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the platoon suffered several casualties the enemy were beaten off, and the platoon and casualties were successfully withdrawn at night to rejoin the main company positions.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!
Copyright © 2003, Chris Dunham . All Rights Reserved