4th and 6th Reserve Mechanical Transport Companies
CHAPTER 20 — Into 1945
ONE down—and one to go. How long, oh Lord, how long? Out and away again at the end of November, away from Fabriano, where the anti-freeze stuff came out with the first snow (early snow, an inch thick, on 10 November), away and out and along the old familiar road again, Route 16: Senigallia, Pesaro, Cattolica, Riccione, Rimini, where Route 9, cutting inland away from the Adriatic, brought them to new ground past the Savio River, and to Forli,1 the town Mussolini2 (born nearby) had made such a fuss of. The RMT's new base was by the railway station, where Headquarters and Workshops settled into buildings. Every decent building in the town was taken over by soldiers. It was a khaki town with scarcely a shred of civilians left.
December was devoted almost entirely to troop-carrying, taking battalions of 5 and 6 Brigades over short distances to and from forward areas, with Forli as a base. The company's monthly mileage slumped to 34,000. Chains were used extensively over soft or slippery surfaces. Camping in buildings in varying states of repair made winter conditions much more bearable, and Christmas, begun with a combined NZASC carol service conducted by Padre Holland3 in the Esperia Theatre, was considered ‘the best yet’. Workshops' messroom, page 338 a blaze of coloured decorations and Chinese lanterns, had been transformed by Drivers Fordyce4 and Neil,5 the company painters; beer was backed up by plenty of vermouth, marsala, and other old friends; the cooks did a great job (turkey, pork, roasted and boiled potatoes, green peas, cauliflower and white sauce, fruit salad, trifle and cream); and three typical judgments afterwards were: ‘Excellent’, ‘Best Xmas for years’, ‘There were some stinking heads next day’. More than one ‘stinking head’ could be traced to the standby store of the dread ‘purple death’, the vino nero, the heavy, rich, warm wine of the Italian peasants, harmless in moderation but a menace to foreign soldiers swigging it like beer.
A fortnight before Christmas NZASC set up and ran a sort of commando freight service. This was the celebrated jeep train, the toughest of the lot, including the jeep train on the ‘Terelle Terror Ride’ back in the post-Cassino weeks. RMT contributed a corporal, a driver mechanic, and five drivers.6 The jeep train lumped supplies over tracks to areas too tough for ordinary transport. Night after night, out in the cold, in the mist, in the rain, always mortared and shelled, sometimes taking short cuts and risking being blown up on mines, these drivers certainly earned their rum ration. It could take up to twelve hours to drive by jeep train track the few miles between Forli and the front, slithering over the raw track and grinding up the punishing grade just after the Brickworks Bridge. In one convoy of 26 jeeps, two crashed over a bank, six trailers had to be dumped, three jeeps burned out clutches, and heavy fire had men hopping like frogs into ditches; but 16 jeeps got through. Without the help of artificial moonlight, movement probably would have been impossible on the tortuous, treacherous tracks. One jeep train man, returning to New Zealand and to his service-car run over a modest hill with a wide bitumen road, was prodded in the ribs by an old lady on his first day out and told: ‘Now do be careful, driver.’
January 1945: a particularly low mileage month (17,721 page 339 miles), with 4 RMT confined solely to occasional short infantry lifts from Forli to Faenza and back. Trains getting through to Forli this month minimised the use of motor transport for lines of communication work. Ski-ing and tobogganing parties opened up a playground about nine miles south-west of the company area. The weather stayed crisp and cold. Water lying in bomb craters in the company area was covered with ice two to three inches thick.
