- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Bill Barwick
- Location of story:
- Background to story:
- Royal Air Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 06 November 2003
And so we lost Captain Carr. Awarded a D F C and given command of ‘A’ flight. A start on the promotion ladder, which he thoroughly deserved. We as a section were pleased to see him promoted, but were certainly going to miss him. I think it was his dry humour, which I liked about the bloke. He decided once that Geordie Lauchlan was getting overstressed. He was prone to it I think. And one morning told him to report sick as he had arranged it with the M O. Geordie was sent back to Naples where he was found a tented billet where he could get his food as he wanted it and then let loose in Naples to wind down. He had a hell of a time he told us later, but when he came back to us he looked like a man who had been let loose in Naples, as he walked to the back of the truck
‘I think you will have to lift Lauchlan into the truck Barwick,’ The Captain said and it did look as if I might have to. A week in the sex spots of Naples may have done something for his stress levels, but not much for his physical condition.
One of the small things, which I think illustrates the section’s opinion of Captain Carr, was what happened when one morning he remarked how nice it was to have marmalade on his toast. It was something which came along occasionaly and without anybody saying anything, from there on the section did not eat marmalade. It was reserved for The Captain. We had to keep quiet about it because if he’d found out that we went without so he could have it, he would have read the riot act to us about rations being every man’s entitlement and not to be reserved for officers.
When I first went into his section somebody warned me that he was a bit regimental. Perhaps he was, but I can not remember him ever barking an order at anybody. If he wanted something done he would say something like.
‘Can we had the aircraft ready for a dawn take off in the morning chaps, .please’ And this would start off a conspiracy among us to get up early enough to have a cuppa ready for him before he woke up. It never worked, he was always awake and ready, but we tried.
He once accused me of being the worst soldier he’d ever seen, which was fair enough I was never a soldier and was probably doing something which was getting a laugh out of them, including him. I explained that he wouldn’t want some thick guardsman monkeying about with that engine he flies behind and he agreed with that.
A born soldier, he came of an army family, he was bred to be a gunner. I used to reckon that when Claudious invaded England in 42 A D there was a Centurion Carr commanding a battery of Catapults.
Well he left us and we had a new officer. Captain Creswell. Yes it was spelled with one ‘S’. As usual we wondered how we would get on with him. His old section rigger Davy Mc Alpine told us once long before, that he had to be watched
‘In Africa,’ Davy said, ’he’d climbed into the back of the truck with a German mine which he proceeded to dismantle.’ At this point there had been a rapid exodus of section members, who watched the truck with some trepidation until he appeared at the door and called to Davy. Handed him the reassembled mine to put back on the pile from whence it came.
‘Is it safe now Sir?’ Davy asked. To be told.
‘No Mc Alpine, it’s just as I found it.’
‘Smashing bloke, but you have to watch him,’ was Davie’s assessment of him. Davy was killed later in the torpedo incident.
At this point we also lost Mac Mc Kenzie as Captain Creswell brought his own batman, Ken Cousins. The section was now Lauchlan, Barwick the airmen. Affleck and Cousins the gunners and The Captain.
One of the rumours, which came with Captain Creswell was that he was the second son of a Lord, but he never mentioned it. He settled in immediately. Probably because he had a huge wealth of experience behind him and considerable diplomatic skill. He had been seconded to General Mark Clark’s headquarters in Africa as the squadron liaison officer. A job which he had not enjoyed and it had not endeared him to The Americans. He told us that one morning the general had appeared in a bad mood which had not left him until some of his officers had gathered around him to sing happy birthday. Captain Creswell had been in the retreat from France, in the war in Africa and Sicily and on the same boat as me at Salerno. War was a serious business, not a game for children.
Probably because of his diplomatic skills he was sometimes taken away from the section to go on liaison jobs and that was probably why we often had another Captain with us. Often Captain Hatfield. Both these officers were great people to work with
We soon settled in as a unit. All of us were experienced and knew our jobs. As the weather got better the whole front moved forward to where it was blocked by the mountain feature with the monastery on top, which became famous or was it infamous as the Monastery of Casino.
