Christmas Eve, Italy 1944 .At this time of the year and on this date there was a lot of thoughts about home and loved ones as here was the fourth Christmas overseas for most of us and the fifth since we joined the army. When we see a ship coming into Victoria after being in the Gulf for more time than expected, eight months and expected only six months away, we sort of wonder and marvel how time and thinking have changed.
We did not have global positioning, no email, no phone calls home in all those years. We did get mail when ships were not torpedoed or aircraft shot down. For a fair amount of time people tried to kill us. I realize times have changed and when we old farts talk of how it was away back when, we also stop and say some of us survived of which we're happy and thankful as a lot of our friends did not. So to the young service personnel all I can say stay healthy, stay alive, and enjoy all the comforts that come your way as somewhere they can ask you as they did us to put your life on the line. But I hope not.
I have removed myself from Christmas eve 1944 but now I'm back on track. How the events of this evening started and unfolded, I will try to put back in order. Here is how I remember how it all happened. Orme Payne drove in to see me at Fox troop from here, whether he suggested [ I will say he did ] that we visit Sid Robertson at E Troop. So away we went, arriving at Sid's gun and someone suggested visiting all the rest of the regiment. Now we three Orme, Sid and I, are off to 60 battery to look up Toby Colpitts, another character. When we drove into 60Battery area we saw in the gloom figures dashing about in a frenzy of dust flying shouts and curses. We knew here was a spot that needed our expertise in the chasing and catching of chickens and we three we thought were good at this sport. So we caught a couple and asked where Toby was. We heard a voice up a tree. We could see some white chickens in the tree and a pair of eyes, Toby's. All we saw was the whites of his eyes as Toby's skin went almost black from the Italian sun. Toby on climbing down immediately inquired what we three chicken catchers were up to. Also, did we have a drink for him? We did. Toby was asked to join we three on our recce to instill the spirit of good will to all men on this night, and possibly be treated to a drink or two when we called around t the other batteries. Toby said count him in but Marty Allen, another Sgt declined.
Now four in the jeep and over to 37th Battery. We drove up to 37th Battery command post house. No sentries! That is odd but inside all four of us went. The #19 radio was on and a lantern lighted up the room. Over on a cot was the command post officer, Sgt Mutchison, asleep. Battery Sgt Major Green asleep, all signalers asleep. This was not a pretty sight. Immediately Toby spotted a large sawdust filled box filled with bottled beer, either Black Horse or Labatts. The gunner's beer ration of a bottle of beer per week per month or never. Right away Toby suggested we steal the lot. Here is where I put up my argument and Orme did too. It was gunner's beer and if we were to liberate it we would take only one bottle each. Well that meant a stalemate as Orme and I equaled Toby and Sid. We each took a bottle and Sid had to steal a few items just to keep everybody honest he used to say. Out the door we went into the jeep and down the road where we stopped and enjoyed our bottle of beer and examined what Sid had liberated. That bottle of beer tasted so good Toby and Sid decided to go back and steal it all. I put up a pretty good argument about that and Orme was not in favour either. So Sid and Toby thought there was a lot of good stuff around the 37th command post. They said Orme drive us back .
Well I was the senior person and I could see a court-martial in view for me so I said I would have none of the stealing trip back. I waited on the road while the three went back to 37th Bty. They soon returned and as I checked with Orme last night they did not take any more beer but did get a fair amount of booty. The sleeping command post still did not awaken .
Time passes quickly to four fellows out roaming around and we found it was after midnight and we had not went to see the second in command of the regiment, Major Floyd Brooks [ We called him Daddy Brooks ]. We arrived well after 1AM at the house where Floyd Brooks was staying. Here we were challenged by the sentry at RHQ, it could have been Stu Goldstone or Al Tumino. We had the password so we went up the stairs of this old house, knocked and Floyd Brooks said come in. We trooped in and here was Floyd Brooks in a massive big bed, surrounded with a bottle or so of gin along a side board. Floyd had a good lantern lighting the room. Floyd’s Christmas greeting was hearty and said he thought we had forgotten him as he had been following our escapade around the regiment. Major Brooks had a heart of gold and almost had tears in his eyes as he gave us a warm greeting. Sid said never mind dropping a tear, how about a drink. Glasses were dug out and filled and we four sat on Floyd's bed and toasted him and ourselves. If I remember rightly it was around 2AM and we were getting to the stage that we should be off the road as we had heard the odd shell passing over. Up to this time the guns, theirs and ours, were not crashing on Christmas Eve. So we bade Major Brooks a fond good night and a Merry Christmas. Floyd always had a framed picture of his wife at bed side. We said how did he get such a lovely girl for his wife? Ruth recognized the man that we knew as Daddy Brooks as her true love and her best friend and companion for almost sixty years. Floyd Brooks passed away a few years ago . His passing was not only sadly missed by Ruth and family, but the other family of gunners that loved him and miss him too. To end our evening Sid and Toby tried to talk Orme and I to go and waken Colonel Rankin . This was vetoed by Orme and I as we had carried our evening out to almost four in the morning and why spoil a good evening with the commanding officer's probably getting a bit more upset then we bargained for. So it was back to our gun positions and ready for Christmas dinner later in the day.
Sid,Toby, and Major Brooks are all gone. Orme and I are still around. RIP old friends