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To War With The Bays: 55 - Devastating News

Jack Merewood, after some time in hospital, returns to the battle front, there to receive terrible news.

My eyes were getting better. I was allowed out, and went to see Ronnie, having hitched a lift on the pillion of a motorbike. I went into the town too and bought a wooden jewellery box inlaid with mother-of-pearl and sent it to my mother.
(It has now been handed down to my daughter). I also sent Suzette a pair of shoes.

One day the sister put my name down to go on a trip to La Solfatara, a volcanic crater that had been dormant for hundreds of years. Cracks were appearing in the ground as we walked across it, and steam hissed from them. It was quite an extraordinary ex¬perience, and the guide delivered the line he'd no doubt used many times before, 'This volcano could erupt at any time, but not now.'

I had expected to be in hospital about a week and now I'd been there a month. Next time the M.O. came round I said I was better and wanted to get out.

He said, 'Right, you can go, but first you must go to a convalescent camp for a week.'

'But I don't want to go to a convalescent camp. Can't I go straight back to my Regiment?'

'No. Definitely not. Convalescent camp.'

I was bothered about my mail. Only a trickle was coming through. I felt the letters would be following me all over the place, and I didn't want to lose any. So I wrote to Corporal 'Ginger' Cudd, our squadron office clerk and asked him if he would keep my mail for me; I'd be back soon.

Ronnie came to see me once more and then, much against my will, it was off to convalescent camp. They kept me there an extra week, and I had no news of the Regiment, but heard there was heavy fighting north of Ancona. I felt sure the Bays would be in action now. I couldn't leave that convalescent camp quickly enough.

Finally, after over six weeks away from the Regiment, five weeks longer than I had anticipated, I was dropped off by a wagon in the middle of C Squadron. There was an eerie feeling about the place, it seemed deserted.

I walked to the tent serving as squadron office. Ginger Cudd, a man with a bright red face and hair to match his name, was standing outside. He was not a popular man, a stolid sort of person who hardly ever raised a smile. Today he looked grimmer than ever.

I will never forget that moment, and the first words he said to me:

'You've lost all your mates.'

'What do you mean?'

'There's been a big battle. Most of the tanks lost, and a lot of men killed and wounded.'

I hardly dared ask the question.

'Who ... was killed?'

He reeled off a dozen names of men I'd known, lived and fought with over the last few years: 'Paddy Deasey, Colin Hancock, Jack Hunter, Jack Adams, Ted Wanless, Stan Tatlow.'

'Oh no, not Stan.'

I was devastated. Ginger had saved fourteen letters for me. I couldn't read them.

I wandered over to my troop and heard the story from the boys there. They had been advancing down a small hillside and had run into an ambush of anti-tank guns; they never had a chance.

Herschel Schneiderman was badly injured, Titch Hughes, who had taken my place as gunner, had his foot blown off, Ron Grist missing, and more.

The last entry in my diary for that day says: 'Please God let me sleep tonight.'


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