The Rivers North

Piat-packing Peko

E.B. ‘Scotch’ Paterson

The tide of war flowed northward, river after river. Our company [C Coy, 22 Battalion] became involved in an operation on the southern side of the Lamone River. A troublesome bunch of the enemy was clinging to a large area of flat ground, bordered on our left by a stopbank of the Lamone. Attempts to dislodge them, first by the Gurkhas then by Div Cav, had failed. The learned folk of Div HQ cooked up a better idea – a squadron of tanks and a company of infantry.

Two days before the dawn attack we moved into farmhouses spaced along a road which ran parallel to our intended start line. Each of our three platoons had a house to itself. German intelligence soon located us and we were not surprised when our houses became targets for shelling, which intensified as the day wore on.

As we advanced up Italy we had developed an easy rapport with the peasants. In our house was an elderly widow with two married daughters, each with a husband and three children, ranging in age from six to twelve. I told Mamma that the shelling would get worse throughout the day and it was no place for civilians, especially children. Did they have any friends further back we could take them to till the tide of battle moved further north?

The families discussed the idea for some time, during which the shelling worsened – mostly 88mm high-velocity shells and clusters of mortars from Moaning Minnies. Finally the two couples and six children, all crying, agreed to cross the field to our three-tonner which was waiting for them, concealed in a sunken road a few hundred metres away. Mamma stood firm, face set – no tears – like a miniature Rock of Gibraltar. Even now, I have a vivid picture in my minds of those boys in my platoon, each holding a youngster by the hand running as fast as those small legs could. Every few moments they threw themselves and their small charges flat on the ground as a cluster of mortars exploded around them. In less than 15 minutes my blokes were back to report that the truck and its cargo had got away safely.

I then began checking our defensive setup. As I came to the open cowshed door I saw Mamma standing with her back to me. She heard my boots on the cobblestones and, before turning her hand hastily went up to wipe away any trace of tears. When she turned, her face was set with determination and composure. She could not leave her six cows, the fowls and ducks ... Later she milked the cows and Captain Bob Wood turned up, as he always did no matter what, with lots of hot stew and laughter. Since the house was a solid two-storey building we laid all the mattresses we could find along the inner wall of the big kitchen. With pickets at the top-floor windows, the platoon lay down to sleep.

While the boys were arranging the mattresses, Mamma had been busy heating milk in an iron cauldron over the open fire ... I asked Mamma why: ‘I know what these boys have to do in the morning. They need all the sleep they can get and there’s nothing better to make them sleep than a mugful of hot milk.’ She dished it out to everyone and I left for the orders group meeting co-ordinating next morning’s attack ... Our job was to dislodge the enemy from a strongly held area about 1.5km long and a kilometre wide which ran alongside a river with its stopbank the left boundary.

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We set off before daylight with the first sign of dawn just beginning to lighten the cold misty drizzle. We lined up on the start line, my platoon on the right. We couldn’t see the two platoons on our left, some hundreds of metres away. The tanks rumbled up to join us. We spread out in a line with the tanks at intervals and a couple of metres between each soldier, presenting an advancing front of almost a hundred metres.

Coming off the road onto the soft soggy ground the tanks with their caterpillar tracks immediately dug holes for themselves and settled down into the mud. ‘What do we do now, Scotch?’ the tank commander shouted out.

‘We’ve only been going for less than five minutes – we can’t stop now.’

The enemy had sprung into life and, from a sunken road some 600 metres away, Spandaus at close intervals spread a layer of bullets about waist high, criss-crossing the ground in front of us. They were firing tracers so it was highly visible and somewhat disconcerting. I called out to the tank commander, ‘You’ve got five hefty 75mm guns and ten Brownings, haven’t you? Could you lay down a 15-minute rapid-fire barrage on those Spandaus? When the fifteen minutes are up, we’ll go over and deal with what’s left.’

While the tanks did their stuff I crawled along the line of my boys, lying as close to the ground as they could, explaining to them that when the tanks stopped firing I would stand up and shout, whereupon everyone would stand. Keeping a couple of metres apart and a straight line from left to right, [we] would all walk, not run, firing our weapons from the hip as we approached the enemy. Our training books had always emphasised the astonishing strength of combined platoon firepower. Here was a chance to try it out; I felt sure these boys would know what to do.

The next few hours were probably the proudest of my whole time in the army. Here I was with fourteen men on either side, every one of them advancing steadily, firing as they walked, keeping their dressing as though they were on a parade-ground, firing Brens, rifles, Tommy guns – firing, reloading, firing, reloading. We reached the sunken road without a casualty, to find the enemy had fled. I congratulated the boys while we had a breather, then we prepared to attack our final objective, a group of farm buildings and haystacks another 600 metres in front. I told them we would do the same again and just as we were about to scramble up the bank to the flat ground above I called out, ‘Everybody ready?’

‘Hang on a minute Scotch,’ called out Corporal Wally Crowe, ex RSM of the Taranaki Regiment. ‘Peko’s lost his glasses.’

‘What the hell’s that got to do with it, Wally?’

‘He can’t see without them.’

‘Okay,’ said I.

Peko and his companions were desperately fumbling in the grass.

‘She’s right,’ called Wally, at which I called out, ‘Let’s go.’

We scrambled up the bank and carried on as before. At either end of our line was a Bren gunner. Again we closed in on our objective without a casualty, in spite of the increasingly heavy fire put up by the enemy. As we reached the group of buildings, a Spandau opened up on us from a pit under the haystack on our left. The immediate response from our young Bren gunner on the left was to turn and, with his finger on the trigger, walk towards the enemy under the stack. One stood up with his hands in the air, followed almost immediately by the second gunner. By the time our young gunner had taken his finger off the trigger the first fell to the ground, his blue-grey shirt like a colander, while his companion was shaking violently, his face the colour of his uniform. Fifteen minutes later he was still shaking. A third, concealed at the end of the weapon pit, refused to come out until someone tossed in a phosphorous grenade which brought him out smartly.

The rest of us pressed on to the main building, where German officers and troops were standing with their hands high in the air, as we got closer one of the officers leaned forward and grabbed the muzzle of our second Bren gun. He too fell to the ground, dead. The rest of them were lined up and disarmed, then marched off ... I had only just called Peko over to me when Wally Crowe burst excitedly into the room with his arms full of maps. It turned out that we had captured a battalion headquarters. They had been in the middle of a conference with someone from their brigade HQ, with maps marked with their defence positions to a depth of 6km back. The maps were immediately taken back to our company HQ by a couple of my boys. They were thrilled when a signal came from General Freyberg congratulating them on their find.

Back to Peko. He had just joined us with this new bunch of Taranaki boys and his glasses were the thickest I have ever seen. How on earth he had managed to get to Egypt, let alone reach 22 Battalion in Italy?

It had been relatively easy, he told me. He had been a clerk at Army HQ in Wellington, unfit for active service because of his eyesight. When the drafts went through his section of the office he simply typed his own name on a list of those going to Egypt. When his boss learned that he had been posted he forgave him on the condition that he wouldn’t do that sort of thing again. He had made no promises and when he got to Egypt he managed to get into the section posting reinforcements from Mena transit camp to Italy. He liked the idea of joining 22 Battalion, typed his name on the list going there, and had gone before his officers had found out. Here he was on the battlefield by the River Lamone and enjoying every minute of it.

How could I send such an enthusiast back? I didn’t want to ... Not long before, we had been issued with a new infantry weapon, the Piat (projector infantry anti-tank) mortar. This was designed to save infantry from calling up the long range snipers to assist, unless the matter was of some magnitude. Every platoon thereafter had to carry the mortar and a load of bombs. The two unhappy soldiers whose job it was were attached to platoon headquarters ... they were also required to carry their own rifles and ammunition. From then on Peko was known to his friends as Piat-packing Peko...

Our euphoria on completion of the job suffered a sharp intrusion. We had a radio call from our company commander, Gharry George.

‘Scotch, how are you all?’

‘Fine, thank you, sir.’

‘The others have not been so fortunate as you today. Do you think you could finish off their job after dark tonight?’ The two platoons on our left had not only had the same experience with their tanks as we had, but also walked directly into thickly sown minefields and lost two-thirds of their men. The reserve platoon who had gone to the rescue with stretchers had suffered the same fate.

Further along the stopbank was a farm complex, strongly held, guarding a footbridge across the river ... we were to drive them out of their positions as best we could.

After a good dinner of bully-beef stew and some hours rest, everyone was in good fettle to tackle the final stage. We had no trouble reaching the larger building ... cautiously eyed it, but could see no sign of occupation. The silence was temporarily broken by enemy artillery ... Using the noise as cover we broke open the door and crept in with the moonlight giving us clear visibility to explore the house. The top windows were open. Standing well back we could look down on the single-storey house across the road. We also saw two sandbagged machine gun pits, in each of which was a Spandau and three gunners, one covering our side of the road and the other pointing down the road between us.

We decided to wait for daylight, when, using any sort of noise that might occur as a distraction, our two Bren gunners would destroy the Spandau groups below. As they opened up I would take one of our three sections, dash across the road and take the whole jolly lot by surprise, ending the last pocket of resistance on our side of the river...

As the first grey streaks of daylight spread across the sky we watched enemy gunners taking off their helmets and stretching out as they relaxed after their all-night vigil. The sun came up and the hands of my watch slowly moved to 9. Then an unexpected diversion set the plan off. Two little Gurkhas were seen creeping up the deep ditch on our side of the road. Another thirty metres and they would be looking straight into the muzzle of a Spandau. My section was ready and our Brens were at the top windows. I yelled out ‘Go!’ the Brens opened up and the section and I rushed across the road, firing as we ran round the side of the building and through a wide open door. A surprised group of Germans leapt up from piles of hay along the back wall of the cowshed. An officer and about half the group raced out through a side door and over the stop-bank. The remaining twenty-odd put up their hands ... For the rest of that morning we were subjected to all the fire the German artillery could bring to bear on our little house.

