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To War With The Bays: 56 - Reflections On Coriano

…We went in a pick-up to the hillside. It was peaceful there now, with newly made graves on a ridge on the brow of the hill, each marked with a simple cross and the man's name. One was Stan's, and I couldn't hold back the tears…

Jack Merewood tells of the aftermath of the terrible battle of Coriano Ridge.

This had been the terrible battle of Coriano Ridge, fought over two weeks ago and I hadn't been there. The whole Regiment had suf¬fered heavy casualties and C Squadron had been hardest hit.

The Regiment was resting, prior to being issued with new tanks, and more than sixty men were needed to bring it up to strength. When I rejoined them they were only a few miles from the site of the battle, the anti-tank resistance having finally been overcome. Many other regiments had taken part in the action and were now advancing.

They had buried all the boys except one, whose body was still in the tank, I don't know why it hadn't been recovered. The padre asked if I would go with him and three others to help to get the man out. I agreed to go, hoping and praying it wouldn't be Stan.

We went in a pick-up to the hillside. It was peaceful there now, with newly made graves on a ridge on the brow of the hill, each marked with a simple cross and the man's name. One was Stan's, and I couldn't hold back the tears.

On the slope from the ridge into the little valley below were ten broken and burned-out tanks, scattered about in unreal and un¬natural positions. The one with the man still inside was at the bot¬tom of the hill and partly burned. We went down there and looked inside.

It was the driver, and his body was a shocking sight, crawling with maggots. The smell was nauseating. I got down in the tank beside him and saw why he hadn't baled out. He couldn't, for his boot was jammed fast between the clutch and accelerator pedals, his leg twisted as he had tried to free himself. I pulled on his leg and his foot came out of the boot.

We got him out, wrapped him in a blanket, carried him up the hill, and buried him alongside the others. The padre read a short service over his grave. He was a young, fair-haired, fresh-faced Scottish boy by the name of Jimmy Law, who just a few weeks ago had been shocked to hear from his parents that his twenty-one-year-old twin brother had been killed in action in France. He'd said then that for his parents' sake he must come out of this alive.

I wrote in my diary: 'Jimmy's death was a great shock. Now Ted, Stan and Jack are gone. I'm just lost and in a maze. I suppose I should thank God that I wasn't here at the time. Why should such honest, good, young men die? Oh this war. But oh God, why did they die? It's unreal and unbelievable but the ghastly truth. I don't know what to say. Surely men will learn some day, and this useless throw¬ing away of young lives will cease.'

I was back in my old troop in Dave's tank. Paddy Flanagan, Colin Rawlins, Buck, Harold, Ted Ryan and Jack Ryder were still there, but many of the other men were strangers.

Every action in which we'd taken part, we had lost somebody, but never so many men whom I knew so well. Jimmy was with me at Catterick in 33 Squad five years ago, and had always been around. Ted Wanless too was always there and Stan and I had become inseparable since he joined the Regiment as a new recruit two years ago.

Jack Ryder and I used to play bridge regularly against Jimmy Turner and Jack Hunter. We'd lost them both now: 'Last night Jack and I played bridge together but oh how we missed Jack and Jimmy. So many new faces, it's not the same ..."

I read the fourteen letters Ginger Cudd had saved for me. Twelve were from home and the other two from Jimmy's parents and Doreen. They were terribly shocked and thanked me for writing. Now I wrote letters to Ted's wife and to Stan's parents.

The graves are on the San Martino in Venti Ridge, about eight miles from Rimini in the direction of San Marino. I had to go to Regimental Headquarters, and while I was there the Adjutant asked if I would go up on to the ridge and tidy up the graves; I should take with me anyone I wanted. So I picked four men, including Jack, and we drove to the hilltop. There were some houses nearby, the people had returned to them after the fighting had passed.

31 October: ' ... There all day. Italian people helping very much. Kiddies putting green leaves on graves. Haven't finished so hope to go tomorrow. Had five letters, mother, Jessie, Audrey, Suzette and Emily and another great parcel from Cape Town, socks, sweets, books, chocolates, shaving soap ...'

1 November: 'This morning off again up to the graves. "Fiesta" for the Italians, but Pia our most industrious worker of yesterday insisted on helping, and soon most of the kiddies too, particularly when it came to going and getting leaves, in the lorry. We took Pia and her mother and brother and some friends to church before com¬ing back. They're having a service at the graves tonight and wished we could be there and so do I, but we must get back. The Ad¬jutant came up as we'd finished and congratulated us on our work.'

I haven't been there since the war ended, but know some of the Bays who have, and they tell me that the Italian people still take care of the graves, keep them tidy, and regularly put flowers on them.

We were billeted in some empty houses in the village of Santarcangelo, near Rimini. As the fighting came to these towns and villages, the people fled, hiding where they could, and then as the war moved away they gradually came back, often to find their homes in ruins. People were now returning here.

We had a lot of rain, and the roads and fields around were flooded. We were glad, at least for the mo¬ment, to have the shelter of the houses. Besides being wet, it was cold and there was no heat in our house, until: 'Ted and I found an old stove outside so we washed off the mud and rigged it up with a chimney, put it in our room and it works O.K.!'


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