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In transit - North Africa and Naples area Italy - Vesuvius erupts

by RichardCory

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Archive List > World > Italy

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People in story: 
John Cory
Location of story: 
North Africa and Naples area Italy
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Contributed on: 
23 October 2005

Finding transport waiting for us on the dockside, we were taken to Blida, a distance of 32 miles. The tented camp was situated at the foot of a snow-capped mountain range, the weather like English late spring but very muddy under-foot.

Blida, itself, was quite picturesque, on the French colonial style. The inhabitants were a dirty scruffy looking lot, prone to stealing from the camp, if given the chance. Some of the larger houses were very imposing, with walled gardens. Hovels could be found down back streets, the usual Arab style.

It was raining heavily when we got up at 5.30 in the morning to proceed to our next destination — Chateau D’un, on the edge of the Sahara. The 24 hour journey from Algiers was by rail in cattle trucks, climbing most of the way, over the Atlas mountains, arriving onto a plateau 3800ft up and it was actually snowing.

Chateaux D’un was an outpost of the French Foreign Legion, but currently occupied by a depot artillery regiment. We found that we had been posted there by mistake.

The landscape was absolutely barren with no habitation, just sand dunes as far as the eye could see. Venturing out for a short walk but keeping one eye on the fortress one experienced extreme solitude but turning round to find an Arab complete in white robe and head-dress, wanting to buy cigarette blankets, watches and even mosquito nets.

After a spell of helping to move live shells from a dump to the Chateau and then a guard patrolling the tented lines for Arab intruders with orders to fire on sight we were ready to be off. Once again by rail in cattle trucks, but this time down hill most of the way, to Phillipville, on the coast.

We boarded a Norwegian vessel which was to take us to Naples. Most of the voyage took place during the hours of darkness. The ship putting on a good turn of speed pitches and tossed in the rough sea, and I was sea-sick for the first time.

Early next morning we arrived in the Bay of Naples and noticed that the surrounding dock area had been very badly bombed.

By this time we had formed our own squad, of those intended for Survey regiments — Surveyors, wirers and other odd types such as drivers.

Finding no transport waiting for us we set out for the transit camp at Africgola, ten miles north of Naples. Shortly on the way we managed to hitch a lift which took us right to the camp.

There’s very little to say of merit regarding the camp, they had forgotten to lay on transport for us and it took them a further two hours to pick-up our kit, which we had left at the docks.

The camp was in an extensive olive grove, the ground boggy, mud and water everywhere. The only vacant tents were water-logged. The food was not all that good, the cookhouse being in the open and it seemed to be raining most of the time.

Most of the population in the area were starving. Joss and another of our friends had a roam around Naples and looking over a church found that an orphanage was attached, run by nuns. The 200 odd children were in a poor state, they had a number of days existed only on a soup which was mostly water.

The cook agreed to let us have some of the left-over food, and somehow we managed to find a truck to do the journey. However, on the first run our truck was mobbed by women when leaving the lines. We strengthened the escort and managed to reach the orphanage safely. We were blessed by the Mother Superior. The errand was repeated after every meal and the head cook, sergeant and a good sort, promised to organise the arrangement when we left.

On Sunday, the 18th. Vesuvius erupted, the biggest outbreak since 1929. The lava poured down the side, ½ mile wide by 2ft.deep, lighting up the sky with a red glow for miles around. Climbing the tower of St. Georges Church in Africgola we had a good view of the volcano, and with the aid of glasses could clearly see flames and particles gushing out at the top. Even at our distance we were getting some of the effects, a light dust on everything and a faint smell of Sulphur.

A part of our squad was posted including Wally Wilkinson. Some time later I met up with him at a rest camp, to learn he had landed up at a ‘hot spot’, the beachhead at Anzio, and had experienced a very rough time.

At last it came my turn to be collected, with friends, by the transport of the 8th. Survey Regiment and we were glad to leave the transit camp behind.

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