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18 Battalion and Armoured Regiment

CHAPTER 30 — East of Cassino

page 432

East of Cassino

Forward from Mignano was a road called the ‘Speedy Express’ highway. It had been a railway before Jerry sabotaged it. Now it was an alternative track for front-line traffic, quite a good road except for its habit of running along embankments with nasty steep drops on both sides. From Mignano it swung into a steep-walled valley, then emerged on to a wide undulating plain, covered with leafless grey willows, with two strange, abrupt rock outcrops (Porchio and Trocchio) sticking up in the middle. Once past Porchio you felt naked and exposed going along ‘Speedy Express’; past Trocchio you were under Jerry's nose, and nobody went up there unless he had to.

Along this road, at dusk on 26 March, lumbered Major Stanford's B Squadron. At a spot called ‘Cox's corner’, just short of Trocchio, the tanks nosed down off the embankment by a bulldozed track, took a country lane leading off to the left, then spread out into a line side by side, with a few yards between tanks, in a cleared field with trees all round it. The crews had a busy night digging the tanks two feet into the ground, digging slitties under and behind them, rigging up camouflage nets. By dawn the tanks were all ready for action, guns trained westwards toward enemy country across the Rapido River.

With nearly a quarter of 1944 gone, a second spring on the way, and the war still deadlocked along the pile of rubble that had been Cassino, it had looked is if the New Zealand armour was out of a job for the duration. But here at Trocchio there was work for it, straight-out artillery work just like A Squadron's first job at Torretta in November. Humdrum, unexciting work, certainly, but better than hanging round Mignano pretending to train.

In Egypt, a year before, 4 Armoured Brigade had practised this sort of thing, shooting up indirect targets with observation posts calling the fire. Artillerymen had been sceptical. This work, they said, needs a lot of skill and practice, and nobody page 433 but the artillery will have the training to do it properly. At Torretta A Squadron had not done enough shooting to prove otherwise. But now was the chance, for the 25-pounders were grumbling under an ammunition shortage that limited them to a few rounds a day, while the 75-millimetre tank guns had plenty. And the lofty, almost vertical peak of Trocchio, towering above the Rapido valley, provided a perfect observation post.

Except for the senior officers and a few adventurers who had made illegal sightseeing trips up here, this was the boys' first glimpse of the notorious Cassino front. Their first comment, when day broke on 27 March, was how flat and bleak it was. There was not a rise in the ground between the tanks and the Rapido, only a vast expanse of willow branches. The river was not visible, but from a rise behind the tanks you could see the confusion of trees and scattered farms on the west bank, and up to the right, in horribly plain view, glowered the ruin of Montecassino Abbey, with the hills behind leading up to the snowy cone of Monte Cairo. Below it hung a continuous pall of smoke that was all you could see of Cassino town.

Here for three weeks the tanks of 18 Regiment lived, a squadron at a time, turn about. Every fourth night a fresh squadron came up ‘Speedy Express’ to take over, and the retiring squadron went out by a muddy lane across the back of Trocchio, past rows of camouflaged, silent 25-pounders, then down Route 6 to Mignano. Every night a train of trucks and jeeps came up with ammunition and supplies. And every day, on orders phoned down from the crow's nest on Trocchio to a scout car below and thence wirelessed to the tanks, the gunners busily slammed shells into Jerry's territory, some wet or foggy days only a few, on other days hundreds.

It was great fun up on Trocchio except when Jerry lobbed airburst shells just overhead. The ‘OP’ was a rock sangar on the crest, roofed over with corrugated iron and camouflaged on top with sods. It was equipped with a powerful telescope with which the guns could be directed very accurately on any given spot—a house, for instance, or even one particular window in a house. The Kiwis had every inch of Jerry's ground mapped out, all his infantry and guns, the exact location of his horrid Nebelwerfers or ‘Moaning Minnies’ which scared the life out page 434 of everyone as their big clumsy bombs whined through the air. Any suspicious movement or flash of a hostile gun was open to the alert eyes on Trocchio, and bad luck for the German who did not get back under cover smartly. The tanks (though their crews never saw it) completed the ruin of several houses near the river, and helped to spoil the look of Jerry's front-line villages, Sant' Angelo on the opposite riverbank and Pignataro a little farther back; though it was found later that Jerry, in his dugouts under the house floors, was almost immune from any shelling. Farther to the left, in the hills to the south of the Liri valley, the tanks sometimes shot up the village of Sant' Apollinare to oblige the Free French, who were responsible for that part of the front. Some of the ‘stonks’ consisted of as many as 400 shells. Against the solid stone houses armour-piercing high-explosive shells (APHE for short) were the best, for ordinary high explosive just left slight dents on the walls. But if you wanted to demoralise a gun crew, then high explosive was the thing, preferably airburst.

