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The action of a Royal Artillery soldier in the Italian campaign

by AgeConcernShropshire

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Tony Morris
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18 January 2006

This story is transcribed by me , Graham Shepherd , from notes provided by Lois Morris on behalf of her late husband Tony Morris , and will be added to the site with her approval . She understands the sites terms and conditions .

Tony was born on 14th January 1918 in Longdon Common , near Shrewsbury in Shropshire and Joined the Dorrington troop of the Shropshire Yeomanry ( TA ) in April 1934 . He spent two weeks basic training at Aldershot , Salisbury , Swansea and lastly at Porthcawl . Various forms of training continued up until 1939 , when he could normally have left the army , but with the war approaching he was retained .

Tony’s war service began on 21st September 1939 when he had to report to Coleham drill hall in Shrewsbury , where he remained for four days before being sent home to get his personal belongings . His regiment then went to Addeley Hall at Market Drayton for seven months training and living in tents . His pay was fourteen shillings of which he sent seven home . This later increased to twenty shillings a week and Tony was very lucky to have his money made up to his full wages by Sir Reginald Holcroft of Wrentnall , for whom he had been driving before the war .

In April 1940 the regiment was sent to Mile End camp near Oswestry , where it was reformed into an Artillery Regiment . Tony was thus in B troop - 101st Battery — 75th ( Shropshire Yeomanry ) — Medium Regiment RA . While at Oswestry he trained to be a driver of Matadore trucks and also as a motorbike dispatch rider .

The regiment then moved on to Senny Bridge , Brecon where they underwent training on the firing ranges for a few weeks . In December 1942 they were equipped with 4.5” guns and moved to Liverpool from where he embarked on board the “ Cape Town Castle “on 20th December bound for Durban . The journey took seven weeks and there were 18,000 on board . During the journey someone on board died of pneumonia and had to be buried at sea . As they arrived at Durban , Gracie Fields was there singing to the troops . Tony had two days leave here before moving on to Port Said , Suez .

Once billeted they underwent several months of intensive battle training , but he did manage to see the Pyramids and several over sites during two weeks leave .

In June 1943 the regiment moved off in convoy , through the desert to Tripoli . Whilst in convoy Tony’s regiment passed another convoy travelling in the opposite direction and John Holcroft of Wrentnall was in the Company and had heard that a Shropshire regiment was passing . He decided to see if there was anyone he knew and met up with Tony and others . This was the last time that Tony saw him since was killed at Tobruk . He remembers that the Matadore truck needed four sets of tyres while crossing the desert . He also recalled being given eggs and they did not know what to do with them , but he had the idea of putting them in the trucks radiator , which soon boiled them .

On reaching Tripoli , they boarded a LST ( Landing Ship Tank ) which took them to Syracuse in Sicily where the regiment prepared for battle . They then entered to Italy campaign , supporting in turn the Fifth and Eighth Armies both of which had troops from most of the Allied Nations . Tony’s truck was the first to land in Reggio , Italy , where he had to drive several miles inland before deploying his gun into a firing position . There followed a period of “ following up “ , a fast moving battle , and the regiment moved , in stages , to San Severo via Nicastro , Bari , Corato and finally Foggia .

The regiment then supported the !st Canadian Division at Campobasso and the 5th Division through Isernia to Rio Nero Sannitico where it was very wet . It is here where Cecil Carswell won his Military Medal for remaining at his gun under heavy enemy counter-fire .

The regiment then supported the third battle of ( Monte ) Cassino with a very heavy bombardment . The guns were deployed about seven miles away from the town and Tony had to drive the ammunition to the gun . At 04-30 one morning the guns opened fire and continued firing for several days . By the time the guns stopped firing the whole site was so dusty that it was difficult to see . After the battle was over Tony walked to the top of Montr Cassino to the Monastery but it was a difficult task because the ground was incredibly pitted with craters and there were many bodies .

During the Cassino battle , Tony was sharing a barn with a group of Gurkhas , who were only armed with Kukri knives . Tony and others wanted to look at the knives , but the Gurkhas would allow them , as it is against their belief to draw them unless to draw blood . However , they got around this by making a small cut on each others hands . One night the Gurkhas were going out on patrol and they swore that they would return with several German heads . The next morning Tony woke up to a chattering sound and , when he looked , there were three German heads , with teeth chattering , rolling across the floor towards them .

When the battle of Cassino had ended the regiment advanced towards Rome , where the men had a week’s leave to look around the city . They then continued to Lake Trasimeno , through Arezzo , across the River Arno , through the Gothic Line and lastly to the Bologna Plain . Tony’s job throughout the fighting was to drive the gun to its new position and , when it was in position , to drive the ammunition up to the gun when it was needed . In between transporting the ammunition he would park up the truck in a concealed position and wait for orders .

In one position he noticed that it was very dusty while taking the shells up to the gun . When all the guns fired , one of the other guns in the battery , being commanded by my Uncle, Sergeant Albert Hughes , had a “ hang up “ . The shell had become too dusty and this had caused it not to fire when it was shot ; instead it blew up in the chamber of the gun . Two people were killed immediately , one had his leg blown off and Albert , luckily , survived .
On one occasion , after towing the gun to a new position , Tony was washing the winch rope in a nearby stream when a shell suddenly landed five yards away . Luckily for him the explosion travelled in the opposite direction and this undoubtedly saved his life . Another time Tony and a Sergeant were standing on a bridge over the river Po , late in the Italy campaign ; the surrounding area was being heavily shelled but seemingly not that close . However , the Sergeant ran his hand down his leg and suddenly realised he had been hit !

In May 1945 the regiment took up a defensive line against Tito’s Yugoslave army in the much — disputed province of Venezia Giulia , but nothing happened . On travelling through the Alps , Tony let someone else drive in order that he could have a rest . When the driver went around a tight corner , one of the wheels went over the edge . Everyone in the truck was shouting for Tony to get in and get them out of this situation . The driver did not want him to get back in because he thought that the truck was about to fall over the cliff . Tony jumped back in and drove the truck away from danger .

Tony was in Trieste when the war ended .

In late 1945 Tony was demobbed and sent by train from Trieste , via Switzerland , to a port in north France . From there he crossed over to Southampton and continued his journey , by train , to Aldershot .

When Tony arrived back at Longden Common he had been wondering what he could do to earn some money , as he had nothing left . He was pleasantly surprised . On opening a cupboard at home he found that the seven shillings he had been sending home throughout the war had been saved for him .

Tony won the following medals from the war :

® The 1939 — 45 Star
® The African Star
® The Italy Star
® The Defence Medal
® The War Medal
® The Territorial Medal

Please read this story together with — Life in Rural Shropshire during the War by Lois Morris

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