Saturday, February 25, 2006

Diary Entries 11th April 1945

Photo shows: The Bren-Gun carrier that replaced our Stuart tank

Some excerpts from my Wartime diaries
in the 4th Queen's Own Hussars

Wednesday 11th. April 1945
Woken at 4 am to go into Lugo area with Recce party. Stood at cross roads for a couple of hours. Area lousy with mines. Late breakfast when tanks arrived.

On April ll th I went with Lt. Walmsley by jeep to Lugo, the fortified town that is surrounded by water and to which access is made by many small bridges. We stopped the jeep on the outside perimeter and looked across one of these bridges at the town that we could see in front of us.

The trouble was that the bridge had obviously been hit by shell fire and was in a bit of a mess. It did, however, look as if we could get across on foot through the rubble.

With its back to us a notice board had been fixed in the centre of the bridge and Walmsley said to me: "Nip over there and see what it says." Without any further thought I did this, and after I had reached the spot and read the notice I called across to Walmsley in what I hoped was not too shaky a voice: "It says 'Achtung Minen!'. I had, in fact, just walked through a Jerry minefield and was now faced with the unpleasant task of trying to remember exactly where I had placed my feet on the journey in. The fact that 58 years later I am able to write about the incident means, of course, that at the time I must have been blessed with either a good memory or good luck.

Thursday 12th. April 1945
Bit of stonking last night. Moved into area South side of Santerno river and waited for bridge to be slung across. After supper lined up with 2nd. Armoured Brigade column.
Friday 13th. April 1945
Moved over Santerno. Some M.G. nuisance and one H.E. about twenty yards away. Bags of prisoners, Kiss from Signora. "Liberatoris !". Chasing after tedeschis with 30 browning blazing!

The Browning machine gun referred to was rarely fired in anger, the exception being on this one occasion when I nearly killed Hewie our Stuart Tank driver.

We had been on the move all day and the Germans were surrendering left, right and centre. To our left, about two hundred yards away, German infantry were climbing out of slit trenches with their hands high and we were gesturing to them to get behind us and to make their way to the rear.

Suddenly someone to our right opened light rifle fire at us and Busty (SSM ‘Busty’ Thomas) lost patience and yelled at me "Let the bastards have it!" Hewie swung the tank to the right so we could face the new threat and I started firing non-stop, without giving Hewie a chance to drop his adjustable seat down below the level of fire belching from the Browning. A horrified Busty yelled: "Get down you stupid bastard!" and to my immediate relief Hewie disappeared from view before I could hit him.

Within seconds the rifle fire was replaced by more hand-raising, and we were able to proceed without further incident.

Whilst looking through a transcript of my remaining Diary entries I came across the following that I felt should be included in my 'memoirs'.

Tuesday 24th. April 1945
Flap in the night and we moved off at 2 am. XXXXXX was blotto and consequently net was lively. Made sweep of Ferrara suburbs. Busty smashes door in.

Wednesday 25th. April 1945
Moved off at first light. Stopped at casa where Busty fitted out old people with suit. Pulled into new H.Q. area then out again. Finally stopped at factory

This episode about Busty was a piece of pure ‘black comedy’.
The squadron was advancing Northward, and in the middle of the night of the 24th we came across a small farmhouse. Busty, Tommy Gun in his hands,very melodramatically kicked open the door of the house then, as no-one was in residence, rummaged through a chest of drawers.
He found and ‘liberated’ a tweed suit saying ‘this might come in handy later for a bit of swapping’ . The next day we were at another farmhouse where the occupants gave us a bottle of vino and Busty promptly gave them the suit he’d ‘liberated’ the previous day. I couldn’t help wondering at the time whether or not at some time in the future farmer A would see farmer B and ask him ‘Where did you get that suit from, I used to have one just like it !’

Looking back at this event some sixty odd years later I suppose that other folks might have considered this came under the heading of looting. In all honesty,Busty would have hotly denied this and I suppose that as I shared in the bottle of vino I was also an accomplice and I certainly don’t feel guilty of any such crime.

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