Though Jerry sent back only a fraction of what he got, the game was not all one-sided. He knew perfectly well where the tanks were. Some days he left them alone; on others he was stung to retaliation and landed shells and ‘Minnies’ all round. Captain Allan Pyatt recalls:

It was noticeable that as long as we kept shooting at Cassino or Sant' Angelo, we didn't get much back at us. But always, every time, we traversed left… we got it back hard. We assumed … that we must have been tickling up his main gunline.

As a rule the nights were pretty quiet, but one night while C Squadron was up in the gun line he let fly with everything he had and kept it up most of the night, nobody could guess why. Roy Hancox says:

One hit our camouflage net pole & burst over us, loads of duds went over & when they whizzed past they rocked the tank. When the 21os hit they made the tank shake as though it were jelly. There were three of us in the tanks & … we were shaking like leaves in the wind.

Whenever shells began to land the boys closed down their turrets and waited for the storm to blow over, to the fury of other troops near by, who did not see why the tankies, who page 435 caused all the trouble, should be able to sit safe inside their iron horses and laugh at it.

It was not always a laughing matter. One day C Squadron was caught by a sudden bout of shelling, one tank was hit, Troopers Hedley Kelman1 and Owen Chambers2 were killed and three others wounded. On another day Sergeant Dick Aubin and Trooper Bill Walker3 of A Squadron were killed by a very unlucky chance when a shell landed in their slittie right behind a tank. In the course of the three weeks two tanks were damaged and had to go back to the workshops. Once while B Squadron was there a stack of shells behind the tanks was hit and set alight, to the agitation of the crews, who set to work feverishly to tear the stack apart before it began exploding. And sometimes camouflage nets were set on fire and had to be put out in a hurry.

Keeping up the ammunition supply at Trocchio was no simple matter. The only time trucks came up in daylight they were shelled, and Trooper Parsons4 was killed and one man wounded. After that they went back to the safer but more difficult night delivery, trucks unloading food and stores at Cox's corner, carriers or Honey tanks taking the heavy shells right up to the tanks.

Away back in the early days of the war, before air power swung our way, a line of tanks out in the open country like this would have very soon been mangled by the Luftwaffe. Now not one plane in twenty was German. Occasionally he sent a few fighter-bombers over on hit-and-run raids about dusk, but nothing heavier. The tanks just sat quietly under their nets, which the crews propped up or pulled back while shooting, then replaced.

In between shoots the crews at Trocchio had plenty of leisure to sit in the sun, for the days had warmed up quite a lot, and apart from a few spasms of misty rain most of them were clear and pleasant. There would not have been much leisure if page 436 Jerry had counter-attacked, for the tanks were at a moment's notice to bring down a belt of defensive fire right along the front to help the Guards brigade that now held this sector. Trocchio would no doubt have been a warm place then—as Captain Pyatt says, ‘We didn't really realise how close we were to the front.’ Luckily, Jerry did nothing so rash.

The story of Trocchio would not be complete without mention of Padre Gourdie's Easter Communion, held towards dusk in a top-storey room looking out towards Montecassino. Everyone was there. The padre has called it ‘one of the most inspiring services of my life’, and as such it will be remembered by many men who as a rule would not think twice about such things. On the subject of front-line services in general, Padre Gourdie says: ‘Normally it is an unwise thing to take a service where a chance shell can do much damage, and I tried to get on the safe side of the casa always …. No one was ever hurt during any of the services I held, in any of the battle areas.’

On the evening of 15 April C Squadron, finishing its four-day spell at Trocchio, was relieved by tanks of 19 Regiment and went back to Mignano to find the 18th talking about a move away from the Cassino front. After such a long time everyone seemed quite pleased with the prospect of a change of scenery, particularly as the Mignano camp had been getting less and less peaceful as time went on.

