18 Battalion and Armoured Regiment
CHAPTER 25 — Back to Europe
Back to Europe
About half of 2 NZ Division (the ‘first flight’, as it was called) had gone away about the time that 18 Regiment began to pack its goods, and was already presumably in Italy, or well on the way, before the packing was finished. After that the 18th was not kept hanging round Burg el Arab for long. On 9 October the scout cars and soft-skinned transport left, followed over the next four days by the tanks, which were railed away squadron by squadron. With the vehicles went about 250 drivers, a third of the unit—two to each tank, one to every other vehicle with 10 per cent spare men.
A mechanised unit is very helpless without its transport, as the regiment now found. The trucks had become mobile homes full of accumulated comforts, boxes of carefully hoarded food, tea and sugar and tinned milk, primus stoves, extra clothes and blankets and boots. Old ‘ammo’ boxes welded on the outside of the tanks served as containers, and every spare inside corner was usually packed with food. Without their vehicles the 490 men left behind were reduced to living on their official rations, which in the Division was positive penury. There were a few trucks left around, enough to carry on the daily beach service; but the men and their mountains of gear, clothes and blankets, rifles and ammunition, bivvy tents, gas masks, plus empty water cans for good measure, would have to rely on borrowed chariots to go any distance, for nobody could carry such a swag of stuff very far.
On 12 October the ‘unhorsed cavalry’ of 18 Regiment was taken away from Burg el Arab in a fleet of Tommy trucks. They left with no regrets, for in their last two days there one of the desert's worst dust-storms blew up, a real beauty, as if Egypt was turning on a special farewell for these Kiwis who had infested the country for so long. But their next port of call, Ikingi Maryut, was equally dusty and objectionable.
Ikingi, the last stop before the Alexandria docks, was a page 349 series of neat little ‘ship camps’, five in all, with tents all lined up in parallel rows, which in itself was enough to depress the Kiwis. Units were to be divided among the ships in their convoy, so that if a ship was sunk—cheery thought—no unit would suffer too badly. On arrival 18 Regiment was broken up among three of the camps, a squadron each, with Regimental Headquarters and HQ, Squadron split among the three. Then the men settled down, pulled out their packs of cards, gathered round in their two-up rings, and waited for their next orders.
The camps hummed with activity on 12 October as the second flight assembled, and from all directions heavily laden men materialised, struggling in with their burdens. But then followed four days of laziness and boredom, with nothing to do except odd things like handing in your Wog money (if you had any left) and getting British Military Authority notes instead. It was quite a mental exercise now to forget all about ‘ackers’ and think in terms of shillings and pence again. There were still daily trucks to the beach, a very fine beach, better than Burg el Arab. There was a fair supply of beer available for those who could afford it. But every day there were long hours to kill. The evenings were better, for the good old mobile cinema came round, and Shafto's tin and sacking edifice at Amiriya was within walking distance—there were still a few veterans left who remembered with satisfaction what a fine blaze it had made on a similar occasion two and a half years before. Leave to Alexandria was forbidden now, but a few enterprising lads made their way in and played the old game of dodging the provosts. You had to do something to fill in the time.
On 16 October the small amount of heavy equipment still in camp—cooking gear and tools—was carted away in trucks towards Alexandria. On the 17th the camps were astir well before dawn, and by 7 a.m. half the men were off to the docks, squashed tightly with all their gear into Tommy three-tonners. Later in the morning the trucks came back and picked up the other half. This was The Day, and everyone was glad, for they had had a bellyful of Egypt and were eager to get over to a civilised country where they would at last get some action.
Alexandria was crammed full of ships of all sorts and sizes, troop and cargo ships, British warships from an aircraft carrier page 350 to a submarine, French warships, and, most interesting of all, a row of gleaming Italian cruisers at anchor, now very tame indeed. Not that the men of 18 Regiment had leisure to inspect all this array except in brief glimpses. They were hurried to the wharves where lay their own ships, big massive liners, Llangibby Castle, Nieuw Holland and Letitia. Climbing the gangways was agony, everyone bent double, sweating and swearing under his load. But this was only for a minute or two, and then there was a chaos of milling bodies in the living quarters, all jostling to find places to drop their gear and get up to vantage points on deck. By lunchtime everyone was aboard, and during the afternoon the ships moved out one by one into the stream, where the boys, most of them for the first time, could enjoy the sight of a large convoy assembling.
