- Contributed by
- hugh white
- People in story:
- H.A.B. White, D. Mackenzie
- Location of story:
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 30 January 2006
Mishaps and Misunderstandings
(Understandably, after the invasion of France, Italy became a backwater, and the winter of 1944, spent in the Northern Apennines, received comparatively little publicity in Britain The infantry in the mountains of northern Italy faced the realities of virtually static trench warfare.)
Before breakfast one morning ten of us were ordered to advance with a company of the 152 Field Ambulance stretcher bearers. We left behind three blankets and other equipment , taking only webbing and a gas cape, one blanket , a greatcoat and steel helmet.
Breakfast was very meagre, after which plans began to go wrong. Our lorry became stuck in the mud. We had to push it out. Then, on the road, an American Field Service Ambulance broke down , so our lorry had to tow it, the tow rope twice breaking.
Next we reached a crater in the road. Here the Germans had blown up a large section where it crossed a ravine. We waited a long time before the officer in charge decided that we should leave the lorries and march down the ravine.
This order was countermanded and then reinforced several times, ending in a compromise, namely that the lighter vehicles should inch through along the narrow part of the road still left. However, our lorry was too large to make it, so we were ordered to disembark, march down through the ravine and then climb up on the other side.
We had reached the bottom of this ravine on foot when Jerry shelled us, some shells bursting behind the lorries, others in front of us.
We quickened our pace and passed a crumpled body, blood streaming from its head. The man had obviously been killed instantaneously, so we did not stop, and overtook a group of men digging another man out of a slit trench beside a shattered car. The staff sergeant in charge of us pressed on still faster.
At length we caught up with those who had travelled mainly in jeeps and light ambulances. Here in a village the ADS was situated.
We were ravenously hungry, since it was now about 3 p.m., and were given one bread and cheese sandwich each and some very salty coffee before being sent out to a stretcher relay post less than 50 yards distant from about six 25 pounders and a few Preece guns.
Life became very noisy as both sides fired away.
At about 6.30 p.m. we had a tin of M & V each (Meat and Vegetable Stew) and more very salty coffee, which some of us threw away, before being sent out for a patient.
It was a strenuous, muddy carry, but the casualty, wounded by accident when a detonator had exploded in his hand, was remarkably brave.
No more patients coming through, we settled down for the night. Blasts of air from our own gunfire blew the sides of the bivvy into our faces. My bivvy mate, after drinking the salty coffee, had diarrhoea.
Two APs (Anti Personnel air bursts) near this morning.
American infantry moved up in the evening, leaving us surplus rations, including chocolate, biscuits, matches and sweets. We were thankful receive these, since our own rations had been very low.
A bad night. At 2 a.m. we were summoned to fetch casualties from the Recce (Reconnaissance) car post. Our journey started between two hillocks and down through a mud-churned lane, past a bogged, empty tank and then towards the RAP (Regimental Aid Post.)
This morning, between 2 and 6 a.m., we carried back 10 wounded men and one body.
Thereafter, until lunch time a steady stream of wounded reached us, some being carried by Jerry prisoners, of which there was no small number.
At 6.30 the same evening we were given an order which started the worst series of blunders that I have ever experienced. The sergeant of the 152 Field Ambulance told us to proceed to the RAP to evacuate some 20 stretcher cases from the Lancashires infantry to our car post, about three miles on bad roads. We calculated that this would take us until about midnight, allowing for help from Jeeps which had been adapted to take two stretcher cases each. These would operate for about a third of the distance.
We set out, leaving behind Clements who had sprained his ankle badly while carrying a patient the night before, reached the sunken muddy road and arrived at the Recce RAP after about half an hour.
Here we were given entirely differentt of orders. We were to advance forward of the RAP to a church half a mile distant, where we were to find and evacuate some 40 patients. We were not to await the Lancashires sergeant whom we had previously been ordered to meet, but were to press on at once.
A padre, who appeared to be in sole charge, gave these orders They were enthusiastically backed up by some of the --- Field Ambulance members who were happy to be working to the rear of us. Corporal MacKenzie registered firm disapproval on our behalf. However, he had no alternative but to lead us on.
A guide now appeared and accompanied us to the church. Here we came across more stretcher bearers and an officer who ordered us to advance again to a village where we were to join an MO (Medical Officer).
We were now beginning to regret more than ever that we had embarked on this nocturnal enterprise, and began to wonder whether we should end in Jerry lines
Our guide had disappeared and it was too dark to see whether anyone else was conducting us. There must have been, because soon came the challenge "Oyster" and
someone in our party replied to the password "Stew".
We were still uneasy as the now familiar smell of death assailed us as we went on. and the pip-pipping of ascending mortars vied with the crash of others landing.
Machine guns of both sides were chattering farther away.
Leaving the church, we climbed steeply to a small hill peak on which were perched the remains of a few shelled houses. Here we met the Recce MO who informed us that the original church from which we should have evacuated the casualties had been retaken by Jerry that afternoon. Consequently there was little work for us. About 10.30 p.m. the Lancashires' regimental stretcher bearers brought in two casualties and we took them back to the church we had just passed.. The next relay of bearers should have been waiting at the church to take over from us, but could not be found, so we had to carry our patients back further to the next relay post.
Returning to our position in front of the RAP, we were soon joined by a stretcher squad of Lancashires wet through to the knees. They had been lost in a small stream at the foot of our hill. They said that they had been in Jerry lines and that Jerry was about 500 yards from our hill
About 3.30 a.m. came news of two more wounded and the --- Field Ambulance corporal was sent to locate the stretcher bearers who had been at the river so that they might act as guides The corporal was unable to find any of them, but was prepared to send out four more, possibly also to be lost in Jerry lines. The Recce MO rightly grew indignant at this idea, an argument ensued and in the end the corporal suddenly remembered that he had orders to return to the car post before dawn. He left us. He was wearing the Military Medal ribbon.
About half an our later a squad with another guide arrived and we helped to fetch and evacuate more wounded.
After breakfast we were sent back to our rightful position at a relay car post.
18.10.44. Two uneventful days.
Omitted to mention the visit yesterday of Staff Sgt Claxton of H.Q. Company, Eleven Field Ambulance. He brought us mail and gave the latest news which was not good. Another group had been sent out with the battalions. Only one member of A Coy was back at H.Q., a cook.
"B" Coy had been unlucky again. Newsom, while stretcher bearing, had stepped on a mine and was now on the danger list. Three more men had been wounded in the same incident.
Arthur W... had been sent down the line bomb happy. His state of mind had not been unforeseen.
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