Mezzano Italy, January. While typing this segment of my Memoirs, I note it is the 11th of May 2003, 59 years since we first went into the Hitler line. In some ways that was such a long while ago but the memory of that battle lingers with a lot of us, the survivors. Now back to 1945.
I wrote that the Italian Cremona group had come in to our sector and we had moved back I think about a mile and a half. The Italian group were the size of a brigade and were equipped with British transport and equipment. Doug Weir who was a captain at this time, could tell this segment much better than I. Doug was an observation officer and I would think he helped train the Italians and saw that defensive fire plans were laid out so that the Germans would not be able to put forth a major counter attack. Doug Weir had some hairy moments with the Italians and recalled that some forward positions changed hands a few times. The Italians thought because a lot of noise quite near to them that something should be done immediately. it sounded like a counter attack was forming up. Doug brought down close fire on the immediate area and a cow fell out of the bush quite dead. No counter attack but a once noisy cow now quite still.
I will have to pick Doug Weir's memory the next time we meet as I'm sure he will give me the facts of this time spent with the Italians.
I never had the opportunity to spend any time at the observation post so do not have first hand information from that area. The day the Italians were to come into our area we had orders to move to a distance to our rear. I think we moved one troop at a time and the crews from the guns dug new gun pits before the guns were moved in.
Here is where I had a bit of a dust up with one gunner Charleston. Sgt Humble reported to me that Charleston was not on the gun position and had not been around to help in the move or dig the new gun pit. I had a hunch that Charleston was still at the area we had just vacated so back I went to this house and found Charleston well into the vino with the Italian civilians. Now our troop had a good reputation for good discipline, an all round great group. I right away was on to Charleston for not moving with his crew, drinking on duty and in general I was pretty pissed off with him. . . A few fine chosen words were exchanged and he accused me of playing favoritism within the troop. This did get my temper up as I felt that I went out of my way keeping all the troop on equal footing. How stupid did he think I was to see some treated better then others? I kept my cool and had him say his piece. How did he see me playing favorites? He said that I had given the observation tank crew signalers driver and officer assistant time to do their laundry and stand down without any duties for the day after they came back from the observation post. The particular time that this occurred was the observation crew had been closeted in their tank for days and could not get out to relieve themselves. Doing what had to be done in cans and disposing of it out the trap door in the bottom of the tank. Their tank had been in an Italian shed which held some sheep a couple of goats and quite a few chickens. The Germans seemed to know where our observation officer and crew were, so this group of buildings suffered a terrific amount of shelling, killing all the sheep, goats, and chickens. This was not in January but in August under a very trying time. Charleston had harbored this grudge for the last few months. I thought he was going to fight me as he had been a boxer before and I think he made for me.
The Italian civilians could see a very nasty situation and were hoping that Charleston and I would get out of their house . Somehow I was able to get Charleston calmed down loaded him on the back of my motor bike and deposited him at the gun pit with Sgt Humble who gave him a shovel and had him dig with the rest of the crew. No more was said of this incident. I could have laid any number of charges but we were short of men and Charleston had let off steam so it was a closed chapter. I had another talk with Charleston about the favoritism and explained why the OP crew had a day off. I may not have handled everything the way all would like but there was one thing I always knew was my word was good. I stuck up for the gunners and I felt that I did not favor any over the other.