 100 yards, then I whispered to the others to stay there. I was going to go on alone; if I didn’t come back they had to return to the barn and report me missing. I crawled on, and then to my relief the dark shadow of the tank loomed up in front of me. I went back, told the men to follow me, and we came to the tank. There appeared to be some bodies by the side of it.

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