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Harry Blood's War Part 6: Voyage to Salerno in Italy, 1943icon for Recommended story

by Stockport Libraries

Contributed by 
Stockport Libraries
People in story: 
Harry Blood
Location of story: 
Malta; Sicily; Salerno, Italy
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A2776601
Contributed on: 
24 June 2004

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Elizabeth Perez of Stockport Libraries on behalf of Mary Blood, Harry’s widow, and has been added to the site with her permission. She fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.

From his call-up into the Army in January 1941 until his ‘demob’, Harry Blood kept a diary. It followed his early progress from Glasgow to Egypt, around the Cape of Good Hope, through the Western Desert to Sicily and Italy. Near the end of his service and his diaries, he had a chance meeting with W.A.A.F. Corporal Mary Pettit at a tram stop in Brussels. Not lacking in graphic and humourous descriptions, there came a happy ending as he and Mary married not long after, having a long and happy marriage. Only minimal editing has been done to exclude one or two brief entries which contained little of interest.

Fred Kennington
Stockport
March 2002.

"15th September 1943. Kit being checked ready to move.

Thursday 16th September. Left Suez with ‘B’ Advance Stationery Depot. Lorry to Tewfik; 2.30pm train to Ismailia, then train to Tel el Kebir. 11pm train for Amiriya, arriving about 6.30am next day. It is an enormous camp here, there are thousands of soldiers and most of them, like us, seem to be heading for an unknown destination. There are row after row of tents at Amiriya, all looking identical. Would hate to get lost here!

18th September. We were wakened about 3am to board lorries which took us into Alexandria, where we eventually boarded the ‘Neuralia’. Sailed about 6am the following morning, seeing the last of Egypt. We are going in the right direction anyway!

20th September. Tonight everyone on board seems to be suffering from dysentery – there is a shortage of toilets, and the decks are literally swimming with it. Horribly unpleasant. I only had medicine, but Paddy Young is in hospital with it. One or two of the lads, who did go into hospital with it, were not seen again and we never found out whether or not they recovered. I had to go to sick quarters on board. Whoever it was in front of me in the queue knew me. When he got to see the M.O., the latter asked him, ‘Have you passed blood?’ ‘Yes, he’s outside waiting to see you’. That was in all innocence! - and it’s true! So much for the Nile, the Bitter Lakes and the Sweet Water Canal! In sight of land most of the morning. We are following the Libyan coast and wonder if we are heading for Sicily. Sleeping on deck each night.

23rd September. In the afternoon we sighted land on the port side, passed one large harbour, and are getting striking views of Malta with the setting sun behind it, and a light haze over the land. Docked in Valetta Harbour in the dusk. I can see an ancient fort part Greek and part Moorish, and over on the left an imposing building from which the flag is flying – probably the Government House. There is a battleship just outside the harbour. I should imagine Malta is a typical example of a medieval fortress. When we were approaching the coast this afternoon I was struck by its likeness to parts of the English coast. The sea has been very smooth today.

24th September. I’m acting as Mess Orderly today. Jim Hurst and Charles Hartley are in hospital. There are the battleships ‘Rodney’ and ‘Nelson’ here and three cruisers; a great many ‘Gondolas’ – like large, long rowing boats with upward sweeps at both ends. There are ferries crossing the harbour and an unusual thing is the number of cross-handed rowing boats. A very fine harbour indeed. I think I can see the city wall. There has been a lot of guessing this morning as to our destination and the present order of betting is:- 1. Taranto 2. Syracuse 3. Messina 4. Catania
5. Sardinia. But this afternoon after having a talk with one of the sailors we changed the order to:- 1. Syracuse 2. Catania 3. Messina 4. Taranto with the rest nowhere.
We sailed about 6pm in a very large convoy, about twenty-two ships and five destroyers. We are passing through a long line of buoys, which probably mark the channel through a minefield. Tonight there is a golden streak sunset in a blue sky. It is 7.15 pm and I can still see the lights from the land. The convoy has kept in almost single file through the line of buoys.

