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24 Battalion

CHAPTER 19 — Conclusion

page 337


Events of the next few months were not strictly in accordance with the hopes and expectations of those who had imagined that the declaration of peace would bring to an immediate close the whole period of stress and strain. The Yugoslavs resented our presence in Trieste; unlike that of the Italians, their attitude was surly to the point of hostility, and towards the end of May the men of 24 Battalion found themselves once again in battle positions, facing their late allies as potential enemies. After a day or so the tension eased sufficiently for a soccer match to be arranged in which 24 Battalion's team, energetic though untaught, was badly defeated by the more skilful Yugoslavs, whose well fitting shorts and smart white jerseys displayed our own men's haphazard gear to some disadvantage.

At the end of May 6 Brigade moved into Trieste with instruct- tions to impress the local inhabitants. Rumours were afoot of an armed uprising, and a company of the 24th was detailed to protect VIPs at the divisional sports meeting. When Marshal Tito's troops evacuated the city, the Italian Guardia del Popolo presented another problem until eventually its men were disarmed.

In July things brightened up considerably. Yugoslav civilians were still distrustful, but the Italians showed themselves eager enough to be friendly. Dances were arranged and leave to Venice was granted. From Trieste 24 Battalion moved out into the country near Villa Opicina, and the companies went by turn to spend four days at Santa Croce rest camp.

Lieutenant-Colonel Hutchens had left early in May to join the New Zealand Prisoner-of-War Repatriation Unit in England, his place being taken by Lieutenant-Colonel Macdonald, who handed over to Lieutenant-Colonel Boord at the beginning of July. Late in that same month 24 Battalion moved to a sun- baked plain near Lake Trasimene. Naturally enough, the men page 338 were eager to get home now that the war was over. Demobilisation proceeded by reinforcements, those with the longest service being repatriated first, but shortage of shipping caused delay and delay bred some discontent. No longer fortified by the stimulating atmosphere of war, all ranks were faced with the boredom and depression inseparable from a state of anti-climax. A number of men volunteered for or were transferred to J Force for the occupation of Japan, and when the battalion went to winter near Florence successive leave parties began taking their departure for England. When shipping became available towards the end of the year, 24 Battalion began to dwindle rapidly away, and by New Year's Day 1946 none of its officers or men remained on Italian soil.

Called into being by the dire necessity of national crisis, lacking the inspiration of long military tradition, 24 Battalion had seen the early creation of a standard of excellence which all who joined it might seek to emulate or surpass. Its men dispersed and went to their own places to face the problems of peace, richer by far in experience, but poorer by the loss of a unique fellowship they would not know again.