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From Mold to St Valery, Egypt and Italy (Part Two)icon for Recommended story

by Clare Edwards

Contributed by 
Clare Edwards
People in story: 
Tony Walsh
Location of story: 
North Africa, Italy
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A2740547
Contributed on: 
13 June 2004

On the way to Benghazi (January 1942)

Written by Tony Walsh
Submitted by his daughter
Read part one of this story

El Alamein and on to Libya

On 23 October 1942, the Battle of El Alamein commenced. For over two weeks fierce fighting raged. I was a gunner layer on one of our four troop guns (four guns to a troop). We lost two guns in our troop due to enemy counter-artillery fire. Many were killed and blown to pieces; I seemed to have a charmed life. At last our armoured division broke through and Rommel slowly retreated. And so we pushed back over the old familiar ground of good and bad memories. Our advance towards Libya was now so fast that there was a risk of ground troops outrunning their air support, but the RAF quickly got the forward landing grounds in working order again.

On about 12 November 1942, our division (7th Armoured) crossed the boundary between Egypt and Libya for the fourth and last time. The advance from Alamein to Tripoli across over 1,200 miles of desert took from October 1942 to late January 1943, with many minor battles and incidents including booby traps, mines and ambushes along the way. After heavy fighting we occupied Tripoli, the first city west of Alex. It was taken after heavy fighting by our division's tanks, the Queen's infantry and New Zealand troops.

Later, the population, mostly Arabs, emerged on the streets, waving a welcome as they did no doubt when Rommel's Afrika corps drove through a year or so before. Some of the cafés and bars soon opened again and for a couple of evenings I forgot the war with Muscatel wine and Cypriot belly dancers, doing what they knew best - and how well they did it! Needless to say, they were for watching only.

Into Tunisia

After a brief few days we pushed on to Tunisia. As we closed in on Medenine the enemy hit back and heavy fighting developed, with some loss to the division. We eventually broke through and approached Wadi Akrat, the last enemy defence line in Tunis. The attack developed with much loss on both sides with a barrage of about 400 guns. Tanks and artillery were brought in to the battle to support the 51st Highland Division. In a determined assault by the 51st, the Camerons and Seaforth Highlanders went in with the bayonet.

Enemy counter-attacks made the situation dangerous. Our battery was firing continuously for over 16 hours in support of this assault. Then the Black Watch Regiment came through and overran the German positions. And Rommel's last fight back in North Africa had ended. In Tunisia alone he had lost over 17,000, killed or wounded, and about the same number taken prisoner. Later we moved back through Tripoli to Homs for rest and repair.

Some time later I was told that what remained of the Fourth Field Regiment was being split up to strengthen other units. My posting was to the 146 Field Regiment RA, newly arrived from England, and attached to the 7th Armoured Division; so I was very happy to be staying with my old division. There was also the news that 146 Regiment would be supporting 201 Guards Infantry Brigade, a fine unit with a great fighting reputation.

Sicily, by this time, had been occupied by Anglo-American forces. Rumour now had it that our next task was a landing somewhere on the Italian mainland, and hurried preparations were much in evidence. We spent the last few weeks in August 1943 taking it easy and writing letters home.

Some lighter moments I recall from this time: my mother, always anxious that I was getting enough food, posted a parcel to me containing a cooked chicken! Needless to say, by the time this reached in the searing heat of the desert it was in an advanced state of decomposition! On another occasion she sent me a hot water bottle, for the cold nights - much hilarity at this - water was rationed and we drank every drop we could find.

We found a broken-down shop selling bits of everything and I bought a tin of French zinc ointment. I even managed to get a new glass for my precious watch, damaged some weeks earlier. The shifty Arab shopkeeper also had a special line in spicy postcards. He preferred payment in corned beef rather than cash. By the time we left, his stock of bully-beef must have been enough to feed a regiment.

Landing at Salerno

In early September 1943, we embarked on beach landing craft with guns, limbers and quads. After some hours at sea our destination was made known. We were to land in the Italian port of Salerno and come under the command of General Mark Clark, American 5th Army. As dawn broke on 9 September, we saw Europe again for the first time in almost two years. As we neared the beach, heavy bombardment from covering warships started up, and a smokescreen was laid down by advanced landing craft. Enemy shells began to fall in the landing area and some craft were hit, even before reaching the shore. Amidst all the chaos of the landing, we managed to get our guns and transport ashore. We pushed on inland for about a mile from the beach, before a fierce German counter-attack forced us to halt and bring our guns into action, supporting our infantry, who were having a hard time trying to move up the sloping ground ahead.

After a couple of days of holding on to our positions, a dangerous situation developed when numerous enemy tanks started to move down from the hills surrounding the bay. Only heavy naval gunfire from the Warspite battle-cruiser and three destroyers helped to prevent us being thrown back into the sea. Without this naval support we could never have held the Panzers back. The Germans suffered serious loss from this continuous bombardment together with our own artillery fire. The 22nd Armoured Brigade (7th Armoured Division) eventually landed and engaged the enemy armour on the outskirts of Salerno. After heavy opposition we thrust through Salerno, and down into Naples, on 1 October 1943.

