Sunday, February 26, 2006

Ice cold... but NOT in Alex !

Photo shows: Ron on his morning walk

I consider myself a fairly active octogenarian and, unless it is raining, I kick-start my day with a three mile circuit of my local park.
Despite wearing suitable clothing I confess that I DO notice the cold (10 degrees below zero at the time of writing) but on reflection this is as nothing compared with the temperatures we endured in Italy during WW2 and it is on this topic that I now write.

Our first winter in Italy, namely 1944, was horrendous.

Our introduction to weather conditions overseas had started off innocently enough.

I was stationed in Algeria from April ’43 until August ’43 and the sun presented no major problems. I know that immediately on reading this, some of the ‘old sweats’ will write of desert conditions and the perils of sunstroke but this was not my scene as I had arrived too late for the fighting in North Africa and had no real desert conditions to put up with.

Again, in Sicily, in July and August ‘43, apart from the perils of being shot at, the weather posed no major problems and the campaign was to last for only one month.

Italy, however, was another matter.

The first winter of ’43 found us totally unprepared for the conditions in which we had to serve.

It was nothing to have wet clothes on for three days at a time. We all had, at the most, three changes of underwear and shirts with which to survive and very little chance of washing and drying the same. It was not unusual to dig a slit trench to sleep in and to wake up to find ourselves floating in a foot of water.

But it was the cold that we all hated the most.

We rarely had a chance to see a thermometer but when the petrol froze overnight in our vehicle carburettors… we knew it was cold, when in Trieste our mugs of tea had ice floating on top before we could get them back to our barracks…. we knew it was cold and when , if you took your gloves off and touched the side of your tank , your hand literally froze to the metal … you again knew it was cold .

The winter of ’44 was no better but with the addition of mud everywhere the cold seemed to stick and because of the mud we had to wash more often which in turn made us colder…. It was a vicious, life-sickening circle that sapped our energy and turned us into morons.

Trieste in the winter of 1946 had it's own special brand of wintry delights.
They had (and probably still have)a local wind there called the Bora, supposedly coming from Russia and after the snow had fallen, melted and changed to ice it blew a 50 mile an hour gale througout the Trieste area that transformed people into skittles that were being blown over at every street corner.
The issue of leather jerkins, tank suits, extra blankets and even rum issues eventually helped to lighten our loads but today, sixty odd years later, whilst walking today in the park I was reminded of the cold of Italy and it was good to get back to my wife, my house, and the warmth and peace of Cockfosters.

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