Journey Towards Christmas
Chapter 24 — ‘…And The Rear Party Will Clean Up’
‘…And The Rear Party Will Clean Up’
ON 3 May, while the Reich Chancellery burned, while Allied forces in the west swept through Germany and took 412,000 prisoners, the 1st Ammunition Company moved from Mestre to occupy an Italian barracks at Villa Vicentina, five miles west of Ronchi and a mile from the main road. The next day it was announced that the Fifth Army and the United States Seventh Army had joined up in the Brenner Pass and that all German resistance in Holland, north-west Germany, and Denmark was at an end. On the 5th organised resistance ended in the south-western sector of the Bohemian Redoubt, where the Nazis had planned to make a last stand, and on the 6th, a Sunday, Czechoslovak flags flew in Prague for the first time in six years. In Germany prisoners flowed into the cages so fast that it was impossible to count them.
The next day, at 2.41 a.m. (French time), Colonel-General Gustav Jodl, the German Chief of Staff, signed the instrument of his country's unconditional surrender. The war in Europe had ended after lasting five years, eight months, and five days. It was announced in London that the 8th would be treated as VE Day.
On VE Day the 1st Ammunition Company was at Villa Vicentina, with No. 2 Platoon close by (the 5th Field Park Company having moved from Ronchi to Vicentina on the 5th) and No. 3 Platoon on the road between Mestre and Cervignano with a load of petrol.
The long brick building occupied by Company headquarters contained many high, cool rooms, most of them empty. Their redtiled floors, dusty and paper-strewn, were stamped with oblongs of sunlight from windows and with wedges of sunlight from half-open doors. The building was on one side of a grass square; on the others were sheds for the transport. The grass was still tall in places, but it was in process of being trampled flat and the sun was turning it into hay. It was very hot in the sheds where the lorries were parked and the dusty country lane that went past the two main page 445 entrances to the barracks was soaked in sunlight. Little familiar noises—the tinkle of a dropped spanner, the rattle of dixies, an oath and laughter—came muffled through the hot air. Girls in bright dresses cycled slowly up and down in front of the barracks and it was drowsy and quiet, except when a Yugoslav motor-cyclist, always with an air of having ridden direct from Marshal Tito's headquarters, roared by in a cloud of dust, making the dogs bark and scattering the scrawny chickens.
Only a few drivers gathered in the afternoon to listen to Mr. Churchill's speech. Many had gone to Grado for a swim—it was there that Captain Boyce, Lieutenant Hill,1 and Second-Lieutenant Colston had taken the surrender of ninety-seven Germans two days before—and many had gone unlawfully to Ronchi, Monfalcone, or Trieste. Many were resting in their lorries, doing a little reading, a little talking, a little smoking, a little drowsing—a combination of activities that never failed to produce the very essence of boredom but was yet, in a headachy sort of way, quite pleasant. Not more than a dozen drivers were lying in the hot grass by Headquarters’ wireless set.
This was the news and this was Pat Butler reading it. In England it was now possible to report the weather while the country was actually having it. There was bright sunshine in England. Admiral Doenitz had told the German people that the foundations on which the German Reich was built had gone and they must tread the road ahead with dignity, gallantry, and discipline….
After the news a military band played ‘A Life on the Ocean Wave’. Then Churchill spoke:
Yesterday morning at General Eisenhower's headquarters General Jodl, representative of the German High Command, and Grand-Admiral Doenitz, designated head of the German state, signed the act of unconditional surrender of all German land, sea, and air forces in Europe to the Allied Expeditionary Force, and simultaneously to the Soviet High Command….
At the end of his broadcast Mr. Churchill, shouting through all that sunlight, shouting into the dark night ahead, cried: ‘Advance Britannia! Long live the cause of freedom! God save the King!’
Cease Fire was sounded by buglers of the Scots Greys and as page 446 our drivers got up to go they heard singing: ‘Praise, my Soul, the King of Heaven’.