See you in Rome, fellas!

The city was mainly undamaged apart from the docks area. We sped through into Aversa, and on to Santa Maria la Fossa, and Capua. The drive forward from Salerno to Capua took us through many peacetime holiday resorts, including Amalfi, Sorrento and Pompeii, all strangely quiet. Looking to our left across the sea, romantic Capri was plainly visible. The Italian climate, though hot and mosquito-ridden, provided a welcome change from the African desert. There was much vegetation; crops of pear-shaped tomatoes, and grapes, black and green, for the taking - the vineyards deserted by their owners in the battle area.

About mid-October, General Mark Clark (5th Army commander) ordered a full-scale attack across the Volturno river, just forward of our positions at Capua. The battery was in continuous action throughout the day because of enemy resistance from the opposite riverbank. Later, under cover of darkness, the Americans threw a pontoon bridge across the river and the 201 Guards Brigade, after some bitter fighting, dashed across and formed a small bridgehead on the other side.

Further up the river, the 7th Queen's Battalion attempted to cross by boat but were met with heavy fire and the attack was called off. Some time later they tried again and managed to establish a bridgehead. Next, one of our armoured units found a fordable site and got across with waterproofed tanks. By late October, the enemy pulled back and both British and American forces were well across the Volterno in strength. We then pressed on towards the next German delaying position on the river Garigliano. Heavy rain and deep mud now made life uncomfortable, and movement from one position to another very difficult. It often proved impossible to tow the guns out and so the quad's winch was used, usually with success.

On one occasion when we were hopelessly bogged down, the Americans gave us a helping hand. A group of Sherman tanks had stopped in a lane close by. I asked the sergeant of the nearest tank about a possible tow. 'Sure,' he replied, 'No problem. Hop on and just point the way.' The Sherman swung into the field, flattening a hedge and gatepost. He pulled us out in no time, with the quad and gun bouncing about as never before. On leaving, one of the tank crew shouted, 'Anytime! See you in Rome, fellas!' I hoped we would.

Monte Cassino

We then moved down the Mignano gap towards Mount Camino, the last obstacle before Cassino (the Big One). Camino was eventually taken by 201 Guards Brigade at very high cost. As we moved our guns forward towards Cassino, groups of guardsmen involved in the Camino attack lay sprawled in the slush - the cream of our infantry, their boots still polished and brasses gleaming.

Just before the victory at Cassino we were sent up to the Anzio beachhead to help lessen the resistance of the German Cassino defenders. The battle at Casino had taken over five months and the victory was due to the soldiers of many nations, fighting and dying, and finally to the Poles, who stormed the summit, and left decimated bodies in hundreds to prove it. Many books have been written about the Cassino battle: first battle - British troops; second battle - Americans; third battle - New Zealanders; fourth battle - Indians, and lastly the Polish corps, who at last broke through. At the summit they left a message on their memorial: 'We Polish soldiers died for our freedom, and yours. We have given our souls to God, our bodies to the soil of Italy, and our hearts to Poland.'

The gateway to Rome was now open, and the eventual taking of this city took place on 4 June 1944 by the 5th (American) and 8th (British) armies, with the D-Day invasion of Normandy taking place on 6 June.

We became just a sideshow in the world now. Our regiment, the 56th Black Cat Division, was transferred to the 8th Army, Adriatic Coast sector to join the Poles and the Canadians. The Germans were now retreating in some areas but strongly defending others. They were using any kind of delaying tactic: demolition, land mines, booby traps. We occupied San Marino, Rimini, Ravenna, always a little nearer to what must be our next serious obstacle: the River Po.

The Canadians were a wild bunch, tearing round in their jeeps and on motorbikes. The Poles were a little more laid back, and deeply religious. They liked nothing more than a good old Polish sing-song, helped along by the local red wine topped up with Vermouth. They had no love for the Germans or Russians after their ruthless attack on Poland in 1939, and their sacrifices and final victory at Cassino proved they had not forgotten. They were both a great lot of lads to have on your side when the shot and shells started flying!

We captured Forli in September, then pushed on to Faenza, our battery supporting New Zealand infantry. Appalling weather now slowed down our movement, and the New Zealand troops described Faenza as 'a bitch of a place to occupy'.

Bitterly cold

We also had good reason to remember this godforsaken position one freezing night. Just one gun, our number three (four guns to a troop), was engaged in what was called 'harassing Jerry': one round banged off every few minutes onto a fixed target - it could be an enemy-held bridge, crossroads, building or other target. The night was long and deadly cold and many were the moans that emerged from the gun pit. My mate shuffled in to do his stint, proclaiming 'Oh dear mother it's a b*****d!' A reply came from the darkness 'Oh yes my son, and so are you!' Those old army gags never died.

