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To War With The Bays: 69 - Nostri Liberatori

...On 9 April a massive attack was launched. Bailey bridges were laid across the river and troops poured over them. We crossed the river over a bridge near Granarolo; our friends must have been terrified by all the noisy activity, but for them it would soon pass. We now had the initiative and were sweeping forward. The north bank of the Senio 'certainly had some dug-out positions there. Right on through Lugo which the Kiwis took yesterday and where they captured 640 prisoners. Civvies all waving and shouting and clapping.'...

Allied troops are steadily driving the Germans out of Italy. Jack Merewood continues his account of his wartime experiences.

While we were near Forli, an old man from one of the houses asked me if I'd teach him English; in return he'd teach me Italian. So I would go to his sparsely furnished living room where he produced pencils and paper and we gave each other lessons. It was something to do in the evenings, and we both enjoyed ourselves as we sat there drinking wine and writing and talking. When we left the area both he and I had benefited from our efforts.

Paddy had enjoyed his leave in Rome, and on Easter Saturday, 31 March, he and I decided to go and visit our families in Granarolo. We had weekend passes and first of all went to 'my' house. As usual there was excitement when we arrived, but they wanted to know why I hadn't been for a fortnight. Was I all right? They'd expected me last week. I had to point out that though I loved to visit them, there were other things I was obliged to do.

In the evening Paddy and I went for a walk. There were a number of soldiers about and I noted in my diary: 'At night Paddy had a fight with a 78th Div. fellow who deserved the hiding he got!' Paddy was a handy man to have around when there was trouble.

Next day was Easter Sunday: 'Could have spent it in a worse place.' It was several weeks since Paddy had visited his friends (we were each sleeping in our respective 'homes'), and when we left 'Paddy's people wept'. We promised to come again if we could, for we had both enjoyed the weekend, and no doubt Paddy had enjoyed the fight. But we explained that it was only a matter of time before we would leave the area.

I was pleased to find two letters from Chebli in the mail, one from Marie and one from her sister Suzanne. After all this time it was the first letter I'd had from her, and a pleasant surprise. They were still remembering us and thinking about us at the farm.

There was a tragedy in the village on 4 April, for a trooper in 'B' Squadron accidentally shot and killed a little boy with a tommy-gun. The children were always around the soldiers and accidents could happen, but there was enough death and destruction about already. This was something we could have done without.

Rumours were going around that we'd soon be on the move. It was no more than we expected, and we worked hard fitting 'platypus' tracks to some of the tanks, metal extensions to the sides of the tracks to give the tanks a broader base when they encountered mud in attempted river crossings. 'Hard, heavy work, with everyone tired and hands blistered.' 'Jake' Jacobs at least was in luck: his was the name drawn out for Blighty leave.

The area now was bustling with activity. We were briefed on the plan of action and moved up to the Senio in earnest. Thousands of troops and vehicles were massing just south of the river. The artillery bombarded the enemy, and the Air Force pounded them ceaselessly.

On 9 April a massive attack was launched. Bailey bridges were laid across the river and troops poured over them. We crossed the river over a bridge near Granarolo; our friends must have been terrified by all the noisy activity, but for them it would soon pass. We now had the initiative and were sweeping forward. The north bank of the Senio 'certainly had some dug-out positions there. Right on through Lugo which the Kiwis took yesterday and where they captured 640 prisoners. Civvies all waving and shouting and clapping.'

12 April: 'We heard that President Roosevelt had died. Once more into the thick of it - destruction everywhere. Dead German soldiers, dead Italian civilians, dead horses and cattle in the fields, a sickening sight.' Once again we were fighting house to house, village to village, but as we passed by and through them the Italians came running towards us, cheering us on. We passed a haystack and half-a-dozen people emerged from underneath it. One lady was brandishing a bottle of wine and they were all shouting: 'Nostri liberatori, nostri liberatori!'

The shells landed, the bombs dropped, the noise was ear-splitting. We attacked houses just in front of us in which were German troops, and I set a number of them on fire. As we moved on we found that the Germans had left booby traps - pens that exploded if picked up, doors wired with devices that exploded when they were opened as well as laying mines in the fields.

13 April: 'Frank Brett and I slept in dug-out last night (Jerry one) near tank. This morning up road and stopped few minutes at San Maria Di Fabriugo. All Italians hysterical to see "Inglesi". Had to push on. Advanced two miles or so. Italians gave us a great welcome. Got to railway for dark.'

14 April: 'Before leaving this morning Paddy and I had a walk to nearby houses. People certainly seemed overjoyed to see us. Told us Jerry had fled yesterday.'

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