Courage And Valour
New Zealanders in the Italian Campaign

Extra - Diary Of A Signalman
Arthur Warbrooke


The following is a series of letters and diary entries from the late 2nd Division, 2NZEF Signalman Arthur Warbrooke, kindly offered for publication here by his daughter Jenny Reynolds.

•  Trentham Letters
•  Trentham To Egypt
•  Egypt To Malta
•  Malta to Lucera
•  Atessa to Orsogna
•  Castel Frentano to San Michele
•  San Michele to Castellina


Trentham Letters

Friday 27th of November 1942
Dear Lei, time is nearly eight and we will soon be on parade but I will start an installment now and may get a chance to finish this off during the day.

We came back from our manoeuvres yesterday afternoon and had a good hot shower and a shave and boy was it good after not washing or showering for a couple of days.

We were paid last night. I was on my way to the orderly room when one of my teeth gave me an unearthly jab. It brought to mind the toothache I had up at the wade one weekend and so I started inquires about getting it out pronto. The dam thing started to ache steadily after that and so Gordon went over with me and saw a friend of his in the dental corps and this chap hurried things up a bit and I had it taken out. I went and missed my tea over it though. I have no teeth left to chew with on the right side bottom and only one on the left.

(Next morning) it is a miserable start of a day here today with drizzling rain. Although the last week has been wonderful weather. we left on our manoeuvres on wed at about 9.30am and went up what they call the Paekakariki hill rd. (can you get your tongue around that) for short everyone around here pronounces it as follows - pie-cock. We picked up troops up there and took them to Waikanae (pronounced why-can-I ) about 35 miles from the camp here. The trip over the hills was a real good drive. You cannot go very far about this place without going over hills.

A sight worth seeing is when we came to the summit of the hills overlooking Paekak-. You are right on the coast here and several hundred feet up. With the hills dropping down very steeply below you. Looking to the north you can follow the coast for as far as the eye can see. The coast here has good sandy beaches and stretches away from you in two big curves and they look so even, that they might have been drawn with a great pencil.

I told you I would get you a map of the district around here and I will try and put it in with this letter.

Well to go back to the top of the hill. About four miles out from the coast is an island called Kapiti. It is about four to five miles long and is mostly covered with bush. it is used as a bird sanctuary and the only person there is a caretaker. There is another island farther to the south of Kapiti. It is much the same size but looks very barren.

We could also see the south island from here. It is about 30 - 40 miles across the straights between the nearest points. The Picton ferry takes 3 and a half hours for the trip. Don’t get confused by the word ferry. It is really a fair sized steamer.

A wellington chap was telling me that on a very clear day Mt Egmont can be seen from here. From this point the hills or ranges rather, run in a northerly direction while the coast curves round to the northwest making a roughly V shaped piece of country which is pretty level but looks as flat as a board from this height. There are sand hills most of the way up the coast, and in places the ground is half sand for several miles inland.

There are lupins growing everywhere about this district especially near the sea and the air is filled with the scent of them. What wonderful compost a few loads of them would make for our garden. After we had dropped the troops at their destination we went on to a place up in the hills and ditched a couple of trucks and put others out of action and then called on the ordnance corps who were on manoeuvres in conjunction with ourselves to put things right. The idea was to give them some practical training.

The mess truck lost it’s way with the result that we had lunch at three pm. From here we went back to the beach at Waikanae and had a swim in the Tasman. We went in in our birthday suits and the water was quite warm. From here it was back to our base camp for tea. We had cold chap potatoes and onions. We had a cook with us and he made a fair job of things. (By the way - our food has improved wonderfully since we walked out on it although there is still room for improvement)

Well to go on - at 8 pm we started off on what was to be a night drive along the beach without lights. The ordnance crowd borrowed our trucks to have their drive first as they did not have enough to go round their drivers and we were to wait till they came back. They were to go 6 miles up the beach and then return and speed was to be 10 miles per hour. After waiting about an hour we could see lights going on up the beach and trucks going in all directions. Someone came down and told us that several had been stuck in the soft sand and others were trying to pull them out.

They eventually got them out but a bit farther down the beach a creek ran out through the sand and the incoming tide had filled the channel to about 2-3 feet of water, and there the fun started. The biggest part of them came through all right but a lot had to be towed out. We spent that much time mucking about that it was not worth while taking our drive so we retired to the local motor camp for some sleep.

The grass was wet with the dew so we had to sleep in the trucks. I slept in the front seat of ours and it was quite a good bed. It was 11.30 when we got in. Some of the chaps went to our base camp for a cup of tea but I preferred to sleep.

We were up at 6 next morning and had breakfast at 7. After breakfast we took the troops we had brought up, back to the point where we had picked them up, and then returned to Paekak and had a bit more practice in convoy work etc.

We came back to wellington round the coast road and it was a good drive too. We had lunch on the road and were back in camp at about 2pm. I am finishing this off in a hurry to catch the mail. All my letters are finished in a hurry but here’s hoping I'll catch up next time. I was rather amazed at Owens letter. It seems he was concentrating more on the typewriter than the letter. Have you written to jack yet? Please send his address to me. Lots of love to you all sweetheart.  Yours always. Arthur.

2nd of December 1942
Dear Lei, I have a few minutes to scratch a line so here goes, every little bit helps so they say. We have just come from morse class, and Gordon and I are going to the pictures now.  I received your welcome letter today and that’s the way I like to see them, not like the one I had before that, two pages and only one written on. I sent two parcels today and hope they arrive safely.

Gordon’s wife has gone over to Picton and he is wondering whether to get her to come over this weekend. The way things look we may not get any leave, and he is between the devil and the deep blue sea. We are going on another manoeuvre for two days starting tomorrow morning and coming back Thursday night.

You should get this letter on Sat so I will not send you a tele as I said I would. (The last message I mentioned in the letter) you can be prepared for one about wed or thurs though. (Refer second message.) Could you get the photos developed and send me the best of them. Mrs Buxton will maybe do it for you. The war news looks very much better now and things seem to be shaping up nicely. I suppose Mrs B. has all the answers to it though. Did you see the new award for soldiers and dependents in the paper? It won’t be long now and they will be paying overtime! Three bob per hour per chap. well dear lots of love to you all. Bye-bye for now to yourself and Ed and Ern. Yours only, Arthur.

4th of December 1942
Dear Lei, we have just had our ‘tet prop 2’, (injections needed before going overseas,) and have an hour and a half spell here in the hut. We have had morning tea as well. I would not mind getting one more often as we get the whole morning free. The effects only last about 5 minutes. It makes you think one or maybe a dozen whopping great bees have stung your arm. We came back from our manoeuvres yesterday at about 4, and the two days we had away were a real picnic. The weather was perfect and most of us had our shirts off continuing the tanning process. My back is alright now although there is a fair amount of skin missing.

Gordon was just telling me about a friend of his who was boarding with an old Irish woman. His friend was in the habit of coming home late at night and one morning the old woman got onto him and said "I heard you come in early this morning, late last night, and if you are going to stop here, you will have to get out."

Our first stopping place on the trip was on a sheep farm on the banks of the Rimuhunga river up in the Wairarapa. It is about 40 miles from camp here over the Rimutaka range and a few miles north of Featherston. We had our lunch there and in the afternoon driving competitions were held among the four sections who took part in the manoeuvre.

The test was over a stretch of the riverbank which was covered with shingle and was very rough. One or two trucks got stuck. Our section came second. The don r's also had a test over the same ground and there was some spectacular riding. We discovered that the place was alive with rabbits and a crowd of us went out with sticks hunting them. There are quite a few trees along the banks and floods have left piles of branches and scrub piled up against them. The technique of the game was for someone to jump on the pile and when a rabbit dashed out he found himself among a jumble of arms and legs and wildly beating sticks.

Several full grown rabbits got through the barrage safely but the casualties among the younger generation were fairly heavy.  All of our forces returned safely which was a bit of good luck considering the way our sticks were being waved about. Altogether we got about 20 rabbits but as everyone was getting plenty of good tucker no-one felt inclined to skin them. We did the farmer a good turn anyway. We had a swim in the river before tea and the water was not near so cold as I expected it to be.

Just after dark we moved out for a night drive without lights. The idea was that an enemy was fairly close and we had to do the exercise without attracting attention. We pushed our trucks out to the road and when assembled there pushed each one off to get it started as the self-starter makes too much row. We had about five miles to go to another farm further down the river where we were to put in for the night.

Everything went off well and the only accident was with a barb wire fence as we were going through the paddocks to our camping place. This was under willow trees on the bank of the same river we spent the afternoon on. About four posts were pulled down and some wires pulled off, but half a dozen volunteers fixed it up next morning.

Sixty points were awarded to each section on leaving Trentham and any faults etc that were noted during the whole exercise would result in that particular section loosing points. The section finishing up with the largest number of points was to be given a small prize donated by our instructors. This made a competitive spirit among the sectors and everyone was doing their best.

On Thursday morning we had a competition among teams picked from each section, in pulling a truck out of a ditch. We had all the necessary salvage gear and points went to the section doing it in the shortest time, and in the most efficient manner.

No. 3 did it in 8 minutes, but lost points on account of the noise they made. Our section took 14 minutes and lost no points. After this we had another swim and a lie down in the sun. We left camp about 11 and had some practice in finding our way to reference points on a map of the district.

A reference point is given in six figures thus.567344 and by using graduations on the map, enables you to find the exact point. I will not explain the process as it will take too much paper and you would not be very interested. The idea is to save a lot of explanation in directing a driver to a certain spot. We had our lunch in a paddock on the road and then spent an hour or so looking round.

The captain later got us together and gave us a summary on the way everything had been carried through. We won the prize donated and each of our section got a packet of capstan. We finished with a total of 42 points. (18 lost) and no. 3 section ran second with 38 points.

Our section lost quite a few through not shaving on Thursday morning. The Rimuhunga River flows into lake Wairarapa and they have a bulldozer working nearly all the time keeping the mouth from silting up, and flooding the country side. There are hundreds of acres of good land along the river banks that would be covered if the river rose very far.

The farmers affected pay the cost of the dredging. Looking down on the Wairarapa district from the Rimutakas it is like a big basin, with the ranges on the south and west and high hills to the north and east. The soil is very fertile and there was any amount of good grazing everywhere. Practically the whole valley is grazing land, although there seemed to be more sheep about than cattle. It seems as though the two rivers in the valley have changed their courses gradually - perhaps over thousands of years, until they had swept across the whole valley.

The Hutt Valley is the same. Over at the back of the camp here probably about two miles from the rivers present course, you can dig down a foot or so and strike sand and shingle and it’s the same right through the valley. Well Sweetheart I have covered about all the news so I will have to say bye-bye till the next letter. There are no fresh developments yet but I'll let you know when there are.

Yours only Arthur.

7th of December 1942
I only have time to give you a note. While we were at morse tonight we were told when it was over to go back to our huts and wait there. Then they mucked us about and its nearly ten now. I had weekend leave last weekend and stayed Saturday night at the combined Servicemen's club. A bed was two shillings and it was worth it too. A nice soft mattress and pillow

Saturday was raining but Sunday was good. I went out with Gordon but will tell you about it later.

I got your letter today and am sorry you did not get me Tuesday. I explained in a later letter I think they are holding the mail up a bit as the other chaps are complaining about letters not getting home. So in that case you will know what it is if the mail does not come along. I hope you have the letter with the telegram message. Well dear I want a cup of tea before bed so I will cut it short. Lots of love to you all.
The day is very close now.
Bye-bye dear. Yours Arthur.

Trentham To Egypt

Left Trentham camp 5.30pm Thursday 10th December 1942
All the troops were aboard the ship all day Friday. The crowd was allowed onto the wharf at 4pm Friday. Our sailing time was delayed until Saturday 6.30pm. Several hundred people were on the wharf to see our ship off. Some of the troops were throwing coins onto the wharf, many letters also. Several women were weeping, probably wives. I was very glad Lei was not there. The wharf was a blaze of colour as we pulled out. People waving coloured cloth, several boys try to start the troops singing but we're not feeling in the mood on the last night in NZ.

The first day out was calm and uneventful, by the third day out it was blowing hard with a fair to high sea. Many on board ship are seasick, the ship was heeling with the force of the wind. Although not as rough as expected. I have seen it as rough on the Manukau The following day was fairly calm and has remained so till today (Thursday)

The Achilles is our escort until wed morning. On Tuesday the Aquitania gun crew have a bit of gun practice on a (box kite) target towed by the Achilles, their machine guns are American type -5. Using tracer bullets. The American gun crews shooting is fair. An Australian light cruiser the 'Adelaide' turned up on Wednesday morning and 'Achilles' leaves us. It comes close alongside and the troops give them a cheer. The 'Adelaide' looks old and lightly armed.

This ship is carrying 6000 men. Things are very crowded and it's a job to get to the canteen. We have only had one beer so far.

The convoy's speed is low in the daytime on account of smoke, but we speed up at night. 25 knots is full speed. It's very good food but involves much waiting. There is a picture theatre on board. The swimming bath is not being used, we can get a bath in hot salt water. Fresh water is very scarce.

There is a gyroscopic compass on board. This ship is very steady in a sea. At 50 years old it's getting very rusty about the deck as well as dilapidated inside. It was due to be scrapped when the war started. The ship now carries forty odd guns.

There are several WAAC girls aboard and a few nurses. There's very little to do and time hangs heavy but we're getting plenty of rest. Parade 9.30 to 11.45 consists of sitting on deck and talking. We receive patriotic gift issues, pkts of cigarettes also darts distributed to each unit.

I wrote out an airmail letter and handed it in today for Lei to be posted at Freemantle. There is a rumour going around on the ship that a rumour has been put about in NZ by Jap radio that our ship has been sunk.

Sunday 20th of December 1942
Arrived at Freemantle at 9am. Dropped anchor 1 and a half miles from shore. This ship has been taking on water and stores from barges and oil from a tanker lying alongside. The 2nd echelon go ashore from that tanker, paint the town red, and the ship was delayed for 2 days. During the storm we saw a display of forked lightning. Several chaps try to get ashore but good precautions are taken. We are moored in the open bay with wharves upriver.

Left 8pm Monday 21st. course nw. clock goes back half an hour per day. A heavy cruiser 'devon' is now escorting us. Also a small Dutch destroyer. She turns back two days out. There was a submarine scare while in port. It would be easy for sub attack. This is probably the reason for us leaving at dark. Screen of destroyers and minesweepers at sea all day.

Thursday 24th of December 1942
Weather getting much hotter. Many flying fish about. 6 inch gun practice at target dropped astern. 6 rounds are fired from each gun. The heavy detonation causes the plaster to fall off the ceiling of the ship.

Tuesday 29th of December 1942
Weather very hot but getting cooler. Crossed equator yesterday. Sea very calm. Were told to standby yesterday for cruiser having depth charge practice. A plane went up and away to north for about two hours. Practice did not materialise. Our ship had AA practice today at smoke shell. 2 guns firing. Ship on horizon yesterday, cruiser goes to investigate but all ok. Read message from cruiser 'searched area, go noon.' Many dolphins about.

31st of December 1942
First sight of land at 3pm. Island of about 100 miles lay off coast of Somaliland. Sighted another ship.

1st of January 1943
Keeping close to land all day and erratic course. Very high mountain range just discernable to the west. Weather very calm.

2nd of January 1943
Passed Aden at dawn. Another cruiser left us during the night. An Arab dhow was seen in the direction of Aden. The land is fairly close on the starboard beam and there is a series of ranges very high and barren looking. The first sign of life was a building on perilous island.  Mine sweepers ahead of us are clearing a channel.

The destroyers are scouting around, and other ships and ourselves cruising in circles waiting to enter straight of Bab-el-Mamdab ("Gateway of Tears". the passage into the red sea) we have seen a lot of shipping in the last day or two, mainly small freighters. This looks like an ideal place for mines or subs.

Sunday 3rd of January 1943
A fine hot day, no sight of land. An Arab dhow and tanker passed, exchange of siren blasts. We heard that the destroyer sent a signal yesterday 'continue on your present course and you may be blown up.' a mine was swept up later. Must have been laid by enemy planes from Mediterranean bases.

Thursday 14th of January 1943
Working fairly hard now and not much time to write up events in the diary. It gets dark about 5.30pm and there are no decent places to write in. We landed at Suez Tuesday 5th Jan and were brought ashore in barges. There were 30 odd ships in the harbour. One sunken with masts just out of the water. We landed at 2pm and had a feed at 5, waiting round for a train.

Finally we got going about 8pm and arrived at Maadi station 3.30am. Cases of apricots and orange juice. Wogs selling whisky at Cairo station. Had a feed at camp and 1 and a half hours sleep. Over 100 miles from Suez. Fairly easy time for first day or two. Gordon and I go out Sat. and Sun. Bought table each, 20p-. We were able to hire bikes on Sunday and have a look at the native quarters. We see several redcaps but had no trouble with them. There is a lot of bad feeling between NZ provost and redcaps. There are always complaints of lack of co-operation. Our provost are very easy on us. Tommy will take no action unless they are in superior numbers.

Picture show, 'know your enemy'. Commentary on tanks guns planes etc. vehicles here painted cream. Air force aerials on cab. Great searchlight displays, 35 together.

