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Italy- guarding Rommel's Afrika Corp - our Grand Tour of Europe

by RichardCory

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Contributed by 
People in story: 
John Cory
Location of story: 
Italy, Germany, Belgium, Italy, UK
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Contributed on: 
20 November 2005

My father John Cory’s story from his memoir “A Span of Years” as left to the family, edited by Richard Cory. The opinions expressed here are my father’s.

Saying Goodbye to our friends we started on a journey of 261 miles by truck to Tarranto, a port way down south on the heel of Italy. We were to escort 1403 Germans of Rommels Afrika Corp, the first to come from POW camps in North Africa. They were less than fit and there were some amputees. They were to be demobbed in Germany. Before entering they paraded and were addressed by the camp commander, a Colonel. He told them that when they got into Germany they would be free and they should remember to act like free men. As they marched by to join our two trains he stood and saluted them to the last man.

We had a carriage to ourselves in the first train, next to the engine, and it was stocked with rations. The Germans had their own rations and their own medical unit, a doctor and male nurses. Their N.C.O’s had authority and acted as guards when the trains stopped, but without arms, of course.

Our Liaison was ‘Fritz’ with equivalent rank to our army’s sergeant major. He was to report to us each morning and afternoon to give a report on the state of the passengers and receive any orders that we might have. He spoke perfect English and before going into the army had been a student.

We signed for the trains and were off on a journey that was to take us 7 days, stopping at staging posts on the way, sometimes getting a hot meal, taking on fuel and getting confirmation of forward routing. There were many delays. The Germans had to stay in the carriages except when we let them get out to stretch their legs, well away from habitations.

Gradually moving up Italy, we finally reached the Brenner Pass and halting for three hours we had a lunch of Irish stew out of tins. Then through the tunnel to Innsbruck and thence to Kufstein where there was a change to German engines and drivers. Another stop allowed us to get some bacon cooked.

Thence to Munich and on our way to Hanover with no further stops except for a quick engine change. We were in the hands of the efficient German Railways system. People began to line the platforms of stations we passed through and also other places along the track, waving after our carriage had passed. At most stations the station master stood to attention and saluted. And so, our prisoners were getting a welcome home.

We at last arrived at Munster, our destination and our prisoners, now free men, were collected by the German camp staff, for documentation, pay and demob.

We obtained a receipt for our trains for the British ‘RTO’ and he had the task of routing us back on the system. We couldn’t get our Italian money changed to marks. He remarked that it was a pity there was an order of non-fraternisation with the natives, otherwise we could have sold some rations, if we had any left. We took the hint and the warning of not getting caught and sold enough tins of corned beef and other bits, for cash to take us into a club for a meal and drinks.

‘RTO’ Railway Transport Officer.

The RTO’s best was to route us to Brussels. Passing through Hanover, this time in the light, we could see that the town had been practically razed to the ground.

At Minden we changed to a leave train and arrived in Brussels in the morning. More difficulty in changing money but we somehow managed it and had a bath, shave and something to eat at the Montgomery Club there. Then to the RTO who had the bright idea to route us to Calais. Leaving the same day in the evening we arrived at Calais early next morning. Walking down to the docks we could see leave parties embarking on their way to England, only 21 miles away. We were so near and yet so far.

He tried, but the RTO could not organise a few days leave for us in England, we belonged to a different army. The best he could do was to route us on the ‘Medloc’ which would pass through Switzerland and then to Italy.

We managed to park ourselves on a unit for a hot meal and cleanup, leaving Calais in the evening. Our rifles were hidden under luggage in the guards van. There was a halt before entering Switzerland and we managed to scrounge some breakfast.

We entered Switzerland in the early afternoon passing through Lausanne and then by the side of Lake Geneva, admiring the ‘picture postcard’; scenery.

Stopping at a station, but not allowed to get down onto Swiss soil, we were treated to coffee, cakes and chocolate by the Swiss Red Cross. Then onward through the Simplon tunnel to Dommodosola just over the border into Italy. A late dinner awaited us at the staging post there. Then on to a transit camp at Navarro for a nights rest.

Next day we were routed to Udine, for Trieste, right across to the other side of Italy. Finding out exactly where our new regiment was located, we managed to get a lift by a RASC truck going in the direction. We found ourselves in a village called Turriaco, near Monfalcone, not far from the Yugoslav border.

So ended our grand tour of Europe.

We joined ‘C’ (Charlie) troop of 46 Battery and were soon accepted. Just normal Army duties followed until the 7th. December when I started on my way for England, 28 days leave. So exactly 20 days after finishing the grand tour of Europe I retraced the route, via Switzerland, to Calais.

It was quite a surprise for Doris when I met her by the bus stop at Rothley. Before coming home from work she had gone to the pictures in Leicester, with the girls. My leave was at short notice and she didn’t know I was coming. We can remember very little about our time together, but I can just recall that we went to the village butcher and being given a much larger joint than the standard ration. The rest of the leave is a closed book, I didn’t record any details in my diary.

Northern Europe was not classed as foreign service and troops there got regular home base leave. C.M.F. (Central Mediterranean Forces) got extra pay for foreign service but only local leave in wartime.

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