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Ice cold…. But NOT in Alex !

by Ron Goldstein

Contributed by 
Ron Goldstein
People in story: 
Everyone who served in wartime Italy
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Contributed on: 
03 March 2005

Ron on his morning walk

I consider myself a fairly active octogenarian and, unless it is raining, I kick-start my day with a three mile circuit of my local park.
Despite wearing suitable clothing I confess that I DO notice the cold (10 degrees below zero at the time of writing) but on reflection this is as nothing compared with the temperatures we endured in Italy during WW2 and it is on this topic that I now write.

Our first winter in Italy, namely 1944, was horrendous.

Our introduction to weather conditions overseas had started off innocently enough.

I was stationed in Algeria from April ’43 until August ’43 and the sun presented no major problems. I know that immediately on reading this, some of the ‘old sweats’ will write of desert conditions and the perils of sunstroke but this was not my scene as I had arrived too late for the fighting in North Africa and had no real desert conditions to put up with.

Again, in Sicily, in July and August ‘43, apart from the perils of being shot at, the weather posed no major problems and the campaign was to last for only one month.

Italy, however, was another matter.

The first winter of ’43 found us totally unprepared for the conditions in which we had to serve.

It was nothing to have wet clothes on for three days at a time. We all had, at the most, three changes of underwear and shirts with which to survive and very little chance of washing and drying the same. It was not unusual to dig a slit trench to sleep in and to wake up to find ourselves floating in a foot of water.

But it was the cold that we all hated the most.

We rarely had a chance to see a thermometer but when the petrol froze overnight in our vehicle carburettors… we knew it was cold, when in Trieste our mugs of tea had ice floating on top before we could get them back to our barracks…. we knew it was cold and when , if you took your gloves off and touched the side of your tank , your hand literally froze to the metal … you again knew it was cold .

The winter of ’44 was no better but with the addition of mud everywhere the cold seemed to stick and because of the mud we had to wash more often which in turn made us colder…. It was a vicious, life-sickening circle that sapped our energy and turned us into morons.

Trieste in the winter of 1946 had it's own special brand of wintry delights.
They had (and probably still have)a local wind there called the Bora, supposedly coming from Russia and after the snow had fallen, melted and changed to ice it blew a 50 mile an hour gale througout the Trieste area that transformed people into skittles that were being blown over at every street corner.
The issue of leather jerkins, tank suits, extra blankets and even rum issues eventually helped to lighten our loads but today, sixty odd years later, whilst walking today in the park I was reminded of the cold of Italy and it was good to get back to my wife, my house, and the warmth and peace of Cockfosters.

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Message 1 - Ice Cold but not in Alex

Posted on: 03 March 2005 by Frank Mee Researcher 241911

Hi Ron,
Reckon you are going soft lad, on my long walk with Benji this morning it was supposedly 12 below. As I could only see Benji's ears and tail in the snow I can only guess which bits of him were feeling the cold.
These are the stories we really need putting on the site, what it was like in the long drag to the end of the war.
My Uncle Ron, Artillery In Italy spoke of the bitter cold clinging mud and never being warm for days on end. People think of Italy as the place they were on holiday, the balmy days sun and beaches.
Many Years after you Ron I can remember being bitter cold in the North African Desert, we would wear everything we had on the cold nights and find ice on the water in the morning. You tell it as it is, not all sun and fun it has its down side.
Keep them coming Ron.
Regards Frank.


Message 2 - Ice Cold but not in Alex

Posted on: 03 March 2005 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

The winter of 1944/45 was exceptionally cold, -16C° in the Po valley and much lower in the mountains. But it is regularly -10 in normal years. Northern Italy has extremes of temperature, as all "D-Day Dodgers" will know only too well.

Summer tourists may be surprised at the photos here links


Message 3 - Ice Cold but not in Alex

Posted on: 04 March 2005 by Ron Goldstein

Many thanks for that link and it's cracking photos of Capracotta in the snow.
Capracotta was only about 10 miles away from Carovilli and we were actually stationed there for a short while.

I'll make a deal with you...