Stick bombs, glass and flannel. 40 fuse in handle. Packed in cases of 5 and a cover over each bomb. Explanation on enemy weapons. Carbines very nicely balanced. Antitank rifle. Superior to our standard weapon. AP bullet will penetrate 2ins. tracer tip, German auto pistol, weight 16 lbs, 100 rounds per minute. Standard equipment paratroopers and tank crews.

Very simple well finished Sten gun. Produced for 3 and 6d as compared to 10 pound for Tommy. Almost exact copy of German tommy. Very rough looking no finish but very effective. British arms generally more reliable than enemy.

Both sides much trouble from sand. Boys antitank rifle 36lb. battery operated will penetrate .9inch armour. .5 AP shell, very little recoil. Flash and muzzle blast big give away. Minimum 9 shots per minute. Maori battalion made good use of them on the road to Tobruk against enemy trucks, firing at motors.

Bren gun positions easily given away from the air on account of the blast making ripples in the sand. Can be spotted from great height with air photography. 3 cameras set and synchronised with motors cuts out overlapping photos to use with stereoscope.

Anti-tank grenade to fire from discharger cup on rifle, range 50-70 yards. Will hole 2inch armour or split 4 inch. Primed nitro-glycerine explodes on concussion.

Striker pin and lead ball, model 4 MK 1 service rifle. In production before the war. Mass produced for about 30 shillings. No machine finish, very accurate. Short bayonet rod type. Bayonets very little used.

Wed. 20th of January 1943
Marconi masts visible from camp. Talking to several old hands. Very decent chap and willing to talk when drawn out a bit. One chap was in Greece and Crete. Very nice people in Greece. They were weeping when boys had to leave. Throwing flowers from the wharf. Chap swam out to battleship at evacuation of Crete.

Yarn with provost, redcaps not very popular with our chaps. Will not interfere if too many NZers about. Complaints that our provost will not co-operate. Our boys retaliate by rounding Tommies out of bounds. Provost main job is convoy control and placing lights at night to show battle positions, consequently coming under heavy fire.

Reference to tank battle at Alamein. Shallow trenches and tanks came in and ran along with tracks in trench. Slit trench religion.
One chap tells us that if you have not seen the light, you sure see it when under fire and learn to pray plenty. Best way when in thick fighting is to shout and yell and it eases the nervous strain. The Maoris are the boys to make yells. Jerry yells 'camerade' before they get too close. All learning habit.

Only one Sunday slept in camp so far. Look in at cabaret. Beer 9pt, cider 11pt. tiny glass coloured water. Acts on stage by girl and young boy, balancing. Dancer on stage nearly naked. Several shows up the same street. Trap for young males.

Italians drop fountain pen bombs, wog picks one up and gets his fingers blown off. All the wogs get the wind up and scram. The troops run Maafi themselves.

Booby trap on dead bodies, usually dragged off with rope. Bombs set in truck doors. Crosses taken from British cemeteries, painted over for Jerries use in advance on Egypt. No sentiment at all and will come at dirty tricks.

Sunday 14th February 1943
Decided to keep only what I cannot put in letters into diary. All other information going home by mail so no point keeping it here.
Received three letters and cake from Lei on the 7th Feb.
Starting 3rd week at school.

Tomorrow two exams 90% 92%. Instructor was captured by Huns but was released by our troops later. Telling us of confused state of fighting when in fairly static position. Our chaps found themselves in Jerry camp quite often and vice-versa, owing to short advances and withdrawals taking place. One chap finds himself in Hun convoy one night. Many captured vehicles being used by both sides makes things confusing. Shooting up a convoy with Bofors guns. Get them in line and can string them up like worms.

Friday 19th of February 1943
General order comes in about tyre pressures. Position very serious. Tests prove that tyres will last longer under extreme pressures and in some cases are nearly doubled. This will play havoc with trucks but they can be replaced more easily so will be sacrificed for rubber.

Old hand telling us of tactics used at Alamein. Tanks disguised under truck bodies and trucks have dummy tank bodies to mislead the Hun. He thought our armour was going in where the dummy tanks were placed and shifted his best division to that point. When attack did come our tanks lost time going through the mine fields and Jerry had time to realise the trap and rushed his armour back but was just too late as our boys drove a wedge in between the two forces.

Camouflage is useless in the desert, nothing can be hidden but it can keep the enemy guessing as to what it is. Wheel marks are a giveaway when vehicles are camouflaged. Both sides revert to all sorts of tricks to keep the other side guessing.

A tank rushes up to a position with crew all sitting outside and cheering, all in our uniforms, and our chaps think that their own men are coming in with a captured tank. When in range the tank opens up and pretty near wipes the position out.

Our unit leaving for the blue in batches. Sixty odd leave last week and another lot leaving tomorrow. Rumour that first lot go to Tobruk by rail then to Tunisia by plane. Persistent rumours that we are going to England when this show is over. Boys believed they were going to NZ before we came over but our coming proved that wrong.

Tuesday 23rd of February 1943
Final exam in Dem today. Fell down badly in one subject.
Letter from Jim Tayler today. Flew from Tobruk and plane had engine trouble 40 miles out at sea. Made crash landing but nobody hurt.

Two drafts of sixty have left so far. Les just missed by getting flu but is ok now.

Signalman Rawston died with meningitis. Military funeral yesterday.
Bad feeling between some wogs and allied troops. Party of Aussies ambushed while coming from Alex. Driver of truck killed several injured.

Bomb exploded on range few days ago. 1 killed 5 injured.
Rumours of going to England still persistent. Maadi camp to be handed over to Tommies very soon. Were to take over before Alamein but that push spoilt plans. Our div was in Syria when Jerry came down to Alamein.

All the distinguishing marks on the trucks had to be painted out and badges taken down, then div rushed from Syria to Alamein in four days. Jerry got a big fright when he ran into NZers. He thought they were new Tommy troops coming up. One chap was telling me how he felt when they were making for the line and Tommies were coming down running away from the tanks.

It is generally recognised that our div saved Jerry from taking Alex, and was said to be the best division in the world bar none. We're very well equipped and had the best of tanks.

In earlier campaign div went in with carriers against Jerries tanks.
Heard about battle of Cairo the other day. Apparently nine months ago some trouble arose over some political question and Bren carriers were patrolling Cairo and keeping watch on the palace.

King Farouk and many gippos are very pro-German and the king has attempted to leave the country so he can direct a revolt from outside. We have heard that when div was retreating from Alamein gippos in Alex were waiting to take our chaps from behind when the Huns drove them near to the city. Preparations had been made to fall back on America and not try to protect Alex. Further defences were prepared west of Cairo in case Jerry came that far.

God of thy mercy give me but the right to live life to the full. Not till the muscles slack not till the senses crack, but that there be no lack in flesh thou hast wrought. I have not ever asked that fate should be, divine protector over me, that screaming shell and shrapnel pass me by, or blind immunity from war torn sky. Only I ask that I see once again, the bright impenetrable mist of driving rain across the oaks where Graftons shadows fall on April mornings fantasy until unutterable beauty leaves the spirit still and quiet. Thus and did the city speak to me that forlorn day I left. If there be ought of bounty war has brought let me just once more seek the old familiar way. God of thy mercy give me but the right to live.

7th of March 1943
I have just written to jack, received mail from home in the middle of last week. Things are fairly quiet about camp and much easier now that most of our unit have gone up to the blue. The results of the course I finished was 90 and 89 percent. The last two exams were averaged. Quiz 92 last written 86. I passed distinguished. Although I feel I could have done much better still if I had studied a bit harder. Report was -good all round man - very keen, I was recommended for a higher course.

A chap who came over with us was stabbed in Cairo a couple of weeks ago and died later. A general order has come out forbidding troops to carry sheath knives. Evidently had something to do with stabbing. Our M.O died in his sleep a few days ago. I have thought what a damn shame to come over here just to die a natural death, or by misadventure.

We have been mucking about on wog trucks for the past week. Driving out on the Sahara but nothing to do most of the time and its getting very monotonous. If I strike mechanic course it will keep me in camp another six weeks. I am hoping Gordon is kept back till the same draft as myself. We would very much like to keep together. Some talk of those remaining going to 4th brigade so we may be lucky.

Sunday 16th of March 1943
I have just written a little letter to Edward and illustrated it with dog, donkey and camel. I can imagine him standing at mummies knee while she reads it to him and the look of pleasure on his face is a great reward for the little time I have spent on it. I thought of saying “daddy could soon be coming home” but he may not come home. I suppose Lei tells him that though. What a damn shame if I do not. Not for my sake but for theirs.

All the dreams and plans I have made for them to come to nothing. But if I do return my absence from them will have taught me to love them as perhaps I never would have had we not been separated. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. It has taught me how much my loved ones mean to me, and has given me reason to plan for their future and give them the best that is possible.

Second day at school today its very monotonous going over the same stuff as I had in last course, but will keep me in base longer. It makes it an easy life and perhaps worth the monotony. Starting at 8.45 and finish at four.

I made a heart out of a New Zealand penny on Saturday. I was thinking of getting a silver chain and having the heart engraved to send home to Lei. I think she would appreciate it, seeing I made it myself. Slightly dubious about it as it was made on the 13th. It shows how much the fact plays on a man’s mind when he does not know what the future has in store for him. This is the first time superstition has ever worried me!

Sunday 21st of March 1943
I finished a letter to Lei and included photos of our weeks driving in Cairo. I included a footnote saying 'if you receive a cable with the word lines included I will be leaving base till then don’t worry.' it may be cut out by the censor but it has a good chance of getting through. After thinking it over there is not much wisdom in saying 'till then don’t worry' as it may give Lei the impression that there will be cause for worry after that.

I am feeling blue today for some unknown reason. We saw a picture last night called 'wild geese calling' and that took my thoughts home. The weather is miserable and there’s nothing much to do except write and I have nothing now to write of. I would like to write to Lei and tell her how I feel but there’s no sense in doing that. I must try and keep my letters cheerful. I have had a shufti through the photos of the kiddies. I should write to Jack Trehearn, Bill Miller, and Lester, but don’t feel inclined. Lei is the only one I enjoy writing to.

We could have gone to Heliopolis today if weather had been good. I'm after aeroplane glass for making souvenirs to send home. I'll save money that way and occupy my spare time.

Thursday 25th of March 1943
Sent Lei a letter telling her of a little pact we will make when I get home. I included the poem 'petition' I'm hoping the letter won’t make her sad. Things seem tough up the line but will probably be finished when I am ready to go up. I heard today that Ernie Wehmer was killed in a bombing attack when disembarking at Tripoli. There were also casualties among the infantry.

Pedro came down to hospital suffering with boils. He was glad to get away from up there as shelling has been fairly heavy. Bloxy also came down and is a bundle of nerves. They were being strafed by the enemy planes quite often and had to go to mess with tin hat and rifle.

I have started to grow a moustache but it won’t last long unless it is a good shape. It saves a bit of time in the morning though. I received a cable from Lei yesterday and was glad to hear they are all well. I sent one in return.

Worded 'many thanks for telegram. Letters received, many thanks. Very happy to hear from you dearest. I am fit and well. We hear that some wallah in the post office has been caught tearing up telegrams and putting the money in his pocket.’

A plane crashed in a dust storm over here on the escarpment at the back. 5 were killed and four in hospital. The Yankee plane was a total wreck.

Len Reed and Crawford have had a run in with redcaps. They got drunk and tried to get the use of a phone in Maadi to ask for transport to camp and started a row with a householder. Crawford got involved with redcaps when they were called on the phone and he got knocked out. They were both under close arrest but now open arrest until their court-martial.

Letter dated 26th March 1943  Maadi
Well Sweetheart, Ed and Ernest, how are you all keeping now little kids? I received the telegram you sent Lei and was very pleased to get it and know that you're all well. It made a fairly smart passage too. It is marked Silverdale 17th March, Cairo 22nd March, and I received it on the 24th. I mentioned in a previous letter that I would not bother sending cables very often as it is rather expensive at 12 ackers a time but when I received your cable and was so pleased to get it that I sent one away the same afternoon.

After all it is very cheap considering the satisfaction we both get in knowing everything is ok. So I have altered my ideas and will send you one at intervals while I am in base anyway. I expect you would have been a bit anxious wondering if I was up the line but my letters should have given you a good idea where I would be for some time.
We had our first exam this morning and I think I have done pretty well although we had very long questions to answer and were rushed for time with the result that I was not able to check my paper over and am bound to have made one or two mistakes.

We have had dust storms a couple of times and it has been very cold, we were wearing shorts for a while but had to change back to serge. The weather has taken up now though and it looks as though we will be in shorts again next week. There is a cricket match on and I was watching it for a while but I thought I could make better use of my time this afternoon if I dropped you a line as we will probably be going to town tomorrow if the weather keeps like this. We have not been to Cairo for several weeks now, I have forgotten how many.

Only a certain percentage are allowed on leave at a time and for a start everyone was chasing it but now they can’t give it away at times. We are entitled to a pass once a week but I have only taken mine once in the last month or so. You can laugh if you like Lei but I am growing a moustache. It is in the fashion about here and as I have never had a bash at it yet, I intend to give it a chance, although I do not expect for a moment that it will improve my appearance. It is now four days old and looks very promising although it is a bit early to make any predictions about it yet.

Les has grown one and we are trying to talk Gordon into it but so far he has not fallen for it. There are some weird looking tufts of hair on some of the enthusiasts, all shapes, sizes colours and stages of development and would give you good cause for a laugh if you could only look them over. You always take salt with your eggs don’t you!

We took a walk down to the Maadi tent the other night to see a free picture but it was not the best. They put on a free show there every week. After it was over we had an hour to spare so took a walk through the village before going back to camp. We were puzzled by some kind of birds, as we thought, that were flying in and out of the trees in one particular place on the road.

We thought they must be owls, but a civilian that came along while we were watching them told us they were bats, and were attracted by the fig trees which were growing in a garden just over the fence from us. They were very much bigger than the ones I told you we saw at Helwan. We could only see them when we caught them against the night sky and they looked about the shape and size of a Morepork at home, although our imagination may have had a lot to do with it, as we could not see very clearly and then only for a few seconds at a time. I would like to get a close look at them but did not feel game enough to climb the tree with a box of matches. We may go down there with a torch sometime when we have nothing better to do.

We have been patronising Shafto's cinema quite a bit lately, all the pictures they show are very old and usually have a lot chopped out of them but you can't expect a lot for three ackers, and it is a good way of spending an evening. They put on a fair number of entertainments in the YM during the week.

They have one night a week for debates on various subjects. They have a debating club and so many speakers are picked to debate a subject on the stage through the loud speaker. They also have an amateur trials night, anyone can volunteer to give an item of any kind and a prize is donated for the first second and third prize. The winners being picked by the amount of applause they receive from the audience. We get some real good talent at times too. They also have a French class here once a week and I suppose a man would be making good use of his time if he went along to them as it is an advantage to be able to speak French about here and we may finish up in France for all we know yet.

My Arabic has not progressed very far. I've picked up most of the stock sayings in use about camp, but learning from a book is not very satisfactory as you cannot get the pronunciation properly.
It is now Monday evening sweetheart. Time 7.30, and I am keeping up the old tradition and still writing my letters in installments. We went down to have a look at Pall Mall on Saturday night. It is a picture theatre in another part of camp about a mile from our lines, and is a very impressive looking place from outside. There was a good show on so we thought we may as well go and have a shufti. It was Zane Grey's 'Western Union' in technicolor and was a real good show.

The theatre is built of white stone, and we expected something flash when we got inside. The roof is done something like the Civic theatre in Auckland. You know, the blue sky and the stars, but this was natural and not faked like the Civic. Actually it is just a stone enclosure with no roof, but serves the purpose alright.

We went into the city yesterday and then out to Heliopolis where we spent most of the afternoon at the aerodrome. I cannot tell you all about it Lei but we spent an interesting afternoon and saw a good variety of planes. We were also lucky enough to get hold of some 'Perspex' a tough plastic glass which they use in plane windows. It looks exactly like glass but is very strong and does not splinter.

The piece I got hold of came out of the bomb aimers window of a Blenheim. It is good stuff for making souvenirs so I will be filling in some of my spare time in that way from now on. It can be cut with a hacksaw, filed, or heated and moulded into any shape at all, and it polishes up beautifully.

We had the cheapest day we have ever had in town. It cost us 15 ackers between us, 6 for train fares to and from Heliopolis, 6 for supper at the NZ club and 3 for the bus from Maadi home. We got a ride in the train both ways by scrounging in with the engine driver. It was a very poor day for news as the most interesting part of it I am not able to write about, and nothing out of the ordinary happened otherwise. Well Sweetheart I cannot fill another page so I will have to say bye-bye to you all and wish you lots of love till the next letter. Goodnight Sweethearts. Love from daddy and Arthur.

Monday 30th of March 1943
Writing between the lines. Posted papers home. Article in Sunday 28th March headed 'sitting on the fence'. Message 'we'll be in Maadi at least six weeks from now. Rumour going to England when Rommel done. May be Italy or Turkey though. Are shifting base to Benghazi shortly. Will advise when sending messages. Keep smiling. Love to you all and best wishes. Will write later.

