- Contributed by
- People in story:
- George Stephens; Tommy Tucker; Frank Jefferson; Kevin Hill
- Location of story:
- Monte Cassino, Italy
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 25 May 2004
This story was submitted to the People's War site by Somerset Libraries, Arts and Information on behalf of George Stephens and has been added to the site with his permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.
I was in 2nd Battalion the Lancashire Fusiliers in Italy and we were involved in the siege of Monte Cassino. The Americans had captured the monastery at the top of Mount Cassino but the Germans had counter-attacked and the Americans had retreated. We were down near the River Rapido and moved up the mountain toward the monastery. On the other side the New Zealand Expeditionary Force stopped any further German attack, but the enemy still held the monastery. We (together with various other regiments, including a Canadian tank regiment)laid siege. We were there for about three months. The ground was too hard to dig so we had little defence except rocks and dips in the ground. During the day it was too dangerous to move: we couldn’t even go to the toilet. We could hear the Germans singing ‘Lily Marlene’ to torment us. Nothing could be heated. We couldn’t even have a cup of tea!
Food was brought up to us (at night of course) by a Sikh regiment — ‘Johnny Sikhs’ we used to call them. Only one of them. their Lance-Corporal, could speak any English. As a runner, I was detailed to go down the mountain to Battalion HQ to fetch up the Sikhs and then to guide them down again. My mate Jacko was sent down once but they wouldn’t come up with him, so I had to go down all the time! One night I arrived back with them at Battalion HQ to find I’d lost one of them. They all went crazy and were all set to go and find him, but our Regimental Sergeant Major wouldn’t allow it for fear of Jerry patrols. (He used to give the Sikhs teaspoonfuls of rum and sometimes I got one). Anyway, I eventually found the missing Sikh curled up in a dip with Jacko. He had to wait till next nightfall to go back.
About a week later we were relieved by a ‘Recky’ platoon. (They used to reconnoitre what was going on and then report back to the commanding officers). This meant we could have a break at HQ. I collected some mail and found I had a copy of the Western Gazette — my local paper. A sergeant from the Recky platoon spotted me with it and introduced me to one of his soldiers from Yeovil named Tommy Tucker. “What’s it like up there?” Tommy asked me. “Oh, cushy”, I replied. I took them up to the monastery that night and Tommy was in a forward position. About six weeks later I met up with the Recky sergeant and he said “Your mate don’t think much of you. Ten minutes after you left they all got taken prisoner by a Jerry patrol!”
In the middle of May we were due to go to Concerta for a rest. A troupe of Polish solders were due to take over from us, but before they could do so the Allies started to attack the Monastery. The Poles attacked from the top and we, the Lancashire Fusiliers, from the back. We managed to make contact with the Poles and then, early on the 16th May, Jerry counter-attacked. My Company, C Company, was getting a real hiding from two tanks and about twenty infantry men. They wiped out one platoon completely and were starting on another. But then Frank Jefferson went out in front of a tank and fired a PIAT mortar right into it. The other tank, and about twenty infantry retreated. Our Major (Kevin Hill) ordered us to charge and we took out all twenty infantrymen completely. On 17th May at 10 am a flag appeared on top of the monastery and the Germans were retreating. We charged inside and took prisoners. Then we carried on up a main highway to Rome and that was the end of the Cassino battle. My friend, Frank Jefferson, was awarded the V.C.
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