There was no room to spare on the ships. Troopship conditions had changed since the good old days, and most of the accommodation now was in huge airless ‘blocks’ where at night the men (unless they could sleep on deck) slung hammocks above their meal tables. A lot of precious space was taken up by all the stuff they had lugged on board. But the food was pretty good and spirits were as high as they had ever been, and discomfort could be laughed off.
All that night the ships lay at anchor. Early next morning there was more coming and going as the convoy (sixteen merchant ships and six escorts) finished forming up and got under way. Then Alexandria faded astern, and delightful, repulsive Egypt, the luxury of Maadi, the noisy vivacity of Cairo, the filth of Alamein, became a memory, already beginning to blur imperceptibly.
Apart from the crowding, troopship life was pretty much as everyone remembered it. The officers made rather perfunctory efforts to keep the boys occupied with relay races and tugs-of-war in which nobody took more than a polite interest; otherwise there was little to do but wander round or lean over the rail or squat on the decks playing cards, now and then interrupted by one of those tiresome boat drills. As always, there were the crown-and-anchor kings defying the law, there was the jockeying for places in the fresh-water queues, there were picket jobs and mess orderly jobs, there were talks and community sings in the evenings. For two days the ships moved page 351 quietly westwards with hardly a roll, Africa always in sight, watchful aeroplanes buzzing reassuringly overhead. Still westwards the third day, no land visible now. Then, while everyone slept, the convoy swung north across the open Mediterranean, and when the fourth day broke it was steaming serenely along, with Sicily not far away on the port side, and Kiwis in their hundreds lining the rails to gaze. From that distance the land looked much the same as Africa, an overall tawny yellow, an occasional white gleam marking a town; but, unlike Africa, craggy mountains seemed to rise straight out of the water, with one bulky mass which the well-informed picked as Etna. Most of the ships turned in towards Sicily, but by the afternoon the rest were running along the jagged shore of Calabria, for most of the New Zealanders the first sight of the mainland of Europe.
Taranto at seven o'clock next morning looked very attractive, with Italian warships anchored all over the place, big clean-looking buildings lining the waterfront, a grim old fort jutting out into the water. But a closer inspection, after the ships had wound their way in through the huge submarine booms, negotiated a narrow canal to the inner harbour, and could see behind the white facade, was much less favourable. The town looked sad and grubby, and so did the few civilians lounging round. Here was no lovely green grass and trees, only dust and stony streets, with now and again the sagging skeleton of a bombed building. If this was really Italy, it was not all it was cracked up to be, thought the boys, as they struggled down the gangways, stacked their heaviest gear on the quays, shouldered the rest and marched away up sloping cobbled streets towards the back of the town.
Once clear of Taranto and out into the country beyond, things were better. It was hot, and for men out of the route-marching habit the ten-mile walk to their new camp was exhausting, but they were still interested enough to look round and take in the neat white farmhouses, the plastered stone walls with lizards running up and down them, the reddish soil, the miles of olive groves, the vines heavy with ripe grapes. To the small select band of originals it all brought back vivid memories of Crete and southern Greece.
Their camp was not really a camp at all, just an olive grove with stone terraces and one or two scattered bivvy tents belonging to the advance party. But by evening the whole place page 352 was bristling with bivvies, everyone had made himself at home, and half the boys were already off exploring. The units of the first flight, only a few miles away, had tales to tell of friendly peasants, cheap grapes, cheap red wine—‘Watch out for the plonk,’ they said, ‘it's treacherous, we've had our lesson,’ good advice which the second flight totally disregarded.
