Cecil Maudesley MM served in Italy with the 4th/13th Field Force Rifles, part of the South African 6th Armoured Division.
The last year you said I think, more or less, I was in the signals. We were attached to various regiments, and I was initially attached to an artillery regiment, we were going through Italy until, I wanted a transfer to an infantry regiment, they said you’ll have to go back to reservists, and I went back to the reserves, and the next thing, we’d heard that an Indian battalion had been attached to the division and their first action was They were cut up because their signals spoke Indian and our signal Headquarters were English, so the fact that they were cut up, they said right, we’re going to now attach some South African signals to the battalion. So 27 of us from reserves went up and we joined them.
Which regiment did you join?
The 4th/13th Frontier Force Rifles – F.F.R.
Which is part of the Indian army?
They were a lot that came from the afghan border. They were made up of one battalion each. 6 were the A Company. I can’t remember the others. They were the real hill chappies. They did this because we were fighting in a lot of hilly country and they thought this would be ideal. What happened was, we went in, we said, oh. I was with C Company. We sent our reconnaissance party to check out There was some intelligence.
And you were helping out with signals again were you?
This was, we were in with the company headquarters and we were communicating with our headquarters back at brigade, and we had lines to the front people. Anyway, what happened was, Somei, Capraro were the two big, massive, hills, that the Germans were holding, and we were in front of Capraro, so they had gone in to sort out what they could find out and in the mean time the P.A.G tanks came in and they chopped all the lines, and they found themselves in a mine field. So what happened was, our front chappies couldn’t get anywhere because the lines had been cut, so, this friend of mine and I, there were 2 of us to each company, so we decided we’d go forward and try and repair the line, so that we could get in touch again with the front units, we went forward, we didn’t know that, it didn’t occur to us that the tanks were all knocked out because it was a mine field. We were wandering around in and out of, we were looking for odd bits of cable to repair the line and eventually we got this line fixed and we got back through to our officers and
So you were just wandering around this mine field were you?
Actually we still didn’t realize. Cos the tanks we knocked out and we were going around to all the different tanks to find if they had any cables.
You were very lucky.
We were very lucky. And this is what I think. Most of the people that win awards are very lucky.
That’s what you got the MM for was it?
If we knew better we wouldn’t have even gone in there
Is that what you got your MM for?
That’s right. So, when we went back we were able The officers were able to give our front chaps the necessary orders, and then some other unit went through us and they went up Caprara and they took Caprara and then we went on, but that was how we got our MM, the 2 of us, I think we were the only signals that were to get a military medal, because, they were normally given to sergeants and up, not to ordinary signallers
Were you an officer or were you?
No, I was an ordinary signalman. The two of us were ordinary signallers, and when I went to get my medal in Cadorio, they said to me, look, you’re supposed to be a sergeant, so you’re a sergeant for a mean time. That was funny. We then went on, we went over Capraro, and, unfortunately our unit didn’t have any transport, so, we had to depend on division to give us transport.
What division was that?
The 6th division.
It was the, so the Indians were attached to the 6th.
They were attached to the 6th armoured division.
The South African one?
Yeah, yeah. It was quite funny actually, because when we first got there, there were only white officers, and we, being white had all the saluting, and we would say we were in the ranks ourselves a lot. Anyway, they got use to us
Did you make any friends with the Indians?
Yes, actually, managed to make quite good friends, and we tried to learn the ooradoo language, and the officers managed to get a, a real, a chap with a buffy hair, to teach us, and he was one of the senior N.C.O’s, they actually treated them like officers, they were from the well-to-do families usually, and we went into his tent, which was all carpeted because, everybody else had to do just rough floor, but, he was quite nice, he did teach us a bit. We never got to use it properly because, once the unit was on the move it was very haphazard because, as I say, the transport, we had to depend on the division, where they could spare the transport, so when the push went on from there, once we got these two from the mountains, there was very little resistance, and we would just chasing the Germans after that, and we ended up at a place called hanalie. And after that there was just a rush, we ended up at Venice, as we got to Venice we heard that the Germans had a place where they were holding out, so they transferred us over there, but by the time we got there it was all finished. It was very tatty in regard to movement.
Presumably, without transport you were the last to get there?
That’s right. What happened was the fact that other units were using the transport as well, and we found that sometimes we couldn’t get any rations at all, and we were eating these Indian chapattis.
I was going to ask you about the food. Did you all eat Indian food?
No no, we managed to bring our own little, as they did then, they issued rations, and somebody who said, I can cook, he was the cook, so we used our own rations to do our own cooking. Except on the move like this.