Have you received any of the newspapers I have posted yet, Lei? The local news should interest you as it will give you a good idea of Egyptian life and ways. They should interest dad too. There is an article in the paper 28th of March that you should read. It is entitled 'sitting on the fence' and has some interesting information in it so READ IT OVER CAREFULLY'. Write later in green envelope- I hope you read the newspaper article I mentioned in a previous letter lei. It has some interesting news in it although you may not see the point in it at first. It is mainly a matter of reading between the lines'

Gordon and I were out at Heliopolis aerodrome yesterday. We had no trouble getting in because we only need to show our pay books. I had a good shufti around the junk heap and at wrecked planes. I got away with a good heap of perspex which was mainly what I was after. It's a very big aerodrome but now it’s too far from the front to be of much use and is mainly used as a repair depot.

There would be several hundred planes here and dozens of wrecks. A lot of the planes have bullet holes and shrapnel holes in them. A Douglas transport came in while we were there and we were talking to the Tommy who came down in her from Tripoli. He said things were going very well up there but it had been very cold. There’s not much news in the papers of the battle.

He said they spotted a jerry plane burning in the desert at Benghazi and went down low for a shufti but could not tell how it came to be there. It was a long way from base and may have been shot down by a fighter. There are a few plane motors on the test bench at Heliopolis, fourteen cylinder radials, as well as twelve cylinder V type Rolls Royce merlin. Wonderful jobs. I could not hear myself speak when I shouted something at Gordon about twenty feet away from the running motor. It seemed as though I had lost my voice and only my lips were moving.


Egypt To Malta

Letter dated 4th of April 1943
Well Sweetheart mail day has arrived at last and although I only have one letter so far, I was very pleased to get it and as the mail is not all sorted yet I may be lucky enough to get another. I was sorry to hear that you had not been well Lei, but you said you were nearly better when you wrote and I hope you were better next day.

Look after yourselves and see that you all get plenty of veges and fruit, prevention is better than cure you know. I am sorry you are not receiving my letters up to the date of your letter. (Jan. 25th ) but I should expect you would have received all that I wrote up to arriving here, I don’t think I would have averaged a letter a week for about the first four as there was nothing much to write of but I trust that I have made it up to you since then. It is a long time to wait for news and that is why I have appreciated your cables so much. It is nice to know you are all well up to a few days previous. When we have to rely on letters it does seem a long time ago that they were written. I will send you one at least every fortnight while I am able to.

So our youngest scamp can say "moon" I think that was one of the first words Ed learned to say wasn’t it. I am thinking of the picture that was over the window in Mangere, it had a big moon just rising over the hills.

I am looking forward to that surprise you mentioned in your letter although I have not the faintest notion what it is. You do not drop any clues about it do you.

I am sorry the bach is still leaking, perhaps dad would do something about it for you, If it is not fixed already I don’t suppose you want too much of this letter devoted to house repairs so I will leave it at that.

I think Minhinnick was pulling your leg about that army cheese. It didn’t happen over here anyway. I would like to get some of that 50 HP stuff, the little we get is tinned and it is like soap to eat and practically tasteless.

I have the gist of what you were saying about Charlie, I would prefer to take my chances and be able to hold my head up, sooner than have to act like a hunted rabbit.

You were saying that you might get a turkey from Gordon for Easter, it will not be much use this year as Easter is almost here, but it would go well for Xmas dinner 1943.

I have been hunting round for a file as I think I told you in the last letter. GK and I went to the city on Friday night and walked round for about two hours trying to get one but had no luck. I went to Helwan in the hope of getting one there but had no luck. The wog in one of the shops I went to tried to sell me a worn out thing for 17 ackers.

He told me they cost 25 in Cairo but I am getting wise to wog tricks and wasn’t paying that for a thing that was worth two or three, so again I came back without one.

Yesterday (Sunday) there was a dust storm blowing and I decided to go to town partly to get away from the dust and also to have another shufti for a file. You do not get the dust so much in the city when it is blowing but there is not much to choose between the dust here and the dry horse dung and rubbish that blows around the streets in there. Incidentally Sweetheart this letter was started on Sunday morning soon after I got your letter but I did not continue it as I was away all afternoon and most of the evening.

I went in on my own as Gordon was playing in a cricket match here in camp. I spent most of the afternoon looking round the shops with my main objective the elusive hardware dealer, they are as scarce as hen’s teeth. Any one horse town in NZ would have files for sale in the local store, but not here.

By four I was hot and dusty and my feet were getting sore, so I made for the club, had a good shower, a feed, and a sit down for a while and after this I felt one hundred per, again. About the only hope now was to go to the musky. So off I went with the conviction that if I did not get what I was after this would be my last attempt. One of the first things I set eyes on when I got to the musky was a little 4x2 shop selling hardware, and the wog was just in the act of selling a file to one of his fellow countrymen. What a wonderful sight that file was, after a total of several hours hunting one and then to have one stuck under my nose like this.

George charged his cobber 6 ackers, to me the same thing was ten, to a yank it would probably have been fifteen. However I was so darn pleased to get it that I paid the ten and would have given George a kiss as well had he asked for one.

As I was in the musky I thought I might as well take a look round the shops while I was there and in a few minutes a young wog had me in tow to have a shufti through his father’s factory. They call all the shops here factories as most of them make the stuff they sell on the premises.

Once inside I got all the formalities which I described to you once before, a stool to sit on, while a greedy looking wog raked out a pile of bracelets from a showcase and laid them out in front of me, and went on to tell me how superior they were to what I would get elsewhere, and also how cheap they were in his shop. One of his cobbers asked me if I would like a coffee, too right I would, I would take all I could get for nothing.

So a boy was sent off to get it. George was telling me that I could have my sweethearts name engraved on a bracelet if I took one. I didn’t want a bracelet but I had a little ornament I had made in my spare time, in my pocket and asked him what he would charge to engrave something on it for me. I told him what I wanted - 14 letters, but like a dammed fool I didn’t ask to see a sample of the work beforehand.

When it came back the only way I could describe it was a hell of a mess, I could have done better with a nail, anyway we live and learn and that is another lessen I have learned through experience. The coffee came in just then and I have never tasted such vile stuff in my life, it was only a mouthful in a little cup about two inches high.

There were two yanks in the shop at the time and I confided to George in a low voice that they had plenty of filoosh, "yes yes, plentee money" he said, "and you rob them plenty" I replied.
I thought it was time I got back to the club for a cup of tea to wash the taste of the coffee out of my mouth. One of the thieves followed me to the door and wanted to take me to see the blue mosque - at a price of course - I want to see the mosque but I had seen enough of wogs for one day.

The boy who led me into this show was there too demanding baksheesh. I said to him, your father will give you baksheesh but he said it was not his father after all, his father had gone home. They are as cunning as Maori dogs, worse than that even, I think Maori dogs are dumb.

I had another feed at the club and after a rest for a while was lucky enough to strike a truck going back to camp which saved me a lot of bother, chasing trains and buses.

One thing I had forgotten to tell you of before is the water wheel driven by an ox which we saw some time ago. It is on the bank of the Nile near the city and is made with two wooden wheels with wooden teeth fitted to them, one working at right angles to the other. The ox is tied to the horizontal wheel and walks round and round and this drives the other one which has an axle with another wheel attached to it. This third wheel has buckets on it and is partly submerged in the water and as it revolves dumps water it picks up into a chute.

Just a few lines about a little incident that will give you a smile. A surprise visit was paid by one of our officers to our huts on Sunday morning, his object being to pick up those men who were dodging church parade. He got about 30 odd names and those chaps were charged later in the day for being absent from parade. The excuses put forward were many and various and about a dozen pleaded they had dysentery and had to stick close to the latrine.

These chaps were marched to the RAP under escort and given a number 9 each. (Something more powerful than a pkt of Epsom salts) to clear their systems. Their attachment to that particular building was quite genuine for the rest of the day.

I often wish sweetheart that you could be over here with me that would help to make my stay here worthwhile, but I hope my letters have given you a good idea of the place, seeing you cannot see it for yourself. Give me New Zealand every time though. We will do our travelling there together when this show is over. I wonder how many new lands I will see before Aotearoa rises above our horizon. Time will tell I expect.

The Long White Cloud is the one I am wanting to see again most of all. Your letter gave me the impression you were sad sweetheart, it was not actually what you had written but what was between the lines. Please don’t worry dear, perhaps you can’t help feeling a little bit anxious at times but don’t let it get you down. I am fit and well and intend to stay that way.

Help the little chaps all you can and keep yourself occupied and time will pass quickly for you, it can’t be very long now. We have to be thankful for a good many things. I imagine what all those poor people in the countries which are most affected by the war have to put up with. Their homes destroyed along with most of their possessions, some of them with not enough tucker to keep them alive and innocent women and children being slaughtered every day.

The future cannot hold very much hope for them. It is a terrible business and let us hope it is never allowed to happen again. I heard two chaps talking in town the other day and one chap who was evidently married told the other that the only thing a man could do was forget all about home and family for the time being. I thought it was a queer kind of argument to put up. You can be sure I will never forget my little family whatever happens and where ever I may be.

Bed is calling sweetheart time is nearly ten - nearly seven am. for you, Tuesday. Did you get mail yesterday or will you get some tomorrow - I hope you are receiving it regularly now and I hope my letters are interesting and bring you some comfort and encouragement. I will do my best for you anyway. Night-night to you sweetheart. Lots of love to Ed and Ern from daddy. Keep your chin up and keep smiling dear. With lots of love to you all from yours always. Arthur.


23rd of April 1943
Somewhere a woman in her firm sweet way,
Faces the future bravely for your sake.
Toils on from dawn to dark from day to day.
Fights back the tears nor heads the bitter ache,
She loves you, trusts you, breathes in prayer your name.
Soil not her faith in you by sin or shame.
Somewhere a woman, mother, sweetheart, wife.
Waits between hopes and fears for your return.
Her kiss, her words will haunt you in the strife,
When death itself confronts you grim and stern.
But let her image all your reverence claim.
While base temptations scorch you with their flame.
Somewhere a woman watches filled with pride,
Shrined in her heart you share a place with none,
She toils, she waits, she prays, till side by side,
You stand together when the battles done.
Oh, keep for her dear sake a stainless name,
Take back to her a manhood free from shame.

We came back from Alex on Monday 3 hours awl, but no action was taken. We expected to be on the mat. There was quite a lot of bomb damage in Alex mainly in the wog quarters near the wharves and on the waterfront. They had a good balloon barrage up in vital areas. I was told that during Alamein there were a mass of balloons but very few planes came over.

In the desert at Amiriya was a mass a fighter plane drones. A fair number are still there. A lot of French ships in the harbour. We saw one sub and 8-9 ships from destroyers to heavy cruisers. There are still many minefields at Amiriya, mainly about the crossroads. They were fenced off and marked.We applied for leave to Palestine so we could have extra time in Alex. We gained over a day out of it.

The last exam tomorrow and that finishes the course. I have a good idea I'll be going to div, but may fluke another week or two here. I would like to get in the same unit as GK. Signal school going on a six day scheme on Monday. They will be going to the red sea coast, I would like to be on that but not much show. Betting is about 50-50 that we will go to England or pacific. I would prefer England even though it would mean fighting in Europe. Great things may happen this year. Here’s hoping.

1st of May 1943
Mayday. My first thought was a day spent at Muriwai with lei in a hired car. I wonder if she has remembered it today. We saw possums on the way home.

I'm now working in the sergeant’s mess for a while. We didn't report for four days and Hawkeye sent for us and went to town on us. Good tucker and an easy time there but we're tied down, can’t go out on the weekends. The course finished with an average of 95% for three exams. 90-98-98. I havn’t seen the reports but I may have been recommended for fitters course. I would like to take it on as it is something learned and is an easy life but I'm getting browned off with the heat and the flies. I would like to see the country up the line and if I go in the next draft I will probably go with GK.

Yesterday was the first anniversary of joining the army. I fully expect to be in the army this time next year too and maybe longer but how can I tell Lei that. I can only hint at it. I wish she did not have the idea it would soon be over. Two letters received yesterday. Sent telegram on wed wishing Lei love and saying letters received. I had enough confidence to know I would get the same.

Wed 19th of May 1943
Good week for letters this week. Received three from Lei last week (12th) and one from Jack. Three more from lei on the 17th. She had received all I had written on the ship besides two from M.E.

I received a cake yesterday from Jack and a parcel of eats today. I can’t decipher the date on the latest but the cake was the 3rd of march. I expect a parcel from Lei in this mail also. I get quite a big thrill opening parcels especially when you have no idea what is in them.

I have been in the general hospital since the 13th of May and getting a bit sick of nothing to do. I may be out tomorrow though. I wrote a 16 page letter to Lei yesterday and 5 pages to Owen today. I must write to Jack also.

Two visitors came today while I was out, it must have been GK and Les and I was sorry to miss them. They are Transferring to 4th brigade. I hope I'm going there, I may consider applying for a transfer there if I'm not placed.

All leave has been stopped to Alex and Palestine, the div may be coming down on leave. If so it may mean a shift to the pacific. Rumour points that way but we don’t know what to believe. There is definitely a big move on somewhere.

I was very upset by Lei's decision to go hop picking and did not write till I had received more letters. It seems she has not taken it on though. I was very disappointed and it shook my faith in her for a while but have got over that now. I shook her up about it in my last letter, but may have spoken more strongly if I had not waited for more mail which calmed me down a bit. I also told her the letters were too short, but can forgive her for that as she had been receiving nothing from me. But I hope they lengthen in the future. I was very pleased about the page she devoted to Ern it was the brightest part of the whole lot to me.

Marriage is popular because it combines the maximum of temptation with the maximum of opportunity.

Many of us spend half our time wishing for things we could have if we didn’t spend half our time wishing.

Friday 21st of May 1943
Still in hospital and not going out till next week. I had words with the MD and told him nothing wrong with me, but he says he knows best. I wrote to Jack yesterday. I received two parcels from Lei. Cake and tinned stuff. I will have to hire a wog to help me to Maadi if any more arrives. There is still one overdue from Lei.

I have just finished a book about prisoners of war during the last show. It was good reading and gave me the idea of 'dotting' my letters home. The idea is so simple. Papers are all right but too slow getting home. Next thing to do is make Lei aware of what I intend to do. I heard that 2 div was shifting.

Tuesday 25th May. 43
Have been reading up on classical stuff but it can’t hold my interest. It’s all too darn dry. Started on 'I Claudius' but did not go far. What the educated mind can see in it i don’t know. A chap is at present singing classical songs at the hospital and I can’t tell what the words are. Perhaps a man needs an education to appreciate it. I'm glad I didn’t get one.

I have written to Lei. Not much to tell her but it will inaugurate the service. It may puzzle her but if she has received the papers with the message she should see through it. I have written, 'have the papers arrived yet which I mentioned in a previous letter. I hope you took notice of them and did your best. The same principle would apply here.' I hope the censor doesn’t ponder on it too much.
I thought I would be going out today, here’s hoping for tomorrow. Tried to see MO about it but could not get onto him.

I have read through a book of poems by Kipling. This is an extract from 'Sussex'.

'God gave all men all earth to love, but since our hearts are small ordained for each, one spot should prove beloved over all; that as he watched creatures birth, so we, in godlike mood may of our love create our earth, and see that it is good.'

I am now settling down to read 'Russian road to India.' I waked the palms to laughter - I tossed the scud in the breeze. Never was isle so little, never was sea so lone, but over the sand and the palm trees, an English flag was flown.'

Saturday 29th of May 1943
I left General Hospital last Thursday 27th. Expected to go out to town this morning but missed and will have to wait till Monday. Sent Lei a message in code. Mentioned pacific rumour. Told her if she uses same to take care. Hoped to draw her attention by saying- hope you took notice of papers. Looking back a few pages I find I have made an entry about that. If she has received the papers and all the letters alluding to it she should catch on all right.

It is just a sea of sand here. The camp is up a Wadi and shut in on all sides. We had a heavy sand storm last evening and the tent did its best to blow over. Hospital ship in Athens was visited by Stukas, they were flying away when some mug opens fire with Bren gun. They return and bomb the ship. We have heard conflicting yarns of Jerries attitude to red cross but on the whole he seems to respect it.

One of our prisoners was smoking after capture, a jerry officer knocks the smoke out of his mouth, and when cursed at he draws his luger and shoves it into the chap’s guts, superior shoots him through the neck a few moments later. Our chaps later released by attack on enemy positions. Heard that Yanks were bombing Kiwis by mistake. Made three attacks and on the last one, one of the bombers was shot down. The pilot went crook. One of our brigadiers reported to have been asked what he thought of Yanks as fighters. He answered. 'What do you think of the Italians?'

Heard that all married men are going home for three months leave, from main body, numbers to be made up with single balloted from same. Others to follow in their order of getting here. The war should be well won when my turn comes round. This seems to cut out the possibility of the div going to the pacific. It may possibly be Burma though. That many rumours and possibilities that nobody can judge. It seems strange the army letting the news out about the married men going home. They may want the Germans to get the information just as a blind. A possibility would be the Balkans or Turkey if we do remain here. Time will tell soon enough.

(Letter from Jack, .Jessie and Heather, and five from Lei dated to 14th April.)