It did not take long to settle down. On 25 October, three days after their arrival, some training began, largely route marches round dusty country lanes and through tiny villages. There was afternoon leave to Taranto, but only the enthusiastic sightseers went, as you usually had to tramp the whole way, and there was not much to do in Taranto anyway. It was more fun when off duty to poke round among the villages and visit the farms, though the filth of the villages was something of a shock, and so were the queues of depressed but voluble women waiting to buy food, and the hungry gangs of children who besieged the soldiers in the streets crying out for cigarettes and biscuits. There obviously was not much to eat in the towns. The peasants seemed better off, as fruit was plentiful and the Kiwis could buy all they wanted in camp—grapes, figs, almonds, even small crisp apples. It was impossible to make out what on earth the Ities were talking about as they gabbled on at top speed, but the language of commerce is easily grasped, and the boys soon found that bully beef and salt and cigarettes were better currency than money. Even dentures were ‘trade goods’—the small boys who hung round the camp would happily part with bunches of grapes for the pleasure of seeing a soldier take out his teeth and brandish them in the air. The entertainment business worked in reverse, too. Most of the 18th will remember the boy who, day after day, for a few biscuits or a cake of chocolate, gave operatic concerts in a clear, true voice to appreciative audiences under the olive trees.
Then the rains came and caught everyone unawares.
Like the rest of the Kiwis, 18 Regiment had almost forgotten what rain was like. In Egypt, except on odd occasions, such precautions as drainage had been quite unnecessary. But not in Italy. On 28 October, just about 5 p.m., a downpour disrupted dinner and sent everyone scampering to the bivvies. But diving for shelter was only burying their heads in the sand, for rivers began to cascade down the stone terraces, and the men had to emerge, rain or no rain, and dig frantically to divert them. page 353 Some of the dwellers on the upper terraces took down the stones to release the banked-up water, with catastrophic results for those below. It was a sharp lesson in the treachery of Italy. The bivvy tents, in their first real test, nobly warded off the water from above, but could not deflect that which poured in underneath. It was two days before the rain eased off and something could be done about drying out the blankets and clothes that had got in the way of the torrent.
It was common knowledge from the beginning that their stay in these pleasant olive groves would be very temporary; so when ordered on 2 November to move 200 miles north next day, nobody in the regiment was surprised. It was a pity to leave the sweet yellow grapes of Taranto, but in a country like Italy there would no doubt be more wherever they went. The transport had not arrived yet, except for four or five essential vehicles such as a water cart and the quartermaster's truck, so the unit was still dependent on the ASC to carry it.
The first day of the trip north, 3 November, took the regiment through rolling farm country, mostly of no particular beauty, but very few of the boys were content to ride hidden under the truck canopies where they could not see. The back of each canopy was a sea of faces, some men stood on the tailboards, others perched up behind the cabs. The farther north they went the more thickly populated was the country, small farms everywhere, lots of little towns, some of them stuck up on the highest, steepest hills they could find. A few of the first villages they passed had queer high conical stone roofs, just like crops of big grey dunces' caps sprouting from the houses (‘trulli’ they were called), but this seemed to be a very local idea, and was seen no more after the first two hours. That night the convoy halted and pitched bivvies on a bare windswept ridge, and next day, after an unpleasantly cold night, went on through country that gradually flattened out to a wide bleak plain, till at midday it came to Foggia. Everyone knew of Foggia. Here were the big airfields that had been one of the Eighth Army's main objectives. It was too flat to see much of them, but there was a series of Air Force camps close to the road, and the air was full of planes circling round, or taking off and landing just beyond the camp buildings.
So far, apart from the few bombed buildings in Taranto, page 354 there had been amazingly little sign of war. A few demolished bridges had caused a ripple of comment down the convoy, otherwise the countryside looked pretty well unscathed. But Foggia town was in shreds, a sad contrast to the smaller towns. Only the originals who had been in Greece and Crete had seen anything like it before, and even Larisa and Canea had not been any more bashed about than this.
Just over 20 miles past Foggia, at the entrance to a large but somewhat dingy town called San Severo (each town had a big blue name plate up beside the road, so that you always knew where you were), the convoy turned aside on to a dusty country road for a few miles, and there, on a pleasant open slope, were 18 Regiment's tanks and trucks at last, all waiting in the sunshine for the boys to turn up. After three and a half weeks' separation this was quite a family reunion. For the rest of the day tongues wagged tirelessly as their owners lounged on the ground or against the vehicles, and all details of the trip from Egypt were told and retold with suitable embroidery. The drivers had quite a story to unfold.