But the night was about to be split open. German batteries two or three miles away must have got a bit fed up with this odd shell we lobbed into their area every two minutes or so. A series of bumps were heard in the distance, and within seconds shells came tearing onto our position. It was a nasty counter battery 'stonk' - heavy shellfire onto a concentrated area. The German artillery had a device which, when used at night, could record the flash our guns made in action, which would give them an exact range and reading of our guns' position, and they made good use of it.

It was by now November 1944. Heavy snow was falling and no forward movement was possible. The nights were long and cold and I snatched some sleep when I could. The guns were firing on and off, day and night, as numerous enemy targets were fired on as requested by the forward infantry. There was a small, damaged and deserted farm close by with a lean-to, occupied by a couple of oxen. When given the chance I'd slip away and grab a bit of sleep, stretched out by my four-legged friends, a bit smelly but the warmth - beautiful!

Ferrara and the River Po

With the weather now improving, our brigade moved up towards the Lake Comacchio area. Attempting to advance on Ferrara and the River Po, our division came up against a tough German paratrooper unit who fought savagely, both sides taking heavy casualties. With air superiority and our Spitfires constantly strafing the forward and rear enemy positions, and our heavy and prolonged artillery bombardment, the German forces pulled back to the River Po. We then occupied Ferrara against little resistance, and pushed on towards the river.

On reaching the river we were met with a horrendous scene of death and destruction. Enemy convoys, attempting to cross a bomb-damaged bridge were at a standstill with nowhere to go, and the Spits had found them and turned the vehicles and most of the occupants into a smoking mass of flames and carnage. Had a quick look round for a chance of picking up a Luger pistol but it was not to be - the infantry lads had been just ahead of us, and good luck to them - the generals may do the thinking but it's the infantry that do the winning, and often the dying. (But I did come across a useful find in the maze of wreckage: a German MO's portable set of surgical instruments, which I later lost during one of our many instant and hazardous moves to establish new gun positions).

It now became clear that this hard-fought Italian campaign was coming to an end. On 29 April 1945 all German forces in northern Italy and western Austria surrendered to the Allies. It was then that Marshal Tito and his partisans who had always battled with the Germans, decided they should have something for their efforts, and decided that Trieste in Italy, close by and just over the border, would do nicely.

Alarm bells began to ring for us, stationed near Trieste, and at short notice we drove into Yugoslavia for about 20 miles, and formed a garrison at the seaport of Pola. The sight of our 'cool-it' formation - our Division 56th Infantry (Black Cat), together with 78th Infantry Division (also alongside was the very welcome 29th New Zealand Armoured Brigade) - seemed to have a very sobering effect on the wily Tito. All his 'Jug' (and Partisan) units were grudgingly withdrawn from the Trieste area. That was how the situation remained until later in the year when wider negotiations were agreed to. I remained at Pola waiting for my 'ticket'.

Finally, back to the UK

The great day came in early September 1945, when my papers arrived for immediate transit to the UK. I said farewell to many lads I'd soldiered with. Jimmy Cameron was a proven friend on many occasions; we arranged to meet sometime, somewhere, back in Blighty. From Trieste I was transported by train down to Rome airport where there were groups of Lancaster bombers scattered about. I spent one evening in Rome, marvelling at the clean streets, and so many clean and smartly-dressed civilians. But there was little time for 'la dolce vita'!

Next morning, back at the airport, our section of 18 was checked off, we were given a number and our kit bags were dumped into the Lancaster's bomb bay. We then climbed up in order onto the plane, looking for our numbered circles marked on the flooring, and then we dumped ourselves down for the next two to three hours. Once airborne we were permitted, one at a time, and just the once, to stretch our legs along to the rear gunner's station (now vacant) and spend about five minutes looking around. Vision was on all sides, and top and bottom. From the front and rear, as far as the eye could see, there were Lancasters flying along in single file, and no-one shooting at us!

Somewhere over France the co-pilot came through and handed us a note from the skipper (the engine's noise made the tannoy system useless). It said that one engine was malfunctioning and slowing us down; the remaining three should get us home, but we would be coming down on an emergency landing ground near Woodbridge instead of the original destination. He ended by saying, 'Cheer up! Big drinks tonight!' I rather wondered whether, after surviving all these years, we were now destined to splash into the Channel.

The news was passed through that we were now flying over England - and that wonderful feeling of being close to home sweet home was hard to describe. Soon after we were circling Woodbridge, and then swooping lower, coming in on a wing and a prayer. I can only say that pilot must know all about dodgy landings - we glided in like a bird, not even a bump on touchdown.

The pilot's forecast of big drinks that night was spot on, and it unanimous - there's nought like British ale!

