- Contributed by
- BBC Cumbria Volunteer Story Gatherers
- People in story:
- David Scott
- Location of story:
- Meldola, Italy, Middle East, Austria
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 22 January 2006
This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Janine John of the Cumbria volunteers on behalf of David Scott and has been added to the site with his permission. The author fully understands the site’s terms and conditions. David kindly met with me to share his memories of the war, both locally and with the army abroad and these form three stories that follow in chronological order. The third story follows:
Experiences in Italy and the Middle East
On the invasion into Italy we went through to Monte Casino but suddenly got taken out of line because our division had suffered more than thirty percent casualties. We were sent to what was known as the Middle East — Egypt and that area, the canal zone, to regroup. They were trying to take Palestine over, so we got a bit involved in that going on. When that settled down again we got shipped back to the other side of Italy and went through and finished up as army of occupation in Austria. I saw a bit of the war and a bit of the fighting. I always used to say that I saw the world at the taxpayer’s expense. But I wasn’t married, I had no problem. A lot of men who were called up of course, a lot of their wives and mothers needed their army pay to help them see through without having the man at home. With me, nobody was missing me. Because of that I didn’t get released quite as early — I didn’t get out of the army until 1947 when I actually finished and came home and got married myself - I met my wife in Austria later on.
I saw people killed around me that I’d known and all sorts of incidents during the war which were frightening and horrific. When we were going up through Italy we saw people that had been killed — I mean I would walk out in the morning and there would be a dead body lying on the lawn. There were people lying there and it was more or less — poor chap, dead — you walked over him, stepped over him. Some were civilians, some were soldiers. One of the dreadful things that I always remember really did make me feel… even now. The Germans accused the Civilians where we were living in a little village called Meldola — its up in the hills in Italy. When we were up there we had high altitude rations. Apparently these extra rations were making a few of the soldiers constipated for one reason or another. We had that lovely song that we used to sing about beautiful dreamer,
“Beautiful dreamer, up in the Hills, high altitude rations and number 9 pills.”
This village up there had lovely people and we got to know them very well. Sometimes you stopped and you moved and you moved and you moved on, but sometimes you stopped and you stayed for a while as the front settled down and people and the lines of communication tightened up. We’d stay and keep the line and then we’d move again. That was fighting the war, going up and up. We weren’t actually fighting the war, we were providing the supplies and things. I always said that I was in the army to know what it was all about but just far enough back to be more healthy because we used to supply the ammunition for them to fire at them. We didn’t fire at them. That was the best part of my war in that way.
Anyway, the Germans accused these people of giving their position away before we got there, in the period before we actually came in to take over in this village. We got there and there was the congregation as they had been coming out of church. They had been machine gunned as they had come out and they were just all still lying on the path that lead up to the church in their Sunday best, their jackets and clothes, looking all smart, all lying dead. Men, women and children. And that’s what greeted us when we got to this village. And of course they were a bit anti-us, a bit anti-everybody. We tried to make amends as best we could. The Germans had said they had being giving their positions away which we said was wrong. We said we didn’t work from any information from you because the British army doesn’t work on civilian information, we only work on military information and so you can’t pin the blame on us, on you or anyone else. We said the Germans just killed you because they were losing the war, that’s all we could think. They were trying to find a reason.
They were lovely people the Italians, they were never fighters. They were more operatic and singing, lovely characters. They loved their singing and that. Very kind, they were lovely and kind to us on many occasions. I was crossing one of the mountains and you think that when you are in Italy you won’t get bad weather but there was this blizzard that came across. I was on a motorbike and the snow what building up on my chest and I saw a light in the distance so I made my way to the farmhouse. They took me in and warmed me up, gave me something to drink and let me stay the night. They said, ‘you can go back and things might be better afterwards’, and that’s the sort of thing — the Italians were very kind people.
I haven’t often mentioned it, but you read about the war afterwards and you realized you were part of that and that you’re actually reading about it now. When we left Italy, Churchill wanted for us to go right down through Syria and Iraq, Iran and all these places, go right down to the Turkish border and then he wanted to go through and as Churchill called it, ‘Strike at the soft underbelly of Europe - that was his sort of terminology. We were all charging down there in convoy, hot blistering hot, and in the distance you could see Mount Aratat — where the ark was supposed to have finished up in the story of the big flood and Noah and the Ark. They finished up where they touched dry land and that was Mount Aratat which you could see in the distance. It’s covered in snow yet we were absolutely sweating away, tyres were going up with the heat and we were having to change wheels and things. We got down there and we hadn’t been down there long before we went trooping back because they had the Teheran conference between Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill. It’s only when you get back home again that you start piecing the jigsaw together that you were involved with. You realize what, why and wherefore. That was why we went so far that way to the Turkish border and came all the way back again.
They were all fairly friendly people in Iraq but they were used to British people being there in all these countries. There had always been a British presence over there. We came across some interesting characters that were dotted about the place as we went through. You suddenly found there was some Englishman who had been there donkey’s years and he was part of the community — and a Frenchman, one or two Irish men, one or two engineers that were working there. You suddenly realized that there was quite a spread of various people from different countries right the way down the Middle East in quite a few countries.
