- Contributed by
- People in story:
- James H Hughes
- Location of story:
- Taermoli, Italy
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 23 October 2005
The following is the 5th installment of the Memories of my Uncle Jim who served in the 1st and 8th Army, who as agreed that they may be posted.
Our first objective was a place called Termoli. Most places which we had to take in Italy we had to cross a river, so the enemy would always blow the bridges, which meant the Engineers had to build one or bulldoze a way through the river if it was possible. These places were under shell fire, and the lads in the bridging companies of the Engineers had it really rough. To give some idea, in the distance of four miles three bridges had to be repaired, so until these were done the Infantry couldn’t get any support from tanks etc.
The Rifle Companies landed in Termoli from the sea while we of S Company came by road. We understood it had been taken by the Commandos, but that wasn’t the case. I remember going over the bridge into Termoli and taking my gun down a street towards the sea front, machine gun bullets coming down the street and aircraft machine gunning us, and a tank battle going on around the railway station. But as usual the Irish Brigade saw the enemy off.
After the Battalion moved to a village which I believe was called San Giacomo, and I had my gun on the outside of the village. There were two haystacks against which I camouflaged the gun, that of course was after I had prepared it ready for action. We pulled holes in the side of the stack to get in to have a nod. As you will understand we were all tired, so I told the lads to get some sleep and I would keep watch on the Bren Gun. The next thing I know was somebody kicking my foot. I’d nodded off - it was the Officer — he took me in front of the Colonel. Again I was Lucky Jim. He let me off because of my good record.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom. We had lighter moments while in this position. I had a young Irish lad named Clancy in my team, who said “Can I borrow your Tommy gun Sergeant”. I asked what for. He replied “I’m just going to have a look round”, so off he went and returned shortly with a live young pig draped round his shoulders. I asked where he had got it from, he replied “I told the farmer that the Sergeant would pay him”. That was not the only one he got, the Sergeant didn’t pay. Nearby was a small copse, so I said “Right, Clancy, you and another take it in there and get it ready”. After a while one came back and asked if we had any razorblades. They were only lathering and shaving the pig! In the meantime we had scrounged some tomatoes and onions from somewhere and all were put in a big biscuit tin and boiled up.
Eventually Clancy went on another gun team and I lost touch with him. I joined the Old Comrades Association of the Inniskillings and received a list of names of the members. The name Steve Clancy was on it but the address was Canada, so I thought “Can that be my Clancy?”. So I wrote to Canada, and when he received the letter he ‘phoned me the same night and two weeks after he visited me at home. Although almost fifty years had passed recognition was mutual. Now he was much bigger than me. We went for a meal and he would insist on paying. He said “I’ve got plenty of money, the Queen looks after me.” I asked “Where did you get to after you left me?” He said “I joined the Commando”. Whether he was kidding me I don’t know, but he said he was wounded seven times, but I do know he saw more service in Malaya and other places, and no matter what old soldier of the ‘Skins’ I talk to when I go on parade in Liverpool or London they all know Clancy and he attends most of these meetings.
Now back to the War. The next battle I remember we had to cross a river called the Trigno to take a place called San Salvo. As usual the bridge had been blown and the Engineers had made a crossing through the river and were heavily shelled all the time. I shall never forget that job. The other side of the river was a wood into which we went and every time a shell landed the cry ‘Stretcher Bearers!’ was heard. Our Bofor Guns, which were really anti-aircraft were firing tracer rounds, and in a clearing were a squadron of Canadian tanks. To get to San Salvo from where we were we had to go over some open ground which rose steeply. The tanks moved off and we followed and got mixed up in the tank battle that was taking place. I remember one tank commander half in and half out of the turret minus his head. It was a gruesome sight, but he wasn’t the only one I saw like that. When we got into San Salvo we were attacked by German aircraft and I remember lying on the ground, watching the bombs leave the plane, hoping they were for someone else. I believe our Battalion HQ got some. Someone told me after that a Sutton lad had joined us as a reinforcement and this was his first battle. I didn’t see him for at least six months as he got wounded on this attack. I knew him very well and eventually we had a photo taken together in Rome.
