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15 October 2014
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The Italian Campaign Part 2

by John Myers

Contributed by 
John Myers
People in story: 
John Myers
Location of story: 
'Garigliano' 'San Clemente' 'Casino' 'Palestine' 'Rimini' 'Po Valley'
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Contributed on: 
22 January 2006

January 1944: Battle of Garigliano with 56 division and 23 armoured brigade.
Another nasty river to get across. This part of Italy seemed to be all hills and rivers. Also very cold, wet and windy after the African climate, and still plagued with mosquitoes. About this time we witnessed the last major volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius. It was a spectacular sight from the right distance, but I don’t think it would have been comfortable any nearer than we were.

February 1944: Routine “Harassing” fire.
Keeping the enemy awake and making the roads unsafe for them to re-deploy in new positions at night time. Provided the enemy didn’t return fire we could get a little more undisturbed sleep in these quieter periods, as it didn’t need all hands to fire the odd round at irregular intervals and keep “Gerry” on his toes. So we took turns at trying to catch up on some sleep and clean ourselves up a bit during these quieter periods.

March 1944: Moved to San Clemente in support of some French lot. We didn’t feel a bit secure with them in front of us. Then we had a short rest period, during which time I visited Amalfi and the Blue Grotto near Sorrento and Capri. The roads were still covered in black volcanic dust from the Volcanic Eruption. Amalfi seemed a very nice place for a holiday and hadn’t been touched by the war. There was a nice beach, and a lovely view. Some of our lads made many visits to that area after the war. I often thought about a holiday out there but never got round to it.

April 1944: U.C. 1st. Canadian AGRA. 8th. Army. Reconnoitred, prepared and occupied positions South of Casino, very close to the enemy, where we stayed silent until such time as we were required.

May 1944: The final battle of Casino, supporting 8th. Indian div. for breaking Gustav Line, 1st. Canadian Infantry Div. for breaking Hitler Line and 5th. Canadian Armoured Div. for crossing Melfa. This was the biggest Artillery battle since El Alamein. We had twice as many big guns here, and we needed them. It was the eighth army, including some Polish troops, that eventually occupied and held Monte Casino. On one occasion Rickie (the policeman) and I were on forward observation duty quite near Casino when we found ourselves inside the German lines. At the same time we had lost communication with our troop and so had to lie low for about 36 hours while under fire from all sides before regaining contact and calling for help to get us out. At one time we thought we were “In the bag” (Prisoners). I never wanted to be taken prisoner as I had no idea how we might be treated. It turned out that the British prisoners were treated quite well in Germany. Still no sign of counselling, No stress!!.

June 1944: Our equipment was taken over by 3rd. Medium Regiment R.A. North West of Ponticorvo. Sgt. Spowage (our basic training Sgt. at Marske-by-the-Sea) took over our gun. A small world! It looked like it could be a proper rest at last, as we entrained at Vairano railhead for Taranto.
Embarked on HMT Bamfora. Arrived at Port Said, Egypt. Disembarked and moved to Mena, Cairo for a couple of days. Visited places of interest, including Pyramids. Left Mena for Palestine. Arrived Gedera, Palestine. Although this was a rest period, we had to be on our guard, as the locals were experts at thieving. Our small arms (rifles etc.) were usually chained to our beds while we slept. Even then they’ve been known to steal sheets from under a sleeping person, by tickling one side causing one to roll over, rolling up the sheet, tickling the other side causing one to roll back, leaving the sheet free to be taken. At least we did have beds of sorts which were a novelty! During our stay in Palestine we had the opportunity to visit a lot of the places I had read about in the Bible. We visited Jerusalem, Mount of Olives (rode on a donkey), Bethlehem (viewed the manger), Church of Ascension (saw the foot prints), the Dead Sea and other places which I can’t recall. Although we were always rushed, it was very interesting and an experience we all appreciated. We still had to keep up with our training, knowing that we’d soon be back in Italy. We had one Dublin chap shot himself in Palestine. Although they said it was an accident?

August 1944: Returned to Italy via Haifa, Alexandria and Naples to Bari.
While in Bari I met Percy Francis (my Brother-in-Law), a Sergeant with the Enniskillen Fusiliers with the Irish Brigade of the 78th. Battle Axe Division. We managed to find a place in Bari where we had a cup of tea together. I think they were going for a rest while we were returning to the front, so the meeting was brief as we had to move on. Isn’t it a small world?!

September 1944: After picking up our equipment we moved to Valmontone and Ceccignola in the area of Rome. Some of us had the chance to visit Rome very briefly, where we saw the Vatican and the Coliseum. We only had part of that day, so we didn’t take much in.

October 1944: Moved across to the East coast of Italy, about the area of Rimini (now a holiday resort frequented mainly by the British). Under command of 1st. AGRA. supporting 56 London div. assault on Forlinpopli. Again it was scary going into action after the break. More rivers and hills in this area, which meant more use of artillery.

November 1944: Supporting 10th. Indian div. for capture of Forli. Percy’s division was in this area but it wasn’t possible to contact him.

November/December: Supporting New Zealand div., 46 div. and 10th. Indian div. in battles to cross the river Lamone and capture Faenza. Very heavy artillery fire in both directions around this area. Also the small neutral state of San Marina in this area had to be avoided.

During these battles I was wounded for the second time in the head, on the 9th. December. I was completely knocked out again and taken out by stretcher and ambulance to Hospital at Rimini. It wasn’t too serious this time. A glancing blow on the side of my head which left my whole face and head black and blue for weeks. There was no serious damage and I was out of hospital after nine days. (Still no counselling for stress, thank you)!!!

On my return to the Battery my Commander suggested that as I’d been unlucky being wounded a second time! or lucky to get away with it twice! perhaps I shouldn’t push my luck. I think that he thought that I may have been a bit of a Jonah! He offered me any job I liked, but didn’t recommend the guns. I didn’t fancy cooking, driving, signalling or batman, so I took up a job in the Command Post, surveying, observing, plotting and passing orders and SITREPs (situation reports) to the gunners. I was promoted to full Bombardier on this work. I was still controlling the guns but not actually handling them, and I carried on with that sort of work until the war ended.

January 1945: We supported a real mixture of troops in the area west of Rimini, Faenza, Brisighella and crossing rivers in that area. At one time we had Canadian, Ghurkhas, Polish and Italians to support. It was sometimes difficult to communicate between them, but it seemed to work fairly well somehow. By this time we all knew each others jobs, and were able to replace each other in an instant.

February 1945: Once we got passed the hills and rivers and on to the flat ground towards the Po Valley (Italy’s biggest river), we were withdrawn from the action in Italy and prepared for joining the 21st Army Group for crossing the Rhine and into Germany.

Many Italians were shell shocked. Of course they were bombed and shelled by both sides. They didn’t seem to know which side they were on, or wanted to be on, so they couldn’t be trusted by either side. At that time I thought I’d return to Italy in peace time for a holiday, but I never did it. Some of my colleagues went back several times.

End of a gruelling campaign in Italy which lasted eighteen months including two cold and wet winters. Ready for the final push into Germany.

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