But the Indians all used to eat chapattis did they?
Chapattis’s, and each unit had a different sort of curry, some had mild curry, some had hot curry. Ours was the malcom people, they were the phehans, they were a real mountain lot, small, wiry and very active.
Can you remember what religion C Company was? You were saying that A Company was
A Company was Sikh, the chaps with the beards and the turbans
And C Company?
Pathn. Anyway, B Company were something else, there was a mixed company up in D Company, was a mixed company, all the reminisce I think. The 3 main lots were the A, B & C Companies. It was Officers, as I say, white people, they were white British army who were also attached, and into the Indian army, and when they were cut up they were sent to us, they were also cut up in a big operation before, so they could borrow, there was another real massive (????), and the Indians were cut up then, because they, as I say, they didn’t have the communication ability. So that’s when they decided to put us, South Africans in. when we got up further, as I say, we got up towards Milan, and when that finished, they asked for volunteers for the far east, the far east had just sort of started up in, in a big way, and I decided to volunteer for that
Why was that?
Well, we were doing nothing then. We were going on ration trips and all sorts of messy things. Doing nothing, just spending our time playing cards and what-have-you, so I thought, no. I was actually, I signed on quite late, because I was younger then, so I was due for repatriation in a couple of years, so I thought no I’ll go.
I was going to ask you about joining up in the first place
I joined up when I finished my matriculation, I was 19 then, 18 or 19, I know I spent my 21st in the army.
What year was that?
1944 No 1945, because I was born in 24. Anyway, the fact that we were attached to these people, they didn’t really want us any more, they were due to be repatriated to the Indian division, so everything was sort of breaking up, so I decided to volunteer, so I got home a lot earlier than some friends of mine who had signed on earlier. This one friend of mine who was with me, got the MM, he kept saying, I’ll go and see your relatives and say that you’re alright, when I turned up and said I’m going home now, he wasn’t due for repatriation for a while, and I said, I’ll go and see your He was quite upset, but there you are. When he heard I volunteered he decided to pack things up
So you went to South Africa before you went to?
I went to South Africa and I was invocation leave. While I was on invocation leave the Japs packed up, so I then went to a unit in Pretoria, in headquarters, Pretoria, it was an office that did, made all the records, all the government records, and we used to take photographs and reprint, and produce a film of all the paperwork, so that instead of having files and files of paper, they just had reels of film. If they wanted a particular document they would look up a reference number, find the particular film and, build it back up again to foolscap size. I went there for a while then after that I packed up. I got out of the army then. I heard afterwards that the royal family had come out; if they’d known where I was I would have been presented with my medal by the king. King George I think it was, but they didn’t know where I was. So… I was at Glamorgan’s, given by the governor general.
He was who at that stage?
Blacky Blacky. Are you sure it wasn’t (????)
Was it Grant Marsayer?
Yes, yes. Anyway, I received my medal there, and that was it.
You joined up in 1942?
Yes, just after, actually, I was in the aurpen(????) signals.
Before you joined up?
While the war was on I signed on to the part time signals.
While you were at school?
No, when I finished school, I’d just started working. I’d started working, we used to train at Aucklanbock, then I got the urge to sign on, and I signed on at Aucklan bock,
Why was that? Was it because all your friends were?
It was I think everybody was doing it. In actual fact, I’ll tell you the real truth, I was walking in Jo’burg one day and 2 Pommie soldiers came by and one said, why aren’t you in the army, I said, I’m in the part time army, he said, you should be in the army. So that was the trigger.
Did you have any brothers, who were also in the forces?
I had 2 older brother, one was taken in Tobruk, was a prisoner in Italy, and at one stage I went on leave from the unit to Rome, and he had just passed through, he had joined a partisan band in the mountains and he actually earned himself a mention in dispatches and another award, but, he had just passed through Rome just before I got there, I just missed, and I hadn’t seen him for about 2 or 3 years, cos he was 5 years older. The other brother was 4 years older he was in 6th divis, he was in the ILH regiment, managed to see him one time during the campaign.
He was on the same ship going over though?
No, no. Oh, yes. We were. We were in one big ship; it was actually the biggest tour ship of that time, the Ile De France. They managed to get, our div was the biggest armoured div in the world, it got bigger and bigger, they had 2 brigades at first then another one came afterwards, so they had 3 brigades, and this was unheard of in an armoured division. That was the actual thing. But they had built themselves up. When I signed on, as I say, I was in the signals, and the signals were usually attached to various regiments, and I went to the fross(?) 22nd, foss(?) 22nd, I know we were in tanks, gunners mounted on tanks, so we were (?) and armoured division, where they were mobile. We went through our training in Egypt. We did a years training in Egypt, and this was while Alamein was on. So, we were more or less in reserve. What happened was, when we finished our training we thought we were going over to Palestine, but they changed their minds and sent us over to Italy. It was quite a thing.
