4th and 6th Reserve Mechanical Transport Companies
CHAPTER 19 — To the Adriatic
To the Adriatic
LAKE Albano lay in a steep, wooded basin. The Pope's summer palace stood on top of the cliff. Here and there along the shores hefty peasant women washed clothes or sold juicy apricots, peaches, and plums: two and a half pounds for 1s 6d. Here and there Americans dynamited for fish, or fraternised. Among shady olive trees a New Zealand YMCA served biscuits and tea to about fifty drivers, who had thankfully taken a day off from the crowded roads and had come here to picnic, to potter with heavy flat-bottomed boats, to bathe in the nude, or just to lie in the sun and smoke and sleep and forget the whole business for a little while. On the other side of Rome a similar party from 4 RMT lazed and loafed round Lake Bracciano.
Next day they were back on the job. These were the mileage months. Back in the long, crowded convoys hauling ammunition over the 90 miles between Anzio and Narni; day after day along Mussolini's tree-fringed autostradas, along highways crammed with traffic running nose-to-tail, making a joke of the Hutt Road on Trentham Race Day. Sometimes speed would be regulated by a labouring tank-transporter ten miles ahead. Sometimes an Indian had smashed into a tree or–more often–another truck, and a road block would snarl up traffic for miles. Trips over the same old roads with the same old ammunition loads could vary by as much as seven or eight hours.
At times dust churned up in a thick fog, and many a throat grew raw on a diet of dust. Some thought this dust worse than the desert khamsins, for at least the sand was reasonably clean. This stuff was packed, in the words of one sufferer, ‘with all the evil of centuries.’ The dust gave one driver sinusitis. The MO gave him a bit of a spell.
‘What's up?’ asked a cobber.
The driver answered vaguely, ‘Oh, it's a long word that begins and ends with “s”.’page 324
‘Aha,’ answered his comrade, delighted. ‘So life's caught up with you at last, eh?’
This July 4 RMT, driving 360, 231 miles, sent its old Syria-Mersa Matruh record flying by 14,000 miles–6 RMT just passed the 300,000–mile mark. Working for Eighth Army, now hustling the dumps north behind the advancing Allies, the two companies, completing their Anzio lift, shuttled between Venturina and Arezzo (a 110-mile stretch), loaded with petrol, then saw the month out carrying ammunition from Narni to Arezzo.
This was 6 RMT's burden for July: 2657½ tons of ammunition, 1132½ tons of petrol, 267 tons of engineers' stores, and 17 lorry-loads of mules. Tire trouble continued to vex both companies. The 4th RMT had 298 tires replaced in the month and, although a close check was kept on speeds and pressures, one platoon travelling at 18 miles an hour lost twelve tires in 140 miles. One 6 RMT truck, just fitted with four new tires, had five blowouts on a 260-mile run. Many of these troublesome tires were made of synthetic rubber, ‘the first consignment of the German processed “Buna” tyres, one of the top stolen secrets’, according to one 6 RMT NCO. ‘Either something was missing, or someone had palmed off several thousand samples of shoddy rubber. Every precaution was taken: speed limits, inflations, overhanging loads: the tyres went on blowing up. Ironically enough, about this time drivers were reading an article dealing with the grand work done by saboteurs in the German tyre factories, and the tremendous difficulties it had created for the German transport companies.’
The RMT freight service was interrupted once. This was when the Division, its rest over, moved north again, leaving Arce in the second week in July. Moving secretly at night the Division travelled 250 miles northwards, through the outskirts of Rome and on to just south of Lake Trasimene. The 6th RMT took 6 Brigade riflemen to the line (15 miles above the lake), where the battalions would attack the mountain heights overlooking Arezzo.1 The rough and heavily wooded peaks barred the way to the next objective, Florence, and the next page 325 German barricade, the Gothic Line, which was just beyond the city and stretched across Italy, from Massa on the west coast to Pesaro on the Adriatic.
