What What did did you you do do during during the the War War Daddy? Daddy?
By J.S.G. Sheldrake Gunner RNZA
This Publication: Was written by Dad and produced in this format by Beth, Ray, Robyn & Jonathan with love for his Birthday 13 June 2001.
ÂŠ Copyright: JSG Sheldrake 3 Edwards Place, Palmerston North. New Zealand Created by: SheldrakevisualART.com
What did you do during the War Daddy?
CONTENTS: 1. The official call up of 440355. 11. Wartime Wedding. 13. Embarking on the Nieuw Amsterdam for the journey to Egypt. 37.
The Otranto sails to bring Dad home.
Sheldrake family gathering Christmas Day in Napier 25.12.01 Left to right: Jane, Stephen, Bob, Terry, Kathy, Aaron, Ray, Robyn, Brent, Shaun, Beth, Jonathan, Mark, Peggy & Dad
ÂŠ Photo courtesy: Bob Sheldrake
hen we were in khaki we used to joke about this, and wonder just what we would tell the children we mostly at that time did not have.
up to, as it became obvious that men were going overseas and needed someone to be capable as replacements.
Did we tell whoppers or the truth? And if the truth how much of it. I know that in fact I never did say very much. The children were of course very young, and the fact that we were now home was all that really seemed to matter. Over the last few years it has been grandchildren and people in their age group who have at times asked questions about the war, often for school projects.
That first week! No uniforms, no boots, no proper wet weather gear; just whatever civie clothes you happened to take with you, under the impression that the first thing that would happen would be an issue of uniforms. No boots was the worst thing in my case. We marched miles. My poor shoes lasted about three days, holy, holy but nothing religious to do with it. The first issue was not even the latest thing - Battle Dress. Just the old scratchy khaki from world war one. At least it was warmer and kept us a bit drier longer.
What did I do? I know that as soon as I turned eighteen, I received papers that required me to register for war service, to await call up papers to have a medical and go into camp for an initial three months training. When they did come I was officially 440355! Before that, I had done some training as a Boy Scout runner. Not running of course – I had my trusty bike. February 1941 black out started, so off we went on black out patrols. Not a very popular occupation, “Hey there - your lights are showing” became a familiar cry. ‘Who do you think you are” a more often than not reply. Fire drills, first aid, night watches for incendiary bombs, air raid practises. Women were at last able to do similar things. Knitting for the boys overseas and food parcels became the order of the day. Girl Guides were doing what the Boy Scouts were
September 1940 call up orders had arrived. Waiouru here I come. This is where you learn to grow up in a hurry. “You’ll be sorry” was the cry that met us as we fell in on the platform. Cold and hungry they “marched’ us from the train in the rain.
Slowly we were sorted out. Because we were from Palmerston North we were in the Artillery. At least we were not PBI (poor bloody infantry for the uninformed) Gunners not privates, bombardiers not corporals, red and blue patches and hat bands to show we were different. From what, we were not very sure, but time would tell. Slowly we learnt that in the artillery there were different sections doing different trades. Gunners, signallers, cooks, drivers, specialists and heaps of others. Drivers seemed to me to be the best bet. Trouble was so did just about every other bloke you spoke to. How to get a leg in was the first priority. I had a driver’s licence and I worked in a motor garage in civvy street. Now time to become a gun-tractor driver. First
I was officially 440355
September 1940 call up orders had arrived. Waiouru here I come. This is where you learn to grow up in a hurry. “You’ll be sorry” was the cry that met us as we fell in on the platform. Cold and hungry they “marched’ us from the train in the rain.
Only one of us could successfully drive it. We youngsters reckon’d he was as old as the truck. He was a truckie by profession about thirty-six years old. Twice most of our ages.
Months later he told us about something called a clutch brake. The last laugh was his as this altered the engine rev’s and wrongly used, messed up a gear change.
requirement was a heavy vehicle endorsement to your licence. Those who needed it were taken off in the back of a heavy truck and took it in turns to have a go. Most of the trucks were impressed from truck fleets around the country and were a very assorted lot, some good, some not so good. At that time most trucks had a four speed gearbox and a surprising number of them had a version of a Warner box, a WT9.
The 18 lb’ers were towed by a Ford V8 fitted with a Marmon – Harrington four wheel drive assembly which gave them an off road ability such as few other vehicles of that period had anywhere. We took them out on the open ground and hills around the camp. With one person standing up in front, we would go out in a large paddock and do cavalry manoeuvres and drills with hand signals. Just as they did in all previous wars in desert places as they believed they would be of use in Egypt this time This included Ford, International, Dodge and several other popular makes. Chevrolet and other General Motors round. We were shown how to take them into all sorts of terrain vehicles had a box similar but of their make. Straight cut and how to get them out when they were bogged down. gears on them all meant double declutching was the order of the day. Boy oh boy was it ever just as well they were Going up steep hill-sides, turning to come down without rolling over, which with the poor centre of gravity was so strong teeth boxes. Crash, bang, thud and wollop. Gee! forgot to rev up on that change down. Did he even use the easy to do. We were told in no uncertain terms that this had clutch that time! And so it went on - until surprise, surprise happened and courts of inquiry with grievous punishment would certainly be the lot of anyone who offended. We most of us got that extra tick on our paper. all were given periods of gun drill as in the arty everyone For training purposes in Waiouru there were 6 inch was expected to know how to aim and fire a gun if needed. howitzers and 18 pounder field guns; both relics of the In fact I did acquire a rough knowledge of all aspects of first world war 1914/18. The six inch was pulled by an gunnery. Thank heaven I was never to be put to that test. old Leyland with tandem rear axles most likely as old as Fatigues were also a regular feature of army life. the gun. Only one of us could successfully drive it. We Cookhouse spud (potato to you ) peeling, dish washing youngsters reckon’d he was as old as the truck. He was and general dog’s body in the kitchen for the day. Toilet a truckie by profession about thirty-six years old. Twice fatigue was possibly the worst. Everything was crude most of our ages. We just could not make more than about and very little in the way of cleansers was even invented one gear change in six. Months later he told us about let alone available. Then there was guard duty. Hours of something called a clutch brake. The last laugh was his being paraded, just to stand around keeping the invisible as this altered the engine rev’s and wrongly used, messed enemy out. Buttons polished, rifle clean, uniform pressed up a gear change. (no such thing as an iron of course), and don’t whatever else happens fall asleep.
Then just as things were starting to get (if possible) a bit more interesting MEASLES and MUMPS hit the camp. When you consider today’s hygiene standards we virtually had none. We washed at barely covered rows of hand basins, in water that was often not much better than cold. I think that perhaps once a week we had a communal shower, I can not remember exactly what we did for clothes washing, think it was in those same wash basins. The worst would have been dish washing. A dixie was used in the mess room which held about twenty litres of what started out as boiling water. Fifteen minutes later after perhaps one hundred men had washed ? their mess tins in it, it was not very nice. But that was what happened at every meal time. The cooks had more fatigues who did the washing up for them. They had to pass regular daily inspections where spit and polish was the order of the day. So perhaps the bugs took longer to spread on our eating utensils. I think it was about my sixth week in camp when the measles struck. The camp hospital was full and overflowing. So up went two or three marques - mumps in one measles in the other. The doctors and nurses were just swamped by the numbers, so we tended at first to be on our own. Those with measles were told not to read in the bad light in the marques, but perhaps as we were not told why, little notice was taken. We found out later why when it was too late. Some of the bright boys in camp decided that measles was a great way to get sick leave. So when they saw someone going off to the “Q” store to hand in their gear, which included their bedding, before going into hospital,
they would swap blankets in the hope that sleeping in them would pass on the measles. I certainly got my second or third dose without having to try that stunt. So the next thing in military life was the hospital train off to Wanganui. Back down the main trunk line to Marton and then to Wanganui. The carriage seats had been removed and a double line of bunks installed down each side of the carriage. I had a top bunk which was above the window level so did not get to see very much. By now my eyes were starting to tell me why I should not have been reading. Arrived in Wanganui and every body out, onto the platform amongst all the people who somehow knew we were arriving. How much mumps and measles we spread heaven only knows. Across the platform and into trucks and ambulances we went. We were taken to an army barracks hall which had been converted to serve as a temporary hospital. Must have spent about a week there being nursed on my part for swollen eyes. Then off to Palmerston North for a week’s sick leave. Your mother and I became much closer that week. Then on the train back to that bloody great mountain covered in snow as one of our ditties described Ruapehu. Then into advanced gun training using 25lber’s, which had turned up during the period I was absent. The thing I remember most of that time was a live shoot out on the desert part of what we now refer to as the Desert Road, over towards the mountain. Ended in a cold wet night with some snow falling. I and the other drivers at least had a truck of some sort to shelter in, but the poor gunners only had a gun cover to try and cover up. The usual cry going up from the instructors “wait ‘til you get overseas”, or “you will know what sorry is when you get there.”
Some of the bright boys in camp decided that measles was a great way to get sick leave. So when they saw someone going off to the “Q” store to hand in their gear, which included their bedding, before going into hospital, they would swap blankets in the hope that sleeping in them would pass on the measles. I certainly got my second or third dose without having to try that stunt.
My early training came to an early stop because Selwyn Motors the firm I worked for put in a hardship plea. The only other parts man they had, had been called up for overseas service. This was somewhere in mid October. I was attached to the 2nd Field Regiment which at that time was centred in Palmerston North, and became an evening and weekend soldier. I ran Selwyn’s parts department from October 1940 until Japan entered the war with the bombing of Pearl Harbour in December 1941. Selwyn’s working on the principle that I would be called up as soon as I turned 21, employed a much older man to take my place. This naturally caused some strife as to who was the boss but somehow we lived with it, and he saw out the rest of the war as parts manager.
Poster commemorating the attack on Pearl harbour of Sunday, December 7, 1941
The weekend soldiering was a mixture of driving various vehicles and plain old bull ring. Bull ring was mostly marching and rifle drill. Do not ever remember actually firing a rifle at this time but we sure did drill with them. Slope arms, order arms, port arms every thing but sleep with it and I’m sure they were trying to arrange that as well. The only time in my life that I can remember being car-sick, was one very hot summers day, in most likely December, having about half a dozen of us in the back of a canopied V8 Ford 15 cwt being driven over the Pahiatua track taking turns to drive a few miles to experience hilly conditions. I was the last to lose my lunch over the tail board. Then came 7th December 1941 Japan bombed Pearl Harbour and we began waiting for them to arrive off our shores. I think somehow we had been persuaded that this
was happening. All leave was cancelled and early in the New Year we were mobilized. “It was for real.” The 12th field regiment was called into the old barracks in Main Street issued with full gear and were sent down to the railway yards, to load everything including guns, trucks and towing vehicles onto flat deck wagons. A guard to make sure nobody stole anything and we were off to Greytown - there to beat off the Jap’s when they arrived. Those of us travelling on the train (mostly drivers I think) had to pile out every time it stopped, rifles in hand and marched around it to see that no unauthorised persons gained access to our precious equipment. If I remember correctly I think we were issued with five rounds of 303 ammo each - all to be accounted for even if we had to shoot it off. We certainly got brassed off, if it stopped once it would have stopped a hundred times between Palmerston and Woodside the small feeder station for Greytown. This had a small tanker engine to tow us up the branch line into the Greytown siding yards. From here every thing had to be moved to the area that had been chosen for the 12th Field Regiment about five miles south on the main road to Featherstone and Wellington. We were set up in a tent city in what was known locally as Borthwicks property. Every single part of the camp was to be 100 yards from anything else. They meant anything! Truck, gun, limber, tent, toilet, cookhouse, ammunition and anything else that looked to be called a separate item. We took up acres of space in this flat stony part of the Wairarapa. The reason given was that when the Japanese arrived to bomb us, this spread would stop one bomb destroying too much at a time.