Tuesday 8th of June 1943
Sent two letters home in green envelopes dated 26th May and 1st June. Message in both 'married men to go home others to follow in order of arrival.'  Next 'May all get home soon. Won’t see action for long time even if we don’t go home. Big move on but only rumour yet.'

Lester came in last week, I went with him to Maadi. He bought two bottles of gin. 70p each. We got rotten and went back to work in officers kitchen, but I had to give up and hit the hay. I couldn’t take it as I had been drinking for three days. He is used to the plonk and it’s no trouble to him. Received another parcel from Jack.
The boys going home have been vaccinated today and will go in a day or two.

Rumour of reinforcements coming. Kiwis have been making Cairo hum. No beer and everyone on the hard stuff. Gharry drivers getting a hard time. They have been refusing to carry Kiwis and the boys have been taking possession of their Gharrys. Letting the horses out and tipping them over.  Several chaps killed through being drunk. One run over by train. Ones arm torn off and died in hospital. Other suffocated in his sleep. As well as many accidents. I swear I will not touch spirits again. Gordon got caught too the other night and says the same thing.

Tuesday 15th of June 1943
Nothing much doing, still in officers kitchen, trying to save to go on leave. Drew no pay today.

The first of the Ruapehu boys went last night.  The ballot for the next lot is coming out next week.

Wednesday 23rd of June 1943
Sunrise at home for august. approx. 7.15 - 7.30 sunset - 5.30
Full moon 16th Aug. with an eclipse.

Moon will rise here between 10.15 - 10.45 on aug 20th will be fairly high in the western sky at home about 7.30am.

6th of July 1943
Things are very quiet here at present. I'm still in the officer’s kitchen and hope to be out very shortly.

RSM saw me a few days ago about a job instructing at school. They have applied to G office for a transfer, somehow I don’t think it'll be granted as they are very short of tradesmen in div. Not too keen on the job but the money is clean and it may be a good chance to get into another unit after this tour of duty. I would prefer ASC to signals.

I received a cable from Lei on the 2nd. It took one day coming over.
They had the police dog at 4th brigade on Sunday to try and track a chap who killed three wogs in Cairo the night before. We haven't heard if he was caught, but it’s very unlikely. Their officers would see that he had every chance to keep away.

Sent parcel to Lei about two weeks ago for the 20th. I made a special box with a message.

17th of July 1943
Left 7.30 pm. sent lei and dad an aerograph dated 12th. Sent a cable this morning for Ern’s birthday.

3rd of August 1943
Arrived in Palestine on Sunday last. It was a 24 hour journey and very tiring. Received three letters from Lei dated 28th may 3rd and 7th June. Two parcels from Lei and cake from Jack. I haven't sent a letter for over two weeks and will have to get busy on the trip to Palestine before I forget all that happened. Asked Lei not to send so many parcels.

11th of August 1943
I sent a cable for our anniversary - 'happy anniversary, I wish we could be together on this occasion, and hope for a speedy reunion. Keep smiling.' I hope it arrives on time.  Sending message in letter. - (no sign of moving yet, may be a month or two. may be Italy or Greece. reinforcements still coming. Possible may not be used again. Watch my air graphs.) Things are looking well as far as war goes. There's a great possibility of being over by Xmas. If events move as fast as they have been doing.

27th of August 1943
There’s a rumour of moving on a months manoeuvres in the middle of next month.

4th of September 1943
I received a cable from home for fathers day, dated auckland 30th august. I don’t know what day fathers day falls on.
There was a talk given by a Greek doctor. - about hundreds of villages in the mountains not occupied by axis and the regular Greek army is spread among these. It is a fully organised force and not guerrilla as generally supposed. They are in constant touch with GHQ in Cairo.

During Alamein, a message was sent to destroy the bridges on the route supplying Rommel with supplies and it was carried out within 24 hours. Uprising and fighting was carried out during first part of the campaign to prevent axis troops being withdrawn. Bombing of Crete was for the same effect. .Letter to Lei, 'manoeuvres start mid-September, last for six weeks. May be in Greece in November. Don’t worry.'

26th of September 1943
Left Maadi Sept 18th. Received one letter from Lei dated Aug 4th and one from Owen. Parcels have arrived but none for me. Leave to Alex, few books as presents. Wogs are catching quail, figs, desert rats, reptiles.  Italian fleet in Alex. Measuring trucks for shipping.

There is a roman lighthouse where the walls of the castle are still standing. There are desert rats, serpents, lizards snakes crabs. Balls of seaweed on the beach. Bedouin tents. Goats on the roof.
Started to write a long letter on fallacies and superstitions to Lei but didn’t send it. I thought that if I happened to be bumped off it may have repercussions on her. The kiddies shouldn’t need my guidance, they will be self reliant.

The word is that we are going somewhere where the troops havn’t been before. It is obvious we won’t be making a beach landing so we may be going to Italy and then the Balkans.

Sat 9th of October 1943
Left Burg el Arab on Tuesday the fifth at 7am and proceeded to Amiriya then in convoy to Mena. We refuelled and pitched camp on the roadside. There was a muck up over rations and it finished up that we had to use our own. One chap had a shirt with his pay book in it stolen. I had washed a sheet and shorts and left them on the cab, and they went too .Luckily I was sleeping on the right hand side of the truck where my TG and the shirt I was wearing was.

We had breakfast before daylight and pulled out just at dawn. It was a great sight to see. The pyramids rising out of the early morning mist loomed up like two great mountains. They are on much higher ground than the road which makes them seem much higher. We passed through Cairo in tight formation. Wog paper boys took most of our drivers down.

A chap got on my running board when I was doing about 20 to sell me a paper and like a mug I gave him 2pt before I got the paper, and he immediately got off, but nearly bit the dust in doing so. Next time I got my change first but only got the back sheet of the paper. Some chap got papers several months old.

We're supposed to be travelling incognito but the wogs knew who we were. We're supposed to travel at 15 mph with 20 VTM but we made our own arrangements and at times were doing 35. The old bus was fully loaded and it was all she could do to pound along at that speed. We stopped for a brew-up just before getting to the transit camp 12 miles out of Suez.

We're travelling in flights of about 100. We were first in and others were following from 6 to 12 hours between them. Tommy trucks were taking us from the park to the mess rooms down the road for our meals which were very poor. Tommies were getting hell from the boys. Our favourite saying was "there’s barges of smashin groob".

The boys looked as if they had been starved the way they jumped off the trucks to line up. One chap getting off in a hurry jumped on another's head and they both hit the ground with a thud. Meals were so poor that a good many didn't bother going down for them, but cooked what rations they had on the trucks. Benzine fires and primuses. In the army at home they threw a fit if a man smoked near a truck. What would they say if they saw the benzine fires going. Some of the trucks were overweight.

We go to weighbridge at port Tewfik. Back for feed to mess, told officer we had been to Tewfik on business. Brought trucks down to ship.

Sunday 10th of October 1943
Taken back to transit camp. Boys ratting the rations. A couple climb aboard with full sacks onto crowded trucks. We stayed at camp till Tuesday. The food was better, we had our own cooks. I had my watch mended. Paid in BMA bur issue.

Left for ship 6pm Tuesday. Boys try pilfering in shed. Indian on guard duty chases them out. It was an ordeal climbing the gangway with all our gear. Officer has a struggle with his so a guard gives a hand. But the boys tell him to let him carry his own. Dogs taken aboard. Div officer gives talk next day. “Going through canal. All personal keep aft magnetic mines.

Will tell us destination when we get cracking. Skipper does not think we will have much air trouble”. Ship was bombed coming out, couple of near misses. Some boys have been pilfering our own rations. Torpedo nets on the side. Most boys are in the hold. But that will be pretty hot when closed up. George and I are on top of hatch. Some sleeping in their trucks on deck. We got in with our cook and can get hot water for tea at night. We’re still on hard rations. No bread, only hard biscuits, but food is fair.

Moved into stream wed. Harbour full of ships. Evidently convoy assembling here. More to pick up in Alex. Wogs in boats over side to do tying up in canal. Two up school. Every player cleaned out. Warmer with over 30 Fahrenheit. Sitting on bows at night. Suez not very romantic in the daytime but at night is different. High hills on one side. Light of ships all round. Barrage balloons. Full moon making golden path over water. Sound carrying over water from other ships. Harbour mass of tins, boxes, wood, and refuse. 170 men on ship now with 5 crew, all Tommies.

All dogs to be fed forward, paddy did not like that idea. He whined with joy when George unties him. Very little breeze in daytime and very hot. Iron on ship gets hot and keeps its heat after dark. Tobacco shortage muck with the div being split up. Tommy would not supply stuff without money being put up.

No canteen available. Cav Captain tells us that they bought NZ tobacco in Tommy area while on manoeuvres. Same with the beer. Can’t even get wog beer for quids, and they have crates of it at some out of the way areas. Seems that a lot of NZ stuff coming over is never seen by the div.

Terry looks after things as best he can and we are far more lucky than most other Divs which have no captains in the field at all. The sailors are willing to swap tobacco for German or Italian souvenirs. Our BMA money is no good to them. When we first came aboard most of them thought we were just doing driving and carting around the docks.

Sat. 16th of October 1943
Left Tewfik harbour and entered canal at 8am. Cenotaph with two crouching lions at mouth. First part of canal very wide, with wharves and small boats, called Little Bitters Lake. Narrows down to 90 yards for several miles with stone and cement embankment on either side. AA guns on both sides, some genuine, others only dummies with dummy crews, but look very real from a distance. We entered Great Bitters Lake about lunch time and whole convoy anchored. About 14 ships and battleships.

Crew put rope ladder over side and some of the boys went swimming. The water was very warm but salty and stung my eyes. Went for another swim off the gangway in the afternoon. The lake is about 30 miles long and nearly as wide. A lot of cultivation on the west shore. Date palms and crops. Three big POW camps on west shore and at night were lit up like a city. Reminded me of Devonport looking from Auckland.

Before getting into the lake we passed three ships that had been blown up. One, a tanker, had the stern blown off, and was tied with cables to the bank. Passed two others that had been pulled onto the bank piecemeal. The plates were buckled and bent with jagged holes in them. All were fairly small ships and probably not fitted with the de-gassing apparatus. This ship doesn’t seem to have it either although it may be under the decks. All the dogs are fed forward and we go up to see paddy every now and then and give him a run around.

He nearly cries with joy when either of us goes up to him. He is very intelligent and can do nearly everything but talk. He doesn’t answer very often to 'come here' but will obey 'Taala Plina'. One of the crew has been hunting up souvenirs and has been offering tobacco in exchange. He wanted something with the swastika on it. George has a Jerry fork with the eagle and swastika on it, so I cut the end off it and made a small cross with it standing in the centre.

We got a tin of tobacco, 20 camels, 6 books of papers, and two toothbrushes for it. Not bad for an hours work and George still has his fork although the handle is a little short.

We left Great Bitters soon after daylight on Sunday the 17th and did several miles through the narrow part of the canal. We passed Ismailia about 10am. King Farouks yacht is anchored there. She is after the style of Yankee pleasure boats. She would be about 3 to 4 thousand tons and had the Egypt flag painted on the sides.

Quite a large basin at Ismailia and several ships unloading there. About 11 pulled in and tied to the banks to let two Italian warships pass. The ‘Vittorio Veneto’ and ‘Italia’. They looked gigantic in the small confines of the canal. They were still flying the Italian flag, but I expect there would be British officers and French crew aboard. The Ites lined the rails and gave us a good look over. We did the same but the boys had very little to say, if they had been British ships there would have been the usual smutty conversation and a few gibes.

Two minesweepers followed the warships down the canal. They had paravanes out and were dragging about 200 yards of heavy cable. Probably apparatus for destroying or detecting magnetic mines. It may have been a routine duty but looked as if they did not trust the Italians too much. The St Glenora was stuck on the bank for about an hour and a tug had to drag her off. We passed another sunken ship and came into ‘Port Said’ just before dark.

The harbour was packed with shipping. Several ships with lines hanging along the sides and paint taken off where landing barges had gone down the side. They had seen the invasion of Sicily or Italy. They had balloons up. Passed out of the harbour at dusk and headed straight out to sea. A porpoise or dolphin was diving along just up front of our bow. When it was dark two searchlights began to sweep the sea from Port Said and from our position we could see the ship on the other side of us silhouetted against the light. It would be a sitting shot for a sub. Blackout that night and smoking only allowed in the hold. For a start we could see the searchlight staff but later only the beam was visible.

Monday 18th of October 1943
Out of sight of land at daylight. Smoke on the horizon and later convoy passed us heading for Port Said. About 20 ships 6 of them tankers, a destroyer and corvette. Three planes were in the vicinity most of the morning. Smoke from the ships in Alex came into view about lunchtime, and we could see a convoy heading in there. There must be minefields outside the harbour as we went a long way west and then turned back into the harbour.

We passed a mast poking two feet out of the water and a lot of twisted ironwork. Our convoy went in behind a torpedo net and anchored. The Italian fleet was here. When I saw them from Alex a few weeks before there was a tanker outside the net with her decks awash. Someone told me she had struck a mine, but I had a clearer look when we passed next morning and it looked more like a bomb hit. Fore and aft the decks were pretty well intact but where the bridge had been was a shambles of twisted iron with great holes in the deck.

Another ship was closer in to the shore and turned practically inside out. A very heavy bomb must have hit her and if any of the crew escaped it would be a miracle. At daylight on Tuesday morning ships began to pull out and leave ahead of us, we were the 30th and two ships followed us. When we left harbour the first ship was over the horizon and only smoke visible but during the morning they all drew up in lines three abreast.

A small sub came out with us. Three Hurricanes are circling the convoy and we will probably have air cover all the way up the coast. All the ships have their balloons up. There is an attachment on the line about 100 feet below the balloon. It is a cylinder about 9 inches long and anything hitting the cable will set it off. If striking the wire did not damage a plane the explosion would do the job. Our skipper got us together and asked us where we thought we were going. Some said "Taranto" others "Bari" we were one jump ahead of him so all he knows is that we are going to Italy.

I finished a letter last night to Lei. Gave her a hint about the dots (secret code). It will be a while getting home as it may not get posted until after we have been ashore some time.

Wednesday 20th of October 1943
Woke up with no land in sight. The sea is still calm. About 10am a dirty black cloud appears ahead with lightning flashes making jagged lines into the sea. About an hour later we had run into it and the first rain we have seen for several months came down solidly for over an hour. Nobody was prepared for it and things were a bit of a shambles for a while. What had been a tropical scene was soon a winter one.

Battle dress and greatcoat were the order of the day as it got as cold as hell, and a strong breeze had come up. The ship was doing a bit of tossing. Taking an average of the miles we have run we find that we are doing only 8 knots. There is a little bit of a tanker on the far corner of the convoy which is practically full out at this speed. Another tanker in the centre is loaded down so far that her decks are awash at times.

We have had air cover all day. There have been four or five fighters and a bomber over us most of the time. We now have five escorts, and they remind one of sheepdogs mothering a flock of sheep. They are cruising about well out ahead, and on both sides of us.

Seven bombers passed behind us heading for Greece. They flew low to the water and looked like a flock of sinister birds. It began to rain again about 5.30pm, and was cold and miserable, the tarpaulin that they had fixed up to shelter the cookhouse filled up with water.

The weight broke the rope on one corner and some of the boys got half drowned, and six months growth scared out of them. We did not bother to put it up again but tied it down over the hatch to make our own position more comfortable. I went to bed at dark as it was the only place to keep warm and most of the others did the same.

Thursday 21st Oct. 43
The day dawned fairly fine but it is blowing hard and the ship is pitching about quite a bit. Some of the boys are not taking it too well. Breakfast has been later the last few mornings as the burners cannot be lit till after daylight.

On the whole food has been pretty good but we miss the bread. I have taken a liking to the hard biscuits to chew between meals. The ship’s crew are very well fed, they get bread every day, as well as fresh meat and sometimes veges. They had a shoot at 9am.

They fired a smoke shell with the AA gun and then let the point 50 have a bash at the smoke. The shooting was nothing wonderful. The tracer looks very spectacular the way it leaves the gun and goes in a slight curve then seems to stand still before finally dying out.

When you are behind the fire the tracer seems to stand still and it reminded me of a flock of quail gliding away. Talking of quail there is one on the ship along with several other kinds of birds. I have seen two birds resembling a canary. A small bird like a tomtit, and another larger one like a hawk but without a hooked beak. Rather a surprising collection and would have to be seen to be believed.

I was sitting along with several others on a grating running over a large steam pipe on a sheltered part of the ship. This is a favourite place when it is cold. Everything is blacked out. We can see the ship next to us fairly clearly but the others are just dim shapes hardly discernable. Looking towards the bow we can see the derrick describing slow circles among the stars as the bows lift, swing to one side, then drop and swing the other way.

The stars seem brighter and more luminous out here. Looking up, the balloon is an oval black shape against the luminous background. I sit and contemplate on the stars, think over what I have learned of them. When we are home again and we have our house built we may have a little room that may be called an observatory with a telescope and perhaps a camera to photograph the stars and the young chaps will share in all that may be learned about them. In fact all my plans are wrapped about them.

Every thought for the future concerns them in one way or another. I think of the fighting in Italy. It needs only one well aimed bullet or a near miss with a bomb or a shell and that will be the finish. Somebody has to get it before the war is over. A certain number of good NZ lives have to be taken and it is just as likely me as the next chap. I have wondered just how fearful death really is, and actually I think there is nothing terrible about it at all. One moment I may be alive the next moment I may not be.

