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To War With The Bays: 68 - Considering The Facts

...Out on scheme across country. I (and many more) think it's a terrible thing to do, to go round mowing down vines and crops. Wilful destruction. Some tanks got bogged down. In afternoon watched a lot of twerps milling around.' Next day we found that some tanks had ploughed up our football pitch!..

Jack Merewood is less than impressed that good Italian farmland has to be destroyed when he and his colleagues carry out tank manouvres.

In March we began serious training with the tanks, but we didn't endear ourselves to the local farmers. They were extremely upset, and I had every sympathy for them, because we were driving across fields of growing crops, cutting wires in orchards on which vines were growing and tearing up the cultivated land. The Italians stood and watched helplessly, protesting loudly, as we ruined their fields. We ourselves felt there were other areas where we could drive the tanks instead of wantonly destroying the farmland. Sometimes we'd drive to the coast and fire our guns out to sea.

15 March: 'Out on scheme across country. I (and many more) think it's a terrible thing to do, to go round mowing down vines and crops. Wilful destruction. Some tanks got bogged down. In afternoon watched a lot of twerps milling around.' Next day we found that some tanks had ploughed up our football pitch!

On Saturday, 17 March, I had a weekend pass, so spent the time again at Granarolo, where I had as usual an excited reception and handed out chocolate to the children.
So far as the war was concerned little had changed since we were here. Our first farmhouse looked a sad place, for it was now in ruins, but I was surprised to see that our second one was occupied by members of 'A' Squadron. I imagined they were still carrying on the daily 'river run'. My friends told me with relief that there had been little hostile activity since I was there last. I stayed the night with the promise to come again if I could.

20 March: 'Reminiscing ... Aumale ... a year ago since I first met Suzette ... a year already ... On schemes, more destruction of vines, crops and ditches. What a mess we're making on these silly useless schemes.'

We'd straightened out our football pitch so resumed games when we could.

On the 23rd I had a wonderful surprise - Ronnie arrived. Although we wrote often he hadn't said he'd expected to come up to the Regiment, so it was a delight to see him. He was now permanently employed in an office block in a town several miles to the south, but he'd managed both to get away and to borrow a pick-up to come and visit me. The last time we'd seen each other was months ago, when I was in hospital in Caserta. A lot had happened since.

Among other things, it was Ronnie's job to notify people at home of the deaths of their relatives killed in action. He said this information was sent to him from the Regiment, and every time he got the list of names he dreaded to look at it in case mine was one of them. It was always upsetting for him when he saw names of boys he had known well. He knew how hard it had been for me when I learned of the deaths of Stan, Ted and the others.

While Ronnie was still with me there was some mail, and among mine were two letters from Aumale, from Suzette and Nanette. Had Suzette and her fiance fallen out? - well you never know - but no, her letter thanked me for the shoes and went on to explain that the man in her life was a French soldier. Although Ronnie had never met Suzette he knew all about her, and now I had a friend with whom I could talk it over. Ronnie always turned up at the right time.

We considered the facts. Suzette certainly had no boyfriend when I was in Aumale, for she would have told me or even if she hadn't someone in her family would have. In any case she would never have been so affectionate had there been someone else. She wouldn't have agreed to write to me either. A few months after we'd left Algeria, along came this soldier. She must have fallen in love with him and told him about me. They had got engaged and he asked her not to write to me again. So she stopped writing. But after two months, as she was still getting letters from me, she felt she must write and explain.

We read her aunt's letter. She was most sympathetic, for she knew how much Suzette meant to me, and how I looked forward to her letters. Ronnie thought it might after all be for the best, but the way I felt just then, I wasn't sure. Perhaps he was right, I didn't know, and I wondered ... would she really marry her Frenchman?

Ronnie's stay wasn't long enough. After three days he had to go back to his office. It was impossible to get away to see him, so we didn't know when we'd meet again. We just hoped it would be soon.

After he left I wrote five letters, my 307th home, and the other four all in French, to Suzette, Nanette, Marie and Lucienne. The French correspondence to Smudger Smith's Algerian girlfriend and all the other squadron sweethearts left behind had long since petered out - to my relief.

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