A great deal of our movement was done at night so that the local spy operation would not be able to see where we were stowing things. Camouflage nets and other branches and bushes were used to hide us from the air. At times they pretty well had us convinced that the yellow peril had already arrived and had started to take us over. Unloading 1 cwt. cases of ammunition at night from totally unsuitable trucks brought about several casualties when cases slid out of vehicles on to someone’s foot. I still have a crossed over toe to prove a point. The usual cure, put one on so called light duties, cookhouse fatigue or similar dirty unwanted jobs. Route marches were undertaken most mornings early, anything up to about ten miles became the usual distance. We started on much shorter marches and over time they were extended as we became fitter. We were artillery and did not consider that we should be on foot to go anywhere guns and gun drill should be our lot. And I guess for the most part they were what we worked at. We were issued with 25lb’ers and for towing them Morris 6x4 gun tractors. 6x4 just means that they had six wheels of which four were driving wheels. I had not seen any like them before nor after, they were replaced by the Quad body type. The 6x4’s were equipped with a rubber track which was designed to fit around the two rear wheels like a rubber band to give them a caterpillar like track for use in soft ground. Thankfully I don’t think we were ever asked to fit them. We had an army system of daily, weekly and monthly maintenance to carry out on all our motor vehicles. As they were in the main not going anywhere it was a waste of time and money, but do them we must.
After a month or two we at last began towing the guns and crews around the district in mock battles. Take the guns into a paddock, unhook the guns and go back to what was known as B’esh the place where all the vehicles not actually needed to fire the guns were assembled. After the gunners finished their mock shoot, we would be recalled to the gun position to hook up again and move on to the next gun position. A 25lb’er has an ammunition limber to which the gun trail was hooked, then both were lifted on to the towing vehicle’s tow hook. The gunners would join the gun and limber and stand with the limber towbar ready to place it over the vehicle hook. We drivers would try to drive up and park by the limber so they could just swing the tow eye across without us having to move either forward or back. Once we got the quad type gun tractors this became much easier to perform. It was becoming a race to see which gun team could be first back on the road ready to move off. Of course without killing anyone in the process. I think we were encouraged to do this in order to sharpen us up and to help fight the sheer boredom of army life. Try as I might I can not remember exactly how we kept ourselves and our clothing clean. Water came by the water trucks and was pretty well rationed. The cooks always had hot water and the cookhouse the only source of hot water. We must have done pretty well everything in cold water and there was no such thing as Cold Water Surf. About once a month we were marched in to Greytown for a hot shower under the water tanks at their dairy factory - about eight kilos each way. Mostly, particularly in summer we arrived back in camp dirtier than when we left.
Unloading 1 cwt. cases of ammunition at night from totally unsuitable trucks brought about several casualties when cases slid out of vehicles on to someone’s foot. I still have a crossed over toe to prove a point.
Try as I might I can not remember exactly how we kept ourselves and our clothing clean. Water came by the water trucks and was pretty well rationed.
The answer if anyone complained about it “This is nothing, wait until you get overseas then you will know what a good life this is.”
All our stay here we lived in tents made for the British army in India of a cotton material which was designed to be effective in hot climates. Not too bad in summer here, but not the best in our wet, cold winter.
On Sundays I began doing what I would have done if I had been at home. Attending the Anglican church for Evensong.
The months went by and winter arrived. The whole district is like a shingle river bed a thin layer of soil over large gravel stones. When it rained the soil seemed to disappear and trucks soon bogged down. We organised our trucks which had decks to go to the Tauherenikau River just outside Featherstone to get gravel to fill the ruts that soon formed everywhere the vehicles went. No such thing as loaders or hoists on most of the trucks which were never designed in the first place to carry metal. Each truck was sent off with about three gunners and a driver to get a load. Back your truck into the stream and start loading. Did we moan - and did we get fit. Both, and another army saying “About the only thing not taken away from us was our right to moan.” Not that it did any good to be caught at it. We shovelled just about every day through the winter months. We piled shingle on shingle and it disappeared into the ground as fast as we unloaded it. Shovels were all we knew anything about. All our stay here we lived in tents made for the British army in India of a cotton material which was designed to be effective in hot climates. Not too bad in summer here but not the best in our wet, cold winter. It had a main body with a low side wall and a fly to go over the top. I think we were ten to a tent. Better off than the Bell tents of Waiouru. Then somebody in the great army higher up came up with the idea that all tents must have sufficient slit trenches of about a metre and a half deep to cater for all it’s occupants lying down. More pick and shovel work.
They took weeks, rumours did the rounds that some engineers in the area had used dynamite - lucky them if they did. Some of our bright types suggested we might be able to use 25lber shells, but it was never tried. Apart from digging these pits we hated them for other reasons. Such as getting caught short on a cold, wet winter’s night tripping on a tent rope and head first into one of them. They added to our casualty list including broken bones. Life at Greytown was sort of settling into a Saturday afternoon, Sunday time off routine if you were not on guard or fatigue duty. Rugby teams were organised by each unit and there were several in the district. A hospital, an anti tank regiment, two or three infantry units and others who all put up teams. I remember playing a couple of times on a ground behind one of the many pubs in Carterton. Don’t ask me who won or what we used for gear to play in, I just cannot remember. The Wairarapa in it’s northern half had been a dry area, which meant that no one living in that place had legal access to alcoholic drinks. The real pubs with no beer sort of place. Carterton and Greytown were the first towns in which it was legal to drink - so their Main Sreets were full of pubs. I doubt if Greytown had a population of more than a thousand, but I think it had nine hotels in about a kilometre. Their five o’clock swills must have been a sight to behold. On Sundays I began doing what I would have done if I had been at home. Attending the Anglican church for Evensong. Not many of us soldiers did, but those who did were warmly welcomed. I met a couple who would have been in their early seventies who began by inviting me
back for tea. Their name was Blissett, he was a Boer War veteran and she was a very nice elderly lady. Then my luck really changed. They offered me a bath each Sunday when I visited. It meant a five mile walk each way but to a water starved bloke that bath with ‘HOT’ water was bliss here on earth. And the only charge was having the Boer War relived as a Mounted rifleman weekly. They were a great couple who died before I was able to meet them again after the war. So life went on and our training continued. Marches, gun drills, general foot slogging, vehicle maintenance and whatever the bright boys could send our way continued and the days just melted into one another. Relief even came in the form of a severe earthquake one evening at about nine o’clock. The high gravel content of the ground seemed to be like a tin can full of stones rattling under our low slung beds. The next day we began to find out just how bad it had been in the district. Brick chimneys and shop fronts in places like Greytown, Carterton, Masterton Featherstone and Martinborough had fallen, without as I remember causing any loss of life. The various units around were called upon to see if they could help with tradesmen from amongst our ranks, to help with the repair and clean up required. We had plenty of volunteers qualified or not. This was a chance to help and at the same time to get away from the army routine. Brick layers were in high demand to rebuild all the chimneys that had fallen. I think from our point of view if you could add water to concrete you were a bricky. I seem to remember that some of the most outstanding chimneys,
that against all the laws of gravity were still standing some months after their efforts were on the Greytown hospital. They were works of art. From a gun tractor driver’s point of view somewhere in July or August our old Morris tractors were replaced with what we called Quads. Again they were Morris units the only ones I have ever seen. They had four cylinder engines so had far less power than the old units but they had the fully enclosed bodies that you see in most pictures of WW2 artillery. The first drive we had in them was down the main road to Featherstone, then up the Rimutaka hill to the summit on a cold, wet and snowing day. The hill road in those times nothing like the present time. Only thing about it that can still be the same is the atrocious weather. Every thing soon fogged up, and I’m sure the wipers were vacuum operated so that in a hill climb they stopped as you had to accelerate. Still their all metal body was more pleasant than the canvas top and sides of the old units.
Their name was Blissett, he was a Boer War veteran and she was a very nice elderly lady. Then my luck really changed. They offered me a bath each Sunday when I visited.
It meant a five mile walk each way but to a water starved bloke that bath with ‘HOT’ water was bliss here Leave home had become a very contentious issue. I think on earth.
it was six or eight weeks before any weekend leave was granted. No one could see why this was so. The Jap’s had certainly not arrived. So what did the government think it was up to ? Finally some weekend leave was given. For those from Palmerston North it meant a reverse ride on the train. Greytown, Woodside, Woodville, Palmy, great to be getting back to something more normal. Once a fair number agreed amongst themselves that they were not coming back at the given time. AWOL (absent without leave) for a day if I remember correctly. It was accepted by those who were going to do this, that some of us, myself included, did not feel that this was a thing to do in wartime.
This could be for any manner of reasons from being A.W.O.L. (absent without leave) to not having stood close enough to your razor to pass daily inspection. We were not to march with the group but had to stand in one place and call the moves. This was tough on the voice but this is where I learnt to throw my voice so that on different occasions in later life I could make myself heard.
We were seen off back to camp rather noisily from Palmy station. I still think I did the right thing but even today feel that somewhere I let some of my mates down. Particularly as after the punishments were handed out to the rebels I got my first stripe (lance bombardier) while some were demoted. Still I never was shown any animosity by those I now had to take charge of, the drivers that I had under my not very exalted command. Now I was becoming responsible for the condition and supplying of vehicles as they were required for any type of duty. Now also I was beginning to learn about taking pack drill. Drill with a pack (laden) on your back was not very nice. You would take the offenders for perhaps half an hour without let up - marching them through all the basic foot manoeuvres - right turn, left turn, about turn and any other move you could think of at a quick march pace. Very wearing on the poor N.C.O. let alone the soldier who was under going the punishment. This could be for any manner of reasons from being A.W.O.L. (absent without leave) to not having stood close enough to your razor to pass daily inspection. We were not to march with the group but had to stand in one place and call the moves. This was tough on the voice but this is where I learnt to throw my voice so that on different occasions in later life I could make myself heard. Loud hailers were not provided - not even sure that they were invented. Life in our regiment continued, along with training exercises and general routine. But in September things changed. I think because of the Third Div. getting ever larger in the islands and casualties in Egypt we were broken up, and moved, some to other regiments and
some into units which would quickly be sent overseas as reinforcements. I finished up in Linton camp which was slowly being built up but was never anything like it has become today. So a fair portion of the 12th Field became members of 2nd Field which was also a 25lbâ€™er unit. I kept my stripe and now became part of the headquarters motor pool, spending more time in the day to day running of vehicle maintenance and supply for what ever movements of guns or people were requested. In Greytown, we had been a regiment, held I think, to be sent to where ever guns would have been needed if we had been invaded. But in Linton now that that threat had largely gone we were there to train artillerymen for overseas service. Being so close to home in Palmerston North was great, close to the woman I was soon to marry and all the other perks I suppose you could call them, was even better. Who do you think had to find drivers for such duties as leave trucks, taking people in to the railway and to the local headquarters at the P.N. Showgrounds. It was perhaps amazing how often the only driver available was myself and the only way of getting back was via Main and Botanical Roads. There used to be a grocerâ€™s shop on that corner called Bovis Stores Ltd, and a certain Peggy worked there. Among the vehicles that were impressed for army use were motor cycles. Again these were a very mixed lot. Some were very classy and some of very dubious history. Perhaps the most expensive one possessed by 12th Field
was an Arial 12 / 4 - when new a great machine to own and ride, but after we got it, discovered that somewhere in itâ€™s life it had a twisted frame - not very noticeable but deadly to ride. Every officer at this time was under notice to be able to ride a motorcycle. And what would any one look best on - of course this lovely Arial. The mechanics were taking bets on how far each rider would go before getting thrown off on the first high speed corner. How no one was ever injured (at least seriously) I donâ€™t know. I guess the cycle gear and helmets they had to wear must have helped. Later when I had to ride, we were using Indian bikes which were much more docile. I only rode one because the rules said I had to, but as soon as I found an out I was never on a bike again. My worst bike experience was one day out on a field signals manoeuvre I was taking a message to a group out near Feilding, when in the gravel road surface I lost control and finished up in a deep drain well out of sight. I tried to do the inexperienced thing and get off in midair, but finished up with both legs trapped under the bike and could not lift it off. Thank heavens the drain was dry and that the wire laying signallers I was after saw me do the disappearing act or I think I would have been there until now. Another task that befell my lot was much more interesting. It was decided somewhere up above that the artillery would try out Bren carriers for observation work. This meant that someone had to go to the tank school in Waiouru to learn all about these tracked vehicles which were now being built in Wellington at the General Motors plant. Here rumour had it steel sheets taken from the wreck of the Port Bowen stranded at a beach near Wanganui was where their armour plate, so called, came from. Anyway
when we got there, we found English carriers to train with. We were to spend a great deal of time in the classroom being told all about these metal boxes on tracks. Funny when I look back on things, but this was to prove to be of great help to my civvie job when I came back. This was because all the drives of a Bren carrier were Ford truck components, motor, gearbox and differential vintage 1938. Even the steering brakes were from that source. You would have thought we were being sold a Ford truck. The instruction covered all these units in great detail and from this I learnt more than I had been able to learn at Selwyn Motors about how and why these parts worked. Finally we were out driving. Brother was it different to a truck, steering by centre track displacement, and brakes which were operated by the steering wheel . Brakes for stopping by the usual right hand pedal, clutch the left hand pedal and an accelerator as in a truck. Steering as you turned the wheel initially displaced the centre of the track. Then as you turned the wheel further it applied the brakes until you could stop the track on the side you were turning into and you would spin in that direction. At least that was the principle, getting a result was often very different. We learnt to replace tracks and to adjust them - not easy in sand on a slope if you had the lower side track off and buried in sand Gear changes were never like this in a truck. In soft going they would often stop before you made the change. Double declutching became an art. Changing down meant clutch in, rev the engine until it screamed, clutch out and in again, move the gear stick in time with the clutch pedal and pray. .Boy oh boy could a Warner T9 box take punishment. Also had a quick run down on the General Stewart American light
As a Linton MT Sergeant on home visit to Park Road just before 10th Rm formed.