We have a great fear of pain, and we associate pain with death, or vice versa. If a human being had never endured pain, if that was possible and did not know what the word meant, death would not have the same meaning for them. There is also a sense of loss connected with it, for life is very sweet to anybody even if they have hopes of an eternal life, where all their worries are over. I cannot imagine even the most devout christians letting go of life too easily despite their faith in the hereafter. Who will mourn my loss if I have to die?

I expect Lei will feel it most. The young chaps will not understand, and my relatives and friends will say "it is rather a pity, he wasn’t a bad chap" What a relief when the war is done and finished with, and a chap can feel comparatively safe again, although there is the chance of slipping on a banana skin while we are disembarking at Auckland and breaking ones neck. Despite all my doubts and fears I am still carrying on with my plans for that day when peace breaks out once more. Faith springs eternal in the human breast.

Friday 22nd of October 1943
The sea has gone down again and the day has been warm. The boys have their shirts off once again, and are lying about in the sun. There is a rumour that we are going into Malta to pick up flag ships but it is more likely they will come out to meet us. I would like to go ashore there but even a look at the island will be better than nothing.

Sat. 23rd of October 1943
Sighted land at 7am. One of the crew said it was Sicily, but we had word later that it was Malta. The convoy slowed down some miles away and later 20 odd ships came out towards us and 20 of our convoy went in to join them and they proceeded to the west. Our remaining 12 went on towards the island and we dropped anchor on the coast near Valetta Harbour at 2.30pm.

From newspaper accounts I had expected to see a high rocky island of about 8 or 10 miles long at the most, and was surprised to find that looking at it from the south it appeared to be more in the vicinity of 40 miles long. In places it has almost perpendicular cliffs dropping into the sea and in others the hills slope gently down to the sea. The island is rather barren looking but there are green bushes dotted about in places. Probably olives.

From out at sea we could see four or five large buildings which looked like churches. There were also several buildings near the shore which looked like ancient forts. Buildings seem to be scattered all over the part of the island we could see plainly except for buildings around the harbour there seems to be no other churches or dwellings. Maybe a good many of them have been blown down in the most bombed part of the world. We are one of 30 odd ships anchored in a bunch and we are no more than about 500 yds from the shore. Other ships only seem to be a stone’s throw from it.

Deep water must run right into the shore. We have 90 fathoms of chain out. The hill above us is subdivided into sections of about quarter of an acre each by stone walls. Some enclose olive trees and others look like green crops. One of the crew is a Maltese, Tony by name. He left here 25 years ago and this is the first time he has been back here since. He has a wife and eight children in England. He said that last time he was at home his wife asked how long he was staying, he said for a month and his wife said "that is too damn long, you better get away to sea again"

Sunday 24th of October 1943
Still at Malta. Was up at dawn this morning and saw Venus shining very brightly not far above the horizon. I looked for her later in the day. It took quite a while to get my eyes on her but once found she was very bright in spite of the fact that the sun was also shining. This is the first time I have seen a planet in the light of day although it should not be an uncommon occurrence for anyone in the know.


Malta To Lucera

Monday 25th of October 1943
Several chaps, off one of our ships anchored inshore, swam into the beach and made their way onto the island. They were either picked up ashore or found missing from the ship as we intercepted messages from shore asking for their names.

Someone came round the ship before dark and gave them the order to have their riding lights burning after dark as a convoy was expected in. They came into sight round the island just after dark, and came up and anchored among the ships which were already there. Riding lights were going all night and the anchorage looked like a small city in the dark.

Tuesday 26th
Dirty black clouds began to cover the sky at 7am and at 7.30 it was blowing and raining with some vivid flashes of lightning. Luckily the cooks had breakfast ready before it broke and they dished out in the hold. After breakfast the lightning was much worse and it was the most vivid display I have ever seen.

The centre of the storm was right above us and we could see the jagged flashes going towards the sea and sometimes going horizontally through the clouds. The whole scene was lit with a pink light at every flash and the thunder was deafening.

Two balloons were hit and exploded in the air, while another two had their cables burned through and they went drifting over the end of the island and out to sea. When the last two were struck we could plainly see the flash dart towards the cable which disappeared in a shower of sparks and red hot metal.

The sky began to clear about nine, and by lunchtime was quite clear with the sun shining again.

The convoy lifted anchor at 2.30 and proceeded slowly to sea taking up their positions as they went. Two battleships the "Nelson" and "Rodney" came out of Valletta and we thought they were accompanying us but they turned to the west and soon disappeared. They had an escort of seven destroyers.

They would be useless on the 'Mediterranean' now as they are only useful against their own type of ship, and with the 7 destroyers out of it, that threat has disappeared.

Progress is very slow. We had only travelled 30 miles up till 7pm. I am on desk duty. Our job is to see no-one shows a light. There are bright lightning flashes on the horizon.

Wed. 27th of October 1943
Bright blue sky with cold breeze. Land in sight starboard bow. Later Mt. Etna is visible through the morning mist which clings around her base. She has a cap of snow which is slightly pink in the morning sun, and has a background of pink tinted clouds. She is rather a beautiful sight. She must be fairly close to the coast as she seems to rise up out of the sea.

The convoy is skirting the coast at a distance of about 4 - 5 miles. Midday Mt. Etna is away astern and hidden by banks of cloud.
There is a fresh breeze blowing from the shore and it is quite cold on the shady side of the ship. Climate very similar to NZ, country is very mountainous. Rugged ranges seem to rise up out of the sea.
The convoy had another shoot this morning and were also firing rockets.

Have heard that jerry has a new kind of bomb that he can release at a great height and steer to a target by means of radio control. Quite possible but the story must be rather distorted, as, to be able to steer the bomb it would have to be equipped with planes and tailfins to be able to control it.

Submarine was detected just before dark, and destroyer dropped three depth chargers and was circling over the same area for a long while. Our stern gun was loaded and pointed in that direction, although I didn’t see the point in that as the destroyer could deal more effectively with it if the sub came to the surface. The depth charges shook the ship. We were nearly a mile away. I had the impression that she was grating over the top of a sunken wreck or reef of rocks. I heard that the members of the crew who were below thought that we had been hit.

I saw the greatest display of lightning I have ever seen tonight. The storm was a few miles away to starboard and the flashes were so bright that all the ships of the convoy could be seen by them. Some of the flashes were running from one part of the sky to another and some straight down to the sea. I stood in the bows and watched for about an hour.

Thursday 28th
Day is cold and looks like more rain. There are dirty black clouds out to port and some bright flashes of lightning. This seems a bad time for electric storms.

According to the log we have done 280 miles from Malta.
Smoke flare dropped by plane at 11am and destroyer has practise shots at it. All guns were blazing and making devil of a row. Great spout of water shooting up all round it and bursting over the top.
We came fairly close to the coast after lunch. The country is hilly but not mountainous and there seem to be quite a few trees about, though no cultivation has been seen. We have passed two small towns with buildings that would do credit to any city. There seems no justification for them being there. Even as tourist resort, as there are no beaches along the coast.

In the afternoon the sea was rather rough and was worse towards teatime. Everyone is getting about by a series of short jerks, and clinging to everything available. At teatime a dish of rice and dish of bully were tipped over accidentally on the deck and everyone had to slither and slide through them to get to the mess table. There have been intermittent electrical storms with black skies and a bit of rain.

I was down in the hold during the evening and also had a look through the engine room. Triple expansion steam engine. The biggest engine I have ever set eyes on. They have degassing apparatus on the ship but is all below deck. I felt caged up in the engine room and was actually pleased to get out of it. I would not relish the job of engineer or stoker, with only half an inch of steel between tons of water and myself and a torpedo likely to come through any time of the day or night. The engine was turning over at 48 revs per minute and we were doing about 8 knots.

Friday 29th of October 1943
Very close to land at daylight this morning, and had passed another of those flash towns built almost on the cliffs. The land seems to be more cultivated now, they look like either grapes or olives.

Bari in sight about 8.30. It is a fairly large town with big warehouses and factories around the waterfront, and the factory chimneys and shipping have the town just about obliterated with black smoke.
It is an artificial harbour with a breakwater running around it. Came into the docks about mid-day. Italian soldiers and civvies on the wharf ready to unload. Some of the trucks went off the ship before dark and they were working one hold all night.

The poor devils seem to be half starved as we were throwing pkts of biscuits over the side and they were fighting for them, just like the wogs did. They began bringing plonk on board to sell and some of the boys were getting a bit stoned. There were bags of sugar in the same hold as the truck so I transferred about 30 lb into the truck. There was a lot of NAAFI stores on board and some of the boys who had torches were into them pretty solid. The NAAFI has plenty of our money so that is a fair exchange.

Slept on the stern that night and was wakened by a terrible bang and a flash of fire. My first thought was bombs, then AA fire, but it turned out to be balloons being set alight by the lightning. There were over a dozen up before dark and next morning only two remained. Heavy rain followed but I was in a fairly good position and kept dry.

Sat 30th of October 1943
Truck came out of the hold just after breakfast and we went in convoy to centre of town where we were checked off and lined up in our respective units.

The kids were hanging round the trucks asking for biscuits and cigarettes, also bully beef. I bought a tourist folder of Bari and its attractions for one shilling.

We had a cup of tea at Bari and then proceeded to Taranto about 50 miles away where the Div was camped. The roads were fairly good but narrow. We followed the coast about half the distance then crossed a range of hills into Taranto.

At each village and all along the road the people came out and some cheered us others just stood and looked. On the coastal plain there was a lot of cultivation mainly olive groves and vege’s, but in the hills there were mostly grapes. The little cottages in the hills looked very picturesque.

Some were square flat roofed places. But most had conical shaped roofs. From four up to a dozen cones on the roof, depending on the size of the house. These cones were built up with flat stones and looked like a lot of giant old fashioned bee hives on the roofs. Most of the cottages were whitewashed and looked very neat and clean. Stone walls were everywhere and over some of the gateways would be an arch with a square compartment built into it, and a figure of the Virgin surrounded with flowers.

It began to rain just before we hit camp. When we got into our positions the place was like a swamp with mud and water everywhere. I had to pitch my bivvy in the rain, and on the wet ground as the truck was loaded with gear and the canopy was down.

I received a letter and two telegrams from Lei and that helped to cheer me up. After tea I crawled into bed as there was nothing else to do and I felt cold and miserable in wet clothes.

Sunday 31st of October 1943
The weather has cleared and the place is very muddy and my battledress is still wet, but things look better than they did last night. We are in the centre of a large olive grove and most of the trees are very old, some would be as old as the garden of Gethsemane.
The soil is a rich red volcanic and makes lovely mud. I spent the day getting the truck ready for action.

Some of the boys are on the plonk already. George came in with a 20 gallon keg on the panzer truck. I have not touched it yet and don’t intend to. If I can get champagne I may give that a bash but nothing cheaper than that.

Half the camp was blotto after tea and they had fires going and were singing until late at night. I have my bunk in my truck and am pretty comfortable. A few mosquitoes are around but I haven’t put up a net, I will take a chance on malaria tonight.

There are two varieties of olive here. One a green one for pickling and the others are long shaped and blue, which I believe they use for oil.

Mon 1st of November 1943
Leave to Taranto 9am-5pm. got lift down on water cart. Only about five miles from camp. City is rather poor and dirty in parts, with narrow cobbled streets. But newer part of city is better built and laid out. Italians have very few motor vehicles, most of transport is done by horses and mules.

Even the army are using horses and carts. Food is very scarce. The only thing the shops are selling are pickles, olives and other things that can’t be called food. Greater part of the shops are entirely empty, except for a few selling photos and other cheap rubbish.

On the waterfront the people were giving small mussels a good run. The kind that grow around wharf piles, and by the look of them there would be very little in them when they were cooked. The people are generally clean although some of the children are on the dirty side. Poor little beggars look half-starved and sores are quite common on them due probably to insufficient and poor food. There seems to be plenty of fruit around. Grapes are plentiful as well as figs and almonds.

Bomb damage in the city was negligible, the places that suffered worse seemed to be private dwellings. There is a narrow passage leading from the outer to the inner harbour and an old castle used as a headquarters building near and those probably were the target although no bombs had landed within several hundred yards of them.

The people seem to be generally friendly but are out after the money the same as the wogs are. I walked back to camp and on the way bought a shillings worth of grapes, about 3 pounds. Dried figs are about a shilling for two pounds, and are very good. Wops are about the camp all day selling wine kegs, grapes and toffee. Most of the boys get into the vino after tea and generally sing until 9 or 10 o’clock. I intend to keep out of it and usually take a walk in the evening for a couple of hours. I walked up to see GK one evening and found out they had moved out that morning.

Sunday 7th of November 1943
Moved out with small convoy at 7am as advance party to new HQ at Lucera. Distance is about 150 miles and made a one day trip. The weather was very cold and we were wrapped in as many clothes as possible. We passed through quite a few villages and they all seemed to be rather on the squalid side, and their inhabitants not too clean. The country we passed through was rolling and hilly all the way through.

Just before we came into Foggia we passed three burned out trains. Each having about 20 odd carriages. Foggia itself was a shambles and I did not see one building which had not suffered in some way. I have heard that there were 9000 civilian casualties in that city. It was probably the work of our own and American planes and they certainly made a job of it. All the bridges and several factories and power stations had been blown up by the retreating Jerry.

We arrived at our position at about 5 and as the cook truck had broken down we cooked our own meal and got our Bivvies up and were all in bed soon after dark. It begins to get dark here soon after five.

Monday 8th of November 1943
Started first thing on a line to fourth brigade. The HQ being about 9 miles away on our right flank. The line was laid cross country over cultivated land and cart tracks. We also ran lines to ASC, 6th Brigade, and CRE, and used an old Jerry line for CRA which saved us quite a bit of work.

I found that GK was camped near there but could not get in to see him. Our camp is among a grove of oak trees on a slight rise and we are able to look over the surrounding country for miles. It reminds one of a patchwork quilt with the square fields, some brown with the ploughing, others green with the new season crops just sprouting.

There are two large villages on the high hills just in front of us Lucera behind us. Here and there are dotted the white farmhouses of the peasants, each with one or two haystacks beside it. It is bitterly cold and someone has suggested that we may have snow.

Wed 10th of November 1943
Div arrived in this afternoon. We were out after firewood and did a cross country run in search of it, and after getting bushed a few times we loaded the trucks and came home. The land is crisscrossed with dozens of streams and watercourses and they are generally just deep enough to prevent the truck from getting over without looking for a crossing. With four wheel drive the truck will go practically anywhere in soft mud.

Friday 12th of November 1943
Div moved out again this morning at 6am for forward positions. We are rear party this time and will stay until all units have moved up then will reel in the lines. We are here on our own except for a 4th brigade sig. truck which is running the signal office. The scavengers were round the area with their horses and carts as soon as div moved out and began clearing the area of wood and bottles, tins, anything they could get their hands on.

We were left with five days rations, and have put up a cookhouse with sheets of iron, and ground sheets on poles and generally made ourselves comfortable, as its likely that we may be here for ten days or a fortnight. There has been a lot of air activity in the last few days. Several times a day a flight of 24 bombers will pass over in the direction of the front lines and returning about half an hour later. So far they all seem to return safely. We had a Jerry recce over one day but apart from that have seen nothing of him. Occasionally we can hear the Jerry guns going, as we are only about 30 miles behind the front.

Tuesday 16th of November 1943
We are still in our little company area. Sixth field has moved in and fourth brigade moved out this morning, and we have reeled in the line. That is the worst worry off our hands as it was the longest line and over the worst country and as we are doing faults too we expected any night to be called out on it. We have had only two faults at night so far, one was at the sig office itself and the other 5 Bde.

The last time we went right to the 5th HQ and found the operators away on a spree. We have had several faults in the daytime. The Ites have a bad habit of cutting pieces out of the cable for clothes lines. Several of them have been around the camp, trying to trade eggs, vino, and towels, for clothes cotton and matches. They do not seem to want money.

Clothes and boots are most in demand with food, cigarettes and matches next. There is apparently a scarcity of everything in the way of produce. Olive oil is very hard to get, although I was able to trade a pair of bombays for two bottles for cooking in. If you pay for them in cash, eggs will cost about 6 shillings a dozen and it is hard to get even that many at one time.

The boss seems to get down on all their produce before they can do anything with it. There are a few small flocks of sheep and goats about, and also a few pigs. We asked the price of a small pig. Nearly 5 pound so we won’t be eating pork just yet. We have been able to get eggs occasionally and have had them for breakfast several mornings running. We also acquired a sack of onions and they have helped out the rations.

We built an oven out of ammo cases and I baked a successful pie, (meat) for tea last night. We have seen the captain at fourth brigade and he is making arrangements for another seven days rations for us. We have been doing pretty well lately in being able to get the food left over from the regiment which is quite considerable at times and helps save our tinned food.

Wed. 17th of November 1943
We have made an oven out of shell boxes and field tiles and dug into the ground in such a way that the heat gets all around it. So far we have made a meat pie and jam tart, both of which were very successful considering the oven. The jam tart was covered with a tin of fig jam then that covered again with reduced cream. We were also able to get some more iron and have made our cookhouse more waterproof.