And you landed at Taranto?
Arthur, what was that thing you mention about barie?
Arthur: In Bari, the Germans, there was a very intensive German air raid, it hit an American lead ship and blew up, then ours blew up, and there was also mustard gas in some of the ships and some South Africans who were passing through Bari, in fact anyone going through Bari, there was mustard gas all over the place.
Cecil: We went to Bari while we were in training.
You don’t remember any bombing raids by the Germans?
No, we had 2 bombing raids in my career, that was just odd planes that they got hold of, and they didn’t do much damage and didn’t do much to frighten us. They managed to get these planes to go over and cause a scare, but that was all we ever saw, we saw thousands of our planes, they went over in batches, there were thousand bomber raids on various points up in Italy. There was this mass of planes going over.
Did both your brothers survive the war?
My eldest brother came back, he then joined the air force, I don’t know how he managed that, he was an air gunner in the air Force after the war finished. The other brother also survived, he came back with the ILH, I don’t know when he came back because he had signed on earlier than I. But I only met him when we got back.
What were their names?
Ron Maudesley is the next one up and Bill Maudesley was the oldest.
So your oldest brother Bill continued to the end of the war with the partisans?
Yes, yes. He looked like me. The other brother was tall and dark haired. He took after They always wondered why we looked so different
What was your fathers business?
My farther was a fitter and turned. He was in the East African Rifles; I think it was, in the first war. He served his stint in the east African campaign.
And you always lived in Johannesburg area have you?
No, we lived here for a while, I went to school at Banonie west then I went to Banonie high. At that, my mother had dies when I was 4, so he had re-married and he went down to stay in Durban, and I had to go with him, I was the little one, so I had to go with him, the other brothers stayed in Banonie. They had friends that they lived with, all this more, all more or less joined up together. So that was why they joined up. They were all
But you were back in Johannesburg by the time you joined up?
When I joined up I actually came back and I finished my matriculation, I had to go out of subject(?) again, so I had to come back here and I, as I say, I signed on at Auuckland Park which was the headquarters for the signals, actually in general(?)
And you joined the signals because that’s what you’d be doing already?
Because I was already in as a part time signaller. Having glasses, I didn’t think I could get into the infantry. So I joined the signals, which, they accepted me because they actually classified me as a C4, which was only home service.
Just because of your eye sight?
Yes. I suppose it was because of that. I couldn’t even do the one eye.
But you were fit and healthy in every other respect?
I had no other problems. We were at Auckland Park then, and the fact that we were, it was the signals, that was why I joined the signals. I fancied working in the, or course in those days we had the little kaffas doing morse code
Presumebly, by the time you got to Italy it was all (?)?
By the time we got to Italy, well actually we got to Egypt and they then decided that they were going to re-equip us and we got these back packs, wirelesses, so one chap would carry it and the other chap would have the thing on his ear.
So you always worked in pairs did you?
In pairs yes, and we actually got on quite well.
So you were part of the signals regiment were you?
We were part of, they never called it the signals regiment, because we were so
It was just divisional signals was it?
Yeah. Divisional signals, they were together, but the ordinary signals were in batches
As soon as you got to Italy, who were you attached to?
Err, 6th Division.
Yeah, but which regiment were you attached to?
We were attached to Artillery. 22nd Field Regiment – Artillery. And that was, as I say, a mobile regiment that had the guns on the tanks.
The self propelled guns?
And were you thrown into the think of it quite early on?
No, every action we were always at the back, and were all the action was you could see the guns firing and all our guns were always in front of us and we could always see them firing, but everywhere we went we were always at the back. And this is what got me a bit frustrated.
So, typically, what would you be doing though? Say the artillery regiment was in a action or was involved in some firing, you’d be how far behind?
Well you see, there again, you had signals that were from the batteries, you see the companies had batteries, 2 signallers were with the battery, and we were in the Headquarters, then you would pass it onto regional brigade, whichever was our superior at that time.
And how did you do that? Would someone be sitting with you?
We had these ordinary, big sets, and they were mounted in the trucks, fifteen hundred weights, and we would use that, because we were receiving from the batteries on that and we would just tick over onto headquarters or wherever it was.
And then just relay the information?
And then, our officers also, we had an observation officer who came forward to us, or whichever battery was on the action site, and they would have to observe where the enemy where and what the enemy were doing and if they needed any battering.