It was a weird sort of war that winter. Over the frozen snow crept white-hooded figures—patrols in snow capes—and tracks of men, tracks of dogs, led to and from wrecked casas and into dark clumps of saplings. And here, early in the night of 14 January, forward units (21 Battalion, then 26 Battalion) heard distinct sounds of a train moving slowly in enemy territory just over the Senio River, which separated Eighth Army from the Germans. The mysterious sounds were reported regularly: the slow puffing of a steam engine, and the definite click of wheels going over jointed tracks. Altogether 21, 22, 26, and 28 (Maori) Battalions, gunners, and members of 10 Indian Division heard the strange sounds. In vain radar and aircraft attempted to spot the train—or evidence of a train. Railway tracks and bridges in enemy territory were smashed and considered useless for about ten miles around. Yet the noises of the ghost train continued to the end of January. At the end of the war General Polack, who commanded 29 Panzer Grenadier Division opposing the New Zealanders, heightened the still unsolved mystery by declaring: ‘There was no train running in the vicinity of Castel Bolognese. No such sounds were heard by our forces.’ He could only suggest that the noises were made by long supply columns.
The 4th RMT's platoons lay idle for days. This helped Workshops complete a thorough check of all vehicles. One lorry (of No. 21 Section) had developed a bad knock. The engine had done the equivalent of 80,000 miles, a record for the company. Workshops decided to remove and inspect the motor, and reported: ‘After dropping the sump and removing the head, it was found that the metal in the rear main bearing had started to lift, but the crankshaft and cylinder bores, and also the piston rings, showed little signs of wear and were page 340 practically perfect. The engine showed no sign of using oil between changes. The only reason for replacing this motor was that parts for reconditioning were not available.’
Two lists now were very important. Driver Newland7 was the only RMT man on the list of 40 2 NZEF Rugby players chosen to tour Britain after the war. The other list had the 154 RMT names of ex-Pacific and 5th Reinforcement men due for furlough in the Tongariro draft. The air was tense, and a platoon clerk said: ‘I have only to step outside the orderly room with nothing more than a piece of toilet paper in my hand, and all the eligible boys bale out of their trucks, bags and all.’
The boys bailed out, bags and all, in earnest in the first week in February when three RMT convoys (114 trucks in all) under Captains Davis, Caie,8 and Robertson9 left for Base at Bari with furlough men who had been given a rousing send-off. The run to Bari went like this: first day, Senigallia, 76 miles; second day, Pescara, 121 miles; third day, Bari, 269 miles. The convoys returned about a week later with reinforcements (90 for 4 RMT), ordnance stores, and YMCA stores from Bari. On their return drivers learned that Major Denis Duigan, who had served with 2 NZEF in 1940, had given a further £1000 (making a total of £7500) to 2 NZEF for welfare purposes. Sports trophies, grants to cut soldiers' expenses at forces' clubs, grants for wirelesses, and Christmas welfare at hospitals and casualty clearing stations were some of the ways the money went.
The next job, after a week with nothing doing, came at the end of February—just after Egypt declared war on Germany. One hundred and twenty three-tonners left for Ascoli, well south of Ancona, to uplift the Folgore Group, Italian troops ‘proved loyal and battleworthy’. This unit (Folgore means ‘thunderbolt’) had fought against the New Zealanders at Alamein. Spending the night at Senigallia, drivers went on next day through Recanati, to rendezvous with the Italian soldiers page 341 at Ascoli. Before the chilly dawn of 27 February the loaded convoy was under way again. Troops and drivers passed the night at Foligno, the staging area for the Division's big move to the Adriatic in August. From here the drivers took the Italians into the Apennine ranges well west of Forli, where they were to take their place with 13 British Corps.
Then it was back to Forli, picking up the infantry, taking them to the Division's rest area (the same little places in the Apennines where the Division had rested so pleasantly in the last days of autumn), and joining Company Headquarters and Workshops in Fabriano. The rest of March passed in training—physical fitness, weapon training, vehicle maintenance, Rugby, hockey. Lieutenant-General Freyberg inspected the NZASC men, and this was followed by a march past during which Major-General Kippenberger, back on a visit to the Division after a year's absence, took the salute.
March was a month of peace and beauty. The weather was perfect. It became, men remember, quite warm during the last ten days.