Moving on to Austria
When the army found out that my home address was a hotel, the Prince of Wales Hotel in Grasmere, they thought that I must be used to employing and looking after staff. Nobody ever thought that when I was called up I was only just out of school. I hadn’t employed anybody or looked after staff but I was given a job in charge of the Civilian Labour Office. Civilians used to come and work for the army because we needed people. A lot of our men were territorial soldiers and were due for going home fairly early and as the war was ending, to fill in the gaps we were employing vehicle drivers, bakers, butchers… The army has to feed itself and the rest of it. That was our side of it in the Service corps with the 46th infantry division.
We needed to employ people who could do the civilian trades. We started with four working for us and by the time I’d finished before I came home there were 450 people that had gone through our office — we had quite a big labour force. I had to have a shop steward. I had an interpreter and a pay clerk. It was quite an interesting occupation. I realized that I was running myself into a dead end though because they couldn’t get rid of me without a bit of an upset as I had set the whole thing up. I’d designed the barrack pass for the men to come in as it was a military establishment and they needed a pass to come past the guard to get in and things like this. I’d got all that and I’d sorted them out and I’d got all the various people in the niches doing their work and I suddenly thought ‘they’re not going to be able to let me go home.’
Fortunately because I’d been out early in '41, '42 I’d been overseas long enough — apparently there was something that I’d been completely unaware of but there is an act of parliament with regard to the British army that a soldier can not be away from his home, from England for longer than a certain period of time without letting him come home for repatriation and then he can go out again but you’ve got to have that ability to go home — so I was then informed through the other branch of the army, the pay side of it that I was due to for ‘python’ as they called it — I don’t know where that phrase came from, but you were due for python. They told me when that would be so I went in to the office and said, ‘you’ll have to find someone to replace me because I’m going home.’ They said, ‘what a rotten trick you’re going to play on us,’ and I said, ‘what a rotten trick you were going to play on me.’ I wasn’t a career soldier. I wanted to get back to Lake District, mother, family and friends. That’s where I wanted to be. I didn’t mind doing what I was doing, it was interesting, but it was only just an interest to tide me over until I went home.
I met my wife in Austria
That was it. I got home that time and I got home in end 1946. I was finished in ‘47 and I got married on the 12th July. We met during the war in Austria. She came to me for a job because I was employing civilians. She came and it is quite true that there is such a thing as love at first sight because when she walked in I said ‘Boy, what a lovely looking girl.’ She was at university studying medical chemistry and the students there if they wanted to draw their full rations on their ration cards had to have a job during the holiday time. Otherwise they couldn’t draw their rations. Her cousin was working where I was in Gratz in Austria and her cousin said ‘Why don’t you go and see Mr Scott’ as they all called me up there as they kept me away from being an army sergeant, corporal or whatever I’d have got with my responsibilities but I was always known as ‘Meesta Scott’ by them all. She came in to see me and I thought right away, instantly, what a lovely girl. I immediately signed her up and said ‘you don’t have to come back to work. I’ll fill your card in for you and stamp your card that you’re working’. They needed a stamp on their card to say they were working and then when they went to draw their rations they had to show this card, and that was how she came to me. She always said she came to me for a job and got a job for life.
Reflecting on Army Life - The Importance of Being Aware
You always had to be aware of and look out for and be aware of the possibility of people snooping about or putting mines in at night-time. Then you could go over a mine which would blow your leg off — things like that. Very dangerous little things are mines. Princess Diana was involved with clearing the minefields because they cause more casualties after the war than they did during the war. We used to have flails mounted on the front of the tanks, banging the ground in front of them. This didn’t harm the flails at all because they were just loose lengths of chain. That’s how they cleared their way through quickly. But they were still all over the other side and one of the stories they used to tell us was about an army unit that had been in to take a village that had been booby-trapped all over the place. They had been very careful and sorted everything out and checked on this and checked on that. There was a man in this house and saw the lavatory and thought he’d use the lavatory, used the lavatory and pulled the chain and the whole place blew up. That’s how you’ve got to be careful, they used to say. You never know what they’ve booby trapped. That was to warn you and they used it as an example. Don’t take anything — don’t just go in and switch a light on or light a match. If you see something lying on the floor you don’t just pick it up without inspecting it.
You might see something like a pen lying on the floor and say that looks nice. BANG. It could blow your hand off. That’s what you had to beware of. If you saw anything lying on the ground don’t touch it. Pick it up with a pair of tongs or something and look at it from a distance. Again, another side of life which is a side of life which is still evident now and that the army was very particular about - they realized that they couldn’t stop soldiers being interested in the females. They had to then make places where soldiers could go in like a brothel. They had to make sure that the army inspected them all and said that they were alright because a man with venereal disease is a man taken out of the war. That side of it comes into life in the army because the enemy were quite happy if people got infected — the Germans were quite happy if you infected yourself with an Italian person and that sort of thing. It was a great eye opener to me because I’d never seen this world before. We used to get lectures about it and they said if you find a pretty girl and you find that she’s very easy in that way, then DON’T because you don’t know who’s been before you and that was what they used to say. If they’re easy don’t. You had to go through that in life. All your aspects of life, you’ve got to be aware all the way through of the pitfalls and what can be wrong.
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