Next I found myself in Woolwich Barracks awaiting demob, but first came 14 days home leave to meet my mother again - still gallantly keeping the shop going, and sister Maureen growing up and now attending the convent in Wrexham. It was so hard to believe and accept the comforts of home again, with such a welcome from family and friends. Back at Woolwich my demob and discharge came through in early December, well in time for that special Christmas, not to mention my free suit - very utility and fitted where it pinched!

And that, dear reader, is a little about what happened in those six years of war. I learned a lot about human nature, the good and the not so good - and that people matter and not things. Many years later my two children would often ask me about the war. I would say, 'Well, it's a long story. I will tell you a bit about it some day. But of one thing you can be damn sure - it was no trip to Disneyland!'

Read part one of this story

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These messages were added to this story by site members between June 2003 and January 2006. It is no longer possible to leave messages here. Find out more about the site contributors.

Message 1 - From Mold to St Valery, Egypt and Italy

Posted on: 22 June 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Dear clareedwards

This is a superb contribution. A joy to read and very informative.

Regards,

Peter

 

Message 2 - From Mold to St Valery, Egypt and Italy

Posted on: 28 June 2004 by Clare Edwards

Dear Peter,

I was so pleased to hear you had enjoyed reading my father's war experiences. Dad died in Feb 2003, aged 83. He had dictated most of the notes to me a few years ago, after I suggested it would be good to have it all written down; I only discovered that he had completed them after he died. It is all in his own words. He doesnt mention how he came to get the shrapnel wounds in his neck, nor being injured and cared for by an Italian family, nor the battle at Minturno...for all these men I suppose there are some things which they feel are better laid to rest.

Regards, Clare

 

Message 3 - From Mold to St Valery, Egypt and Italy

Posted on: 14 November 2004 by Narysa

Dear Clare Edwards,
My uncle, who was from Caergwrle, was killed at Croce near Rimini in September 1944. I think your father could tell me more about this part of the Italian campaign. Would it be possible to contact you? e-mail me at kath. argoed@btinternet.com (but eliminate the space after the dot.)I am seeking first hand stories of this forgotten section of the war. All best wishes, Kath.

 

Message 4 - From Mold to St Valery, Egypt and Italy

Posted on: 17 November 2004 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Dear Clare -
fantastic story and just exactly how it was all the way through both Africa and Italy, he served in some good units with the 7th Armed and finally the Black cats of the 56th Inf Div - who would take all the beatings going like Salerno - Minturno - Garigliano - and come up smiling again at the Gothic Line and particularly at Croce and Gemmano !

In all that - the humour was always present and a life saver !
best regards - you must miss him a lot !

 

Message 5 - From Mold to St Valery, Egypt and Italy

Posted on: 17 November 2004 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Dear Kath -
if you pop into your local library and get hold of a book called "Armoured Odessey" by Major Stu Hamilton - he has a very good description of the Battles around both Croce and Gemmno in the Gothic Line. We were further over towards the coast and I have written about the battle at Coriano ridge and particulary San Martino in this series- see "Gothic Line - the Battle for San Martino "! It will give you some idea of what went on there!

I revisited Riccione this past septmber and noted many men from the 56th and 46th Divs alongside all my comrades and the Canadians in the Coriano Ridge War Cemetery, perhaps your uncle is there ?

 

Message 6 - From Mold to St Valery, Egypt and Italy

Posted on: 29 November 2004 by Clare Edwards

Dear Tom

Yes I do miss him. He was a good friend to the end as well a lovely dad. He was in his forties when I was born; there weren't that many children at school whose fathers had fought in the war and I was so proud of him. Not that I realised what he'd been through until we wrote it all down. It's really nice to know that people like yourself who were there enjoy reading about his experiences - I only wish he was here to join in the discussions.

Best wishes Tom

Clare

 

Message 7 - From Mold to St Valery, Egypt and Italy

Posted on: 29 November 2004 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Clare -
Thank you very much for your good wishes...as I explained to Kath from Wales - I visited Riccione this past September and also the Coriano Ridge War Cemetery where many of the 56th Div are buried alongside my Brigade and the Canadians. While I was there - most of the day - a party of veterans dropped off a tour bus and with them were veterans from, 56th Div - #2 Para Bde and one from #9 Commando...they laid a wreath and a couple of crosses and we said a few prayers for the nearly 2000 lads who are buried there ! It was quite touching to see how the whole area is kept meticulously by eight gardeners and the local schoolchildren who tend a section for each class !! I took many photo's which I can send her ! If your Father was able to join in our discussions - we would have a few laughs !
best regards
tom

 

Message 8 - From Mold to St Valery, Egypt and Italy

Posted on: 08 December 2004 by Clare Edwards

Dear Tom

It must have been very moving going back after all these years. I have read your account of your injuries and what happened to yourself and your friends, and it certainly makes upsetting and thought provoking reading. You have a great sense of humour and fun though, as you said that's one of the things that gets you through. I would love to visit some of the places where Dad fought during the war; he never went back for one reason or another. I wish he had, and now going without him would seem strange, but would bring home how lucky he was to survive those years without serious injury. It is sometimes difficult to comprehend the sheer number of those who were not so fortunate.