From Burg el Arab the vehicles had gone to huge marshalling parks' not far from the Alexandria docks, whence they had been called forward in small groups to load. No big imposing liners for them; they had been slung unceremoniously into the holds of ‘Liberty’ ships and other sturdy but ugly cargo tramps, the drivers had found sleeping space where they could, and on 18 October they had formed up in the harbour and sailed away, a vast convoy of over fifty ships, barrage balloons dotting the sky wherever you looked, destroyers and planes prowling protectively round.
Living conditions on board had been fairly rough even by soldiers' standards. The food had been all a matter of luck— some ships had turned on rattling good meals, others starvation rations. Otherwise the beginning of the trip had been perfect, five lovely calm days, with one notable evening when they had passed the hospital ship Maunganui, with full lights on and great floodlit Red Crosses visible for miles. Another day the destroyers had dropped depth-charges in the distance, and the dreaded word ‘submarine’ had passed from mouth to mouth. (Padre Gourdie notes: ‘There was full attendance at page 355 the Church service I took shortly after that incident’.) Two days were spent at Malta, anchored off Valetta, the water so calm and warm that some of the boys had even swum ashore for an unofficial look round. Then, on the last lap northwards to Italy, a most unwelcome change to rough seas and heavy rain, with one spectacular electrical storm; then lucky indeed were the men who had covered space to live in. On many of the ships the men had merely dossed down on deck wherever they could. Now, with the rain pelting down, some captains took pains to keep their passengers dry and comfortable, others did not care, one or two were quite hostile. Life on the tramps had suddenly become much less of a picnic.
Then Bari. Bari in the rain, its gleaming white palm-lined waterfront all bedraggled and miserable seen through a curtain of rain in the gathering autumn twilight. Hours of waiting, all through a cold evening, while the derricks creaked and winches clattered and vehicles swung off the ships one by one under the hard light of arc lamps. A short drive to a temporary camp at the Bari Stadium, a short sleep and a rude awakening in the small hours with a thunderclap overhead and a torrent of rain. What an introduction to romantic Italy! ‘We spent the rest of the night,’ said one driver, ‘huddled under trucks, awaiting daylight.’
Next day a few men had been allowed a few hours off to have a short look at Bari while the rest got their vehicles ready to move on. The tanks had come up to Lucera on transporters, then the rest of the way under their own steam; the other vehicles had driven up from Bari in little groups, mostly in the rain, their drivers shivering in the unaccustomed cold; and by 3 November, a day ahead of the rest of the regiment, they had all assembled here ready to receive the boys arriving from Taranto.
There was plenty of room here for the regiment, no other units within miles, and the squadrons lived a long way apart, with the transport and tanks well dispersed and carefully camouflaged (though of the Luftwaffe there was never a sign), and bivvies clustered round each vehicle. For the first time farmhouses and outbuildings were pressed into service as cookshops and messrooms, and Regimental Headquarters roused page 356 everyone else's envy by installing itself in a splendid ten-roomed mansion with a tower and battlements. Eric Young's1 YMCA canteen, usually under canvas, was in a stable with a stone floor, very cosy and popular in the evenings with a roaring fire going—for the weather was getting colder, and light shirts and shorts had again given way to battle dress.
It was not easy for the tank crews to get their hand in again, for this part of the country was so full of small farms and wandering peasants that they were not allowed to use their guns, and could not manoeuvre across country without getting tangled up in someone's crops. They could drive in and out of the lanes and get some practice in handling the tanks, but no more. Most of the training was ‘fitness’ stuff, cross-country runs and route marches, and a lot of footballs appeared from storage. In their spare time most of the boys found their way to the San Severo wineshops, dark little holes most of them, run by pirates with oily smiles. The Kiwis were now busy forgetting about the British Military Authority money and learning to deal in Italian lire, 400 to the pound, so that even small sums sounded a lot.
