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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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Pounce and I watched while the zambuk collected identity discs, pay books, etc. Kelly was not among them. We carefully skirted the craters and went down to the bank. Then I saw him. He must have been blown clean over our heads. There, face down on a little sandbank, fifteen yards out in the river, lay Kelly.

Kelly, the drunkard.

Kelly, the wanton. Kelly, the sinner.

Kelly, the courageous. Kelly, the fighter.

Kelly was dead.

A myth was exploded — the indestructable was destroyed. Death, who had passed a dozen times, had paused this once, to leave a disembowelled, limp rag doll, swirled by the muddy waters of the Sangro.


Ray and I suddenly heard a stifled gasp from behind us. We turned, startled, to find the cause. There, in the archway of the cellar storeroom, stood a woman leaning against her husband for support, three frightened puzzled children clustered against their legs. One white clenched hand held the corner of her shawl across her mouth. Her anguished eyes watched with horror as two more tanks followed their commander through her home. God knows, it was simple enough: a cellar at one side that served as a storeroom and a stable, a living room with a bedroom above. But who knows what striving had gone into its acquisition? Then I recalled the things I’d barely noticed on our first brief walk through: chairs and tables, pots and pans and stone crocks, a wooden high-back settle and an old, old carved cradle on curved rockers. Simple things that make all the difference between poverty and comfort — all gone now, beneath the tracks of iron monsters. The bedroom floor sagged, half its supports torn away.

The woman turned with a muffled cry and buried her head in her husband’s shoulder. He stood with an arm about her, stroking her hair. Then the children, distressed by their parents’ despair, set up a wail that took her to her knees to gather them to her and find comfort in comforting them. They were luckier than many. They lived, but their calamity was inevitable: they were in the way of War, which shows no discrimination. You are in the way or out of the way — a yard or an inch can spell the difference between life and death, destruction or deliverance. It could have been bombs, it could have been shellfire, but it happened to be a Sherman tank.



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Copyright Roger Smith, 2000