I replied by Email to Kath. Only wish Dad was here to help her - he would have loved all this (apart from the technology - I'm sure he wasnt alone in thinking computers were only for the younger generation; must be a problem in accessing those most likely to remember those days.)

You have no such misgivings!

Warmest regards

Clare

 

Message 9 - From Mold to St Valery, Egypt and Italy

Posted on: 08 December 2004 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Clare -
thank you so much for your most recent posting, it gave me a great deal of pleasure to know that someone understands. I too - like your father avoided going back to the area, although I have been to Italy many times since the war, but I felt that I just had to go and say farewell to the lads as I am "getting on" a bit and it may be the last time that I shall be able to walk all through that vast cemetery. It is sobering to note that this is only one of seven in that Battleground of the Gothic Line ! The idiocy of it all ! I came across a grave of a chap I had done my training with at Barnard Castle, which shook me a bit as he laughed at every problem we had in the early days ! It was heartening to see how beautiful the area is now and so well kept..... and peaceful !
Another daughter of a member of our Tank bde is going to Italy next year to follow the route of her Dad, I was able to map out the route and she is virtually all set to go and just try to remember him as he was before she was born ! I was hoping that Kath would have been in touch as I have a few photo's of the cemetery and I am sure her Father would be there - somewhere ! You are right that humour got many of us through the bad spots - try "Green Envelopes for tank Brigade - Rimini " for a laugh !I also made mention of this in another forum which was all about "Collapsing Beds" etc.... there were times when it was fun ! This is what I remember mostly !
Best regards
tomcan

 

Message 10 - From Mold to St Valery, Egypt and Italy

Posted on: 14 December 2004 by Clare Edwards

Hello Tom

I enjoyed reading those, and also the one involving the dehydrated meat and the 'showcase latrine'! And the D Day Dodgers. I was interested to read of how you utilised your tank to provide you with hot water for washing and drinking. Less technically Dad used to say that in North Africa it was hot enough to cook eggs on the bonnet of their jeeps - whether they actually did or not is another matter! Did you have eggs out there (everyone was using reconstituted back home weren't they?)and wouldn't they have got rather sandy? It conjures up a bizarre image.

Tom, at the risk of sounding dumb, did the Gothic Line involve all that Adriatic area, including Rimini, Ravenna, Forli and Faenza? I don't recall Dad mentioning Croce or Gemmano - is it likely he was there too? I think I must go and visit sometime. What a shock for you to find that old friend there after all these years. Was the area as you remembered it/imagined it would be? It's nice that you felt such a sense of peace there.

 

Message 11 - From Mold to St Valery, Egypt and Italy

Posted on: 14 December 2004 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Clare -
so glad you enjoyed my literary efforts - some days were funnier than others - and yes we did have eggs - invariably the result of "trading" with the Arabs... tho' many of them were way past their " sell by" date ! it was always an even-steven type of "trading" inasmuch as we would - sometime - open a flat pack of 20 Players cigarettes very very carefully - cut two up to show a half an inch in the "renewed pack" - the rest being probably camel dung - when asked to show the goods the celophane would be ripped off with a flourish - the cigarettes exposed - eggs retrieved - cigarettes(?) handed over - gears engaged - drive off a la Jackie Stewart ! and yes - they could be cooked on any flat metal piece with a touch of engine oil !

The Gothic line - officially - was between below La Spezia in the east - bit of a dog leg to Florence then over to Cattolica on the Adriatic and south of Riccione(Ritchie owny) and was about 16 kilos deep... and full of clever goodies which Jerry had time to build there - as always we were underpowered and so four more Divisions were sent in to help out - Kath's father was in one of them - the 56th - and he was involved in the Croce - Gemmano area which was also a bad scene.
The Ravenna - Faenza - Forli etc were further up and should have been relatively easy for 5 armoured divisions to dash through in October - however the monsoons started - as I discivered during my trip in September - and so the whole area was waterlogged and impassible for tanks - the PBI had to do it virtually by themselves and even we had to act as Infantry during the winter on the Senio River - happily I was safely esconced in a toasty bed in Catania Sicily for the whole winter and so missed the snow - ice - rain and other stuff which really didn't break my heart at all !
To return was different as it has now had 60 years to repair itself and it has done that very well - it is still beautiful - the Germans still occupy the deck chairs on the beaches, the older people still remember what we did there and they are - in the main - still grateful - when I had the photo's developed - all sorts of people were coming out of the back shop to have a look at me and wish me "Buono Fortuna" with big smiles,which I thought was very pleasant.
My fiend from Wolverhampton will be going over next summer to follow her Father's footsteps .. and if able i shall go with her as a guide ! That should be fun as I did meet her for a couple of hours in Birmingham in September ! I have forgotten which Division your Father was in at the moment but more than likely here was there - most of 8th army was there at least for a while except 6th Armed and 1st and 5th Divs =- they were over helping out the Americans (?)
Cheers for now
tomcan