Good Friday: solemn processions of the Cross—solemn yet somehow unreal, unmoving to Antipodean eyes, whether of the faith or not. Easter Sunday: the great festival of Pasqua, and many a billeted Kiwi forced to cut short the festive feed. The great plates heaped with spaghetti and seasoned with the mysterious innards of poultry—the rare, very rare, meat, and salad with olive oil sauce—the many-tiered Easter cake containing 20 eggs (cost, ninepence an egg, that's what they had to save up for)—the very best wine, tucked away until now—ah, bolt it quickly or leave it untouched; clear out, remembering the doorway, the first blossom on the black bough, remembering forever this blossom and bough, and below in the doorway Momma's and Poppa's eyebrows raised, and tears from the kids and maybe from one or two women too….
Ah, those roads to war! (wrote Geoffrey Cox 10 in The Road to Trieste).11 How clearly they are graven into the memories of every- page 342 one who rode on them, how much fuller of emotion they are now to hundreds of thousands of men than all your other publicised routes, your Orient expresses with their spies and mysterious businessmen, your Blue Trains speeding to the Riviera, your Union Pacific railways, your Mississippi steamboats. Who of the Desert Army is likely to forget the tarmac winding through the sandhills behind Mena, past the pyramids, and out towards Alexandria, swinging left at the big notice ‘Western Desert—Beware of Enemy air attack’, and then along the ridge through Alamein to Matruh, and Halfaya? Who will forget Route 6, winding up from Caserta, with its squalid streets and dirty, shouting, ragged children, and its great palace which Emma and Nelson had known, until it crossed the Volturno where Garibaldi had fought, on towards the mountains of Cassino? Or Route 6 again, entering Rome, through its dusty outer streets, past white gaunt workers' flats? Or Route 2 below Florence, where the black fernleaves stencilled on white crosses by the roadside showed where our summer battles had gone. And now Route 16, following the line of the Adriatic Coast northwards, towards one more front. Here was Pesaro, with its outskirts levelled and blown, and the tangled minefields and wire and severed trees to mark the Gothic Line, rushed in an afternoon by the Canadians last summer; Rimini, with on its outskirts the cemetery of the Greek Brigade, and the luxury hotels along the coast battered and windowless; then the Rubicon, with half a dozen streams to make your choice from in arguments about where Caesar had crossed; then the plain suddenly opening out ahead, so that you knew Northern Italy for what it really was, another land from the south, a country as different from Naples and Sicily as England is from France….
Up that road again….
The attack burst like a thunderclap over the green countryside beyond the stopbanks. Through the quiet of early afternoon, which was made deeper by the occasional thump of mortar bombs, came a many-toned mounting drone. A galaxy of twinkling silver shapes resolved itself into hundreds of heavy bombers, Fortresses and Liberators, which swung in deliberately over their targets. Then a continued roll of sound filled the air as nearly 2000 tons of 20-pound fragmentation bombs methodically blanketed the enemy's back areas.
In these words a 2 NZEF survey, One More River, describes the blasting of the Senio River defences on 9 April. The page 343 Division, just back with Eighth Army, was in the centre, with Indians to the right, Poles to the left of it. The description goes on:
Great sections of the terrain were blotted from view by whirling dust clouds, and the distant towers of Lugo disappeared for the day behind a yellow haze. The small bombs were designed to kill men, shatter vehicles, and cut communications without blowing the impassable craters that men of the Division remembered so well from a year ago. Here was greater air power than that which blitzed Cassino on 15 March 1944, and following the larger aircraft came the mediums and fighter-bombers, working in closer and closer to the front line.
Then came the guns—more than were at Alamein. The vines and ditches erupted with hundreds of dancing flashes, as 25-pounders, 4.5s, and 5.5s, and ungainly 7.2s opened their four-hour chorus.12 Four [New Zealand] battalions hit the Senio together; within a few minutes they were over both banks and playing havoc with the disorganised defences….
Meanwhile, the engineers were braving heavy fire to build the bridges. Men went down, and bridging trucks burned, but a Bailey was over by 2.45 a.m., and the tanks were moving. Two hours later there were three bridges, and others followed.
In the next week, crushing its way through bitterest opposition, the Division advanced 20 miles, clearing next the Santerno River and then the Sillaro. The Division's prisoners numbered half Eighth Army's total.
