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15 October 2014
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by Franc Colombo

Contributed by 
Franc Colombo
People in story: 
Ronald Colombo
Location of story: 
England and Scotland
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
08 June 2004


When we got ashore we were met by nurses and volunteer women who made a fuss of us then took us to a big marquee given tea and sandwiches then to a room where our pay book was checked then given travel warrants and told to report to our depot. I arrived at Hounslow in the evening, after settling down I phoned my father to say that I was safe he was pleased to hear from me because by that time he heard the news of the evacuation, in due course the remainder of the battalion arrived, I learnt that quite a few were killed, wounded or missing, fortunately my friends where O.K, finally I met up with my officer and he wanted to know what happened to me. Soon as we were refitted we were posted on the Isle of Wight, we were expecting the Germans to invade, we had few weapons one rifle between two men some just had pitch folks or pick handles, bit by bit we received new weapons, by this time the battle of Britain started, we heard that London and other cities were being bombed, we had our share one bomb dropping on the cook house causing many casualties, luckily it was not meal time.

Our next move was back on the mainland doing training and route marches of twenty miles. I was due to go on leave but before going I had to see the company commander who told me that being Italy declared war on England and being that I came from an Italian family there was the possibility that if I was captured I could be shot therefore I could transfer to a non combat unit I told him that England was my country. When I got home I told my father about it and he told me that I should fight for my country, he also told me that Bastiano and Armando had been interned and he was trying to get them released.

Armando was interned because his mother Fernanda never liked England and sent him to an Italian school and was registered as a fascist. I remember one time when I visited Jinnie and fernanda was there and she said that she could not understand how I could go and fight against the Italians, I told her that they declared war on my country and if I came up against them so be it.

When I went round London I saw the destruction the bombers made, where houses and shops stood there was just a gap and rubble, fortunately round Edgware road they had no damage. In the evening I would visit my friends and we would go to the west end, for a drink it was strange to see so many uniforms and nationalities, many times we had to take shelter because of the raids. While I was on leave I contacted the red cross to see if I could get a message to Tinuccia, I was able to send a card to say that I was well, later we were able to correspond more frequent. Shortly after returning from leave we moved to Newbury, we were billeted on the racecourse just on the edge of town which suited everybody, Newbury was a friendly town and had quite a few places for entertainment.

While we were there Capt. Hill told me that he was being posted to another battalion and would I go with him, I told him that I had applied for a transfer to the airborne division and therefore I would not join him. On the 13th Dec. 1941 we went to Invarery Scotland for combined operation training, we had to live on board a ship in the middle of the lake and sleep in hammocks, we had some fun trying to swing into them but we soon got the hang of it, then we had to learn how to scramble up and down the side of the ship by a rope ladder into an assault craft, in the beginning we found it hard going but after a few times we were going up and down like monkeys. The exercise was landing on the beaches.

We had Christmas dinner with a pint of beer on the ship the rest of the day was our own. The following day the C. O. thought it would be a good idea that after all that food and drink we consumed the previous day we should sweat it out, so we were put ashore by platoons and do a thirty miles march finishing going up a steep hill which terminated on top of a cliff and scrambling down a rope and back to the ship . When our training was over we returned to Newbury, by this time I was receiving letters from Tinuccia, few and far between but at least I knew she was alright and that the feeling for each other was the same, in her letter she told me that one of her cousins had gone to Tunis and that she gave her some letters for me and that if ever I was there I could pick them up.

Our next move was to Camberly, in between manoeuvres we had a visit by King George the VI. I remember that it was a very cold day and light snow on the ground, it was decided that he would come and see us doing training in a field, our company was chosen to do physical training, we arrived at the field in our greatcoats an hour before he was due. When he showed up we removed our greatcoats and just in shorts and vest started to do P.T. when he saw us apparently he was annoyed and told the officers that we should return to our billets given a hot drink and a rum ration.

In April 1942 we were on the move again back to Scotland but this time we were going to walk, we were supposed to be chasing a retreating enemy, we did 130 miles in seven days. We arrived at Stops camp 5 miles outside the border town of Hawick. Contrary to the reputation that the Scots were mean we found them to be the most generous and kind hearted people we ever met, the hospitality of the habitants of Hawick was overwhelming, every man had a household to which he could go when he was in town and be sure of a meal, my friend Frank Vincent and I were taken in by mr. and mrs Nayler and treated as their sons.

Soon after settling down the anti tank platoon was formed I asked to be transfer to it because I was in it when we were in Shornecliff, soon after I was promoted to lance corporal. The training was hard but we were fit, one part was that with my section of 7 men we were taken in the glens miles from anywhere and had to live on the land for 48 hours making our way back to camp using a compass, in the morning we stopped at a farm to ask for some water to make tea, the farmers wife asked us what we had been doing, we told her that we had been out all night she invited us in and gave us a full breakfast and sandwiches to take with us, we finally arrived back in camp, we were not the first but we were not the last.

By this time I was made full corporal in charge of a gun, then came news that we were going on embarkation leave, the train to London did not leave till midnight Mrs Naylor insisted that Frank and I would have dinner with them and made us sandwiches for the journey, the train was packed and we had to sit in the corridor all night. Finely I arrived home and I was told that with fathers intervention Basil and Armando were released from interment. Soon after Armando was called to join the army. I visited all the family because I knew that it would be a long time before I would see them again, I shut it out of my mind that I might never return.

Then I visited my friends and as luck would have it they were also on leave therefore it was an occasion for a celebration and going to the West End and having a good time, one night we went to see Gone with the Wind, it was the rage then. All to soon leave came to an end I told father that it would be sometime before I would see him again, so I returned to Stobs Camp. We learned that we were moving out in a few days, Frank and I went into Hawick to say our farewells to the Naylers, they were sorry to see us go and wished us luck and a safe return.

The following night 9th of March we marched to the station and boarded the train for Liverpool the port of embarkation.
We went on board and taken to our allotted space, it was cramped but we soon sorted ourselves out and we had our old friend the hammock, then with Polly and some other chaps went on deck to have a look round saw some other ships which would make up the convoy. Our ship was the S.S. Cuba a French ship. The following we were shown our boat stations and boat drill.

Two days later we set sail and taking our position in the convoy. In the bay of Biscay I found it difficult moving around and I was seasick but it soon passed and I got my sea legs, it felt strange because I could move around without feeling the lurching of the ship. The days passed with P.T. lectures boat drills and other activities, several times we had air raids, guns going off every where then we went though the Strait of Gibralter and into the Mediteranian, then one day we were attacked by submarines, they managed to sink two ships, one was a troop ship the Winsor Castle, we were at our boat station and saw her sinking, the destroyers chasing every where dropping depth charges then picking up survivors. The following day we sighted Algiers, it was impressive with its white tall buildings, it looked nice till we landed.

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