We moved shortly after that and I think our next stop was a large factory that was not in production. Iím inclined to think that it had been a Fiat car factory because it was full of heavy machinery. Somewhere around that time we paused briefly in transit at the Case Grande again. Polish troops had been in since we were last there and the ablutions and latrines were filthy. By this time the Allied armies were occupying the last of the foothills and the Germans were on the Plain of Lombardy below. Just before the war ended our Sergeant got us lost and there we were lumbering along in a truck along the hillside in full view of the enemy below. Iíd guess that we were out of sniper range and they couldnít shell us because that would give away the positions of their guns. There was also a British plane around. Luck played a big part in whether you lived or died during the war.
We were out of the line when the war in Europe ended. Our Major gave us all tea and cakes to celebrate. We thought we should have had something stronger and were pretty disgusted. Soon after that I sent a despatch rider off with some mail but he brought it back saying he couldnít get through. A mate and myself jumped in a jeep and went off to investigate. We found that the unit was the other side of a fairly wide river. There was no bridge but the remains of a railway bridge that had been badly damaged. It obviously wouldnít take the weight of a train but we reckoned that there was enough of it left to support the two of us and we set off.
When we were about halfway we were horrified to see a small steam train coming up behind us. Although it was travelling slowly it was going faster than we were and we couldnít possibly beat it to the far side. By that time there was just the single track and not much else and there was nowhere on either side of the track that we could stand. There was nothing for it but to clamber down beneath the track, hang on to a girder and hope for the best. The bridge creaked, groaned and swayed. I felt that at any moment Iíd be at the bottom of the river with the train and what was left of the bridge on top of me. But the train passed and we completed our mission.
Soon after it was liberated I was able to spend an hour or two in Venice. There are places in the world that you know about but that donít quite come up to your expectation. In my case I was able to see three famous things that exceeded my anticipation. Venice was one, Pompeii another and the third was Sydney Harbour.
Probably about that time we moved north to the area between Italy and what was then Yugoslavia. There was a lot of damage in the village where we were. We learned that during the war the Partisanis used to come down from the hills and burn the houses of the communists. Then the communists would come down and burn the houses of the Partisanis. When they werenít fighting each other I think they probably did take on the Germans but this was not their prime consideration. And that mess was where I might have been dropped but for the good fortune of having my name removed from the list of men due to go to Palestine for parachute training.
I had a few days leave in a place called Gradisca and I was also able to pay a fleeting visit to Trieste. The coastal road down into Trieste is beautiful but a bit nervewracking because the best that you could say of our Indian driver was that he was almost competent. We drove into a large space in the middle of the city where a number of wide streets joined and there he saw his first tram. It was quite a shock for the poor lad who probably came from some remote village. He didnít know whether to go up the left of it, the right of it or charge it head on.
The war with Germany having ended it now seemed as if we would shortly be at war with the Russians. If Hess really did say that Russia was the real danger he was right. However it was decided that our division would join the other major war that was still going on in the Far East.
We handful of British ranks drove down to Bari in the south of Italy where we were due to be flown home for leave. Our aircraft was an unconverted Lancaster bomber that had been on the Berlin run a week or two previously. The night before the flight we were weighed. Our kitbags were also weighed and we all had to jettison stuff to get the weight down. But nobody checked and we immediately put everything back. That meant that the plane would be overweight. Takeoff was scheduled for early morning when it was cooler and the air provided more lift. We duly boarded but there was an engine problem so we didnít actually take off until it was warmer and even dicier. There were no seats or seat belts and we sprawled where we could in the fuselage. One of the air gunners was acting as sort of hostie. He had headphones on and could hear what was happening. We rumbled along the runway and it seemed as if we wouldnít get off. The man with the headphones looked tense and had his fingers crossed which didnít exactly inspire confidence. However we did get airborne and we had an uneventful flight to an airfield in Norfolk. I heard later that we had 5 minutes petrol left. Before long they stopped using bombers for trooping because it was too dangerous.
However we were back in England. We stayed the night at the airfield. I walked to the village and went into a small shop not because I really wanted to buy anything but just to hear an English voice. The army sent us to a transit camp at Thirsk in Yorkshire and from there we at last were allowed to go on Far East leave. I forgot to say that while we were in Bari there was a small item on the front page of the army newspaper saying that a new kind of very powerful bomb had been dropped on Japan. next