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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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HOUSEKEEPING IN A TWO MAN BIVVY IN THE RAIN, SANGRO, ITALY

We split into two-man units in a double line along the terrace, and just dug. The ground was half cultivated and was a quagmire underfoot — it was like digging in on an unpaved stockyard where a hundred cows had been milked all winter. As we shovelled the mud off, the surrounding ground oozed into the depression made, like a shallow duckpond. Kelly and I sweated like mad at our hole; about a foot down we struck fairly dry ground, and by digging this out, we gradually built a bank round us to stop the natural drainage into the hole. We smashed off some olive branches with the pick to give the sides some solidity and threw the leaves and brush into the bottom to soak up some of the water. Dawn was just breaking when we pulled the bivvy upright over our horrible looking home.

Spreading our groundsheets in the bottom, we tossed our soaking greatcoats and blankets on top then crawled in ourselves. As always in a two-man bivvy, the great problem was our boots. Under adverse weather conditions there is no room in a four by six foot area for two men, their equipment, and four great sodden ten pound lumps of mud. If you bring your boots inside, the place becomes a sea of slime. Somehow you have to squirm down into the hole while leaving your feet outside, then turn round and unlace the blasted things with your feet cocked up on a level with your eyeballs. Getting the boots on again without fouling the nest is another sweet and pleasant task.

FALLING ASLEEP ON DUTY, SANGRO

A boot crashed into my ribs, and I woke gasping, to be kicked again. I twisted away from the blow, swinging the bren viciously upwards as I did so, but a hand thrust the weapon aside and the heel of another gun was slammed into my face, forcing me on my back into the mud and jamming my tin hat down over my eyes. A heavy form fell across me, one knee in the pit of my stomach. Then my helmet was belted from my head and I beheld the livid face of Kelly, two inches from my own.
“Now I should cut your bloody throat, just like a Hun would. You dopey, dreamy, damned Don R. Where the hell do you think you are? Tooting the Trump round Tripoli on a Saturday afternoon? Get up you dozy bastard.”

 

 

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Copyright Roger Smith, 2000