- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Mr. Artemio Ettore Torselli
- Location of story:
- UK, Sheffield, Bedfordshire
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 19 September 2005
Memories of an Italian Naval Signalman Part Seven — Arrival in Scotland in June 1944. Sent to Sheffield and then Bulford Camp working on the land. Billeted to Mr. Gazeley in Westoning, Bedfordshire in September 1944.
Part seven of an oral history interview with Mr. Artemio Ettore Torselli conducted by Jenny Ford on behalf of Bedford Museum
“Coming through the Mediterranean when I knew we were between Crete and North Africa, ships everywhere and we never had any attack from Germans fortunately, that was May because we left Bombay May the 1st and we ended at Glasgow on June the 1st, just a month. So when we came in the area, not very wide between Crete and North Africa and there was no sign of any hostility at all I thought, ‘well Germany is about at the end of it, no doubt.’ When we got to Greenock there some sailor said, we read in the paper, the last attack from German bomber on Glasgow happened two days before, before we got there. We were at Greenock during the night and in the morning we sailed up the dockyard in Glasgow. And lo and behold when we came to the dock, just across, what 20 feet away on the other side there was a merchant ship with a red flag on the mast! I thought, ‘Oh, Lord not here, now!’ I knew the flag meant ‘handling ammunitions’ or ‘re-fuelling’. Within a few hours they got us ashore and I thought, ‘oh, thank the Lord!’
They carried us in coaches to Sheffield, well just outside Sheffield, where there was Prisoner of War camp but there wasn’t anybody there then, it was clear. We were in Nissen huts and not far from this area there must have been airfields all over the show, American airfields and that was a curse! You couldn’t sleep or do anything because there were American Super Fortresses, bombers, 24 hours day and night. Very low altitude, they were just starting from airfield or coming in to land, it was continual day and night, you couldn’t rest at all. We landed at Glasgow on the 1st of June and then they landed in Normandy on the 4th and 5th of course the air force was doing business! Laughter!
I remember one day they wanted somebody to go and get supply from stores in the town, in Sheffield, they called me as well, there were four or five of us in the lorry, an Army lorry and we went to load up the stuff. There were women there doing the office work and they gave us, perhaps you have never seen, a packet of five cigarettes, Woodbine, they were very popular then. We were very thankful, very nice. We were at this camp, ooh, I don’t know, a week or so like that, where they took our photograph and they gave us documents, identity card and things like that. And one day they call a list of names, they put us on the train and we ended up near Harpenden in a small camp there. From there we were sent out on any job, mainly agriculture. We used to go out in the morning in gangs, two, three, four, five like that. Some went on the railway, gas works, roads. But there were some on the railway they used to go to Luton get on a fast train go to St.Pancras and then take a slow train back to go to work! Laughter! Oh, they were bloomin’ beggars!
I was put with a gang of four working on agriculture. The first day we went Leighton Buzzard way and we got there to the farm and we reckoned in a farm like that (the rain was falling down like that) a little man like that - well some how we got to know that he was Hungarian nobleman who had married a Scottish Countess. ‘Oh’ he said, because I could understand Swahli, he said, ‘Oh, I am glad you have come, I’ve got a bit of maize I am growing because it is very valuable because I can sell it to hotels and catering and get big money. I’m glad you’ve come, you know how to look after it.’ Well, you know we had never seen, we had never done maize. But it was raining to so fast and he said, there was a shed, he said ‘Well sit down there’ turned midday like that, ‘well’ he said, so I don’t know, I guess he had phoned the camp, somebody came to pick us up, yes we came back in. But from that place there was occasionally a military lorry to take some out but usually there was private civilian vehicle especially pantechnicon you know for the furniture, they used to take us out. Well, what happened there I found in the office there was an Able Seaman and when he saw me he, ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘I’m glad to see you.’
Well, that day I was saying we went to Leighton Buzzard but the next day they get me on a different way, we were five or six on the lorry and we ended at St.Paul’s Walden (Herts.) on the property of the Queen’s Mother. We were clearing ditches and we had got an English man, an elderly chap, a pensioner he used to come with us. When we were more or less five or six like that what he used to do - he gave the goods to a chap that was in charge to get lunch time dinner. We where out in the country you used get the fire like that, boil the water. Going there one day through Wheathampstead we turned into a field. There were some travellers and we got out of the lorry and a chap, oh, he could be 25 years old, he came out to talk to us from the caravan and you know he was oh, so, bigger and well made, we said, ‘Why aren’t you in the Forces?’ ‘Oh, no’ he said, ‘I’m too clever, they won’t get me in the Forces.’ So somebody said, ‘Shall we do him one of them …’ so we said, ‘yes, why not?’ The idea was … then I said, ‘No. Don’t let it get us in trouble because if we do it here we are sure to get in trouble.’ Somebody had had the idea if he was so damn clever we are going undress him, naked in the middle of the village! But I said, ‘Well, no, we might get some nasty punishment.‘
From there we ended up at a farm in Leighton Buzzard. The farmer was fair, pretty aged, he had got two men working for him. One was about 30 years old he had got a wife and three children but he wasn’t able for Services. The other one was a very good chap, he was retired already he was a Sergeant in the First World War. Oh, he had these whiskers, in a morning, ‘Mornin’ Sarg!’ ‘Mornin’ boys!’ The younger chap we saw one day, he was naughty, he had got his clothes pinned up with some wire! So we said, ‘What … ‘ ‘Well,’ he said ‘I am using all the coupons for the children, I’ve got no coupons.’ ‘Alright’ we said, ‘we will fix you up alright.’ We knew somehow that we could get what we wanted more or less, so we got him trousers, we got him shirts. He was very thankful, oh, yes. There were four of us on this farm and one was an Italian Sergeant, one day he said, ‘I don’t want to work, why should I work?’ So us three we said, ‘If you don’t do your bit, we were hand hoeing - we use these around your backside!’ So he had to.