So the guys in the O.P. found the guys at the battery and relay all the information to you, and then, you intern would relay that information and the actual process of that relaying is that, one of you have your back pack on
No, that was when we went to the infantry regiment we got the back packs.
Ok, so at that moment you’ve got the big set in the truck and you’re there with your headphones and you’re noting down what they are saying.
We were travelling around with our officers, because we were always with the officers.
Ok. But would you say a message comes in
We had pads and we’d just write them down.
Would you then have to relay that message again by radio, or would you just pass that to an officer?
We would have runners who went and found the officer, wherever he was, so. It was then he came and said, ok send this message to headquarters. So, on the air, sometimes they would speak direct to the officer and then he would speak to the officer in charge or the battery and he would tell them what to do or what not to do, or pull out or go forward, or whatever, so it depended on the few at the front.
I appreciate that it’s been a long time, but can you remember when it was roughly that you go transferred and how long you’d been in Italy before that? I mean you’d obviously gone past Rome and gone past France at that stage. Were you at Castiglione by that stage?
Actually that was one of that main point s where our headquarters were. And then my friend and I were in another village further on. I know we. Our officers would pass messages to headquarters which were at Castiglione. We only went into Castiglione if we were required to do so or on leave or whatever. But, Castiglione was, we’d stayed there, we only had snow there, the first snow we encountered in Italy. We wintered there.
So you hadn’t got any Indians at that point?
No. So, we got that far, then we just stuck there.
The winter must have been miserable
It was quite, being new to snow, it, in south Africa we’d only had snow once in 20 years, so it was quite funny. I, when we were at this, outside place, I said to my friend, I’m going to headquarters to see my friends, and I trudged cross country, he said, you’ll never make it, you don’t know where you’re going, through all this snow. And I trudged and I trudged and I eventually, actually, major general Poole went past me in his jeep, I gave an old salute and he saluted back, I didn’t realise it until I got to these friends, they said, did you see general Poole, I said, who is he? Your commander you silly thing. Yeah, he was travelling back and forwards around Castiglione. I didn’t realise it, that he was the big cheese. Anyway, he had 2 or 3 squads, I should have realised he was a big wig.
So by the time you joined the infantry, it was quite late on in the campaign presumably?
By the time we got to Italy the, and, we were in the thick of it at a place called tuusie(?) But as I say, we were always way back.
Sorry, what I was saying, by the time you joined the Patans, it must have been quite close to the end?
Very close, cos we were only there, I think, for 19 months, and in that time we’d only seen 2 or 3 actions. So it was, as I say, when we got over the 2 big mountains it was more or less.
Monte Sole and monta
Monte Sole and Monte Caprara.
What do you remember about Monte Sole? Were you aware there had been a big
We were sitting back behind a coffee watching, well, in a coffee, watching Caprara and Sole and our front platoon that went in, ahead, to break ground and reconnoitre where the Germans were and what have you. And they sort of got through and took the forward position and then they couldn’t do anything else, because there was no, our lines had broken. I don’t know why they didn’t send in wirelesses, because they must have known that the fields were full of tanks, the PAG were behind us and they went through to consolidate and they must have broken up everybody’s lines. Why they didn’t send the wireless set, they could have got through and we could have been, maybe up on Caprara before the. But because of the fact that they just had to sit and wait for something to happen, and to actually defend the position they’d got.
Were you aware at the time that there’d been a big civilian massacre in the Monte Sole area?
No. I’d heard rumours about but not, nothing, it was only afterwards also, but
So you didn’t see any evidence of any atrocities or anything?
Not a thing. You see also, when we had, I don’t know who it was who went through us and actually took the top, I think it was the woods(?) rifles. They went through us and reached the top, now by the time they had cleaned up the top and we went through them, to go over on the other side, it was no time to sort of look around and find out, because we were just told, right, get over and get the next spot, so that was it. We only heard rumours that, as I say, that something had happened.
Were you involved in taking Bologna?
Yes. We actually whooped through there. I think the actual division was, no that was Rome. Bologna we just sailed through.
What was the reaction of the Italians?
Very good, I mean they, by the time we got there the Germans had already pulled out and gone way back, but wherever the Germans had gone they had plundered all that they could, food and what-have-you, so that their image had been a bit dented, from when they occupied the area, so by the time we got there we were the glorious liberators. It was all hunky dory then for us.
Did you have much to do with the Italians?
Yes, we actually as I say, when we were still with the artillery regiment, we lived with a couple for, an elderly couple for some time.
Through the winter?