25th September. It is 6.30am and the coast of Sicily is on the port bow. 8.30am, John Burling and I were standing on the top deck watching the Sicilian coastline and looking for Mount Etna, when suddenly we both gasped as straight ahead we saw its summit appearing to be suspended in the clouds! We had been looking in the wrong place, being used only to British mountains – the highest being mostly not much more than 3,000 feet, whereas Etna is about 10,700 feet and we were, of course, at sea level. The sight of its shining summit up in the clouds will always remain one of our great moments.
Saw Catania in the distance and we can see a town at the foot of Mount Etna, but we are continuing along the coast. Saw several towns before Messina. Hospital ship in the distance. The convoy appeared to get up to thirty-six ships at one time, but some broke off for Catania. The mountain range appears to extend right along to Messina.
Sighted Italy and soon afterwards entered Messina Straits. Sicily is now in a haze and this part looks rather barren.
San Giovanni and Reggio di Calabria are among the places I spotted on the toe of Italy as we passed through the Straits. Saw the red roofs of Messina, which seems set rather low as if built on a sandbank. Saw, too, the small ferry which links Messina with the mainland.
This evening all our destination betting has gone bang. There is a red sunset and in the dim distance I can see Stromboli, the volcano in the Lipari Islands.

26th September. We are following the Italian coast on our starboard (right hand side) which, all morning, has been almost hidden by the mist. Two large landing barges and three naval escorts joined the convoy then broke off again. I was surprised when the barges returned empty. In the afternoon we sailed into the Bay of Salerno, spotting Capri in the distance beyond the headland and we dropped anchor off the shore. There is a lot of activity this afternoon – too much for comfort!
Later our ship changed position, going into the shelter of the cliffs on the north side of the bay, near Amalfi.
In the dusk we clambered down the side of the ship on a rope ladder into the loading barges. We had been allowed to throw kitbags down to the barge, but had the rest of our equipment, and rifles, hanging round us. What with the ship and the barge going up and down, bumping together then going apart, and the rope ladder all over the place, I was very relieved to get on that barge. Our barge made its way slowly to the Salerno Quayside, by which time it was pitch dark and pouring down in torrents.
We disembarked and after much hanging about we straggled through the streets eventually reaching a theatre. In it we slept on a marble floor with one blanket each, and nothing to eat! Since nightfall there has been a lot of shelling going on across the harbour and this kept on for much of the night.
On arrival our Captain went to the Town Major to report that 862 Advanced Stationery Depot had arrived. He said to the Captain, ‘Paper is the last thing we want at the moment’. The Captain’s comment was, ‘It’s OK, we haven’t got any!’

27th September. Felt very cold and stiff when I woke this morning. Went outside the theatre, hanging about in the square all morning and well into the afternoon waiting for the Captain to turn up with the rear party and the food. The Italians seem very short of food. Many children and old people came up to us begging for biscuits, but there are plenty of grapes for sale and they were all we had to eat until well into the afternoon. Eventually we were told to walk to the house, which was to be our billet. Having chosen our rooms, we set to cleaning them, then the stairs and then a room for the cookhouse. It was a big job as a bomb had fallen on the house next door, and there was plaster all over the place. It had to be finished before dark as all the electricity was off.

28th September. As we have no stores so far there is very little work for us. Each morning we cleaned the billets, then we are free to spend the rest of the day walking round Salerno. Of course we have to wash our own clothing, and the water for cooking and drinking has to be carried from Army water carts parked at fixed places, and at certain times, in the town. Occasionally having run out of water, we got it from two wells used by the Italians. This was not allowed officially. One day, feeling lazy, I suppose, we hired a gharry (a horse drawn open cab), loaded it with empty cans, five of us crowded on to the running boards, and drove to the well. After filling the cans we loaded them back on again, much to the annoyance of the driver. With the full cans and the five of us, the gharry looked very unsteady. The driver refused to do more than crawl on the way back. Most of us got off and walked! One good thing we have found here is that there are a few cafes and private houses where we can get meals like eggs and chips and there is some good wine.

4th October. Had a long walk today with two of my friends, John Burling and Tommy Cousins, reaching a spot on the hillside with a fine view of Salerno Bay, the town and the hills beyond. Sorry I hadn’t got a roll of film. Fruit is plentiful and cheap – a large bunch of grapes costs only 1/-. We are buying many bargains to send to wives and families. I bought two pairs of ladies’ stockings for 11/-.

8th October. We are now working in the Army Post Office sorting mail and carrying bags of it sometimes.

9th October. Our water supply is on now in the billet, saving us – and the gharry -a lot of trouble.

10th October. Now the electricity is on as well, so we can put the remains of our candles away – for the time being.

11th October. I spent all morning at the M.I. Room. A little spot I had on my arm has grown into a large open sore which the M.O. calls a boil. Bathed in hot water, etc., and C.S.M. Shapland – of drill parade fame – spent much time squeezing out the contents – a delayed action ‘desert sore’, they say!

12th October. To the M.I.Room again for more hot foments. Went to a civilian barbers and treated myself to the luxury of a shampoo."

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