2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery
THE gunners stayed three months in the Trieste area and the tortuous and intrusive politics of the region only mildly affected their enjoyment of their Adriatic paradise. Many of them had spent 18 months in Italy serving their guns in anger and anxiety. They had no wish for more trouble with the ‘partisans’ and saw no need for it. Their personal contacts with them were in the main friendly. Some 5th Field gunners carefully surveyed-in Yugoslav guns and other likely targets and were ready if required to engage them with speed and accuracy. But they were much more interested in the many attractions of the city and coast and took full advantage of them.
The 7th Anti-Tank gathered round bonfires at dusk on VE Day ‘singing songs and passing the plonk bottles at frequent intervals’. The 4th Field soon opened a rest centre, and then came another for all the gunners. The 34th Battery built an open-air theatre. The weather was perfect, the coast beautiful and the beaches alluring. There were swimming, boating, yachting, horse-racing and dances almost nightly. There was leave to Venice, where the New Zealand Forces Club was the splendid Hotel Danieli, to Florence or Rome, and to many other cities and resorts. Unofficial leave took some gunners far afield.
Shirley Nicholson had left the 6th Field early in May and Lieutenant-Colonel Angell replaced him. In June General Freyberg held a memorable ball in the magnificent palace at Miramare, to the music of the Kiwi Concert Party orchestra, whose excellence owed much to Terry Vaughan,1 an ‘original’ of 34 Anti-Tank Battery, and the CRA was there. Then, on the 27th, Queree departed for the Staff College at Camberley as an instructor and Brigadier Thornton, who had just returned from furlough, became CRA.
On the 12th the Yugoslav army had moved out of Trieste, to the delight of the Italians there—an episode described by the 27 Battery diarist in the following words:page 735
‘As the last of Tito's men pulled out the various political parties commenced to express their feelings in true Balkan fashion. Their main ambition appears to be to wave some sort of flag, shout, sing and beat hell out of anyone they dislike and who happens to be in a minority of at least 10 to 1.’
For the gunners this was the real VE Day and they gladly relaxed and enjoyed it. They warmly farewelled the 7th Reinforcements on 15 June, and the 8th Reinforcements who had joined the Division at Tripoli then became the ‘grim digs’.
By this time, as one diarist noted, ‘most ranks have … jacked themselves up pretty well in one way or another and disappear in their “posh mockers”2 frequently’. When they moved back from Trieste on 28 and 29 July they did so with heavy hearts. Even for those to whom it was a step nearer home —the 8th Reinforcements for certain, the 9ths almost so, and then, in diminishing degrees of confidence, the ‘trembling tenths’ and ‘uneasy elevenths’—it was no pleasure to leave. ‘All ranks appear to be “multi dispiache” at the thought of leaving such a fine area’, the 5th Field diary states. ‘There is little doubt that this area has been one of the most pleasant ever occupied by the Div.’ There were anguished looks and tearstained faces at the roadsides as the gunners said goodbye to Trieste and the Triestini.