When things had quietened down our friends the Gurkhas took over, it was then that Piat-packing Peko came into his own. We were transferred to a holding position in a two-storey farmhouse tucked in against a stopbank of the Lamone. Our platoon was responsible for around 700 metres of stopbank with our house or base in the middle. Our job was to patrol the bank at night for 350 metres on either side against possible attacks on the northern side of the river.

We found a ladder and removed a tile from the sloping roof, which gave us an ideal observation post for anything happening on the other side of the river. We could hear the sound of digging and deduced that the enemy were busy, as often they had been before, digging into the stopbank to fortify it. We noted where the sounds were coming from and they then became targets of Piat-packing Peko ... With a front of about 800 metres we could ring the changes with a wide variety of firing positions. I’d take a compass bearing on the point from which the digging sound was coming from and Peko would sight his mortar in line with the bearing, with an estimated elevation for the bomb to drop onto the target on the far side of the river. When the mortar had been lined up I’d run back to the house and observe the landings through my hole in the roof. The bombs would be despatched one after the other with considerable speed, after which the two would pick up their gear and run like hell back to the house before retaliatory fire came down on the spot they’d been firing from.

We were able to keep this performance up at intervals for the best part of two weeks. Unhappily the enemy concluded that our house was the cause of the trouble and we became the target for some of the biggest mortars I ever experienced.

When we came out of the line after this for a rest I spoke to Haddon Donald [CO 22 Bn] and told him of Peko, our enthusiastic recruit. By fortunate coincidence Haddon had received a signal from Div HQ asking if we had a soldier with accountancy exams who, having earned a spell, could take on the job of accountant for the New Zealand Forces Club newly established in Rome. Peko’s name went forward; he was commissioned and appointed.

2006, Cassino to Trieste – A Soldier’s Story

A Heroic Padre

E.B. ‘Scotch’ Paterson

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From the Lamone we moved north and, with several minor engagements, found ourselves approaching the Senio River. It was December and the weather was wet and extremely cold with flurries of snow.

Our company launched an attack on a large house just below the southern stopbank and we took the place with only one casualty. By late afternoon we had cleared that house and a smaller one to the right. Within fifteen minutes of securing them the enemy began shelling us with a variety of missiles. Since it would be dark in another thirty or forty minutes, I radioed the regimental aid post to collect our casualty, a New Plymouth 19-year-old. I didn’t like the wound – a bullet had entered but there was no sign of it having passed through. As darkness was so near I thought there was no sense in the RAP becoming casualties too, as the only way to reach us was along the top of the stop-bank, in full view of the enemy who would be bound to wipe them off the map seconds after they appeared.

A few minutes later, the shelling worked up to a tremendous pitch and I looked out to see the RAP ambulance coming along the bank. Standing up directing the driver round the numerous shellholes was our padre, Paul Sergel, a beret on his head and a pipe in his mouth, for all the world like a visitor admiring the view. The 88s were bouncing in front of and behind the lone vehicle while clusters of mortars were dropping in profusion around it. As the carrier dropped down to our house, the top of which could be seen across the river, tons of metal began dropping on our place like an enormous hailstorm.

The carrier stopped in a courtyard at the back and the driver ran in to treat his patient while Paul stood calmly, unstrapping a stretcher before bringing it in. Against all my instincts I had to go out to help him. ‘Why on earth didn’t you wait another half hour Paul?’ ‘Well, Scotch, time is important in cases like this. We couldn’t wait.’

The shelling continued undiminished. A few minutes later the driver was starting the engine; Paul and I strapped the stretcher and patient in place and the carrier ran the gauntlet along the stopbank again. For sheer unadulterated cold courage I have never seen the equal. Paul’s work, so far as I know, was never officially recognised. The young man did recover and years later became one of New Plymouth’s leading men’s outfitters.

2006, Cassino to Trieste – A Soldier’s Story

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Winter was the greatest enemy at the Senio. The wait on the Lamone had seemed long, but the watch on the Senio was a more difficult time. The Germans were well entrenched on the stopbank of the river and made the most of the prevailing conditions.

NZEF Times, Staff Reporter

Picket Duty

Guthrie Wilson

Perhaps I have the hot cocoa to thank that I am here to write this. At 23.00 hours Corry and Burton stumbled out to us with a hot box containing cocoa. They came from behind us, walking softly, but their laboured breathing screamed through the stillness of the night. How many weapons were trained on them I do not know. But I do know that my finger was firm on the trigger of my rifle and that Corporal Hadfield’s eyes were gleaming like diamonds above the burnished barrel of his tommy gun. Little Harris, too, on the fire step with his Bren, was rigid and purposeful.

But we knew them at once when they came into view. No one could mistake Corry and Burton. We relaxed and whispered to them as they came in, ‘Is it hot?’

‘Of course. Plenty for two mugs each you fellows.’

Grazie you chaps. And, God, can we do with it!’

They left us. We filled our mugs and sucked at the steaming drink, feeling as we did so, the sluggish blood flow once more. Then filled our mugs again, before I crawled across to the next trench, thirty yards away, dragging the hot box with me. And back.

At any time picket duty so close to the enemy imposes the utmost conceivable tension upon the watcher. The Hun is, contrary to Press representations, an imaginative and skilled patrolman. He employs a greater number of troops on his patrols than we do, but his leaders do not lack initiative and almost reckless courage ... A few nights ago he crept up to a poorly guarded casa, entered the door like a householder, slew pickets and sleeping soldiers, and faded into the night. Yes, our neighbour – Heine, the Hun, Tedeschi, call him what you like – is a fine upstanding opponent, with an expansive knowledge of the most modern gutter tactics. Nor are we novices in the gutter.

By half-light objects move. Keep your eyes on a patch of snow without feature for ten minutes or less and the patch of snow will rise on two legs and walk towards you.

Trees beckon and bend, sway like human beings, point rifles, and move in an encircling sweep around you. Eyes grow tired staring over snow fields, grow tired and red and wish to droop below the shadow of the lids. It is unwise to stare fixedly: you move your eyes slowly over the area that is your own. You glance at trees and away to the snow. Back to the trees. Blink gently and reluctantly open your eyes once more. This tree, that tree, the snow: this tree, that tree ... But even now the earth will not lie still. While you have blinked the tree has moved. You swear it. He has unfolded his feet and stepped toward you at least a yard. The snow. The tree ... God! It has moved! The tree is moving! It is not a tree at all; it never has been a tree. It is a bloody Hun! The sickening excitement grips the pit of your stomach for a moment. You recover command of yourself. Don’t be a damned fool, you say. The snow, the tree ... On and on, hour after hour, until the entire earth rises and moves, gibbering mockingly, jeering at the fool who dwells in a hole in the snow and calls himself man.

But the hot drink woke me from my stupor of exhaustion. Man has simple wants. Something hot in the belly is the difference between a soldier and a hypochondriac...

To my right a line of blasted trees linked our area with the enemy. I knew each tree intimately, like old and hated enemies. The first, two feet of thick stump only; the next, twisted like a witch’s nightmare; the third, a slender sliver in the half-light; the fourth, broad and black like soot ... And there, against the soot, I saw him move. Something white that moved.

My lids raised, the pain of my eyes forgotten, immobile and scarcely breathing, my head bent forward until my eyes were only just above the lip of my trench, I watched him. This was no error, no trick of the night. This was a Hun – a living and spawning Hun, in snow suit and hood, crawling on his belly towards us. As I watched, he stopped and lay there. Listening, eyes probing, no doubt.

I touched Hadfield’s sleeve. He did not turn to me but sank at the knees till his head was below the level of the trench, stepped beside me, then rose at my side, imperceptibly, inch by inch.

‘Fourth tree,’ I whispered. My whisper sounded like the grumbling of great guns.

He stared ahead. ‘Yes,’ he murmured and sank at my side. I knew he had gone to warn Harris. I watched, but the Hun did not shift. He was one with the snow. Perhaps I had been mistaken I waited for ages, and he did not move. The corporal was at his post, his head along the stock of his tommy gun, rigid, fingers flexed.

‘Take the first,’ he whispered to me.

I looked again. His eyesight was good. A blur of whiteness, distinguishable as a human figure, obliterated the base of the fourth tree, but he was not the leader, not my man. Where? Why, he was at the third tree!

‘I will fire first,’ I heard Hadfield murmur.

He lay there, this Hun, the leader, beside the third tree. Fool, I thought then. He was silhouetted against it – a reversal of the order of things, white against black, day against night. I saw that he carried a Schmiesser. Then he began to crawl forward. But crawl is the wrong word. He lay on his belly and wormed silently, the upper portion of his body swaying to the left as his right knee was down under his body, to the right when his left knee was advanced. He came on a yard at a time. No more than thirty yards from me he was still too far away to make certain of him in the half-light. He appeared to have no eyes except for the casa, our headquarters, that lay a few yards to our rear...

I lifted my eyes from the leader and, slowly tracing back along the chain of trees. Four of them. Perhaps more. Four of them that I could distinguish. But against the line of blasted trees which they had unwisely selected as their axis of movement they were sufficiently identifiable. Their leader, as I have said, carried a Schmeisser. Likewise the second man. The third man was bearing a faustpatronen, which serves the dual purpose of destroying our tanks and the stone houses we occupy. The last man carried, or so I think, a rifle. I could not be certain.

