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To War With The Bays: 63 - Near Granarolo

...Jerry dropped some of his blinkin' rockets last night and did they rock this house. Horrible weapon. Made meat pie and apple pie. This is about the easiest time we've had in action (touch wood). He's dropping some rather big shells fairly close, 300 to 400 yards away, but the main thing is we're sleeping in a house and have a fire. With this snow and cold we're thankful for it...

Jack Merewood and his commrades in the Bays continue to engage the Germans in the battle for Italy.

On 15 January, 1945, I walked Anna home for the last time. For the past couple of weeks I'd seen her in the NAAFI most days, then taken her home at night. I'd enjoyed her company but now it was goodbye yet again, for we were due to leave next day. She hoped we'd come back to Pesaro - so did I, but Aumale was really where I wanted to be, and that night I wrote again to Suzette.

Only our squadron left Pesaro at 2. a.m. on the morning of the 16th, arriving at Faenza at about 9 a.m. We were to take over from a squadron of the 10th Hussars, a few miles north-east of Faenza and south of the River Senio. 'Bitterly cold, plenty hard snow here and drizzling sleet.'

We took over an empty farmhouse. It was furnished just as the people had left it, with pictures on the walls, photographs and personal belongings in every room, and clothes in some of the wardrobes. The owners appeared to have taken nothing with them when they fled. There was a big fireplace and plenty of wood so we soon had a fire going. We slept in the various rooms, some of us on the beds, others making themselves comfortable wherever they could.

Other troops of the squadron were in different empty houses and next day the Engineers put in a telephone line so that we kept in touch with them and 'HQ' by phone, and not by the wirelesses in the tanks.

The farm was on the edge of a small town called Granarolo. The Germans were retreating from one river to the next, and the towns in between, such as this, were caught in the fighting. Some of the people had left their homes, but many had stayed and most of the houses were occupied. About 100 yards from the farm, towards the town, was a narrow canal and, quite near, a bridge across it. Then another 100 yards or so away were houses with families living in them.

We were gradually training our Mr Lyle and introducing him to our way of life. He began to realise that the only way to live in harmony was to be, to a certain extent, 'one of the boys'. We didn't take advantage of him. After all he was an officer and had a lot of responsibility as our Troop Leader; but it was impossible for him to try to live the life here that he'd been taught in an officers' training school. So at night out came the cards, and he joined us in a game of pontoon in front of a roaring fire.

The enemy were dug in on the north bank of the river half a mile or so north of us, and seemed unaware of our presence. 'Played cards, not much else to do. Few shells landed, not many. Made a couple of meat and potato pies. No mail up.'

19 January: 'Paddy got up and gave us all a cup of tea in bed! Cold outside but we've got a big stock of wood and a big fire. Had eight letters mother, Jessie, Ronnie and Emily. Got some sugar from Italians for M. & Vs.'

20 January: 'Jerry dropped some of his blinkin' rockets last night and did they rock this house. Horrible weapon. Made meat pie and apple pie. This is about the easiest time we've had in action (touch wood). He's dropping some rather big shells fairly close, 300 to 400 yards away, but the main thing is we're sleeping in a house and have a fire. With this snow and cold we're thankful for it.'

The Italian people were eager to be on good terms with us. Many of them had been ill-treated by the Germans as they passed through their towns and villages and there was no doubt they hated the 'Tedeschi' as they called them. Giuseppe Balbi was the name of the man from whom I'd got the sugar. He invited a few of us into his home and I became friendly with the family. His wife, who volunteered to do my washing, was very cheerful and they had a little girl, Diana, aged about eight or nine.

Giuseppe introduced me to his brother, who had three children, two boys and a girl. He had been in some sort of an accident. His leg was scraped and bruised from top to bottom, an awful sight and extremely painful. His family had bandaged it as best they could but he was in bad shape. I got in touch with our M.O., who was in another building not far away, and asked if he could do anything to help. The man could ride his bicycle (though not without considerable discomfort), so the M.O. told me to send the Italian to see him.

The family couldn't believe we'd go to so much trouble to help, but the brother went to the M.O. and came back with his leg properly dressed and covered with a clean bandage. He was given instructions to go back regularly, and by the time we left the area his leg was almost better. He and the family were eternally grateful; they couldn't do enough for me, I could have eaten with them every night if I had wanted to. As it was I accepted their offer occasionally. I was just happy that I had been able to help the man.

The Balbis couldn't speak English. I had picked up a bit of Italian, but we were only able to carry on a limited conversation. However, my Italian did improve as a result of spending time with them. When we left, Giuseppe asked if I would write to them and I said I would. I wrote in English and he had someone in the town translate my letters, but then he would answer in Italian, which I did my best to decipher. We kept up this correspondence even after the war was over, but it was difficult for both of us and gradually our correspondence waned and eventually ended.

This was another family I promised myself I'd go back and see some day, but if Bachir had been there he'd have said: 'M'sieur Jackie, you'll never come back.' And he'd have been right again.

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