Writing about this period, Brigadier Parkinson recalls:
One of the outstanding performances of the RNZASC was I think the manner with which they coped with the ammunition situation in the Div's attack on the Arno River and towards Florence. I was CRA at the time. G.O.C. believed in ample gun support for all his undertakings. Some halfway through the campaign higher authority said arty ammunition is now rationed owing to D Day and to the demand for aircraft bombs, which has absorbed most of the factory effort. Higher authority said Florence must be captured. G.O.C. said in effect ‘no ammunition no fight’. What might have been a stalemate was quickly solved by RNZASC who apparently had notes of every partly cleared dump and forgotten depot from Taranto northward. These they cleared at a tremendous rate, travelling as far as Bari and thinking nothing of coming back practically non stop. Result: even more ammunition than we usually used and the battle finished to everyone's satisfaction.
August once and for all really knocked mileage records silly with the two companies totalling over a million miles–forty times round the world and very nearly round again. They burned up almost 100,000 gallons of petrol, enough to keep a carefully driven ten-horsepower car running non-stop for eleven and a half years. The 4th RMT led for distance with 508,419 miles, but 6 RMT was only a hop, step and jump behind with 505,688 miles. The busiest platoons were 4 Platoon 4 RMT with 129,272 miles, and 1 Platoon 6 RMT with 125,388 miles. British RASC companies working on the same tasks did two complete turn-rounds in five days. The New Zealanders took four days. The work all the time was keeping the lines of communication going, the army fed, the guns firing, the trucks and cars and tanks rolling. Keeping the lorries going was not too simple. The 6th RMT, critically short of Dodge spare parts, ‘despite a search over most of Italy’, had to strip a truck to keep the others going. Tire trouble (265 replaced in 4 RMT), still persisting, cut most loads from three to two and a half tons. But most convoys trundled over good roads. The 4th RMT moved 3936 tons of ammunition and 352 tons of supplies; 6 RMT moved more: page 326 4977 tons of ammunition, 126 tons of supplies, 131 tons of Naafi stores, and 36 tons of vehicle parts. In all the two companies moved 9558 tons. They did–and this is no mean feat–the job of 14 New Zealand trains, for the net load of a heavy main-line goods train in New Zealand would be about 600 to 700 tons.
In fact, the two RMT companies had taken over from where the trains left off. They were back on the east coast of Italy again, alongside the Adriatic, where the Division, quitting Florence and crossing Italy, would be in action in September. The two companies now were far from the New Zealand Division, which was still near freshly liberated Florence, RMT's work with Eighth Army had taken them about 270 miles from Headquarters NZASC. On 11 August, all New Zealand identification marks removed, the RMT headquarters, workshops, and operating platoons (loaded with ammunition for Ancona) left their old haunts round Lake Trasimene, left the mosquitoes and the glorious sunsets, cut right across Italy via Perugia, Foligno, and Route 77, covering 160-odd miles, and arrived that night in their new areas by the seaside settlement of Cupra Marittima, well south of Ancona.
The Adriatic side of Italy was now to loom large in General Alexander's plans. Here most of August's record mileage was piled up. Trucks switched to running ammunition from the railhead at Ortona (just above the old Sangro River) up the coast to Chiaravalle. ‘Clear valley’ is about four miles inland from the coast on the road to Iesi, soon to become well known to all New Zealand soldiers. The railhead and the dump were about 127 miles apart, and the companies' area at Cupra Marittima was about half-way. Trucks loaded at the railhead, laagered for the night at the companies' area, and went on to deliver the ammunition next day. It went on like that for the rest of August: up bitumen avenues with the trees lacing overhead or past gay little hedges of flowers, and all the time never very far from the lazy breakers. Mile after mile through orchard and garden, all rich and plump and spoiling; sumptuous tomatoes2 that the damaged factories could not take; world- page 327 beating peaches (30 lire for 2 kilos–1s 6d for 5 lb.); not-so-good apples; little ripe pears; rock melons; grapes by the million; and thousands of good old homely ironbark pumpkins. Little villages dotted the coastline. Some were damaged and some were not. The shops were frowsy, bedraggled; and below bare or tawdry shelves fat old women, ugly and angry, quarrelled and nagged. Outside in the milky sunlight how beautifully the young women walked.