At first it was a mainly American operation, but it soon bogged down. We worked as we had often done with Second Army Group Royal Artillery ‘Agra’ and were still in Tenth Corp. When it became obvious that no progress was being made we settled down to routine shelling of the place in support of whoever was in the front line. As they were rotated.
I suppose the army was waiting for the weather to get everything in place and as it improved we managed a few days rest and a four day break at Salerno. I can not remember where we left the section, but I think Jimmy Affleck and Captain Hatfield carried on. Geordie and me went to the holiday billets at Salerno. The Captain to Amalfi with Ken Cousins .
Somehow I persuaded Geordie that there were other things to do on leave than fighting in brothels. And around the second day we decided to go in with the Mech and Rigger of another section, who were doing as we were. That it would be a good idea to take our officers out for a day. We organized a boat trip to the Isle of Capri. It had to be good there, because it was reserved for Americans only.
We found a boatman ‘Tony’, booked him and sent a message to our two officers to be at the quay at Eight the next morning. All was going to be O K, until we got down to the Quayside next morning to see Tony in his boat being talked to by a group of Subalterns. We naturally assumed that he was telling them that the boat was already booked. Which he was, but this was not going down too well with them. They were insisting that they wanted the thing.
‘Everything alright Tony?’ I asked
‘These gentlemen say they are taking the boat,’ he answered.
‘Ah, but we booked it didn’t we,’ I said.
At this point one of the subalterns put his oar in.
‘We shall take it,’ he announced.
At this point I could see the back of Geordie’s neck going red. This was bad sign, a portent of much trouble and I knew it was time for some fast talking.
‘But we booked this boat yesterday Sir,’ I said to their spokesman, ‘so we have the booking of it for the day.’
‘But we want it and as officers we shall take it,’ he told me.
Things were now looking serious, Geordie had worked his way around the back of this bunch, I was keeping their attention and he was getting lined up to rush the lot of them into the Mediterranean. There were about six of them so it would have been about fair. Four for Geordie, two for me. The other two airmen were keeping out of it so far and things were about to move when Captain Creswell Barked
‘Barwick, Lauchlan. Attention.’ This held up the operation. I suppose he’d seen what was happening from the body language.
We came to attention and turned toward him. He had the other section officer with him.
‘Left turn quick march,’ he ordered and then when we were at a safe distance.
‘Halt. Right turn. Now,’ he demanded ‘What is going on here?’
‘We have booked that boat for the day Sir, but those subalterns are pulling rank on us to take it, I was opposing this,’ I said.
‘Right,’ he said, ’I’ll deal with it.’
We were left standing at attention whilst he went back to the group to talk to them until he called us back.
‘Now,’ he said, ‘It seems that you did book the boat, but it is quite big enough for all of us, I suggest that you invite these gentlemen along with us,’ With this he gave me a look which said
‘You’d better do this Barwick, or else.’ I put on my polite talking to officers face and said.
‘As Captain Creswell said gentlemen, “There is room for all of us” would you care to join us for the day?’
There were nods of approval and we all got into the boat. The officers sort of naturally went to the stern we Erks sat up front until we got to Capri and disembarked having agreed a time to meet again at the quayside in the evening.
We had a smashing day, looking round the island The Captain, Geordie and myself. We rode on the funicular railway, saw Gracie Field’s house and hired a rowing boat and rower to take us along the coast and into the famous blue grotto. We got some funny looks from Americans, which we ignored. They are funny people with weird ideas. Captain Creswell bought a meal, we some drinks. Altogether a treat. The whole party met up at the Quayside as arranged, full of their stories even the subalterns were joining in and taking the lead from our officers, who outranked them, chatting with us as they did.
Tony and his son got the engine going and away we went. We Erks up the front again, the officers exchanging notes on the day at the stern. Out we went heading south along the coast as the sun went down over the land and lights began to flicker in houses.
And then the engine stopped. A calm silence fell on the boat. I was sitting right over the engine on the deck. Below me Tony and his son rigged a light from a battery. Peace; it was lovely. Tony and Son rigged a sail which did nothing as there was no wind and went back down below to start winding away at the starting handle.