tank Very fast and used a great deal by the Eighth Army. I never got beyond a couple of drives . One on the Desert Road was very entertaining.
Fortunately a signaller standing in the rear compartment saw him and screamed “Out you’ve run over someone.” Never felt so sick in my life. More fortunately he was unhurt except for scratches on the top of his head and elbow.
My wife to be, became one of the few people outside of the army to ride in a bren carrier.
Well I passed the course, got a tracked vehicle extension to my driver’s licence, and back to the regiment to teach others how to handle a carrier. Came back to Linton to find an array of nice looking carriers equipped with what was thought to be the best of extras for artillery observation work (OP). Now the fun started. Everyone wanted to drive them, officers included. Finally everything was sorted and the teaching began. Around and around in the nearest available paddocks, the rougher the better. Drains and ditches were jumped until one officer standing in the commander’s position tried to make an impossible jump at so called high speed (40 mph ?) and didn’t make it. Hit the far side of the drain, came to an immediate stop, smacked both knees into the unforgiving metal body and off to hospital. Not seen again, rumour said invalided out with crook knees. Nothing was said, but ditch jumping came to an end. I think one of the best times we had using the Bren was a large manoeuvre which must have encompassed all the units at Linton and possibly in the Manawatu area. It was mostly carried out at Foxton racecourse, and on the beach and sand hills in that area. The possibility of us still having to go to fight in the war, in Egypt, in desert sand conditions was ever on everyone’s mind. We youngsters had a wonderful time driving over sand hills, pushing through flax bushes and flattening cabbage trees. I had one nasty incident when the doctor had left the ambulance, and was having a snooze in the long grass near by. My officer had directed me to pass close to the ambulance and with
the long grass no one noticed him. The first we knew was that he staggered to his feet clutching his head. Fortunately a signaller standing in the rear compartment saw him and screamed “Out you’ve run over someone.” Never felt so sick in my life. More fortunately he was unhurt except for scratches on the top of his head and elbow. He had been asleep with his head on his bent arm, and the carrier track had just touched enough to break the skin. A couple of inches and it would have been a funeral. We learnt a great deal about what a bren carrier would stand. A slide sideways on a sand hill meant a dislodged track and plenty of sweat to put it back on. Getting stuck and rocking backwards and forwards with the gearbox often meant a damaged reverse idler gear. From memory we did in three boxes on that week in the sand. In hot sunny weather watch how you opened a fuel tank. Hot petrol spews out and scalds under that sort of pressure. Running any sort of distance on sealed roads melted the synthetic rubber on the bogie wheels which helped tension and support the tracks. This meant more good luck for me, the LAD (light aid detachment) which carried out major repairs was in the Palmerston North Showgrounds. Whom do you think had to stay with the vehicles to see them safely repaired. Of course the transport NCO the LAD with their working civilian hours meant I had some courting time. I even had to pass Bovis Stores to deliver the last carrier back to Linton. My wife to be became one of the few people outside of the army to ride in a bren carrier. Life at Linton just seemed to go on. Parades, gun exercises, fatigues and manoeuvres filled our days. Leave
when we could get it was a great relief. The camp had huts where you could get tea and cake and the odd book to read. There was a picture theatre and church services all designed to keep us happy. A great change took place when the railway siding to the camp was completed. No more trucks were to be used for leave into town. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, trains would be there to take troops from all units into the Palmerston railway station. I can not be sure after all this time but I think it was 7.30 pm on Fridays and 1.30 pm on Saturdays and Sundays. All would get us back by the usual 11.59 pm. Well so much for the railways â€“ they were never there on time to take us in; no one was worried about a late return - the thing was to get in and get started. You see it is not easy to get a train from Palmerston to Linton. It meant going between the already listed rail traffic. Having to stop at Longburn for through traffic, getting across the Manawatu River, getting on to the Linton siding, arrive in Linton, load up and then reverse the journey back to Palmerston. Rail traffic in those days was much more than it is these days. What had been a fifteen or twenty minute trip in by truck, now on a good day took about an hour and that hour was precious LEAVE time. I think after the first couple of weeks I took my old trusty bike out and stored it in an empty two-man hut near where I had my quarters. Back to a twenty minute trip to home. No gears on my bike and the hills were much as they are today. Some managed to hitch-hike but for most it remained the hated train.
We were young and in love, and I think our parents were at least, in private, horrified but we won through and in November 1942 we did marry.
So life went along, Peg and I became engaged and began to plan on getting married. We were young and in love, and I think our parents were at least, in private, horrified but
I got my second stripe, it was hinted ahead of time and I was married a bombardier. Also at this time my father had become a staff sergeant for one of the infantry units at Linton. As a quarter-master he offered to get me a decent looking uniform for the occasion. I remember a good great coat with artillery buttons, but for the rest I’m not sure. In June.1943 I turned 21 and became eligible to serve overseas. Peg and I had decided that even though she was carrying our first child I would not apply for a deferment.
we won through and in November 1942 we did marry. A war time wedding! We supposed that a great number of people would be watching Peg’s waist-line. Well let them, we knew differently and our life together since has proved we were right. Well even the army came to the party. I got my second stripe, it was hinted ahead of time and I was married a bombardier. Also at this time my father had become a staff sergeant for one of the infantry units at Linton. As a quarter-master he offered to get me a decent looking uniform for the occasion. I remember a good great coat with artillery buttons, but for the rest I’m not sure. I was entitled to a weeks leave for the wedding and this was duly granted. Seven days from 6am on the Saturday until 23.59 the following Friday. The Friday night before I was only able to get leave from 5pm until one minute to midnight as usual. The duty officer for the day advised me to make sure I was back as he would be looking out for my return and from memory he was - so that was two trips in and out on the trusty steed. The wedding was great even if Peg and Hamish my best man did get me to eat some whipped cream thinking it was ice cream. Our life together is not what this rambling is all about. So on with life in khaki. In June.1943 I turned 21 and became eligible to serve overseas. Peg and I had decided that even though she was carrying our first child I would not apply for a deferment. I had also shortly before this got my third stripe, so a sergeant I was, Dad was most pleased as he was able to have me invited to dine in his units Sergeant’s Mess. From memory I had one very slap up meal there. So I was that month sent off to Trentham to become part of the 10th Reinforcement. This was to become a very unusual
group to be sent to fill up troop shortages in 2 NZEF. We became known as the “Dehydrates’ as we consisted of mostly demoted officers and n.c.o.’s. It was apparently decided that because in previous reinforcements many ranked personnel had been held back to give better training to new recruits, and because the division only required ‘other ranks’, all ranks below Major would be reduced to sergeant and all nco’s to gunner, private or sapper depending on your unit. So as the saying went, I went from gunner to sergeant to gunner in three years. Not too bad a record. Trentham consisted mostly in keeping us fit and occupied until a ship turned up to take us to Egypt. We were not to be sent to the 3rd Division in the Pacific Islands. The frosts in that place had to be experienced to be believed. Hob nailed boots and ice - a skating rink do make. Why there was not a great deal more broken bones I don’t know. What a cold miserable place to go on guard duty. We sort of even got to enjoy pack drill - anything to keep moving and warm. The government had obviously decided that one way of helping the war effort, and us occupied while waiting for a ship, was to use us on the Wellington wharf. Did a variety of jobs there, from driving a large flat deck truck to operating an hydraulic hoist in the sheds. We used to go into Wellington on the suburban trains from Trentham at 8 o’clock in the mornings and return after 5 o’clock at night. Can’t remember for sure but think a midday meal was provided on the job. We and the wharfies did not see eye to eye. They seemed to have too many perks which were not exactly legal, at least from our point of view and we still only got one shilling and six pence(15 cents) a day for doing the same work -
which they earned in less than an hour. Then there were stop work meetings which took place in work time and for which they were still paid. I remember one such meeting which lasted all day. Then at just on 5 o’clock they decided to go back to work on overtime if we would also work on. We had a stop work and caught the 5 o’clocker back to camp. Catching them working the old dropped case of whisky trick on patriotic goodies bound for the troops in the islands did not help. This consisted of a nice clean handy bucket on hand to catch the contents after these “accidental” droppings. Tinned fruit and other such goodies seemed to finish up on the too damaged to forward pile. Not too bad to eventually find a way off the wharf though.
The ms.”Nieuw Amsterdam” Leaving the Port of Rotterdam. From an original water-colour by ©Hans Breeman.....Information: email@example.com Owner: H.A.L. 1938-1974 BRT: 36.287 APK: 34.000 Speed: 20,5 knots.
hen in mid July it happened, a ship had arrived. Off for a weeks final leave, spent in New Plymouth and then embarking on the Nieuw Amsterdam for the journey to Egypt.
great ship - must have been virtually brand new when the war broke out. Belonged to a Dutch shipping line, don’t remember the name, but it had been converted to a troop ship in America; all the grand panelling had been covered with plywood to protect it from rough soldiers who were going to misuse it. On American conversions large open areas of a vessel, such as a theatre, were made over as sleeping quarters. I was allocated a bunk three layers up, in the theatre, about touching the ceiling. About 620 of us in that crowded space. I see from a book of the war that there were 6063 of us on the ship. Then there would have been the crew, plus some others we picked up on the way. In it’s peacetime roll I doubt if it would have carried many more than 1000. Meals were also done on a grand scale in two large dining areas, with I think five sittings each. I think I was on the fourth sitting by which time things were hot and to say the least smelly. None of us had any idea how good a sailor we were. On the first night out I walked (no that’s not right) queued, until eventually I reached the dining area and my nose said take off I want to heave. Well I grabbed an orange off the nearest table and headed for the deck. I ate the orange on deck and felt much better. I think that was the last of sea sickness I felt. Lucky me,
On American conversions large open areas of a vessel, such as a theatre, were made over as sleeping quarters. I was allocated a bunk three layers up, in the theatre, about touching the ceiling. About 620 of us in that crowded space.
