CHAPTER 13 — Casa Elta
Astern note ended the routine orders for October. Vino, poultry, pigs, cars and clothing had disappeared in Fabriano, where the removal of furniture, fittings, and electric light bulbs ‘will seriously prejudice the smooth running of the theatres…. civilian women have suffered from the unwanted attentions of drunken soldiers’', the local Carabinieri (police) complained that their pistols and rifles had been taken away from them, and ‘in the event of further incidents occurring it will be necessary to move the Brigade from the built-up area into the fields.’ Two men stealing a goose were chased by a fierce old woman with a sickle, and a man taking cabbages in the night comforted himself with the thought: ‘Anyway he fought against us at Alamein.’
November was just into its stride with intensive training ‘and much sporting activity’ when the battalion was changed from a motorised battalion to a normal infantry battalion and returned to the 5 Brigade fold again, still retaining the distinctive beret. The difficult country in Italy, either mountainous or low-lying and cut up with rivers and canals, had hampered a motorised battalion in swift advances. Now, with winter setting in (already a light snow had fallen), conditions grew steadily worse. The only mobile operation the battalion took part in up to this time in Italy was the advance to the Savio. Everyone in the battalion regretted the change, ‘the degeneration’ as some put it, but there was just no choice. Anyhow, at the end of an overcast and rainy November, roads and tracks would be in such poor shape that at one stage anti-tank guns would have to be towed into position from Route 9 by oxen!
So the men were posted back into ‘provincial’ companies once again,1 returning to the original plan: A Company was page 385 manned with Wellington men, B with Wellington-West Coast, C with Hawke's Bay and Wairarapa, D with Taranaki. The loss of their liberal transport ended many comforts.
Fourth Reserve Motor Transport Company's three-tonners, for the first time in Italy, took 22 Battalion away from Fabriano on 24 November, away into the north, to the painfully advancing front, to relieve a British unit on the Lamone River, north-east of another newly captured town, Forli. Over the wide Lamone River, its massive stopbanks cunningly terraced, tunnelled and fortified, lay the next prize, Faenza, destined to fall before Christmas (with 22 Battalion thrusting out over most trying country below the town) and to serve the New Zealanders as a winter base.
The battalion's new position, facing the Lamone River, was a difficult spot. The enemy had converted Ronco settlement just over the river into a stronghold, and held firmly in Scaldino, east of the river and immediately north of the battalion's positions. The first task for the rested New Zealanders would be to clear the Germans back over the river. On the battalion's left was 23 Battalion; on the right, the Gurkhas. Until this attack began, the battalion sent out vigorous patrols to investigate the river and its banks, to locate enemy positions, and to spot minefields. Air Force support round Ronco ‘was excellent and very heartening to the boys.’ A party under Lieutenant Ken Joblin (12 Platoon) penetrated a stopbank and was promptly driven back by strong fire and grenades. One man was killed, Private O'Connor.2
The next night (27 November) a small 11 Platoon patrol, under Lieutenant Forbes McHardy, left to find the exact number and position of spandau nests still remaining in a curve on the eastern bank of the river. McHardy left his four men to cover him, crossed the stopbank, and came right round behind this clump of enemy. Returning to pick up his men, he paused for a final look, stepped right in front of a spandau, and died instantly.
But thanks to this patrol, a surprise attack next night succeeded in driving the three spandau posts over the river.page 386
McHardy's body was recovered, his tommy gun beside him. Near here Private Beaven3 was wounded.
Along this riverbank opposition was heavy and vigorous, and both sides brought down direct fire at the slightest provocation. In retaliation for 12 Platoon's use of a Piat mortar from the top story of its casa, ‘a Panther tank sneaked up onto a stopbank and blazed away until things got too hot for it. Its gun hacked away at the top of our casa, 12 direct hits, like a mad dentist attacking a tooth, and we [12 Platoon] were the shrinking nerves, cowering in the basement. Two men were bruised and shaken by falling masonry.’ Soon after this the platoon was plagued by some of our own shells falling short. Nor was the artillery too popular with the Gurkhas over to the right.
Lieutenant Lin Thomas's fighting patrol round Rombola in the night was fired on, and before identity could be fixed, dawn approached and the patrol withdrew. Lin Thomas and Bob Ferris carried out the one casualty, Private Kennard.4 Private McMillan5 and another man on the right flank lost contact, and with the coming of daylight took to the nearest cover, a tiny hen-house, where they huddled all day with a good view of the Germans moving about. When an Italian came to feed his fowls in the afternoon, the two men asked him not to give them away, but other Italians moving about the farm ‘cast such fearful and curious glances at the hen-house that by dusk the German sentries were beginning to give it some close observation.’ While the sentries looked elsewhere, the two wriggled down a shallow ditch by the hen-house and escaped back to their platoon. Within two days the farmer's wife was killed by our tank fire.
Information gleaned by patrols (the hen-house couple stressed that the area was strongly held and heavily mined) was put to good use at 8.30 a.m. on 30 November, when D Company went into an attack to clear the pocket of enemy ahead over the river. Working well with C Squadron 18 page 387 Armoured Regiment's tanks, the company pushed north-eastwards over 1200 lively (and muddy) yards, cleaning out a corner along the Lamone and seizing the first two groups of buildings (Scaldino di Sotto and Rombola), and continuing until by noon three further groups of buildings were in its hands. The enemy, answering with spandaus and mortars, held good positions in houses and under haystacks, which the tanks methodically and most hearteningly shot up with incendiary and high explosive. Joining in the attack, the battalion mortars fired 1130 rounds; supporting machine guns, 37,000 rounds.
The platoons, fairly widely spaced, worked independently: Sergeant Massey Wood's platoon on the left, Second-Lieutenant Jim Sherratt's6 in the centre, Second-Lieutenant Paterson's on the right. The line of attack was roughly parallel with the riverbank.
By the river Wood's platoon advanced briskly, but slowed up once when civilians stampeded past (‘I couldn't help but think of Barbara Freitchie as the old lady ran past with her grey hair streaming behind her’) and when a plucky German, found later to be wearing the Iron Cross ribbon, attacked a tank on his own, firing his revolver and circling the tank defiantly until wounded in the legs by grenades. The platoon rushed its final objective, a large three-storied house near the stopbank (apparently a German headquarters). ‘… the boys were wildly excited and yelling loudly…. excitement ran high’ as surrendering parties rose from ‘slitties’ and from under a haystack, or fled through olive trees and smoke. The platoon took the house and hastily sorted out positions to hold against a possible sally over the top of the stopbank as rifle and mortar fire spattered through the position.
In the centre the advance of Sherratt's platoon was handicapped through misfortune in a minefield. Near a disabled tank two prisoners approached. One trod on an S-mine (escaping injury himself) and five men of one section fell either wounded or severely shaken. Don Stoneham7 died. Comrades comforted Private White8 ‘by telling him we had a date in page 388 his favourite pub in Wanganui’, but his stomach wounds proved fatal.
While to the left the two platoons cleared and occupied ground to as far as Casa di Sopra, on the right Paterson's platoon converged on Casa di Mezzo, a couple or so buildings behind a crossfire from spandaus placed at intervals right across the front, and where bazookas fired at the tanks. In this hot spot Private Freddy Fisher9 (with the No. 38 radio set) met his death. The only choice for Paterson's platoon was a frontal attack.