Three weeks earlier life had been pretty quiet at Mignano. There had been a few other units and ammunition dumps not far away, no guns nearer than two miles, and the most notable uproar had been when B Squadron's ammunition truck went up in flames. But since then the place had deteriorated most unpleasantly. The 18th was now hemmed in by dumps and supply troops. One night three big French 155-millimetre guns had come lumbering in and planted themselves right next door, ‘creating a disturbance of some magnitude,’ says one man, ‘knocking tents down & uprooting trees’. With these monsters in the vicinity there was little peace left, for the whole place shook when they fired, and Jerry could be expected to locate them any day and begin shelling. Already his shellfire was coming nearer than it ever had before, and it was only a matter of time.

page 437

These were the first real Frenchmen the boys had met face to face. Since coming over to the Fifth Army they had from time to time seen lines of French colonial soldiers, the ‘Goums’, riding past on horses, and had remarked how little they would like to come up against such wild, piratical characters. But these gunners were very different, hearty drinkers, full of fun, who obviously got a kick out of life. Some of the tankies spent their spare time over at the guns, and in off hours the Frenchmen came wandering round 18 Regiment's camp. There were impromptu parties at which international friendships were sealed and re-sealed; there were organised evenings of boxing, at which the French were surprisingly expert.

But however cheerful and companionable the gunners were, their guns were uncomfortable neighbours, and nobody was sorry when the word went round that the regiment was due to move away somewhere quieter.

For the last fortnight there had been some coming and going of furlough men. The first to come back from New Zealand had arrived early in April, and for a time had been public figures, everyone flocking round eager to hear how things were at home. Now, on 15 April, the unit was just recovering from a farewell party to twelve senior NCOs (the last of the old 18 Battalion originals except for one or two officers) who had left that morning in a blaze of alcoholic glory on the first leg of their homeward trip. Two days later there was another party, lasting twenty-four hours, for eight officers who were going the same way. The 18th did not believe in taking its farewells sadly.

While this celebration was at its height on 17 April the first definite orders came for a move from Mignano. Once more the regiment was to split up. A Squadron was to go into the line in the Rapido valley north of Cassino, the rest to head back away from the front for some training. Training, so the story ran, in co-operation with infantry. Not before time, thought the better informed. Whenever tanks and infantry had tried to co-operate at the Sangro, the result had been indifferent.

Now that fighting inside Cassino had quietened down the Rapido valley front was coming into the limelight, names like Terelle and Colle Abate cropping up in the daily news, truck drivers from other units talking about mysterious places like the Dust Bowl and the Inferno Track, which did not sound page 438 desirable spots. The front line was evidently pretty tough, perched high on rough peaks on the west side of the Rapido, the roads down on the valley floor all overlooked by Jerry and shelled regularly. To reach this part of the front from Mignano you went forward to the north end of Trocchio, then turned off along the ‘ambulance route’, a series of narrow one-way lanes winding between hedges, rough and dusty as if they had just been hacked out of the clay, to Portella, a straggly village in the foothills which was a sort of general assembly point for all troops moving round in that sector. In this unattractive place A Squadron was to relieve Canadian tank men, taking over seven of their Shermans away up in an inaccessible spot near the front line. Here was a small complication—the Canadian tanks had petrol-driven Chrysler engines, something new for 18 Regiment. Luckily, there was time for the drivers to pay a short visit to the ‘Canucks’ at Portella for a sketchy lesson on the differences between these and their own diesel Shermans.

On the evening of 19 April A Squadron, with Major Dickinson back in command, left Mignano in two groups, one with nine Shermans bound for Portella, the other in trucks to take over the Canadian tanks up on the mountain. Even though some of the tank commanders had had a preview of the ‘ambulance route’ the Shermans had a terrible job negotiating the narrow track in the dark, and had to take it at a crawl, but they got through to Portella safely and went into position downhill from the village, just where the hills sloped down to the valley floor, nicely hidden in an olive grove but with flat, open fields in front.

The vehicle party, under Captain Passmore, changed to jeeps at the ‘Dust Bowl’, which turned out to be a little sunken place, part of a dry stream bed below Portella. It earned its descriptive name after being used for a while as a rendezvous for convoys crossing the valley. Its other dubious claim to fame was that Jerry had the habit of shelling it whenever he thought fit; but luckily no shells fell while Passmore's party was there. The jeeps, piled high with gear, the tankies perched insecurely on top, lost no time in getting away from such an unhealthy locality, went right across the flat of the valley, over the river, into a dark cleft in the forbidding hills beyond, and then up a road that, even in Italy, was incredible, curling up an almost page 439 vertical rocky face in a series of tight zigzags. This was the Terelle road, spoken of with awe by all New Zealand jeep drivers, a notorious hot spot, constantly spattered with shells and mortar bombs, travelled only by jeeps which went up at night with trailer loads of supplies.