Nobody complained about being beside the sea again, and the two companies were quick to hold their own swimming sports, all the more amusing and enjoyable because they were not too serious. Major Pearse won the 50 yards backstroke, and 3 Platoon scored top points in the 4 RMT events. Rugby footballs came out again for pre-season warm-ups, and everyone was remarking on the pleasant friendliness of these east coast Italians when abruptly all villages and casas (houses) were put out of bounds. Enemy agents were all over the place, said Field Security. The restrictions lasted until 2 September, when the BBC gave full details of the Adriatic offensive.3 Carting Italians in army vehicles was jumped on (two 4 RMT men got 60 days' field punishment), and warnings were given against black marketeers who, with bundles of lire, would bribe well for an hour's loan of a vehicle, preferably at night. A 4 RMT driver received 90 days' field punishment for selling a sack of flour and a case of M and V to a civilian in Rome. The 6th RMT, troubled by an outbreak of thieving, arrested a suspect who broke free, jumped over a cliff to avoid recapture, and was found next morning severely injured.
Major Burt had a lucky break this month. He had temporarily taken over 4 RMT from Major Coleman (heading home on furlough). Just four days before handing over to Major Brown and returning to three pips again, he and Major Pearse were invited to an historic meeting. The two New Zealand majors mingled with 100 officers (lieutenant-colonels and up) page 328 in the ornate Pergolesi Theatre, Iesi, to hear General Leese, alongside two large diagrammatic maps on a floodlit stage, lecture for eighty minutes on the Adriatic offensive, due to start next night, 25–26 August. General Leese issued this message to his Eighth Army men: ‘You have won great victories. To advance 220 miles from Cassino to Florence in three months is a notable achievement in the Eighth Army's history. To each one of you … my grateful thanks. Now we have begun the last lap. Swiftly and secretly, once again, we have moved right across Italy an Army of immense strength and striking power–to break the Gothic Line.’
An hour before midnight on 25 August Eighth Army (ten divisions, 1200 tanks, 1000 guns) attacked. The New Zealand Division,4 arriving from its rest area below Florence several days later, went into reserve, except for the artillery. The ammunition companies had carried the battalions.
RMT went back to the riflemen again in mid-September.5 How quickly passengers changed. Men going into action for the first time at Cassino were now veterans; some had become officers. Death and promotion worked fast in the infantry.
The first week in September saw out the ammunition-running from Ortona, and companies moved to a new camp, Mondolfo, 86 miles nearer Berlin, for a short spell (a couple of platoons held a discussion parade on ‘Equal Pay for Women’), and to kick the football about. Routine orders reminded men that, if they broke their dentures not in the course of duty, they would have only themselves to blame, and the bill would be £2 10s, top or bottom, and 3s a tooth, up to twelve teeth. Then, like a seabird rattling its bill with pleasure after downing a fish, the Army went on to remind all ranks that anyhow they'd accepted liability for this long ago on NZ Form 361 (Dental History Sheet).
Seventy-five 4 RMT men recorded personal messages for broadcast in New Zealand: ‘Hullo Mum, hullo Dad…. Keep your chin up. Keep smiling.’ The last time 4 RMT had gone on record was in February 1944, at Alife, but the enemy page 329 had sunk the ship and all the voices were drowned. This made the company's last proper recordings those taken back in Tripoli in February 1943. The year (like the tires) was wearing away fast, and once again another lot of 4 RMT Christmas greetings cards was divided among the men: three cards free, the rest at three lire each. The designer, Sergeant Grimshaw,6 had arranged for the cards to be printed in Rome, where 6 RMT's own Christmas cards were also run off. The 6 RMT cards, showing snow over three casas, were ‘considered most satisfactory’. It was a different story for the 2 NZEF Christmas cards printed on coarse blue paper and showing a machine-gunner, a gunner, and tank men before maps with peeling place names. Both RMT companies judged these cards ‘extremely poor’, a wretched printing effort and, what's more, a poor showing in a country so famous for its art as Italy. With a flourish the RMT ordered more of their own cards and scorned the 2 NZEF ones.