But my man was the leader. I must not lose him. I moved my gaze back to him. For one terrible moment I could not see him. Then I saw the snow stir near the second tree. Ah, yes! There he was. One knee forward, a yard gained. A pause ... At the second tree, the twisted one, he stood up. It was an astonishing thing to do. Perhaps he had decided the house was unoccupied, or possibly he felt that there was more to be gained by bold and swift action than by his tedious rate of advance. Or perhaps he was merely bored with the whole business. I do not know. He stood up and motioned his companions forward. The order given with the arm was the same as that used by us. The others rose to their feet and walked towards him. I think that he spoke softly to the nearest of his band, for they were together for a moment before the leader moved on to the first tree. There he halted, listening, leaning languidly with one hand on its stump, indifferent, casual...

It was then that Corporal Hadfield fired. And I fired. The Bren gun split the night with its raucous chatter. The leader pitched back against the stump, kicked, and rolled over on his face. He did not move further. That was all I saw. I had shot him. There had been no mistake.

The other trenches joined in, and the peace of the night was burst apart by a swelling volume of sound that rattled in angry and ragged spurts. I was firing like a madman and I saw Hadfield, hands clumsy with eagerness, tear the empty magazine from his tommy gun and slam another in place...

Greenish yellow budding from its curving golden flight, came the flare, shot by some German not one hundred yards from us. It hung above us and night was indeed day – it revealed everything. Gnarled and tattered trees, our trenches, the casa, and the four Huns ... Hadfield was roaring beside me. ‘You bloody beauties! Got the lot! Great work!’ And profanities. Many profanities.

The first shell landed unexpectedly. We heard the scream of its approach (you hear it for how long? Perhaps one hundredth of a second) and the vast confusing disintegration as smashed into the ground. The white-hot pieces of steel screamed through the air or hung, buzzing like idle bees about a hive.

The Huns had arranged it well. There were more in our party of visitors than the four with whom we dealt. The flare immediately called down upon us a crescendo of artillery and mortar fire. Great shells lashed our area with a frantic and devastating fury, smashed into our casa, killing or maiming many of those within.

Our guns awoke, sprang to life. The hills behind us grew crimson with flame that bloomed and died and bloomed again ... his guns pounded us. Our guns tore and rent at the German infantry positions. The night swayed in blind surges of flame and thunder about us so that we cowered in our holes. Over there, one hundred and fifty yards ahead, the Huns clung to their dissolving earth.

1962, Brave Company

The Division celebrated Christmas in and around Faenza. It was a real Christmas card occasion with a thick covering of snow. The enemy put on a show for forward troops on New Year’s Eve with a display of anti-aircraft fire and flares as 1944 faded into oblivion, but for most of the troops it was a period of grim watchfulness and close guard against hostile patrols.

NZEF Times, Staff Reporter

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Christmas in Italy, 1944

Erik de Mauny

History will tell that here the battle swayed

Through pastel towns into beleaguered Lombardy.

How for a week and a day they held the river

And patrols went out while the shells flocked and sighed

Like express trains through the frightened air:

When resistance broke, they gave us up a town

Of ghosts and stones, and the blankly heartbreak stare

Of the voiceless houses there. History will tell

This tale of liberation, but be mute

Concerning the private dream, and the small despair,

All kindness gone, the near known faces fading

And courage, the loneliest virtue, for only friend

(whose voice is silence). History will transmute

Into a cipher the General’s brilliant raiding

Party that lies so quietly under the snow.

And in this desert of tanks and guns and men

Christmas has left its faint-as-feather print:

A small irony of yesterday’s fairy lights...

In dogma is danger: that I know, having been

Last night in the garden, under the darkened trees

When the bombs came; with the wounded child in my arms.

1996, The Voice of War

Time: Christmas 1944.

Place: Faenza, Italy.

Scene: one much celebrated Kiwi sitting in a large shell crater half full of very cold water. The Kiwi had a short piece of board and was using it as a paddle. Two British Military Police were standing on firm ground looking down at the soldier. The Kiwi looked up at them and with a disgusted look on his face said:

‘You pair of bastards can go to hell, I’m going home.’ And he went on paddling.

Soldier Country, 89842


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The Climb

Guthrie Wilson

It is impossible to detail a fatiguing march, step by step. An apathy to everything but the outcry of the flesh takes possession of the brain. All else but the body’s suffering is obliterated. The limbs move like those of an automaton, impelled by the will, but their demand for respite is insistent. It is astonishing how legs which seem to have reached the limit of movement can still take one, how soon after resting they are restored. But while the demands are still being made it is hell, nothing more so...

How long we spend in this manner, fording streams, struggling through glutinous mud, scrambling up sudden greasy slopes where three inches of progress are almost swallowed in the two inches of slithering recoil, I do not know. About four hours, I should think. In time we come suddenly upon what appears to be a broad field, a plateau rather, lightly dusted with melting snow, where many men and mules move. Our corporal halts us and goes to look for Brent [platoon commander] and the remainder of our platoon. I am too weary to remove my shovel. I lie there on my belly, head on my arms, and shut my eyes. Every portion of my body throbs.

I feel rather than see that someone lies beside me. I lift my head and it is Emanuel. His strong white teeth grin at me as he speaks.

‘Feeling bad, Lawyer?’ he inquires.

‘Bloody,’ I answer savagely.

‘Me also, but my feet have done very well.’ He is proud of the feet he has before upbraided. ‘Thank Heaven we are here!’ he adds fervently.

‘Thank Heaven.’

At length we are sufficiently revived to remove portions of our equipment. We sit together and are human once more. We talk. It is some time before Hadfield returns.

‘You’ve got another five minutes,’ he tells us. ‘Then we start the climb.’ I do not hear aright. I hope I do not.

‘The climb?’

‘Cheer up old soldier,’ he murmurs, and I see his white teeth as he grins. ‘That’s our position – the top of it.’ He turns and points behind me and I follow with my eyes. I find that our field is enclosed by huge hills that are mountain peaks. One of them rises more sheer, more rugged and forbidding, than all the rest. Its crest glowers disdainfully down upon the smaller peaks below it. And this Hadfield indicates is ours.

‘No,’ I whisper.


‘Christ!’ Just that.

Emanuel too is shocked into silence. We look at each other in dismay ... then he smiles.

‘Ah well,’ he mutters.

‘What the hell,’ I reply. We laugh weakly. Emanuel fumbles in his pouch and draws out a ball. He breaks it in two with his strong, thick fingers.

‘Suck this,’ he says, passing me one half. It is half an orange. Provident new reinforcement, you have shown more foresight than one who, as a soldier, is tenfold your senior. I suck at it eagerly, and the rich, tart juice runs soothingly down my granite gullet.

Always I shall remember this half-orange given me by Emanuel on a plateau at the foot of Costa San Paulo. Remember how my chapped lips smarted and my dried sponge of a body drew in the reviving juice.

The rest of the section is strewn about the ground, close at hand. We dread to see our corporal return but, too soon, before my half-orange is eaten, he returns.

‘Gear on you fellows,’ he orders. ‘We are joining the platoon now.’ Emanuel rises but I am slow to follow. In that moment there is a swift light, a bewildering flash, a roar of sound. A shell has landed two hundred yards away! I watch anxiously. Another and another, pitch in the same place. The next dives to earth with a last scream of personal menace not one hundred yards from us and flying metal shrieks above our heads.

‘Get down, get down!’ I bellow to Emanuel. My head bursts upon my shoulders. A great sheet of white light envelops my brain. I am lifted and hurled viciously aside, while my stunned ears vibrate in agony, mangled by concussion. I lose consciousness for a moment, I think, and when I recover the explosions are falling, blow after blow, in blinding gashes of brilliant light. The earth is lifted bodily and falls back into place to be thrown up once more. Clods and stones and white-hot jags of metal stab the air about me. I tremble and claw closer to the ground, seeking to engulf myself in the slime in which I lie. Something smashes upon my calf. My leg is numb.

The bombardment is brief. A few casual gunners have thrown a handful of shells in to two or three gun breeches. They have fired upon an area, not upon us. We are the accident.

I lie still. My leg is severed, I know.

I move it tentatively. There is no feeling. The leg has been removed below the knee. I wipe my face, from which terror-driven sweat is pouring, with my dirty hand. Unmoving I lie there – how long I do not know. I have not the courage to look back at my mutilated limb. With my hips pressed close to earth, I bend to the side and cautiously reach to discover my injury. I touch my knee, slowly feeling to my ankle and boot. My leg is intact.

I withdraw my hand and glance at it. It is covered with blood. I sit up and examine my leg more thoroughly and I am amazed to find it undamaged. Beside it lies a large stone. No doubt this stone, flung by a shell, has rapped my calf and temporarily numbed my leg. My relief is farcical. But where does the blood come from? My hands go to my face and I find that my nose is bleeding and that my cheeks and the bridge of my nose are lightly slashed in several places, no doubt by flying chips of rock. I stand up. Someone – Harris it is – rushes to me.

‘Is that you, Lawyer? Are you all right?’

‘Yes,’ I reply, testing my leg, to which feeling is returning, ‘how about the others?’

‘All sweet, I think. Was Emanuel with you?’

I am still dazed by the concussion of the shells. It is a moment before I can collect my wits. Then with a cry I rush to where I had last left Emanuel.

We find him. The top of his head has been lifted like a boiled egg. His body ... his legs terminate at the shins in squashy pulp and bloody strings. We can do nothing but stare at him. The feet that so often have failed Emanuel are destroyed. Our corporal comes over to us.

‘What’re you standing about for? We’re moving now.’ He speaks sharply. Then he sees the body and stops abruptly. For a moment only he is silent.