I settled down to await events. We’d had a good meal, a few drinks, the evening was cool, but not cold: there was plenty of time.
Then at the back of the boat I heard low, rather worried voices as the subalterns, began to get worried. After a bit they began to sound even a bit panicky. Captain Creswell and the other Captain were carrying on their normal conversation until he got a bit fed up with the whinging.
‘Barwick,’ he said, in a conversational sort of voice. ‘Go and start that engine,’
There was no if you can about it, or any shred of doubt about whether I could or not. It was a simple lesson to the subalterns, that if you have the right sort of blokes under you, you don’t have to worry about simple things like a stopped engine.
‘O K Sir,’ I said, as I dropped down into the engine compartment, closely followed by the other Mech. We pushed Tony and his son out of the way and started the usual checks. Fuel first, then a look at the plugs and no spark there sent us to the magneto where we found contact points which looked like they had been fitted by Noah. I scrounged matchboxes off somebody and sat for quite some time rescuing them. It took a bit, but eventually they were O K to go back in and we put them in. I by this time had began to suffer from sea sickness down in the engine compartment, but the other Mech stuck the plugs back in as I climbed back up to my perch.
‘Be O K now Sir I reported,’
‘Thank you Barwick.’ The Captain said, as Tony’s son cranked the engine into life. It was dark now as we chugged along, but I knew there would be a sly grin on Captain Creswell’s face. The officers asked Tony to put them in at Amalfi as we were going past and one of the subalterns had a moan at Tony about the condition of his boat. Quoting me as the expert who knew how old and worn out it was. A bit of a cheek I thought, considering that he was one of them who wanted to kick me and my gang off it in the first place, but that’s sprog officers. They were quite enthusiastic with their thanks to us, for what had been a wonderful day out. Perhaps they learned something from it.
Well it was back to the section, who for some reason had gone back to the flight landing ground. This caused another bit of trouble as we now had to parade as a flight for work duties and our section was a bit late. The Captain taking the parade saw us walking to the parade and bawled.
‘Double,’ at us.
‘Don’t hear him,’ Geordie said and we continued walking till we had to recognize that we could hear him and duly double onto the parade whereat this captain started a tirade about the section, which had not obeyed his order to Double
‘We didn’t hear you Sir,’ Geordie said.
‘Quiet on parade,’ he shouted.
‘We have a right to defend ourselves,’ we told him and he got more annoyed and told us we were on a charge for insubordination.
The next morning we went in front of Major Willet the C O. He knew what had happened and the charge was now only for being two minutes late on parade. And given seven days Jankers.
We did a couple of days of Jankers and were sent back to our regiment, a New Zealand twenty five pounder regiment which had got itself somewhere up in the mountains beyond Casino into a position where they could shell Jerry’s supply route. We started from the C flight strip at a place called Viticuso where we managed to get our photos taken with a photo reconnaissance camera, I borrowed a Sherman tank to pull the old Dodge through the gateway and The Captain somehow got hold of an American jeep. It had done all the front line service it was allowed to do with the Americans and they just handed it over to him as far as I could find out. It probably did more front line service with us than it had ever done with the Americans. I was sent with it to a REME unit to get a bigger battery and telescopic shockers fitted. Which took a couple of days.
Then we moved up to the regiment. For some reason we also had a motor bike and as usual this became mine.
The truck and jeep went off first and I waited until the captain was ready, swung the prop for him and saw him off. I was to follow till I found the unit sign, which they would put out for me.
It was not regarded as a particularly hazardous journey the hazardous bit had been the trip up to Viticuso, which took us right under the eyes of the monastery where road signs said.
‘Put your bloody foot down, Jerry can see you.’ And all that sort of thing and the road was being shelled regularly.
I set off along the road. It was typical mountain road driving, climbing twisting and driving down to hairpin bends on what was really only a dirt track. On my first trip on that road my map had been an air reconnaissance photo which looked a bit scary, but it was no worse than a lot of the roads in the mountains. I took the turn I knew I had to take and plodded on. The old B S A was a steady old bike and I suppose I got lulled into a false sense of security until I noticed that I was following a dirt road along the front of a row of twenty five pounders.