This was shown us soon after we left Wellington by way of a Tiger Moth towing a target - just as we see them today towing advertisements on a very long rope. The idea was that it would tow it down one side of the ship and then come around the other side to give both sides a chance to have a live shoot.
some chaps were sick from the moment they put foot on the gangway, and stayed sick until we berthed six weeks later. Soon after sailing a call went out for gunners and machine gunners, people who were practised in their use. Not people like me who were gunners by rank only. Those chosen were to man the various guns the ship had for antiaircraft protection and she had great fire power. This was shown us soon after we left Wellington by way of a Tiger Moth towing a target - just as we see them today towing advertisements on a very long rope. The idea was that it would tow it down one side of the ship and then come around the other side to give both sides a chance to have a live shoot. Only problem was the first side put up a great show and shot the target to pieces in very short order. Great moans from them. Only the one tow available and as the remnants of what we had destroyed fluttered down they were allowed to blaze off the allocated ammo. Guy Fox came early. On the stern was a large gun about 5 inch I think, which rumour had it had only been fired once, as when it was, all the crockery on board and many windows were broken. The ship had a speed of somewhere about 22 knots and so they reckoned her pace would keep it out of trouble. We also did not travel in a straight line for very long, but constantly zig-zagging every few minutes. This gave the ship a changing motion that may have contributed to some of the motion sickness. To avoid other traffic we sailed south from Wellington. The South Island on our right (which I have since learnt is starboard) and sailed for about two or three days in that direction until we were sure that we ran the risk of hitting the South Pole - which of course we didnâ€™t because we turned west and headed
for Australia. Boy, was it cold, the sea was rough and the dear old Amsterdam pitched up and down. Walking the deck was uphill one minute and a downhill slide the next. Those who lived on deck, because they had decided that was the only way they would survive, had a hellish time cold, wet and spent their days between a deck chair (if they could find one) and the deck railing. I feel they must have lost stones. But nobody died. First call Australia was Hobart. Nobody allowed off and our stay was short, just over night if I recall. I suppose water and such like was taken on board. However what was of great interest to us all was that we did take on board some German prisoners. One was a youngish blond woman who was immediately dubbed Olga the beautiful spy. We were never told exactly who they were but RUMOUR ran riot. I suppose in hind-sight they were most likely German embassy staff being sent back. Remember a ship was the only real means of travel in those times. I think there were upwards of twenty of them. The nearest we ever came to them was when they were allowed to exercise on the small piece of deck at the stern by the large unused gun. All approaches to that deck were strictly off limits. From Hobart we continued across the Australian Bight in the same sort of miserable weather. After leaving Hobart we had an escort in the form of an Australian destroyer which was in for the ride of itâ€™s life. The seas were just large rollers coming out of the west heading for South America. They seemed to us landlubbers to be huge. The Amsterdam just rode them up and down as they came, but the poor little destroyer would appear on the crest of a wave and then disappear in the trough before the next.
It would go right out of sight and we felt that surely it had sunk. But no, eventually it would come up again for another disappearing act. All sorts of tales about life on that boat kept us going for hours. I think eventually it left us before falling apart. We were after all in conditions which at that time no submarine could supposedly do us any harm, and we could travel faster than the destroyer safely. Anyway we arrived in Freemantle alone. Freemantle! How the rumours ran riot. Tales of the women there, parties that previous troopships from NZ had had, what a place to work off the shipboard blues. Then the lectures started, yes there had been some wild times, so much so that it would appear that the good citizens of Perth may not have us. Damage had been done and they didn’t want any more. Behave and you just might be sent on shore leave. Play up and the Aussies would escort us back on board and charges would be laid. Well someone must have pleaded for us because we had two days ashore while the ship was recharged with water and food etc. for the rest of the trip to Egypt. Trains were put on to take us in to Perth and I think we had leave from 8am until 11.59pm each day. We had to come back on board to sleep at night, and the usual army check ups were given. Arriving in Perth railway station we were met by what seemed like half the Australian military police on the platforms. A bigger station than most of us had ever seen and there was to be no short cuts across the lines between the platforms. Well of course some of us were not going to wait while everyone filed around the platforms while there in full view were the exits. So across the tracks we set only to be met by a line of these redcaps intent on sending us back before a train came
along and ran us down. And make no mistake about it they were prepared to stand there all day until we did. So back across the tracks we went, still of course under dire peril of being run down, so win they did. Boy did we immediately learn another thing about Australia that was different to home in N.Z. See those little early 1900 cabins over there with wire mesh covering in the verandas. They are first and foremost out of bounds. Why can’t we go talk to those sparsely dressed ladies behind the wire? Are they in some form of prison? What’s a brothel? Boy-O-boy were we a young pack of innocents but we were learning fast. Paid sex, wow! No luck here boys the MP’s saw to that. Put your eyes back in their sockets there’s plenty to see in town. So off we went before we could get into trouble. What a nice friendly city it turned out to be, smiles everywhere. We strolled the place on foot and as we certainly didn’t have much money to spend, went looking for somewhere cheap to eat. I don’t remember a great deal about Perth except that it seemed to have a great number of buildings in what I have always thought of as an Elizabethan style. White plastered finish with black battens across the open surfaces. Then there was the mandarins, must have been the height of their season, a large bag for about sixpence. You could pick the NZer’s by the smell when you walked up behind one. The ship when we got back on board, smelt of them for days afterwards. Have to admit they made great eating, and a good change of diet. I had forgotten to mention that by now we had been calling the Amsterdam the “custard ship” because every day we had a custard at midday, seven days a week, seven different flavours, so we could tell which day of the week it was.
Freemantle! How the rumours ran riot. Tales of the women there, parties that previous troopships from NZ had had, what a place to work off the shipboard blues.
Behave and you just might be sent on shore leave. Play up and the Aussies would escort us back on board and charges would be laid. Well someone must have pleaded for us because we had two days ashore while the ship was recharged with water and food etc. for the rest of the trip to Egypt.
Well bagpipes are an acquired taste and if you haven’t acquired it, they are just a headache. So one evening there was a scuffle and the chanter went overboard. I think an enquiry of sorts followed but no real action happened.
On the second day I think I was having a cup of tea in a milk bar, when I was approached by a young woman of about my own age and asked if I would like to have an evening meal with her family. Of course I jumped at the chance and off we went to meet her family. Somehow I never had or else I lost their name and address. But apart from the fact that such a meal and evening occurred I do not remember a thing about them. I sometimes wonder what became of her and her folks, it would have been nice to have been able to thank them after the war, for taking in a stranger. Well after two days in Perth we sailed on to Egypt. I seem to remember that from here on the weather was greatly improved and we were able to take our bedding up on deck at night to sleep, a vast improvement over sleeping in the theatre, which was always hot and stuffy. The only thing was that we were up and about earlier because the crew washed the decks down with seawater every morning. So we often woke to the cry of “Up and out washy decks.” If you were a bit slow you were washed out in literal fact. Boredom was the cause of some trouble between troops. I remember that Housie or Bingo as it now seems to be called was played endlessly. And I think with great intensity, as I’m sure money was involved. At the same time there was a man who endlessly practiced his bagpipes, mostly with just the chanter. Well bagpipes are an acquired taste and if you haven’t acquired it, they are just a headache. So one evening there was a scuffle and the chanter went overboard. I think an enquiry of sorts followed but no real action happened. Funny, how the memory just drops things from mind. I
think but can’t be sure that we called somewhere in India before docking in Port Taufiq on the Suez Canal. The date was August 18th. Off by train to Mardi camp outside Cairo to join the Div. From here on the 10th reinforcement began to be split up amongst the various units of the Division. Infantry to the brigades, signallers to the attached signal corps, artillery to the batteries and so on until some of the Div’s manpower shortages were filled. But some of us were not exactly what they had hoped for. I remember my being sent to 6th Field regiment headquarters with a group of others. There we were again sorted into what we had been trained to do. There were several of us who announced that we were drivers.” God knows we don’t want any more drivers seemed to be our welcome”. However after some discussion we were sent to the gun crews as number two driver if gun tractors was our claimed specialty. I duly became number two on C2 of 48 Battery. Names again elude me but the No.1 was Ben Reid often called “B.A. Reid in the field” after a letter he once received from an American source which was addressed to him in that manner. Tall, thin and I think about thirty years old, which of course made him very old in my eyes. Don’t remember how long he had been with the Div. but was certainly experienced in desert driving. Driving in desert sand was a great deal different from the sands at Foxton Beach. The Division at this time was being made ready for the Italian campaign and it was beginning to hold live shoots in the nearby desert. So the No.2’s were doing some of the driving. I could handle the quads that the Battery had but all we new boys were a more than a bit intimidated by the
old hands. But we knew that it would not be until we saw some real live action that we would be fully accepted. In the meantime we were welcomed and began to settle in. Life in general was perhaps easier than it was in camp in NZ. The old story of “wait ‘til you get overseas “was not really true. Our main concern was not to get Gypo- Tum. Hygiene was the order of the day. Odd things happened to me in Egypt. The talk of snakes and poisonous asps made one very careful of what might be sharing one’s bed made you nervous. Not to mention scorpions, so when I woke one morning in my bed on the sand and something with clawed feet moved over my feet I broke the four minute mile from bed to outside of tent. It was only a small friendly lizard looking for company but I took a power of convincing. Then there was the day that people who could drive a Bren carrier were called up. Somehow I must have done the unthinkable and found myself with several others driving in the outskirts of Cairo in one of those most temperamental of vehicles. They tend to steer with a will of their own, so coming up to an intersection in traffic that was driving on the wrong side of the road (right) and wanting to turn left an unfortunate Egyptian truck driver was suddenly in front of me. The steering decided to only come part way across and took out his left front wheel by sliding the axle back along the spring. Now what? The sergeant (an old hand) looking after us was unfazed and called for a packet of V’s. If we were lucky these were the cigarettes given out with the NAAFI Rations each week. If like me you did not smoke they were great barter goods. So at the sight of a packet of ten our driver
broke out in smiles, we backed up and drove off and that was the last we heard of that. Wog ways were beyond our understanding. You had to be up very early if you wanted to be ahead of them. Even from a very early age. One trick they had was to run out behind slow moving trucks with a bundle of newspapers offering to sell you one. Handing over the right change and then to receive an up to date, English version of a paper was not often the case. A load of newcomers like us were easy meat, parked vehicles were always guarded otherwise nothing might be there when you came back. One day we were taken on a leave trip to the Cairo Zoo, a convoy of about six trucks, two of us were left to patrol around them. We were to be relieved at intervals (and we were) so everyone had a look. It was I think perhaps the best I have ever been to, miles of space and variety. But getting back to the guard duty, we were soon surrounded by dozens of children and teenagers all with a hand out for money or food. My mate and I were worried that something would soon disappear. We were not armed in any way so we began to look for something to deter them. In the trucks, some of which were gun quads, I found a machete, and a joke which I heard years later in an episode of Dad’s Army came so true. Wogs certainly do not like it up ‘em. as Corporal Jones used to say. The first sign of the blade as I pulled it out of the sheath and we were virtually alone. So for the rest of my guard duty that afternoon I had no trouble. I mentioned before that we were having live shoots with the infantry and we had one unfortunate episode with the
Odd things happened to me in Egypt. The talk of snakes and poisonous asps made one very careful of what might be sharing one’s bed made you nervous. Not to mention scorpions, so when I woke one morning in my bed on the sand and something with clawed feet moved over my feet I broke the four minute mile from bed to outside of tent.