The hot day passed and twilight came, deepening to violet, to purple. Lights popped on in barrack-rooms and glowed softly in the backs of lorries and the King spoke:
Today we give thanks to God for a great deliverance. Speaking from our Empire's oldest capital city, war-battered but never for one moment daunted or dismayed—speaking from London….
In Villa Vicentina primuses hissed and purred. Our drivers lay on their beds in the lorries while their friends lounged against the tailboards talking and waiting for the tea water to boil. They spoke of the favourite for the Two Thousand Guineas at Newmarket next Wednesday, of Old Ted the late enemy, and of going home.
The night was warm and lovely, and there was little to drink and it was too early to go to bed. On such a night as this (thought our drivers) it would be just the job taking out the old man's V8 and sending her along and hearing the loose gravel spray up under the mudguards—yes, and watching the telephone poles flick past and seeing the rabbits and hares, silly in the dazzle, run every which way. On such a night it would be all right taking the girl into town for the dance and nipping out around supper-time for the odd rigger. Strolling home on such a night and seeing the old woolshed come up black against the hill would be just the gear—it would be all right in fact.
With the war in Europe over we had a right to expect that the rest of our stay in Italy would be all pleasure and profit, but almost at once—almost before a member of No. 2 Platoon had time to make a present of a heavy machine-gun to a party of Yugoslavs whom he perceived to be poorly equipped—a new cloud showed over the horizon.
Tito wanted the Venezia Giulia (Trieste, the Istrian Peninsula, and some of the territory behind the peninsula) and he also wanted a part of Austria. Well, no one had expected him to want less—much less, anyway—but instead of waiting for his claims to be examined at the Peace Conference he was behaving in the best traditions of the dictators.
Soon Trieste was an armed camp with Tito's men stopping New page 447 Zealanders in the street and demanding their leave passes. The Union Jack and Tito's red-starred tricolour floated from adjoining buildings and British and Yugoslav patrols passed one another in silence. British Honey tanks manned by Yugoslavs faced British Shermans manned by our own men, and Yugoslav guns pointed at British 25-pounders. Between Villa Vicentina and Ronchi the bridge over the Isonzo was guarded by Gurkhas and Yugoslavs. All units in Vicentina posted strong pickets at night and everyone kept his weapon handy.
On 21 May Marshal Tito started to withdraw his troops from Austria but in Trieste there was no lessening of the tension. The day before our transport had begun work at the docks, carting ammunition and Allied Military Government supplies to dumps in Udine, some forty miles north-west of Trieste, and on the 22nd Lieutenant Miles and a party from the Ammunition Platoon formed a port detachment in the city. No. 2 Platoon passed from the command of the 5th Field Park Company on 25 May, and by the end of the month our load-carriers had shifted 5800 tons and travelled 212,050 miles—only 16,950 less than the distance from the Earth to the moon. They worked day and night and there were several accidents, most of which were caused through over-tiredness.
In spite of long hours and the Tito crisis we managed to have a surprisingly good time. There was day-leave to Udine where some of us met Primo Carnera (‘Old Satchel Feet’), the only Italian ever to win the world's heavyweight boxing championship. Primo, whose home was in Sequals, a town on the far side of the Tagliamento, had suffered no extraordinary privations during the past few years and was in excellent health and spirits, though he liked it to be known that he had dropped twenty pounds during the war and now weighed only 240. Extending a hand like a paddle, he said it would be a pleasure to coach any New Zealander who was interested in boxing.
For some of us there was leave to Venice where the world-famous Danieli's was now the New Zealand Forces Club. (‘But,’ exclaimed an English major, his horrified gaze resting on dusty, travel-stained privates, ‘I spent my honeymoon there. My honeymoon!’). There were day trips to Klagenfurt in Austria and four-day tours of northern Italy, and at Mestre the Major opened a unit rest camp. page 448 This, unfortunately, was found to be outside the Divisional area, and it had to close down just as it was becoming popular.