The patrolling ‘cab rank’ of fighter-bombers and the artillery gave enemy armour no rest. The speed and ferocity of the attack sent the enemy reeling and prevented an orderly withdrawal from the Senio to the Santerno, six miles further on. The latter's formidable defences were pierced on 11 April. Within two days the Division had broken through a belt of territory as strongly defended as any in Europe. Across the Santerno—Massa Lombarda was occupied well before dawn on Friday, 13 April—battalions fought on to win a bridgehead over the shallow Sillaro River, another six miles on. Enough page 344 ground had to be cleared for a Bailey bridge to go down and let the armour and lorries pass. At last light on 15 April the New Zealanders went forward again behind a pulverising barrage, and at 4 a.m. on 16 April a bridge was up and in use over the Sillaro. By sunset patrols reached Medicina, six miles on, to find the Gurkhas had taken the town, and that night (16-17 April) a rested 5 Brigade passed through 6 Brigade to push the enemy back two more miles. A fresh German division had been crippled in 36 hours' fighting.
Up with the three infantry brigades in this week of wrath were 22 lorries from 3 Platoon 4 RMT. These lorries were carrying bridging material and assault boats, canvas-sided, wooden-bottomed boats, each with about four oars; they needed only a few props to become serviceable. These trucks followed the advancing infantry across the scorched banks of the Senio on 10 April, and drivers looked out on blackened and roasted and burnt things, and saw where the dragons had been. The big dragons, called Crocodiles (converted Churchill tanks), had hurled black and red billows of flaming fuel over 100 yards, and the smaller dragons (Bren carriers with fuel tanks behind), angrily breathing fire and destruction, had helped too. Pushing on, drivers and vehicles met with no casualties, but the condition of the roads made the going hard. The lorries continued in the advance next day and reached the neighbourhood of the Santerno River late at night. In the early hours of the following morning (a bird was heard at dawn singing very sweetly from the broken gun of a crumpled tank) the 22 lorries drove over the Santerno. Drivers made a sudden bolt for cover in a casa about 6 a.m. when a mortar ‘stonk’ lashed down. Fortunately there was no damage.
While this was going on the remaining 100-odd RMT trucks, at first still based at Forli, had plenty to do on the day of the attack (9 April). Nos. 1 and 4 Platoons, with the left-overs from 3 Platoon, were busy running up more ammunition, and 2 Platoon reported to Divisional Cavalry Battalion, and then to 22 Battalion, for short troop-carrying moves on the south bank of the Senio. But the next two days, when no orders came through for the hundred lorries, were spent in vehicle maintenance. On 12 April a group of RMT lorries left Forli for the page 345 Divisional Cavalry Battalion. They were not wanted—the battalion rode forward on tanks. Before dawn next day 4 Platoon took 27 Battalion north of the Santerno and returned early to Forli, and the following two days (14 and 15 April) platoons resumed ammunition-running, carrying some 30,000 25-pounder shells up to Massa Lombarda, where on 16 April the lorries picked up 21 and 23 Battalions and the Maoris and took them up to the freshly bridged Sillaro River. From there these battalions passed through 6 Brigade to resume the attack. The 4th RMT Company Headquarters and Workshops quit Forli for a new area by Massa Lombarda next day while platoons brought up more ammunition, and three lorries (for a change) carted prisoners of war back to a cage at Forli.
After one night in Massa Lombarda, the company moved on over the Sillaro River to a new camp near Sesto Imolese, where one of the first jobs was burying German dead, two of whom were identifiable. The smell of death lay over the place, and in the ruins prowled the red-scarved Partisans, turning up now in steadily growing numbers, and Sten-gunning out justice or vengeance. (Why did such ferocious citizens make such meek soldiers?) The RMT platoons, 102 lorries strong, loaded ammunition at Massa Lombarda for ammunition points and gun positions—and also (though they didn't know it then) for the last set-piece attack, the last of the campaign, the last of 2 New Zealand Division's war. This was to blast a way over the Gaiana River, eight miles on from the latest river to fall, the Sillaro. A few RMT lorries were still delivering ammunition when, at 9.30 p.m. on 18 April, a tremendous barrage broke and raged along the whole front. Drivers saw the night sky fade into a terrible, artificial dawn as monster flame-throwers with trunks of liquid fire searched out, tracked down, and burned up enemy strongpoints. Enemy guns and mortars switched to the river, hammering the engineers and the accompanying lorries, but the work went on and tanks crossed before dawn.