The spell at Mondolfo was marred by a tragedy on 13 September–the day all Kiwi badges, shoulder titles, and fernleaf signs came back again. In the evening two sudden explosions were followed by cries for help. Medical men hastened to a nearby riverbed and found that two unfortunate 6 RMT men (Drivers Hope7 and MacDonald8) had trodden on box mines. They were suffering from many wounds in their legs and arms. Seventeen days later Sergeant Kenny9 and Driver Reed (in 2 Platoon 4 RMT, attached to 1 Ammunition Company) were accidentally wounded by the explosion of a mortar bomb. Both men were taken to hospital where Reed, a First Echelon man recently back from furlough, died.
The spell soon ended at Mondolfo. While 4 and 6 RMT headquarters and workshops settled into new company areas near Pesaro–6 RMT Headquarters (‘Amazingly apt,’ wrote a non-admirer) by Grotto Calibano–the operating platoons reported to their battalions.page 330
Reaching 5 Brigade, 4 RMT took the three battalions on to near Cattolica on 16 September, trying to look as inconspicuous as possible among grape-vines heavy with fruit, and stayed there three days, changing into slacks to fool malaria-carrying mosquitoes already discouraged by nets, pills, and repellents. The 6th RMT, with 6 Brigade, was nearby too. The artillery kept active, and towards dusk fighter-bombers went into spectacular dives over enemy territory. Men looking across the bay saw Rimini under fire, and on the blue sea destroyers, weaving through launch-laid smoke screens, blazed away at the enemy too.
Two things were notable here. One–and this was a curious, just-before-the-battle-mother experience–was a handsome medieval castle nearby, Castle Gradara, with all the genuine antiques and furnishings, including a splendidly equipped torture chamber. An RMT truck occasionally carried parties up for conducted tours. The other notable thing appeared after dark during the night of 17–18 September. A strict blackout was broken by 16 searchlights in fixed focus lighting up the sky by Rimini and throwing a weird blue glow for miles over the battlefield. This was the first of the artificial moonlight which, night after night, was to hang like a phantom over the battlegrounds of northern Italy.
Drivers wondered what the dickens was up. They weren't the only ones. Major-General Wentzell, Chief of Staff of the German Tenth Army, reported: ‘Last night he did the weirdest thing I ever saw. He lit up the battlefield with searchlights…. He turned on a display like Party Day in Nuremberg…. It is a great worry to the boys to be lighted up and blinded and not to be able to do anything about it.’
The searchlights were set well back out of artillery range. Four or five beams, instead of focusing dead on to the infantry's target, usually trained themselves on nearby features or on low clouds, and reflections did the rest. The light could be controlled, too, for the more searchlights used and the closer they concentrated, the lighter it got below. At the same time other searchlights were concentrating over different areas to fool the enemy. This moonlight was also helpful for drivers in forward areas where headlights could not be used. But the idea wasn't new. Back in the First World War, in August 1918, page 331 the British had used searchlights in the Asiago sector, up by the Alps on Italy's northern frontier. These pioneers had found that the best results came from the downward glow.
On the morning of 20 September 4 RMT's platoons swung off with 5 Infantry Brigade to a new concentration area near the Rimini airfield, a few miles up the coast. This put 5 Brigade out in front of all other New Zealand formations. That morning, to the west of the New Zealanders, Canadian troops were completing the operations on the San Fortunato ridge–scene of earlier heavy and bitter fighting–which stood blocking the way to Rimini and the plains ahead.
That night the Canadians pushed north of San Fortunato to establish a bridgehead over the Marecchia River. The New Zealanders were to take over from this bridgehead, and 5 Brigade would start off the New Zealand drive. As the Canadians pushed on to seize this vital bridgehead, 5 Brigade came up in the night closer to San Fortunato. From 7 p.m. 1 and 3 Platoons of 4 RMT began leaving the Rimini airfield area to travel north-west across country to a lying-up area beside the San Marino railway line and the Ausa River. This wasn't a long move, but the way was narrow and winding. Heavy rain falling in the evening turned the secondary roads which had to be followed into morasses of mud, the genuine Sangro recipe. It took 1 Platoon about three hours to get back, and 3 Platoon, wallowing behind along tracks now well churned and saturated, and ditching temporarily no fewer than four trucks, did not return until 5 a.m. Guns and tanks also moving up fared no better, and the wretched infantrymen, without bivvy tents and dressed in summer gear, dug slit trenches and glumly watched them fill with water. To cap all this the Germans dropped mortar bombs on the lying-up area. Drivers, passing unscathed through the mortaring and toiling painfully home, thought of 4 Platoon dodging all this with 23 Battalion in reserve.