Some members of the Jeep Platoon, meanwhile, were touring Italy in their private sports cars—that was what it amounted to. A party of three travelled a thousand miles in search of a district suitable for mountaineering and ski-ing, finding one near Madonna di Campiglio, a village in the southern Dolomites.
And so May turned to June.
On that last May evening Villa Vicentina, soaked in summer and peacefulness and good sense, seemed remote from a world troubled and dangerours—remote from Damascus where French shells had started two great fires, from Westminster where a caretaker Government was in office pending the first general election in ten years, from Tito's Yugoslavs who were still tentatively building roadblocks on the far side of the Isonzo, and remote—ah, infinitely remote and separate—from Nuova Zelanda.
Warm rain had fallen during the afternoon and the evening was heavy with magnolias and blown roses. Headquarters and Workshops were holding a supper-dance and music beckoned from the large upper room that ran nearly the whole length of one side of the square. A sergeant from Headquarters, ‘mokka'd’ up in his ‘Groppi’, came down the stone staircase with a signorina. It was too dark to see what kind of a girl he had got but as he was rich and could speak passable Italian the chances were that she was lovely. The sentry at the barracks gate, seated comfortably on a low stone wall, his tommy gun between his knees, whistled as they went past.
Crunching over the gravel, drowning the music with their deep grumble, No. 3 Platoon's lorries—they occupied two sides of the square—drove one after another through the barracks gate. Elbows jutted white and sharp as the drivers struggled with their steering wheels at the corner and then the lorries gathered speed. This was the platoon's second trip to Trieste that day and none of the drivers had had more than a few hours’ sleep. One driver, as he passed the sergeant and the signorina, flicked his ignition switch so that the engine back-fired, making the sergeant start and his girl jump into the ditch. Soon the last lorry was a red pin-point of receding tail-light and the lane was empty except for dust—a soft, sweet-scented cloud that remembered the warm rain.
With the lorries gone you could hear clearly all the noises of page 449 the dance—violins screaming, drums throbbing, saxophones wailing, girls laughing, dresses rustling. They mixed in the warm air with burnt petrol, magnolias, mosquitoes, and the soft, the rain-remembering dust.
For a week a fight seemed almost unavoidable, and then, on 9 June, the American, British, and Yugoslav Governments signed an agreement at Belgrade giving Field-Marshal Alexander jurisdiction over Trieste and the western half of Venezia Giulia and Tito jurisdiction over Fiume and the eastern half. On the 11th the Yugoslavs began to withdraw from the Allied zone. They marched through the streets of Trieste singing the ‘Bandiera Rossa’ (‘The Red Flag’), but the crowds shouted ‘Viva la Liberazione! Viva i Neo Zelandesi! Viva gli Alleati!’ What they meant of course—all the pretty girls, the old women, the children—was ‘Long live the landing craft and the flour and sugar! Down with looting! Down with arrests and bullets! Down with stinking politics!’
Between four and five, when No. 2 Platoon drove to the central railway station to collect 700 Italians who had arrived from prisoner-of-war camps in Germany and were to go to Mestre, the streets were full of trampled flags and flowers but almost empty of people. The crowds gathered again with the cool of evening but now it was the Communists’ turn. Armed with Sten guns, rifles, and grenades, bands of Yugoslavs, with men from the Garibaldi Division and the Guarda di Popolo, marched through the main streets firing on the hated crest of Savoy and injuring civilians. Viva la Liberazione!
With Tito gone from Trieste the atmosphere was much more holiday-like. The transport platoons were not working so hard now and the jobs they did do were often delightful. No. 3 Platoon penetrated deep into Tito's territory to take AMG flour to Pola, near the tip of the Istrian Peninsula, and No. 2 Platoon unloaded bridging for the Royal Engineers at three points on the Trieste-Pola road.
If the period that followed was not a proud one in our history it was at least an understandable one. Discipline was relaxed—or were the authorities unaccountably blind?—and as for the moral page 450 law, of all the circumstances likely to contribute to its violation no one was wanting. We had the time—too much of it; the opportunity—no human frailty that was not catered for in Trieste; and the money—the closing stages of the campaign had been swift, arduous, but highly lucrative.