In this battle the Brigade lost a lot of men from Colonel down to Fusilier. The next was the battle for the River Sangro. I always think of an incident that occurred a few nights before we crossed. We were in a position down a muddy lance against a big old house, at the side of which was an outhouse, and a few feet away was a small round haystack. Most of the lads along with myself decided to get in the outhouse, the remainder I knew where they would be, among them was the Officer’s Batman. I asked him where he was going to kip for the night. He said he would sleep in the back of one of the trucks.
Darkness fell and suddenly there was the biggest bang. I went outside thinking it was a bomb but there were no aircraft about. Next minute there was a flash and a bang and I realised that it was a very big German gun. The next one blew the back of the outhouse out so we crouched behind the front wall. I heard my name being called, so started to look round in the dark. I eventually found the batman lying between the stack and the outhouse. I found a board and called for some of the lads to assist me to get him into the house. There I saw the extent of his injury . His leg was nearly severed at the thigh. He said to me “My leg’s off, isn’t it?” I said “No, I’ll take your boot off and show you”. Apparently him and two more had been lying between the stack and outhouse. He was in the middle and was the only one to be hit. I sent a certain man for a stretcher. He seemed hesitant, so I sent someone else. I didn’t realise that he was one of the three. I got him to hospital as soon as possible, but we buried him next morning. I was given to understand that the day before he had received a “Dear John”.
As usual the bridge over the Sangro had been blow, but was able to be crossed by our patrols as at this time it was only one hundred feet wide and shallow. On 15th November it began to rain and the river became four hundred feet wide and five feet deep, and flowing so fast that it was impossible to cross. So this gave the Germans time to put more mines down on their side of the river. Again I must mention the Sappers who put up bridges over the Sangro in this torrential rain and constant shellfire. Any who had never been under constant shellfire can never know how frightening it is, and yet you still have to carry on doing your job and hoping that you won’t get hit.
The enemy side of the river was known as the German Winter Line and German deserters and prisoners boasted that it would never be taken. When we did get across the Sappers had to clear the mines again. I remember we had to cross a plain and came up to a big escarpment. By this time the Rifle Companies were attacking forward. we parked the trucks etc and dug our trenches. We soon were getting shelled and machine-gunned by aircraft. You wouldn’t realise how many bullets they fire.
Some names that come to mind the Colle, San Maria, Mozzagrogna, Roccas, Fossaceria, Lanciano. Somewhere around here I spent some time in a graveyard, which had received its share of shelling. Some of the tombs were broken and there were some of the inmates showing. Also around here I put my gun against a small bank and again started to dig a trench and couldn’t understand why every time I put my head above the bank a rifle would fire. It didn’t take long to realise that it was a sniper on the other side of a very deep valley.
The Battalion then went to take a place called San Vito and like Centuripe in Sicily they had a lot of street fighting to do, also like Centuripe there were some railings against a sheer drop. I was looking out over the railings and five or six hundred yards away could see movement in a cave, so I put an HE shell into it hoping it was Jerry.
The Battalion had some killed and wounded. We of the Anti-Tank Platoon went out of the town down a hill where I put my gun against a house, which was situated on the junction of two tracks, always a target for shelling. We made use of the house and we had a small stove on which I was cooking some sausage. The door of the house was open and Fusilier Hepton was standing there. I had just said to him “Do you want a sausage sandwich, Hepton?” when bang and Harry fell backwards into the room, hit by a bit of shrapnel in the groin. I never saw him again until after the War, when I met him in Sutton. He came from Mansfield but married a Skegby girl. The first thing he did when we met again was to say “What about this?” and take the shrapnel out of his pocket. I often think about him and smile. When he lay on the floor of that house he looked up at me, and said “Will you let my Mam know?” I kept in touch with him until he died fairly young. And I’ve often wondered if that wound was the cause because I believe his trouble was in that region.
Soon after we were relieved. The Brigade had done seven days and nights of continuous fighting. We were relieved by the Canadians.
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