In front of that sort of gun meant that you was up close and it warned me that I now had to be careful, so I stopped in the village which I came to, stopped the engine and listened.
There is something about a dead village. You know there is nothing alive there. I never saw even a cat. It’s eerie, I did not want to stop there and being now about brainless, I carried on to the next village, getting more concerned all the time. I parked the bike and decided to look around on foot. I came to a low wall, which I could just see over, but had kept my head down so far, until I heard conversation which could only be from English blokes. I listened a minute till I was sure and then chanced it by putting my head up to see a group of Paratroops sitting around.
‘Any of you lot seen an airoplane around here?’ I asked and followed it up with.
‘And you can put them f**king things down,’ as I found myself looking down the business ends of half a dozen assorted guns.
‘No f**king airoplanes around here,’ one of them said, ‘plenty of f**king Jerrys if you want them just down there,’ he shrugged down the road out of the village.
‘No thanks,’ I said ‘I’ll go back the way I came thanks. To this day I regret that I didn’t hang about a few minutes to ask if they knew Edwin Harris. I’m almost sure they were his outfit.
I went back through the deserted village and crossed the open ground in front of the twenty five pounders and there was the section. They were parked and camouflaged down in the cover of an enormous massif. Which dominated the valley I’d crossed. I soon got filled in on the layout. The landing strip was more or less the dirt road I’d crossed the valley on. The New Zealand regiment we were working with held regular shelling competitions with some eighty eights along the valley, which made it a dangerous place to be.
Our spot was well hidden and almost unassailable, by the enemy, but the landing strip was right out in the open where it was vulnerable to our own guns as well as Jerry’s. The solid Massif, under which we sheltered, was held on the top and down to the valley by Gurkhas. There was nobody in the floor of the valley itself, it would have been too dangerous, but the Paras covered it from their side. I already knew that and the area to the north of us was sort of covered by French Goums.
These were a sort of freelance raider, who went off into the mountains with their horses, posh American equipment and as far as we knew their families and caused havoc. They were probably as much a danger to us as the enemy, but we didn’t see anything of them.
Right close to us was an Italian Alpine mule unit, which took supplies up to the Gurkhas and the water point of the Paras. A few houses clung to the side of the massif. Still occupied by a few Italians.
Almost every day a small gang of Americans with mules made their way through the village to the top and came down in the evening with two dead Americans in body bags on each mule. They stopped after a bit so I suppose they had taken them all. As was normal with Gurkhas we saw nothing of them. Captain Hatfield joined us there too and he in his usual manner got some of the officers from the New Zealanders in for a game of cards and some drink. Captain Hatfield used to pinch our beer if he got the chance, but we couldn’t say much because we pinched his whisky.
This was a busy place. Our officers flew a lot of the time and therefore knew the territory better than almost anybody. I think this is why they got quite a few jobs flying the top brass over the area. I know once we flew the army commander general McCreary around the place. And quite a few Brigadiers. The drill was to get them off and always have a brew of tea ready when they landed. They would sit in the back of the truck with their mugs talking over what they had seen and we were often in on some quite important battle plans.
I had a bit of a worry one day when Geordie looked across the valley along our strip and said.
‘What’s yon idiot doing Bill?’
‘I dunno ,’ I said, ‘looking for a posthumous medal I should think stopping there.’
‘He’s right on our runway,’ Geordie continued. ‘we’ve got to get him off that.’
‘O K’ I said ‘he’s looking under the bonnet, I’ll go and see what he’s doing.’ I sorted out a few tools and walked out to the truck where the driver was looking under the bonnet as if he didn’t know what to look at.’
‘This is no place to stop,’ I pointed out to him, ‘you are right on our runway, our planes can not take off while you are here, what’s wrong with the thing?’
‘It wont run,’ he told me.
‘Is it alright for petrol?’ I asked
‘Oh yes there’s plenty of petrol in it,’ he assured me.
