The Last Winter
14.9.44 to 9.4.45.

On 14 Sept the regiment again entered the battle and came into action at Vtcchio, under 1 Br Div Capt Offer distinguished himself while FOO with a Gurkha company of 8 Ind Div in the mountains. He went out with a platoon under command to register an important part of the road. This he did from a high feature, but was heavily attacked and eventually cut off by a strong force of the enemy. After some close fighting in which the platoon suffered several casualties the enemy were beaten off, and the platoon and casualties were successfully withdrawn at night to rejoin the main company positions. Capt Offer fired both our own regiment and the field artillery in this engagement and was subsequently awarded the MC

Previously, Major Inglis and Capt Turrell had been awarded the MC
On 30 Sept. the regiment came out of action and concentrated in the same area where it remained until moving across the Apennines on 5 Oct. to support the Gds Bde and 88 US Div near Castel del Rio, where it stayed until 8 Nov. The regiment went into positions there with some difficulty as there had been heavy snowfalls, and the guns had to be winched in by bulldozers.

The bulldozers were back very soon. In his article "With the Long Guns in Italy" our
then CO LtCol Thuillier (reproduced later as an appendix) says that 66 Med Regt had now been in action day and night for eighteen months since landing in Sicily, much longer than any other 13 Corps combatant unit. The guns were got out with difficulty, one troop each night, and replaced by 69 Med Regt (Pembroke and Carmarthen) from 7 AGRA again one troop at a time. We set off on the long drive all the way back to Rome to rest and refit.

We were billeted in the Sports Stadium area south-west of Rome, built by Mussolini
before the war. LtCol Thuillier goes on to say that evening leave passes were granted with lorry transport, and that all ranks 'played the game', giving no trouble to the civil authorities - not a bad record when you consider that our two months in Rome included Christmas and Hogmanay?

If one were to discount Cairo, which was a bit exotic, Rome was the first western city we had seen since Cape Town, and we made the most of it. We saw "the sights", went to various clubs run for us by various organisations, went to the cinema and concerts. One group of us felt lucky to be able to go to the annual end of term concert by the orchestra of the College of Santa Ceeilia, Italy's most renowned college of music. At the other extreme, some of us were detailed for the Town Picket, and were delighted to get the Cinema Duty - some were not so pleased to fmd that the film "Two Girls and a Sailor", was marvellous at first, but they went off it a bit after 10 performances in 6 days!

On Christmas Eve one or two of our officers went into Rome for dinner, and then decided to go on to St.Peter's for Midnight Mass. They made their way to the Piazza where by good fortune they met some members of"Popski's Private Army" who formed a phalanx to cany them across the teeming piazza and into the Basilica. The scrum in St.Peter's was indescribable. On Christmas morning the scene at the Eucharist service in the English church in the Via Babuino was so calm and lovely, and its highlight was a lovely soprano voice (a South African army nurse, they believed ) singing a Carol to the tune of'Greensleeves."

On 10 Jan., 1945, refurbished and refitted and with new gun-barrels to replace those we had worn out, the regiment left Rome to return to the same gun positions we had left in the mountains around Castel del Rio. This winter was as usual very cold, with alternating deep snow, pouring rain and squelching mud. Our billets were in one- and two-bedroomed cottages and barns. Although we had newly-designed winter uniforms of double denim which were really wind-proof, we felt the cold very much, and this was not helped by some of our allies. When we left for Rome we had in the village an Indian mule company, but when we came back they had been replaced by Italians. The company was commanded by an extremely smart Bersaglieri major who had a habit which made us cringe; early in the morning he would emerge from his billet clad only in abbreviated shorts and run up the snowy hillside for a couple of hundred yards. When he came back his batman would throw buckets of cold water over him, and he would then towel off, leaving us shivering!

The only relief from this cold was vouchsafed to the two battery pay clerks who had the fortnightly task of going back to Borgo San Lorenzo in the Arno valley to collect NAAFI supplies for the troops. These supplies were, of course, spirits for the W.O.s and sergeants, beer for the men, real English cigarettes and pipe tobacco, toilet soap, razor blades, sweets and chocolate and so on. These privileged NCO's, together with their drivers (who might be any rank from gunner to sergeant) and occasionally an "extra" who could find a cast-iron reason for going had a good three day trip, the reason being that about half of the route was a narrow and dangerous road and consequently was one-way traffic, 12 hours in each direction. From the first trip each party had sorted out an Italian farm with an extended family who provided accommodation, cooked food and wine in return for some help with the rations.

On 9 Apr. the regiment, less 'D' Tp. and 228 BHQ, which remained at Caeseggio, moved to San Clemente under command 6 A.G.R-A. On 13 Apr. the regiment moved up into "Western Valley" and became 66 Med.Gp. R.A, taking over from 6 A.G.R.A. with under command 453 and 504 Batteries of 75 Hvy.Regt. R.A, 51 H.A.A. Regt. R.A. and a detachment of 13 Corps C.B.O., and 655 Air O.P. Sqn. This group was in support of "Mac Force" comprising some mountain artillery and 5 infantry battalions, two British and three Indian. On 16 Apr. command passed to 2 AA.Bde. Up to this time the activities of the regiment consisted largely of harassing fire on to Route 9 (the east-west main road from Modena via Bologna to the Adriatic at Rimini, south of the river Po) and into Bologna by the 155 mm. guns of 453 Bty., engagement of Air O.P. targets, counter-battery fire, and a certain amount of observed shooting from 2 O.P.s Air O.P. maintained a continuous sortie and provided much information about the advance along the plain to Castel San Pietro and on to Bologna. They reported men working on an intact bridge at Castel San Pietro, but permission to harass was refused by Polcorps and very shortly afterwards the bridge was blown. On 20 Apr. the battle had again moved beyond our range, the Germans having withdrawn to Bologna, which they evacuated in the early hours of the 21st. Now began the last battle of the war in Italy.


Copyright © 2003, Chris Dunham . All Rights Reserved