The tanks softened up the defences, the 25-pounders delivered a small and uncomfortably close ‘stonk’, and then the platoon went in, firing from the hip and taking the last 30 yards at the run. One section sprinted round the back of a building to cut off escape. A hitherto unnoticed and silent spandau, now slightly behind them, opened up most disconcertingly, but the nearest man, Private Trevor Selby,10 turned immediately on the spandau, coolly walked towards it, and put all thirty rounds from his Bren magazine into the chest of the man operating it. ‘The other Hun who had been assisting with the spandau put his hands up and was still green and shaking violently when he marched away fifteen minutes later with the other prisoners.’ Di Mezzo fell, and without much further trouble the platoon went on to Casa di Sotto and halted for the rest of the day in a large white building.
D Company in its advance had collected twenty-two prisoners (one of whom, a company commander, Lieutenant Menkel, provided a rich haul of documents and a trace of a minefield ‘pleasingly accurate’), had killed about as many, and had lost two killed and seven wounded, one of whom, John page 389 Oldfield11 (felled by a mortar and distressingly wounded on top of the head and in shoulder and elbow), made one of the pluckiest recoveries in the history of the battalion. In action this day for the first time were a high proportion of young reinforcements who won this tribute from a platoon commander: ‘[They] had obviously been well trained in their territorial regiments before leaving NZ [and] worked beautifully together. They walked at their objective firing steadily from the hip, their line straight and the distance of three yards between men maintained evenly throughout. Actually it was a great thrill to me to be there to watch them.’
Paterson's platoon went on in the dark night after Corporal Cliff Hatchard and two others had scouted some 600 yards ahead without striking trouble. They broke into and occupied a large house (Gabadina) close to the riverbank. Before dawn someone with a bottle of concentrated Horlicks tablets announced ‘Breakfast ready.’ ‘Now our Company 2 i.c. Capt. Bob Wood12 had only been appointed recently, but we had seen enough of him to give the boys such faith in his ability to find and feed us no matter what, that many of the boys arrived with two dixies and a mug extended in the dark.’
At sunrise unsuspecting Germans directly across the road page 390 stretched and settled comfortably around three spandau pits and strolled round a small house. The platoon trained its Brens on the spandaus, waited, then as two Gurkha scouts came up the road, opened deadly fire while Paterson and Morrie Reeve's section charged out to seize the house and most of the dumbfounded occupants. Not quite half-way between the house and the stopbank stood a haystack. Here two Germans, lugging a machine gun, ducked down when they found they hadn't time to make the 30 yards to the stopbank. Paterson shouted, ‘Herein kommen!’ ‘Wir schiessen nicht!’ and then (inspired): ‘Wir haben panzer!’ Simultaneously a German officer half-reared from behind the stopbank and started roaring at the two men too. ‘It was very funny. The Hun officer, exceedingly annoyed, flung his hands in the air, shaking his fists, when the two ran over to us.’
Inside the house the captives huddled on a heap of hay while the platoon, munching ersatz chocolate and sweet biscuits, kept the stopbank under fire, and jeered (in a friendly way through wall ventilators) at Morrie Reeve, temporarily but harmlessly shut out of the house.
‘I remember Morrie calling in mock desperation from the cowshed wall alongside the house. We were all in a somewhat hilarious mood.’ Sergeant Johnny Law13 got the 2-inch and Piat mortars going and ranged with smoke bombs, which the men inside the house thought was a German ruse to mask an immediate attack. Instantly they fired furiously, as did the enemy, equally misled. Several minutes passed before both sides calmed down. Finally the stopbank became quiet. The arrival of an anti-tank gun had convinced the Germans that this was a powerful force. But then heavy mortaring and shelling took over. The Gurkhas relieved the platoon that afternoon, and for his inspiring leadership Paterson (who before the war, as a ‘student missionary’, had a small Presbyterian church for a time) was awarded the MC.
The fresh ground was held for the remaining week in the line, a week of patrolling and observing (sometimes with a periscope) round the river. Rocket-firing Thunderbolts and Spitfires strafed generously. Reacting promptly to rumours of page 391 a vino factory nearby, Captain ‘Junior’ McLean, with jeep, driver, and storeman ‘Hicko’ Broughton, found the factory floor a foot deep in flowing vermouth. McLean and driver left ‘Hicko’ to guard the factory and sped back for tins to fill. Returning, they ran into an anxious English officer dragging a half-drowned ‘Hicko’ out of the doorway.
Slit trenches for standing patrols were dug along the ledge of the stopbank, sometimes under fire: ‘The bullets kept whistling through the grass along the flat top of the stopbank a few feet above our heads, and Sergeant Mick Bougen had a neat bullet hole drilled through his beret.’ These slit trenches were manned at dark, about 5.30 p.m., with Germans the other side of the 25-foot-wide river. ‘It was a darned cold night and we [10 Platoon] found in the intervening few hours since we had dug the slitties about 2? of water had seeped in and our feet were soon like blocks of ice. Each trench was occupied by two blokes, one of whom stood on a firing step just above, so that he could see across the top of the bank. Each pair did four and a half hours before being relieved. We just stood and listened and froze, and repeated the performance the following night.’
Fog came down to hide the river, which was rising after more rain, and brief glimpses of logs and rubbish drifting past sent out anxious alarms: ‘Enemy boats approaching!’ D Company repulsed a genuine attack over the river one night. Sergeant Tsukigawa (‘the man who brooded when left out of a patrol’), taking a quick peep over the stopbank, was shot neatly through the ear. Spandau fire badly wounded Sergeant Long.14 Before dawn four Germans, including a company sergeant-major, came over under a white flag and spoke freely about positions. Men sleeping on the floor of a casa had a rude awakening when a shell burst in the top of a nearby tree. A window's shutters were inconveniently open and three men collected wounds.
Pandemonium burst in a ‘Chinese attack’ in the night of 3-4 December, a hoax to draw attention from 46 British Division successfully crossing the Lamone River further inland to the New Zealanders' left. Bogus messages flashed between brigade and battalion headquarters, and between battalions and companies. Tanks crawled round in circles; signallers filled page 392 the air with menacing tales and threats, parties pretended to strike out over the water with bridging material. Every available weapon blazed away—one officer emptied his revolver across the river. Guns and mortars lavishly fired smoke shells; the enemy became thoroughly alarmed—and so did 10 Platoon, bitterly complaining of being smoked out by 34 Battery. Smoke made some men sick, and sometimes respirators were worn. The enemy, of course, congratulated himself on foiling a desperate attack.
Eighteen Platoon, in luck, found quantities of eggs, and a record batch of about thirty were frying invitingly in an outsize pan when suddenly an alarm came from an outpost: numerous grey figures scurrying through no-man's-land to disappear among trees. The eggs were abandoned, signals were sent out, and a general alarm was given. The rumble of tanks was soon heard, and then came the orders. The tanks and infantry in extended line were to comb through the battalion front. The net result of the operation: a flock of about forty grey guinea-fowl!
The battalion, tramping down the muddy road in single file, went out of the line on 8 December to billets in Forli. As soon as it reached the rest area it had a most important engagement. James Casson, a New Zealand war correspondent, writes:
An achievement of which the Battalion was exceedingly proud was the winning of the final in the New Zealand Divisional Rugby Championship, for which the trophy was the Freyberg Cup, on 8 December 1944. The competition was very closely contested and the final roused as much interest in the Division as a Ranfurly Shield match does in New Zealand. In the five rounds which ended with 22 Bn and 2 Ammunition Coy level in points the Battalion drew with 21 Bn, beat 5 Field Regiment, beat 25 Battalion, drew with 2 Ammunition Company and beat Divisional Signals.