‘Ah, bad!’ I hear him murmur softly, and later, ‘poor devil.’ He lifts his head. ‘R.A.P. men will clear up here. They will fix Emanuel,’ he says quietly. ‘Time for us to move.’ He turns and walks away. Dumbly we follow him.

I am still stupid from the brief bombardment. A numbness has possession of my body and dulls my brain. But my dependable legs move like those of a clockwork doll, left, right, one foot before the other, and carry my carcass as so much dead weight, ever upward ... As the climb continues, we pass recumbent figures by the side of the track – men who are too weary to keep to their feet. They will straggle at the tail of our line of soldiers and mules. They lie there, too dejected, too misused to care what may happen to them.

Hour after hour we climb. Twice false crests deceive me. On and on until departing night and dawning day intermingle. Jesus Christ! God have pity for f---’s sake! I blaspheme and pray in one breath like one in a delirium. I am in a delirium.

The last few yards I cover on my hands and knees. I fall upon a patch of snow, sun dried, with barbs of steel. I lie there and scrabble at the snow until my nails are torn ... I am finished. I lie sprawled there with closed eyes, the surging blood pounding in my head ... for some time I cannot see. Everything is blurred. I cannot master my eyes. In time I overcome this weakness. I recognize Harris and Burton. The others are prostrate. Brent is talking to our corporal but I cannot hear what they say. As Brent leaves Hadfield, I can see by the uncertainty of his movements that he is weary. ‘Leave us alone,’ I pray to myself. And then a personal prayer, ‘Leave me alone.

Hadfield stands uncertainly and then comes stiffly towards me. By the half-light that precedes day I observe that he has suffered too. His thin face has sunk inward and his eyes are large in his fleshless features. ‘That was the worst ever,’ he states flatly. His voice is harsh and muffled, as though he has not full control over the organs of speech. ‘Corry dropped out,’ he adds.

I do not answer. I am incapable of speech. I just stare at him.

‘We have to set a picket,’ he says.

My eyes widen. A picket? God! Does he mean? It is impossible. He smiles; it is a wan wraith of mirth.

‘You and I seem in better shape than the others...’ He does not complete his sentence but grins at me.

In better shape? Christ, I am dead and in hell!

‘Old soldiers, you know,’ he mocks me. I roll to my knees. With an effort of will I hoist myself to my feet. Every muscle, each sinew complains. I stand there swaying stupidly. Hadfield grins again; I contrive to produce a grimace in reply.

‘Good man,’ he murmurs. He turns and moves swiftly away, walking like a mechanical toy. Unsteadily I follow him.

1962, Brave Company

When this Ruddy War is Over

Tune: ‘Take it to the Lord in Prayer’

When this ruddy war is over,

Oh how happy I will be.

When I put my civvy clothes on,

No more soldiering for me.

I will sound my own reveille,

Take my own tattoo,

No more NCOs to curse me,

No more stinking army stew,

No more church parades on Sunday,

No more scrounging for a pass.

We will tell the Sergeant Major

To stick his rifles up his arse.

1959, The Songs We Sang

The Summit

Guthrie Wilson

‘He’s cracking lice in his shirt, the swine,’ Harris states unemotionally. He is lying on his belly, legs apart, with Mr Brent’s binoculars clamped uncertainly to his eyes. The warm sun glints upon the dull copper of his stubborn hair and turns to gold the fair bristles of his unshaven face.

We of Hadfield’s section are sprawled in varying degree of undress, about a ledge of shelving rock which offers us an extensive view of the hills, plateaux, and valleys that extend before and below us. Corporal Hadfield lies on his back, a red handkerchief that is daubed with large white circles over his face. He is asleep, and the sun warming yet not unpleasantly hot, flows over his chest which is covered by a low-necked, sleeveless cotton singlet that is stained and dirty...

‘He’s stark bollock!’ exclaims Harris with a sudden grunt of laughter. ‘Looking for lice in his trousers.’ He turns his grinning, pointed features upon us before returning even more eagerly to his binoculars.

‘Male or female?’ asks Jensen languidly.

Costa San Paulo descends to our right where a ridge runs as a causeway between our peak and an acclivity that is held by the enemy. It is on this summit, considerably lower than our own, that Harris is using his glasses. It is siesta time in the mountains and both sides honourably observe an unauthorized suspension of hostilities during the afternoon hours ... it is impossible to fight. Any attack would be discernible and obliterated before it developed. So there is a hiatus in our conflict until dusk returns and makes aggressive movement possible.

Harris continues to give us a commentary on the activities of selected Huns...

‘Give him a slug in the arse,’ mutters Corry, who is lolling beside me.

‘Let him scratch in peace. You don’t want to start something now. Live and let live, you know.’ Corry only grunts at me and his eyelids droop again...

I have rarely seen anything as beautiful as this view from Costa San Paulo. The pale blue bubble of sky is cloudless above us. Below, fog hangs in the tiny crevices between the hills. A tiny thread of a biscuit-coloured road winds across the flat where lush fields sprawl ungrazed by beasts. Here and there on hilltops, white villages reflect the rays of the descending sun. It is strange that here on a mountain peak we have sun. Below, for weeks we have been without it.

‘The Liri Valley was better,’ Corry murmurs.

There is a pause as we contemplate this.

‘Yes,’ at length I reply. ‘Yes, it was better. Much better.’

‘Ah the Liri...’ breathes Jensen, his voice a prayer.

It is impossible to describe adequately the beauty of the Liri as we saw it last spring. We had a splendid advance there. The Hun retired and we followed. We were unable to catch up with him as the roads were so littered with his mines that our progress was slow. There were many halts, many times when it was possible to snatch a swim in a stream or a tranquil sleep beneath the sun in some cornfield. On one memorable occasion we found time for a cricket match.

‘That was something like a war.’ This remark comes from beneath the spotted handkerchief over Hadfield’s face. Apparently he is not asleep.

‘Do you remember the poppies?’ asks Corry wistfully.

‘My God!’

Do I remember the poppies? Thousands upon tens of thousands of blood-red poppies, rising above the corn on slender, swaying stalks, most glorious to behold. Yes, I remember them. For who could ever forget their unconfused, serene beauty? ... Yes I can shut my eyes and see this. Open them again and I stare from the mountain peak of Costa San Paulo. This, too, is beautiful. Or is it only placidity that is beautiful to us?

Silver bombers fly in formation overhead. I count them as they slowly pass. Three hundred at least, a hovering silver in the skies, more glorious in flight than any birds. Formations of bombers never fail to delight us. We count their numbers and argue as each man’s tally is different. We speculate about their targets and derive considerable satisfaction from contemplating the havoc they cause the enemy.

Harris has tired of his binoculars. He offers them to us but we are too lazy to use them. ‘If there were some fairies over there I might want them,’ says Jensen.

‘Only gnomes,’ grunts Hadfield. ‘Great, fat, hulking Hun goblins.’

Hadfield rises at last and picks up his jacket. He places his large handkerchief in his pocket. ‘Come on my children,’ he commands. ‘In a few minutes the Tedeschi will start to hate us.’

It is true. At 17.00 hours – five p.m. – each afternoon, the Hun commences to shell our area with accuracy and hostility. We rise obediently and follow him as shadows begin to fall along our bed of rock.

1962, Brave Company

The Spring Offensive

E.B. ‘Scotch’ Paterson

On 9 April 1945, in spring sunshine, the division set out on the final stage of the war against Hitler. As General Freyberg said, ‘We’re going to hit him a hell of a crack.’

By this time we had not only tanks but the support of RAF bombers and fighter planes, together with all manner of new mechanical devices in weaponry and transport: Kangaroos (stripped down Sherman tanks which could carry infantrymen into the heart of the battle with complete protection from small arms fire), Crocodiles (armoured flamethrowers with a range in excess of 100 metres), DUKWS – or Ducks (amphibious troop carriers), Fantails (amphibious tanks) and floating Bailey Bridge sections, allowing convoys to cross the numerous rivers ... all the new support equipment played its part in breaking the fanatical resistance.

2006, Cassino to Trieste – A Soldier’s Story

Gordon Slatter

It seemed obscene to start the fighting again in such idyllic surroundings. A war should be fought in mud and mire, not amongst trees in blossom ... As I [intelligence] Bloke for A Company my job was to stay with the Major. That could be a good omen. In all the madness that was modern war there was only one sane fact I could cling to, the Major would survive. I just knew he would.

Major G.A Murray had gone off to war in the advance party of 20 Battalion as Signals Officer, a married man with one child. He was born in Gore in 1915 and went overseas on 11 December 1939. He never said much about his long service in the infantry but once I heard him remark that he had shot paratroopers hooked up in the olive trees on Crete. And here he was in what was to be the last campaign of the war still going in with the infantry. And for all that front line service he was awarded the m.i.d. If he had been a blue orchid instead of a brown job he would have gone home festooned in medals.

My main duty was to carry his map board and keep it up to date with information coming in. And I had to be able to plot our position at any time, day or night, not as easy as it sounds. I did that to the best of my ability in often the most trying of circumstances but neglected to carry out another task given me. I was supposed to keep a diary of the activities of A Company but, knowing I might not survive, I thought it both unnecessary and unlucky to do so. I was only tempting fate I told myself. The Colonel, when told later about my superstitious fears, was more amused than annoyed and took no further action.

So, with gratitude to the Colonel for his forbearance and with shame for my neglect of duty, I hasten to make amends by presenting the diary I should have written fifty years ago.

Monday 9 April 1945

Image 94

At A Coy HQ in Casa Tampieri MR 35743128 in a reserve position south of Granarolo. Weather fine and sunny, for D-Day announced this morning by the Colonel with maps and battle plans. He sounded confident, so did three Orders of the Day from the top brass, all promising this would be the last campaign of the war, so help them God.