On 13 November 18 Regiment, along with the rest of 4 Armoured Brigade, was ordered up to an obscure little mountain hamlet called Furci, 45 miles nearer the front as the crow flies, 80 by road. The regiment was to leave on the morning of 15 November, fully stocked up with supplies for a week, full water trucks and cans, fuel for 250 miles. This meant a general scurry round to get things ready, but in the midst of the bustle the move was postponed till the 16th, a valuable day's respite which enabled everyone to take things a little easier. The far-sighted ones, with the sameness of army rations in mind, bargained with the local peasants for pigs and chickens to take with them; one group of conspirators, displeased with the price asked by one man for a turkey, quietly removed his whole flock on the morning of departure, a very illegal action which led to trouble with the military government later.
At 8 a.m. on 16 November, after an early breakfast, the regiment left its pleasant hillside and headed north, the tanks along a marked track that dodged the roads, scout cars and B Echelon along the main road through San Severo.page 357
Stories had already been trickling back from the battlefront, horrid stories of rain and mud and demolitions and traffic jams and mines. Lieutenant-Colonel Pleasants and several other officers had gone up to visit armoured units in the line and came back bringing some useful tactical and technical hints, but shaking their heads over the prospect of mobile mountain warfare in winter. The whole front from Apennines to Adriatic was mountain, there was no escaping that. And the winter had not really begun yet, but already the Eighth Army was having difficulty. Back at San Severo there had been some good solid rain, but between downpours the ground had dried fast, so fast that the men could not help thinking these woeful tales a bit exaggerated. They had not yet seen for themselves what water could do to an army.
Now, too, the name of the Sangro River had first begun to circulate. It meant nothing much to anybody. The Eighth Army was evidently held up there, and the Kiwis, said the report, were to go in and help break Jerry's resistance. After that the Eighth Army was to swoop forward up the coast, then turn west right across the country to Rome. Jerry was to be kept on the run and not allowed to settle down on a fixed line. Things were looking up, and you never knew, the Kiwis might yet eat their Christmas dinner in Rome.
For the wheeled vehicles the trip north, though free from accidents and bad delays, was difficult and tedious. The gently rolling country and straight roads round San Severo soon gave place to steeper, more rugged hills, sharp bends, muddy deviations round blown bridges. One big river, the Biferno, was in flood, and the only way across was a temporary bridge that looked alarmingly rickety with the torrent of thick yellow water swirling under it. Here the Adriatic was only a mile or so away; a little farther on was the huddled-up little port of Termoli, then the road turned inland through thick wooded country, where the men saw the first real signs of the battles that had raged here not so long ago. Beside the road were the corpses of tanks, at least a score of them, both German and British, and scattered, forlorn little groups of crosses.
More ridges, another struggle with a sticky deviation and a narrow bridge at the Trigno River, and then the boys began to find out just what the Italian highway engineers could do to page 358 keep life interesting. The hills became steeper yet, the road skirted miles of water-gouged gullies in zigzags that fascinated the passengers but bewildered the drivers. On some bends the bigger trucks could not get round without backing and taking another swing, quite a risky operation on a narrow road with cliffs falling away from it. By the time the convoy reached Furci late that afternoon the drivers were worn out. The lucky ones went into the town itself, with firm standing for their trucks in the narrow cobbled streets, and dry billets in the houses; the others, in an olive grove on the outskirts, got their first real taste of Italian mud. The ground among the trees was a mass of grease in which wheels revolved helplessly, and often the passengers had to get out and heave, themselves ankle-deep in mud, to move the trucks to their places. The contrast to Egypt could not have been more striking. Having shoved the trucks into position and festooned them with camouflage nets, the boys pitched bivvies in the driest spots they could find, carpeted them with small olive branches or any straw they could forage from the nearest farmyards, then sat down to wait for the tanks, which were due next day.
The tanks got into difficulties almost as soon as they left San Severo, for their special track was narrow and slippery, and took them up and down steep slopes and into what one man has described as ‘some rare places’. The best speed they could make was ten miles an hour, often less. Their goal for the day was Termoli, but they did not get there, for the Biferno bridge was unfit for tanks and the flood waters were impassable. Even then about a dozen tanks straggled and were well behind the main body, catching up one by one during the late afternoon and evening.
