Saturday, February 25, 2006

The day I should have died: 4th Queen's Own Hussars in Italy

Photo shows: Diary entries for the 15th to the 18th of April 1945

Wednesday 18 April 1945
"Stonked near wood for solid hour. Corporal Todd wounded badly in head when air-burst caught their Honey. Farmhouses burning, stuck in ditch."

The entry in my diary is fairly innocuous. Checking back using Regimental Diaries I can see that we were with the 2nd Armoured Brigade column in the Reno bridgehead area and that I had been with the 4th Hussars for about three weeks.

The day had started with my tank commander, Busty Thomas MM, going sick, I believe with an old wound, and he had been replaced for the day by Sgt. Broderick. Shortly after moving off at dawn we came under mortar fire from dead ahead, and Broderick craftily directed Hewie (Steve Hewitt, our driver) to place us under a knoll, or hillock, that was directly in front of the wood from which the fire appeared to be coming.

As I've already explained in an earlier tale, our tank was an old Stuart tank from the days of desert warfare and its turret had been removed to make it into a light reconnaissance vehicle. Protection from shell and mortar fire was not one of its major priorities.

It soon became apparent that we were safe, or relatively safe, as long as we stayed where we were. Every time we tried to move, however, the mortars landed within yards of us and we saw other tanks getting hit only yards away.

They say that when you are about to drown all your previous life flashes in front of you. Well, that is exactly how I felt that day and I could almost read the article that would appear in the local Hackney and Kingsland Gazette. "We regret to announce the death of trooper Ron Goldstein on active service in Italy. It is ironic that whilst on leave in Egypt some six months earlier he had tried to see his brother-in-law Jack Rosen, without success and only a few days before his death he had also tried to see his brother Mick, a Sgt. Major fighting with the Jewish Brigade, but again without results."

I just can't remember how long we remained sheltered in this manner but the German mortar crew ahead of us must have found some more interesting targets and Broderick was able to get us away to regain our position with the rest of the Squadron.

By the time the long day had finished and whatever we had to do had been done I realised that I had survived and that I was therefore not due to be killed that day after all. Looking back now over this period of my life, I realise that it was pretty much the toss of a coin that decided whether we lived or died. On that day my coin landed the right way up.

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