- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Levi Dicken
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- Contributed on:
- 02 February 2005
At the outbreak of the war I was nearly 20 years old having been born in 1920 in Regent Street, Church Gresley, South Derbyshire. By April 1940 I was driving for a local transport firm when my bosses received notice from the War Ministry that they required a lorry and driver for military duties. As the firm’s youngest driver I was told to report to an address in Sheffield and on arrival I found out that I had been sent to a searchlight battery unit.
I was billeted with them so I experienced my first “taste” of Army life. My job was moving searchlights around Sheffield to different locations. I was with this unit until I received my official call-up papers and told to report to Alfreton in Derbyshire on 6th June 1940.
The British Army Expeditionary Force was busy evacuating from Dunkirk in France at this time.
My brother had been called up before me so my Mother had “lost” the two of us to the Army but this must have been a common occurrence in those days.
After over 2 years we were put on a train to Gurrock in Scotland, where we boarded a ship called the Narcunda. No one knew where we were bound but after a few days at sea rumours abounded that we were heading for America.
After a corvette and destroyer came around us and dropped a few depth charges and we apparently altered course, we arrived off the coast of what we later found out to be Algiers, North Africa.
The lorries we drove had been on the invasion convoy prior to our arrival, so as soon as we were organised we began working loading and unloading ships with war supplies.
After a while we moved up the coast to places called Bougie, Phillipville, Bone, Tunis, Sousse and Sphax doing similar work.
We met the British 8th Army as they came out of the desert. It was a sight I will never forget —convoys of sandy coloured and camouflaged vehicles, and utter chaos.
Eventually we sailed from Bizerta, the sea was like a mill pond and the next thing we saw was the volcano Vesuvius and we knew we were getting near Naples.
On arrival in Naples we began unloading as before and passed through Rome and went to Livorno, where we carried goods to Florence for cold storage.
Crossing Italy we went to Rimmini on the Adriatic, then to Bologna where the first good thing happened regarding the war. It was to turn out to be the beginning of the most important event of my life!
Two Army mates and I were walking in the Margarita Gardens when we saw three young ladies walking just in front of us. It was the middle one of the trio that “took my eye” (never gave the other two a second glance) and after a short introduction we began meeting whenever possible until we as a unit, moved back to Rimmini. Her name was Nella Fidalma Zangerini and she eventually became Mrs Nella Fidalma Dicken.
This was a very rare occurrence - moving back to a place we had left.
While in Rimmini we kept in touch with each other and discussed getting married.
I saw the Officer Commanding of my company and explained the situation. He said that he should send me away to another unit but thought I was now far enough away, not realising that while I was travelling in my lorry on driving duties I passed through Bologna and so managed to see my future wife.
After some time my unit moved back to Bologna and with the end of the war we began making plans for our wedding as we realised just how much we meant to each other.
While seeing the head of the Catholic Church in Bologna we ran into the first obstacle. I am a Methodist by religion while the wife was Catholic but that was sorted out, but permission to marry seemed to be taking an awful long time and in the end my fiancée informed the Church authorities that if we did not obtain permission to marry soon she would marry in a Protestant Church. The worry was that I was due to come home at any time but after a lot of hand and arm waiving by a priest we married in the Catholic Church about three weeks before I came home on de-mob.
Having had a marvellous reception and becoming one of my wife’s family, who could not have done more to welcome me, I returned home on my own to lorry driving.
Between September — October time I was in London and my lorry broke down so it was late in the day when I set off for home in South Derbyshire.
When I arrived home I had a wonderful surprise to see my wife there as I had no idea she was coming as I had left her behind in Italy awaiting permission with a lot more Italian girls to come to England.
Language was a bit of a difficulty with my family but they made up for it with their support. My wife’s brother came over here too. He had been a prisoner in Germany and managed to find a job at J. Woodwards then driving a milk lorry for Northern Dairies.
He met and married a girl from Woodville and they had a baby boy called Robert. They eventually returned to Italy and as Robert grew up he was determined to become a civil airline pilot. Robert succeeded and now works for Alitalia - the Italian national airline, and flies all over the world.
Tragically my wife Nella and brother-in-law have passed away but I have a lovely daughter and two grand children, a sister-in-law in Italy, nephew and cousins, lots of friends here and a host of memories of a generous and warm hearted people.
My wife Nella and myself had 56 years together.
My wife lost two brothers in the First World War, fighting for the Allies and a brother-in-law who was taken away by the fascists prior to the second world and never seen again. She was a person who made friends wherever she went and I would not have wanted to change my life.
This is my story, about ordinary people of a generation born just before, during or shortly after the 1939-45 war.
There is a lot more I could say about my life but the most important thing I have said is about meeting my wife Nella Fidalma Zangarini.
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