At 1350 hours heavy bombers roared over our grandstand seats on houses and haystacks, far better employed clearing the way for the infantry with fragmentation bombs than killing civilians in Dresden ... Rumours spread, later confirmed, that some American bombers had hit the wrong side of the Senio River, causing heavy casualties among the Polish troops alongside us. Nobody was surprised.

At 1520 hours a four-hour artillery barrage began, with intervals to allow fighter-bombers to attack, a pall of dust and smoke as background,

At 1920 hours Wasps flamed the stopbank with tongues of fire and columns of smoke, a fearsome sight that reminded me that one of our cobbers had boasted of getting a bludger’s job at last, and when asked what it was, said it was driving a Wasp flamethrower. Some bludger’s job that.

1995, One More River

Geoffrey Cox

The black smoke of burning oil rose straight up against the pale sky ... Now the platoon commanders were calling in flat, urgent New Zealand voices: ‘Go – Now’ and the dark shapes of men in the half-light were moving up the bank, some grouped around the folding boats and the kapok bridges, already assembled, carrying them as if they were wounded men in blankets, others, weapons in hand were swarming up the stop-banks, so that the very bank seemed to move, up to the top and down the black slope to the stream and the far bank. They were into it now, Milne and Johnson, Maclean and Murray, and their fellows, boys just out of their teens, men in their forties, two thousand five hundred New Zealanders on our sector alone...

Twenty minutes later the phone was ringing. It was Moana [Raureti – Intelligence Officer 5th Brigade]. ‘The Maoris are across and mopping the bank. Twenty-one Battalion are finding things a bit sticky but the Maoris have found little opposition.’

Ten minutes later it was the 6th Brigade. ‘Twenty-four Battalion across the bank and forming up under the barrage for the advance. Twenty-five level with them.’ Twenty-five Battalion was Milne’s. Somewhere under that barrage he was now getting his platoons straightened out for the advance.

‘Any prisoners?’

‘About forty to date – all 98th Division so far.’

Fifth Brigade had prisoners too...

By eight o’clock it was clear that the Senio was crossed throughout our sector, and that all four of our battalions were ready to move forward as the barrage started its march ahead of them, through the houses and the olive groves, at five minutes past eight. It was dark now, but for the guns glaring and flashing like summer lightning, and the searchlights meeting, covering, forming great bell tents of light to provide the artificial moonlight by which the engineers would build the bridges. Every few minutes the Bofors, firing tracer to guide the advancing artillery, strung its red, gold and green beads across the darkness.

1947, The Road to Trieste

Gordon Slatter

At 2245 hours the order came, A Coy moved in file ... Fully armed, carrying our 24-hour battle ration, we stood uneasily in the eerie glow of artificial moonlight, waiting for the Colonel’s command to be the first men of 26 Bn to cross.

Geoffrey Cox

The phone went again, and for three hours I never left it. Over it, incessantly, we now fought the intelligence side of the battle. Counter-attack now forming up on the right, against 21st Battalion. Germans are moving two tanks down the road at Casa Savini. Get the Arty on to Casa Savini. Tanks reported on the other side too. 24th Battalion have struck them on their left flank ... How are the Poles doing? Not much yet. They’ve been knocked back around Route 9 and are getting a bad time on our left flank in general ... How about the Indians to the right? They are across all along the way, but they are being heavily counter-attacked. All infantry battalions reporting tanks. Must be the Tigers of 504 Heavy Tank Battalion all right. Another counter-attack towards 21st Battalion. That’s for the Arty again...

By midnight both brigades had reached their final objective, 4000 yards deep from the river. Work on the bridges was going forward. The counter-attacks had died down. Only our flanks were a worry. Neither the Poles nor the Indians were up level with us. As soon as the left-hand bridges were up the Poles were to use them to pass through and attack from our bridgehead.

The Senio line was broken clean open in our sector. By two-o’clock next morning three bridges were open and our own tanks and supporting weapons were across. The Poles had got a tiny bridgehead to our left. To protect our flank the reserve battalion [26 Bn] of 6th Brigade – my brother’s battalion – had moved across and was formed up facing south-west. All was in order. We fell into bed with the guns still setting the windows rattling and shaking the walls and floors of the farmhouse.

Gordon Slatter

Tuesday 10 April 1945

At 0100 I gingerly crossed the sluggish Senio by kapok bridge and, fearful of mines, literally followed in Major Murray’s footsteps as he confidently strode ahead. I hurried on past demolished casas, bomb craters and shell holes, clutching the map board, my Tommy gun slung. Mortar and shell fire all around, some Spandau tracer on the left flank. At 0150 Coy HQ was established at what I swore black and blue was Casa Baruzzi MR 32053428. The Major finally agreed.

A German prisoner inside argued with old Mamma that when the Tedeschi were there they were buono and the Inglesi cattivo, but now the Inglesi had arrived they were buono and the Tedeschi cattivo. I would not give him the satisfaction of agreeing but went to winkle out a bomb-happy Ted waving his Ei ssörrender bit of paper. Jack Clough and Shorty Smith were sent back to guide our tanks up. We were greatly relieved to have the armour with us and amused at Jack’s story of Shorty diving into the tank and clanging down the lid when they were stonked by mortars, but Jack was too rotund to fit in – so he said.

At 1100 over 800 Fortresses and Liberators bombed the Santerno line, causing casualties in 25 Battalion near the Canale di Lugo. Nobody was surprised.

We marched through the battered village of Barbiano where civilians doled out aqua potable to thirsty and dusty footsloggers.

Geoffrey Cox

The next morning I went forward with the General to the Senio. The narrow, dusty road which led towards the stopbank ran for its last quarter of a mile through country which was only now losing that chill, suspended, deadened atmosphere of ground which is being fought for. The shell-pitted fields, grass torn and trampled, or else lush and evil, covering unseen minefields, the shattered farmhouses still marked with the Red Crosses of the regimental aid posts, the signs marking company headquarters, troops wearing their steel helmets and carrying their arms, two wounded men walking back by the road edge, and over all the marks of the shelling – smashed and splintered trees, like plants broken off halfway up their stems, shallow craters, with their dead, dried sterile earth, their burnt black edges, and littered jagged shrapnel covering the fields like the scabs of some disease, all were there.

We made our way through the transport, New Zealand and Polish, which packed the road through the gap in the stopbank, and across the Bailey bridge marked ‘Raglan’ on the plan. On the far side the road ran aslant to the top of the stopbank. Tracks, trodden clear by many feet, wound straight up from the water’s side. We walked up one of them, treading carefully, our eyes probing the ground for anything which might be mines. Behind us, dirty, brown and meagre, the Senio swirled away between its black earthen banks. The flaming had left great burnt strips at intervals along the bank. On the east bank a bulldozer was still at work clearing the approaches. The driver wore a khaki felt hat bent up at the sides like an Australian, and a green jersey. He gave the General’s figure and red-banded cap no more than a glance.

Straight ahead our forward infantry and tanks were now along the line of the Lugo canal, waiting for word to advance to the Santerno, and staring warily in the meantime on either side of them. For we were now well ahead of the other Allied forces. We were not a spearhead. We were thrust out instead, if not like the proverbial sore thumb, certainly like an aggressive forefinger, reaching out for the enemy’s throat along the line of the Santerno.

The General came over and looked at the map. Across its uncoloured surface, the draughts-men had inked in for me six wide, winding red bands. The first was the line of the Senio. Ahead now: the Santerno, beyond it the Sillaro, beyond it again the Giana, and finally, covering the plain immediately above Bologna, the Idice, where the Germans had constructed a line marked on their maps as ‘Genghis Khan’...

‘How heavy are his minefields on the Santerno?’ said the General suddenly

‘As heavy as these – if not heavier. That was to have been his main line.’

‘And the Sillaro?’

‘There are fields there too, but thinner.’

The General was silent for a moment. ‘It cannot last forever, this mined area of his. Soon we shall outrun his minefields, then we will outrun his demolitions, and then we will be able to go like hell.’

He turned down the bank ... By the bridge a boy with the black patch of the New Zealand Engineers on his arm, and the single pip of a second-lieutenant on his shoulder, saluted. He was the officer who had commanded the platoon of bridge builders. His face was unshaven and tired.

‘You wanted me sir?’

‘Yes.’ The General studied him carefully. ‘Tell your men they did a first-class job last night. Good work. Did you have many casualties?’

‘Half a dozen. Mostly from shelling and mortaring at the start. The Huns did the approach road over thoroughly and one truck got ditched. We had to push it off with a bulldozer, and then another got hit and lit up the whole countryside.’

The officer turned his eyes from the General to the black meccano-like girders of the Bailey bridge. The wooden planks covering them rattled under the wheels of the Polish trucks. He was pleased, it was clear, by the General’s words, but they were not his real reward. The bridge, erect and steady, had already provided that.

Gordon Slatter

Wednesday 11 April 1945

TAC HQ reported that 24 and 25 battalions had waded across the Santerno before first light. Our D Coy now leading our flanking role was coming under heavy fire from the stopbank in the Polish sector.

Major Murray led us on to take our part in securing the flank. During this advance we often had to take cover in ditches or convenient German slit trenches. If under heavy fire Jack Clough would announce that he wanted to do number two, if a dud shell happened to fall he would pronounce the traditional thanksgiving, ‘Good old Czechoslovakia.’ Nobody dared come out with another saying in our Company, ‘See you in Tatts,’ a reference to Tattersalls Hotel [Christchurch] where we all hoped to gather after the war and show off our RSA badges.

