Friday, February 24, 2006

Monte Cassino, March to May 1944

Photo shows: Larry and the program of the Seder Service we attended together

Larry Fox figures very much in this period of my life. He was, and 60 years later, still is, a very good friend of mine. He kept copious diaries, for which I have always been grateful, and still has a good memory of our days together in the 49th LAA.

Feb 17: My diary entry is very sketchy, reading: Left Bagnolia, very bad road, still driving when night fell. Slept alongside road.

Feb 22: 11 men from the Regiment, Larry and I included, were sent to Div. Signals on a cable-laying course. This was to be of much help to us in the months ahead.

March: By early March we had arrived at Monte Cassino. Like most of our moves, we travelled after dark and so we did not get our first sight of the Monastery until the next morning.

Our camp was just below the ridge of a small hill that faced the Monastery so that if you wanted to see what was going on you had to first walk up the hill and then peer over the crest.

In front of us was the Liri valley, then the Monastery Hill with the actual Monastery right on the crest itself. It was very menacing, right from the word go, and it was fairly obvious that every move that was made below could be seen, plotted and shelled with relative impunity.

Larry drew a few sketches while we were there and very much caught the menace of the Monastery to those of us who had to live below it. We dug in, literally, each man responsible for his own 6ftx3ftx3ft of Italian mud, and perched on top of each slit trench we put up our bivvies in a vain attempt to keep the rain out. Some of us tried to give our trenches a bit of individuality by making the top of the trench slightly wider thus making a ledge on which we could stand a lamp or our personal belongings.

Part of the Regiment was engaged on smoke laying whilst others were defending the New Zealanders from attack by the Luftwaffe.

The weather was atrocious, mud was the name of the game and my main memory of Cassino was always being wet.

March 15: The New Zealand Corps, which our Bofors were defending against air attack, launched a full attack on the Monastery which was preceded by a tremendous bombing. I remember vividly seeing this bombing mission take place and it really lifted our spirits.

March 17: Bad living conditions finally caught up with me and I was passed back to the 93rd General Hospital at Naples (see my story Two weeks in Dock at Naples)

Mar 22 : Larry's diary says he was at Mignano and two Messerschmits were shot down.

Mar 27 : Larry says we finally left the Div concentration area, were no longer operational but still in sight of the Monastry.

Mar 30 : I returned to the unit after my stay in hospital.

April 7 : Larry and I attended a Jewish Passover service organised by the South African Forces at the Junction of the Vanairo/Venafro roads.

April 8 : Larry's diary says worst night for shelling since Bronte (in Sicily).

April 14: Geoff Burnard was killed by a mortar blast today. When the news filtered back to us we were all shocked. He was the first and I believe the only driver/op from our Regiment to be killed and being only human, it worried us deeply with its implication that if Geoff could be killed, then so could we.

April 23: Larry's diary says '8000 yards from the Jerry lines'. Our Div, the 78th Div, was relieved and went into reserve in XIII Corps.

May 11: The big attack went in at 2300 hours. Larry's diary reads:'1500 guns firing, I really enjoyed watching it.'

May 18: The Germans finally surrendered to the Polish Division.

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