In July of 1944 I got a mild attack of dysentery and was sent to hospital. One of our own vehicles took me to a Casualty Clearing Station where I was transferred to an ambulance that was going to a base hospital. Also travelling was a British man who had a small puncture wound on his arm where heíd been hit by a piece of shrapnel and an officer on a stretcher who had a serious abdominal wound. There was about 14 miles to go and it meant crossing several rivers. The bridges were down which meant bumping down a rough track and across the rocks in the dry river bed. That was agony for the poor officer who would groan and then apologise.
Iíve never felt so hopeless in my life because there was nothing I could do to help although I did save him when he asked for a drink of water. The Indian orderly was about to give him some when I intervened and said that it wasnít a good idea. That was something I remembered from first aid lectures. If somebody has a wound in the abdomen itís important that he shouldnít be given water. Iím not sure why but it would probably introduce infection which could be fatal.
Not helping was the fact that King George VI was visiting the troops and we were travelling along his route. We kept getting stopped and told that we couldnít go any further because the road was closed. Eventually the British soldier moved into the driverís cab so he could explain better than the Indian driver that we had a badly wounded man on board. When we reached the hospital there was nobody to see to him because the entire staff, doctors, nurses, orderlies etc was up on the main road waiting to see the king go by.
Iíve never been a fanatical monarchist and that did nothing to make me more so although I suppose the king, himself, didnít know what was happening but the very fact of his existence caused those around him to behave in all sorts of anti social ways. My personal belief is that they shouldnít be hung from the lampposts but should be humanely retired. Their vast wealth, palaces, land and art treasures should be handed back to the nation to which they really belong. The older members of the royal family should be granted the old age pension which they could collect from the post office with their other pensioner subjects. If the younger royals were sufficiently qualified to find jobs good luck to them otherwise they would be entitled to draw the dole.
Fairly soon after I returned to my unit it was my 21st birthday. Nobody in the army ever knew when my birthday was and I certainly took care not to let even my best mates know about my false army birthday. In readiness for my birthday I bought a tin of canned fruit which I could eat on the day. However I had a tummy upset at the time and couldnít eat it until a day or two later. My little tent time was pitched just across a small stream from a very large New Zealand gun. It made a big noise every time it was fired and I didnít get much sleep that day although Iíd been on duty the night before.
In November I had a weekís leave in Florence. I remember seeing the statue of David but Iím not sure whether it was the real thing or a replica. The Uffizi Gallery was closed because of the war but I did get to see Rigoletto in the opera theatre. There was no heating and it was a bit chilly in there. Not much sticks in my memory of the various villages we went through or camped close to but I do remember Roncofreddo. This was on the top of a hill and we werenít at all popular. It seems that the Germans had left some days previously but the shelling of the village had continued.
They thought that this had been deliberate because the village had been a Fascist stronghold. Another place I recall was the small town of Mercato Saraceno because it was there that, for the first and only time in my life, I saw an albino. He had pinkish very white skin and pink eyes and he worked as a baker which meant he was usually covered in white flour. Whether he had chosen that occupation due to his condition or whether it was purely coincidental I donít know.
During this period I met my cousin Eric Lander. Some wireless trucks belonging to J Unit turned up on the same patch of ground as our trucks. Until that time Iíd never heard of that unit and Iíve still no idea what they did. I probably didnít ask Eric because I assumed that it was secret and he wasnít supposed to talk about it. Iím also fairly certain that I didnít even know that Eric was in Italy or that he was in Signals. We canít have recognised each other because weíd only met once before and that was when we were about 8 or 9. Iím pretty sure that I didnít find him. He must have known that I was with 10th Indian Division Signals and come looking for me. My guess is that J Unit monitored German wireless transmissions. I know we talked for a time, we possibly shared a beer but other than the fact that we met I donít remember any more.
By December 1944 we were staying in wrecked buildings etc and not outdoors. At that time the weather was very wet and we arrived at a place called San Bagia. The ground was waterlogged. We parked the signal truck there and spent the three night sequence as follows. One night in a damaged house in Forli, one night in a farmhouse or cottage in San Bagia and one night on duty in the signal office truck.
Letís talk about Forli first. The city was being shelled by a German long range gun. To get the distance this fired a shell about 75 miles into air. The sound of the gun being fired travelled at ground level and reached us before the shell. Youíd be in bed just about to go to sleep when you heard a faint pop. A shell was on its way. Forli was a fair size city and the chances of it landing right on top or close to you were not very high but it was always a possibility and you had to listen for quite some while before you heard the sound of the shell coming down and exploding. It had missed you. You could go to sleep except there was another faint pop and so it went. I never had the opportunity to explore Forli to see where the shells landed but they must have done some damage. next