As it happened, I believe nothing and nobody were lost in the transfer from Egypt to Italy.
Maori Battalion. Not the particular battery that I was part of, but all the gun units tended to think of themselves as being part of the whole. So, that when one battery was in trouble we all felt it. Barrages were being practiced. These consist of a line of fire being laid by many guns in order to keep the enemy down. On a designed pattern, the line of shells is lifted forward a given distance, usually fifty or one hundred yards at a time. These lifts should be timed to the rate that it is assumed an infantryman will be able to walk or climb the ground ahead. Their officers have the pattern and should in theory be able to keep in time with the guns. If they move forward too fast they are likely to walk into the falling shells and be hurt. This appears to have happened on one particular shoot and I think three were killed and some wounded. An artilleryman’s worst nightmare is to injure some of our own but in war these sorts of things do happen. So in the end of September 1943 we start to prepare our vehicles for the move to Italy. Boy oh boy had the rumours been flying, India, Pacific Islands and even back to NZ, but finally Italy it was. I understand that it had been laid down by the NZ Government that the NZ Div. was not to be used as invasion troops in Europe. As it happened we never were in that campaign. Out of the blue for the trip to Italy I was posted to drive the cook’s truck, an odd model English Ford the only one of it’s type I ever saw. Canopies were lowered on all vehicles if at all possible, mine was one of these and with all the gear on board I had a space through the middle where I could bunk down. Somewhere in September or October I drove in a convoy to Port Tewfik where we were loaded as deck cargo on an American built Liberty ship, again
don’t ask me the name. What I do remember is that each regiment’s vehicles were not loaded on the same ship. The reason being that the command did not want to risk losing a complete regiment’s vehicles or other hardware, thus making say an artillery regiment useless. As it happened I believe nothing and nobody were lost in the transfer from Egypt to Italy. From the point of view of a journey by ship across the Mediterranean Sea it was great. The Sea was for the most part calm and the autumn weather was warm. We must have been well fed and living in the back of a truck as deck cargo was no bother, much better than living below decks in a hold. Toilets were interesting as they were simply a row of seats slung over the side with just a drop between your bottom and the sea. Very thrilling when the ship rolled when the sea was rough. I think our convoy had some twenty plus ships and every one had an anti-air raid balloon. Wound up during the day and pulled down to the deck at night. Some way into the trip we had a series of electrical storms. The lightning was something else. The first time most of us Kiwis had ever seen fork lightning. It ran across the sky and discharged into the sea. Then we would suddenly see a flash in the air above us, quite a flare up as the helium gas in a balloon exploded. The day after the first storm I think there were only about six of the original thirty odd left. Then one evening we sailed into the port of Bari in south- eastern Italy. And for us the war was suddenly at hand. Our ship was unable to tie up to the wharf, no reason was given to us but rumour (our best source) had it that we were to deeply laden and would need to lighter some cargo off first. That night anchored in the harbour
there was an air raid. For a number of us this was our first action. On deck we were warned to take cover, not so much from what the bombers were expected to drop, but from the old what goes up must come down theory. All activity in the harbour stopped when the sirens sounded and what little light there had been went out. Only one or two planes came over but the alert went on for some time, during which all hell went forth in the anti-aircraft department. Talk about big ones, small ones, it seemed that if you had something to shoot with, have a go. We brave kiwis got under what ever was handy, in my case the good old cook’s truck. What was coming down was making a din, as it fell on what ever was underneath. Some was small arms 303, some ½”, and increasingly larger being pieces of exploded shells. I think the first New Zealand casualty in Italy happened that night when someone was killed by a spent missile while sheltering under a truck. Next day a number of lighters started to come along side and we began unloading the deck cargo, using the ships own cranes. As my truck was one of these it wasn’t long before my turn came and we were lifted off onto one of them. Then followed a trip across the harbour to where we were again lifted up to the wharf and directed to a staging area where we were formed up into convoys ready for the drive down the coast to Taronto where the rest of the Division was being formed up for our joining in the Italian campaign. By now we are somewhere into late October or early November 1943. I must confess that as far as dates are concerned I am making good use of the book “War Memorial” by Laurie Barber he calls it a chronology of the war period.
Now in a camp outside Taronto we were being put together as an artillery regiment suitable to fight a different type of battle from what the Div. had been before in Egypt. No longer wide open desert spaces but into country not dissimilar to our own. It was a narrow land, with a mountain range down the centre, similar to the South Island. This has plenty of rivers flowing out from the hills and several lakes in, mostly, the upper regions. It has a different climate, hotter in summer and colder in winter nothing like Egypt. Snow was something we would soon learn about. So mid November we set off up the west coast to join up with the 4th Indian Division and into action at the Sangro River. Myself driving C2 gun tractor which I did until we were about to go into action, when word came from above that all No 2 drivers were to be replaced by the old hands. This was the start of a long sit about which was the life of a driver when the guns were in action and in a static position. The Div. was to help cross the high ridge called Lanciano-Guardiagrele, and to take a village Castelfrentano and push through to Orsogna. Well the village was taken, together with part of the ridge but there we stopped. Christmas and New Year was spent there and it looked as if there we were until summer. Rain and snow soon put a stopper on movement and vehicles soon bogged down in the resulting mud. All vehicles not in immediate use were sent back to a safer area called by the army B echelon or B ech.in normal speech. B ech was where I found myself with really, after maintenance was carried out, nothing to do. There was
That night anchored in the harbour there was an air raid. For a number of us this was our first action. On deck we were warned to take cover, not so much from what the bombers were expected to drop, but from the old what goes up must come down theory.
a fuel dump across the road from us. This I think was the cause of some German shelling that came in on a fairly regular basis. It never did much harm but made everyone dive for cover when it happened.
Took the risk and next time an officer of the right position appeared I made the request, and shortly after I was made DR complete with JEEP.
The main labourers in the dump were black Basuto soldiers who gave you the impression that they didn’t have a clue as to why they were there. On the area we had our trucks parked (under camouflage nets) was a German bomb shelter. This was very well made and one was safe inside it. The only problem was that they had of course made it for shelter from our attacks, so it had it’s opening on the side that faced their now incoming shells. Not to worry a few sand bags and we felt bullet proof. Incoming shells and under we would go. Soon to be followed by the boys from over the road. Ever remember those comic films where the frightened black boy’s eyes looked large and white in the dark,well it has a certain amount of truth. One of the thrills that came on occasion was when a German spotter plane came over for a look. Not very often, because by now we had virtual air supremacy and they a shortage of planes. When they did every man and his dog had a shot at them, if you had something that could shoot, you shot. But one day one was brought down, we never did find out who or what was responsible for this, I guess we all took credit.
Then after some time had passed and getting more and more brassed off, I did the soldier’s no-no. Rumour had it that a new position was coming up. A Don R who would have a jeep instead of a motorcycle was to be set up. Well I hated motorbikes but we all were starting to envy those people (mostly American) who seemed to fly about in these little 4 wheel drive bombs. Took the risk and next time an officer of the right position appeared I made the request, and shortly after I was made DR complete with JEEP. Well from here on my life changed. No longer sitting about waiting for something to happen but I now was on call to every officer who wanted to go anywhere. Up to the FDL’s (forward defence lines) back to battery HQ or Reg. HQ. together with all places in between. By this time things had moved a little and our battery headquarters was in a village on a hill top (all Italian villages are on hill tops) called Castelfrentano and was driving my first Mad Mile. Mad Miles were usually a piece of road that was observed by enemy Ops, (observation posts to the uninformed). I think those in one that over looked a stretch of road took great delight in trying to hit a moving vehicle. Not the best place for a moving vehicle to be seen. Anyway this first one was on an open hillside up past a brick works and then safely amongst the houses. A thrill a minute being chased by an 88mm shell. Better tackled at night. So from being on the move on the eastern coast about mid January those above decided to move the N.Z. Div over to the western side to help tackle Cassino. Up until now the war on the western side of Italy was being fought
by the American 5th Army whereas we had been part of the English 8th Army on the other coast. I read now that we moved about 4,500 vehicles to do this and in some places what a shamble it was. I think it was on this occasion that it was decided that in order to not let the Germans know who was on the move we had to cover up all identifying signs on our vehicles and to remove temporally our uniform tags and hats. I reckon one look and anyone would know that pack of roughs is the Kiwi div. Also our well-used trucks were a definite give away. What a difference between the two armies! The English were all spit and polish. The Americans gave one the impression that if it was dirty or broken down replace it. Money seemed to be there for them to burn. The first sight of a battle area seemed to be covered in signal wire. Posts with strands of wire bundles as thick as the telephone poles they were hanging from. Our poor signallers when a line went out had to walk the line and find the break and repair it. Not so our Yanky mates, if it broke for whatever reason lay another wire. We felt that, of a bundle of perhaps twenty wires only one might be in use. We set up at first in the Volturno valley and began again training for the battle ahead. At this time also, mid-January, the Americans made the Anzio beachhead landing above and behind the Gustav line as the German defence line was called. As history will have taught you this was not the great break though to Rome that it was hoped it would be and a lot of war was still ahead before Rome was to fall. Early February and we began to move into the Cassino area. Our guns went into the line just behind a single l
arge hill feature called Mount Troccio which was to be our observation point. Not the only one but by far the most used. At first we were amongst some American guns that after our first joint attack left to rejoin their own troops. They called most of the hills they shelled “Million Dollar” because they reckoned that was the value of the shells they fired into it. On our 7/6 (75 cents) a day such spending was beyond our ken. Route 6 from Naples to Rome and beyond became my next mad mile. Under view from Mount Cairo above Cassino all the way to where ever one was headed, life driving anywhere was of an encouragement to German OP’s to have a go. And they did. One nearby Bailey bridge always had a British MP on duty to direct the oneway traffic on the bridge. If you could see him things were quiet, if he was out of sight in his slit trench cross your fingers and go. We soon learnt that if you heard an 88 shell you were reasonably safe because it had landed. The story was that you never heard the one that got you because they travelled faster than sound. I was lucky because I always heard them coming. My part in the Cassino was mostly taking the battery major (commander) to visit the OP’s I should have told you earlier that my jeep now had a different name. No longer the DR but X2. X being the Battery commander’s vehicle which in the desert war was a White Scout car. Once we got involved in the Italian winter the mud soon rendered it next to useless. Four wheel drive and all that but too heavy to be moved about in muddy conditions. So the powers that be looked around and there at hand the jeep, a real go anywhere at any time sort of unit. So instead of being the message boy, I now took his nibs while we were in action to where the action was. I now spent my
What a difference between the two armies! The English were all spit and polish. The Americans gave one the impression that if it was dirty or broken down replace it. Money seemed to be there for them to burn.
time with his retinue. Which was specialist, signaller, X driver, batman and myself. His vehicles to get him about his Battery positions were a White Scoutcar (wheeled, not ½ track) and a Jeep.