At 2130 our own C Coy crossed the river, straightened long before the war by Italian engineers, and advanced into an original meander which curved nearly 1000 yards to the north-west. Although there was still water in this old course the local people called it the Santerno Morto. This double barrier was intended to be the main German defence line, until Corporal Hitler had interfered and forbade any retreat to it.

Thursday 12 April 1945

A sudden change of plan saw us lined up for a barrage attack at 1500 hours. En route to the start line we were shot up by airbursts from 88mm guns but I was quite unmoved. It must have been sheer fatalism; the shells came so fast I knew I would never know what hit me. I had never been maleesh like that before. After a 20 minute barrage A and B Coys forged ahead...

General Freyberg was said to be watching this attack from the top storey of a civilian hospital. If so he had a better view of it than I did. Amidst all that spring foliage I did not see Bruce Grainger win his MM for knocking out a Tiger with a Piat, assisted by Bill Campbell, I did not see Bob Rossiter win his MM for guiding a Sherman tank forward under Spandau fire. I could hear but not see the action up front when two more Tigers were claimed by C Squadron of 20 Armoured who always supported us...

By 1645 Major Murray could report by radio that A Coy and tanks were on objective GREY-HOUND and everything was under control ... The second phase of the attack would begin at two in the morning. Jack Clough summed it up, ‘No rest for the wicked.’

Friday 13 April 1945

Because I was born on a Friday I liked to think that I was immune from the bad luck associated with this date. That was proved when, having lost direction, I had a miraculous escape from a Spandau nest ahead in the ditch. Instead of throwing a grenade I foolishly exposed myself against the sky, calling on them to surrender, ‘Hände hoch!’ and had to scuttle away under Schmeisser fire, cursing the forward platoons who had bypassed them. But further opposition was slight, a bridge captured intact and suitable for tanks was an added bonus. By 0430 Major Murray could report our reaching RETRIEVER, another of those damnable dogs.

At 0630 A Coy was boldly riding ahead on seven tanks; hope springs eternal. ‘Let’s get cracking,’ said the Major. ‘The mobile role is on.’

After a mile or so of this joyride, Spandau fire made us dismount hurriedly. ‘Guess what,’ said Jack Clough, ‘the mobile role is off.’

About midday we had to call up RAP carriers to take back our seven wounded. By mid afternoon we had come out onto a wide open plain but I had no fear of being hit, they would not pick on me with so many soldiers dispersed in battle formation on either flank. I fact I felt mildly exhilarated and began shouting, ‘look out Jerry, here comes Six Brigade!’ Jerry could see that but preferred to concentrate on the tanks, the horrendous screech of ricochets told me that ... I still felt confident until those cursed mortars began to register on us. I dug at the stony soil but my hands blistered and I ran for the distant casa, an NCO recently arrived from the Pacific, called me back but I yelled ‘Bugger you’. He soon followed...

Tac HQ said C and D Coys would continue the advance, A and B, who had little sleep for four nights would remain in reserve. My rest was disturbed by a peasant having noisy sex in the straw near me.

Geoffrey Cox

Image 95

Under the sluggish misted sky of early morning the infantry of the dismounted Divisional Cavalry Battalion [in newly formed 9th Brigade] were moving up. They marched along the roadside, ten to fifteen yards apart, moving swiftly. Each man carried his pack, with the white enamel mug tied under the strap and a shovel on top. The gear caught your eye more than the man himself. Some carried, some wore their steel helmets. Their rifles or Tommy guns were slung over their shoulders. Their black boots were grey with dust below the anklets which bound in their battledress trousers ... Here a man carried a stretcher; there the red cross of a firstaid haversack; yet another man held the barrel of heavy machine-gun over his shoulder like a log. Behind him strode a corporal with mortar ammunition, carrying the holder with its three containers in his hand like a suitcase.

Their faces had the set, silent, apart, almost hypnotised appearance of men about to go into battle. Already these men moved in another world ... just over the river ahead the flat, crunching bursts of incoming shells sounded clearly ... For the most part they marched silently, quietly, fatalistically, steadily, accepting but not pretending to like this lot which events had thrust upon them. Above all one felt their individual loneliness, their almost terrible apartness. No one else now could carry the burden of responsibility which rested on his shoulders like these weapons, this impedimenta, the dual responsibility for doing his task and if possible preserving his own life.

Portrait of a Young Man Grown Old

John Male

You can’t go through this sort of thing

indefinitely and not grow old;

every day brings new boundaries,

fresh frontiers; every attack is death

accepted, every close one survived,

a rebirth.

Here is your fighting man, model

for World War Two;

Young, sensual, every appetite

occasionally satisfied. At times drunkard,

at times going with professional women, at times

experimenting with most things;

not very courageous, but from practice

a calculator of risks and distances.

But he grows old.

Don’t ask how old...

in the eyes of a young man trudging

to the start line for the night’s attack

I saw fifty-seven centuries’

acceptance of the little man’s destiny to die this way.

1989, Poems from a War

Gordon Slatter

Saturday 14 April 1945

Nine Brigade received their baptism of fire in this fight for the Sillaro River, particularly around the village of Sesto Imolese which had to be virtually destroyed...

While we were taking it easy others were having a hard time. Our C and D Coys were in the thick of it. A young officer of Charlie Squadron supporting us had died of shrapnel wounds received while out of his tank. We saw a Spitfire explode in mid air, nobody could have survived that. The engineers were toiling away under mortar fire at the bridge sites, crossings had been marked for tanks and vehicles, more guns and armour were moving up into position. Everybody busy but us.

Sunday 15 April 1945

Battalion HQ and we reserve coys moved closer to the Sillaro, ready to enlarge the shallow bridgehead ... Our attack was to go in at 2100 hours under a heavy barrage from seven field regiments and some medium batteries. I traced the bounds onto the Major’s map and nervously followed him to the start line where we had the unusual experience of collecting two prisoners.

This was a good start for A and B Coys in front with C Coy mopping up. The enemy, dazed and demoralised by the barrage, surrendered in such numbers that D Coy in reserve had to come forward to assist in dealing with them. In a new and jingoistic frame of mind I could not help comparing their bedraggled appearance and motley garb with our neat and uniform style, our serviceable battledress, our formidable weaponry. This sad and sullen lot were no master race.

Monday 16 April 1945

Soon after midnight we reached our objective, a lateral road north of Fantazza Another move forward at 0700 in heavy fog to the small canal of Scolo Scolatore north of Crocetta

On the next bound we waded the Scolo Fenile and the Scolo Sillaro Menata, one damned ditch after another. Major Murray went up to the front platoons pinned down while I skulked in a rifugio until, stricken by guilt, I went forward warily and was caught in the next salvo of shells, ripped my web strap apart in my frenzy to slide into a deeper hole, a feat of strength quite beyond me in ordinary circumstances.

The Major was in conference in a tank. His radio man, Norm McNab, squatted on the hull chanting call signs while shrapnel flew all around, one of the bravest sights I ever saw at the war. So I lay on the stone floor of the casa by the bridge while the German artillery were methodically demolishing it room by room. Fortunately this room was comparatively intact when the shelling ceased, we scrambled out and continued the advance, wishing we could change our underpants ... a total advance for the day of some 4000 yards. The top brass thought we had earned a rest and, 21 Battalion of 5 Brigade passed through at 2130 hours and put us out of the war.

Tuesday 17 April 1945

Our rest and reorganisation area was in comfortable casas beside the Scolo Montanana. Everybody was tired; troppo stanco we said. We were revived by showers set up beside the nearby creek. Munga and blankets and newspapers and accumulated mail came up from B Ech and the LOBs reluctantly arrived to do their bit ... The battalion had been in action for seven days, constantly on the move in an advance of over 16 miles and even when not in battle was frequently under fire from enemy rearguards. Three major rivers had been crossed but in the words of the old song there was always one more river to cross.

There was much talk in the I truck about a Corporal Tucker of 27 Bn who knocked out three German tanks; a monty for a posthumous VC [he was m.i.d.].

Most blokes were resting so I walked over to the next casa to see if I was still persona grata with my old 9 platoon. Shorty Smith who came with me was wearing a German helmet so one burly bloke seized him and held him kicking and struggling above his head, accusing him of being a Tedesco. ‘Niente,’ yelled Shorty, ‘Polacco, Polacco.’

That might not sound very funny, but at the time, in view of the many Germans who had surrendered claiming to be Poles, we all just shrieked with laughter.

While Tommy Harland photographed 9 Platoon lined up in front of the stopbank I stood by feeling a bit out of it. The last time a 9 Platoon photo was taken I was in it. That was five months ago in Castelraimondo. For a number of reasons, not all of them fatal, only two men appeared in both snapshots.

Geoffrey Cox

We came up against the Giana line on 17th April. This time the 9th Brigade was on our right, and on our left were the Gurkhas. We needed them. Our casualties had mounted further ... As if to mark the importance of the occasion, we held the Divisional conference on the morning of April 18th in a bigger room than usual. It was on the first floor of a stone farmhouse as spacious as a castle. The General interrogated me closely on the enemy layout. Were we sure the parachutists were there in full strength? Yes we had identifications from six full battalions, in the line or in reserve ... ‘Very well, then,’ said the General. ‘We will break him here.’

It was almost melodramatically appropriate that this battle, which, given good fortune, should be our last major action in the war, was to be waged against the parachutists. They had been our opponents in many areas from Greece to Italy ... On every side guns were moving in to take part in the bombardment. Harried artillery staff officers were having a terrible job to find room to disperse them all.

Ten minutes before the barrage was due to start the phone rang. The General wanted me. I found him pacing the grass alongside his caravan.

‘Give me your estimate of the enemy strength again.’

‘A maximum of a thousand sir.’

