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DONALD DELVES' WAR - NORTH AFRICA TO ITALY

by cornwallcsv

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Archive List > World > Italy

Contributed by 
cornwallcsv
People in story: 
Donald Delves
Location of story: 
Bizerta, North Africa; Salerno & Cassino, Italy.
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A8463404
Contributed on: 
12 January 2006

This story has been added by CSV volunteer Linda Clark on behalf of the author Donald Delves. They both understand the site's terms and conditions.

My first encounter of facing the enemy started at Bizerta, North Africa and it was here that we would leave to invade Italy. We were on an LST American Sea Transporter and at the time we had no knowledge of the invasion that we would be taking part in.

The Americans had opened the large doors of the bows of the LST and had attached ropes which they lowered down so that we could swing out of the ship and drop into the sea 'Tarzan' fashion. It was quite a happy occasion for us to swing out of the ship and drop into the sea because the water was not cold and had a warm temperature.

We were all enjoying this but little did we know that in the next few days we would be fighting on the Italian mainland. It didn't enter our minds that some of us would be wounded and killed.

Soon we were out at sea and an announcement was made to us all that we would be invading Italy. Naturally we all thought of this as being just another battle which we would take in our stride. We were in the middle of the Bay of Salerno and moving quite close to the shore. As we approached the beaches the shell fire was getting gradually louder. Our invasion craft started to get ashore and it seemed as though all Hell was let loose. We now began to think more seriously about the situation and realised that the Germans had been waiting for us and to make the situation worse Kesselring had brought down his best divisions of experienced fighting men. We now knew that this was not going to be a little walk over with the machine guns firing, the mortars falling and the shells hitting some of their targets.

Our LST was just about to reach the shore when there was a terrific explosion and a mine had blown a huge hole in the side of the ship I was blown beneath an Anti Tank Gun Vehicle which trapped both my legs and the right knee was under such pressure from the vehicle that I could not move it at all. The wheels at the front of the vehicle were blown off which helped to prevent the pressure from getting worse on my right leg. Had the vehicle come down further it would have crushed my legs to the extent that they could easily have been cut off. The water was now coming up because the ship was beginning to sink but fortunately the ship didn't sink. I could see an arm above me which seemed to be from the crews' sleeping quarters and it was quite obvious from the amount of blood running off the arm that the soldier or sailor was dead. I remember my dad saying 'don't join the navy' because our family had had such bad luck. In the past, my Grandad was drowned on HMS Serpent and now I thought that I might also be drowned if the LST went down with me trapped by my leg. Fortunately they lifted the vehicle enough to drag me out and the LST, which despite listing, didn't go down so I struggled ashore with my badly swollen knee.

I didn't want to be evacuated as I would lose all of my army friends who I had been with since my training at the Oxford Infantry Training Centre. We were pinned down for the next 7 days so I didn't have to use my right leg as much as I would normally have done but after we did advance; my knee was very painful for several weeks. Later I was wounded again in both legs with shrapnel which caused more pain but being young; I suppose it didn't stop my fighting ability. Lots of our Regiment sustained far worse injuries and needed attention from our medical orderlies. I now think back on the happy days at Bizerta, North Africa and how for some it was their last days of enjoyment. I sometimes wonder if I did the right thing when I volunteered at the young age of 18 as now, 60 years later, I have continuous pain and difficulty in walking. The reason I think this way is that some who were not so badly injured and whose ability to walk was not affected have been awarded some sort of pension whilst I was refused one. Three Redruth doctors all think this is wrong.

One thousand seven hundred and fifty eight British soldiers are buried in the Italian cemetery in Salerno so this gives some idea of the very fierce fighting that took place there. Also buried at Salerno were thirty Canadians, twelve Australians, thirty five Indians, some New Zealanders and some British Africans. The war cemetery at Cassino, in the Gustav line, stretched from the river Garigliano in the west to the Sangro River in the east. It has four thousand, two hundred and sixty six Commonwealth servicemen buried there, two hundred and eighty four of whom are not identified. Cassino, about 139 kilometres from Rome, saw some of the fiercest battles during the Italian Campaign and these took place in the early months of 1944. It was eventually taken on the 18th May 1944.

Another cemetery is at Anzio and that has two thousand, two hundred British, seventy Canadian, twenty five South African and some Australian soldiers buried there.

Forty nine thousand, two hundred and sixty one members of the Commonwealth forces lost their lives in Italy and four thousand and fifty four of them are named on the Memorial at Cassino. The memorial can be found about halfway between Naples and Rome.

The Hampshire Regiment which is now the Royal Hampshire Regiment was given the use of a small church in Salerno and on one wall, with the angels, is a large plaque with the following verse:

HERE LIE WE BECAUSE WE DID NOT CHOOSE TO LIVE AND SHAME THE LAND FROM WHICH WE SPRANG
LIFE TO BE SURE IS NOTHING MUCH TO LOOSE BUT YOUNG MEN THINK IT IS AND WE WERE YOUNG.

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