‘Get in the cab and let me look,’ I told him and then started the usual checks. There was petrol there and I found a good spark, I even got a splutter from the engine, but it would not run so I started to strip the carb down.
‘Hey! only a qualified engine mechanic is allowed to take a carburetor to pieces,’ the driver said.
‘Look mate,’ I told him, ‘See that airoplane over there. Well I’m qualified to take the carburetor of that to bits if I feel it needs it and anytime now Jerry down the other end of this valley is going to see us here and blow us to hell. So keep out of my way and leave me to get this bloody thing running, O K?’ I don’t think the guy had any idea of the sort of place we were in. I had seen the shells landing all round this spot for some days.
The carb was full of muck. I cleaned it out, took the jets out and blew through them, put the thing together and told him to start it. It was running O K now so I told him to sod off quick and make sure he got clean petrol next time.
For a short time another section joined us, but they did not stay long. Air O P services were very much in demand as top brass realized their potential. The Paras across the valley complained that they got shelled every mealtime so The Captain put on a stooging flight while they ate. The Germans would still not fire or move while an Auster was in the air. We settled down, to lay on the shelling of the road which the enemy was using to supply his troops at Casino. This road was going to be hammered when the attack on the monastery came.
One morning Major Willet dropped in. This was not unusual, we just had to make sure there was a mug of tea ready for him. We got him to the parking place and asked the usual Question.
‘Everything O K Sir?’
‘Yes Barwick,’ he said, ‘Where is your telephone?’
‘In the truck Sir,’ I told him as he scurried to the truck where he saw the phone unit. The posh one, which I’d pinched at Salerno. Carefully he disconnected it and hung it over his shoulder. Murmuring something like.
‘I thought so.’ Somebody had thoughtlessly rung him and made his bell ring. From then on we knew if The C O was ringing because the bells rang. It was just as well that Geordie had pinched a spare.
Captain Creswell told us one day that the Americans had set up an open-air cinema a couple of miles down the road and that we should go and see a film. So we set off, Geordie and me, to find this open air cinema where you drove in and sat in your motor, jeep in our case and watched one of the latest Hollywood movies. It was very dark when it finished and we pulled out onto the road to see several Paras, some Gurkhas and New Zealanders walking back.
‘Jump on I yelled and we then had several bods sitting on the bonnet hanging on the sides and filling the back. From the driving seat I could see nothing and we drove along this mountain road with its precipitous corners with me steering from the instructions yelled at me by a Paratrooper sitting on the bonnet. There was a lot of laughing and shouting as we made good progress and bods dropped off when they got near their units. I forget the name of the film, but it was great evening out.
We still had the motorbike on the section and I used it a bit. I almost got shoved over a precipice by some sergeant in a jeep one day, which caused me to swear at him, but with all these thing going on, we still did a lot of work on the main job. Which was to get ready for the attack which would take the monastery and open the road to Rome. The bridge-head at Anzio had been opened and failed to open the road to Rome from that direction, but had left a lot of troops penned in there. Among these troops we found out was Jimmy Affleck’s brother. Jimmy had not seen him in years, so Captain Creswell told him to get in the plane one morning and flew out to sea to come back in at Anzio where Jimmy went to find his brother.
Then strange words appeared on the road signs. Words like Most Waski and Jakak Powowly I still have no idea what they meant other than that there were Polskis about. General Anders was taking up position. On the way from Flight H Q at Viticuso I picked one of them up and gave him a ride to the turn I had to take to Piantano. Then I had to chase him like hell in the jeep to catch him in the jeep he’d stopped to return a posh cane he’d left behind.
There were quite a few high-ranking officers to be flown over the front and special targets to be lined up. And then we got a time and date. As usual it was just two days to go before the barrage would open up and the Poles would go in. it was all ready.