 

Message 12 - From Mold to St Valery, Egypt and Italy

Posted on: 15 December 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Tom's accounts are always illuminating and a joy to read. I would only expand on one small part. Tom says "... the monsoons started ... and so the whole area was waterlogged and impassible for tanks"

Whilst that is true, I would only add that the Italian countryside, no matter how heavy the rain, normally does not become waterlogged. However, in 1944, deliberate flooding was part of the German defensive line. Nearly all the rivers were skilfully partly dammed at various points so as to divert part of their waters over large areas by only lowering the rivers by a foot or so. This not only created impassable terrain for tanks but also created steep river banks.

A good example of this was the partial damming of the Rapido well upstream which created a vast bogged area in front of the railway station and rail causeway at Cassino, spreading down to the ancient Via Casalina (known to the Allies as Route 6); heavy rain and shelling then did the rest. The Germans were very skilful in using these flooding tactics and did the same thing on a larger scale in north west Europe.

 

Message 13 - From Mold to St Valery, Egypt and Italy

Posted on: 26 December 2004 by Clare Edwards

Thanks for that Tom - and a belated Happy Christmas! This is about the first time I've sat down since last message!

So that's where you got your eggs from! When I was at primary school my friend's (much younger) father had proclaimed it scientifically impossible to fry an egg on the bonnet of a jeep - when I told him Dad just laughed and said he should have been there.

How lovely for your friend's daughter that you can accompany her on her trip - you should take a film crew with you, it would make a fascinating (and I should think entertaining) documentary. Hopefully someone at the BBC will take note! I was hoping to combine a family holiday with visiting some of those areas, which would be easy enough both around Salerno - Naples area and on the Adriatic coast.

I have been in touch with the wife of one of Dad's buddies and am hoping to meet her in the New Year. She says she has some photos of them I've never seen, one of which shows them on Christmas day, somewhere in North Africa, eating rice pudding out of a tin! Dad would have had a lot of good photographs, as well as other interesting souvenirs (weapons etc) he'd picked up (don't know how legally) but someone swiped the bag in which he'd got his camera, films and all his other goodies when he got back to England. A nice welcome home, and he was devastated as he would be...I wonder if those films were ever printed and might exist somewhere...He did still bring a few things back with him. I remember him handing in his Smith and Wesson (sp?) back in the seventies. In later years he wished he'd kept it, under his bed!
Still his trusty French bayonet gave him a lot of comfort..

Oh well, back to the festivities!

Bye for now

Clare

 

Message 14 - From Mold to St Valery, Egypt and Italy

Posted on: 26 December 2004 by Clare Edwards

Thanks for that information. I had no idea that they used such techniques, but in that terrain flooding must have made movement very difficult. They were certainly a formidable enemy.

Clare

 

Message 15 - From Mold to St Valery, Egypt and Italy

Posted on: 26 December 2004 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Clare -
Thank you for that last posting it would be good if you could see where your Father operated Salerno - Minturno - Gothic Line etc. as it would give you some idea of the difficulties we all faced in just moving along..the Mountains are un believeable... and mostly impassible for Tanks and thus the PBI had to take all that was thrown at them.

We, now and again had rice pudding out of a tin - everything was in tins - The Meat & Veg was hard to take at times as we were convinced it was packed in 1914 ! The Bully beef was more or less in liquid form ! We would put five cans of M&V in the engine compartment to heat up as we were on our way to Laager for the night...invariably something would turn up and we would forget our dinner - we had to clean up the engine before we did anything else !we never seemed to learn !
Hope you meet up with your Father's buddies wife - it's good to share these things and get a giggle out of the old photo's - all mine were lost when the Tank went up - including one of Pope Pius X11 whose Papal Ring I managed to kiss when we entered Rome !

 

Message 16 - From Mold to St Valery, Egypt and Italy

Posted on: 20 April 2005 by helentucker

Dear Clare, and Tom,

I have recently found this site, and thoroughly enjoyed reading your stories. I began because i was curious about the Mold connection, and then i was enveloped in the story itself. My grandfather was in one of the boats that landed in Italy, except his never made it as it was sunk of Taranto harbour. He was a medic. Stories like yours help me have a connection to him, and i thank you.
Helen

 