Through the winter, and, I remember him, he was an old garibaldi supporter, and he had a red shirt, and he came through and worn this shirt and his wife was grilling him in Italian, take it off, they can report you. And he was a big chap. He had been a member of the red shirts, no black shirts, black shirts. They were black shirts. We got quite friendly with them. In fact I got a bit of pneumonia, and the daughter came across from , we were sleeping on the floor, and she hogged a big mattress across the snow and brought this mattress so I could have a bit of comfort. She gave me, they used to talk in Italian and I hadn’t picked up the language too well, but I could pick up the odd word, so I knew, and this old chap was, he’d carry on, and the wife would say, they don’t understand you, he would carry on. So we got quite friendly with them and their daughter. It was quite funny actually. We were, wherever we went we got on with the Italians. We were quite acceptable.
Did you get to learn enough Italian so that you could by the end you could sort of
I got to know quite a bit, but, as I say, we were always on the move and you were never in one place long enough to consolidate whatever
Can you remember where that was, where you were staying with this elderly couple?
It was Castiglione, the line was there, and we were just in a village, sort of, half way between Castiglione and the line. They billeted us wherever they could.
So there was no mention from them that you were being billeted in their house?
No. They actually cleared a room for us.
So was it just you and your friends or was it?
Yeah, the 2 of us. But in Castiglione we were in a house with about 6 of them. All spread out on the floor, but that was, the accommodation was a bit short.
Were they very short of food and things? Did you help them out with supplies?
Yeah. They, actually, 2 or 3 of us fell for the daughters, and when we moved on they were all crying and, you know, the usual. And that was the last we saw of them. Out of sight, out of mind, that sort of I know one chap, he got quite far, and went back to see his girlfriend, and that was it. Actually I enjoyed the whole of the army career, because, it was, at first we were never subjected to, not enemy fire, or any activity in the actual fighting, except to pass the messages, and that sort of. But when we got to the Indian regiment we were more in it, and we would go with the officers into the front line.
Yes, what was the form(?) them? You and your friends had
We were also, we had occupied trenches, and the Germans had occupied trenches and there was only movement in between, now and again, when patrols went through to sort out what strength the opposite or take prisoners. I remember the officers would say, you see that bridge there, that’s where the Germans are. We’d sort of, peek through there, we couldn’t see very much, but they were there, cos they would sort of pop over, then we would pop over and capture a prisoner, just to find out what units were opposing us. I remember once when we went forward we, there was a lot of activity, and, all the chaps were running around, apparently a German officer had come through and was trying to get through our lines. They were looking for him. They caught someone who was in Italian, just ordinary working clothes, Italian working, you know, peasants clothes. And I know they searched him and he had all these, I don’t know whether he had these Italian work documents and then forged them, but we couldn’t prove that he wasn’t Italian, cos none of us could speak Italian properly to interrogate him. There was one area where they had dug in to the cliff, we were on that side and we were facing them and they had dug in, and they had, the artillery would be in caves, and when they got enough ammunition they would come out and plonk(?) us for a while, then come back down into the cave, and of course we were looking for these, they didn’t shoot long enough for us to pick up the place, they would just, one or two and then back again, so we couldn’t see them, it was just only when we took the thing, when we went through, they’d managed a tunnel, they must have been there for months digging this tunnel because it was quite a big tunnel, it was actually this sized, and it was quite well equipped. We came across one chap, he looked like a German, cos he was a straight up chap, but we didn’t have any rifles, I don’t know what we did with the rifles, we’d just been walking, so we couldn’t take him, in case he had a revolver or something. Anyway, we let him go. But that was, I think he was, he looked to me like a German who was trying to get through.
Most probably, yes. I mean our chaps did the same on that side.
When you were with the Indians, you were saying, you were up, you were attached to a company that were up in the front of the action. You were with your friends and you would have one of you would be wearing a back pack radio and the other had the headphones, is that right?
And you did the reporting back of whatever was going on?
You could use it yourself, but you couldn’t work without, so somebody had to be at the back, normally, but when we got quite a lot of foondies(?) we could tune this thing, then we could handle the microphone ourselves. But that was very seldom.