The tornado of war had devastated the countryside between the airfield and 5 Brigade's new positions. ‘Trees had been stripped of their leaves and branches, there were shell holes almost everywhere, great oxen lay swollen in the trampled fields, and there were many knocked-out and burnt vehicles page 332 on the way,’ wrote a witness. Little parties of soldiers and civilians were still dragging corpses and parts of corpses from ditches and from ruins. So this was journey's end for the shells the RMT had carried last month through flowers and through orchards, when drivers had thought how beautifully the young women walked in the sunshine. Much of this devastation was the work of the New Zealand artillery which, a few days before, had assisted the Canadian infantry against fanatical paratroops, fifty of whom held out on a tiny ridge before San Fortunato and inflicted shocking casualties. ‘Almost every building within sight had either been completely destroyed or very badly damaged. Also there was mud. The country roads deteriorated swiftly under heavy Army vehicles and were now “seas of mud”. Trucks and tanks either kept off the roads or took the risk of becoming stuck like flies.’
This was the last glimpse the 4th Reinforcements had of the Italian front. It was enough to last a lifetime, anyhow. Recalled on furlough, 46 of them left 4 RMT and 19 left 6 RMT on the first step back to New Zealand. The 5th Reinforcement men now became the veterans; there were 123 of them in 4 RMT Company.
Fifth Brigade attacked on the morning of 22 September, meeting strong opposition from paratroops, the pick of the German Army in Italy, holding Route 16 along the coast, the road to Ravenna. By the 23rd the brigade was four miles beyond Rimini and on both sides of the highway.
Meanwhile the 6 RMT platoons had come up from Cattolica with 6 Brigade, which went into reserve near Rimini. Sixth Brigade's riflemen were to carry on when 5 Brigade left off. The 6th RMT found that the night of 22–23 September was by no means peaceful around Rimini. Medium guns round about drew counter-shelling. No. 4 Platoon had some close shaves when shellfire injured some 24 Battalion men in their camping area. Two three-tonners from 3 Platoon had to go back briefly to Workshops for repairs: one overturned on a wet, greasy track; the other stopped shrapnel during sudden shelling in the night. No. 1 Platoon's turn for a spot of trouble came next day, 23 September, when 6 Brigade began moving before dawn to take over from 5 Brigade and carry on the page 333 attack up the main highway and up the Black Diamond route to the left. No. 1 Platoon carried its 25 Battalion riflemen past San Martino, and the battalion began taking over from the Maoris of 5 Brigade. Near the head of the column No. 1 Section, with C Company 25 Battalion aboard, ran into an enemy strongpoint and was pinned down by mortar and machine gun. A driver got a shrapnel scratch on a hand and two vehicles were damaged. Lorries scrambled from the road to the cover of nearby houses. The Germans by now had become very much aware of the movement of the New Zealand column. The RMT got off lightly, but others were not so lucky. It was not until evening that 1 Platoon moved back to join the rest near San Martino. For the remainder of the month the platoon stayed in this area.
Route 16 was still a good target for the enemy, and here on the 24th 4 Platoon had vehicles peppered by mortars. The damage was not serious, and men found nearby stone houses the very answer to their needs at such moments. A three-tonner got stuck in a covered well, but a tank yanked it out. Occasional duties took trucks here and there on unpredictable and sometimes macabre duties: bringing back dead, carting blankets to the troops, bringing back prisoners, helping burial parties.10 With one thing and another, 4 Platoon, beginning to feel a trifle down in the mouth, gladly set off to take infantry out for a brief spell. Who knew what glamorous billet might lie ahead? They all landed up at the orphanage.