On leave at Salerno
So now I spent many hours at OP’s while the major went for a look. At Cassino the most used OP was on Mount Trocchio behind which our 48 Battery guns were placed. This OP over looked Cassino but was in turn over shadowed by Mount Cario in front of which was the famous monastery on a hill roughly the same height as Trocchio. Cassino on route 6 was spread around the hill base. During February we had taken over completely from the Americans and it was at this time our General Freyberg made the final decision to bomb the Abbey. There are plenty of books to read if you want to follow up on the Cassino battles so I will not do more than say I was there and saw it happen from the OP on Mount Trocchio. Plenty of aircraft involved. Mostly led in by RAF bombers to mark the target. They partly demolished the abbey, but from our point of view made it better for the Germans to use for shelter and to observe. In this bombing, the city of Cassino was also destroyed, making it impossible to do more than walk through or rather over. We had a second OP to the west of Cassino that entailed
a mad mile approach which was very tricky in daylight. Still we drove it and better than some, survived. So until April we fought over this town and really made very little progress. How we pitied the Infantry. My Father always said we were called long range snipers in the first world war, from the infantry point of view I think perhaps he was right. They were wide open most of the time to whatever “jerrie” could throw at them. Mortars were I think the worst. They would drop down on you without much sound and exploded in all directions when they landed. They did not penetrate the ground on landing so shrapnel went out in all directions. Cassino was an infantry hell and was the reason for a great number of their casualties. We had rest periods during the months of the Cassino assaults. During one of these I went south to a rest camp at Salerno and managed a trip to Pompeii. Back in rest area meant back to basic drills enough to make you glad to go back in the line. Back in the same area it was so different to the first run. The ground had dried up going into spring and I bottomed the jeep in the middle of the paddock I had always used to drive up to the house we had made headquarters. Felt so exposed but no one took a pot shot at us. Back to the OP and signal cable-laying jobs. February, March and April continued the stalemate that Cassino had become and in mid April we were withdrawn to the Appenine sector in the mountainous centre of Italy. Here we went into positions that had been used by other troops, some said Italian Mountain Alpennie, whose toilet ideas to say the least appalled us. Again they were open to the wrong direction but better than having to dig our own. The road in to these positions was cut into the mountainside in typical Italian manner. We could learn
a lot from their engineers, but not on hygiene. We could only move in and out in darkness, daytime was very likely to prove fatal. The road was very narrow and for most part one way. All stores were mostly taken in by jeeps travelling in convoy because of the one way rule. They gave us trailers for the extra carrying space it provided. I for the first and only time was issued with one and out the door went speed. With a load of ammunition on board it was low gear from start to finish. In early May the German artillery scored a hit on the main ammo. dump called Hove in what was thought to be a pretty safe valley. I think we all heard it go, don’t know the loss of life but as we were always short of ammo. losing so much made things so bad I think we only shot a couple of rounds a day for some time. Well this all led up to the final attempt on Cassino, which was finally taken by the Polish forces. A really hard lot who had a great deal as individuals to settle with the German forces So the rivers were finally crossed and the story was, “look out Roma here we come”. The Americans joined up with the Anzio forces and pushed on to enter Roma (e) on June 4th. Our forces were pushing up more to the centre and found ourselves in the upper Liri Valley the river of which flows down past Cassino. Our objective was to take the town of Balsorano at the head of the valley. However the Germans had a different idea and brought our rapid advance to a stop. All the New Zealand guns from all three regiments were sited in this narrow valley. When things came to a standstill we soon found out that we were in sight of German OPs.
Then began for me and I think all lately joined reinforcements (other than infantry} our first taste of what war and gunfire were all about. They soon ranged in on our gun positions. We were shelled by all the types of weapon in their possession, from mortars, 7 5 m m a n d 8 8 m m ’s dropped in amongst us. In our push forward not much had been done in the way of slit trenches and other protection, so we copped it. I know I huddled down behind truck wheels and frantically clawed at the ground, praying to be saved. Glad to be called up by the battery major and going up to find our OP personal. Anything was better than lying waiting to be hit. After about two days we are all taken back to get our guns back into action. With a 25lber even a flat tyre puts it out of service. I think of the 48 guns we had in all only three were still in service. Back down the valley we were rested and the equipment repaired. Those of us who admitted to being shaken up had a large dose of all things castor oil, the resultant movement must have been looked on as a cure all. However we were soon back in the chase and the town of Belsorano fell and we move on to Arce where I think we paused to rest. We were now in the Lake Trasimene district restful and not too much sign of war damage.
The Day of Castor Oil........ after Belsorano - guess who is 6th from left at rear.
Now the larger city of Arezzo was in our sights. Before this in early June we had been told of the Second Front into France and this somehow did not make us over joyed. There was talk that although it should shorten the war we might suffer from further, mostly munition, shortages. Unlike today news was very slow in coming to us and I think we mostly ignored it and carried on with our own battles.
German Panther Tank
Now I realise that I need to give you an insert or two. As I have written these memories I suddenly remember something else that happened. I see from the artillery official war history that one of my close companions was killed in action on May 30th. He was the battery commander’s signaller, and to give you one of the few names I intend to use, it was Claude Barnes. His death came about in this manner. At this time of the Cassino break though we were going forward as quickly as possible and had to keep up with the infantry as they mostly walked forward. Our guns were usually about a thousand yards behind the FDL’s (forward defence lines) if possible as our guns had a range of about 6000 yards. This gave us the ability to cover the retreating enemy in some depth before we had to move up. This we did in turns among the three regiments as ground was taken. I with my jeep was used a great deal in forward recci. trips
and on this day had gone up to find another position. Up a side road, which we understood had been swept for mines by the engineers. Found a suitable farm took, over the buildings and called up the battery. Well I had travelled up this dirt road several times that day but as the heavy scout car came in, there was a loud explosion. Somehow we all knew what had happened. No sound of an incoming shell, a land mine and just outside on the road. The old X with the left rear wheel blown off and the back twisted. All the CO’s crew with the exception of me. The C.O. had a long scratch in the back of his head, his batman injured, specialist badly shaken, driver also shaken and Claude his signaller dying. Ambulance and other first aid came from all over and all were taken back to the Regimental Aid Post (RAP) for attention. Here Claude died and the batman taken back to hospital. The CO rejoined us sticking plaster and all. The driver went back for another scout car. I went with others to the RAP to collect the specialist and to bury Claude in a temporary grave from where he was eventually reburied in the Cassino cemetery. I had reason to ponder my luck. I had driven over that spot at least four times that day, was the jeep too light or did the mine have a fuse that rolled over a few times before activating. My lucky day? Then another day we were held up, perhaps a bridge repair or just a road clearance. But someone had the idea that this was our chance to go back a few miles and get a look at Cassino and the monastery. So several of us were allowed to take a truck to have a look. Driving up the back of Mount Cairo and across the top of the hill on which the monastery was built. The track we had been assured was swept clean of mines but don’t go trekking
about off the tracks. We went up to the remains of the building and were amazed at its size and how little damage all the bombing and shelling had done. Not that it wasnâ€™t destroyed as a useful church, so much as the shelter it had provided for the Germans to observe us. What an OP, you could see everywhere we had been and went. Then there was the mess of the town of Cassino below. How they existed and our boys fought in that place stunned us. No wonder it took so long and cost so many lives, ours and theirs. We hunted in the ruins for souvenirs and found lots of amongst others small pieces of carved wood. I found an angels head and some pieces of glass and marble squares that had been part of the mosaics found in most Italian churches. It was as I remember it a very hot day and the smell of death and decay was all around us. The heat was setting off small personal mines that the area was littered with just as a reminder to be careful. Several German graves were around obviously covered over where they fell but all had their feet exposed and their boots removed. Stolen we guessed by returning Italians. Odd really but we would go into an area to fight and there would not be a civilian in sight for days. Then after we had passed over they would appear from nowhere and carry on as if nothing had happened. That was until you spoke to them. All sorts of stories would emerge of where they had hidden. The shelters under haystacks and the crypts under churches, anywhere where they could lie up until Tedesoc had gone and we had also passed over. Tedesco is of course Italian for German and kept cropping up in our conversations with them. The multi
male Tedesco (the very bad) who had stolen the hens and pigs, drunk all the vino (wine), the eggs and cheese then been driven off by us innocents. Just as well at times they had not seen what we had for a change of diet. Then the offers would come mostly from the women to do our washing, in exchange for food. We of course being anything but domesticated soon took them up. Then of course, we would get the call to move on and half our clothes would be somewhere in a creek most likely being beaten to death.by some old granny. I donâ€™t know of any time when our gear was deliberately stolen. I in any case was always lucky. Now our next main objective was the large city of Firenzi (Florence I like the Italian name) and in doing so we lost a lot of men. It is rolling hilly country with lots of rivers and large streams to cross. At Arezzo we had spent a few days in a seminary for Italian youths to train for priesthood. They were anxious to try out their English which they had only read, never heard from someone whose native language it was. It gave us some light relief and they helped us with Italian. When Arezzo first fell about six of us, half of whom were officers, went into the city and asked the first Italian we saw to show us the home of a Grande Fascista. With big smiles he mounted his old pushbike and away we went. He certainly knew what we
Captured German General with nosey onlookers.
Well the jeep being a jeep kept on and climbed out of the crater and we pressed on. There soon arose a cry for help. The signaller who had been sitting on top of the great pile of gear in the back, because the top was down just floated in the air just like you see in loony tune cartoons, and finished up in the bottom of the crater. We of course just drove on and left him there.
wanted. A big stone palace, more than your average house, and all the proof we ever needed to agree this was a big time fascist centre. Wardrobes full of elaborate uniforms and plenty of papers and flags all to do with Il Duce. One of our officers was to soon be marrying a nurse from our general hospital and the ones with us decided that some of the crystal decanters in great sideboards would be the ideal gift. We still have one or two glasses that I managed to send home. Looting I suppose it was, but we felt we had earned something and in any case the locals were soon going around destroying anything Fascist. So I doubt that anything in that place survived. Well the battles were pressing on. Many small villages were falling to our advance at times with heavy loss. The one that I feel I had most to do with was San Michele. This was a small village, as usual sited on top of a hill and over looking a valley with of course another hill on the advance to Florence. We were meeting the normal strong resistance and because it was fairly open it was decided that to use our tanks was the best option. This I think was one of the first times one of our OP officers would, with his specialist who could also operate a radio, go forward in a tank. My battery commander Major Harden Maxwell and my friend Walter Danby were chosen. I doubt if anyone knows why as I think it could have been any of the regiment’s OP units who could have been used. It did from my point of view mean I was in reserve. If I remember rightly one of our radios was transferred to the tank. Wally was sent to me to get the lovely Waltham pocket watch with which I had been issued shortly before.
Only about two to a battery and not having a watch of my own it was very handy. I think I made Wally swear on his life’s blood that he would guard it with his life. Well off they set and I believe they did a marvellous job under heavy fire. Maxwell earned a medal for the support he made with our guns. But the inevitable happened and the tank was put out of action. In fact to use our terms “she brewed”. I’m not sure about the tank crew but our two got out with only a little injury. Possibly slight burns. So much for my watch, it was screwed to the radio in a jam jar lid type fitting and if it had been me not Wally I would never have thought about it either. Only pity was no more were ever issued. So back comes our Max all steamed up and raring to go, which we did at sun set, Max, a signaller and myself in the jeep. It was very creepy and in the darkness we headed for San Michele. Plenty of shelling going both ways and the farm track we were using was getting mortar attention. We were moving at a steady pace along the track when we passed into what looked like just another shadow. It wasn’t, it was a bomb crater and the jeep just seemed to fall away from under us. Well the jeep being a jeep kept on and climbed out of the crater and we pressed on. There soon arose a cry for help. The signaller who had been sitting on top of the great pile of gear in the back, because the top was down just floated in the air just like you see in loony tune cartoons, and finished up in the bottom of the crater. We of course just drove on and left him there. At the end of the track was a large farm house which the infantry were holding against some heavy enemy fire. Well we left the jeep under a tree by a stone wall. This was while we identified
ourselves and found out where we could be of most use. The building had a large courtyard and had two very large doors into the place. It was decided that we should drive the jeep into the building so that we could use the radio under cover. While we were doing this some heavy mortar fire came in and I waited for a lull. It came, and out I went at the double started up and in through the big doors. In with the doors shut and there was this smell of petrol. The jeep had had a near miss and amongst other holes had one in the petrol tank. Why it never caught fire I’ll never know but thank goodness it didn’t. Panic, how to stop the flow and save enough to get back when the time came. Well in the cellars under where we were, there were plenty of wine bottles. The straw covered type. I think we caught about five or six litres in them and stacked them to one side. Then we found out how unpopular we were making ourselves. No smoking as the place simply reeked of that burnable stuff, would a near miss set it off? Nothing of that sort happened, but not until we were able to range in the guns on the nearby Germans were we accepted, and we trust forgiven. I think we spent a couple of days there and for the first time I helped to range in the guns. It was a good OP and any movement by the Jerries was clearly seen. We were attacked but our boys held them off and we again pressed forward. Then we went back to the gun positions and tipped in the petrol from the wine bottles as we went. Then back to the LAD (light aid detachment) for repairs. After some soldering to the petrol tank we were as good as new.