I'll keep writing my stories if you'll keep sending me these fantastic links !




Message 4 - Ice Cold but not in Alex

Posted on: 04 March 2005 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Done! <surfer>


Message 5 - Ice Cold but not in Alex

Posted on: 04 March 2005 by Frank Mee Researcher 241911

Good grief Peter,
You had me saying poor old Ron until I spotted the TV aerials.
I was in Sorrento a few years back for Easter with all the religious parades. It was glorious weather then that cold North wind arrived from nowhere and boy was it cold. Luckily it only lasted a short while.
I loved that coast and the people,Castellamare,Positano, Amalfi, Cetara, Ravello and on to Salerno.Capri many times, Napoli, Pompei and Herculanium, where else on earth can you see such wonderous sights all within easy travelling distance. Yes I love Italy but Ron and yourself saw the other side of the coin, the one the tourists do not even remember in most cases so we need the stories and pictures, keep em coming.
Regards Frank.


Message 6 - Ice Cold but not in Alex

Posted on: 05 March 2005 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Ron's comments on Italian weather brought back memories of my return to Leeds in 1946. The winter of 1946/47 was extremely severe and Leeds had very deep snow which persisted for weeks, on top of that there was a coal shortage. But to me, after spending five years blowing on my hands and stamping my feet in Northern Italy, at around 1,000 meters, it just seemed like a normal winter with moderate snow. I couldn't understand what all the fuss was about.

Everything is relative


Message 7 - Ice Cold but not in Alex

Posted on: 05 March 2005 by Frank Mee Researcher 241911

Remember it well Peter.
Along with Tom we were digging trains out of snow in Durham. Being young and full of it, I had the temerity to ask the Sergeant where the train was we were suposed to be digging out. With great glee he said "You are standing on it lad" and we were.
In barracks one small bucket of coal per hut per day went nowhere so we all became coal snatching commando's, it helped if your pals were on guard and as that came round very quickly there was always some one to turn a blind eye. I believe several unoccupied huts at Brancepeth camp vanished without trace. We had a lot of old soldiers waiting demob and those lads were not going to freeze, I learnt a lot from them and was grateful for it.
"Err" did you consider blowing on your feet and stamping on your hands, it might have improved your piano playing as it did mine, I have been called ham handed on occasion.
Regards Frank.


Message 8 - Ice Cold but not in Alex

Posted on: 05 March 2005 by Ron Goldstein

I'd forgotten that I froze in England as well.
To remind you.......
January 1947

In January l947, just three months short of four years from the time I set sail to North Africa, I was posted home to Barnard Castle in Northumberland. I arrived just in time for the worst winter in some people's living memory and spent a large amount of time digging trains out of snowdrifts. For almost three months I then kicked my heels until in March I was finally released to return to civilian life.

February 1947

England was in a state of crisis as fuel was almost unobtainable. Rail travel ground to a halt. Heavy snowstorms and sub-zero temperatures made our barracks a place of purgatory and there was not a single toilet that worked in the barracks. We spent all day digging trains out of snowdrifts and as virtually everyone in the camp was on the point of being de-mobbed, rank meant nothing at all. For the first time in my army career I saw officers under the rank of captain being ordered to join snow-clearing parties and issued with spades to do some of the digging themselves!

Just thought I'd mention it....



Message 9 - Ice Cold but not in Alex

Posted on: 05 March 2005 by Frank Mee Researcher 241911

Ron, I had an Idea you had been there too. About this time 58 years ago we were all within a few miles of each other yet never met now we all chat away like brothers.
The world of technology has made that possible and we are all part of that because we did not give up but got stuck in to learn new methods.
Does that say something about us all I wonder, we still progress not letting age put us on the back burner,that is with the help of Peter of course, if you have a willing horse flog it.
I never saw Officers with shovels but all the SNCO's or those from Mount Olympus as I thought them then, got stuck in, to keep warm I would think. The god like RSM complete with pace stick and sash never lifted a shovel but put plenty of energy into seeing we did. As I surveyed that goliath from under lowered brow it never crossed my mind that one day it would be me. Life has its strange turns.
Regards Frank.

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