The next morning I woke up feeling groggy. The M O from the New Zealand regiment came to look at me and said
‘Malaria I’ll send a jeep over to get him to hospital.’ I was distraught. All the work we’d done and I would be out of it when it all ‘happened, but I had no choice. The jeep arrived and I was taken to the field dressing station where I was told to lie on a stretcher in the tent. From the other end of the tent came the smell of breakfast and it reminded me that I had not had mine and I called to the bloke who was I suppose a nurse. They said I should be feeling too unwell to eat, but I assured them I was not and got my breakfast. Then they wanted a blood sample off me and one of them got a needle and started poking about on my thumb. Not wanting to die the death of a thousand pinpricks I took the needle off him jabbed it well in and got some blood running. They then tied a label on the stretcher which said
‘Tommy Airforce’ and I was loaded into an ambulance and carted away to the field hospital which was in the field out the back of Popo and Momo’s farm. Where the black Yanks had got killed when we lived there.
It was a proper field hospital with big marquees. I never found out how many. I was left on my stretcher under a mosquito net alongside other blokes. We had to get up to go to the loo, but I was still feeling a bit groggy and that evening just after dark the ward Sister came along with a doctor looking for me.
‘Oh he’s not asleep,’ she said, when she saw I had a fag on. ‘How do you feel?’
‘O K,’ I said.
‘Well you shouldn’t,’ she told me, ’You’ve got two types of Malaria, B T and M T.
‘How long will it keep me down?’ I asked.
‘You’ll be in bed for ten days and then there will be some recovery time.’ She told me.
‘I can’t be that long I have to get back to the unit,’ I explained thinking that once the front moved on I would never catch them, but I didn’t get much sympathy, I was just told to lie there and wait and that was that.
The next evening I lay quiet. I’d had a not very good day, on my way to the loo I’d passed the Mortuary where I’d seen a bod stretched out on the slab being got ready for burial and it hadn’t done much for my morale. I looked at my watch and then told the bloke on the stretcher next to me to lie quiet and listen. There was no mistaking the noise. Hundreds of guns opening up together was quite impressive.
‘What the hell was that?’ the bloke asked.
‘The monastery mate, the Poles go in, in two minutes,’ I told him. A few minutes later blokes appeared, we were all carted off into ambulances and driven to a sorting point in another big tent where we were sorted out, moved held and moved again for most of the night.
It was early morning when finally I found myself in a full Ambulance on the top bunk above an R A F pilot who had been shot down into the battle. He did not have anything to say. There were a couple of fifth div men. One of these had his left hand bandaged, but apart from that was O K. He sat right by me, so I asked him what had happened. He said he and his mate had got across the river Liri, which meant things were going well and then his mate walking in front of him had stepped on a mine and got blown to bits. Some shrapnel from the mine had gone into his left hand where he was holding his rifle. It had taken him all night to crawl back, but he was O K.
The soldiers were dropped off at some hospital and the pilot and myself were taken to number one general R A F hospital at Naples. I was well looked after at the hospital. I even managed to get my eyes tested and a prescription made out for glasses. My teeth looked at and all sorts of things. Baths, proper toilets. All the sort of things you get used to missing.
I was I think looked at with some suspicion as my clothes were not Air Force and I had army webbing and boots, but the nurses were great. I had to take a great stack of pills twice a day and had worked out a method of throwing them at the back of my throat and gulping them down. The nurse thought I had palmed them so I promised to take another lot to show her. Altogether a pleasant interlude, but I wanted to get back to The Captain and the gang.
They at this time were working on where the Malaria bug hid itself when it was not active and were taking samples of bone marrow from the sternum of all of us on the last day. One chap obviously scared asked the nurse if this was painful.
‘No it don’t hurt me a bit,’ she told him and we get big blokes to hold you down and wear earplugs to keep out the screams.’
When I was ready I asked when I got the corkscrew treatment. I always insisted they did it with a corkscrew. And was told they had stopped. I was almost disappointed. And then I was free. Told to go across the road to a transit camp and wait for transport back to my unit. I had ten days light duty and thought that this would probably be spent in this camp and that was not on, so I went to the back of the queue for an instant before rushing in a panic to the front where a sergeant was booking everybody in.
