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Memories of My War in Italy

by derbycsv

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Archive List > British Army

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Sandy, Norman, The Padre, Peter, Cherry, Bernard, Jimmy, Mac, Sgt. Sullivan, Sgt. Hoadley
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23 January 2006

Surely everything has been written about the war by various members of the forces. So instead, I’ll write about the characters I met during and after my wartime days in Italy.

SANDY To avoid being poisoned by the retreating enemy we were wisely instructed not to drink water unless it was supplied by the water truck- each unit having one of these vehicles which regularly came round. Sandy and Bull Foster drove our water truck and one day after imbibing more than a goodly amount of the rough red local vino they crashed into a ditch and were subsequently court-martialled. A suitable punishment was meted out and I remember thinking that it was too much to expect the army authorities to see any amusement in the situation and deal leniently with two drunken soldiers who were on the water wagon.
One had to be very careful when Sandy was around for he would take a quick at your lower regions and with a devilish cackle nip quickly out of the room. One half of the human race will readily appreciate the excruciating pain delivered by this wiry little Barnsley miner.

NORMAN A quieter soldier one never saw but alcohol motivated him to great heights. Our unit was some six miles from Rome on what they called a rest and refit during the Christmas period of 1944 and there were regular trips arranged into the Eternal City- they were called passion wagons. One evening I was with some of my pals and we noticed a large crowd around a famous Trevi Fountain. A soldier had waded through the water and climbed the statue in the middle. The Military Police were on hand but reluctant to get wet through in order to bring him down and so they did their best to induce him to return but he was enjoying his elevated position far too much too leave it. Eventually he descended and waded back. The M.P.s must have had instructions to go easily with soldiers who would shortly be returning to the front line and after a good telling off he was sent on his way. It was our quiet shy young Norman.

THE PADRE It was quite common practice for regiments to commandeer a small hotel nicely away from the fighting and use to give a few days break away from the front line for the lads. Our Sergeant Major was in charge of this operation and for the benefits of his closest friends he acted as a procurer, arranging for them to satisfy their desires with a local lady of easy virtue. It so happened that back at the regiment the Padre expressed a wish to have a little break and so a good hearted sergeant graciously gave up his place for him. Unfortunately it was not possible for this information to be conveyed to the sergeant major at the hotel to enable him to stop the amorous arrangement.
The Padre was nicely settling down in his bedroom when the lady entered. We eventually heard that the Padre had shouted “Get out woman”. This was accepted by some but others were much more sceptical and could not envisage even a padre turning down such a golden opportunity.

PETER We very often found ourselves in a hovel or farm building and if things were quiet in the evening would in turn spontaneously endeavour to entertain the members of our little company.
One of our members, Peter, excelled on two counts. One was the ability to recite filthy rhymes. The source of this poetic pornography was never discovered but it was not unknown for him to perform for half an hour without repeating himself.
His voice was not required for his other form of entertainment — quite the reverse. He was unable to perform at will but had to wait for a sufficient accumulation of internal gas. This enabled him to render the first line of National Anthem- a noble and gracious thing to do by a soldier in honour who His Majesty.
The control of this wind emanating from his rear ensured that the notes were of the requisite length and to the tone deaf the performance was admirable but to the more musically inclined was somewhat tuneless as the notes had a certain flatness and similarity.
Nevertheless our little gathering all joined in acclamation for his outpourings and no doubt spurred on by our encouragement he was on one notable occasion inspired to make an attempt on the second of this most regal, well known and well loved piece of music. It happened that on that day our regiment had taken up position near to a vineyard and Peter had consumed a goodly amount of grapes. Alas, this had a loosening effect of his bowel movements which led to an unfortunate disaster. He decided there and then to make an instant retirement from this activity and we were thus deprived of this unique type of entertainment.
One may feel that it would require a person of some great physical proportions to produce the necessary pressure of internal gas for such a performance but Peter was of average height and of slender build which goes to prove that we can all excel in some particular field if only, like him we can summon up the necessary determination and with constant practice move on to more noble achievements.

CHERRY Drink was his problem. No, that’s not true, it wasn’t a problem, it was to him a joy far above and beyond all other earthly joys. Drinking the rough red country wine put one in danger of having the enamel removed from one’s teeth and dissolving of one’s filling but Cherry loved it.
We had just taken up position in the Italian countryside one day and he moved off to find a supply of vino somewhere. In strange country he couldn’t find his way back to regiment and so decided to bed down on a small haystack. Unfortunately in his drunken state he fell off and we were eventually informed that he was in a South African field hospital recovering from a broken arm.
On leave in Florence one evening during his bacchanalian meanderings he found himself in a room with a lady of the night. The story went that he felt so sorry for the way this lady had to earn her living that he gave her his army pullover and almost all his money, wisely keeping some back for a little more drink. We understood that was as far as the transaction went as he wandered off in search of the bar.

