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After one was shot, the rest surrendered...

by Genevieve

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Archive List > British Army

Contributed by 
People in story: 
George Samuel Plim, Sergeant Major Swann
Location of story: 
Oran - North Africa, Italy, Sarande - Albania, Corfu Town,
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
20 September 2005

We embarked from Scotland on the P&O liner Orantes in convoy, calling at Oran in North Africa, then on to Valleta in Malta (staying in tents on St Paul’s Bay). I was placed into Q Troop of Forty Commando. Sergeant Major Swan asked what I was like with the Bren Gun. I said “about average”, what was I like with a rifle “about average”, he thought I must be all average, and I was sent on a stretcher bearer’s course and given a fold-up stretcher (and a Colt 45 automatic).

Next we were sailing to Italy to a base at Monopoly near Bari. In early October 1944 we were ordered to go to Albania (sailing from Brindisi in South east Italy) along with Number Two Army Commando. We landed on ‘Sugar Beach’ and man-handled weapons; water, etc. up to 507 metres overlooking the port of Sarande. En-route we came upon a German patrol. We formed an extended line. After one was shot, the rest surrendered and gave us information that on 261 metres there were 18 Germans. This was the next objective of Q Troop. Since we landed in Albania the weather was terrible, it rained and rained! I was at least able to sleep on my folded up stretcher.

Whilst we were on 507 metres we were shelled from Sarande and as a result two Lieutenants of Q Troop were wounded — Lt Thompson and Lt Murphy. Using my stretcher we carried “Spud” Murphy down to ‘Sugar Beach’. On returning to 507 Q Troop were ordered to take 261 with one officer — Captain McPherson. We moved under the cover of darkness and attacked. We encountered bullets, tracer armour-piercing stick grenades. Our Captain was killed along with Marine St Ange, others were wounded. I was asked to man a Bren gun out in front owing to casualties but was stopped after being told it would only fire single rounds. At this point I was given a German rifle in place of my colt and told to treat the metres as yards as a metre was three inches longer (the first bit of metrication I knew). We captured prisoners but until the SS officer in charge was disposed of the fighting continued. When the situation started to die down the attack on Sarande started. We had a grandstand view. Below us in the Corfu channel a Royal Navy destroyer was pounding Sarande.

When I went into one of the bunkers I was met by two young Germans, I ordered them out, their nerves got the better of them. Next time I came to a wounded German, he must have been running away when he was struck by a bullet as he had a small hole in his back and a large one in his front. Calling for my stretcher I gave him half a grain of morphine and put two shell dressings on him, taking off his tight fitting watch. Prisoners were called on to carry him for about two miles to ‘Y beach’ where a boat was on hand to transport him and others to Italy. During the next few hours I came across a mule that was standing with a bullet in his head. Sergeant Major Swan was asked by me to put another bullet in him which he did. Next morning I went to fetch some water, I came to the mule and it was still standing. I told the Sergeant Major, he called me everything until he saw for himself, he put another bullet in him and I pushed him over. Either rigor mortis had set in or he was wedged in the rocks.

During the day we were visited by a Captain White who was in command of Royal Artillery’s batteries on the hills above. He complained that German snipers were from the turret of the hospital in Sarande. He had in his possession two German bugles. When he found out I could play one he said I was to sound off as a signal to his batteries to fire at these snipers. I was not called upon to do so, but I kept the bugle.

The next thing I did was to try and bury the German dead by surrounding them with rocks. The next day we advanced on Sarande. I commandeered a stray mule to carry my gear. On arrival I tied him next to the sea wall, next morning he was dead as he had trodden on a mine.

The next task in hand was taking a mule train up to 507 metres to collect clothing etc. belonging to Q Troop. I chose an old grey mule, setting off only to encounter a box mine in our path. We fired at it without it exploding, so we took a detour. On reaching the summit a group of Partisans were rifling our gear, so we sent them away. We ate a meal from one of the boxes and loaded up with great coats, leather jerkins, etc. My mule decided to lie down, I did what I could to no avail (prior to joining up I had worked with a horse and cart on a milk round, besides owning a pony). I then loosened the load, he lay down again, but this time got him going (my father told me when I returned home that I should have lit a fire under him, trickled sand in his ear or even put a holly bush under his tail.

When we were about a mile from Sarande the Sergeant Major met us. He told us to stop until 7 pm as a store of gelignite was being detonated. The German prisoners (around 250 had come from Corfu) defused it. At 7 pm a loud band could be heard, we loaded my mule and it lay down! The Sergeant Major threatened to shoot it, so I took some of the jerkins off and came back to our billet.

Before moving to high ground above the town (due to mines, etc.) we carried our dead comrades to a small, triangular field by the hospital and buried them. On the high ground I had my twentieth birthday. After a day or two we embarked for Corfu town about 8 miles away. On the way over we saw a mine in the water, we shot at but it was the Royal Navy with Oerlikons who detonated it.

The Greeks were very friendly on our arrival but things changed when we were called upon to give up their weapons and instructed them not to round-up German deserters. We understood a civil war might have broken out or their government might have turned into a communist regime. Two of our lads were killed during this and I was called upon to sound off the ‘Last Post’ and ‘Reveille’ over their graves. When General Zervas came from mainland Greece to take over the island I sounded the General salute. His headquarters were at Monrapo Palace where Prince Philip was born. Some of our Commando returned to Italy. I spent Christmas 1944 in a tented hospital in Bari. I had dermatitis and acute arthritis as a result of atrocious weather conditions in Albania.

When I returned to our base (which consisted of a row of tents at Monopoly) we were re-kitted out and some returned to Corfu then back to Turi. We also had leave at Salerno and Rome.

Our new Captain — Captain Brisloe came with the good news that our troop was to become a parachute troop if enough volunteered. Three declined, they left the commando for Naples. We did our Para training at Joya slow pairs out of Wellingtons, then sticks of twenty out of DC3’s. We were paid two shillings per day extra, on receiving this, refusal to jump was not an option. Our training was to drop on the Lombardy plain north of the river Po to prevent the Germans retreating into the Alps. 40 Commando had now advanced over the river Reno in north east Italy. We were in reserve in dugouts (having never been in trenches before). Prisoners (some of Russian origin) came to us in droves.

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Becky Barugh of the BBC Radio Shropshire CSV Action Desk on behalf of George Samuel Plim and has been added to the site with his permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.

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