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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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There was much sadness you could get off your chest when eating a quiet meal with mutual friends, saying things to each other that would begin: “He was a good bloke. Remember that time...”


Most of us made little braziers out of jam tins to warm our bivvies on cold nights. The traditional method of getting them going was to start with a bit of paper and some sticks, fill them up with coal or charcoal and then swing them round and round your head at arms-length to create a draught. It was a curious sight, if you gazed down on the camp at dusk from a higher level, to see all the whirling blobs of flame among the olives, like dozens of giant drunken fireflies zooming madly in tethered circles.


We sang ourselves hoarse then talked and talked, all ranks forgotten in an atmosphere of complete comradeship. We discussed our pre-war lives and our ambitions for the future, our wives and sweethearts and families, our troubles, our fears, our happiness and hopes, all with a glorious frank sympathy that held no hint of mockery. We talked of politics and war, and of the army, of motor cars and state hydro schemes, of kitchen stoves and films and radio, of cows and sheep and fishing, and of horse racing and rugby.

When men meet again and look back down the years with a haunting, reluctant nostalgia for war, it is these times they remember with regret.



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Copyright Roger Smith, 2000