Captain Gabriel of the 4th Brigade is getting more rations for us tomorrow even though we have not yet started on the last lot he got for us. It helps to fill the tucker box though and we do not intend to turn anything down. We must have at least two cwt of tinned stuff on the truck. Allen paid a couple of visits to his GM friend in the 6th field and came back with a good load each time.

A small convoy came through today and they told us that they had been bombed while they were unloading at Bari and two chaps were killed. A destroyer was blown up with a mine at the harbour entrance and twenty seven were killed. A merchant ship was sunk by a mine. We have not been able to get any news of the battles except that the 5th and 8th armies are bogged down and things are rather slow.

We had quite a bit of rain last night and this morning and the ground is very wet so we have got off reeling in until tomorrow.


Atessa To Orsogna

Monday 29th of November 1943
We are now in front of Atessa, on the banks of the Sangro. I received a letter from Lei a few days ago dated Sept. 8th. I sent an air graph about the 25th and also an 8th army Xmas air graph and wrote a letter about Italy on 28th. A poor record for this month - two letters and two air graphs.

The detachment moved from Lucera about 21st and made a two day trip to Atessa. We stayed the night in a railway yard almost on the coast, where there was a company of amphibious craft used for unloading ammo ships. They are fast in the water, and are good in the mud also (4 wheel drive) they can carry two ton and save a lot of handling as they can go direct from ships to dump. The railway station buildings had been blasted a bit and Jerry had done his best to destroy the rails, evidently with gelignite.

We moved on early next morning and travelled inland from the coast. From Vasto the roads were very sticky from the recent rains and there was a good deal of transport moving both ways.
We passed the scenes of a couple of tank battles and in each spot were two or three burned out Jerries and the same number of our own. Burned and blown up tracks lined the roads. Many of his as well as ours. He must have suffered heavily from the strafing.

We passed through a narrow valley with a broad shallow stream flowing through it where he had put up a stand. There were groves of olives about as well as willows and oaks and with the river in front of him he had the ideal defence position. The place was lousy with mines, white tapes everywhere and the trees in the vicinity were cut to ribbons with the shrapnel.

From Vasto we passed through Cupello, where we saw the first signs of bombing since we left Foggia. A good many of the bombs had missed the town altogether and had made great craters in the soft earth but no danger above the ground. From Cupello then Furci where rear div were stationed. Then to Gissi  where we were held up for a couple of hours on account of a bad crossing several miles down the river where a bridge had been blown. There were the graves of six Indians in the centre of the town, killed when the town was taken a few days previously.

We spent the whole afternoon travelling the distance of about four miles. The traffic which was cramming the roads had to go into the river bed and climb a steep greasy slope on the other side. Only one in half a dozen could make it under their own steam and they had a winch truck dragging the others up. It was dark when we crossed but we were able to use our lights as there was a high ridge between Jerry and ourselves. We crossed a bridge over a deep ravine which jerry had not blown. So far he had demolished everything even down to culverts.

There is a story attached to this bridge. The charges were laid under it but Jerry had to get out in a hurry and missed firing them. He sent a patrol out next night, laid the charges lit the fuse but they were discovered and the fuse was cut at the last minute. Another attempt was made later but also frustrated. Jerry got a big gun in position and did his best to shell the bridge, and although he got close and killed several he did not damage the bridge. A patrol later got the gun.

On top of the same ridge we passed through Casalanguida. The streets were very narrow and the corners so sharp we had to make the corner then reverse and make another go to get around them. We reached Div about 8pm and had a hot meal.
The place was ankle deep in mud and we slept under the stars. Next morning we moved the layers into the river bed and camped overnight. 

I broke a crown wheel when we were laying a line from Atessa and the truck was at LAD for a couple of days. LAD have their work cut out for them fitting new back ends which are being smashed on a big scale due to the heavy going.

On the 27th half a dozen jerry planes came over. It was my first sight of them. The old heart took a couple of extra beats when I thought we may be strafed or bombed, but they went back over the ridge and did the 6th brigade over. The weather fined up the last couple of days we were in this position and the bombers were very active going over in flights of 12 every twenty minutes or so.

The 5th brigade put in an attack on the night of the 27th to get a bridge head on the other bank of the Sangro, and from all accounts it was very successful. Jerry was changing his Divs over and was caught with his pants down. Several truck loads of prisoners came in next day.

A good many engineers were killed when Messerschmitts bombed the pontoon bridge they had just put across.  There is an MDS at Atessa and I saw two fresh graves of NZ soldiers from 24th battalion. They were the first NZ graves I have seen in the campaign. Six figure numbers and maybe married men. Someone had placed a bunch of flowers on each grave. My thoughts travelled halfway around the world to where a grief stricken family had probably just received the news.

We moved on about 5 miles past Atessa on the 29th and have the 4th field Battalion just behind us. Every now and then we have a couple of batteries open up and make the ground about us shake. The club have a turkey which jumps into the air every time a burst is fired.

We don’t feel too happy with the regiment so close as jerry is liable to start a bit of counter battery work going.

Planes are active again today with two flights every half hour or so, and the ridge which Jerry holds is a haze of smoke. Spitfires and Tomahawks are patrolling the front the whole time. It is an uncanny sight to see the bombers go over then all about them appears little black puffs, but they continue on their course, a flare is fired, they drop their eggs then turn back.

Smoke billows silently up from the ridge. Then the sound of the AA comes to us followed by the roar of the bombs. It is like watching a silent picture in the interval in which the sound takes to reach us. We have seen several hundred bombers go in and so far all came out safely. Every now and then the fighters go into a dive and do a bit of strafing.

Tuesday 30th of November 43
Three letters from Lei one from Jack. Weather still holding.
Plenty of air activity. 4th brigade went in yesterday with their armour. The bombers are now dropping their eggs the other side of the ridge. The air force strafed the engineers on the Sangro Bridge yesterday. They had a go at 6th brigade this morning and our AA opened up and brought a zero down. Seems to be some bad organization somewhere.

Spitfire came down near us and pilot bailed out. Was hit by jerry AA. Jerry is putting up a few planes. One was shot down this afternoon and pilot bailed out in our lines.

Have had a few scares with planes coming low over div. If a flight is heard all eyes go in that direction and if they cannot be identified everyone edges for their slitties cut into the ground. We also keep a watchful eye on the Yanks.

Major Ingles gave us a talk this morning on future operations. The idea is for a feint to be made north of Pescara by the navy and merchant marine to draw Jerry’s strength that way. Then the Tommies advance up the coast and the Div moves parallel to the coast to Chieti, then SW on the road to Rome.

A Jerry paratrooper div is known to be in the area we will cut off, and it is to be hoped they get out before we get along the Pescara-Popoli Rd, or we will have him on two sides. They hope to get this move under way in a day or two. Jerry has not had time to blow two bridges on the route we are to take so it should be that much easier. Those areas will be very unhealthy though while he is within artillery range.

The German and Tommy pilots who were shot down had their tea at Div tonight. The jerry was walking with a limp but otherwise the pair were alright.

1st of December 1943
A very cold wind is blowing with a few showers. Not much air activity today and Jerry took advantage of it and sent over a dozen fighter bombers and bombed the Sangro Bridge again. We have not heard yet whether any damage was done. He seemed to appear from nowhere, and had dropped his bombs and got out of it smartly before the AA opened up.

We took nearly three hours to reel in a mile of cable today. The traffic was held up at the river and transport was nose to tail along the road for several miles. If Jerry had the air force what a time he could have here.

The artillery has moved up and is now below the ridge over the Sangro. They can lob shells over the top but jerry cannot get at them on account of his high velocity guns. Three machine gunners were wounded and one killed down the road when they went over a telemine that was plumb in the centre of the road.

One of div sigs men was wounded in an advanced sig detachment. Some heavy shells were coming in down the road a bit. It seems as though he is having another go at the bridge.

Saturday 4th of December 1943
Div shifted over the Sangro on the 2nd. We spent the last three days on reeling in. A nightmare job untangling lines and pulling them out of trees. Jerry has made a proper job of the Sangro Bridge and entirely new roads have been made across it. Very rough going.

The northern bank of the Sangro is lousy with mines and not safe to step off the road. Engineers are slowly clearing them up. Favourite place is around culverts, telephone poles, in front of defence positions. They leave a row of mines with strands of barbed wire held two or three inches above the ground on pegs and partly concealed in grass. They also act as trip wires for mines. They are also buried in potholes on the road and any other likely place.

One of the Canadian engineers got it yesterday when he lifted a mine. It was attached to another one beneath it and both exploded. An Italian and his daughter who were watching were also killed.
A good many of the people will not leave their homes in spite of shelling and bombing and a lot have been skittled.

I saw a jerry shot down in flames today. The pilot bailed out and came down safely but had been wounded. The plane came down nose first, and revolving as it fell, with every now and then a sheet of flame trailing behind.

We were reeling in near the river and came across a Focke Wulf which had been shot down a couple of days before. She was a very neat little job, two motors. One of their latest jobs and the air force had begun to dismantle it.

Tues 7th of December 1943
Laid a line from sig centre today. The furthest Gordon and I have been. They have been getting heavily shelled up there as jerry can see the roads from his positions. We saw the marks left from the creeping barrage put up by our guns for the infantry advance, and it must have been a great piece of work. While we were up there the clouds were lying low on the hills and visibility was very limited.
Two letters from Lei today. 8th & 11th Oct. Sent cable yesterday for birthday and Xmas.

Wed 8th of December 1943
Fine clear day, Jerry has his air force out in strength and made three raids, strafing and dropping butterfly bombs on the brigades. In the first 24 were wounded and 6 killed. Part of his success is due to surprise and the fact that the troops do not bother to look up when they hear planes, as there have been so many of ours in the sky since we have been here and practically none of Jerries. Most of the boys about here were stuck to the business end of a shovel before the day was out digging slits.

We have had to disperse the vehicles. A wild rumour went round that a message had been intercepted by one of the wireless operators to the effect that jerry was going to bomb main div. That started the boys digging all the harder. I have made a practise of digging a hole at every opportunity and intend to keep it up. I find I sleep more soundly below ground than above.

The Maori battalion captured a village last night but had to pull back due to lack of artillery support. Jerry put his tanks in and used flame throwers. There was very little bombing from our side Friday. Only about two flights went over. One bomber received a direct hit with AA and disintegrated in a sheet of flame. He had apparently not dropped his bombs as nothing whatever could be seen afterwards but a cloud of black smoke where he had been.

A good many fighters have been about, but they never seem to be on the spot when jerry turns up. He must get up to a great height and sit in the sun until all is clear, then it takes only a few minutes for him to come down and bomb and away again. We had lectures and demonstrations on mines. Jerry has this business down to a fine art and we cannot be too careful. in lots of ways though he is very careless and leaves evidence about that mines are in the vicinity, like fuse boxes etc.

He is also very methodical and in laying a field always or generally makes a straight line with equal spacing, and they are much easier to lift. The S bomb is a diabolical thing and very deadly, known to kill up to 50 yards. He is evidently short of them for he has been using a rough box type containing hand grenades with a prepared charge and full igniters attached to trip wires. Mainly used in defence positions against night attack. Although rough they are very effective.

His pressure mines are deadly where vehicles are concerned but will not go up without a pressure of 400 lbs or more. We are being supplied with a sweep which is really necessary. Someone is bound to get it unless precautions are taken, for the linemen are more often off the road and in likely mine positions than anyone else. A line was actually laid through the centre of a mine field the other day.

Wed 15th of December 1943
Still in the same position as we were on the 2nd, on the north bank of the Sangro. There was a big attack early this morning and jerry is on the move again. I was woken at 1am by the barrage which kept up for a couple of hours. The attack which failed a few days ago was allegedly due to the mistake of using a creeping barrage in country where there was no enemy.

He apparently returned to a village on the ridge and our barrage helped him more than ourselves as he directed his small arms fire just behind the barrage where he knew the infantry would be. If the ammo spent had been directed at the village things would have been different. The infantry arrived there and were met by tanks of flame throwers and small arms fire and had to retire.

Sir Allen Brooke and Monty were at HQ today. The boys all gathered round on the road when they arrived to look them over. Cameras were brought out, the greater part not registered I expect, and everyone stood about in various manner of dress and undress. Generals are all the same to a kiwi.

There happened to be 30 odd prisoners on the road at the time and the brass hats stood and looked them over. It seemed pretty tough on the poor devils with the crowd milling about them and someone turned a movie camera on them. There was a yank among the Generals entourage and a kiwi remarked to a friend within his hearing "I wonder if the yank knows what US means".

One jerry officer among the prisoners refused to talk so he was taken out by two provost with tommy guns to dig his own grave - he talked. Only a bluff of course but he was apparently taking no chances. Took a walk down the road last night and had a look into an Italian flour mill. One chap down there had come from Atessa to have his grain ground. Gordon has gone to hospital at Atessa with jaundice. He didn’t look too good on it when I saw him on the 13th. I told him I would try to get back to see him Xmas day so I hope we don’t move too far forward.

Thursday 16th of December 1943
Left HQ to lay the lines from the new div position which at the moment is rather close to jerry, and on account of that probably will not move till he is out of the way. Part of the way we were under the observation from Orsogna which would be only about 2 miles from where we were working.

He has been in the habit of lobbing shells across whenever any traffic appears on the road but has probably had to move his artillery back for we got nothing from him. He fired a few air bursts over our way but did no damage. He was also dropping shells on the road at the edge of Castelfrentano not very far from us, and the bit of traffic going that way was wasting no time on the road. It is the first time I have been close to artillery fire and although it was not near enough to do us any harm it gave me some confidence.

I have been trying to impress on myself the importance of not worrying about the shell that never comes our way. A man could soon make himself a bunch of nerves expecting one to come in all the time. It will be soon enough to worry when it does come.
Our own guns were putting over a pretty heavy barrage at times and the shells going overhead sound very much like a railway engine letting off steam.

Jerry made two raids on the infantry during the day dropping bombs and getting out again in a hurry. Both times none of our planes were about. But after the first raid there sounded like a dogfight going on above the clouds. The second raid one of his planes was hit by tracer and caught fire and he jettisoned his load smartly and came down over his own lines. It beats me how any of them get through the stuff flying up at them.

Our kitty bombers were dropping a fair bit on Orsogna and strafing it as well. Jerry had no AA but put up a lot of small arms fire at them. He evidently expected to hold that part of the country longer than he did because he had some very well made dugouts and elaborate barb wire defences as well as tank traps.

Mon 20th of December 1943
Dear Lei, Edward and Ernest, I expect you are basking in the warm sunshine there at home, it is just the reverse here at present. We have had a few days fairly fine weather, but today has turned suddenly cold, and some of the South Island boys were saying they would not be surprised if we had a fall of snow.

Coming from the winterless north, I am not in a position to judge, but if the temperature is any indication I would not be surprised either. I received another parcel from jack today. We have made a start on the cake which arrived yesterday, it has kept very well and is A1. A tin of shortbread which came in today’s parcel has also gone where all good shortbread goes. Need I mention the inevitable tin of foot powder?

Perhaps it is unfair of me to criticise the parcels which Jack and yourself are good enough to send, I should know better. Air graphs from home have been arriving over here in less than a month, three weeks in some cases, and I hope they have been going home as quickly. Even though the space is limited I expect you are quite pleased to get them.

They are quite easily written and will fill the spaces between letters. I mentioned in yesterday’s air graph that a change of address can be sent through the ordinary 2/6 cable. If you had known that it may have saved your mail going to Albany and having to be redirected. I could address your mail to the island, but not knowing what the full address would be, thought it better to be on the safe side and not chance it going astray. I was sorry to hear of Erns misfortune, but by now it has probably healed and is forgotten.

You did wisely when you took him to the doctor for an injection, it is better to be sure than sorry in a case like that. I can quite understand him not liking the needle. They make regular pincushions out of us, so far I have had it ten times and am afraid I may miss it when I get out of the army. Going by your letter you apparently think I am going to blame you for the accident. If I blame anyone it would be far more reasonable to blame the dog.

I have just received another letter from you dated 16.10.43 and am glad to hear that my present for the 20th turned up alright. Only two months late but I am glad that you liked it so much. You mentioned that jack is at Wairau. Have the army still got their fingers on him, I thought he would be out of it by now.

Well dear, I said in a previous letter that I would try and give you an idea of what being in action is like, so I will try and set your fears at rest, and give you an idea of just what our job is, while keeping in the bounds of censorship.

I suppose you imagine me confined to a slit trench most of my time with bullets whistling around the place, and in between times taking a crack at the Jerry, and giving him some of his own medicine. Well I haven’t seen a Jerry yet except P.O.W. The only shots I have fired were at a jam tin, and have not had a shot fired at me, and most likely never will have.

The only things we need worry about very much are mines set in the ground, shellfire, and planes bombing or strafing, and so far none of these have given us very much to worry over. Our job is laying cable between the various headquarters, for telephone communication, and reeling them in again as the Div moves forward. The greater part of our time is spent four or five miles behind the front lines, and when we are in the forward areas, it is only for a few hours at a time.