Although there was plenty of official leave many of us went away for weekends, or for a week even, just as the spirit moved us, and more than one driver kept his own establishment in Trieste. The first and last commandment of a transport unit—Your Lorry Must be Ready for the Road at All Times—was still obeyed by the majority, but there were two drivers to each vehicle and as long as the section corporal was friendly the absence of one was not noticed. And so the days slipped past, with Youth at the helm and Folly, in contravention of standing orders, at the prow.
Fortunes amassed during the advance came to an end at last but with agents of the black market prowling everywhere it would have been foolish to draw pay—foolish and rather priggish; for public opinion had removed the stigma of criminality from the sale of petrol and jeep tires and had even glamourised transactions of this kind, making them seem daring and clever. Hence, when you spoke contemptuously of the driver who dropped off a sack of AMG sugar in Trieste, or of the black-jowled gentleman in the wineshop who sprayed you with garlic and multiples of a thousand, you criticised Robin Hood.
Most of us were content merely to keep abreast of our obligations but there were some who saw in the situation a chance to provide for their old age. Their chief problem, and it worried them day and night, was how to convert lire into pound notes. They bought money orders at first and when that avenue was closed to them they bought watches, cameras, and jewellery, sometimes spending as much as 40,000 lire—the lira was worth rather more than a halfpenny—on a single article.
Others spent their money on vino or wasted it in ways even less rewarding. A minority stayed at home, stifling a sense of wasted opportunities.
The war in Europe was over and it was time to make an end. Our special function was already largely redundant, and soon the page 451 unit would be disbanded and we should be scattered to the four winds. There was no likelihood of our being reinforced and sent to the Far East as the 1st Ammunition Company, nor was that what we wanted. No, it was time to make an end.
In spirit we had broken up already. That unit consciousness, that feeling of solidarity, which for so many years had made each one of us quite certain in his own mind that the 1st New Zealand Ammunition Company was the best transport unit in the Division, had vanished some time ago. Now it was the clique that mattered—the gang, the private circle of friends. Gradual at first, the change had started when our 5th Reinforcements left us. That void in our communal life had not been filled by the replacements, many of whom came to us with loyalties older than those they owed to the Ammunition Company. A large part of No. 3 Platoon, for instance, though it worked well with the rest, was really a branch of the 18th Tank Transporter Company's Old Boys’ Association. Only in No. 2 Platoon, on which, so some of us contended, the mantle of A Section had fallen, was the old spirit discernible.
And good friends were dropping out all the time. On 25 May we lost four officers and nine other ranks when members of the 6th Reinforcements (Hawea draft) left us for Bari, and on 17 June they were followed by a further thirty-four other ranks, members of the 7th Reinforcements (Waikato draft). The Sevenths were taken to Bari by No. 1 Platoon.
In the last week of June we delivered our ammunition to the 3rd Advanced Ammunition Depot, Udine, and were glad to be rid of the damned stuff. Glad, yes, but tugged at by cords of habit. Those boxes had been our constant companions, our only furniture, for Heaven knew how long. Seated on them we had played cards, stretched on them we had slept, round them we had eaten. Filled, they had been our tables and our chairs; empty, our cupboards, wardrobes, larders.
July came, and the crops stood stiff and golden in the fields and waggons piled high with maize held up our convoys in the narrow roads. The threshing machine near No. 2 Platoon's area hummed all day long and often half through the night.
There was little work to do and most of us were tired of leave—even the quota for Venice was hard to fill nowadays. We played cricket in the field behind the barracks and we bathed daily. In the page 452 evenings we drank vermouth and soda in one of Vicentina's three wineshops or took cushions with us and went to No. 2 Platoon's area for the pictures, a pleasure we shared with about a hundred village children.