The playoff was in the ruins of a fine stadium Mussolini had built in Forli.
On a bitterly cold, grey afternoon the teams lined out before a crowd of 5,000 Kiwis for one of the most closely contested games ever played by Divisional sides. Conditions were shockingly bad. Except for two narrow strips of firm going on the goal lines the ground was a morass.page 393
The teams15 were:—
22 Bn: Kenny; Sherratt, Dickson, Sullivan; Bowers, Thomas (capt); Bevan; Beisel, Armstrong, Rogers, Cooper, Simpson, Anderson, Reynolds, Dallimore.
2 Ammunition Coy: Scott; Argus, Neeley, Poultney; Kotlowski, Flynn; King; Remnant, Brown, McLean, Ramsey (capt), Jackson, Pannett, Budd, Stewart. Referee: Sid Nicoll.
For the spectators, festooned over the ruins of the grandstand, perched on vantage points on trucks, or lining the field, it was a game to remember. Both sides played to attack all the time and strove desperately to open play up. In such conditions there was much scrambling, but everyone was giving it a go and play veered rapidly from end to end of the field, with several very near tries and never a dull moment. Despite their faster-moving backs and a weight advantage in the pack of a stone a man the Battalion team, for all but the last 10 minutes of the first half, looked as if they might be beaten by lighter forwards who played magnificently together as a pack.
Right on half-time a scrum was formed 10 yards from the Ammunition Company's goal-line. Battalion hooked the ball and Bevan passed it back to Thomas, who drop-kicked a goal. It was perfectly executed pre-arranged play and it gave Battalion a lead of 4-0 at half-time.16
In the second half the Battalion forwards performed better and the advantages of greater weight and speed were apparent. But neither side was able to score and the game ended with the score still: 22 Bn 4, 2 Ammunition Coy o.
Six days after the divisional final, 22 Battalion went into one of its hardest fought and most successful actions. Fifth Brigade had relieved 46 British Division in its bridgehead over the Lamone. Carefully 22 Battalion had gone forward into a tricky position: along the main road past Forli, then to the south-west, to a remarkably second-grade road running into a valley with a broken railway line. This narrow approach, under enemy observation, was ‘stonked’ regularly. Men went part of the way in trucks then foot-slogged into position in the daylight. Two men were ignominiously wounded when a dog exploded a picket mine. This was ‘a hell of a place to attack in: quite impassable for tanks. Rough going, few tracks, the sudden drop and rise, and the creek would prohibit a regular advance and a creeping barrage, so the Battalion decided to call for concentrated artillery fire, to be brought down when needed on special points. This worked OK.’ Most of the battalion could look across a steep, bush-covered descent to a sharp rise ahead. Near the top of this rise stood the pocket-fortress of Casa Elta.
‘Casa Elta was the usual stone farmhouse, fairly large, two storeyed, with a lean-to cow byre on the back. The privvy, pig-pen, shed and manure-pit were on the left, slightly in front, a well on the right corner of the house. About five small straw stacks stood in the front yard, a few medium-tall pine (?) trees well out in front where the steep slope down started. The whole setup sitting on a nice little knob, a grand view to the right almost to the Celle Crossroads it seemed (all along that fatal minefield). To the front and left extra steep sides down into gullies and then up onto ridges. The Jerry slitties were well sited around the yard perimeter. I consider that one could move from position to position almost without being observed,’ says Len Turner.page 396
A gruesome incident happened in C Company's headquarters area. A civilian hospital had been set up in a house, identified with the Red Cross. All soldiers were kept strictly away from the hospital packed with sick and distressed refugees under the care of a most competent Italian doctor. But a heavy shell landed and exploded in the basement, killing and mutilating many of the unfortunate civilians. A 5 Brigade Headquarters sergeant (probably a security sergeant) worked gallantly, evacuating the pathetic patients, but some civilians still lay helpless in the hospital when the big attack started.
In the last hour of 14 December, 5 Brigade was about to go forward past enemy-held Faenza to the little village of Celle, almost in the foothills. Panzer grenadiers with tanks were waiting. The Maori Battalion formed up on the right, the 23rd in the centre, and the 22nd on the left in the roughest country, with at least two creeks and ridges to cross. Under artificial moonlight the barrage of 420 guns began—and the enemy immediately flung a vicious counter-barrage through ours, about 150 yards behind it.
C and A Companies (left and right) moved off, supported later by B and D Companies respectively. The battalion's objective that night was left open. If possible, it was to get to the Senio River, 4000 yards away; if not, to the road running west of Celle, about half-way to the river. As soon as the leading companies slowed up, the others were to pass through. Nobody had any idea that the 22nd's ground would be so strongly defended.
Already the enemy was blazing back with shell, mortar, spandau and tracer. Here and there a man staggered or spun round and fell after moving only a few yards. On the others went, in sudden starts and dashes, pushing from house to house over low but steep-sided ground until resistance reached a climax on the side of a steep hill 800 yards away. This was Casa Elta, farmhouse and barns converted into a stout fortress, guarded with many well-placed machine-gun posts and surrounded by mines of every description—a place the battalion would never forget. ‘The engineers said later that it was the most thickly sown and had the greatest variety of mines that they had encountered up to that time,’ writes a battalion officer, ‘and that never had they seen so many footprints so close to so many mines before’.page 397
Piat mortar bombs began blasting the walls of Casa Elta, but the enemy held on, hour after hour. Not until 4 a.m., when it had been by-passed and attacked from the rear by hastily assembled yet stubbornly persistent little parties from C Company, did this strongpoint fall.
The advance on the left to Casa Elta had been costly for C Company, especially for 15 Platoon (left), which soon had all its leaders wounded or killed. Lieutenant Brian Edinger18 was knocked out on the start line as he said ‘Come on!’; Sergeant ‘Doc’ Fowke19 took over command; Johnny Hughes was platoon sergeant, and before long both these good men met their deaths in Casa Elta's minefields. The isolated and virtually leaderless platoon, still doggedly aiming for Casa Elta, now split into three groups under Private Hugh Poland20 (soon wounded), Lance-Corporal Brian Galvin21 (‘Boom, up I brewed’), and Private Ron Dixon,22 a natural leader who won an immediate MM. Dixon capably grouped some of the shreds of his platoon together, pushed on to the right of Casa Elta, captured two defended positions and eight prisoners, severed telephone wires, which isolated Casa Elta, and later joined the last assault on the house.
Thirteen and 14 Platoons, which suffered lighter casualties, also lost touch in the dark and mine-flecked night, but towards 3 a.m. small parties from both of these scattered platoons were converging independently on Casa Elta from behind the farmhouse. ‘… on getting to the rear we spread out in extended formation and attacked with our weapons firing and yelling to make our numbers sound more than we really were,’ writes Lance-Sergeant Len Seaman,23 leading about ten men from 13 Platoon. ‘We captured several prisoners from an outbuilding to the left of the casa. My attention was then attracted page 398 by movement behind the casa itself, and on moving round the building I came in contact with one who was just too cunning for me.’ Seaman was hit in the chest.