‘Sarge’ I called,’ book me out I’ve just stopped one of our trucks on the road back there. He’s waiting for me, the name’s Barwick look it’s there.’ I pointed my name out to him and he put a mark by it. ‘Thanks Sarge,’ I called, as I beat it for the road. Where I was in such a hurry I stopped a van which was going the wrong way. I crossed the road and stopped a Yank in a G M C truck.
‘Are you going to the front mate?’ I asked.
‘Almost,’ he said, ‘jump in’ and I was away.
I soon found myself in an area I knew and he was he said, near his drop point so I got out and stood by the roadside wondering where I would find 654 squadron when a jeep came along and of all the luck it was Major Willet
‘What are you doing Barwick?’ he asked.
‘You are just the bloke Sir,’ I told him, as I got in and then as we rode along I told my story. I ended by saying I was on light duties for seven days.
‘That’s alright Barwick, I’ll drop you at C flight H Q. Section 11 is still at Piantano, but C flight are due to move forward. Nothing was ever said about me absconding from the transit camp. Major Willet liked a bit of initiative from his blokes.
C flight was busy. I was not given a regular job, I just filled in where I could be useful, which was making dixies of tea. Not really light duties, but tea had to be made and everybody was busy. A couple of days later somebody was going out to C 11 section and away I went.
Captain Creswell wrote in his diary that he was glad to see me back. I think they had had a not very good mechanic whilst I was away and in a very small section of five men you need good team men. You can not carry a passenger.
And then were on the move. Attached to two field regiments in The Six South African Armoured Division. I had been away from the section for about a fortnight, which was pretty good considering I had been told I’d be ten days in bed.
Now with the regiments moving forward we had gone back to the road to Casino, right round the monastery. Which now looked a bit second hand, through Casino itself and along the road we had spent so much time shelling. We were following in the wake of the free Italian units, which had headed the push to Rome. These men were locals. We were told that as they went into the villages they were greeted by friends and family.
It was a long time afterwards that I realized that The Six South African Armoured division had been trained by the German Wehrmacht. They did Blitzkriegs. Not the same as the British, but it covers the ground we found out as they went through Rome as if it wasn’t there. We found ourselves in the evening using some sports stadium somewhere in the North of the city as a landing strip, among a mass of tanks, trucks and assorted vehicles. Our little Auster looking a bit fragile in this company. Geordie and I were covering her up. I’d filled the tank and we were just thinking bout a cuppa when this Italian turns up. He was obviously in distress. There were a lot like that just at that time, but he was going on about
‘A male bambino’ and indicating that he wanted him taken to hospital. There being no civilian motors about he wanted me to take the kid in the jeep. This was a bit dodgy. Rome was under curfew. I think it was Von Kesselring’s curfew, but it still applied. There was also the thought that there could still be some of The Master Race about looking for a way out of the place and I still had not had my cuppa.
I put the problem to Captain Creswell and told him I was inclined to believe the man and thought I should try to get the kid to hospital.
‘If you go Barwick,’ he said, ‘I will not ask where you are for one hour, but be careful.’
‘Thank you Sir,’ I said and got the bloke into the jeep. He took me out of the stadium to some flats nearby and fetched a woman out with a small bundle in her arms, from which came small baby noises, which reassured me. With the man in beside me and the woman in the back, away we went through deserted streets where the man said
‘Adestra, sinestra and avanti,’ to keep me on the right road until we came to a bridge over a river and I realized that I was going over The Tiber. We came to some large iron gates where a sentry in a funny uniform stood his ground until my guide bombarded him with machine gun Italian.
It seemed to me that he reluctantly opened the gates and I realized that I was In the Vatican City. This made me a bit edgy. My Tommy-gun over my shoulder and revolver on my belt made it obvious that I was armed and this was neutral territory. I also had a couple of grenades under the seat. This could be trouble I realized, as we swung round in the quadrangle to stop by some large doors. Two Nuns came out to take the family into the place and they left me sitting quietly in my jeep wondering what would happen next and planning my exit if things went funny.