There was talk of a new area for the Division near Lake Trasimene, and on 23 July, at seven in the morning, we pulled out from the barracks, heading south. It was a short convoy because Nos. 1 and 2 Platoons were staying to help shift the 6th Brigade and the Jeep Platoon had only its domestic vehicles and about six jeeps, the rest having been handed in at Cesena early in the month. There was leave to Mestre that night, to Bologna the next night, and to Fabriano and Albacina the night after that. Our village welcomed us with open arms but was sorry to learn that it might never see us again. (Dear village! Possibly it remembers us still, shaking all its bells with laughter at the thought of our execrable Italian, our inexhaustible supplies of barley sugar, our prodigious thirsts.) The journey ended the next day in an area six miles from Lake Trasimene and four miles west-south-west of Perugia, that charming hilltop town built round a corkscrew. Gentle slopes, studded with rocks and generously shaded by oak trees, went down to a small creek. Goal-posts were there already so we got out the footballs.
The oak trees spread club-shaped shadows over the rough grass and children came from nowhere to watch the game—to watch it for a while, and then, timidly at first, later with growing confidence, take part in it.
The Japanese ignored the Potsdam declaration. On 5 August one plane dropped one bomb and Hiroshima was destroyed.
When we heard about it our area was almost empty, the transport platoons having gone to Bari with married members of the 8th Reinforcements (Tekapo draft)—we lost three officers and twenty-five other ranks. The Jeep Platoon's transport—what was left of it—was at Madonna di Campiglio with eight drivers.
On 8 August Russia declared war on Japan and the huge Red Army in the East poured into Manchuria. An atom bomb fell next day on Nagasaki. On 10 August Japan offered to accept the page 453 Potsdam terms if she could do so without prejudicing the prerogatives of her Emperor.
At midnight on Tuesday, 14 August, the surrender of Japan was announced in simultaneous broadcasts from London, Washington, Moscow, and Chungking. Most of us heard the news at nine the next morning from the British Forces Station in Italy and no work was done that day. Nos. 1 and 3 Platoons were back with us now but No. 2 Platoon was still at Bari. There the drivers built a bonfire and sat round it singing songs and drinking an issue of beer. In the Trasimene area, too, there was singing and drinking. The stories from Hiroshima and Nagasaki were like reports from Hell.
On 20 August the Jeep Platoon was disbanded, the drivers being distributed among the transport platoons as the Ammunition Platoon drivers had been after our second-line holding was handed in. By the end of August there were several lines of transport parked mudguard to mudguard in Workshops’ area on the far side of the creek—cooks’ lorries, orderly-room lorries, and staff cars and pick-ups handed in by officers who had gone home.
Our single Eighths—forty-four other ranks—joined the Tekapo draft on 10 September and the next day we lost ‘Parky’ Neighbours,2 our star footballer, who was one of the thirty-nine players chosen to fly to England to train for the New Zealand Army Rugby football team. Soon afterwards Charlie Porter3 and another driver were posted to the New Zealand Selection Camp in Austria for training and later Charlie was sent to England.
We were busy during the first three weeks of September. No. 3 Platoon carted YMCA stores from Bari to Rome and took infantry to the Divisional rest area at Mondolfo on the Adriatic coast; No. 1 Platoon took leave parties to Venice and Madonna di Campiglio, staying with them while they were there; and No. 2 Platoon, which was still at Bari, took parties to Rome, Florence, and Venice. Drivers without vehicles were employed in ferrying transport from Foligno to Trieste for UNRRA,4 Yugoslavia.
When we were not working we played cricket on our private page 454 sports ground. Our oak trees were golden now where once they had been green, and evening by evening the shadows lengthened earlier. For most of us the journey would not be over before Christmas.
No. 2 Platoon came back from Bari on 27 September, a Thursday, having spent the night before at Albacina. This was our last contact with the village. On Friday morning the Major was told to disband Nos. 1 and 2 Platoons, and the drivers spent the day in checking their transport and returning stores to the quartermaster. That night there were farewell parties but the lush sentiment usual on these occasions was missing. We should be meeting again in the Division's next area and most of us would go home in the same ship. Nothing of value was being broken up—only an arrangement of names and numbers, only lorries and tents, only somewhere to eat, to sleep. In every important sense the unit had come to an end some time ago—on a February morning or a May evening. Just when was a matter of opinion.