And basically your job was just to report back whatever was happening
Whatever was passed to use, we would pass back, if they wanted that, because it was all, your situation was so volatile at one stage that you could move a section forward, they would meet a lot of opposition, so they couldn’t go any further, so they would have to tell, pass that information on, and either the officers at the back would have to send reinforcements or tell the platoons to pull back. So, it was actually a give and take. It was always necessary to get communications with the back, because they had all the maps and they could see which units were where, and they could say, right, well we need to bring that unit back and send another unit to cut them off, and that’s how they operated. And we had 2 officers, I don’t know if you ever saw a cartoon of the two types. Our officers were identical, Major Burroughs and Captain Trelawney. They were Indian army, and they had these big tashes and they spoke frightfully, frightfully And they gave us all the confidence in the world because, I remember one time, they would, they were the only ones with a jeep and they had a (?) on the jeep, and the jeep would go forward, and where they decided to stop the batman would bring out all the tables and chairs and that, and the drinks. And they would sit there, and we would sit with them, and they’d just, firing going on around us, and one would turn to the other and say, damned antisocial of them. We were looking around to see where the nearest hole was, but they would just sit there having their drinks. I suppose the drinks gave them more courage. They were typical British officers, all pukka pukka.
Typical of the Indian army.
They gave us all the confidence in the world. And it was quite funny, you know, when the jeep, we would, sit on the back of the jeep and go forward with them, and, when the jeep stopped the batman was out, chairs and tables. These camp chairs. They had all the comforts it the world when it came to that. They were ideal officers.
How often were you with them?
Well, when we were in action it was mostly all the time. Because it was only when we got to camp they would go to their quarters and we would go to ours.
So they were the C Company officers, were they?
C Company officers, yeah. They were, actually, they inspired us, I think.
So that action where you got your MM. You were saying you were What I’m not clear about is why the wires were cut in front of you. Are you saying the advanced men retreated, is that what happened?
I couldn’t understand why the, our company was based, in a kopie at the back. They had to send a platoon in front to asses the situation. To see what strength the enemy were. When they got there they found that they could take the position, so they took the position and that was that, but in the mean time the lines going through to them, they had these field telephones. When they tried to get back and say, look, we’re here now, what do we do? They couldn’t get through. The tanks that had come through, on their side, they were on a little position here, the tanks came trough but our lines had gone through an they’d cut these lines completely, every 20 yards or so the line was cut. Where it was cut, and you could find the other end of it, we would join it. But in one place the tank tracks must have taken the wire, so we had a length where there was no wire at all.
And did you find any extra wire on the tanks?
We found, on one of these tanks we went to, the chap says, you’re lucky, I’ve got some. But it wasn’t the right cable, but it did manage to do the trick.
So there were still some tank crew around were there?
The tank, one of those tanks that had been knocked out.
There were still some crew with it were there?
Yeah. It was quite lucky that we actually got this section, it was from, left of that house, we couldn’t find any.
You’re officers must have been pleased with you?
Well I think they were the ones who recommended us for an MM. They must have put it through. Because the, I remember they wanted to find out our names. My name being Maudesley, in the process of army career, that name had been cut down to Maudes, and then, somebody said, that’s too long, so I went through the campaign being called mud.
As a nick name, or as your?
It was a nick name, because they abbreviated my name I was Mud Maudesley. All through.
What was your friend called?
And he was from Johannesburg too?
He was from Nowekhin, Notal. Joined separately from me, and was only when we got to reserves that we got together. And from then on we built our friendship up, because we were living together all the time.
So how long, we you in reserves before the winter?
We were in for 2 and a half months. It was only a short while.
Where were reserves based?
Altamura, it was a place near Naples.
So, right down south.
Yeah, it was right down the south.
And if you were going from, say, Castiglione to Naples, how would you travel? By truck or by train?
We got a truck that was going down to Rome and we hitched a lift. We got to spend a week in Rome. Nobody knew we were there.
So you just took it upon yourselves, just sort of bunked off for a week.
We went into headquarters and drew some money and we enjoyed ourselves.
So this was entirely, playing truant?
On the go, we sort of, just realized that no one knew, nobody knew where we were. Nobody could actually tell where we were, so we stopped off at, and we spent the week there, then we got another truck that was going down to reserves.
When you say we, who was with you?
This, well, there was a bunch of us. Myself and a couple of other chaps. That’s actually where I met Boatwright. He was on his way there as well. We decided that that was it. So we had a illegal little thing.
And what did you get up to?
What you normally get up to. It was
So not too much sight seeing then? And then down to Naples?
Naples, we went there on a days leave, but we didn’t find it as enjoyable as Rome, so we didn’t stay there
Pretty run down place, Naples.
Yeah. And the people were different. They were more the peasant type of people, whereas Rome was, the capital, you had a lot of rich people there.
Apparently there were 30,000 prostitutes in Naples.
Plenty, plenty. At that stage we had Marlene Dietrich over, from the states. She entertained, in that area, and I’ve got a picture of her, she was singing and
Were you impressed?