Jerry is making full use of mines, he has two kinds, anti-personnel, and anti-vehicle. The first are known as the S mine, or rather, that is the type he most commonly uses. It is about the diameter and a bit taller than a treacle tin. Filled with an explosive charge and a couple of hundred ball bearings. This container fits into another slightly larger one which has an explosive charge at the bottom, and a person walking on the mine will set off the charge in the outer container, the inner one is flung into the air, where it is timed to explode.

The anti-vehicle or tele-mine is about a foot in diameter, and four inches deep. It is filled with explosive and will blow the wheel off a truck no trouble. They need a pressure of four hundred pounds to set them off and a man can quite safely walk on them, although it is a lot safer not to. So long as a man is always conscious of the fact that there may be mines about and sticks to the main road and does not wander about in likely mined areas until they are cleaned up, he is pretty safe.

Believe me, I am very mine conscious. We have not been worried yet with shellfire, about all we get is the noise. I have had plenty of shells scream over my head, but fortunately they have all been going across to jerry. We were laying a line in a forward area a few days ago, and jerry was lobbing a few shells into a village about a mile away from us.

That is the nearest they have ever come to me so far. As far as bombing and strafing goes, I think Herman has just about had all the fun he is likely to have, it is our turn now. The few raids which he has made have been hit and run affairs, and he never loses any time getting back over his own lines.

On the day which I mentioned in the previous paragraph, we were on a part of the road which was overlooking a village which Jerry held, and we were watching the kitty hawks come in and drop their eggs on them. They were also doing them over with their machine guns, and it is a great sight to watch.

They are flying along on an even keel, and all of a sudden a couple will put their noses down and go into an almost perpendicular dive with their machine guns going flat out, then when they are four hundred feet from the earth flatten out and up again. On the same day Herman made a raid on our infantry, and one of his planes was set on fire by tracer bullets from the ground.

We could distinctly see the stream of tracer going through his fuselage. Then smoke and flames started to pour out of the plane. He got rid of his bombs smartly and made off towards his own lines. We lost sight of him behind a ridge but he probably got out safely. He was the fourth Jerry I have seen shot down. One of the others was shot down by a spitfire and came down nose first and was spinning round like a corkscrew, with fire and smoke trailing behind him. The other two were hit by anti-aircraft fire and forced down in our lines.

When jerry decides to make a raid he comes over very high up and then dives on his objective from the direction of the sun, and always seems to come when none of our planes are in the vicinity. There are a couple of minute’s hesitation to make sure they are not our own planes, and then everything we have opens up. From rifles tommy guns and machine guns up to the big AA guns. How they get through without more losses beats me. It is the same with our own planes though.

During the battle for the Sangro river, which you have probably heard about in the papers, our big bombers were going over in waves all day long for several days, sometimes as many as 24 at a time, and dropping their load on the ridge across the river. It was rather an uncanny sight to watch.

The planes were coming over in perfect formation, and when they were approaching jerry’s lines little black puffs of smoke would appear without a sound all around the formation, then a few moments later the sound of the guns would reach us. When the bombers were over their target they spread out slightly.

The leading plane fires a flare as a signal to unload, then the formation swings around and heads for home, flying straight through the AA fire as if it did not exist. A few seconds’ later big clouds of grey smoke billow up from the ridge, followed later with roars like thunder. And probably a few of the more fortunate Jerrys have some extra washing on their hands, and a few more Italians are minus their homes.

On those occasions when there is no line work to do, we have plenty to occupy our time. There is always something to do on the truck, or a bit of washing perhaps, we are like old women in some respects and have our morning and afternoon tea, which includes a certain amount of nattering over the teacups in the traditional style.

We also have a library run by the YM, which contains some fairly good books, and letter writing and keeping a diary also takes up time. Taking things all-round the time passes very quickly, and if it wasn’t for keeping a diary one would lose all track of the days and the date. What we are waiting for is the news that Jerry has thrown in the towel, it may not come for a few months yet, but there are already rumours of peace moves being made, and although we shouldn’t take them too seriously they may lead to something very soon.

I have been fortunate in not losing sleep so far. Occasionally we may be called out on a fault, but as far as I am concerned they have been few and far between. I have a snug little sleeping area at present. I have a trench dug, and my bivvy erected over the top. I have a wooden door at the bottom of the trench, and a groundsheet over the sides to stop the earth falling in, with my bed complete with straw mattress at the bottom, and just deep enough for me to be below ground level when I am in bed.

Some of the boys think it beneath their dignity to sleep in a hole, but I am not too proud to take these little precautions, especially when they take so little effort. It has other benefits beside the safety angle, for it gives you more headroom and it is definitely warmer. I find that I sleep more soundly too. If I’m wakened at night by the guns I can turn over and go to sleep again with the satisfaction of knowing that if any stray shells come into the area I am as safe as I am ever likely to be.

Jerry is at a disadvantage in this type of country as far as artillery is concerned, for his principle guns are what they call high velocity, meaning that the shell travels faster than normal through the air and therefore follows a flatter path than is the case with a shell from our guns, which are of comparatively low velocity. This means that we can sit in behind a hedge and throw shells over the top at him, while any he may throw back go over our heads. It is much the same as trying to hit a man on the other side of a high stone wall, if you had an idea where he was you might be able to drop a stone on his head but you wouldn’t have a show of hitting him with a pea rifle.

Of course if Jerry commands the high ground overlooking our positions it’s a different story. I have spoken, or rather, written of tracer bullets, and AA shells, which you may not be too clear about. A tracer is the same as an ordinary bullet, but has phosphorus in the tail, this burns as it is going through the air, and enables the gunner to see where the shots are going. There is usually one tracer to every four or five ordinary shells in a belt of machinegun ammo.

An AA shell is made so that it can be timed or set to explode at a predetermined height, according to the distance the plane is above the gun, and when it explodes it leaves a puff of black smoke in the air.

Well dear that should give you an idea of things even though it may be rather hazy in some respects, but please do not worry over my welfare, you can see there is nothing much to cause you any anxiety, and even if there was it would do neither of us much good, would it.

I will have to make my next letter one to Jack, if I don’t answer those I have received from him, pretty soon he will think it not worth the trouble writing to me. I suppose you are comfortably settled in your new home by now and I hope the place appeals to you. I am waiting for more mail to hear how things are going down there.

Bye-bye for now dear, here’s hoping for a merry Xmas and a happy new year. Love and best wishes to Dad and the family and I hope they are all well. All the best to yourself and the young chaps. Yours always, Arthur.

Thurs 23rd of December 1943
Things have been fairly quiet in the last few days. Have seen nothing of Herman lately and except for one raid on Orsonga by 24 of our bombers there has been no air activity except patrols by a few fighters. I wrote to Lei a few days ago giving her a description of things in general and added that we had not been worried at all by artillery fire.

On three nights succeeding the letter jerry has dropped shells about the area, evidently being after the bridge, about 300 yrds on our left. He seems to be firing from extreme range for his shots are scattered.

Have received a parcel and cake from Jack this week and wrote and thanked him last night.

Sat 25th of December 1943
Xmas eve, overcast and showery. Invited to club. We had a drop of vino and got sparking. Fire going and singing, talking.  Three of our officers joined the party later in the evening. GD was blotto and the boys put him to bed.

While we were drinking and singing the Maoris were putting in an attack, and swore to take no prisoners. In a patrol of a couple of nights previous one of their men was killed, but they had no time to bury him. They went back the next night and three men were killed by a booby trap attached to the body.

Went to bed at midnight, not many appeared for breakfast this morning. It is easy to judge the state of intoxication certain of our boys were in last night by the amount of mud on their clothes. Attended an Italian church service in a chapel near here. The furnishings were cheap and poor, the congregation stood, women in front. Some of them kneeling, and lasted about an hour. Much ritual, the priest muttering over the altar the greater part of the time, moving various trinkets, candlesticks and small gold framed verses about the alter from time to time.

Addressed the congregation for about ten minutes. I suppose everything had its significance, but the whole show would have done credit to an African witch doctors ceremony. Several other soldiers were there, Catholics by the way they used the holy water. Xmas dinner was served at 12.30pm. We lined up early and received a bottle of beer and 3 cigarettes before the meal.

Sir Bernard ‘Tiny’ Freyberg came round and looked things over and gave us an informal address. He drank our health and the boys gave him three hearty cheers. All our officers lined up and ate with us. It was a really good meal.

Letter written 26th of December 1943
Well Sweetheart, Edward and Ernest,
Dec 26th. Xmas 43 has come and gone, in one of our own phrases we "have had it" (the cook generally informs us that "you have had it" when you arrive half an hour late for breakfast, and failing a good reason, one is obliged to agree.) and although Xmas day was not very different from any other in most respects, I may be able to rake up sufficient news about it all, to make a letter.

On Xmas eve I was invited to the club for the evening. Wine flowed freely, although I had only enough to get a spark up. The club have their premises in a large room in one of the nearby houses, complete with a big open fire and things were very comfortable and went along very well.

The evening was spent in singing and yarning, several items on a bagpipes, a few solos by the more distinguished singers in the company, and a couple of near fights, which as usual got no further than threats, and finished up with the contestants shaking hands, and each saying what a good chap the other was. We had supper at ten of fried potatoes, and tinned sausage, and I came home to bed, although the others carried on until the early hours.

The whole unit had been celebrating to some extent on Xmas eve, and next morning it was a simple matter to tell just how far each individual had carried his celebrations by the amount of mud on his clothes. However Xmas comes but once a year. It was cold and wet Xmas day but fortunately the rain held off while dinner and tea were in progress. The Ites held a church service just down the road from our area, and another chap and I went down to investigate. They are wonderful singers and we hoped to hear a choir, but were disappointed.

The show lasted for about an hour, the priest holding the floor for the whole of the time. Most of it was ritual performed at the altar, and he seemed to be alternately blessing and cursing a collection of gold plate, candlesticks and other paraphernalia, there-on. He spent about 10 minutes addressing the congregation, and from the few words we could pick up he was mainly concerned about the war and food.

Perhaps he would also impress on his flock the fact that their shepherd could not eat grass, and not to be too long sending in the Xmas presents. I may be doing him an injustice, but it is not so very long ago that these birds made easy money by selling what were called "indulgences", a written promise which decreased the time the buyer’s soul would remain in purgatory.

Xmas dinner was the next big event of the day, we had roast pork, green peas, mashed potatoes and gravy, and a fair dinkum plum duff, and was it good! The officers ate with the men in the customary manner. We also had a bottle of beer with our dinner and a present of six packets of smokes.

They came round, looked things over, drank our health, and gave us an informal speech, (General Freyberg) during which he mentioned the ribbon to the Africa Star, and also said that we should have received the order of the Nile from King Farouk for helping to save his country, as well as a ribbon for the "battle of Bagush" thereby hangs a tale, but I will tell you later.

Well after dinner I felt so satisfied I did what the pigs do, I slept on it. It was very cold as I climbed into bed at two o’clock, and slept till 4.30, then crawled out for another good feed.

Tea was cold meat with pickles, fruit salad with custard, oranges, and a slice of cake, and so ended the best days eating we had done for many a day. In spite of the weather everyone had a satisfied look on his face. The club had a formal dinner on that evening, I was not there for it as it was only for club members, who number about a dozen, and they cleaned up between them, one turkey and one sucking pig, who in happier days had been known as Horace and Phoebe.

When I was at the club the previous evening mac, the "holy chief" had given me the sad tidings of the demise of Horace and Phoebe, he had witnessed their death at the hands of the unit butcher, and added that Horace had died without a sound, while Phoebe had died gallantly, fighting till the last, and a squeal upon her lips. Mac is a tall lean Irishman, he speaks with an oxford accent and can put across the most astounding yarns without the flicker of a smile. Well dear I will call it finito for tonight, and go to bed. I am half in bed already and writing by the light of the trouble lamp run off the battery of the truck which is alongside my bed. My hands are getting so cold I cannot steer the pen properly.

The next installment will be the third, I had only written a few lines yesterday when we were called out on a job. I received a Xmas air graph from you this afternoon and wrote a reply right away, which I suppose you have received long before this arrives.

28th of December 1943
Well dear, here is, I hope, the last installment. The day is as cold as ever, and I have been thinking of building a fireplace into the sleeping quarters. We have a snow covered range not far from us, and the wind is blowing from that direction. It is known as the Della Morella, and is about 8,000 ft high. When we first saw it several weeks ago, it had only a cap of snow on the top, but in the last few days the snowline has crept down almost to its foot. On the tops of some of the higher hills around about us there is also a sprinkling of snow, but so far none has fallen about our part of the doings.

I was going to tell you about the battle of Bagush. That is where the Div spent Xmas in 1941. Bagush is in Libya and they were not far from jerry at the time. Plonk was plentiful there, and a few bright spirits decided that the occasion demanded a certain amount of noise to liven things up, so opened up with the 25 pounders. Their idea didn’t take long to spread, and very soon everything in the div which would make a noise was in action, from rifles to AA guns.

The commander of an Indian division which was not far away, thought Jerry had broken through the line and sent a message asking if any help was needed. Quite by accident several shells landed on an aerodrome. The RAF didn’t like it, and the commander sent a message saying that they could play at the same game, and if it didn’t stop pronto, they would send a few bombers over. Word of this soon got round, discretion was thought the better part of valour, and so the "battle" was called off. The following year precautions were taken to see that this didn't happen again. The div being in action this time, any shooting which went on was in earnest, but a fair number of flares and verey lights went up for the occasion.

The civilians have been slowly coming back to their homes, and starting where they left off. There is a flour mill down the road and little groups are coming and going the whole time with wheat and maize to be ground. Probably it has remained underground while jerry was here. I went down and looked through the mill one day.

They have three contrivances for grinding the grain, and they are worked by water power. The actual grinding is done by a big circular stone which spins round in a bowl cut in a larger stone. The grain flows through a hole in the centre of the moving stone, and the flour works its way out to the edge where it flows down a Shute into a box. The moving stone would weigh probably quarter of a ton. the Ites use the maize flour for a kind of porridge called farina and the bread is not unlike the round shaped loaves of wholemeal we have at home, except that they are much larger, sometimes weighing five or six pound perhaps more. They are hard-up for salt for the bread and we often have them round offering vino (wine) or apples in exchange for it.

The Italians treat their women much the same way as wogs do, as beasts of burden, and I have seen two men fully occupied lifting a load from a woman’s head. The men will carry a load when necessary but more often than not we see the woman with a load on her head and the men following empty handed. Outside the towns it's rare to see women going round on their own, there is generally one man at least as an escort.

In your air graph yesterday you say you were ready to post the kiddies photos, I was expecting to get them at any time now but if that is the case, I probably won’t see them for a couple of months. Still, if you didn’t have them you couldn’t very well post them. But I am looking forward to receiving them just the same. Your mail has not been as plentiful in the last couple of months, as what it was previously, but now that you have shifted headquarters you should have more news, so I am looking forward to more and longer letters. However I did not set a very shining example myself, for quite a while, so perhaps I had better not say too much.

How is the old car looking these days, I expect she is slowly falling apart, but we may be able to do something with the remains. You did not mention whether or not you had fixed the tyres up, as I suggested. I am sending you a couple of 8th army newspapers, to let you see how we receive the news. There are plenty of wireless sets about and we generally get the news direct from London each evening.

Well dear, that is about all the news I can rake up for the moment so will say bye-bye for the present. Lots of love to you all and I am hoping to be back home with you all very soon. Every day that passes is one nearer to that time and lately the days seem to have been flying around, the faster the better I like it. Keep smiling dear, yours always, Arthur.

Castel Frentano To San Michele

2nd of January 1944
There was a fall of snow late on New Year’s Eve. Many bivvies collapsed. I woke at dawn and thought someone was throwing mud at the bivvy. It was the snow falling from the trees. The bivvy was on its last legs and the water was creeping up around the bed.
I went out on a line after breakfast. The roads were filled up with snow and there was a regular river flowing down the road where the vehicles were chewing the snow up.

It was raining heavily and water  came over our boot tops in places. Wet to the backside and feet and hands about frozen. We worked on the line until 3.30pm. Then we came back, had dinner and dried our boots and sox. Slept in damp blankets last night in the truck.
The infantry is having a tough time. Several deaths from exposure and others in hospital.

I saw a strange phenomenon the other day. Vapour trails in the clear sky and faint waves passing along the trails. I thought at first they may have been some new weapon against planes, but those in the air at the time seemed unaffected.

Two Jerrys dived down over main div the other day with a Spitty on their tail. The AA opened up, what for I don’t know as they are just as likely to clean up our own as jerry planes. Everything moves so quickly in a case like that.

3rd of January 1944
Two fine days in succession. Countryside still white, but have been able to dry our wet gear. Snow is melting and things are pretty sloppy. Air graph to Lei today and wrote GK yesterday.
Guns have been fairly quiet the last few days. Jerry dropped a few shells up the road a bit last night I'm told, but I slept through it.

6th of January 1944
Shifted into Castelfrentano village yesterday. The rest of the div arrived today. It’s as cold as the devil and snowing on and off all day. A light shower of rain fell and has frozen on the road, making it very slippery. There were a fair amount of shells coming in on the other side of the village, called the mad mile. A jeep is scattered all over the road. A shell landed in the back seat.

7th of January 1944
Clear sky and sunny but a cold wind blowing. I was beside the fire most of the day.