On Saturday Nos. 1 and 2 Platoons were disbanded and their transport was lined up in Headquarters’ area. The drivers, many of whom had sore heads, hung about looking lost and sheepish.
On Sunday morning—in the New Zealand Division everything happened on a Sunday—thirty-eight of our drivers and a party from the 4th Reserve Mechanical Transport Company set out for Trieste with Nos. 1 and 2 Platoons’ transport. It was to be handed over to UNRRA, Yugoslavia. Of the drivers without vehicles eighteen were posted to No. 3 Platoon, fifty-seven to the 1st Petrol Company, forty to the 4th Reserve Mechanical Transport Company, and twenty-eight to the 1st Supply Company. Our unit consisted now of Headquarters, Workshops, and No. 3 Platoon, the bulk of which was ferrying troops to Florence.
By nightfall it was known that Headquarters and No. 3 Platoon would be disbanded on 6 October and Workshops attached to the 4th Reserve Mechanical Transport Company. Already a large part of the area was dark and quiet where once it had been lighted and noisy, and everywhere there were signs of packing. Great mounds of gear—everything from meat hooks to tommy guns—almost concealed the quartermaster's tent, but even so they were not as high as they ought to have been. They contained roughly the right number of straps, supporting, web, and helmets, steel, page 455 Mark I, but there was a distinct shortage of boots, ankle, and an absolute dearth of blankets, woollen. Our new quartermaster-sergeant was only mildly concerned, giving it as his opinion that we couldn't be worried over trifles.
That was the last day of September, and at sunrise the next morning, though it was lovely later, there was a sharpness in the air that told of a new month.
Monday 1st (ran the unit diary). Location: Perugia. Weather: fine. Unit busy preparing to hand over vehicles to NZOC,5 Assisi, on 6th.
(‘I brought this old bitch over from Egypt. She's got pistons you could tie knots in.’)
Tuesday 2nd. Location: Perugia. Weather: hot morning—fair afternoon. Workshops preparing to go to 4th Reserve MT Company tomorrow night. It will be attached to that unit for UK leave scheme.
(‘Recovery work, eh? We'll be strung out—sections of us—all across the Riviera and France. Forte dei Marmi, San Remo, Aix. Oo! La-la!’)
Wednesday 3rd. Location: Perugia. Weather: fine but windy. Unit will not move to Florence on 4th as previously instructed but will be wound up in present area on 6th when remaining personnel will be posted to 1 Supply and 1 Petrol Companies. Workshops will stay with unit until transport has been handed in. Anti-gas equipment and web gear returned to QM.
(‘She's all there, Ray, and you know what you can do with her.’)
Thursday 4th. Location: Perugia. Weather: cold. OC returned from memorial service on Crete. Officer postings received from HQ Command.6 OR postings received—seventy-three will go to Petrol Company, forty-two to Supply.
(‘Better give us your address as we're gonna be split up. Supply should be all right, though. “Bub's” there and “Hawk” and Old Harry.’)
Friday 5th. Location: Perugia. Weather: fine. Transport page 456 lined up on football ground for checking and classing by Workshops before being handed in tomorrow. HQ domestic vehicles stripped of fittings.
(‘You've had your little desk, Charlie. No more charge sheets to fill in.’)
Saturday 6th. Location: Perugia. Weather: fine. HQ and 3 Platoon vehicles marched out at midday for handing in to NZOC, Assisi. Drivers brought back to unit area by Petrol Company transport. Workshops marched out complete. Drivers on last ferrying detail reported in after dinner and were then marched out to Petrol Company. OC left for Florence to report to HQ Command. Rear party under Lt Wells to stay behind to clean up and await return of vehicles still on detail.