There was nothing for it but to stay on the south bank that night and ford the river next morning, a very nasty job, with the water in places almost up to the driving slits. Then on through Termoli, past the same battleground that had so interested the boys in the trucks—the charred remains of a dozen Shermans gave the tankies a nasty feeling in the pit of the stomach. Colonel Pleasants, unwilling to churn up the crowded main road any more, directed the tanks on to a secondary road farther inland, leading (so the map said) by a roundabout way to Furci.page 359
But this unscheduled move led to a fine mix-up. The secondary road was terrible, narrower, steeper and curlier than the main road, passing through little hilltop towns whose streets were sometimes not much wider than the tanks. At one bad corner a driver accidentally earned the gratitude of the rest by knocking down the projecting corner of a house as he went by. Only 26 miles from Termoli the column was stopped short by blown bridges; exploration of another road which should have led towards Furci brought no better result; it was now so late in the day that the tank crews bedded down where they were, and next morning (18 November) turned round and went all the way back to Termoli. Obviously it had to be the main road, so the tanks—except those which had stuck or broken down, and one which had run over a mine—pushed on without delay. The first of them joined B Echelon at Furci at 3 a.m. on 19 November, some thirty-six hours late, their crews haggard with lack of sleep and fed up with this Italy that they had heard so many lies about. Others stopped for the night halfway to Furci, slept soundly and arrived later on the morning of the 19th.2page 360
Furci's surroundings were very picturesque. The village itself, perched on the point of a ridge, commanded a view all round of other rugged hills topped by other tiny villages, each with its church tower sticking up out of a thick cluster of houses. The hills were covered for mile after mile with olive groves and white or pink or red farmhouses. To the east you could see the sea between the ridges, to the west the Apennine peaks were dwarfed by a magnificent mountain mass gleaming with snow. But the men could not really appreciate the grandeur of the scenery, for they were too occupied with their own immediate problem of how to keep dry. Steady rain on the night of 19 November and next day did not help matters. The mud became a regular quagmire, and there was not a dry boot in the place. If you touched the canvas of your bivvy rain dripped in on top of you—and in the cramped space of a two-foot-high bivvy you cannot avoid touching it at times.
Little wonder that the Kiwis were already beginning to fight shy of bivvy life, and that billets in houses or storehouses or even stables were eagerly sought after. RSM Jack Richards tells of the quest for dry quarters which was becoming standard practice in 2 NZ Division:
Whenever possible we would sleep in billets…. We push a reconnaissance party forward to our predetermined halting place. This party bags all the houses in the vicinity and holds them until our arrival against all rival claims. The occupants, if there are any, we allow them living quarters, say one room, and help ourselves to the rest.
There were never enough ‘casas’ to go round; the competition for living space was keen, and the first in got the best. Furci was pretty full before 18 Regiment came along, so it had to take what was left, and the unlucky ones stayed outside.
It seemed now as if the regiment's first action was very close. The Division was moving up handy to the front line; from Furci the artillery fire could be clearly heard grumbling round the hills. The New Zealanders, so the current story ran, were to attack across the Sangro River on the night of 20 November, after which 18 Regiment would move up to join in. There was a rumour that 19 Regiment had already been in action, lost some tanks and quite a number of men, not very cheerful news for those waiting in some anxiety for their turn page 361 to be shot at. However, the outlook was not all bad. Up front, as far as anyone could judge, there seemed to be more shellfire going away than coming in, and the regular stream of British planes, fighters and medium bombers, overhead was most encouraging. Whatever happened, it seemed unlikely that Jerry could turn on an air show comparable with Crete or even Alamein.