At the top bend of this nightmare road, at a place where the jeeps could turn round with a little manoeuvring, the boys dismounted and walked on about a hundred yards up the road to where the tanks were parked in the lee of a bank below a steep rounded hilltop. The Canadians could not leave the place fast enough. They had had a bellyful of it—shelling, night patrols, short rations. Above all, they said, you must not be seen in daylight round the corner just ahead of the leading tank, as Jerry has a machine gun covering it. All this happy story they poured into the newcomers' ears before setting off purposefully down the hill.

Actually the place was not as bad as it was painted. The ‘corner just ahead’ lost some of its terror the first morning, when General Freyberg came up to view the place and walked calmly out round it, red hat and all. Not that many of the tankies felt inspired to follow his example. The tanks themselves were nicely out of sight, but from the corner you could see right into Jerry's territory, Monte Cairo glaring at you from less than three miles away, the village of Terelle clinging to the slope as if it had been glued on, Montecassino away down to the south, small and insignificant from this high viewpoint. There were no casas here, but the boys lived in the tanks or under tarpaulins up against them, and were just as well off, for the few houses on these heights were the poorest of peasants' huts, filthy and smelly after months of occupation by assorted soldiers, offering no home comforts whatever.

The heights were manned by British infantry, the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment, which was relieved by the Maoris while A Squadron was there. The battalion headquarters and a company were very close to the tanks, but very little was seen of them. Major Dickinson says:

The locality was not good for social visits. It was very rocky & shells created their own shrapnel & ricochets were no help at all to one's nerves. Logically enough the infantry did not desire tank movement up there & the tanks stayed pretty quiet. They page 440 were there only if required & had very restricted movement anyway.

Only once, in fact, did a tank move. Captain Oliphant,5 commander of one of the forward troops, recalls the incident:

For some time the Germans had been reported digging a cave or tunnel on the hillside across the valley from Terelle and shortly after the Maori Battalion arrived they decided that they would take an anti tank gun in daylight round the corner and shoot up the cave. In view of the unhealthy reports about this corner it was agreed that three tanks would … do the job instead…. When it came to starting up the tanks, although four were tried only one would start…. The one tank duly rounded the corner and shot off a lot of high explosive and smoke into the Germans' diggings. There was no retaliation of any kind.

This story puts the finger on the worst feature of this job— the tanks. The boys never felt happy about them. They were not so very different from the diesel Shermans to handle, but they were in poor condition; there had been no chance on these inhospitable mountains to keep up their maintenance or to ‘T & A’ the guns, and both were badly needed. And at the best of times the engines of these petrol Shermans made a fearful racket when you started them up. Luckily, up here on the hills it was not often necessary.

The food was not as bad as the Canadians had led the Kiwis to believe. There was none too much of it, which was natural considering the difficulty of carting it up, but the tankies were quite used to ‘doing’ for themselves and making it taste reasonable, so they had nothing much to growl at, except the nightly walks down to the ‘jeep head’ to manhandle the supplies up. This was a nasty trip and you went down and back treading delicately, ears straining to catch the slightest sound, for Jerry was quite liable to land a salvo round there at any time. Excursions to refill the water cans were as bad; Jerry had all the wells taped, and tossed a few round them from time to time for luck.

A Squadron's stay in these parts was very short, so short that the boys were left wondering why they had been sent up there at all. On the evening of 22 April, after three idle days at Portella, Dickinson's half squadron was relieved by 19 page 441 Regiment and came out again along the ambulance route and down Route 6 in time to rejoin the regiment before it left Mignano. The next night Passmore's crews were relieved and went back down the dizzy Terelle road.

While A Squadron was away the rest of the regiment had set about packing to leave Mignano, quite a major job after such a long time in one place. Then for a day or two it did not know where it was. Orders and rumours seemed to change almost hourly. ‘Recce’ parties spent hours travelling round Italy, then found their work wasted. On 18 April the unit was directed to one place, two days later to another, and on the 21st to a different place again. It was now to go back to the edge of the Volturno valley, not far from its old haunt at Piedimonte d'Alife, to train with the British infantry of 78 Division. Here it would be separated for a while from 4 Brigade, which would be some miles away over the hills.

On 22 April, with all details of the move settled at last, the 18th sent off much of its transport, stores and spare men to cut down the congestion on the move and to have the new area as well prepared as possible before the main body arrived. Cookhouses went too, so the Mignano camp had to do its own cooking for a day.