Yeah. That’s why, I say, I enjoyed whatever happened to us, I enjoyed. Even in the line, when the bullets and the mortar bombs were coming over. It didn’t, sort of, frighten me
No. Well I was worried, I thought, that one sounded close, but
You weren’t scared
It wasn’t close enough to do anything.
So you didn’t get shot at too much?
No. No. That’s why I enjoyed it I suppose.
Did you loose many of the company. Were many of the Patans killed in that last? Any friends of yours?
We, in fact, that platoon that went forward, they lost quite a bit. In general the Indians lost quite a few people in action, which we didn’t come across because we were spread out, and we didn’t know anything about A Company having been involved, or, C Company or D Company. We only came across them we were in Rest and Recreation. We didn’t hear much about the other units, or companies.
Sure. But, you were attached to C Company.
Yeah. We actually, in fact, we, Boatwright and myself were, we’d been in action before, with the div well, not action, we’d been in artillery, all the new chaps were new to reserves, so we lorded it over these. As you can understand, whenever you can get a bunch of chaps, 2 or 3 are experienced and the other lot
You’re not green horns.
That’s right. I was actually put with one of these green horns when we went to C Company and I thought, no, hang on, my friend was put with D Company, and we arranged between us, this chap, his friend was with D Company, so we said look, you go to D Company and let Boatwright come to C and we managed to get back together again.
And presumably, in that last push, when you were with the Indians, you were just, sort of, catching sleep whenever you could. I mean you were in the front line the whole time weren’t you?
Yes. It was just, as you say, that was it.
Kipping down wherever you could. On the ground, under a tree.
Yeah. Usually on the ground.
And would you dig little trenches and?
Well, we had these little bivvies. If you felt like it, you would put them up, if you didn’t We had one experience when we were rained out, so we normally didn’t use the bivvies after that, we just tried to find a house
An empty house or something?
Yeah. Then just kip behind a wall or something. You could dig a little hole, but normally you, you became blasÃ© and, it won’t happen to me and that was it.
But none of the house you were going through, you didn’t find them booby trapped or mined or anything like that? It was a big problem?
No. we got to one house, we were told not to touch anything, because it could have been booby trapped by the Germans before they left. So, of course we left any of the food or anything that was there, we just left.
In case it had been poisoned?
Other than that, the Italians were in occupation, so, there was no booby trapping. Only the remote houses, where there’s no Italians. We knew immediately when there was no Italians there, that those were the ones to avoid, be careful of.
An empty shell of a house. But if they were occupied then it was ok?
So would you quite often just knock on the door and say, can I kip here tonight?
Well, you could see when you approached whether the house was occupied.
And if it was occupied, you’d go in?
We’d go in and ask for some vino, or whatever, then boss on. But other than that, if you went to a house and it had been deserted One had belonged to a rich family, and they must have just upped and off, because the chaps were just running round looking for whatever they could find. They called it looting, which we weren’t supposed to do. But, there were no MP’s
So you did. You must have been in the situation where, one minute, literally, earlier that day, the Germans had been in that town, or village, or whatever The advance was so fast at the end, wasn’t it
Yes, we were moving too quickly.
You’ve almost got only a few hours difference between the Germans being there and you being there.
That’s right. In fact they were just on the other side of the hill, or wherever. Well, we hoped so. We never got to a situation where somebody had been around and decided to pop up and
That’s what I was going to say. Did you ever get to a situation where you were going through a town and you were at one end and the Germans were at the other end.
Not really, because, when you were moving forward, and you knew that the area in front could be occupied, you’d ask for some mortar fire, mortar fire to go in front of you. As they call it, a creeping fire, as the mortars lifted and went forward, so you went in behind them. Other than that it was clear going, after we went over Caprara, we actually never saw Germans at a close quarters, they were always well ahead.
Do you remember crossing the Po?
Yes. With the pontoons. Yes. We got across there and, I think we came, we got to an area where we got some leave to come back, and I remember crossing the Po again on the train that was going Because we had our railway people going with us, and they were repairing the lines, where the Germans had ripped up the lines, or damaged the lines. And they were repairing, and of course they’d take over whatever running rail stuff they could find, so that eventually we had quite good communication on the trains, we could get back and forwards when we wanted to, cattle trucks and that sort of thing, but
Yeah, sure. And then the end of the war, do you remember that happening?
Well, as I say, I was in South Africa then.