Groups from 13 and 14 Platoons had now met up and, working zealously together, carried out the last of the skirmishing at close quarters round the casa's walls. One group from 13 Platoon had been delayed by heavy and accurate fire from three spandau posts until Private Henry McIvor, an acting section-leader, voluntarily stalked the first post and wiped it out with his tommy gun, and went on to silence the second post with a grenade when his weapon jammed. McIvor, ‘without [whose] acts of gallantry, no progress could have been made’ by the platoon, received an immediate MM.
About the last act round the stubborn farmhouse came at 4 a.m., when five Germans approached it with a spandau. Ces Carroll24 (14 Platoon) raced into the courtyard roaring ‘Mani sopra!’ (Hands up!)—and with that his tommy-gun magazine fell out with a clatter on to the courtyard. In a mutually horrified silence, friend and foe looked at each other. Then the Germans surrendered: some twenty Germans were taken altogether at Casa Elta.
About an hour before Lance-Sergeant Seaman was hit, B Company had passed through C Company's area, escaping the minefield, but finding the going rough and muddy and the enemy harassing fire heavy and accurate. Scrambling through the creek, B Company slogged on up towards its first objective, a steep tongue-shaped ridge slightly behind and to the west of Casa Elta. Ten Platoon (Lieutenant Len Turner) was on the left and 11 Platoon (Lieutenant Phil Powell) on the right. A line of small trees ran down the ridge, and the men, silhouetted by artificial moonlight, moved over the skyline fast as enemy spandaus opened up at very close range, bringing half a dozen casualties. Showing up clearly on that barren, steep face, B Company drew brisk spandau fire from Casa Elta in its rear, where seven spandau posts were found next day.
‘We tried a bit of fieldcraft but Jerry had the book with all the answers in it. Here,’ says Len Turner, ‘Major Spicer25 page 399 (OC B Coy) caught up and suggested we keep the enemy amused with fire while 12 Platoon (Lieutenant Joblin, in reserve) endeavoured to infiltrate between this setup and Casa Elta. This they managed to do, and moved on to Casa Mercante. As this manoeuvre was going on all hell let loose at Casa Elta, and we knew a short time later, as we received a message to move on to Casa Mercante, that Casa Elta had been captured by Sergeant Len Seaman and Co.’
After a sharp engagement Casa Mercante fell soon after dawn to B Company, yielding altogether forty prisoners, including ten wounded. A good impression of the scene is given by Ian Ferguson:26 ‘Some of 10 Platoon were firing from the hip in the middle of the road, and others were shooting from behind the slight cover of the 2 ft hedge. From the house flashes were … [coming] from all the windows and it was obviously strongly held. It was a miracle none of our chaps were bowled over, but it was certainly spectacular while it lasted with grenades, Brens, Tommyguns and rifles all cracking and the Jerries returning our fire.’
Turning now to the battalion's right-hand sector, A Company's attack was opened by 6 Platoon (Lin Thomas) and the doomed 7 Platoon (Captain Johnston). Thanks to the rough ground, 6 Platoon arrived at the first objective, Casa Ianna, a little behind the barrage. The house had forward defences under haystacks. One section, under Corporal Tony Clark,27 attacked from a flank while the other two sections fired on the house, which was taken with no casualties. Corporal Clark won an immediate MM through his leadership in this flanking attack. Under fire from two machine-gun pits, he personally went in with hand grenades and tommy gun and silenced both. Six Platoon fired the haystacks and burnt two cars hidden in them, and smoked out prisoners who were still in their pits underneath. Altogether some twenty prisoners were taken from this casa. The platoon was most fortunate in getting safely through an undetected minefield in front of this house, but 7 Platoon, in another minefield further to the right, was not so fortunate.page 400
Two further houses in 6 Platoon's line of attack were taken with no resistance, ‘Jerry having flitted before we arrived,’ writes Lin Thomas. ‘The last but one in our area nearly turned out to be a battle of friends. A platoon (I think) of C Company on our left had got off course slightly and had taken this particular casa of ours. It was just breaking dawn, and still a bit dusky, and they had a prisoner outside trying to entice some stray friends into the casa when we attacked. The password was yelled from all windows smartly, and what could have been a serious situation turned into relieved wisecracks and laughter.’
Eight Platoon, in reserve and lying on the ground, ‘heard a grunt or moan from Sergeant Mick Kenny’, who was wounded. Sergeant Arthur Fong took over the platoon. Soon they learned that 7 Platoon ‘was “out the monk” with casualties, so we had to take our right flank, after picking up one section of Number 7.’ By now the enemy was falling back, abandoning a high bank criss-crossed with trenches and then a couple of houses. Without any close fighting and with only a couple of casualties, Fong and his 8 Platoon safely reached the Casa Ianna area and stayed there.
Captain Johnston headed 7 Platoon. With him were Sergeant Jack Shaw and Corporal Callesen. The platoon was to attack on the right flank of the battalion. It moved on to a small flat, just behind our barrage of bursting shells, and lay there until the barrage lifted. Here Doug Ellis,28 the signaller, was wounded in the hand but refused to go back.
The barrage lifted. The platoon moved into a gully. Four ‘shorts’ landed in quick succession just in front of Johnston and Shaw, blowing both off their feet.
Up the slope, across a track, through a hedge, on to a forward slope, and there, just ahead, was the start line. ‘Across on the next ridge we could see, by the light of the gun flashes and shell bursts, our first objective.’
Half-way down the slope shells landed right on the platoon, killing Reeve Collins and wounding others. ‘The noise was terrific.’ Doug Ellis, again wounded (in the side this time), still carried on. Regrouping, the platoon followed the horizontal line of anti-aircraft tracer directed straight on to its page 401 first objective. Then the platoon stopped. A check revealed that there were only eight left (including the wounded Ellis). Shaw went back, but could not penetrate the shells blanketing the ridge.29 He returned and asked: ‘What do we do now?’
‘We're going on with the show,’ Johnston answered.
As they moved off again, Ellis went down with his third wound, in the thigh, which would cost him a leg. Shaw and Russell dressed the wound, noticed the radio set was a complete write-off, and placed Ellis in a small hollow where he lay alone for seven hours.
They carried on to a hedge breasting a narrow road. Russell and Quinn30 forced their way through, Wood31 followed, with Shaw a yard behind. Wood set off a mine the other two had missed. Collecting his senses and struggling to his feet, the sergeant saw McIntyre32 and another man stretched out on the ground. The other man was unhurt, but McIntyre lost an eye. They crawled together into a drain beside the road.
‘All this time Jerry was slinging shells into our area.’
Shaw, still dazed, his eyesight affected by the mine blast, began wondering where Captain Johnston was. Then he saw the captain. It took him a while to realise that Johnston was crawling towards them.
With his signaller hit in the thigh and his radio set ruined, Johnston in the meantime had run ahead to find the road and make contact with some tanks faintly visible in the artificial moonlight. He hoped that the tanks, in radio contact with Battalion, would be able to raise and bring up the reserve platoon of A Company, commanded by Mick Kenny. Johnston found the tanks out of action, their tracks blown off, and their crews sheltering from fire. He set off to find the reserve platoon himself. Several times the hedge barred the way. Finally, he stood back and charged the hedge, struck a mine page 402 hanging there, was blown high in the air, and landed on all fours in a minefield. He began crawling through this minefield, dragging a smashed leg behind him, and carefully feeling in front with his hands—in his dazed condition he was under the delusion that he could clear aside mines and make a safe path for his wounded men to follow. He had crawled about 100 yards when Sergeant Shaw saw him. Disregarding faint warnings from Johnston, Quinn and Russell came out from the ditch to join their captain.