Message 17 - From Mold to St Valery, Egypt and Italy

Posted on: 20 April 2005 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Helen -
I am so pleased - and I am sure that Clare would be as well - that you found our memories so enjoyable. The sinking off Taranto Harbour - many ships were lost in those landings and many good men never made it. One of the hardest was the sinking of a ship with about 100 Canadian nurses - with all the equipment for a hospital was lost off Sicily, and apparently the efforts of these stalwart nurses in rowing over to the rescue ships brought many "Three Cheers" from the rescuers. When they landed in Sicily they borrowed much equipment from the British and had set up a hospital within three days ! This was a further example of the indomitable spirit which seemed to prevail at many points, and always brought a
feeling that we could not possibly lose this war! It gives one great hope for the future.
best regards

 

Message 18 - From Mold to St Valery, Egypt and Italy

Posted on: 20 April 2005 by helentucker

Dear Tom,

Thank you for your reply, and i'm sure you'll forgive my previous use of the word 'enjoyed'...
You are so correct in your expression of that indomitable spirit.
So many 'ordinary' people were called upon to do extraordinary tasks, and did them with pride and courage, like those in your make-shift hospital story.
Words like fortitude and resilience seem almost inadequate.
Many folk nowadays have no idea what was expected of those men and women, but in some ways they were the lucky ones, for they achieved heights the like of myself will surely never know.
Regards,
Helen

 

Message 19 - From Mold to St Valery, Egypt and Italy

Posted on: 04 May 2005 by Clare Edwards

Dear Helen

Like Tom I am so pleased you have felt some sort of connection through the stories on this site. It is difficult to build up a picture of what went on all those years ago, but through looking at others' experiences it all becomes clearer, especially if you find a connection through a particular place, regiment etc. Was sorry to hear about your grandfather - makes me realise just how lucky Dad was throughout his war years. One of the best things about this site is that there are people like Tom who were actually there and can tell you so much, and who also have generally such an extensive knowledge of those years. You mention Mold - is that where you're from?

Best wishes

Clare

PS Hello Tom, if you're reading!

 

Message 20 - From Mold to St Valery, Egypt and Italy

Posted on: 04 May 2005 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Clare / Helen

of course I'm reading - my wife claims that all I ever do these days is stare at the monitor, and giggle now and then - this is why she has taken off for the U.K. for seven weeks
so she can talk her head off - and get answers!She is with our daughter in London and that is a no go area !
I too have wondered about Mold for some time - is that where Penicillin came from ?
Had a call from the BBc radio this early a.m. they want me to talk of classical music in Italy and other places during the war..so you might be able to hear my dulcet tones shortly - but if you have to go to bed early - well that'll be fine with me !
regards to you both !

 

Message 21 - From Mold to St Valery, Egypt and Italy

Posted on: 04 May 2005 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Helen -
I meant to pick up on your comment about the indomitable spirit of so many 'ordinary' people... I would refer you to my tale entitled "Two Great Men"... currently one of them - at 91 - is attending the liberation anniversary of Holland in which all five divisiona of Canadians took part after two of them - the 1st Infantry and the 5th Armoured Divs left Italy to join their comrades in Belgium- much to our loss in Italy. We shall have to shoot old "smokey' as he is getting around all over the place - Italy last year - D Day in France and now this trip to Holland !Now THAT is an indomitable character ! It's the Scotch you know that keeps him going like the energiser bunny !
regards

 

Message 22 - From Mold to St Valery, Egypt and Italy

Posted on: 09 May 2005 by helentucker

Dear Clare,

Thank you for your reply, and kind words. You are so right, that Tom and others have such valuable stories for us to learn from.

I lived just outside Mold in the late '70's/early '80's. I stop in occasionally when travelling further south, and a lot has changed, mostly for the better if i'm honest.
May i ask your connection with it?

Regardless, it was lovely to hear from you.

Helen

 

Message 23 - From Mold to St Valery, Egypt and Italy

Posted on: 09 May 2005 by Clare Edwards

Hello Tom

Just found your message - I got the one for Helen initially! confusing isn't it? Does this mean I have missed your BBC broadcast? Do you often get the Beeb ringing you up for such things, in the early hours of the morning? Hope you are surviving without Mrs Canning and have been celebrating VE day in style. I wonder if she was at the concert in Trafalgar Square? I half thought you might pop up there, being a Peoples War celeb.

Yes, not the most romantic sounding place in the world is it, and its Welsh name, Yr Wyddgrug, is scarcely more poetic. Telling people that you 'grew up in Mold' gets some witty responses. But it is a very nice little market town in North Wales, not so little any more actually. Has a very good theatre, if you ever get round to visiting.

Off to bed now,

Let us know when you're on air..

Night night Clare

 

Message 24 - From Mold to St Valery, Egypt and Italy

Posted on: 09 May 2005 by Clare Edwards

Hi Helen

I was living in Mold up until 1987, and am only 12 miles away now! Yes it has improved, quite a nice little town as I was just saying to Tom. There have been a lot of new houses built in recent years - the population must have increased a fair bit.

Hope you're enjoying trawling the archives - there's so much in here now isnt there. A very good idea I think.