The war in Europe I meant
Oh, no, no. We were in a village. We used to tune in on our pack to BBC, we managed to get hold of them, because we were experts then. We heard that the war was over, so I said to my friend, I’m going to go and ring the church bells. So I went over to the church. And the pardre, or whatever it was, he said, oooh, in Italian, (mumbling) bang, bang, and everybody, when the bells rang it meant, to the ordinary village folk that something was on the go, so they all turned out, and the priest was very upset, because I was ringing the bell, and everybody was turning up to find out what was wrong, I’m sure that was all because they all had their radio’s and so I’m sure they knew just as much as we did.
So you were quite excited
Oh yes, we were very excited. This friend of mine, Boatwright said, no, you’re not supposed to do that, they’re only suppose to ring bells because of some announcement to make. I said, no, I’m going. And that was it.
Were the Indians happy as well?
Yeah. He was a bit more scared than I was.
Yeah, and he was a bit more.
Was there much opportunity for drinking in those days?
That’s where I got my bad habits from. Yes. We used to organise parties, where we would go and buy this rot gut Italian wine. Or if we found some good stuff, but that was very seldom, because, if you got to a village and you asked the Italians if they had some wine, the common reply was, the Germans have taken everything and gone, and they always said, no. And we’d go in and find something they were hiding under the cupboards, or behind the wardrobe, but we could usually find wine somewhere. And when the war was over, we were in aldinertly then, we used to organise trips to various towns on what they called ration (?), which was to buy vino. And the chaps who volunteered for this always rolled back oooo, plonkers. Because every place they went into to buy wine, they’d say, have a drink. So these ration trips were very popular.
Did the Indians drink?
Actually, when the Indians were sent back to their division, we were sent to a signals unit, and I spent the rest of my time in the signals unit in a place called Aosta, we used to frequently go on these ration trips, very, very, if you could get on one of those you were made
And, can you remember where it was that you rang the bells?
I can’t remember the actual village that we were in, but it was quite well up, it was in a place, funnily enough, they had a place called finale, in Italian that means, finish, and this is where I sort of noted that, this is funny, it’s sort of the end and this is finale. So it was in that area, where we were when the war finished. And that was quite near the Po.
And there was quite a lot of cheering and drinking and all
Oh. The Italians were a bit hesitant because they weren’t too sure that it was all finished. They expected the Germans to come back again They didn’t realise that they were finished, because they had You see when Kesselring, commander-in-chief of the Germans was taken over to the French side of the, he had another (?) He was, all just, moving back, keeping the line, but moving back. After that happened, there was no chance, he had transport to move forward. He didn’t have any air support. So it was virtually impossible for him to move forward.
Did you ever see any newspapers or anything like that. Or magazines?
No. We well of course there was all the Italian, all we came across was pamphlets that our chaps dropped.
Did you never tune into the BBC or anything like that?
We did. Indeed. We weren’t supposed to, but we had a little setting on the set that you could cut to it then switch back, so if anyone came in, you just switched back.
So you were vaguely aware of what was going on?
Oh yes. Towards the end, when we were out of action we were continually tuning into London.
Did you ever have any communication with your brothers, or know what was going on with them?
Only once, my second brother came through, when we were in a period of rest. We were in a village and he was with the ILH and he had a grenade, and he went up to this well, and pulled the pin out and threw it. Ooooh there was hell to pay.
Why did he do that?
He just wanted to get rid of the grenade. But this is where they used to hide all the goodies. They would go down, just before the.. dig in and keep all their goodies.
So he ruined them all did he?
Yeah. That’s when they tell us everything has been stolen by the Germans.
So the Italians were upset were they?
The Italians were upset. And if there was a chance of it collapsing and they couldn’t get any water. That was, they were on a, I think they were going into action the next night, and we were just hanging around until we moved on. And that was the only time I contacted him.
Were you close to your brothers?
Yes. At that stage, we did. We hardly ever saw each other.
And Bill, you presumably heard nothing from , because he was with the partisans?
No. The older brother, as I say, I never saw him. From the time, saw him off from the Durban docks until I came back. What happened then He was in Banonie when I saw him again. So that must have been
Did he stay in Banonie?
We all stayed in Banonie. Except when I went onto Durban. But when I came back, I got out of the army and came back to Banonie.
And what did you do there?
They signed on in Banonie, the 2 brothers. So they were discharged.
So what did you all do after the war?
I went into, I went back to university. I heard that they were putting in, I actually went in to, I was, august when I discharged and the 2 of them had already been on the go, so I got in quite late and I failed that year and I had to sit again.
What were you studying?
At that stage, I said I fancied drawing, that put me in an architects office, but I wasn’t a mathematician, and you need So I failed horribly. Then I went into languages. Italian, because I picked up a bit of Italian. Anyway.
And what did you do for a career?
I went back into civvie life in Stutterfords. Became a salesman of all things.