‘How bad is it?’ asked Johnston, as they began aiding him. ‘Can you take it?’ asked Russell, and, reassured, replied: ‘Well, she's gone—your right leg.’.
Johnston, a prominent athlete, accepted the news calmly and gave directions for shelter: ‘Up the road turn right, past the tanks to the house on the left.’ Eighty-eight-millimetre shells landed near the house, Johnston was pushed under a tank for shelter, and Russell and Quinn found an 18 Armoured Regiment RAP carrier. They and the driver picked up the captain and were about to move when another crash came, distinct from the general uproar of battle. Quinn had set off a mine and lost a foot. Russell and the carrier's driver were wounded too, and the hapless Johnston for the third time within an hour was hurled into the air and freshly wounded in the back and legs and suffered a burst ear-drum.
The mangled men left in the carrier, the driver, wounded in the thigh, insisting on driving. Johnston, his battalion uppermost in his mind, directed the carrier to 23 Battalion's headquarters (under mortar fire), where Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas33 said he would radio 22 Battalion. Then, after passing through a mortar ‘stonk’ and crossing a bridge under bombardment from enemy guns, the carrier shed both tracks in deep craters. Tank men came to the aid of the wounded who ‘had no more excitement after that,’ writes Sergeant Shaw. Before he was carried away, Johnston, mastering his drifting thoughts, firmly ordered Russell not to return to the wounded signaller Ellis, but to find Colonel O'Reilly and tell him of the page 403 platoon's plight. This Russell did, although bleeding, exhausted, and exposed to more fire. Following Johnston's directions, Russell stumbled into Colonel O'Reilly's headquarters before the radio message got through from 23 Battalion.
Back on the other side of the mined hedge Corporal Callesen gathered the lost men together and led them into an attack on 7 Platoon's first objective.
Within an hour of A Company opening its attack, D Company was ordered to send a platoon forward to find A Company (all radio contact had been lost), to radio back reports, and to try to keep radio touch with C Company on the left.
Sixteen Platoon, under Second-Lieutenant Charlie Deem,34 went forward. ‘A dirty black night, the ground wet and greasy, the going hard,’ writes Lance-Corporal Barnden.35 ‘All the way we had to run the gauntlet of very constant and accurate defensive fire.’ Frequently the platoon had to stop and radio its bearings back to headquarters. Each time it did this the platoon was plastered with uncannily accurate mortars, which ‘brought out a lot of indignation from the boys who reckoned that the enemy were on our wavelength and were merely following our route from our radio reports.’ But no casualties came yet. ‘We first saw [Casa Ianna] through the blackness of the night brilliantly lit by its surrounding haystacks and barns which were well ablaze. At this stage the barrage had ceased but the night was filled with small arms fire. On our left the Brens were having a go at Casa Elta. There was a hell of a noise coming from the direction of Celle. Everything was quiet at Casa Ianna: A Company were in full possession.’ In extended order, ready for battle, the platoon crossed the creek and climbed a rise safely36 into Casa Ianna, where A Company was getting its breath back, and holding prisoners.
About one and a half hours after Deem's platoon left, the call came for the rest of D Company. A guide led them in page 404 single file in the dark over rough, wooded, and mined country to A Company. ‘The grey dawn was just showing.’ The two companies investigated and occupied buildings in the Casa Ianna-Roba delle Suore area, taking more prisoners without serious engagements.
Passing over the freshly-won ground, the New Zealand war correspondent who had described the Freyberg Cup match now wrote: ‘Fields and roads are pitted and torn with shell holes; trees are broken and splintered and not a house in the area undamaged. Many are reduced to rubble. In many the Germans had torn holes in the ground floors and dug shelters under the houses, stacking earth inside the rooms for extra protection. Slit trenches around the houses emphasised their determination to hold the positions. It was only the speed and fury of our infantry attack, following a terrific barrage, which smashed the German resistance…. The tiny village, Celle, a miniature Cassino, with a church, a few buildings and earth all round, was an indescribable confusion of wreckage….’
The companies stayed in position all that day, 15 December, here and there taking part in minor mopping-up operations. A few weary men in D Company, occupying a house full of Italians, tried to persuade some of them ‘to do a spot of liberating themselves. I said we had come 15,000 kms to liberate them, we still had a hell of a lot of liberating to do and many of the men who had come with us were now dead or wounded. I didn't think it fair to leave all the liberating to us since it wasn't our country anyway. I then asked for some brave volunteers. After a lot of talking—“too old,” “too weak,” “too young,” “no weapons” etc. etc., two 15 year olds came forward, their mothers trying to drag them back and everyone crying by now.’ Finally four, armed with German weapons, set off ‘and for the first and last time we had the pleasing spectacle of Italians marching forth to liberate their own country.’ The New Zealanders were excitedly accused of sending four Italians off to certain death, but soon a great shout of joy arose: ‘our four Italian heroes appeared, buttons bursting off chests with pride, rifles prodding one tall German. As they came closer the German was seen to be the colour of his uniform on one side of his face, a portion of the other side was missing, he seemed to page 405 have several other holes in shoulder, arms and chest, also one in the thigh. How he was able to walk was a miracle. He carried himself like a soldier. He could still speak in a kind of whisper.’ To the amazement of the Italians the soldiers placed him on a door, gave him water and cognac, conscripted four Italians and threatened them with death if the German did not reach the unit RAP.
In the mopping-up operations in the morning of 15 December Crowe37 saw a spandau sticking out of a dugout, ‘so I reached down and grabbed the barrel to yank it out and found a Jerry hanging onto the handle, but before I could bring the tommy-gun up he ducked around the side, so we chucked in a couple of smoke bombs and brought them out.’ But the smoke drew shelling and ‘the old saying is quite right that you don't hear the one that's got your number on it. I heard quite a few, then Whamm! I was flat on my back. Old Tex Jones helped me up to the boys.’ The mopping up continued.
More stretcher-bearers got to work after dawn, when a call for volunteers among men left out of battle met with a grand response. Because of the difficult country, mud, occasional shelling, and the menace of mines, some men did not reach hospital in Forli until twenty-two hours after being wounded. Ned Pemberton and three others (including an adventurous artillery forward observation officer, Captain Horrocks,38 who was later decorated for his services) turned to rescue Galvin from the minefield. They placed him on a stretcher, ‘both stood up, took one step, and Boom, up we go again. Poor old Ned had his foot blown clean off and the other knocked about.’ Pemberton, calmly smoking a cigarette, was carried into the advanced dressing station and greeted the doctor with: ‘Well, she's a one boot job, Doc.’
Crowe, who had been wounded in hand and leg, couldn't help laughing. His stretcher-bearers, anti-tank men, ‘were all armed with revolvers and red-cross armbands and the chap out in front had a tommygun in one hand and a Red Cross flag in the other, a real peaceful outfit.’ Among the last men page 406 whom Anderson39 and his comrades picked up was Len Seaman, who had been shot neatly through the centre of his chest and was bleeding profusely: ‘we thought he'd had it.’ By now some of the stretcher-bearers were worn out. There were about eight men to each stretcher, one at each handle and the others taking over at short intervals.