About this time a driver saw a pair of boots he would remember for the rest of his life. He wrote:
I noticed on the wind that familiar unmistakable sweet smell which meant only one thing. Perhaps fifty yards away, and in a fold of the ground, was an enemy dugout. Nearby, the body lay, face down, as if clasping the earth. It was a 24 Battalion (Auckland) chap sodden with the rain which had been pouring down. I went to tell someone at the Battalion Headquarters, and when I returned page 334 a padre had arrived in a 3ocwt. Pickup, together with a WO 1 and another soldier. They had wrapped him in a blanket, and bound him round and round from head to heels in red sigs. wire. Only his boots protruded from the blanket. He was placed on the floor of the Pickup, and his feet just hung over the back of the tray.
The padre and the soldiers climbed into the cab, and away they went down the narrow, slippery track which lead to the road, the small truck slithering and bouncing in the mud, and the two feet gently bouncing in accord with the vehicle's motion. I watched them out of sight.
The day was bleak and depressing, and over the sodden landscape swept low clouds bringing in from the sea a cold driving rain. The blue had gone from the Adriatic; it was now grey, and foamed by the keen wind. Nebelwerfers could be heard faintly, wailing in the distance. The area seemed to wear an air of complete dejection, and all was brought into sharp focus on one thing. The pair of boots bobbing and swaying over the tail of the truck.
A nice little present turned up on 30 September. The two companies shared 472 chocolate bars, an unexpected and kind gift from Lady Montgomery to transport companies which had worked for Supplies and Transport, Rear Eighth Army.
Operations now became a series of attacks across the hundred-and-one rivers, canals, and creeks of this highly irrigated part of Italy. Wet weather came with the end of September and Eighth Army troops bogged down on sticky ground before the Fiumicino River. Not until about 11 October did conditions allow the advance to go on. The October advance carried the New Zealand Division to the Savio River, from which the New Zealanders were withdrawn towards the end of the month. This period, known as the Battle of the Rivers, was to keep Eighth Army fighting for four long, weary, and discouraging months.
October–the Division had been a year in Italy now, with rain and cold, then dry weather and dust, then rain again, and more mud. Winter clothing back again (‘The singlet reaches my knees; the underpants reach half-way down my shins’), battle dress and the old leather jerkins, and this time some gumboots for the soft-the too darned soft–underbelly of the Axis.
Nobody got killed, nobody got hurt in the RMT platoons page 335 working for the infantry. No RMT truck received serious damage as it carted riflemen up, waited, then carted them–many of them–back a little way for a bit of a spell. It was little, local moves, or just standing still. (One driver read Daphne du Maurier's Frenchman's Creek, disliked it, and reproached himself ‘for wasting good time’.) One truck of 3 Platoon 4 RMT, near Bellaria, slid clean into a crater. Three hapless infantrymen reached the medical dressing station before they'd even had a chance. In 6 RMT one lot bagged a German hiding in a farmhouse; another lot set out to round up an enemy soldier and found him to be a shell-shocked British trooper. It was a strange contrast to what was happening just ahead, where the going was bloody and fierce and slow by the vines, by the stopbanks, by the rivers.
Then, at the end of the month, when the battalions had been taken out of the line and to the divisional rest areas in the quiet little Apennine towns and villages unspoiled by war–Fabriano, Camerino, Matelica, San Severino, and Castelraimondo–4 RMT went on to the Arezzo-Pontassieve run to stock a big new Polish dump; then, as October died, 6 RMT died too. The NZASC was to be cut down. The Division was over-mechanised. Roads could get saturated with vehicles too. Too many Kiwis were going off to New Zealand; not enough were coming back. The 6th RMT was going to be wiped out, turned into reinforcements, and scattered. Everyone felt rotten about this. The 4th RMT's war diary obituary read: ‘General regret expressed at cessation of long and happy association with sister coy.’ Then on top of everything, as the bell began to toll, a package sped through to 6 RMT from Headquarters NZASC. A reprieve? No. A training directive pamphlet with special reference to salutings on the march and at the halt.
Not enough furniture and no building big enough prevented a company Last Supper. Platoons held dinners of their own in a hall near Fabriano. The 2nd Ammunition Company did its best to send a small orchestra to each dinner. The Field Bakery supplied extra pastry. The Supply Company gave extra rations. The dinners were held by 1 Platoon on 3 November, 2 Platoon on 30 October, 3 Platoon on 31 October, 4 Platoon on 1 page 336 November, by Headquarters and Workshops on 2 November.