He did a quick sum in his head. ‘We’ve got three regiments of five-fives, and eight field regiments, plus one 105th regiment. That’s 192 field pieces alone. They will fire about 100,000 rounds. That gives us 100 rounds for each individual paratrooper from the field guns, without counting the mediums. I wouldn’t like to sit under that – it’s a worse barrage than any other there’s been in this war.

His phone rang. ‘Yes, Barker [Gurkha commander] – yes – did you test the market at dusk? The Hun was still there? Good. We’re giving you the greatest bombardment we’ve ever put down.’

The General took up his interrupted line of thought. ‘This will be the most important battle we have fought in Italy.’ He chuckled: ‘They’re worried at Corps and Army that we’re going to shoot off all their ammunition tonight. So we are. But we are the only ones in position and ready to so, so why shouldn’t we?’

He had some right to feel proud on that score. We were well in the lead now.

We had been able to build bridges swiftly and to get up the ammunition and move in the guns and get the fire plans drawn up in time to mount this series of massive attacks. It was in this labour of war, as much as in the fighting of war, that the physical strength and education and above all the sense of responsibility of the ordinary Dominion private and gunner showed up ... Can you blame us then if our sappers felt fine when, day after day, the neighbouring troops borrowed our bridges to pass over their tanks and guns, because their bridges weren’t yet up. Or if every day our infantry nodded their satisfaction at the red bulge of their F.D.L.’s nose out a little farther in front? So that this evening, when we had insisted on more than our rights in ammunition, we had got it.

Ask a Canadian who were the best troops in Italy and he will say, ‘New Zealanders’; ask a British soldier, and he will say the same; then ask a New Zealander, and he will say the same.

2004, Reed Book of New Zealand Quotations, Attrib. British officer

Geoffrey Cox

2130 hours. The barrage opened with a roar on right and left, with a splitting crash from the battery of 3.7s behind us. The flashes lit and flared like a hundred thunderstorms. The whole western sky was alive with bursting shells.

It looked appalling, far worse than the Senio. It moved the General to a rare moral judgment about the enemy. ‘I hate these paratroopers,’ he said suddenly, ‘they represent all that is worst in the whole Nazi system.’

Gordon Slatter

Wednesday 18 April 1945

Under guidance of the ERS I was spasmodically studying the prescribed periods for History Three and had underlined in blue pencil what Napoleon had said in 1796 before marching into North Italy. ‘Soldiers, I am to lead you into the most fertile plains in the world. There you will find honour, glory and riches.’ ... some things in life never change. The soldiers invading the Lombardy Plains in 1796 and 1945 had one common aim, loot.

Some of Coy HQ were even then away on one of those perpetual pilgrimages looking for eggs or, if they were really lucky, a fowl to be snatched and dispatched. ‘Gallina graunching’ Shorty Smith called it.

I soon tired of swot, put my exercise book back into the pack and began reading that amusing column in the NZEF Times in which Johny Enzed and the Bloke joked about that happy life that awaited us dopo the guerra.

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It was not dopo the guerra yet and our wasps had to go forward to help flame the banks of the Gaiana River. At 2130 hours a horrific barrage began, Nine Brigade and the Gurkhas versus Four Parachute Div.

Thursday 19 April 1945

Major Murray came back from the O Group conference to say we would relieve 2/10 Gurkha Rifles, my favourite soldiers, after dark and exploit to bounds COCKER KELPIE SILKIE which I traced onto his map. The last bound was the Idice River; optimistic I thought.

Friday 20 April 1945

The advance continued with sporadic opposition. By 0230 the Quaderna River was crossed, then the Rio Centonara Vecchia. The Major couldn’t read his map so decided we should go into a burning casa for better light. This was ridiculous, if not insane, but I followed him in and amid crackling flames and collapsing beams he finally agreed to my guesstimation. The next moment he decided the noise of tracked vehicles up ahead was not friendly, so amid acclamation, he ordered our tanks and anti-tank guns to fire a few rounds straight up the strada.

We kept away from haystacks set on fire to expose us, marched on through the night and the morning and stormed the Idice River south-west of Budrio and got three platoons onto the far bank.

The fighter-bombers kept German heads down when A Coy came up on their left, found a shallow ford and waded across warily, our tanks of C Squadron, indispensible as ever, splashing over too ... We were the first troops across with armour; we had unwittingly broken what the Germans grandiloquently called the Genghis Khan Line.

I think, probably because of my faulty navigation were so far left we were actually in the Polish sector but we sat tight, oblivious of the argument about our trespass that went on back at Div HQ.

Ted was bound to resent our fortuitous intrusion. I could hear them marshalling their inevitable counter-attack just ahead, the Major called for defensive fire, our shells screamed over, the explosions sparkled just ahead, while I squatted in a dug-out as scared as I had ever been.

Saturday 21 April 1945

After midnight I recovered my nerve and stood up on the fire-step with the Major to keep watch in the menacing darkness all around what was designated Point 409, our little bit of history...

At 0800 we sidestepped to the right, A and B Coys riding on our Sherman tanks to the objective CHOW. We dismounted and advanced on foot to SCOTTIE, the Scolo Fiumicello.

At dusk a halt was called just short of the Scolo Zena while other battalions attacked the Germans holding that canal line in strength.

News came from the Battalion that the Poles had made good use of the ford discovered by A Coy at the Idice. Troops of 3 Carpathian Div had beaten the Americans of Fifth Army into Bologna by a short head. We never had any contact with Americans, we were glad the Poles had won.

Sunday 22 April 1945

Fine and sunny again ... the leading platoons crossed Route 64 east of Castel Maggiore after a three mile march because of road demolitions.

After midday the main axis of the advance turned north, everybody back on trucks and glad to hear the unusual sound of rubber tyres on a bitumen road, the main highway from Bologna to Ferrara. C and D Coys roared ahead on tanks, a short delay while the ever-busy engineers put a bridge over a canal. At San Giorgio di Piano, liberated by 24 Bn, we received such a rapturous welcome that even a cynic such as I am began to think that the war had some meaning after all. Italians offered bottles of wine, threw flowers at us, even loaves of bread, because the Germans told them we were starving. I was glad I had kept my tin hat on. They tapped at our tanks because the Germans had told them they were made of cardboard. Signorinas blew kisses but I did not blow any back, the Major would consider that unsoldierly.

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Monday 23 April 1945

By 0630 hours A and B Coys were rumbling ahead crammed together on lurching tanks, C and D Coys riding sedately behind in trucks ... the mobile role was everything the Major had said it would be, confirmed by joyful greetings from the citizens of San Petro in Casale and Sant’ Alberto.

Near Passo Barchetta we reluctantly dismounted and approached the Reno, the widest river yet encountered, but shallow. It was exceptionally beautiful so we expected to be mown down by Spandaus as we waded across. Not a shot was fired, not a Jerry was in sight on the far bank, every casa observed had a single cannon hole in the wall so the Major came to the conclusion that tanks had raced across our front. That was confirmed by a liaison officer who drove up in a Staghound emblazoned with the iron gauntlet insignia of the 6 British Armoured Div. He was horrified to find our OC sunbathing with his men in his underpants, drying his socks in the sunshine and listening to dance music from the BBC on our radio. He soon disappeared in a cloud of disapproving dust.

‘Bloody cheek of the Pongos cutting across our front like that,’ said Jack Clough. ‘But Tiny will soon bung us in again.’

It was common legend in our battalion that all General Freyberg ever said to the Army commander was, ‘My boys are fit, bung em in again.’

Wednesday 25 April 1945

Early in the morning the battalion convoy crossed the Panara River over a Bailey bridge and turned off the road to a harbour area near Quattrelle on the River Po...

With one Auster shufti kite droning around above us, Padre Linton conducted a brief ceremony, saying it would be our last Anzac Day at the war ... we remembered those in the battalion killed crossing those rivers now behind us. The war had never seemed more dreadful than when I had to stand beside the RAP stretcher in A Coy HQ and tell a good friend badly wounded that he was going to be all right when everybody knew he was not. That was the brutal truth of war, no glamour, no heroics, just a young man cut down in his prime in the banks of some creek nobody had ever heard of, struck down in an advance nobody would ever remember. ‘You’ll be jake,’ I lied. ‘Think of all those nurses to hold your hand.’

We followed our religious service with a pagan one we had been looking forward to for a very long time, we lined up to pee in the Po.

Geoffrey Cox

We spent an agreeably enough April 25th – bridging the Po. In the sunshine it was like a regatta. Motor-driven storm-boats and ducks filled with Kiwi infantry plied to and fro between the banks. The wide river was blue under the clear sky, and the banks bare but for a fringe of young poplars on the far side. Engineers, their brown torsos bare to the sun, hauled pontoons and boats into position. Men off duty swam from the edge of the motor raft, which slowly carried across Sherman after Sherman. The bulldozers snorted and thundered as they tried to make some order out of the chaos of huge bomb craters. Hanson [C.R.E.] strode amongst them, completely in his element controlling this job as he had controlled so many bridging jobs in remote New Zealand Valleys. Slowly, pontoon by pontoon, the bridge spread across the river. The Po, at which we had stared so long on our map, our goal since we first reached Italy in 1943, was crossed.

Staff Reporter

Thirty-six hours after leaving the Po, the New Zealanders were at the Adige, 12 miles away. The enemy reaction now was one of stunned surprise. Things were happening too fast for him to reorganise. He was leaving behind him very obvious signs of the panic which possessed him and, to add to his worries, the partisans were rising everywhere. Now it was obvious that only a few days remained before the end came. The banks of the Adige and the Po were strewn with enemy transport and guns, and great numbers of prisoners were being taken.