But we liked to be men shall we say, human beings and in camp at Bulford we were in tents and some in huts and then the flying bombs started arriving, like that. That was a bit of a nightmare. I was in tent with some boards and when one landed a far distance and you were asleep and it lifted like that. We got used to them, we didn’t take any notice. One day a bunch of new ones came in, they were shipped in from South Africa, the poor devils when they heard the first explosion, they nearly went mad! We said, ‘Look, we have been here quite a while now and you sort of get used to it. So you will have to do the same, get used to it!’ Well, it was a pretty terrifying time through the war like that. Some chaps were shipped to Kent and they wrote, some time they wrote, they said, they went to work on the farm with a helmet and their orders were if just notice any flying bomb just dive down in a ditch, like that. Then the Yanks, especially, they had got fighters, they used to go over the Channel, high up and when they saw these flying bombs coming over they used to dive on them with machine guns and drop them. Of course they had got the speed, although some of them had been damaged they used to reach over the land and land and explode. It wasn’t a very good time. But in camp we, everybody wanted to go out and live on the farm so they would be out free, like that. Eventually when that camp was emptied they replaced us with Germans the British Officer in Charge was that pleased because he said, ‘Well - now I can sleep well! Because the Germans in the morning they used to be ready, marching in formation to the vans to pick them up. When the Italians were here the lorries waited to pick them up. They used to dive out of the tent like that, holding their trousers up and their jacket with only one sleeve. If they’d got a shovel or a pick to take with them to work they used to drag it on the floor and make a hell of a noise!’ ‘With the Germans’ he said, ‘it is peace! They are ready on time, they have marching order, it is peace altogether!’
There was an Able Seaman in charge in the office - he used to do all the administration and he said one day, ‘Come in the office with me, there is room for two in there. You don’t go out to work we just do the writing.’ I said, ‘Not in my life time. I have done four years behind barbed wire’ I said, ‘I am going to be a steeplejack rather than staying in camp.’ ‘Oh, well’ he said, ‘please yourself.’ ‘I’ll tell you what’ I said, ‘Look I haven’t been here very long but I would like to go out lodging, billeting outside, like that.’ He said, ‘Oh, I will see what I can do.’
A few days later when I got in the camp in the evening he said, ‘Hey,’ he said, ‘you know what you told me?’ ‘yeah’ I said ‘well’ he said, ‘I don’t know how, but most everybody was on the list to go out to work, I added you at the bottom but now I see you are at the top of the list! I don’t know how?’ I said, ‘Thanks a lot, that’s very nice of you.’ Because I used to help him out. ‘Well’ he said, ‘the request is for two. Do you have a friend?’ ‘Yes, I’ve got a friend, alright.’ So I went and said to a chap, I said, ‘Here, Dario (Solera) (we had talked about it) how about going to a billet?‘ ‘Oh, yes’ he said. ‘Right, ready in the morning when the parties went to the vehicle pick up’ I said, ‘we are going.’ Well the driver of the covered in van, a sort of pantechnicon, he was a Cockney chap a young chap not fit for the Forces, there were two teams to drop off at Leighton Buzzard and us. Now at the time all the signposts on the road were done away with so he had never been around here, he said, ‘How the hell are going to find …?’ so everybody we saw, ‘Can you tell me where to go to so and so?’ Well, we eventually got there and we left the last gang, Westoning, he’d got the address in Westoning, ‘Now where the hell is that place?’ He asked somebody, ‘Never heard of it!’ Then somebody said, ‘I think, I’ve got an idea that the place is somewhere Toddington way.’ So we took this direction, when we got there, ‘Oh, well tell you what, go to Tingrith, I think it is round there.’ We got to Tingrith, it’s just a mile up the road here. We stopped at a gate and lo and behold these three Italians working there, living in the farm, ‘Where is Westoning?’ ‘Oh, it is just down the road.’ ‘Aah, alright.’ So we got here. I got here in Westoning about September 1944. Edna (later Mrs. Torselli) and her parents used to live up in the village so we stopped at the number and the driver goes and knocks at the door and my wife’s mother opened the door and she said, ‘What can I do for you?’ he said, ‘oh, I have got two men for you!’ She said, ‘Two men!’ ‘yes, Prisoners of War!’ She nearly passed out, she didn’t know! What happened, my wife’s father had done the request months before but he had never heard anything any more so we just turned up out of the blue! Laughter! We said to the chap, ‘Don’t they want us!’ ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘the wife answered the door but her husband he is out on the farm and he will be home in half an hour for his breakfast.’ Anyway, ‘Come in then!’ I could speak a little English but the other chap didn’t know a ruddy word of English. ‘Welcome, you have come.’ Well actually they asked in the spring because when we got there in September most of the work was done! So they said, we got to understand I was going to stay in the house, they had got a small box room they had got a bed in there and the other chap he was going to lodge with an elderly couple down in the village. We thought, ‘well, rather than to be still in camp, anything is welcome’ so we got on pretty well.
Where we live now is about eight acres, something like that, it belonged to Edna’s parents but they had got a farm they used to rent just on the other side of the village, 120 acres, something like that. At the time there were three women working for them because here all these grounds, seven acres, it was all vegetables. They used to grow all vegetables that he used to sell to some merchants, there was two or three they used to buy the stuff, some delivering to Luton and other parts like that, market gardeners. Well, we you know we used to do the work. We didn’t know much but we soon got used to it. But at a later date, well they didn’t need two men so somebody in Flitwick, a farmer (Mr. Vincent of Froghall Farm, Flitwick) wanted a man like that. They contacted the Agricultural Committee, whatever it was.”
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