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BY ROGER SMITH

Extracts from the book:
Flies and worse in the Western Desert
A peculiar addiction to Irish lyrics
Burying the dead — Tebaga Gap
British Army at a minefield near Sfax, Tunisia
The countryside near Sousse, Tunisia
The Padre's tools of trade
A minefield near Takrouna, Tunisia
Kelly in Cairo
Housekeeping in a two-man bivvy in the rain — Sangro, Italy
Falling asleep on duty — Sangro
Kelly dies at the Sangro River
Civilians caught in the frontline — Castel Frantano, Italy
Getting sadness off your chest
Giant drunken zooming fireflies — Alife, Italy
Christmas 1943 — back from the front
Maori Battalion, Trocchio, Italy
Fear, and fear of fear — Cassino, Italy
A break from Cassino
All in a day’s work in the Cassino rubble
There for your mate at the finish — Terelle, Italy

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ALL IN A DAY'S WORK IN THE CASINO RUBBLE

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“Wer ist das? New Zealand?”

I stood petrified with horror and saw two dim shadows with heavy helmets roll over the wall and disappear into the darkness of the rubble. Then a Schmeisser lashed a tongue of flame at me, and I jumped back to the shelter of the barricade. Swinging the Bren muzzle up, I fired a long burst blindly up the slope, emptying the mag in one streaming rattle. Buster came pushing out behind me, but there was only room for one at the entrance so I grabbed his Bren, handing him my empty weapon.

Two Schmeissers were firing, quick tongues of flame licking out and bullets rattling off the barricade. We were well trapped, with our only exit being in the teeth of the enemy fire. I sent a couple of bursts back at the gun flashes and yelled for my tommy-gun and some grenades, as the Bren was too heavy and clumsy in that confined space. The Hun shouted again.

“Hande hock, kamerad New Zealand!” Then he threw something that bounced off the wall above my head and fell rolling into the dugout behind. It exploded with the sharp thud of a stick grenade without harming anyone. Somebody pushed a tommy-gun into my hands and took the Bren, and I felt someone else kneeling against my knee, someone who started firing up the slope with short bursts. The Huns got a Spandau going and the bullets poured down with terrifying whirr from a scant fifteen yards away. I heard more grenades pop harmlessly outside the barricade. I grabbed a 36 from the row we always kept handy on the wall, and with a warning shout to the boy beside me, tossed it as far as possible up the slope. It went off with a healthy whack and stopped the Spandau for a moment.

The boy ducked in to replace his mag and I took another grenade, pulled the pin and dropped it; I heard the striker go then a rattle as it tumbled on to the top of the barricade and rolled off again. I fell to my knees feeling about on the floor frantically, counting the seconds as I yelled to the blokes.

“One, two, lie down for God’s sake, I’ve dropped a grenade with the pin out — four, five…and at six it went off, on the other side of our barricade. It had rolled the other way. There was no time to be thankful, for the Spandau was going again; if I couldn’t kill us all, the Hun was still anxious to have a go. I poured a magazine up the slope in one long burst.

 

 

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        Copyright Roger Smith, 2000