From now until early August our objective was Florence. The city had been declared an “open city.” This meant that no army activity was going on within the walls. It also meant that it would not be shelled or bombed. I guess this was to preserve it’s great works of art and architecture. So Florence was virtually unharmed. This meant that a great deal of fighting took place in it’s vicinity and casualties were high. One of the towns we passed through on the way was Siena of which later we would see a great deal. Finally we had an OP overlooking the river Arno on the banks of which Florence was sited. What a pleasant view - we made a short trip sort of in and out once the river was crossed and Florence was ours. The only real damage it suffered was to it’s bridges all of which were destroyed except the Ponte Vecchio. an “old “ bridge which had shops built into it, mostly gold and silver smiths.
The jeep had had a near miss and amongst other holes had one in the petrol tank. Why it never caught fire I’ll never know but thank goodness it didn’t. Panic, how to stop the flow and save enough to get back when the time came.
We were now taken back to near Siena for a short spell before our next move back to the Adriatic coast. More silly badge and other insignia removals. We used to bet that Jerry knew who we were before we moved. One look at our vehicles would have been enough. Back on the other coast it was more of the hill and river crossing warfare - slow brutal stuff. He would breach a stop bank or blow up a bridge and our advance halted until we got a bailey bridge or a ford over the resultant flooding. Once we got to the far bank then we pushed on. It did not happen over night because they always had plenty of time to dig in. And they were hard to shift. So in early September we were on the coast near Fano. About this time our Headquarters Division was moved to Senigallia. Soon after this our General Hospital was erected on the beach more or less at Senigallia also.
We were at this time working I think for the first time with a Canadian Corp. They were more English I feel in their approach to things than we were. But as we operated as a unit mostly it was perhaps our tanks which had the most direct contact in a support role. We often worked as extra gun support for them.
3 ton truck and my second jeep. Note, side curtains which were not on my stolen model.
Now is the time of a string of towns who must have made the news when it finally got to NZ. Pesaro would have been the first, followed as time went on by Riccione and Rimini. Look at a map of Italy in this area and you will see river after river, all of which were a real battle to cross. This went on until October and I see by one write up that we lost 1100 men killed and wounded in this month. On the night of the 22nd I see that we were relieved by a Canadian division. And that brings me to another Insert. We were being relieved for a spell by a Canadian unit. In fact the whole Div. was to be changed over. Well we did our usual, knowing that in the early morning we were on our way, we loaded everything that was not required into our vehicles and climbed into our blankets and went to sleep. Bright and early in the morning I went out to throw the bedding into the jeep when low and behold no jeep. Panic stations. Come on you lot, stop fooling about, where’s my baby. Consternation when the major turns up. Max some - army language - person unknown has flogged our wheels. Every thing I possessed except the gear I stood up in and my blankets was in that jeep - even down to some washing I had tossed in the night before, and to make things worse from my point of view my battle dress jacket with my pay book and money was in the back.
So; lost was one Jeep complete with; radio, wire laying bracket, one gunner’s entire worldly goods and most important from the army’s point of view his rifle. At least I was to learn that lesson. You see unlike the infantry, a gunner in a campaign like Italy never even handled a weapon such as a rifle unless perhaps we were to stand in for them at an OP. So mine was buried under everything else in the back of the jeep. Then once we were in camp all the army law and order began to appear. How was it possible in such a well guarded HQ for someone to take off with one of our vehicles? Who was on guard? How many guards were there? What was their patrol beat? How often were they relieved? The answer to most of those questions was of course no one and never, just like every other Kiwi unit on most occasions. We felt that we were far enough back not to have any need of such things. Well one Canadian deserter soon showed us how wrong we were. A court of inquiry was called for by the CRA. Commander Royal Artillery to the uninitiated. So when the officers charged with holding the court turned up, we had some of everything required, all well drilled in how we were guarding the HQ that night. All were duly questioned and the findings sent off to be studied by the afore-mentioned CRA. Some three months later when we had forgotten all about it, I was called to the regiment’s telephone control to speak with Bill Philp our well liked Regimental CO. who blithely informed me that the CRA had ordered that no one was to be charged over the jeep stealing except Gunner Sheldrake JSG 440355 was to be fined one week’s pay for loss of equipment to whit one rifle.
I see from my old pay book I was to lose the sum of £2-12-6 ($5.25) on the 13-1-45. The jeep was recovered in Ancona I think about three weeks after being taken. The story went about that the Canadian had a girl friend there and the MP’s picked him up at her home. I went back to pick up the jeep and to identify it. It was mine and although it had been found abandoned in the streets of Ancona with everything stripped out, there was still an ammunition case under the rear seat which no one had touched. It still contained at great deal of my clothing and letters from home. There were still also some photos that your mother had sent me, mostly of Ray, and letters from home. I was given the option of the two jeeps. Mechanically nothing to choose between them, but someone who had had the second jeep had fitted it out with side curtains, so with another fast approaching winter the curtains won out. So Peggy went off to somewhere else. We had a gunner who was pretty good at sign writing, who had done most of the battery signage. He offered to add names and other images to our vehicles and he had painted Peggy on mine. You can see it in one of the few photos I brought back. So at this period of the war we were given spells in and out of the line. The length seems at this distance to have varied between a week and possibly up to a month. None of the books I have help in this respect. I know one village (wish I could remember it’s name) we spent two fairly long spells at, it would be in the Cerreto d’Esi area. The first time we were there we were at first not very welcome. I think the Germans had given them a rough time. So when we turned up demanding that every house in the
village had to empty out one room on the ground floor for us to occupy they showed some resentment. However after they realised that Kiwis were a pretty soft touch for food, that we didn’t rape their women and the kids loved us, the second time it was just about turn out the band. I and three others of the X group had a large storeroom in a farmer’s village house. They went off each day to tend the farm and on the second time there struck the grape harvest. They showed us how the grapes were put into a large vat and trampled to extract the juice. They hopped in straight off the paddocks and offered us the result to drink. Well it may have been the foot washing that didn’t happen but in some ways the juice was often better than the finished wine. The upper front bedroom was occupied by Maria the village dress-maker. She rarely if ever left her room and conducted most of her business out the window with the women off the village. After a while we got used to the loud female screams of Maria from early morning to late evening. She had a small nephew, a boy called Sandino for whom she would scream whenever a message had to be run. or a chore to be undertaken. School of course was
Churchill Tank made into a river bridging unit. Driven into stream then arms lowered for driving over.
CARD: Posted 16.12.44 to Ray from Rome Christmas 1944
FAENZA Damaged Church 25lbâ€™ers being calibrated. Most probably near beach before last push to Trieste.
FAENZA Roundabout covered in unit direction signs
nonexistent, so it was with calls of Maria or Sandino we spent our days. In these rest periods we were drilled, were inspected and played sport mostly rugby. Some of the inspections were by the senior officers of the Div. and on occasion by such people as the New Zealand Prime Minister. Never enjoyed by the rank and file too much spit and polish and standing about. About this time I must have made a trip to Rome. It was to take a couple of officers there on their way to a training course in Egypt or Palestine. Two of us went off in the Regiment’s CO’s staff car a1940 Ford 6 wooden bodied station wagon. We had an uneventful trip and found our way to the Quirinale hotel which had been taken over as the New Zealand forces centre. Parked in a side street with the back doors against the building and prayed that the assurance we were given that it was guarded and safe were true. It was still there next day so it must have been. So then back to the fighting front. From here on it was again a series of towns and river crossings. The battles had a number of lines to be taken. We assumed that names like the Gothic and Gustav were given by the Germans to each defence line as they formed them. But as we used them, unless our intelligence was right up with their moves, I guess our people must have done the naming. Bologna was now becoming the next step, but Jerry was going to make it a far longer journey than we had hoped. The promised “break through” was still some way off. Winter was upon us, snow on the ground. Cold wet and miserable we slogged it out. At this time every town was another river to cross. These
are some of them. Cesena, Forli, Faenza, and they were where we spent winter. Another insert. The area near Faenza, flat, snow on the ground, mud everywhere cold clear night lit not by the moon but by what we called artificial moonlight. Some body had the idea of using searchlights to light the ground. Searchlights were not being used for their main purpose of locating aircraft because the enemy had virtually stopped sending any our way. But on dark cloudy nights when from behind the lines they were angled up on to clouds we were given a remarkable amount of light. A bit spooky when you were at a forward OP in the upper part of a farmhouse staring out over the grape rows looking for any movement. The jerry had been sending over patrols looking to take prisoners. We three in the OP party had offered to spell the infantry on guard duty. So we had been given one of the forward facing windows to observe an enemy movement. On the windowsill were several hand grenades and the instruction was see anyone out there “pull out the pin and drop it among them ”Do you know that every shadow moves, and noises in the night are so loud. Well of course nothing did happen that night and luckily no one of our own side came to visit or I am sure that if
PM Peter Frazer visits Gen. Freyburg (in rear). Note: Not my jeep.
A hold up on way to Trieste - most likely a bridge.
PO River crossing.See Pontoon Bridge at rear. Single unit ferry front.
Dad with pet picked up near Trieste. Died of distemper soon after.
PO River - Destroyed German 88mm Self propelled Gun. Most likely they fired it with a blocked barrell.
I had been at the window at the time they would surely have copped a grenade. Christmas I think this time was held in Faenza and all the army traditions of officers serving the men and Christmas turkey etc. still miraculously happened. So we pass into 1945 and still we cannot move forward. Back we go for more rest and training. Back for the second time to the village of Maria and this time to a warm welcome. I think this could be the time I went back to Rome for a week at the Quirinale. From which we went on day tours of the city. I and a couple of mates became Roman Catholics for a day and went to a Papal audience at the Vatican. The audience was held in the Sistine chapel and we came away wondering why so much of the world was poor when the perhaps largest church had so much in the way of riches. Then it was back to the front. It looks as if it was April before any advance was made and then it was to cross the Senio river and hopefully on our way. We only knew that with the better weather coming that if we could keep things moving and not get forever stuck on river banks maybe this time we would be home for Christmas. Well it seemed to happen, talk of crossing the PO River began. First such rivers as the Adice and the Reno. We were able at this time to, with the help of English heavy batteries, to lay down heavy barrages. So too flame throwers had been brought into our offensive strength. Glad I never had to face one of those. The air force was also dive-bombing more and the other terrible napalm bomb was being used. They created sights too awful to
describe. From a gunners point of view it became take over a gun site set up and range in, then almost before you knew it the advance put you out of range so pack up and move forward again. From my view it became obvious that one had to be careful and make sure that we did not over run the FDL’s and get captured. It did happen on occasion that someone drove up a road too far and was taken. It seemed that if an officer took you too far, past the leading troops, that the sheltering infantry tended to think, he’s an officer I suppose he knows where he’s going. The pity was they didn’t always. So in mid April the Po was reached. The German’s had as usual blown up all the bridges and we were held up whilst the engineers managed to bridge the gap. The Germans had lost huge amounts of equipment on the southern bank of the river. Every thing possible they had burnt. Trucks, guns, general field equipment, horse drawn carts and the horses themselves. I don’t think any of us realised just how much use they had been making of horses. Well, while we were waiting to cross many troops went on a souvenir hunt. Beautiful trucks made to carry a complete vehicle work-shop, all first class tools, mouth watering, but useless. The heat softened all the hardening, making them as if they were made of putty. But a group of Maoris had found a money-maker. They rounded up some really good draught horses and began selling them to the local farmers who as usual had appeared back on their land like magic. Then after a short while a second group went back, said they were military police and confiscated the horses back again. Then moved in to make another sale. Maybe if the bridging hadn’t
Anyhow I together with officers and various other bods got about half a day to explore Venice. I doubt that it was official but see Venice we did.... We had a great time.
