52. Closer to the Action
Here is where we all started to wonder when we would get our equipment, guns and trucks or when would we be in action. At night when we were in our little pup tents alone with our thoughts, we could hear in the distance the roar of artillery and see the flash of exploding shells reflected on the cloudy sky. We were far from the fighting but at this time the Moro River crossing by the First Canadian Division was going on, and also probably even closer, the Fifth Army under Mark Clark, was driving towards Cassino. This is likely what we heard the loudest.
General Simonds came and did his inspection and we heard the same platitudes, - A Fine body of men, and you will get your share of fighting. Simonds then added that when we would be sent into battle it would be an area where we would be sure to have success. Did those words rise up to haunt us as close as 17th January 1944.
I will get to that later . .
Now where and when were we to get guns, as an artillery gunner without his gun is like a pilot without a plane. Oh the time came, and we drivers and sergeants, mechanic and gun fitters, went forward to an area where the 5TH RHA, an artillery unit of the famous 7th Armoured Division. The so named Desert Rats. We probably made a couple of visits soaking up any battle experience from these veteran gunners. I noted that my opposite number, a gun sergeant with this unit, had a gun tractor with the windshield glass gone on the Sergeant's side. I quickly wanted to know was it shot out. Oh no, he said while riding on top of the vehicle to escape the heat of the confined tractor. I sort was drumming my feet on the windshield and kicked the glass out. Now if we had ever had something like that stupid to happen we would still be paying for it.
That was the beginning of our lesson, as in the next few days we were to take over this equipment. I use the word equipment loosely. Here was this regiment handing over equipment that we would term junk, Flat tires, missing spare parts, tarps missing from lorries. Muzzel covers gone, also no gun covers. Here we had been stripped of all that lovely equipment, that we had been lavish in our care to leave it in England and take over this mess of junk was a heart break .
Oh well being young and Canadians we started out on the move to our new area the town of Gravina , Days later the last of the equipment finally made the trip, due to chaps like our mechanics, our Light Aid Detachment, which included Joe Smith and Bob Heywood.
Then the work became in earnest to get this mess ready for action, and get some pride back in getting the guns ready and tractors to pull them.