Sooner or later this hide-and-seek business over the rivers had to end. The end was fast approaching now. The next obstacle, behind a mesh of canals, was the Idice River. Once this was cleared the whole of the Po valley lay naked and page 346 exposed. This did not take long. By the time the RMT had brought up 6 Brigade to relieve the Gurkhas and, next day (20 April), had brought up 18,000 rounds of 25-pounder shells from Santarcangelo, the river was crossed. Some of the previous day's passengers had seized a patch of the far bank while others had found an undefended ford.
The Idice had had it. So had Old Ted,13 too—everywhere on the Italian front. No more niggling rivers now. The chase was on.
The weather, fine, bright and warm for the last eight days, now became cloudy and cool, with a few scattered showers. But it cleared up next day (22 April)—the fourth anniversary of 4 RMT's hara-kiri under the olive trees of Atalandi.14 The pursuit got under way to the sound of church bells over rich green countryside, and when night returned all of the RMT was over the Idice River: 1 Platoon with the Divisional Cavalry Battalion, 2 Platoon with 27 Battalion, and 4 Platoon divided between 28 and 23 Battalions. Company Headquarters and Workshops, tottering over 15 traffic-jammed miles in six hours, drew into Cazzano, nine miles north-east of Bologna, as a few butterfly bombs fell ahead, and 2 Platoon, camping further on with 27 Battalion, was strafed harmlessly in the night.
The bombs Company Headquarters heard exploding ahead in the darkness were bringing to 4 RMT its first death for 1945. Butterfly bombs, their brief, spiralling, unpredictable flight over, were landing among 1 Platoon with Divisional Cavalry Battalion. Lance-Sergeant Baker, seriously wounded, was carried to the Divisional Cavalry RAP, where he died without regaining consciousness. Four men were wounded, among them an RMT man, Sergeant Ritchie,15 who was slightly wounded in the arm and, after treatment, returned to duty.
The company's next death came within two days. By that time (24 April) the Division, passing through a wilderness of smashed and burnt guns, tanks, and vehicles, and clearing the wreck-strewn road leading through Bondeno, was piling up page 347 along the south bank of the great River Po. Further wreckage and ruin lay about here, and among the junk and equipment and litter and bomb craters 4 Parachute Division had abandoned books of theirs telling of victories over the Neuseelander in the far-away days of Crete. The Germans had set free draught-horses which had hauled more and more supply and artillery wagons as the Allied air force ate into vehicles; and ‘all troops,’ wrote one Kiwi, ‘seemed to be prancing round on horses left in the area by the wily Hun. Big healthy beasts they were.’ The most enterprising of the horsemen sold their steeds to needy Italian farmers for a small consideration—£20 to £30 was the on-the-spot valuation.
About dinner time two 21 Battalion men crossed the big river—over 300 yards wide—in an assault boat, for the Allied air force had left not a single bridge standing. Germans saw the men, but did not fire. Other parties followed, and still no fire. Then, ironically, with the enemy sitting mum, Thunderbolts swept down to strafe and harry the area, for apparently the advance had outrun air intelligence. The only New Zealand casualty for the day was an RMT man, Driver Newland (the company's outstanding footballer), of 3 Platoon, who was killed when a Thunderbolt shot up his lorry carrying assault boats. The other man in the lorry, Corporal Sherson,16 while dragging out Newland, received burns on his face and hands as the lorry, a complete loss, went up in flames.