Coast Road to Triest looking back to Venice
finished so quickly they would still have been there on the sell.
about reprisals for what they had done to Yugoslavs in the immediate past.
We all crossed I think on about the third day and pushed on to the next river the Adige. This crossing was achieved with great help from the Div’s batteries or so the NZ Artillery war history tells me. I only know that I as part of the OP parties involved we seemed to be always on the move forward. Prisoners were becoming more noticeable together with the fact that Italians calling themselves Partigiano (partisan) were appearing, with a motley collection of weapons, of more danger to themselves than the enemy.
For a time it looked as if we might get involved with a skirmish with them ourselves. I took part in a drive through the immediate countryside mapping and noting anything we could see of Tito’s forces. Thank heavens we never did come to blows. They would not accept at first that we and the English would be in charge in Trieste.
Then before we knew it Venice was ours. About this time I feel there was so time taken up for regrouping. Ammunition had to catch up, petrol pumps to establish and all the other things that enable an army to press on. Anyhow I together with officers and various other bods got about half a day to explore Venice. I doubt that it was official but see Venice we did. I think two of us were taken around by a young engaged couple, who had a smattering of English at their command. We had a great time. Even went out on a ferry to see a strange church and cemetery on one of the many islands. If the death of someone buried in the plots there was by an accident, then a photo of the event was on the wall of the church. Some were pretty gruesome. Then it became to my memory a race until on the 3rd of May the German garrison in Trieste surrendered to our officers. Something they had not been willing to do to General Tito’s army. The Yugoslav force was feared by the Germans with I guess cause as there was a lot of talk
Even though May 8th was the official end of the war in Europe they did not want to accept that Trieste was not theirs to have as it had been in various times past. So if we sent a patrol through the streets it would be followed by a smaller one of theirs. If they set up one of their very few tanks in a square we would mount a complete troop beside them. So I think eventually they got the message and withdrew. They of course had never really been equipped as an army but virtually everything they had was captured from the Germans. So they had lots of bits and pieces. For instance you would see in a group of fighters one with a German Spandau machinegun. I think it’s fire rate was somewhere over 600 rounds per minute and he would have a belt of maybe twenty rounds to fire. One burst and he was unarmed. So now technically the war was over, except in Japan. Then away went the rumour bugs again. We were off to fight in the Pacific. But from my point of view it wasn’t long before officially 10th reinforcement married were for Home on the first available ships. Now came our first test of patience, how soon was this to be? Life in the Trieste area was varied. At times we were as a battery put on what were basically police
duties. We were sent at times to act as the sharp end of the MP’s raids. It could just be to see that everything in a queue at a brothel was orderly. Sex was not hard to find if you wanted it. Brothels were certainly tolerated and used in spite of all the VD advise that was continually given. Not to mention VD parades with were compulsory in ant settled camp area. The disarming of partisans and wharf shed inspections were other jobs undertaken. Then there was the time to relax. Our battery was on the top of a hill just outside Trieste, by jeep perhaps ten minutes. We soon learnt the quickest way to the beach at Miramare. A beautiful little bay where the Austrian Duke Ferdinand had built this small (?) castle as a wedding present to his wife just before the first World War. It had been taken over by our Divisions HQ and was out of bounds to any stray soldiers as we were. The swimming in the bay in the summer time we had there was after all the fighting, out of this world. Most of us were not great swimmers but after a month or two there we could all swim out to the castle jetty and back, a distance of about a mile. Too bad you metric types our war was Imperial. The other way they gave us to pass the time was what we called swanning tours. They would supply about twenty of us with a three-ton truck, petrol chits for supply depots and food for about a week. Take a map and go. And go we did, I must have had three of these trips over northern Italy. We were not supposed to leave Italy but of course some did. Personally I went to Venice again, then on to Milan, the Lakes Maggiore, Garda and Como and then up into the mountains of the Dolomite region. The roads put in by their engineers to climb into and over these ranges have to be seen to be believed. Sometimes from the top you could
count ten or twelve hairpin curves below. Tunnels, through ridges instead of cutting across them. Into a tunnel as it curved upwards to send you back higher. One trip took us right across to Genoa from where Columbus set out for the America’s. Also at this time trips were on offer to go to England. Was interested until the rider was added that if a ship arrived at Taranto and we were in England we risked loss of place on the trip Home. So I did not go. As it happened I could have made the first two trips without any trouble. But I was not prepared to take that chance. From Trieste we saw off men from up to the ninth reinforcement. This made getting away seem very close. Then in July we set off on a 500km trip back to the Lake Trasimere-Perugia region as part of what seemed to be the disbanding of us as a fighting force. Then in September the Div was sent to Florence for winter quarters, with the exception of the artillery which was sent to Siena. Siena an old walled city had escaped damage during the advance to Florence was to be our home base for the next stage of our trip back to NZ. In it’s centre was an amphitheatre open to the sky where once a year they hold a horse race on the cobbled surface. All the horses and riders dressed in about 12th century dress. They race madly around and I would presume that injury to riders, horses and spectators
Bathing in sea just south of Trieste. Beautiful then totally polluted now!
must happen each time it is run. Has something to do with ancient feudal times. We were housed in an old seminary building in the courtyard of which showers were erected. So at least some effort was made to keep us clean. At first it was easy to get lost in the narrow cobbled streets. Nothing seemed to be signposted. Had some illegal fun driving across the centre square, down the stone steps and up the other side. A jeep just fitted nicely.
Mirimari Castle N.Z. H.Q. at Trieste
Now I was to revert to the job that I first had the Jeep for, acting as a general dogâ€™s body. In other words a Don R once more. Attached to HQ of what was left of the regiment I began daily trips to Florence with the daily reports that the army excelled at making. Sometimes an officer had to be taken there, but mostly on my own. A pretty pleasant trip, but soon became monotonous, took about an hour and a half each way. I remember doing it once at night, when the lights failed. Not a pleasant experience, the only time in my driving life and I donâ€™t wish it on anyone. Managed to stop, on the wrong side of the road get the lights going and never had it happen again.
Next it was decided to make an hotel on the outskirts of Siena into an officers transit hotel. Mostly it was for those in transit to Taronto from other parts of the Div. The command also decided that a vehicle, to whit a jeep should be attached to do what ever running about the place would need. Well the local boys then decided that the hotel was
a good place to entertain and hold dances. So local girls were called in to provide partners. Then someone else had the brain wave that Senigallie where our New Zealand Hospital and nurses were was really pretty close. So the Saturday night hop became a thing that was possible for our lonely officer types. However under army law a driver appointed to a vehicle must never be separated from his truck. So I became an original spoil sport. For all that I think that the back of a jeep was at times much hotter than the out side temperature, even with no heater or air conditioning. Then the hotel Manager, the original Italian one, suggested if you are going out to the coast why not go a little further. And in the nearby hills you will find a wonderful winery where we used to buy our spumante. Spumante sparkling wine nectar of the gods. So several most enjoyable trips were made to this place, the name of which eludes me. We became honoured guests to be wined and dined while waiting for the order to be filled. Maybe just as well breath testing was an unknown thing of the future. Well things had moved on slowly. I think in September the 9th reinforcements went to Taronto. Then it must have been October or November the 10th got there turn for a ship home. We spent an anxious time in the Taronto transit camp. Stories about sailings missed because of illness and other silly reasons.
the shipâ€™s freezers and bring out the daily ration of meat. A lot of NZ sheep and other carcasses from various places the ship had called. Once that was done that was it for the day. No other fatigues for us.
They contained all that it was decided would not be of use in the Italian campaign. Personal odds and ends some army equipment and everything that we had by now even forgotten we ever owned.
of Wellington the ship was diverted to Christchurch. Not through the Cook Straits but around the south of Stewart Island to Christchurch, where we sailed into Lyttleton.
hen the day, again I donâ€™t know the date, our ship the Otranto sailed into Taranto and we were off. We called into Alexandria to pick up more Kiwis bound for home and to take on board our original kit bags left in Egypt when we sailed for Italy.
The journey came on through the Suez Canal and on into the Red Sea. Ship board life just like the trip out. Except no black out and no zigzag, just a straight sail for Perth. Fatigues as before but as this ship had the English style of accommodation things were different. The decks had been cleared out and tables to seat ten or twelve had been installed. So once you were allocated a table that was your lot. You ate at it, you slept in hammocks over it. Each day two of you were to be the mess orderlies. You were sent to the galley and there issued with the meal for your table. When finished everything back to the galley. Toilets were as usual the last fatigue anyone wanted. So when about the second or third day out four of us who were picked for freezer fatigue found out what a cushy job that one was, did the unheard of army thing and volunteered to do the job for the trip. The main reason being access to the cooks in the galley. We had to go into
Over the Port Hills into Christchurch where we found everything shut. It was a Sunday and NZ died on a Sunday. Pubs were We called into Perth for I think just one day, then NZ here shut but beer for those that we come. Somewhere out in the Tasman Sea not too short wanted it was soon found. We were given warm clothing to go into the freezers and as we were told no sooner in, than until you got used to the job, off to the toilet we would go. A very leaky time. The perks were of cause the morning teas etc. that just happen to be around any kitchen.
Over the Port Hills into Christchurch where we found everything shut. It was a Sunday and NZ died on a Sunday. Pubs were shut but beer for those that wanted it was soon found. Someone opened the Post Office so we could phone home. I know I queued for hours only to find when I did contact someone your mother was not at home.
Someone opened the Post Office so we could phone home. I know I queued for hours only to find when I did contact someone your mother was not at home.
That evening back on board minus the South Islanders we set sail for an overnight trip to Wellington. For some I doubt they even knew where they were. If they had not had mates to look after them the booze would have kept them in the South. Well into Wellington heads and the entire breakfast dishes went out the portholes, no one was going to do any more dishes. A Government rep came on board before we berthed and told us how bad it must have been to see the lights of Wellington so close and to sail on to Christchurch.
What a racket went up of how little the government knew about us being diverted from Wellington. The ship berthed and a train appeared to take us on board and drop us at all stations until at least Auckland was reached. It seemed to take hours before we were off the ship and on that train for Palmerston North. The train stopped at every station and there was always people there to meet whoever was getting off. I have often wondered how the news that a train with returning soldiers was coming through was spread. The only possible source was radio. Nothing as widespread as todayâ€™s coverage and no TV even invented.
City of Palmerston North gave the local returned soldiers from those of us who came back on the Otranto a civic dinner at Rosscoâ€™s (the present library} and finally gave me my discharge in June 1946.
If it was by grapevine it was certainly efficient. Well when we steamed into Palmerston the platform was packed. But I soon found the woman I was looking out for. The child in her arms and I had some getting to know you to do, and Peg and I surely had some catching up. But that is another story.
The army gave me a weeks leave which Peg and I spent in Wellington as my Mother offered to look after Ray.
Out side the station we found a taxi and went to All Saints Church to give thanks as we had always promised to do if I was spared. There at the church Lynda Bennet was waiting to give us support if we needed it. She was your God Mother Ray. And then it was off to Park Road to catch up with my parents and sisters. From memory the taxi driver who had stayed with us until we got to Park Road refused to charge for the trip. The army gave me a weeks leave which Peg and I spent in Wellington as my Mother offered to look after Ray. The
But I soon found the woman I was looking out for. The child in her arms and I had some getting to know you to do, and Peg and I surely had some catching up. But that is another story.
Published on Nov 9, 2012