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To War With The Bays: 67 - Friends In An Uncertain World

...24 February: 'Sunny but cold. Apart from machine-guns pretty quiet. Jerry 600 yards away on river. Then quite a bit of excitement. Jerry started it by throwing over a pretty big barrage, our artillery retaliated, and I reckon we got the best of it. We on the post were in the middle of it. Still, it could be much worse up here.'...

The war in Italy grinds on.

To read earlier chapters in Jack Merewood's well told account of his World War Two experiences please click on To War With The Bays.

The week in Rome was like a dream, but now it felt as if I'd never been away. I was sent to join No. 4 Troop (my own troop having retired for a rest), not in a tank but once again up to the Senio.

The position hadn't changed while I was away, but a number of listening posts had been set up along the river bank and four of us manned one of these. We were on the lookout for any enemy movement across the river. There was always the danger that they may decide to attack. We took it in turn, four hours each, to be on watch, and then after sixteen hours were relieved. Next day we in turn relieved our relief.

24 February: 'Sunny but cold. Apart from machine-guns pretty quiet. Jerry 600 yards away on river. Then quite a bit of excitement. Jerry started it by throwing over a pretty big barrage, our artillery retaliated, and I reckon we got the best of it. We on the post were in the middle of it. Still, it could be much worse up here.'

After another three days we fell back about 400 yards and No. 3 Troop took over from us. We were still on standby but after nine tiring days we returned to Forli and I rejoined my own troop. 'What a relief to have a good wash then an unbroken night's sleep. Didn't get up till 8.30 a.m. After breakfast packed up parcels, Jessie's present, and shoes and books for Suzette. Sent flowers to mother through NAAFI. Jack and I went to cinema to see Esther Williams in Bathing Beauty, but unfortunately the film broke down.'

I got a two-day pass to go to Granarolo, so could stay overnight if I wanted. We weren't far away and it was easy to get a lift. Everybody was excited to see me, and were disappointed when I could only stay one night. The children just loved me to come and were delighted to find I had brought them some chocolate (caramelli). We overcame the language barrier with my broken Italian and the few words of English I'd taught them. The empty spaces were filled with gestures.

Once, the four children were talking among themselves and by their glances I knew they were talking about me. Signora Balbi asked if I knew what they were saying. I didn't, and she explained. The conversation was going like this:

'I knew him first.'

"No you didn't, I saw him before you did.'

'I know him better than you do.'

'Oh no you don't...

Signora Balbi intervened to tell them that it didn't really matter who saw me first or knew me best, for she was sure I loved them all.

I went for a walk with Giuseppe, and we called to see his brother, whose leg was now better. He was once again full of thanks, he thought our M.O. was wonderful and said he just couldn't believe the trouble he'd taken to help him.

At night we had a good meal and as usual drank wine. The children drank only wine at meals too, which surprised me, but Giuseppe explained that it was wine well watered down.

I slept there that night, a peaceful one with no shells and then I awoke next morning to find all four children in the bedroom, waiting for me to wake up: 'I was then immediately besieged!'

Everyone begged me to stay, but I left in the early afternoon with a promise that if I had the chance I'd come back again. I'd really enjoyed my stay with them, the children were so good, and I just loved them.

In only an hour and a half I was back in Forli, and that evening Jack and I went to see Bathing Beauty once again, only to find that this time it had been shown at five o'clock not 7.30 as advertised - it seemed we were fated not to see it.

4 March: 'Moving again - always on a Sunday only went about seven miles from Forli. Good billets in houses. Marked out a football pitch.'

The weather was improving and warming up. Over the next few days we played inter-troop football matches. Paddy's turn came round to go to Rome.

Now we were resting, and the time was spent maintaining the tanks, playing football, playing cards, and doing little else, so I asked for, and was given, a 36-hour pass to go back to Granarolo, where I was greeted with the usual enthusiasm.

Some of our troops were still in the area, for the battlefront was static. A few shells fell in the afternoon, but not near enough to the houses to do any damage. My Italian friends told me that shells were still coming like this, and only last night they had been frightened to hear Moaning Minnies.

They had no intention of leaving their home, but they were living in a world of uncertainty. I tried to reassure them that soon something was bound to happen to get rid of the Tedeschi. The awful weather, coupled with the numerous rivers to cross, had virtually brought the war to a standstill, but when it improved our army would make a determined effort to bring the war to an end. It was sure to come.

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