BERNARD As the war drew to a close the army authorities drew up a plan to allow soldiers to take a leave back home. Some had been away for over four years. This was very limited so each regiment had a monthly lottery. To my delight my name came out and I set off with a colleague to travel from northern Italy down to Naples where a ship would be available to take us home and a month later bring us all the way back again. Gathered in a transit camp a few miles out of the city we were told that the ship would be departing early next morning and it would be necessary to be on parade at 4.15 a.m. and so we deemed it wise to have an early night. But along with few others of a like mind my regiment colleague set off for Naples. Having tasted the pleasures of the city Bernard and his mates had to make their way back to camp and so they hired a horse and carriage, no doubt at top rate. After setting off they decided to high jack the conveyance and ousted the driver. His screams and shouts soon alerted his companions who joined in the chase. The driver caught up with the carriage so Bernard had no hesitation in leaning over and swiping him with a bottle. More even louder screams and shouts. The Military Police were alerted and before the lad arrived back at camp their jeep over took them. This was it then- no doubt their leave would be cancelled and they would be returned to their regiment. But all the happened was that M.P.s told them not to be so ----stupid and that was it.
We were duly awakened at four next morning and a sergeant with a aid of a torch shouted out our names. Bernard and his two friends never even turned out but later on joined the march through the city passing through some depressing slums with washing hanging from one side of the street to the other. It was daylight as we looked from the bay backs at Naples and Vesuvius and now began to fully understand the man who coined the phrase “See Naples and die”.

JIMMY After the war I was sitting in a bar when Jimmy came in. Several other soldiers were drinking and across the room were too ladies of the street. Jimmy proposed to go over and chat them up but on my emphasising how unattractive they were he agreed not to do so. However after another drink or two his feelings got the better of him and he went over. I was about to depart back to our H.Q. when Jimmy came and asked a favour of me. He knew that I was very familiar with the district and his request was for me to go with them and be on hand to see him back to the regiment. At a discreet distance I followed the pair of them until they came to a small haystack and disappeared behind it. Time passed and as I had no wish to be punished for being late I softly called. No reply. Another call, louder this time. Again no reply so I set off.
His mission completed Jimmy set off back to barracks but was soon lost in the country lanes. He spotted a house and decided to ask for help. Ascending the outside steps he banged on the door which was opened by an Italian peasant who, on seeing a soldier standing there quickly slammed it shut and in no time at all pandemonium ensued. The men shouting, the women screaming and the kids howling. Jimmy quickly left the premises. After a long time wandering in the dark he came upon the main road and headed for the barracks. It was so late that to book in at the guard room would have led to him being on a charge but we were prepared for such emergencies as there was a gap in the barbed wire which one could squeeze under. Accomplishing this he made his way to bed. He had paid a few hundred lira for the ladies services and she had rewarded him with a dose of V.D. but the wonder drug penicillin had appeared on the scene and Jimmy went back to Scotland with a clean bill oh health.

MAC Before the war there was a certain Charles Atlas who had a perfect manly figure, narrow hips and tremendously broad shoulders. He sold expensive body building courses to young men trying to emulate him. Mac was the nearest I ever saw to Charles Atlas. When a medium shell is put into the breach it must be rammed properly or it may explode before leaving the gun causing casualties to the gun crew. This took the efforts of two men but Mac could successfully ram it himself. After the war in an Italian bar his mates loaded him with alcohol and goaded him into smashing up the place. He was arrested and given 56 days in a military prison at Klagenfurt in Austria. The discipline was extreme- the slightest fault and the prisoner was punished severely. For some slight misdemeanour Mac was given four days solitary confinement which he thought would be a good change but after a couple of days he was desperate to get out.
He returned to the regiment with around six months to serve before discharge and his conduct from them was exemplary.

SGT. SULLIVAN How did he manage to keep so neat and clean when the rest of us were so mud bespattered? However, one night when it had been raining incessantly in sunny Italy for four days he left the command post to make his way in the dark to the latrines. Instead of waiting for his eyes to adjust to the darkness he set off and fell into a slit trench full of water. We liked that. He was given a few days leave and this Errol Flynn figure who thought that no lady could resist his advances one night at a dance went too far. Trying it on with a signorina, her partner approached and promptly stabbed him. We never found out whether his stab wounds were fatal as he never returned to the regiment.

SGT. HOADLEY the frustration of having to stay in the army after hostilities had ceased caused many soldiers to turn to drink. Hoadley was some kind of instructor in a gunnery team of which I was the office man. He seemed in a permanent pickle. Much older than us with a bloated reddish face he would enter the office in the morning with a cigarette in his mouth. I don’t think he actually smoked it as his lungs were not strong enough to draw in the smoke which resulted in a hanging residue. He would approach me at my desk and the ash would fall over my papers and his efforts to brush it away only made things worse. I was always addressed as “my friend” for after seeing me every day for the previous six months he hadn’t quite managed to grasp the correct pronunciation of my name. Several times a day he would wander in, cover me with ash and say:- I was pissshed last night, pissshed as a newt. I was” There would then be an explanation of where he had been to get in this condition and what he and his companions had been drinking. I think he had absorbed so much alcohol that it only needed a cup of tea to set him off again.
Then in his permanently slurred fashion and for the umpteenth time he would say:-

“I’ll tell you a little poem of my friend. Not drunk isssh he who from the floor
Can rysssh again and then drink more,
But drunk isssh he who proshtrate lies
Without the power to drink or rysssh.
Good poem that isssh my friend. I think I’ll get pissshed tonight.”
And away he would shuffle.

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