Take care

Clare

 

Message 25 - From Mold to St Valery, Egypt and Italy

Posted on: 09 May 2005 by helentucker

Tom,

I just found your message, belatedly i'm afraid. Am just getting the hang of negotiating these pages. I do hope i haven't missed you on the radio but i fear i may have. If the latter is the case, then i hope all went well and i suspect you gave 150%...

Penicillin. Nice one.

I liked your response regarding 'a domitable character'... amazing.
I trust you know the context in which i had said ordinary people, but i am profoundly wrong, aren't I.

Living in the heart of malt whisky land, i can vouch for its umm healthy benefits.
May i be cheeky enough to suggest that a dram or two may offset the effects of your wife and daughter being on a girlie shopping venture.

You (and your stories) were amongst the people i have particularly thought a lot of over the last few days... Thank you

Best regards,
Helen

 

Message 26 - From Mold to St Valery, Egypt and Italy

Posted on: 09 May 2005 by helentucker

Clare,

Yes i am enjoying the messages very much. How cool is this site, and superb.
I have progressed from the ones i thought pertinent to myself, if you understand, and discovered other stories of course equally as fascinating. I admit to needing the humorous ones peppered amongst the more solemn ones - then the mixture gives i think a very real mental picture, as best we can. Something about british humour and resilience combined is our very essence.

The Mold thing - it may turn out to be a very small world indeed huh. I'm at a stage in family research where surprises come thick and fast, but this may take the proverbial biscuit.
I'll not tie up this wonderful site with details, but perhaps we'll get in touch somehow and swap stories, like when the precinct/indoor market was good, and the milk bar had the best runny milkshakes.

Take care,
Helen

 

Message 27 - From Mold to St Valery, Egypt and Italy

Posted on: 10 May 2005 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Dear Clare / Helen -

now then - I don't give autographs - I was a bit stunned when I had a posting to the effect that some young lady wanted to talk to me about ENSA Classical concerts in Italy during the war.She had read my tale about Beniamino Gigli(before your time I guess !) coming along and giving us a concert for two hours just after we had landed in Italy. I then gave her permission to get my e-mail address -( this is still the best way to communicate privately) from the BBc and so she set up this recording last Friday a.m. but she had to cut me off after around 20 minutes - just as I was getting warmed up !She is threatening to tell me when the programme will be ready for airing - if it ever does ? So stay alert and all will be revealed. When my eldest son was at Birmingham University - just outside his flats' window was a road sign which stated quite calmly " Keep Alert" - underneath some wag had written - " how must does a lert cost per month ?" You are right Helen that the site has many many tales of derring do - and dont's - if you want to use up a months supply of Kleenex
and an all night sitting - read Len (snowie)Baynes. Or for tragedy interspered with a fantastic sense of humour - click on to "Tom the Pom" their similar stories are that Len was a POW of the Japanese and Tom wa in Poland and Germany - from the desert! they make my efforts puny !
British Humour - try my tale of "Green Envelopes for Tank Brigade - Rimini " - that will sum it all up !

I will now turn up Leon Fleischer( again before your time) playing Beethoven's Emperor piano Concerto !
Followed by the triple Concerto with Isaac Stern - Daniel Barenboim and Yo Yo Ma ! I also have this with Perlman and Ax and YO YO ! while pouring myself a touch of 18 year old Glenfiddich or Laphroig !
Cheers
tomcanATshaw.ca

 

Message 28 - From Mold to St Valery, Egypt and Italy

Posted on: 15 May 2005 by Clare Edwards

Hi Helen

I was interested to hear that you are researching your family history. I started mine years ago, under the guidance of my mother in law, who has researched hers pretty intensively, and I made some good discoveries. But it's so time-consuming, isn't it?, and when I went back to work I sort of let it go. But I did gather some good info, like Dad's war memories, and also some notes from my grandmother who was in her nineties back then, and a few other elderly relatives who have since sadly passed on - and so glad I did now. Back then (all twelve or so years ago!) there wasnt the internet, which I believe has some very good genealogy websites - have you found it helpful? As you say, this site is really good for filling in that background information and building up a picture of real life, to go with the names and dates which alone don't tell you much. I pick it up now and then, and have found some very helpful contacts, but I daren't start properly because its so addictive, and I am already juggling family, work and OU degree. I feel bad about neglecting it, because in letting time pass so much can get lost. Do you have any family or ancestry in Mold? If I can be of any help let me know.

Yes I remember the National Milk Bar - I was ill after eating a rum baba(?) from there! And Cousins on the corner, where all the kids used to hang out, and the weekly discos in the Assembly Rooms! Memories!

Last night we drove over Mold way, up into the hills around Cilcain, for a walk. Beautiful up there in the late evening sun. Resisted temptation to pop into White Horse for refreshment!

Good luck with your digging!

Best wishes

Clare

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British Army Category
Invasion of Italy 1943 Category
North East Wales Category
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