Colonel O'Reilly visited Casa Elta and on his way back captured eight Germans coming out of a dugout near Casa Ianna. The battalion was still rather confused about its own casualties: the correct number for the attack was forty, including five dead—a hard blow in a bloody night. Many were seriously injured in the limbs from mines. The battalion's prisoners were eighty-four (including two officers), seventeen of them severely wounded, and more men coming in as mopping up went on. All were from 36 Regiment 90 Panzer Grenadier Division—tough, well seasoned, stubborn defenders, liberally supplied with automatic weapons.
Faenza, having been outflanked, was abandoned by the enemy in the night of 16-17 December. The battalion, solidly supported by Air Force fighter-bombers working a few hundred yards ahead, reached the Senio River, two miles below Castel Bolognese, before dusk on the 16th. Captain Bob Wood, having run the gauntlet through Celle, was waiting impatiently with a jeep and trailer full of hot stew. The shelling and the ‘Moaning Minnies’ had been fairly heavy at times during the afternoon. Everyone was dog-tired. Most of the platoons had leapfrogged forward, occupying houses in turn. They were under observation from Castel Bolognese, in front of the sector and on the other side of the river. Plainly visible were the village's church spires, and many a man thought to himself: ‘Feel a bit naked with that damn church spire: great observation post for Jerry.’
The RAP was radioed not to come up until dark, which was not far off. ‘However not 10 minutes later there was a commotion and a clatter … a Bren carrier was weaving around the shell holes on the road, a chap standing up in it with a beret on and smoking a pipe, directing the driver and hanging on to a small Red Cross flag. The carrier was being page 407 chased along the road by 88's which bounced either in front or behind it on the roadway but somehow missed each time. It was Paul Sergel. The Padre in leisurely fashion unstrapped the stretcher from the carrier and loaded on the wounded chap while shelling and mortaring continued heavily. He said it was better not to wait till after dark as sometimes time was important with these casualties. The driver climbed in, then Paul idly swung himself aboard, waved with his pipe in his hand and, still standing, directed the driver back to the RAP while once more 88s chased them all along that piece of road.’
Clearly the worst of the opposition was over. The battalion had collected more captives, bringing its total prisoners since the attack began to 124, nearly half of 5 Brigade's total of 284.
However, the river and winter would hold Eighth Army at bay for many weeks. D Company found the river in front of it 30 feet wide, in some places wider still. Sheer stopbanks rose 12 feet high and had been blown here and there to flood nearby land. Deep mud and marshy ground skirted the stopbanks, craftily mined as usual and threatening to crumble if anyone tried bridge-building. Civilians said the Senio ran eight feet deep at least, and other reports showed that tanks hadn't a chance of crossing anywhere round about.
Low clouds and patches of damp fog drifted over the front for the next few days. This mist was a double blessing to Ford and his comrades. ‘Apparently the house we were in must have been raided a lot for poultry (or gelenas), as there were only about six chooks left round the place and as wild as March hares. We'd no hope of catching them. The birds used to roost in a tree in front of our house in full view of the enemy. One misty afternoon the boys decided to rig a 36 grenade, with a long string, in the tree where they roosted. In time the gelenas came to roost, and all the boys’ mouths were watering expecting a feed of poultry next day. When the birds were all settled round the grenade someone pulled the string; four seconds, then an almighty explosion, it didn't get a single bird, only blowing them out of the tree. They all ran away and that was the last we saw of them.’
When the weather improved a little the enemy promptly got on to houses in the front of 22 Battalion's area, shelling, mortaring and bringing up tanks and self-propelled guns to page 408 blaze away from across the river. ‘Blink your eyelashes and the bastards would be on to us.’ Every house near the riverbank stopped direct hits, and in turn both the RAP and the mortar platoon, just a little further back, were hit. The infantry lifted mines, observed enemy artillery, kept busy on flash-spotting, and sent back bearings to the artillery supporting the battalion. The mortars and machine guns kept busy. Over the ruined roads, through the mounting slush, ice and mud, across soaked fields, the battalion carriers played a big part in bringing up rations.
A piece of mortar passed through a window in a platoon headquarters casa on 19 December and smashed Private Mabbett's40 arm. He made his way out, cheered by a shot of liquor on the way from Second-Lieutenant Bill Treseder.41 The hospital sister apologised for the bed having only one sheet. ‘Don't worry, as long as there's plenty of hay to sleep on, replied the dazed private. He adds: ‘It was typical that when I came to next day, there was Sergeant Tsukigawa to ask me if I wanted anything, or could he send a cable home to my people.’
A little incident now took place which impressed the officer concerned ‘as typical of the men of the 22nd. War seemed to bring these things out in a way that doesn't happen in peace time.’ As with several other platoons, strength now was low— his platoon, numbering eighteen, held two farmhouses along the front, with nine men in each. Each house had three picket posts to man, apart from any odd jobs which cropped up. Everyone took a turn at picket duty, and everyone grew a little ‘dopey’ from lack of sleep. The officer writes: ‘Our house had a fireplace in the back where at night we kept a small fire going to warm us—smoky chimneys in the daytime not being desirable features of any place round there I relieved Pat O'Carroll,42 a Maori corporal in my platoon, at midnight. At 2 a.m. I came down from watching out into a cold drizzle of rain to warm up at the fire before turning in on the floor. I found Pat sitting gazing into the remains of the fire in a semi- page 409 stupor. I sat down beside him and together we watched our thoughts flickering in the embers. We had been in the line some time so that our tobacco supplies were running out. I had calculated that if I rationed myself to three rolls a day I'd just about make out until we were relieved. We were all about the same way. As I sat there I thought it wouldn't hurt to have a cigarette before lying down for a sleep. I took my tin from my pocket, rolled myself a cigarette, then passed the tin to Pat telling him to have one. He took the tin, rolled himself a cigarette, and then passed it back to me. I slipped it into my pocket again. We sat there a little longer, hardly speaking, then I turned in. Next day, when I couldn't hold out any longer, I took my tin out of my pocket again to roll a cigarette. To my amazement it was half full of tobacco. I couldn't make it out at all. I thought back … then I remembered passing it to Pat. I tackled him: “Hey you—, what did you do to my tobacco tin last night?” Eventually he admitted putting all of his own into my tin, saying he'd given up smoking for a while —claimed he often did—and thought I might like to have the tobacco for which he had no further use, anyway.’
Consistent shelling spread over 21 December, a day which began badly when one man was killed and three severely wounded by mines just north of D Company. A riverbank patrol (Les Raill,43 ‘Snow’ Barratt,44 and Gordon O'Donnell45) was skirting the apparent edge of a minefield in almost total darkness when Barratt exploded a mine, which blew off his left leg near the groin. ‘We did our best to tourniquet this terrible wound and then Gordon O'Donnell left posthaste to fetch assistance.’ Time passed. Fearing O'Donnell had been wounded on the way back and that Barratt might die from lack of medical assistance, Raill gamely lifted his wounded comrade on his back ‘but going up slight slope, shuffled onto a mine, and that was that.’ Showing almost superhuman fortitude, Raill improvised tourniquets for his two smashed legs: page 410 a tommy-gun sling and barrel on one leg, a tommy-gun magazine and braces on the other. Barratt had been thrown well clear and did not speak or move again.
Help arrived. Raill was placed on a door and carried safely from the minefield. Unhappily the party who recovered Barratt's body, while returning along the track they had safely used on the way up, exploded another mine which cost the battalion two experienced and resolute soldiers: Lance-Sergeant Lin Faull, who lost a leg, and Private ‘Blue’ Bowering,46 who lost an eye.