The last MT stores and spare parts were handed over to RVP (Returned Vehicle Park) at Iesi. The accumulated odds and ends of three years went on the black market. Italians with great wads of lire clustered about in the mud, and millions of lire must have changed hands. The company's maps and ‘Slidex’ went back to Headquarters NZASC. The new Dodges were exchanged among other New Zealand units for dead-beats, ancients, and crocks. Unit cricket and baseball gear was presented to 6 Infantry Brigade. The rain belted down, and snuffling, hawking, coughing queues clogged the RAP. Then, for good measure, injections for everyone. Brigadier Crump addressed the last company parade at 10 a.m. on 1 November. The complete file (an impressive growth) of the driver who escaped from close arrest, leapt over a cliff, landed in hospital and, after a month's treatment, was strong enough to escape again from the grim escort returning him to 6 RMT–the file of this Houdini who was still at large was handed over to Headquarters NZASC. The regimental funds accounts closed at £160 12s 7d, ‘to remain for use in future years for possible production of a Unit History’.11 Officers gathered for a final dinner on 4 November. Heavy rain submerged the area.
On 5 November the mongrel 6 RMT fleet, a travesty of what it had been, handed itself over to the RASC knackers at Ancona. Packed into Petrol Company vehicles was 6 RMT's last spark of life, bound for the bullring, bound for one-stop-two, guards, pickets, ‘This is the Bren Gun’, and saluting. The 344 men, drivers no longer but only huddling passengers, resigned themselves to the long, practically non-stop trip back to New Zealand Advanced Base at Bari, none fortunately aware of the final humiliation at Base: nobody ready for them, nobody giving a damn, everyone asleep, and the only ‘accommodation’ a hopelessly small number of partly erected tents in a wasteland hideous beneath a freezing moon. That's how 6 RMT died.
1 4 RMT: 1 Pl, 28 Bn; 2 Pl, 23 Bn; 3 Pl, 21 Bn. 6 RMT: 1 Pl, 25 Bn; 3 Pl, 26 Bn; 4 Pl, 24 Bn.
Towards the end of July some drivers managed to catch a glimpse of King George VI as he drove past from a visit to the front.
2 While poking around the Italian dump at Mersa Matruh after El Alamein drivers had been surprised at the tons of canned tomato soups, tomato sauces, and so on. They wondered where in Italy so many tomatoes could be grown. Now they knew.
Incidentally, other service newspapers in Italy were Union Jack, Eighth Army News, Crusader, Parade, Maple Leaf, Springbok, Gen, World Press Review, Tank, Stars and Stripes, APW (Polish), Sable (South African), Orzel Bialy (English and Polish versions), Ariel, and Cue.
5 4 RMT: 1 Pl, 28 Bn; 3 Pl, 21 Bn; 4 Pl, 23 Bn. 6 RMT: 1 Pl, 25 Bn; 3 Pl, 26 Bn; 4 Pl, 24 Bn. 2 Pl of each company went to 1 and 2 Amn Companies.
10 On 25 Sep men of 3 Pl 4 RMT spent a little time tending the graves of Tprs D. Baillie and D. B. L. Bowker, of 18 Armd Regt, who were killed on 15 Sep. Tpr Bowker was a brother of Capt S. B. L. Bowker, 4 RMT's new MO.
The following day (26 Sep) Dvr Trenwith, of 6 RMT, wrote in his diary: ‘Many dead animals about, three cows and a poor donkey wounded. The latter came over to us for company. Dead Germans in the ditch, and a dead Italian farmer sitting on the stairs of his house.’
11 Driver Trenwith notes on 4 Nov: ‘Re. Unit History. First, Regt. Funds pay for it. Cancelled. We pay for it. Paid it, too. That's cancelled. Money refunded, as Regt. Funds have now enough to pay for it. That cancelled. Through an error, vegetables for Platoon dinners were paid from Regt. Funds instead of Canteen Funds. So Regt. Funds now haven't enough to pay for it. So we again paid for it. Cancelled. Naafi Rebate into Regt. Funds enables it to cover costs of books, so again we'll get our money back.’