All through Anzac Day armoured and tracked amphibious troop-carriers called Fantails (Heaven knows why) kept appearing, loading up with riflemen, waddling down to the water, and wallowing across. In a matter of hours the New Zealand engineers, shirtless and brown, had thrust a strong pontoon bridge over the river, while downstream a Bailey raft (a 50-foot piece of a Bailey bridge fixed to motor-powered pontoons) chugged over the 300 yards of water, carrying bulldozers, armour and guns. Beyond, the battalions kept on going, and as the Bailey raft crossed again and again the armour with the riflemen grew in strength. The RMT did not go across yet. All company transport (except the 22 lorries carting bridging page 348 material for the brigades) left their battalions. The 98 three-tonners reported to an ammunition point, about 15 miles south of Bondeno, and returned with nearly 20,000 25-pounder shells, which they dumped below Bondeno. Company Headquarters and Workshops were now in this neighbourhood. The ammunition unloaded, 30 lorries went away back to Forli to pick up 504 reinforcements.
The main body of the Division had crossed the Po on 26 April. RMT lorries began to make their way across the slender pontoon bridge, some bringing over ammunition; 2 Platoon took the Maori Battalion across before breakfast, a slow, four-hour job. The few clumps of resistance in the eleven-mile stretch to the Adige River were overcome swiftly, and by 3 p.m. on 27 April another pontoon bridge, solid enough for three-tonners, was over this river. The RMT sat on the stopbank and watched the nearest approach to a movie battle. First the tanks rolled up tracks bulldozed to the top. Then in line, with everything blazing, they rolled along the top of the stopbank. Under cover of their fire the infantry crossed.
Round here was the town of Badia, and in Badia was a sugar factory, no less. This was a real windfall in anybody's war. News of the precious stuff spread far and wide by bush telegraph along the Kiwis' diamond trail. All vehicles that could be spared (and some that could not) took the road to Badia. It resembled a gold-rush. Trucks, jeeps, three-tonners, with privates, corporals, captains, and colonels (so they say), collected sugar by the ton. Some of it appeared again on the black market in Trieste.
The shades of the Alamein breakthrough and pursuit were returning now.
Next morning the whips were cracking. The race to Venice began. Behind the British 12 Lancers came 9 New Zealand Brigade, with Divisional Cavalry Battalion leading, 27 Battalion next, then 22 Battalion. Thirty-two RMT lorries, well stocked with spare petrol and rations, were with the brigade, ten of them with Divisional Cavalry Battalion, fifteen with 27 Battalion, and seven with 22 Battalion. Many of the infantry were now travelling on battalion transport and on attached tracked vehicles. Other RMT lorries went to 21 and 23 Battalions, due page 349 to follow up soon, and a dozen three-tonners were with the Supply Column, moving rations. Up secondary roads they advanced, the long columns pouring on with the exaltation of the old days in Africa, and by settlements, villages, and along roadsides Partisans and civilians cheered, wept, clapped, cried ‘Chow!’ (ciao, meaning good luck, Godspeed), waved red flags, white flags, pink flags, streamers and toilet paper, raced forward with gifts, wine, daisies and lilac.
As the shadows crept out and thickened they went on to Este, through Monselice and then, the secondary roads done with at last, on to the perfect national highway, Route 16, and into a riotous welcome in Partisan-liberated Padua by midnight.17 They had advanced 30 miles almost unopposed—almost. Just north of Monselice in the evening one burst of resistance halted the Divisional Cavalry Battalion. This brought RMT's last death in action. Driver Gray,18 of 4 Platoon, received a severe head wound and died soon after in a dressing station.
Next day another bite forward took the New Zealanders 50 miles on to the Piave River. Among RMT drivers 1 Platoon men with 27 Battalion had the liveliest time, frequently halting while mopping-up parties went to work. Apart from skirmishes, the drive was one long triumphal procession. Mestre, the industrial suburb on the mainland opposite Venice, went mad with joy, particularly the slim, brown-faced girls, blue-eyed, radiant in their beauty. This day, 29 April, a flying column including (to its lasting glory) B Company of 22 Battalion entered Venice, seized the best hotel, Danieli's, for a New Zealand Forces Club, page 350 and held the gilded salons against all comers. A Kiwi has on record that it was quite impossible to look like a liberator in a gondola.