Raill writes of ‘the splendid work of the company stretcher-bearers who shared all dangers during attacks without the reassurance of lethal weapons in their hands. I was struck by the demeanour of these chaps on several occasions and, when I was hurt, the first person at my side was the RAP bloke who strode rapidly down the easiest and therefore the most dangerous path as though there never was such a thing as a tripwire or Schu-mine.’
During the four days before Christmas several houses occupied by the battalion were blown to bits. The whittling-down process continued (the steady trickle of wounded men being carried away was more unnerving than one quick blow), and C Company had to quit a position when a casa was utterly destroyed. The moment the men moved into their new place, down crashed another exasperating ‘stonk’.
Three members of 15 Platoon fell wounded when their house stopped a direct hit, and the platoon was then left without NCOs.
The mortar men suffered too. Mick Condon47 ‘was buried under brick and rubble. I have to thank Hec McKinnon and Fred Bowers48 for clearing away the debris and getting us out, and half dragging, half carrying me under Spandau fire to medical aid.’ Among the ruins an old stove had split in half, singeing the head of Allan Ainge49 before he could be rescued. page 411 Bill McSweeney50 was killed outright, together with ‘Tony’, the owner of the little farm, who had letters of gratitude from escaping New Zealand prisoners of war whom he had assisted. Another mortar man, Noel Bird, was wounded when the fog, lifting over the front, increased enemy shelling. Bird had chosen ‘a nice cosy corner of the cellar for my bed, being the safest part of the house as I thought. But as fate would have it, after I was wounded Jim Cooper51 took my cosy corner bed and that night was killed in it from a direct hit.’
One night just before Christmas, when a signaller in 15 Platoon's casa left his radio set and went outside, Private Morgan52 took over the set and died instantly when a mortar burst through the kitchen window and ripped away the ceiling. At daybreak the house was pounded to bits. Stew Shanks,53 Keith Martin,54 and one or two others were buried in rubble: ‘a terrible feeling lying there and wondering what was going to happen next.’ Scooping away rubble, George Cade55 suddenly raised two appallingly gory hands and said ‘Poor Stew.’ But the ‘gore’ came from a tomato sauce bottle. Filled with anger and concern, Cade flung aside a massive rafter (it took three men to move it later), and the three buried men, none seriously injured, were freed ‘just when breathing was beginning to get a little difficult.’
Among the last casualties in this position was Private King,56 wounded in the face by a stray spandau bullet when drawing water at night.
Christmas Day was pretty quiet except for ‘stonks’ about Battalion Headquarters and close attention to any movement. The battalion machine guns fired 16,000 rounds, and the suffering mortars called it a day with a dozen bombs. But an early page 412 morning Mass was conducted by Padre Callaghan57 at Battalion Headquarters for twenty-six members of the headquarters, a party from 27 (Machine Gun) Battalion, and a handful of Italian civilians.
Every company planned to hold a carol service in the largest room in the biggest house in its area. Padre Sergel started out alone across country with his bundle of books and Communion set, but even before he reached the first house the mortars were on to him, driving him into a ditch, so the first service was late. The next move was mostly behind cover. The third trip, again in the open, meant a lot of ducking, diving and taking cover. This service had to be held after dinner when the vino had circulated generously, and although the carol singing was superb, the faithful had to adjourn to an upper room for Communion. ‘The fourth company turned on a real Christmas atmosphere,’ the Padre recalls. ‘It was held in the large ground-floor stable with cattle and donkeys in our midst, and most of the boys were sitting on straw with a few peasants crouched round a small fire in one corner. It needed little imagination to feel we were back in Bethlehem centuries before. We realised, perhaps for the first time, the background to that old, old story. In the evening we built a big fire, and round this we sat as at home, and we sang as best we could the old carols and old songs of happier days. Our thoughts turned back to the Christmas before in Southern Italy on the Sangro. How far we had advanced since then! How many friends we had lost since then! Then came memories of the Christmas before in Egypt, and the one before that in the desert, and some could tell of others even before then. And then we thought of those at home.’
1 A Coy, Maj A. W. F. O'Reilly (and then Capt P. R. Willock); B Coy, Capt R. H. Spicer; C Coy, Maj L. G. S. Cross; D Coy, Maj G. S. Sainsbury. Lieutenant-Colonel O'Reilly became CO when Lieutenant-Colonel Donald left for England on furlough. On 17 November 1944 the battalion marched past in honour of Lieutenant-Colonel Donald and another former CO, Colonel Campbell, who became commander of 4 Armoured Brigade.
2 Pte E. P. O'Connor; born NZ 8 Apr 1911; civil servant; killed in action 26 Nov 1944.
3 Pte R. A. Beaven; New Plymouth; born New Plymouth, 21 May 1922; farming student; wounded 29 Nov 1944.
4 Pte D. C. Kennard; born NZ 15 Apr 1921; labourer; killed in action 28 Nov 1944.
5 Pte J. G. McMillan; Dunedin; born Masterton, 16 Oct 1922; clerk; wounded 12 Sep 1944.
6 Lt J. R. Sherratt; Pukeatua, Te Awamutu; born Gisborne, 11 May 1919; accountant.
7 Pte D. F. Stoneham; born NZ 3 Feb 1920; warehouseman; killed in action 30 Nov 1944.
8 Pte G. L. H. White; born Waikanae, 22 Feb 1917; stock driver; died of wounds 2 Dec 1944.
9 Pte F. S. Fisher; born Feilding, 21 Jul 1914; clerk; died of wounds 30 Nov 1944. ‘He was quite tall, slightly built, rather shy and a sensitive type—nothing of the tough, hardbitten fighting man about Fred, though the reason he was killed was really because he couldn't work his 38 set properly lying down—in fact they never would work properly when you wanted them to, whether you stood up or stood on your head,’ writes a comrade. ‘However, Fred had the 38 set and was determined to do the job properly, so he sat up in a very shallow ditch in the middle of an open paddock while we had mortars, 88s, bazookas and Spandaus giving us the works. Every time I looked round at him he'd be sitting up calmly fiddling with the dials, or trying to fix the aerial in a different fashion. To my constant: “Lie down, you silly b—Freddy,” he had the same reply each time: “She's right, I'll make the b— work yet.” Then the mortar landed and exploded almost in his face.’
10 Pte T. D. Selby; Tirau; born NZ 3 Mar 1923; farmhand; wounded 8 Dec 1944.
11 Pte J. P. Oldfield; Whenuakura, Patea; born NZ 29 Aug 1914; freezing worker; wounded 30 Nov 1944. ‘I went blind but realised I was hit and could hear myself breathing heavy and sort of shaking. Then I heard Ken Grey of New Plymouth yelling “Bring the stretcher quickly, old Jack has been hit….” [They cut his web equipment away, lifted him on the stretcher] and my sight came back in a flash … I could see the thick blood in the trench and also the tin hat with a slit on the top as if it had been hit with an axe.’ Carried under shellfire into a wrecked house, its roof still smouldering, Oldfield had a shell dressing tied on his head and a shot of morphia. Claude Waterland (of Patea) (‘He offered me a cigarette, I didn't care for one and haven't smoked since’) and another carried Oldfield through the paddocks to a Bren carrier fitted for stretcher cases. From the RAP (where Jack Quinn and his assistant cleaned him up) an ambulance took him first to the CCS, then to the British General Hospital at Rimini, where a special neurosurgical team instantly operated. ‘There were 17 different nationalities in the ward (mostly broken skulls) and Italian was the only language the patients could talk to each other. After several weeks there getting hell with penicillin injections and sulfa drugs, I flew back from Rimini to Bari by Douglas Air Transport with the Yanks. By ambulance to Barletta, and next night by ambulance train across Italy to Naples. I think the train had square wheels. I was sicker on arrival there than any other time.’ Seriously ill until March, he gradually regained the use of his limbs. To 2 NZ General Hospital at Caserta, convalescing ‘on good and plenty of NZ kai.’ To Bari Hospital, then home.