But there was little time for speculation, for there was plenty to do on the tanks. Guns tested and adjusted (‘T & A’ in tankies' language) for the first time since leaving Egypt, tracks tightened up as far as they would go in order to ride more easily over the mud, fuel and ammunition replenished, all the endless little attentions that tanks need. The wireless operators had no chance to test their sets or rehearse their procedure, for the strict wireless silence that had been in force since leaving Maadi had not yet been lifted. This had added to the vexations of the trip up, for all the way forward from San Severo the two halves of the unit had been out of touch, and single tanks that had lagged behind had had no means of letting the rest know where they were, but had had to find their way back as best they could. Everyone fervently hoped that they would not have to go into action without their wireless, which made coordination and control immeasurably easier. Indeed, the whole system of battle procedure depended on wireless.
The next move forward began at very short notice on the afternoon of 20 November, first the tanks and scout cars, then next morning B Echelon. The vehicles now had to be coaxed back through the mud on to the road, a heartbreaking job for all hands had it not been for Captain G. R. Andrews, an old 18 Battalion identity of Crete days, who came along on loan with two tractors and made light work of whisking the trucks out. Over the next few weeks George Andrews and his tractors became very well known round the 18th, always welcome, always ready to lend a hand where the mud was thickest.
Progress north from Furci was dreadfully slow. The road was, if possible, even worse than farther back, winding up and down the ridges in tight zigzags, so that in some places you could look down from the crests and see what looked like six or eight parallel lines of road straight below. Add to this the rain, the slippery, potholed surface, dozens of demolished bridges and page 362 deviations deep in mud, congested traffic going both ways with sometimes barely room to pass, and it is something of a miracle that convoys got anywhere at all. Drivers became very short-tempered, and could relieve their feelings only by exchanging abuse with other drivers coming the other way, or with the harassed provosts fighting to keep traffic flowing at the deviations. By the afternoon of 21 November B Echelon had struggled as far as Gissi, atop the next ridge north of Furci, where it packed into the already overcrowded village, while the tanks and scout cars had made their way some 15 miles forward, past the next village of Casalanguida, stuck up on a sheer rocky spur between two deep river gorges. They ended up in a barren spot north of the town, tanks and cars parked close together in a sloping paddock overhanging a gully and looking straight across to Casalanguida, just over a mile away. Living space here was scarce and precious, and some of the men got small patches of floor in buildings to sleep on, but most had to brave the storms in their bivvies.
This was the fringe of the real front line, only eight miles from the Sangro, where fighting was still going on as much as the weather would let it; but 18 Regiment, protected by a sharp crest between it and the front, was very peaceful, except for an occasional big shell that came whirring over towards the river crossing south of Casalanguida. The Luftwaffe, to everyone's great pleasure, was still absent. The most constant reminder of the war was the endless procession of vehicles, supply convoys and troop convoys, jeeps and cars and motor-bikes and ambulances, feeling their way up and down the road. But this peace and quiet was misleading, for down in the Sangro valley things were due to explode, and the regiment was certain to be involved before many more days were past.
CO: Lt-Col C. L. Pleasants
2 i/c: Maj H. M. Green
Adjutant: Capt P. A. Thorley
IO: 2 Lt J. R. Marra
HQ Tp: Lt G. P. Donnelly
Gunnery Offr: Lt R. H. Ferguson
OC: Maj P.B. Allen
2 i/c: Capt W. H. Ryan
Recce Tp: Lt C. O. McGruther
Sigs Offr: Lt E. H. J. Fairley
Tech. Adjt: Capt C. N. James
LAD Offr: Capt N. J. Grant
QM: Capt A. M. B. Lenton
MO: Capt S. B. Thompson
Padre: Rev. R. M. Gourdie
OC: Maj A. H. Dickinson
2 i/c: Capt P. J. C. Burns
2nd Capt: Capt B. G. S. Jackson
Tp Comds: Capt R. J. Stanford
Lt H. F. McLean
Lt T. M. R. Maskew
Lt T. J. Cullinane
Attached: Lt J. L. Wright
2 Lt P. H. Edmonds
OC: Maj R. G. Parkinson
2 i/c: Capt H. H. Deans
2nd Capt: Capt B. W. Tipling
Tp Comds: Lt E. G. Shucksmith
Lt D. G. Thomson
Lt O. H. Burn
Lt C. S. Passmore
Attached: Lt R. M. Dacre
RSM: WO I J. L. Richards