Just before midday on 23 April the convoy got away, leaving the damp, crowded Mignano valley behind with no regrets. First the soft-skinned vehicles, then the tanks at a slightly slower pace, with fitters and LAD in the rear. Down Route 6, the way the regiment had come up eleven weeks earlier so full of expectations; past the same miles of dumps and rear-line troops. The road was full of traffic in both directions, with Negro and Indian and Polish drivers whose sole idea seemed to be to get somewhere as fast as possible with a maximum of dust, and to hell with everyone else on the road. However, the convoy kept up to time, and about 3 p.m. arrived at its destination, a very attractive spot on a gentle eastward slope falling to the Volturno River two and a half miles away, hills sprinkled with trees rising on the west side. There were few trees in the camp site, but plenty of fresh grass, which looked very good after Mignano, where any grass there might once have been had long vanished under the tramping of many feet. page 442 Here, too, there was lots of room, and the squadrons were well spread out, though still within easy reach. The people in charge of this area were very fussy about camouflage; the tanks all had nice new camouflage paint, dark green and brown, but in this area of few trees they were still easily spotted. The boys did their best with nets, heather and branches, with the usual undercurrent of grumbling at the extra work.

The war had hardly touched this part of the country, a refreshing change after Cassino and Mignano. Not much more than a mile away was a big town called Alvignano, and several promising villages adorned the hill slopes. There was a vexing decree that all towns were out of bounds; but there were farmhouses to visit, and little boys came to the camp, collected dirty washing, and had it back dry and pressed in an incredibly short time. Lately, with plenty of peasant women round to do the washing for a small reward, the tankies had been getting lazier and lazier about doing their own.

Here the summer round of malaria drill began again, the delousing squads going round the ditches and ponds with their petrol sprays, the insect repellent, the horrible yellow pills, long sleeves and trousers at dusk. Everyone was back in shorts and light shirts in the daytime, and it was getting warm enough to sunbathe and swim when you got the chance. The Volturno, fed by snow water, took your breath away when you went into it, and few people swam in it for more than a minute or two at a time, but it left you refreshed and tingling all over.

The manoeuvres with 78 Division lasted two days, 30 April and 1 May, and were very successful on the whole. They took place up in the hills about ten miles from camp, in beautiful country, terraced and thickly cultivated, the farm roads all lined with cherry blossom, but tough country to fight over. Each squadron did an exercise in turn, each with a different battalion, the infantry moving to the attack with its tanks in support, firing on targets pointed out by the infantry over the little ‘walkie-talkie’ wireless with which the squadron and troop commanders' tanks were now fitted. Before each exercise the Tommies spent some time having a good look at the tanks —they did not seem to have had them at close quarters before. One or two points about the manoeuvre could have been improved. The radio co-operation did not always function too page 443 well, many of the target references were far too vague, and the tankies could barely understand the various accents hurled at them, especially the broad Scots of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. There were also one or two small accidents to houses and tanks in the narrow, twisting streets of the mountain villages on the way to the exercise ground.

The 18th was to have stayed with 78 Division till at least the second week in May, but on 1 May, unexpectedly, fresh orders came in. Once more the regiment was to be on its travels, and once more it was to split up, most of it going to join 4 Brigade in its training area; but one squadron was to go forward, come under command of 201 Guards Brigade, and take over tanks in Cassino town. The very thought of this gave you a funny feeling inside. Cassino, with its face-to-face fighting, its continual shell and mortar fire, its permanent smoke screen, had become a town of evil repute among the Kiwis.

On the nights of 2 and 3 May the B Squadron tanks, riding in state on transporters, their crews nearly asphyxiated with dust, went up to Mignano on the first stage of their move into Cassino. At daybreak on the 3rd, after being hauled out of its blankets in the middle of the night, the rest of the regiment set off on its ten-mile move to rejoin 4 Brigade near Pietramelara, just over the other side of the small range of hills behind Alvignano. Its new home was flat and almost treeless, but quite pleasant, heavily cultivated, grain and bean crops all over the place. A Squadron had a bad introduction to it when two tanks stuck in the mud just as they were turning off the road into their field, where recent rain had left a small morass.

It seemed as if, once dispossessed of its semi-permanent home at Mignano, the regiment was doomed to wander round Italy in small groups for ever. The day after its return to 4 Brigade a new order came, A Squadron to take over from 19 Regiment again at Terelle and Portella. On the night of 5 May the squadron followed B Squadron away up Route 6 on transporters, leaving a very depleted unit at Pietramelara.

