Posts Tagged ‘Catania’

It is just a month today that I landed in Sicily and since last writing here I have moved with the battery about 20 miles from Catania which during the past few days has fallen. Everything seems to be going very well and it shouldn’t be long before the Germans evacuate the island.

Our present gun site is not as good as the last one, there is no cover and all around are R.A.F. dumps of bombs and petrol, heaven knows what would happen if a bomb hit one of those dumps. We are defending the port of Augusta so naturally we are quite close to the sea. For the first few days and nights there was little or no action but now that the moon is coming up action is here in plenty. Last night in particular was a real fireworks display. About 20 bombers came over and for about an hour it was ‘Hell let loose’, bombs were dropping close to the ships some of them very close to us, shells were bursting thro’ the air, tracer bullets were everywhere and the whole harbour was floodlit by the flares dropped by the Jerries. I saw two planes brought down thanks to our own Radio Location, one of them was pretty ghastly. I heard the plane screaming down and thought it was going to attack us but just as I though it was all up with us a terrific crash and flash from the plane as it hit the earth about half a mile away and if the pilot was still in it I hope he had a quick death.

I have talked with one or two families here and I am surprised to see how friendly they are towards us. They are people much like us, peace loving and I am sure they dis not want war. They are mostly Roman Catholics and dislike Mussolini intensely. It is almost funny to see them scuttling like rabbits every time a gun goes off but it is also tragic to see the older people having to run for their lives too.

Letters from my darling Evelyn are very few mainly because the postal service isn’t in fiull swing yet but nevertheless I am loving her more than ever. I pray for us that we might be together again soon so that I can try to realise my ambition of making her the happiest wife in the world.


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Tonight I am in a very strange place indeed, that is if being about 6000 feet up in the vast mountains of Italy with rain and sleet beating down and likely to continue all night.

However to start at the beginning.. the regiment left Catania three days ago to go to Naples in Italy. The first night we spent in Messina but I couldn’t get out into the town as I am on guard. Next day we were ferried across the Messina Straits in an invasion barge and after a very rough crossing of an hour we went ashore at Reggio. My last impressions of Messina were anything but good. At a rough guess I think that at least 80% of the women are prostitutes and it is impossible to walk more than a few yards without being accosted by them or their agents (usually children). This is fact not fiction and such is Sicily and I believe Italy today. What a country!

During the first day in Italy we only covered 35 miles but it was 35 miles of real nature in the raw. One has to see the mountains of Italy to believe how vast they are. The mountains of Persia are nothing to these. The first thing that struck me in Italy was the way in which the rural people live. They live together in small villages in the mountains or by the sea and if any know what hard living really is these people do.

The women walk about (unclear) gathering (unclear)…….children are in rags and starving. The men lounge about gossiping as usual. Seeing these people reminds me of the “wogs” in Persia though I don’t think they are quite as bad but their living is just as bad if not harder.

The first day in Italy my lorry lost its rubber mud flaps while climbing a steep mountain pass. The children just run up behind the lorries and cut the flaps off when we round the bends. Doubtless they use them for soles for shoes. We spent the first night at a staging camp in the mountains.

The second day on the mainland we covered about 70 miles and spent the night in a crater of a now extinct volcano. The water running down the crater was quite warm and it was just right for showering. It rained most of the journey which was just parallel with the sea and then up in the mountains we past a  number of villages and the people stared at us while the children ran behind the lorries shouting ‘biscuit’ or ‘chocolate’. The older people look at us with frightened eyes, no doubt realising at long last that the British are a race to be feared. A gale came up during the night and the rain beat down on the canvas making such a noise that I couldn’t sleep.

Yesterday morning when we set off the rain had stopped but after a mile or two we began to climb and the rain started again. Up and up we went until we were higher than the clouds and it was bitter cold. I was surprised to see that there were villages even at that height. The people still walked about bare-foot and poorly clad. The view from this height was magnificent mountains and hills and in the distance far below the sea. The rain stopped as we came down to sea level and we spent the night by the sea in a village. After dinner and a wash Jack Taylor and I went into the village and drank much vino at the local wine merchant’s house.

