« A Glossary Of Broad Yorkshire Dialect | Main | Food And Fashion In The Thirties »

To War With The Bays: 57 – Like Living in Hell

….One of their sergeants came and said they'd just found eight Italian men down a well, all with their hands tied behind their backs and shot through the head. As we pushed on we also came to a well and we found another seven men down there who had suffered a similar fate, a gruesome sight. What sort of men were these we were fighting to commit such atrocities as this?...

Jack Merewood was in the thick of the bitter battle for Italy.

To read earlier chapters of Jack’s vivid story please click on To War With The Bays in the menu on this page.

We had a new Troop Leader by the name of Lieutenant Lyle. He was straight from an officers' training college in England, and to quote my diary 'a real twerp'. He was a rookie, and after the Troop Leaders we'd had, this one had no idea how to handle men, espe¬cially some of whom had been abroad and had roughed it for years.

4 November: ' ... On revolver inspection got a rocket from our nice Troop Leader in spite of the fact that it's an old one and the marks won't come off ... working on tanks ... then all of us had a row with Lyle.'

On 5 November we were told we'd be moving on the 7th. That day: 'Up just after 4 a.m., had breakfast and finally left at 7.45. We'd made friends with some of the local people, and I particularly with an old man with whom I'd "talk" regularly. It caused some amuse¬ment when he kissed me goodbye ...

‘Through Cesena and finally stopped near Forli. Jerry's still there. The RAF is certainly giving him a pasting and we're sat watching the Spitfires dive-bomb inces¬santly. We moved on after dark, must have looked a very im¬pressive sight. Civvies stood about watching us. Stayed overnight in houses in a village. Fine billet this, tables, chairs, cupboards, wardrobes, mirrors.'

The fighting was still just ahead of us. We'd had the Gurkha infantry with us, quiet, fearless men, for whom we had great respect, and now they were replaced by the New Zealand infantry.

One of their sergeants came and said they'd just found eight Italian men down a well, all with their hands tied behind their backs and shot through the head. As we pushed on we also came to a well and we found another seven men down there who had suffered a similar fate, a gruesome sight. What sort of men were these we were fighting to commit such atrocities as this?

10 November: 'Snow on the hills not far away. We found spring beds and slept on them last night. Few shells landed. Should have advanced, but there is a river in front and it is swollen and we can't cross it. Stayed here another night. Shells and bombs don't half rock this house.'

The rain poured, the fields turned to mud, and we came to the river. The flood had subsided a little, a survey was made, and a point found where a crossing could be risked. It was pretty deep and our hearts were in our mouths as our tank entered the swirling muddy water, but we made it to the other side and to our relief met no opposition.

'... bit of shelling, that's all. Then crossed River Montone. We went a bit wrong with our tank and nearly ended up with Jerry. Haley and I caught two chickens, chicken for supper.' Next day: 'Did very well today, got a chicken and six cabbages.'

14 November: 'There's snow in the hills. Had to sleep in tank last night, frozen stiff in spite of being well wrapped up. At 5.30 a.m. we left in the mud and pouring rain and soon engaged the enemy. We exchanged fire, but though shells dropped around us we had no casualties and forced the Germans to retreat.'

We were now fighting from village to village, farmhouse to farmhouse, and in many of them we found people huddled, waiting for the war to pass. There were fields of mud, dead animals and poultry, and I felt sorry for the people, and especially the poor children. The rain turned to snow, and the conditions were atro¬cious. Still, for all this dreadful weather we continued to advance.

I thought about last winter in the snow, but we were only playing at fighting then. I thought about Suzette and the peaceful, happy farm at Aumale, and was thankful that she and her family had not been touched by this war. Suppose the fighting had reached Aumale, this would have happened to them. I couldn't bear the thought.

But these were families just the same, their homes and farms in ruins, and we were part of this ruthless war. The Germans must know they couldn't win, and yet, even in retreat they continued to fight. Not only were the lives of our young soldiers being thrown away; so were their young lives too.

16 November: 'Had a first class bed last night, in a house ... Set off at first light and tried to get round the left flank, to relieve No. 2 Troop, but stuck a few times, and the area became impassable be¬cause of the mud. So in the end Squadron Leader recalled us. We returned to farm of last night, and the family there were very happy to see us back. Finally tried again, and we got up to 2 Troop.'

Next day: 'Had to sleep in tank again because so many shells about. Humphries killed a duck for dinner. In afternoon he really blasted us and we had to sit in tank all the time. Shells dropped everywhere and tank hit all over the place with shrapnel.'

18 November: 'Ration wagon got hit last night as he brought up supplies. We got out and helped him to unload. Took rations off in dark and no one hurt... The ridge we're on is alive with Jerries and guns. Slept in tank again last night. Very cold and uncomfortable. Poles have been pushed back a bit on left, which leaves us in rather a dangerous position. We should have been relieved but can't get back. Jerry pounded us again at dinner-time. Dropped one right alongside us, shrapnel marks all along side of tank and big holes in idler.'

18November: 'Still here last night which meant another cold and bone-aching night of attempted sleep in tank. He was dropping them all night, but no "Moaning Minnies" for a change.'

The Moaning Minnies were a type of rocket, which when fired made a loud wailing sound like a siren. You heard them fired but, unlike a shell, you couldn't hear them in the air, so you crossed your fingers as you waited to hear where they landed. They were terrifying weapons.

The fighting continued fiercely. The Army rigged up searchlights and trained them on the ridge opposite and the RAF pounded it with bombs and machine-gun fire. Night and day there was no rest. The noise was deafening. It was like living in hell.

On 20 November we launched a big attack. We advanced with the infantry while the artillery fired over us from behind, and in front the Spitfires bombed and strafed. We played our part too. I knocked out among other things a self-propelled gun and hammered the village in front. 'Then he let us have it, and did everything but hit us. Edged forward 500 yards to next farm.'

After over two weeks of exhausting, nerve-racking fighting the 10th Hussars took over from us and with relief we withdrew. But the Germans were still showing no signs of surrender.

Categories

Creative Commons License
This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License.