So April came to an end with quite a few RMT men on the loose in Venice of the domes and brown roofs, the vast blue sky, and the pigeons in Saint Mark's square. Others were still away with the lorries, taking riflemen to various briefly troublesome areas, and returning to the Piave River by midnight.
Il Piave mormorava calmo e placido al passaggio Dei primi fanti il 24 Maggio …
‘The Piave was murmuring calmly and placidly at the crossing of the first soldiers on the 24th of May….’ They sang this at the end of the First World War, and they sang it again to the Neo Zelandesi, who remembered the song and took it away with them.
By roadsides transport was packed nose-to-tail, and great herds of prisoners were being shepherded back, some dramatically guarded by Partigiani, decorated with hand grenades and armoury of all descriptions and dressed to match: some in semi-military clothes, others in suits or shirts and slacks. These Partisans, who had liberated in advance at least nine important towns along the New Zealand trail, helped our advance a great deal, and further assisted by guarding the Division's prisoners, which in the end numbered about 50,000. This was indeed the cavalcade of infantry, guns, and armour which the New Zealanders (and Eighth Army, too) had dreamt about eight months before, but which had come unstuck past Rimini in the oozing ground of the lower Po valley.
By midnight 17 of 4 Platoon's lorries were over on the other side of the Piave, ferried across shortly before the river was bridged. Four hours later 16 of 1 Platoon's lorries, with 27 Battalion on board, had just moved over the pontoon bridge when an uproar broke out across the water. A German force, completely catching everyone by surprise, charged into some engineers, set briskly to work, killed eight and wounded 22, and made off with 17 vehicles. The raiders enjoyed six hours at large before tanks rounded them up.
On 1 May the Division was heading north and east, along page 351 tree-lined Route 14 at the northernmost tip of the Adriatic Sea; Route 14, the last of all the roads along which the New Zealanders would advance in Italy.
It was the last time the Division would pass forward like this to battle (wrote Geoffrey Cox). The General must have thought this too, for he remained there for several minutes, his red cap-band towering above the villagers, and watched his force go by. First the tanks passed, starting up with a grinding roar, and then thundering on at what seemed breakneck speed. Their crews in their black berets stood in the turrets waving to the crowds, and their commanders, earphones clamped on their heads, gathered in the bunches of flowers which were thrown to them. Then the lines of Bren carriers, tossing as if in a rough sea until they got up speed, each with its Italian flag, the gift of some village on our way, and each with its smiling troops. Then the three-tonners, with troops on the top of the cab and the backs jammed with troops sitting among their gear, the lean, smiling, unbluffed New Zealand infantry, enjoying it all but deluded by none of it, bedecked with flowers but with their rifles and Tommy-guns ready for what they knew still lay ahead. They waved and shouted back to the excited Italians, but their faces showed that they knew the job was not yet over.
Onward. Onward in triumph to the end. This one clear aim, this tremendous unity, this comradeship—this they would remember at odd times: before the grill of the bank, the time-clock, the pannikin boss, the howl of the factory hooter, the day by day plodding behind sheep or cows. This memory would return, whispering now and then through all the remaining years, and they would wonder, when is a man really free?
Beneath the burdened three-tonners the tires sang of victory and of all the other roads—early desert and the toppling Tummars—the millrace of Thermopylae—the thirsty trudge across the backbone of Crete to Sfakia's beaches—the inland sweep to Tobruk when the horizon crawled with New Zealand vehicles—the caravan trail to Syria and the urgent return while Eighth Army reeled back to Alamein under a merciless summer sun—the great advance and the dusty ‘left hooks’ which brought the Afrika Korps to its knees and to its lonely death—then into Europe again, to hold and to conquer, to the snowy Sangro, to the smoke-grimed rubble of Cassino—then the Adriatic's deadly page 352 vineyards once more. And so to the last road of all, the MPs nailing up their final fernleaf signs along this superb Route 14 leading towards the Balkans, where the turbaned invaders from the East had seeped and ebbed long ago; Route 14 leading through Partisan-held villages as the barriers of logs and earth tumbled and the liberated crowded the streets, waved from houses, wrenched at rejoicing church bells. On for 60 miles, on over the bridges crossing the Tagliamento and Isonzo rivers, on to the threshold of Yugoslavia beyond Monfalcone port, where the rainclouds hung low over the grey waters of the Gulf of Panzano in the evening. Here 23 RMT lorries drew up with their riflemen, while other lorries camped 20 miles back at San Giorgio.
