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To War With The Bays: 75 - Reunited

...I had been on some slow trains but never one like this. We were travelling in cattle trucks, which was nothing new, and as we passed through an orchard, we jumped off the train, walked alongside it picking pears, then just climbed back aboard....

Returning from home leave Jack Merewood has a wearying four-day journey across Italy before rejoining his regiment.

To read earlier chapter’s of Jack’s book please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/to_war_with_the_bays/

There was a considerable amount of confusion when we disembarked on 21 June, after eleven days at sea, for no one seemed to know just exactly where my Regiment was. The Bays were 'some¬where near Venice'.

We had a walk of four miles to the same transit camp where we'd been before, and next morning, after reveille at 3 a.m. boarded a train at 5 a.m. going north. It was only sixteen miles to Caserta, but by 11 a.m. we still hadn't arrived there.

I had been on some slow trains but never one like this. We were travelling in cattle trucks, which was nothing new, and as we passed through an orchard, we jumped off the train, walked alongside it picking pears, then just climbed back aboard.

It was dusty as we crawled along, hot, though we had the doors open, and accompanying us on our journey were thousands of flies and mosquitoes. We picked up speed a little and eventually reached Rome at 8.15 p.m. where we stopped for an hour and had some food.

Next day, at 3 a.m. we came to a bridge which had been damaged and was unsafe for the train to cross. We could walk across, so unloaded our kit, carried it over the bridge and boarded another train, which travelled just as slowly as the first.

I awoke at 8.30 next morning to find we were in a station, so 'had a wash and shave'. We then transferred to an electric train, still in our cattle trucks. 'This railway is a wonderful feat of engineering, through mountains with wonderful views. It's the coaches (trucks I should say) and the timing which are at fault.'

We had travelled north from Naples to Rome, then right across Italy from the west to the east coast, through Fabriano and Jesi in the mountains and on to Ancona — the port on the Adriatic and the naval base where we'd collected the wood. The naval base was still there, but this time we weren't in need of any wood, and at 9 p.m. boarded a small boat and sailed about midnight.

It was hot, so I slept on deck, and next morning had the interesting experience of sailing down the Grand Canal - the 'main street' of Venice. From Venice we went by road to a transit camp a few miles away at Mestre, then back to the railway.

25 June: 'Slept pretty well last night considering the circumstances. Had breakfast at Udine, then a little further on a lorry was waiting, thank goodness, to take us to the Regiment. Had dinner at RHQ and then to my own squadron and back to the tanks.'

It had been a hectic four-day journey from Naples by various trains, lorries, and boat, and I was relieved to be back with the tanks and among my friends, not far from the small town of Gradisca, and near a big river, the Isonzo, about eighty miles north east of Venice.

We talked for hours. I wanted to know what had happened after my hurried departure on 18 April, over two months ago, and above all, if everybody was all right. I was told that the Regiment had continued to be in heavy fighting, and C Squadron was in the thick of it, in the drive to take Ferrara. But although we had lost some tanks, there were only minor casualties and our troop had come out of the battles unscathed. So Sid, Paddy, Colin, Harold, Dave, Buck, Ted and Jack were all there. What a relief to see them.

There had been many more regiments and thousands of troops involved in this final battle, but Ferrara fell and to the west the Americans took Bologna. Our Regiment was on the banks of the Po when the Germans finally surrendered. Altogether about a million German soldiers had given themselves up at the end of the campaign.

There were twenty letters waiting for me when I arrived, mostly from home and from people I'd already seen, all posted before anyone knew I was on my way to England. Also a kitbag had turned up, lost since I was wounded three years ago. Heaven knows where it had been all that time.
When the fighting was over, the Regiment had come to this very pleasant area abounding with orchards, and the local people were very friendly. The nights were warm and they held dances outside in the evenings. The dance floor was surrounded by trees with lights in them, a lovely setting, and there were plenty of good-looking girls to dance with (unfortunately usually chaperoned by their mothers). Sometimes our Regimental band played for the dancing, a big im¬provement on the local Italian band.


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