- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Stanley Tann
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- Contributed on:
- 29 October 2004
I volunteered like an idiot in 1942, when I was 18, just before I would have been called up anyway. I joined the Royal Norfolk Regiment, and was sent overseas in October 1943. I landed in Italy, where I was transferred to the 1st Battalion the Royal Sussex Regiment. They were serving as part of the 7th Indian Infantry Brigade, 4th Indian Division.
We fought at Cassino. I genuinely can’t remember all the details. It’s as though the brain has shut them off. Although the detail is gone, the experience never leaves you, and I am still haunted by strange fears. I always get up as soon as I wake. If I lie in bed, the memories start coming back.
Cassino was a real hell. It was so well defended they should have just gone round it in the first place, as we eventually did when we got through the Gothic line. The Germans had thought no one could get through, the terrain was so mountainous, but the Indians could. When you are there, you don’t see the whole picture. You only see what is around you. It’s very difficult to remember the exactitudes.
I was a wireless operator, and initially I was with the mortar platoon, shouting out the orders. In the evening we would sit around and sing. I remember one particular number we sang “Meet me in my dreams tonight”, but I’ve never managed to find the words or music since.
Although we were issued with shovels to dig in with, they were useless. When incoming fire started, there was no time to dig in, you just got as flat as possible and hoped for the best.
I can remember the fields of peaches. They looked great, but you daren’t go and get them in case the Germans had booby trapped them. They did that sort of thing. We were in a farmhouse once, and there was a large calibre bullet left on the table. But again, we daren’t go near it in case. However, on that occasion, we found underneath, a large vat of rather sour wine. We did manage to tuck into that with some rabbits that had been there. I can remember some of the lads shooting a sheep once to eat — it’s quite easy with a .303! I must say we were generally well fed. Supplies came up the mountain in boxes carried by mules, and as it was a battle, sometimes you went without. You could always tell though what was going to happen, by the food. We always had jam doughnuts as an extra just before we were sent into battle!!
Some of the food was rough though. We had tins of Maconochie stew which I later found out were made at the co-op canning factory here in Lowestoft! This stuff was ghastly. You can imagine opening it and seeing the congealed fat of top. I remember once I just looked at a tin and got indigestion. Honestly! I still hate stew today. I suppose this stuff might have been alright when heated up, but we had nothing to heat it with, and had to eat it cold.
On another occasion, some bad meat had gone up the lien to the forward troops. It had given them diahorreah. You could see the location of all the forward positions by the rows of pants hung out to clean!
When we came out of the line we went to Taranto before being sent to Greece. I have mentioned that I was a wireless operator, well there were two of us who did it together. One would carry the radio, the other the spare battery and the Thompson, and we would swap over every now and then. We were staying in a farmhouse at Taranto for a couple of weeks. I was asleep one day, and my comrade was next door. Something hit the window, either a bullet or something, and he was killed. Some years later I went to Chichester, the home of the regiment. In the Cathedral I saw a book of remembrance, and asked the verger if they could find the page my friend was mentioned on. They very kindly did, and said they would leave that page open all day for me. I found his name. The very next entry was his brother, killed in the Far East. You just don’t realise the extent of the tragedy.
After this we were sent to Greece. We had to do an amphibious landing. The craft, being flat bottomed were rolling all over the place. I remember we were transferred to an MTB. Not much fun climbing down a scramble net with a radio on your back! Anyway, I decided that as it was a nice day, I would sit right at the front. They went at a hell of a lick! I was frozen near to death, and could barely move to get off!
When we did get onto the beach there was no welcome. The Germans had gone, and the locals didn’t want us there. I remember we had to unload the supplies. Some of the tea crates accidentally got dropped on the corners and broke — so we had extra supplies to ourselves.
One of the lads went mad while we were in Greece. He was a parsons son by the name of Lancaster. Everyone called him “Bomber” — you all had nicknames then. One day he phoned up the CSM to say that he was taking over the Battalion. The CSM came up and had a go at Lance Cpl Goodchild who was always pulling these kind of pranks. He had to point out that it had been Bomber. They were very kind and looked after him. As far as I know he was taken to hospital in Salonika. It must have been delayed shell shock.
We were moved up to the mountains near Bulgaria, as much to keep an eye on the Russians as anything. It was very cold up there. We were staying in some old Italian barracks, and found a massive old German stove. It was very difficult thought to find fuel. We did though realise that no-one appeared to be using the network of telegraph poles that ran up to the border. So we used to go out and undertake our morning “inspection of the lines”. In the end, we had cut them all down for fuel. Then the warning came from HQ that Partisans were active in the area. There was a huge panic on. The Partisans had been cutting down al the telegraph poles!!
In fact, there was one left. Right in the middle of the camp. Well, how could we resist it? One dark and wet night we went and cut it down. The rain covered the noise of the saw, and none of the sentries saw anything. We hurriedly cut it up. And do you know what? No one ever noticed that the pole had gone!
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