Ten of 4 Platoon lorries with Divisional Cavalry riflemen and seven more with 22 Battalion entered Trieste by noon on 2 May when, acting on radio orders from the Fatherland, the remnants of Germany's land, sea, and air forces surrendered unconditionally.
The war was over. But tension stayed in the streets of Trieste. No longer church bells rang, no flowers fell. In empty streets grim-faced, heavily armed squads of the Yugoslav Army patrolled zealously, jealously. From their caps the Red Star looked down. In a day the RMT had driven out of the war into the armed peace.
1 4 RMT's 130 three-tonners were divided between 5 and 6 Bdes: 1 Pl to Div Cav Bn, 4 Pl to 24 Bn, 2 Pl to 22 Bn, 3 Pl to 21 Bn. Then, while 1 and 4 Pls lifted POL from Chiaravalle to Rimini, the others helped further infantry moves up to Forli.
2 Visiting 1 Battalion 1 Bersaglieri Regiment early in 1945 the Duce said: ‘What could be worse than to have trampling on our soil this scum of the earth—Negroes, Jews, Indians, New Zealanders….’ He could have gone much further. The full list of nationalities serving in the Allied Armies in Italy was: American (including a Negro division and a Japanese-American unit), French (including Algerian, Moroccan, Tunisian, and Senegalese), Polish, Gurkha, Belgian, Greek, Brazilian, Syro-Lebanese, Jewish, Yugoslav, British, Canadian, New Zealand, South African, Newfoundland, Indian, Ceylonese, Basuto, Swazi, Bechuana, Seychellois, Mauritian, Rodriguez Islanders, Caribbean, Cypriot. Co-belligerent: Italian.
6 The first shift: Cpl R. G. Hambling, Dvrs D. A. Curtin, H. Forman, A. Stewart, M. A. Boyle, H. F. Dunne, W. Reid; second shift: Cpl F. J. Small, Dvrs Boyle, T. Johns, C. M. Austin, I. H. Coleman, D. H. Tarrant, R. A. Wallis.
12 4 RMT's contribution was 113,000 shells (each lorry carried about 200 25-lb. shells). From 2 to 8 April the RMT (after delivering 28, 24, 21, and 23 Bns to the Granarola area), based again at Forli, carried ammunition from Cesena to ammunition points and gun positions of 4, 5, and 6 Fd Regts. A quarter of a million shells were available for the first attack.
13 Short for Tedesco (plural, Tedeschi), an Italian corruption of der Deutsche.
17 At Battaglia (a few miles south of Padua) Lt Robertson received a note ‘To my N.Z. Friends’, the writer (Pte Gordon Gilmore, of 26 Bn, captured at Sidi Rezegh in 1941) saying he had been living with civilians since Italy's surrender. The address was Grottarole village, about five miles into the hills. Dubious, Robertson sought reinforcement, date of sailing, name of ship, place of capture. (Gilmore still has this note, folded and worn.) A civilian returned with satisfactory answers and Robertson, with Lt F. Crothers and two drivers, went to the address. ‘Village dignitaries and hundreds of peasants waved flags and banners at our approach. After being toasted in champagne, we were taken to our PW. Our comrade was standing in a doorway, very pale and stooped, with long hair like the locals—in fact very difficult to distinguish from them. Fearing capture, he hadn't gone out much lately.’ Gilmore was ‘so happy at being released that I forgot about a big fiesta Professor Beppe Benaccio, the local Partisan leader, was giving for me, and cleared off with the RMT.’