This morning we set off in glorious sunshine and immediately began to climb again. Up and up we went again and this time I could see that we were going to cross a range of mountains. The rain started just after lunch as we climbed up. About 3/4 of the way up I saw a village perched on top of a mountain and it looked for all the world like a scene from some comic opera. The village was called Rivello. A little higher up we ran into the snow and some of the roads were as much as 3″ under snow and it was very dismal. By the time we reached the top it was just like looking from an aeroplane. We began a gradual descent, the road was one mass of twists and turns and one slip would have sent us crashing over the side to a horrible death hundreds of feet below. The rain was still pouring and after a miserable run today of 110 miles we are camped here in the local station at Sal Casalini and we are all browned off with this ceaseless rain and mud

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Once again I am in a very fed up mood and this one is worse than ever. The reason is the lack of mail. I haven’t had a letter from Evelyn for nearly a month now and for once (though I can hardly believe it myself) I am beginning to doubt if she still loves me as much as ever. I know she doesn’t like writing but a month without a letter is more than I can stand. A soldier out here must have letters from home if he is to survive at all. This Christmas has been pretty poor for everyone but it would have been much brighter for me if I had one or two letters from Evelyn. At the moment i don’t care what happens, for once the girl whom I love with all my heart has let me down.

In the past few weeks I have been at R.E.M.E. workshops for a change and I am expecting to go back to the battery anytime now.

Last week we moved into Catania and we are all billeted in a hotel near the docks. We have plenty of room and the rooms are clean and it is a welcome change from being in tents. We are supposed to be here for a rest but thanks to our O.C. (blast him) we aren’t getting much time off.

Today i got my first decoration, the Africa Star‘. I am wearing the ribbon but will have to wait until after the war before I can get the ‘Star’.

I feel like getting blind drunk but no one will drink with me so i am going to have a go myself when I have written this. If I were back at the battery with Charlie Johnson we would be blindo together because he is more fed up with things than I am.

In spite of this feeling I remembered everyone at Christmas, Gerald especially, bless him, oh for the day when I shall see him again. I hope our little boy is like him.

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Once again I have got that fed up browned off homesick feeling and it seems to be lingering longer this time. I am still here on the same site at Augusta and it now looks as though we are here for the winter. I should feel much happier if we were with the main army in Italy, they have left us behind for some reason or another though we may go up as relief troops. I hope so.

I had a day’s leave in Catania last week but there isn’t much to do or see there, the place has certainly been knocked about a bit. The ‘plains of Catania’ where the great battle took place is littered with graves and burned out equipment. It is here tha so many gallant Englishmen lost their lives. The other week I saw Gracie Fields in Augusta, she had come from England to sing to the troops and she was magnificent.

The weather here has turned most foul. It pours down with  rain every day and the ground is a sea of mud, it is a good thing we got under canvass in time. I have a small ‘bivvy’ to myself and I have rigged up electric light and built myself a two valve receiver which picks up the BBC quite well. I am fairly comfortable inside and at night it looks quite cheerful with the lights on. My bed is made of bamboo canes so it is very springy.

During the day I am fully occupied with one job or another. I am getting some good practical experience of wireless and it will be very useful after the war.

Mail is coming in slow and sometimes I think Evelyn has forgotten me but I know she hasn’t.She must be fed up to the teeth with all this waiting and I know how she must feel. I love her more every day and no matter what happens nothing can ever change my deepest adoration and love for her.

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I don’t really know why I am writing this tonight but I feel that I must write something. My little world of hopes and plans and dreams seems to be toppling over these days and all I can do is to hang on and hope that it will come through all right. My first shock came when Evelyn told me she had left Ackworth to take up a job as inspector on the Milk Marketing Board. I really should be pleased but I’m not because it looks as though Evelyn against my wishes wants to be a career girl. Shock number two came when she suggested that I should give up radio after the war and take up a job connected with farming or something. Now she wants to buy a car out of our savings to drive around on her inspections. This is the last straw. I always thought she was wholeheartedly behind me in radio but it seems that her mother has changed all that. Our savings we agreed would be left in the bank until after the war when we could use them to give us a good start in our married life. I am very disappointed. I have told her not to buy a car and had a really straight talk with her in one of my letters and I just hope for the best.

I am still thinking very much of S. Africa after the war and yesterday I wrote to the ‘John Hilton Advice Bureau’ to see if any arrangements are being made to help potential emigrants after the war.

I am still here in Sicily and it now looks as though the regiment is likely to become fairly static.Each battery has got a fair amount of negros from Basutoland in Africa and each battery is losing much of its transport

Tonight I have seen Greer Garson and Ronald Colman in Random Harvest at the Excelsior, Catania, What a lovely actress she is, she is so typically British.


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