12 Maj R. MacG. Wood; born NZ 12 Aug 1914; clerk; p.w. 15 Jul 1942; escaped; safe with Allied forces 21 Dec 1943.
13 Sgt J. L. Law; Palmerston North; born England, 7 Apr 1914; carpenter.
14 Sgt R. T. Long, m.i.d.; Wellington; born NZ 23 Apr 1921; labourer; twice wounded.
15 Some of these players were or later became big names in Rugby. From 22 Battalion: Mick Kenny (Maori All Black), Vince Bevan (All Black), M. McG. Cooper (Oxford and Scotland), Jim Sherratt (‘Kiwi’ Army Team). From Ammunition Company: Bob Scott and Wallie Argus (both ‘Kiwis’ and All Blacks).
16 Arthur Fong says: ‘There was only one reasonably dry patch on the ground, that being near the 25 yard line directly in front of Div Ammo's goalposts, and it was from this spot that Lin Thomas potted his goal.’
17 Lt S. I. McKenzie; Palmerston North; born Palmerston North, 9 Jun 1906; public accountant.
18 Maj B. S. Edinger; Wanganui; born Wanganui, 14 Dec 1920; printer; wounded 14 Dec 1944.
19 Sgt B. H. Fowke, m.i.d.; born NZ 19 Jan 1915; painter; killed in action 15 Dec 1944.
20 Sgt H. F. Poland, m.i.d.; Hastings; born Hamilton, 30 Jan 1922; clerk; twice wounded.
21 L-Cpl B. J. Galvin; Auckland; born Wellington, 29 Oct 1922; manager; wounded 15 Dec 1944.
22 Cpl R. H. Dixon, MM; born Wellington, 22 Jun 1922; machinist.
23 L-Sgt L. F. Seaman, DCM; Raetihi; born Ohakune, 17 Jun 1921; butcher; wounded 15 Dec 1944.
24 Sgt C. Carroll, m.i.d.; Te Ore Ore, Masterton; born NZ 6 Dec 1918; jockey; wounded 4 Sep 1942.
25 Maj R. H. Spicer, MC; Palmerston North; born Christchurch, 20 Apr 1910; salesman; CO 22 Bn 7 Aug-19 Oct 1945.
26 Pte I. H. D. Ferguson; Christchurch; born Gore, 14 Jul 1920; civil servant; wounded 17 Apr 1945.
27 Lt A. G. Clark, MM; Christchurch; born Christchurch, 20 Dec 1920; optical mechanic.
28 Pte D. H. Ellis; Gisborne; born NZ 7 May 1922; freezing-works employee; wounded 15 Dec 1944.
29 In the lost party an exhausted man had fallen down in the mud and those behind him, thinking he was taking cover, had followed his example. When they got up again they were cut off by this shellfire, which also halted Shaw on the other side.
30 Pte P. J. Quinn; Wellington; born Wellington, 28 Aug 1922; hairdresser; wounded 15 Dec 1944.
31 Pte E. J. Wood; Wellington; born NZ 29 Oct 1921; dredge hand; wounded 15 Dec 1944.
32 L-Cpl A. D. McIntyre; Whatatutu, Gisborne; born Feilding, 4 Jun 1921; farm employee; twice wounded.
33 Lt-Col W. B. Thomas, DSO, MC and bar, m.i.d., Silver Star (US); London; born Nelson, 29 Jun 1919; bank officer; CO 23 Bn 1944-45; 22 Bn (Japan) 1945-46; twice wounded; wounded and p.w. May 1941; escaped Nov 1941; returned to unit May 1942; Royal Hampshire Regt.
35 L-Cpl C. S. Barnden; New Plymouth; born Onehunga, 16 Nov 1914; shop assistant; wounded 16 Dec 1944.
36 Men were startled to see next day that the whole area from the creek to Casa Ianna was smothered with mines and extensively trip-wired. Although many mines had been destroyed by the barrage, the area was still very deadly indeed.
37 Pte A. W. Crowe; Lepperton, Taranaki; born New Plymouth, 3 Dec 1921; farmhand; wounded 15 Dec 1944.
38 Capt J. B. Horrocks, MC, ED; Auckland; born Auckland, 7 Jun 1920; law clerk; CO (Lt-Col) 9 Coast Regt RNZA, 1952-55.
39 Cpl A. F. Anderson; Masterton; born Carterton, 19 Mar 1923; carpenter; wounded 16 Apr 1945.
40 Pte F. C. Mabbett; Rotorua; born Wellington, 22 Apr 1913; clerk; wounded 19 Dec 1944.
41 Lt B. A. Treseder, m.i.d.; born Pahiatua, 12 Nov 1920; clerk.
42 L-Cpl P. O'Carroll; Tikorangi, Waitara; born NZ 8 Feb 1915; freezing worker.
43 Pte L. F. Raill; New Plymouth; born Waitara, 25 Feb 1923; clerical cadet; wounded 21 Dec 1944.
44 Pte E. F. Barratt; born NZ 18 Dec 1919; engineering assistant; killed in action 21 Dec 1944.
45 Pte W. G. O'Donnell; Te Tawa, Inglewood; born New Plymouth, 26 Jun 1921; farmer.
46 Sgt L. A. Bowering; Frankton; born NZ 15 Apr 1921; electrician; wounded 21 Dec 1944.
47 Cpl M. P. Condon; Waverley; born Eltham, 20 Dec 1920; farmhand; twice wounded.
48 Pte F. J. Bowers; Motueka; born NZ 20 Jul 1921; clerk.
49 Sgt A. O. Ainge; born Dunedin, 8 Dec 1916; shepherd; died of wounds 23 Dec 1944.
50 Pte W. F. McSweeney; born Palmerston North, 6 Sep 1920; printer; killed in action 22 Dec 1944.
51 Pte J. K. Cooper; born Killinchy, 13 Apr 1908; shepherd; killed in action 23 Dec 1944.
52 Pte I. G. Morgan; born Levin, 31 Jan 1923; student; killed in action 23 Dec 1944.
53 L-Cpl S. W. Shanks; Manutuke, Gisborne; born Gisborne, 14 Oct 1909; farmer; three times wounded.
54 L-Cpl K. Martin; Gisborne; born NZ 21 Feb 1922; machinist.
55 Cpl G. W. Cade; Upper Hutt; born Wellington, 30 Oct 1914; foreman paint manufacturer.
56 Cpl G. S. King; Wellington; born Blenheim, 1 Oct 1918; school-teacher; wounded 26 Dec 1944.
57 Rev. Fr. V. D. Callaghan; Lower Hutt; born Wellington, 9 Dec 1909; Roman Catholic priest.