(Only two tents were left in the area. In one of them Headquarters had held a party the night before and the Major had played his accordion. Now the area was quiet and only in two places splashed with light.)
Sunday 7th. Location: Perugia. Weather: fine. One lorry from Petrol Company returned G.1098 equipment to NZOC and another took unit sports gear and wireless sets to Florence.
(These were the cricket bats we had used for the great North v. South match, the cricket balls Ray Bilkey7 had spun so cunningly. These were the wireless sets that had given us Command Performances, Forces’ Favourites, the speeches of Winston Churchill.)
Monday 8th. Location: Perugia. Weather: fine. Balance of G.1098 equipment returned to NZOC.
(‘Due mila, Pop—due mila per tutto. If you don't want the goods, Pop, don't handle’ em. Due mila finish.’)
Tuesday 9th. Location: Perugia. Weather: fine. Final clean up of area and preparations completed for move of rear party to Florence tomorrow.
(‘Sessanta mila, Pop. Sessanta mila and they're yours. And a good bet to you, Pop. Grazie.’)
Wednesday 10th. Location: Perugia. Weather: fine. Rear party moves out at 1100 hours to join Petrol Company in Divisional area at Florence….
After the rear party had moved out the Italians moved in to page 457 search the ditches and rubbish pits. They found little of value and after a while they went away. Only the children stayed, twittering like birds and recalling where this cookhouse had stood and that vehicle had been parked. They threw sticks and stones into the tall walnut tree that had sheltered Headquarters’ orderly-room lorry and the ripe walnuts pattered down, bouncing on the baked earth. When evening came there were still children in the area.
The shadows from the oak trees flowed down the hillside, bridging the creek and poking long fingers across the football ground. When it was quite dark and the goalposts could be seen no longer the children went home—to dream, perhaps, of the strange, friendly soldiers, the Neo Zelandesi, who had come, had stayed for a little while, and had moved on. And after a few months, after the weather had removed all traces of the camp and the last biscuit had been eaten and the last tin of marmalade had vanished from Momma's shelves, and the small cut foot had healed, and the bandage provided by the New Zealanders had been washed and washed until it was of no further use, they forgot. For the world was full of soldiers and they stayed for a little while and they went away.
The children forgot, yes, but not at once and not completely. Between them and the migrant soldiers there was a bridge, a bond, some fragments of a common language. They sensed, it may be, that soldiers were no different from themselves in some ways, that they, too, had a kind of innocence, and were not, in a world abounding in meanness, mean. Careless perhaps, destructive certainly, but not—not in the last resort—meriting hate and terror from children, even from burnt children in London, Naples, Rotterdam, Berlin, Hiroshima.
So the children came back for a night, two nights, three nights, to the place that remembered the soldiers and their lorries and their gear, and played until the walnut tree was deep blue in the sweet, heavy evening and the hills were purple and the stream flashed under the stars like dark silver.page 458 page 459
1 Lt F. M. Hill; civil servant; Christchurch; born London, 15 Apr 1912.
2 Cpl A. S. Neighbours; brick and pipe maker; Waimangaroa, Westport; born Westport, 23 Feb 1922.
3 Dvr W. C. R. Porter; grocer's assistant; Palmerston North; born Wanganui, 10 Jan 1918.
4 United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration.
5 New Zealand Ordnance Corps.
6 Maj Coutts and WO II Salmond (posted to 1 Petrol Company, 9 Oct 45); Capt H. A. Wilson, Lt (T/Capt) Legge, and 2 Lt Wells (4 Reserve MT Company, 16 Oct 45); 2 Lt E. J. Stembridge* (1 Supply Company, 6 Oct 45). The following officers had left already: Capt Littlejohn (posted to 1 Supply Company, 30 Sep 45), Capt Langley (1 NZ Graves Concentration Unit, 26 Jul 45), Lt Miles (4 Reserve MT Company, 30 Sep 45), and Lt Brown (NZ Maadi Camp Composite Company, 10 Aug 45).
* Posted to unit 10 Aug 45.