NZEF Times, Staff reporter

Gordon Slatter

Friday 27 April 1945

The Adige River was about 150 yards wide and too deep to wade so the forward battalions of both Brigades [5 and 6] stormed across it in assault boats to establish a firm bridgehead. Nine Brigade and the Gurkha Brigade then passed through to continue the chase towards the Venetian line, where the fleeing enemy were expected to turn and make a stand. By 1500 hours a pontoon bridge capable of carrying lorries and field guns was constructed. Once again the New Zealand Engineers were the first to conquer another big river. In fact the entire Eighth Army had to depend on these two slender links across the Po and the Adige.

Sunday 29 April 1945

By 0130 hours our trucks reached Route 10 near Este. After a quick brew of tea by the Benghazi burner, the move towards Padua, Padova the road signs said, continued ... Because fighting was still continuing in the city a liaison officer came at 0945 hours to request a company of infantry to protect Div HQ in those areas penetrated by the gallant 12th Lancers. I felt quite bucked that the colonel (Fairbrother), an Invercargill man, chose the Canterbury Company.

Major Boyd led the company into the city where we received a rousing welcome from citizens bravely lining the streets. We were then deployed in various buildings around Div HQ.

Thousands of prisoners had been taken, many of them in a pen near our HQ, a squad of Gurkhas with a Vickers gun trained on them from the back of a lorry. The usually grinning Gurkhas, grim for a change, seemed to be almost pleading with the Huns to make a break for it.

It was then I noticed Brigadier Parkinson studying the prisoners with one of his staff so I sidled closer to hear what gem of military wisdom he might impart. Parky turned to his aide and growled, ‘What say we get over the wire and kick a few of them in the balls.’

I made no offer to help but retreated to our HQ and joined in a mad headlong dash up the Autostrada to Mestre and my first view of Venice, Venezia the road signs said, a magical city floating upon the sea, but regretfully we had to move on past up to the next barrier, the Piave.

Tuesday 1 May 1945

We had to take post in the dark rainy night when a strong German force attacked our Engineers camped beside a bridge over the roadside canal. A bloody but useless battle, they were soon required to surrender. I later learned that one of the eight sappers they killed was a school friend, a stocky first five in our rugby team.

That was to be our last military manoeuvre, the rest of the war was spent just rolling along in the column past Germans who stared with undisguised amazement at the endless line of vehicles, the armoured cars, the tanks, the quads towing the guns, the long-barrelled anti-tank guns, the Bren carriers, the jeeps, the innumerable troop-carriers. Church bells rang out, civilians cheered and waved as we rode through narrow streets with log roadblocks taken apart by the Partisans, past defences Ted had no time to man, across bridges Ted had no time to blow.

Wednesday 2 May 1945

While the other companies of 26 Battalion were heading north we continued rolling east in the column towards Trieste. So we knew nothing about the precarious situation of our colleagues in Gorizia on our left and nothing about tanks of 20 Armoured Regt on our right firing on German warships off Duino, a rare engagement fought by 2 NZ Div during the war. Two vessels out of three were knocked out.

We watched fighters from the cab rank shoot up some obstinate 88mm guns and while 22 Battalion with supporting tanks surged ahead towards the city [Trieste] we base bludgers swung into the palatial grounds of Miramare Castle. Later we heard that the German Army in Italy had surrendered unconditionally. We were all mightily relieved and spoke about putting our feet up for good...

We had come a long way from the Senio River, some 225 miles in 24 days, following our Divisional sign, the black diamond with the silver fern. One squadron of 20 Armoured [NZ] said they had stopped for the night in 20 different places, and one night they hadn’t stopped at all. One of their tanks had come all the way from Maadi camp, bore the serial number 5-2-6, and was affectionately known as ‘Time Gentlemen Please’.

If the partisans take us we shall lose our lives; if the New Zealanders, we shall lose our watches.

New Zealand Quotations, German Officer at Trieste

‘...a foot in the door’

Peter McIntyre

When the New Zealand Division entered Trieste from one side and Tito’s army entered it from the other side the atmosphere was hair-trigger. The Division was just in time, as Winston Churchill put it, ‘to put a foot in the door.’ Otherwise anything might have happened to Trieste. The Yugoslavs knew little of what we had been doing or what had been going on elsewhere, and thought that they had won the war. We thought we had. They also thought they should have Trieste, yet the Allies thought otherwise.

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A whole unit of Yugoslavs, with their ancient mule-and-horse-drawn baggage cars, like some ancient army in dirty modern uniform, invaded my unit’s camping area in the woods outside Trieste. When we pointed out that the area was already occupied, they became distinctly truculent and began fingering their weapons. They demanded a drum of petrol which stood beside our trucks, but we suggested that their horses wouldn’t like it. Their sense of humour sent them into fits of laughter and they left amiably.

The Engineers down on the beach below us were more realistic. When the Yugoslavs tried to oust them, they produced a flame thrower mounted on a Bren carrier and put on a demonstration by aiming it at an old abandoned fort nearby. A flame thrower is a fearsome thing to see in action and the Yugoslavs glumly departed.

The situation reminded me very much of ‘Abdul-a-bul-bul Amir’ and his truculent opponent, ‘Ivan Skivinsky Skivar’. We were ordered to be armed on all occasions – in fact we felt that at any moment one might ‘tread on the toe’ of the other.

On another occasion, one of Tito’s tanks, an obsolete Honey, trundled up to a New Zealand machine gun post in the city and trained its gun on the crew. The New Zealanders refused to withdraw and whistled up one of their own tanks – a big new Sherman. The Yugoslav tank turned tail and fled through the streets of Trieste with the Sherman in hot pursuit. At a corner the Yugoslav tank broke a tread and was immobilised. Its crew piled out in haste to repair it. The New Zealand crew piled out of their tank also, and, without batting an eye, gave the Yugoslavs a hand.

1981, Peter McIntyre: War Artist

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Geoffrey Cox

History must have had its tongue in its cheek when it led us from our remote homes in the South Pacific, to end the war in this lovely and disputed area in the heart of the ancient world. Miramare [Castle, Div HQ] has no doubt seen many strange sights since Maximilian of Austria took a boat from the little jetty below the castle to sail to his death in Mexico, but it can have known few quite so strange as these days of Allied occupation. Crowds of New Zealanders, wearing old underpants or torn bathing costumes or no clothes at all, now dived from the jetty or splashed about amid the squids which thronged the tiny harbour. To get to the jetty we had to move cautiously along a marked path across lawns which the Germans had sown with mines. Further east, on the beaches that fringed the city road where James Joyce had walked in his day, men cleaned their equipment or brewed tea on Benghazi boilers.

Inside the castle the knights in armour, with pennants on their lances, looked down the wide marble staircase on Kiwis in grey jerseys climbing up with billies of hot water. At night the smell of frying oysters – there was usually a tin of them in every New Zealand Patriotic Fund parcel – permeated the upper floors.

While the negotiators in Belgrade argued the immediate fate of Trieste, we cast up our final balance sheet, the figure for the battles which had opened the way to Venezia Giulia [Trieste is the regional capital] from the west. In our advance our supply columns had averaged 200 miles of journeying every day, hauling our rations and petrol along the packed roads, and dumping in all over 30,000 tons of supplies. We had passed 5000 vehicles, 20,000 men and 165 tanks over bridges built across seven major rivers. In the big attacks the artillery work had been so heavy and so accurate that in the end we had averaged only forty to fifty casualties per brigade. The British 5th Medium Regiment, which had been with us throughout, had fired 20,000 rounds in twenty-three days – equivalent to half the total rounds they fired throughout the African campaign. In all we had fired more than half a million rounds from our guns since April 9th. The 12th Lancers had carried out one of the best cavalry actions of the war, without which our advance would have been impossible. To them, and to the 5th Medium, we extended gladly the right they had requested, to wear in the future the fernleaf badge of the Division on their vehicles.

1947, The Road to Trieste

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You’re a Lucky Fellow, Kiwi


You’re a lucky fellow, Kiwi, you’ve tasted life and fun,

Since Jerry stopped his shooting, and threw away his gun,

You’ve travelled in the mountains; you’ve travelled on the plain;

You’ve made the trip to Austria, and you’ve travelled back again.

You’ve bathed in Trieste Harbour; you’ve sunned your golden hide

On stones at Sistiana, where yachts and speed-boats ride.

You’ve boated on the Arno; you’ve punted on the Po,

You’ve drifted on the Grand Canal, where kings and lovers go.

The peasant in the fertile plain has opened up his heart,

And treated you with fruit and wine, and made it hard to part.

You’ve dabbled in amore, and answered to its call;

You’ve seen the signorinas, and know them one and all.

You know their latent talent for making you forget

the way you won this (censored) war, with blood, and blood, and sweat.

You’re a lucky fellow Kiwi, you’ve had your chance to roam,

But give me ship, and give me speed, and give me home sweet home.

24 December 1945, NZEF Times

To the ‘One’

(On reaching the 100th letter)

J. Peabody

This is un cento, un grande momento

Ho scritto un cento per voi:

The effort was niente, perché trovo plenty,

Di reciprocitá voi.

It started in Maadi, ed el quanto tardi,

I wrote una volta per week;

You (writing less often)

Did poco to soften a vista consistently bleak.

But then – came the Ities, and molto big maitais,

A personal, forceful surprise.

I wrote with emotion, and molto devotion

was registered in your replies.

Through times like Faenza, the writing got tenser,

The writing possibly male;

Though other things bowled you, the things that I told you

You took with a grano di sale.

La guerra finata, cerco nostra vita

Sicuro e’ poca domanda;

Per molt’ amor’ fare

Con te in Nuova Zelanda

24 December 1945, NZEF Times

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