It was to be still more depleted before long. On 7 May word arrived that half of C Squadron was to go up into the line in mountains east of the Rapido valley, a nice quiet sector, so the story ran, but nearly vertical. British paratroops, the same brigade that had held the Guardiagrele road in January, were page 444 holding the line there, but what tanks could do in such country had everybody mystified. Once more the long clumsy transporters appeared on the road outside the 18th's area, and once more, at 6 p.m. on 8 May, they disappeared into the dusk with the C Squadron tanks.

With only a handful of tanks left in camp, Pietramelara was reduced almost to a B Echelon area, and there was very little to do except some shooting on a small home-made range. The 18th took advantage of its flat area to lay out cricket and baseball pitches. The Volturno was much farther away than it had been at Alvignano, but truckloads of enthusiasts still went there to swim. For a couple of days the boys, with mutinous mutterings, were dragged round the parade ground to polish up their rusty drill, and after that there was a ceremonial parade for General Freyberg, who pinned ‘gongs’ on to several members of the 18th.

Then came the great hour, 11 p.m. on 11 May, when the British, American, French and Polish artillery all along the front opened up with a crash, and the Allied armies once again went forward to the attack to open the gate to Rome and beyond. Even back at Pietramelara it was noisy, and the distant sky danced with gun flashes all night. After that, for a whole week, news from the front was scarce. Rumour had it that the Second Front in France was due to open at the same time, and everyone was restive and impatient, waiting for the big news that was so long delayed.

The boys were still practically unemployed, but the few remaining tanks had a day's manoeuvre, with a company of 22 Battalion, over well-known ground near Piedimonte d'Alife. This certainly seemed an improvement on the last one, although the signal and wireless set-up between infantry and tanks still was not quite right, and there was still some misunderstanding over the indication of targets. Plainly more practice was needed.

Then, on 18 May, with Jerry at last on the run in front of the Allies, the Pietramelara camp was jerked awake by a call to go forward, pick up the squadrons, and help him on his way a little. Some days earlier 19 Regiment had vanished, and the story ran that it was already fighting away up in the Liri valley. After so many messy weeks with 18 Regiment scattered page 445 far and wide, a squadron here and a few tanks there, this was very good news. Better still, the 18th would be operating as a unit again, not as a lot of bits and pieces. Perhaps, even, the whole brigade might be going in together for the first time since Guardiagrele. Such a prospect was like a shot in the arm to a unit badly in need of one.

But it would not have been Italy if there had been no hitch in the arrangements. On 20 and 21 May the move was ‘off’ and ‘on’ again no fewer than four times, mostly at very short notice, until everyone was thoroughly confused and ‘browned off’. Finally, at 4 a.m. on the 22nd, the camp was struck and the convoy moved off, the soft-skinned vehicles in one group, the tanks separately on transporters, including the eight C Squadron tanks from the paratroopers' sector, which had come back to Pietramelara two nights before.

The move out was a bit straggly, for only about half a dozen trucks had got away when a three-tonner capsized and blocked the one-way track, and it was some time before another way out could be organised. But once on its way the convoy had no more hitches along Route 6, and by 7 a.m. it had arrived at a temporary camp near San Vittore, halfway between Mignano and Cassino, under olive trees up on the hillside above Route 6, where A and B Squadrons and breakfast were waiting.

The regiment was now on an hour's notice to move again. It seemed pretty clear that it would be going up to the ‘sharp end’ almost at once, and the prospect of a chase was quite exhilarating. The regiment was in good fettle and eager to go, fully equipped with fifty-three Shermans, with eight new Honey tanks replacing most of the scout cars in the reconnaissance troop, and with a new confidence it its ability to work along with infantry.

In the meantime, while the senior officers disappeared into the blue to get the next move ‘jacked up’, the boys had a lot of news to exchange, and a lot of tall yarns to hear from the tank crews.

1 Tpr W. H. Kelman; born Timaru, 3 Jun 1912; school-teacher; killed in action 14 Apr 1944.

2 Tpr O. H. R. Chambers; born Auckland, 12 Jul 1920; printer; killed in action 14 Apr 1944.

3 Tpr W. Walker; born NZ 5 Sep 1916; freight driver; killed in action 7 Apr 1944.

4 Tpr E. D. Parsons; born NZ 26 Jul 1920; butcher; killed in action 13 Apr 1944.

5 Capt J. B. Oliphant; Auckland; born Auckland, 12 Dec 1917; law clerk.