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To War With The Bays: 61 - Christmas In Pesaro

…24 December: 'Christmas Eve, yet another one to be spent away from home and abroad. Surely we shall be home for the next. It makes me wonder. How things have changed since last Christmas, and oh that we could have back those boys we have lost since then.'…

Jack Merewood and his colleagues try to make the best of December 25th during the Italian campaign – but the day is filled with thoughts of fallen comrades.

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

When we arrived back at the squadron there were 'loads of rumours going round that we're going a long way back, even that we're going home. All except two men per tank left at 4 p.m. to go to new billets, presumably at Forli. Sid and I stayed with ‘our’ tank (the one belonging to A Squadron). We were going to move in two or three days' time, but tonight orders came to be ready to move at 11.30 p.m. as roads fairly clear.'

Next day, 18 December: 'Managed four or five hours' sleep last night. Wish I could get rid of this blinkin' cough - had it about three weeks now. Up at 3.30 a.m. and moved at 4 a.m. Just Sid and I on our tank. Through Faenza, at least what's left of it. Haven't seen a place like it since Cassino, just piles of debris and ruins. Down main road to Forli, our Squadron tanks and crews there, and we took over our own tank. Raining. Got to Forli about 7.30 a.m. and stayed there all day.'

Forli is south of Faenza, and we were now heading away from the fighting which was moving north. The Echelon was here and I saw Topper. He said he was thankful to see me because he'd heard I'd been wounded.

That night we loaded the tanks on to transporters, left after dark and at 4 a.m. arrived at Pesaro, twenty-five miles south of Rimini, after our transporter had had a puncture. We seemed to be fated with transporters having punctures.

'Slept till 10 a.m. then up and cooked breakfast. Tidied up tank a bit, then had a bath. We are in very good billets - seaside hotels. Sid, Jackie White, a new recruit, and I are in one room - tons of room. Tanks parked right on sea front 20 yards from sea.'

After tea Sid and I walked around Pesaro. Most of the shops were closed, but the place had suffered little damage as it was on the coast and the fighting had mainly taken place on the outskirts.

Unfortunately our sea-front hotel was bereft of furniture, which
meant no beds, and the marble floors were hard and cold to sleep on. We complained to our Mr Lyle strongly about this. After all, he had a bed in the officers' mess. After much argument he agreed to take a wagon and a few men to a naval base at Ancona, forty miles down the coast, to see if he could get some wood to make into beds. A few hours later they returned, empty-handed.

In desperation I asked if I could take a truck and some men the next day.

“No - a complete waste of time,” he said. “I've been through the proper channels; they wouldn't listen. No chance.”

A heated argument followed between Lieutenant Lyle and the rest of the troop, not the first one we'd had with our Troop Leader. But eventually, after a great deal of pressure, he gave in.

“You can take a truck,” he said. “And I can tell you before you leave you're wasting your time.”

Next morning, with six men aboard, I drove a truck to Ancona. The base was in a compound, the entrance closed by two big iron gates, with a sailor on guard at either side. We could see a huge pile of wood about 100 yards away, inside. I stopped in front of the gates. One of the guards came up.

With heart in mouth I pointed and said: “We've come for the wood.”

He seemed a little surprised, but they opened the gates anyway. We drove in and they clanged shut behind us.

At the wood pile, as nonchalantly as possible, we began to load the wagon. A number of sailors walked past, but took little notice of us. As soon as we had enough wood to make about twenty beds, we piled calmly back into the wagon. The gates swung open and we drove out.


“O.K. So long.”

Out of sight I put my foot down and we flew back to Pesaro.

When we arrived, Mr Lyle stared in disbelief. He appeared to have lost his voice. Eventually he found it, and croaked, “How did you do that?”

“Oh, there was nothing to it. I just said we'd come for the wood.”

“Did you ask permission?”


To give him his due, Lieutenant Lyle pursued the investigation no further. It worried him that we hadn't done the right thing, but the wood was there. We heard nothing from the Navy, and eventually he brought himself to congratulate us. We appreciated this, and our relationship with him continued to improve.

We got hammers and nails from the fitters and made a variety of different-sized frames. Across these we stretched pieces of canvas, 'borrowed' from the Echelon, and for the rest of our stay we no longer had to sleep on the marble floors.

21December: 'Working on tanks after breakfast. Pretty cold
down on the sea-front. Mail arrived - I had 20 letters, none from Aumale. Wrote 256th letter home. I was put in charge of decorating the mess-room for Christmas dinner. Four of us got cotton wool etc. and made designs, "Christmas Greetings" etc. - shall be doing this for next four days. Another name drawn out for Blighty leave, Trooper Marks, lucky man. Sid and I walked into Pesaro, got photo-frame for Jessie's photo; very nice.'

22 December: On mess-room decorating again. Had a fine time dyeing streamers with ink and mepacrine. Cold wind blowing this morning, and the sea very rough. I like it though, a bracing wind. We had a paratroop scare last night, but no paratroopers landed. Snowing when night came. Topper came and enjoyed him playing accordion.' Actually, the sea became so rough that we had to move the tanks further back as the spray was going over them.

23 December: 'Snow greeted us this morning when we awoke and very reluctantly crawled out of bed [there was no heat in the hotel] ... went to mess-room to help with adding decorations. Snowing all day, so looks as if we'll have a white Christmas.’

24 December: 'Christmas Eve, yet another one to be spent away from home and abroad. Surely we shall be home for the next. It makes me wonder. How things have changed since last Christmas, and oh that we could have back those boys we have lost since then.'

We had done a good job in decorating the mess-room and it looked bright and cheerful on the 25th as we sat down to Christmas dinner, which was up to the standard we had come to expect and as usual served by the officers and sergeants.

But for many of us the day wasn't happy. The memory of last Christmas played on our minds. Stan, Ted, Jimmy, Herschel, Ron ... so many missing. Chebli, Bachir, Marie, the farm. It had been a happy Christmas there.


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