I figured that if it came to it. I could smash my way through the gates at full noise in second in the jeep and it would leave me just time to spray anybody who got in the way with Tommy gun bullets. It might even leave me enough time to roll a grenade out to them as I went. The sentry on the gate looked easy enough. I sussed him out to be a stuffed shirt considering that he was standing by the gates where anybody could see him. A silly thing considering that Rome was in a state of flux. I’d have been keeping to the shadows somewhere.
It seemed like some time before my passengers returned. It was probably not all that long. They no longer had the baby with them and both were in tears. I got them seated and the man directed me back to the sports ground.
I had agreed that I would take all our washing round for them to do for us in the morning. They would do it for the rest of the war or something. By the time I’d reported back to the Captain that all went well and finally got my mug of tea and some supper the armour was moving out. Captain Creswell was airborne as soon as it was light and we were on our way within a few minutes. He would fly over the column, sort out a landing strip, find us on the road and drop the map reference down to us so that we could find him, It really is a hell of a job keeping up with that sort of force.
We soon had a bit of a panic as it was said that a large force was moving toward us from the east and the Captain had to go to find out they were Americans. I think they were on their way to triumphantly take Rome. We just got out of their way. The next strip was next to a cornfield and Geordie and I found a place where some Germans had hidden, dumped their rifles and some other gear and got out of it. I suspect that they may have been skulking in the corn quite close, but we didn’t see them. We took the rifles and ammo a folding digging tool and left it at that.
We later traded the rifles to somebody for some booze. We kept moving forward until I suspect supply became a problem, but we were not affected by it. I found a supply of drinking water which I wish I knew where it was now. I asked some farmer where I could get water and he pointed me toward a sort of passage entrance into the side of a hill. This passage went steadily down for quite a long way until it opened out into a small chamber where a sort of bath shaped tank had been cut in the solid rock, this was fed from a steady stream of water from a spring. I think now that it was probably an ancient roman structure. I would love to go and find it again, but I have no idea where I was. We were going north well up the leg of Italy. When we stopped on some airodrome where an M E 109 had been left. I got in it and tried to start the engine, but it would not fire up. There were some German bombers there and we pinched the leather with which their petrol tanks were clad to stop leakage from bullet holes and Geordie found a market for that. The Captain got hit by small arms fire and landed at the far end of the runway where it was dodgy because it was only just held by the infantry lads. There was not much damage to fix, Geordie soon had it O K again.
C flight H Q caught up with us around here and I asked Snowy about Georgio the Greek.
‘Bill ‘ he said ‘you should have seen it. Me and Lofty Told him we could get into Rome and loaded him into the fifteen hundredweight. He took us to his house and found his family. While they were talking crying and all that. Me and Lofty unloaded some supplies we’d got and then went for a look around. We were walking along a street, when some Italian. You know the type. Slouch hat and all that stops right in front of me, looks me in the eye and says.
“ Could ye no spare a cigarette for a fellow countryman Jock?” so we had to unload our fags on him. You always find one don’t you.’
At some farmhouse where we were with flight H Q. I found a full-track German truck and started fiddling with it. All the wiring had been pulled out and the petrol pipe disconnected, but I rigged a jury rig to the coil, poured petrol into the intake onto a wadge of cloth and got the engine running for some minutes. I think that given time I could have got the thing going, but we had work to do. I learned later that I had been observed by Major Willet and the commander of some American unit, who were in the farmhouse.
‘He wont get that running, my men were towing it around the yard to start it yesterday and its not a runner.’ The American said.
‘Would you like to bet a bottle of wine on that?’ Major Willet asked.
‘Done,’ The Yank said, just as it started.
‘Dry White I think,’ Major Willet said.
I never heard about this till after the wine was gone….
And then Captain Creswell was gone. I think he was promoted to command another flight and we found ourselves with a new Captain and though I can not remember him, a new Batman as Ken Cousins went with The Captain. Things moved fast then and we moved out to join another regiment. I can not even recall the new Captain’s name. I know we were somewhere well up in the centre of Italy when about midmorning a truck drew up at the section and two blokes got out. They off loaded their kit and the driver said
‘I’ve brought you two exchange airmen. A mech and rigger from 239 wing.’
Geordie and me were posted, we grabbed our kit and got on the truck.
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