Letter written 7th of January 1944
Dear Lei and young chaps, it is just about the 7th of January 1944. Time I dropped you another line, and although I feel like anything but letter writing I will at least make an attempt to give you what little news is going. We are as cold as the proverbial frog but they say the first six months are the worst and it should be summer time by then. We have shifted into houses since I last wrote and things are getting a bit better than they were.

The room which was allotted to us was minus the windows and the door was badly rat eaten but we are getting things into shape now and blocking up the holes. We were lucky enough to strike a fireplace which will hold a four foot log so that is something to be thankful for. Wood is a problem, but there are plenty of olive groves around and green olive burns pretty well, so does Italian furniture, but that will help solve the unemployment question after the war as far as cabinet makers are concerned and why worry if there is a shortage of olive oil.

We have been getting snow on and off for the last few days. Yesterday there was a heavy fall, but today the sun has been shining although not doing very much good as there is a bitter cold wind blowing, and the fireside is the best place of all. The countryside is under a white mantle and there are deep drifts along the sides of the roads, while the roads themselves have a slippery frozen surface. I did not tell you about our first fall of snow, on New Year’s Eve.

I was sleeping in my bivvy that night and went to bed fairly early. It was blowing a gale soon afterwards, and about 11 the snow started. I was asleep by that time and the first thing I know of it was just before daylight when I woke and thought somebody was throwing mud at the bivvy. That seemed rather a foolish thing to do so early in the day, so in my half dazed condition I decided that a branch must have broken from the olive tree above me and the wind was blowing it backwards and forwards against the tent, but soon woke up to the fact that the bivvy was about 6 inches above my nose as I lay in bed and something heavy was weighing it down.

The something heavy was snow, and the flopping noise which woke me was the snow falling from the branches of the tree above me. It must have been raining for some time previously, for water was just beginning to seep up around my bed. The snow had blocked up my system of drains and was letting the water come inside. I made a smart retreat with my belongings into the truck. My bivvy was one of the very few which were left standing that morning. Most of the others had collapsed on top of the occupant during the night and in some cases the boys were not able to rescue their blankets or other gear. That was the start of New Year’s Day for us, I don’t want to experience another like it.

Most of the lines had been put out of action during the night and after breakfast we had to go out to do something about it. It was raining heavy by this time and the roads were regular rivers with the drainage blocked with snow. In less than 10 minutes I was wet to the backside with my boots full of water, and the rest of the party was in a similar condition. Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t have been on this job but as things were, every available man was needed. I had vivid recollections of Egypt, boy what a paradise to be in. We had a hot meal sent out to us, and finally got home about 3 that afternoon. I dried things out a bit and went to bed in damp blankets.

The sun shone all next day and we were able to get our things dried out and felt very much happier than the day before. The melting snow made the ground pretty sloppy but we could put up with things like that. However as I was saying, we are all getting settled into houses and things are very much better. Bivvys are finito until the summer comes.

We had to do a certain amount of demolition in the room we are in, as well as patch things up. The Ites seem to have a passion for dividing their houses up into little pens, with walls about 6 ft high. Our room would be about 30 ft square and it was divided up by low walls, making it into 3 separate rooms. I expect they were living quarters for a whole family. 1. would be the bedroom 2. the kitchen and 3. had the fireplace in it. As there was no room to swing a cat in either room we knocked an L shaped wall down and used the bricks to block the window.

The Ites go in for big wooden chests, they are generally about 6 foot long, 2 feet deep, and about 2 feet wide, and the sanitary man found long ago that they were ideal for constructing a three seater latrine. All that is needed is 3 holes cut in the lid, the bottom knocked out of the chest, and the contraption placed over a suitably sized hole, and there you have a job fit for a king, and nicely varnished to give it a high class appearance.

Unfortunately Mac lost his keyhole saw and the last one is not very successful, as he had to cut square holes in the lid. This is a menace to any unwary person who sits square in the hole for one is liable to find it hard getting the posterior out again. Someone has suggested that he drive three pointed stakes in behind the affair so that we can hook our collars over them and suspend ourselves over the hole that way.

While I am discussing mac, he has a friend in the cookhouse who donates a little tea and sugar at times, and Mac was saying last night that he had found a back way into the building where the cookhouse is, so that he can pay his visits unobserved by the rest of the cookhouse staff. This back way leads through a church, and as Mac is an Irishman and a devout catholic this called for a certain amount of comment from the rest of us. Someone asked if he stopped on the way through to pray that his visit might be successful, and someone else suggested that he might be struck dead as he passed through with the stolen goods. However Mac must believe that the lord helps those who help themselves for he was not very concerned about the matter.

8th of January 1944
Here we are again for the final installment. Today is warm and sunny with no wind whatever and is a contrast to yesterday. We spent the morning getting in a stock of wood, green olive, and we were lucky enough to find some broken telephone poles as well so will be set for a few days if the weather gets cold again. I received another parcel from jack and it was a real good one too.

I wrote and thanked him for the last one and will write again as soon as I get a chance, in the meantime would you thank him for me. The parcel contained a tube of toothpaste and tube of shaving cream, both of which I was needing, a tin of shortbread which is always welcome, and the same for a tin of honey. It also included a tin of tomato soup, two packets of soup powder, a tin of milk and tin of sandwich spread, all of which are very handy now that we are in a position to make the best use of them.

We have a shower unit not far from where we are and it is very handy to be able to get along for a clean-up. We have been relieved of the job of washing our own clothes since we have been in this village. There are a fair number of the inhabitants who have stayed here all through, mostly elderly men and women and quite a few children, and the women are pleased to do our washing for a small charge. The people are very friendly once they found that we are prepared to treat them as equals. They also seem to be very honest, which is a change from the policy of the wogs and we can leave our gear about without fear of it being stolen.

The old lady who has been doing our washing sometimes comes in for a warm at our fire, or to get a dish of embers to start her own. She brought her grand-daughter in with her the other day. A little girl of about two years and when they left the kiddie had her hands full of chocolate and biscuits which should have lasted her for a couple of days. The people are thrilled to bits if you speak to the kiddies or make a fuss of them in any way. The old lady brought in a few apples and dried figs to show her appreciation, it was little enough really but she was probably doing herself out of a bit of tucker by giving them to us. By the way, the father of the little kiddie was taken prisoner in Libya.

I think the people have been used to burning charcoal in their fires for they seem rather backward in getting wood for themselves and the only tools they have for cutting seem to be tomahawks. If we need wood in a hurry we rip out and cut down the nearest tree, and before long an Ite will come along with a tomahawk and cut up the small branches and twigs we have left behind. I don’t suppose they can take the liberties we take or they would have the mayor of the village on their trail. I suppose in normal times the wood and charcoal would come in from the mountains which seem to be the only places where there is any timber at all.

They are holding pictures here each night for the troops and although I have not been so far, I may go along tonight if it is not too cold. I had meant to write an air graph after this letter but I am afraid it is now a bit too late (4pm) and we have tea at 4.30pm. So I will have to leave it for a day or two. I hope they are going home in good time, actually I cannot put very much news in them as there is not enough space to say too much on any one subject but if they get home within two or three weeks they will at least let you know how things are going. I have not been sending so many cables since I have been on air graphs and I hope it suits you alright. I will still send a cable occasionally though, a job for tomorrow perhaps. Well dear, bye-bye for the present there should be more mail in shortly and I am looking forward to it. Love to you all and hoping to see you before very long. Yours always. Arthur.

14th of January 1944
Weather has been sunny for the past week and the snow is disappearing but making things pretty muddy. Did a job at the rear div on the 12th and had to cross the mad mile with jerry shelling it. Trucks were lined up on all the sheltered corners waiting for a lull. There was a slight downgrade and I gave the old bus all she had and expected an explosion at any moment. The boss’s jeep went down ahead of us and stopped a piece of shrapnel in the tyre.

Jerry has been shelling the road behind the village at night lately and the shells are just skimming over our part of the show. I can’t help lying awake listening for the sound of the gun. A few seconds after comes a piercing scream and I involuntarily stiffen until I hear it is past us. Actually the shell is well on its way when we hear the scream. I don’t mind shelling so much in the daylight, but it seems much more terrifying at night. Some of the shells were so close that their passage through the air shakes the houses.

Jerry made a raid on the guns a couple of days ago with about a dozen planes. One received a direct hit before he had dropped his load and disappeared in a cloud of smoke. Our planes have also been busy and a heavy raid was made on Orsogna. We are using our 3.7 AA for firing air bursts over Jerry’s lines. We have a grandstand view of Orsogna and part of the ridge which Jerry is holding, from our front door.

An advance party moved out yesterday so we will not be long following them. Rumours are flying round some that we are going to England, some to Balkans and the latest says to the fifth army front, which seems the more probable one.

Indian div is taking over from us. The Pongos don’t seem to be doing much on this front. Monty has gone home so they may have the Pongos cracking on the second front in Europe. I am just getting rid of an outbreak of boils. They are very prevalent among the men at present.

23rd of January 1944
Arrived back at div at midday behind the fifth army front and not far from Naples. We’re rear party at Castel Frentano. Left there 4pm 20th and joined convoy at Sangro. Proceeded 20 miles stopped for the night and on the move again 6.30 next morning. Stayed at Lucera night of 21st, crossed the Affian Way next day. Made another stop that night in grove of oaks and came on to div before daylight. There was a rumour circulating that Fientano was shelled and retaken by jerry.

26th of January 1944
Sweetheart and young chaps, there is not very much news at the moment but I will see what I can do to make up a letter. I sent the cable today which I had mentioned sending a couple of weeks ago, and as I explained in the air graph was not able to send it before as we have been separated from the div for some time, and joined them again a couple of days ago.

During that time we were in the same quarters that I mentioned in my last letter and we were doing our own cooking. There were only six of us and as I am recognised as the best cook the culinary duties fell on me, and nobody was poisoned by my cooking I am glad to say. The smoky stove worked overtime turning out scones and meat pies, and one day the Ites gave me some apples and we had an apple pie.

The pastry was not exactly like what mother makes but was a change all the same. We cleaned up all the oysters, and tinned fruit and cream we had in the tucker box and indulged in the best eating we had done for a long time. We have been getting an American ration for some time now, it is tinned steak and kidney pie and is very tasty. You punch a hole in the top and stand the tin in boiling water for half an hour. When it is tipped out of the tin the pie has pastry all round with the steak and kidney in the centre. The meat pies I made were meat and vegetable. A tinned ration we get, consisting of meat mixed with potato, carrot peas etc. and with a few onions added and a bit of water and thickening makes a real good filling for a pie.

For our last night there we were going to have a fair dinkum feed, and had set some jellies for desert, but we had to leave several hours before we expected and had to tip them out.

I tasted macaroni done in the native fashion while we were there. It was cut in very thin strips with a sauce consisting mainly of chillies poured over it. I think a person would have to acquire a taste for it, and this would take a long time too. I mentioned in a letter some time ago that macaroni was a luxury in Italy. It apparently was, but AMGOT (allied military govt, occupied territory) have been supplying the people with flour and that may account for them being able to make it.

The Ites drink wine with their meals, even down to the youngest children, drunkenness is practically unknown here and perhaps that is why. Well that is about all I can say so far Lei about what we have been doing.

I have spent the last two days working on the truck, greasing, changing oil, cleaning things up, and a dozen other little jobs that have to be done periodically. We are in bivvies’ again at the moment. But as the weather is good and the ground dry, things are not so bad. I am writing by candlelight. Some of the boys have a fire going and are sitting around a keg of vino. We are not bothered with a blackout at the moment.

The last letter I had from Gordon he was expecting to go into convalescent camp any day so we will probably see him back here again before very long. He was very lucky being out of the show while the snow was on.

Dave, the youngest member of our crew went to hospital this morning. His brother who is a major in the artillery came over tonight to tell us he did not hold much hope for him. He has paralyses of the lungs. He felt pain around his shoulders and back and neck a couple of days ago and went to the RAP about it. They told him it was probably just a strain. This morning the pain had shifted to his chest and he was so weak he could hardly climb out of bed. We got the MO to him straight away and sent word to his brother who is camped not far from us. They got him to hospital right away and are trying to get an "iron lung" which is the only thing that will save his life. It will be a dammed shame if he does not make the grade as he is only a boy and a very likable chap.

Mac has had a coat made out of American blankets which he got from some unknown source. It is very thick and a fawn colour and has a fur collar he can do up around his neck. It is actually a waist length jacket, not a coat. An Italian tailor made it for him, and now everyone else round the place are looking out for a suitable blanket to do likewise. So maybe the yanks are going to be minus a few blankets.

Mac also has a bit of loot in the form of a musical cigar cabinet and it is a beautiful piece of work, a real old fashioned thing. It is made of black polished ebony and stands about 9 inches high. It is octagon shaped and has eight doors beautifully painted with birds and flowers. You wind up a key on the bottom and it plays three Italian tunes while the doors slowly open and close giving you enough time to take a cigar out of a rack on the inside of each door. It will go for nearly half an hour on one winding with a pause between each tune and the doors slowly opening and closing the whole time. You would have to see it to appreciate what a beautiful thing it is. I offered him two pound for it but nothing doing, it would probably cost about ten when it was bought.

I have a mauser rifle (German) which I am going to try to get home with me. What my chances are I don’t know but it is worth the attempt, as well as a thousand rounds of ammo for it.
Among the loaves of bread that come in for the cookhouse lately are a long narrow kind like the milk loaves at home and as they are useless for slicing up and handing out at mess the cooks have been giving them away to the boys for morning and afternoon tea and so we have been having toast with our cup of char lately. It is good to be on bread again.

We had none for the time we were away from the div. We have a mobile shower unit near us and it is good to get under a shower again. Our usual way of bathing is to boil up a benzine tin of water, strip off and bath out of the tin. The shower unit is beside the river and they pump the water from there, through a thing like a caliphont to heat it and then through the showers which are in a tent. There is a big rush on them usually but it is worth waiting for.

Well Sweetheart the light is burning low so this will have to be the last page for now. Your mail has been getting rather scarce lately dear, mail day is a great event for us here, so please try to fill those envelopes for me. Home and yourself and the kiddies are what I am most interested in always and the more you have to say about them the better I like it. No news is too trivial to put in your letters whether it is about the cat or the dog or any other little thing, so please do your best won’t you dear as I try to do for you. Bye-bye for the present dear sweet dreams, and lots of love to each of you. Yours ever, Arthur.

28th of January 1944
We have lost Signalman David W Monaghan and went to his funeral at Casserta today. Another kiwi was buried with him, and also a German prisoner, in the public cemetery. He passed away very suddenly. A couple of days before going to hospital he had pain about the shoulders which was put down to a strain when playing football. He was admitted to hospital first thing in the morning and died the same night. A memorial service was held for him and two other div sigs the following Sunday.

30th of January 1944
Dear Lei and young chaps,
This letter is perhaps a little premature as our being on the fifth army front is still supposed to be a secret, so I will have to keep this back until such time as that fact is made known. I have done pretty well for the month.  According to my diary I have written three air graphs and this is the fourth letter, so I can afford to hold it for a while, and it will be one up my sleeve if I don’t have much time for writing next month.

We were the last of our unit to leave Castel Frentano, which is the village I have mentioned quite often in my letters, and our job was to reel in the lines as the other units moved out.
We finally left there on the afternoon of the 20th of January and went back as far as the Sangro River where we waited for another unit which was leaving there at 11pm, and joined their convoy.
We only went about 20 miles the first night and stopped on the side of the road at 1am, laid our beds out between the trucks and slept till 6am.

We began the move half an hour later while it was still dark and did not have sufficient time to boil the billy or make a feed, so had to be content with chewing hard biscuits. We made a stop at about 9 and as it looked as though it may have been a long one we started to brew up and cursed our luck when the convoy began to move just a few minutes before the tea should have been ready.

About an hour later one of the trucks ahead of us lost sight of the convoy and took the wrong turning in the middle of a village, which is quite easily done if you let the vehicle in front of you get too far ahead, and of course we followed on behind not knowing the route the convoy was taking. Our leading truck realised his mistake when the road came to a dead end in a railway yard.

So we all had to turn round and get out again and meanwhile the rest of the convoy was miles ahead of us, in fact we did not see them again until about 3.30 in the afternoon when we reached the area where we were to spend the night. Luckily we had been over the road before on our trip up and knew where we were to stop that night.

As we had been the last truck into the blind alley we were the first out, nobody wanted to dispute our lead apparently even though there was an officer among us, and so for the first time I had the distinction of leading a convoy even though it only numbered half a dozen vehicles. We opened a tin of bully about lunchtime (the two of us who were in the cab) and ate it as we drove along, and except for a few biscuits was all we had that day up till four in the afternoon.

As I mentioned before we joined the main convoy about 3.30 and made a brew and a feed and I enjoyed it more than I had done for a considerable time. A wash and shave and full stomach made all the difference in the world but I was very tired after the day’s drive and crawled into bed as soon as it was dark. We were to leave again at seven am, and made sure we were up in time to start the day on a square meal.

The first village we passed was Lucera (it was near here we had spent a couple of weeks, before moving up to the Sangro.) and from there began to wind our way over the foothills of the range that runs down the centre of Italy. We later joined the main tar sealed road which crosses the mountains from Foggia to Naples. The modern road, (no better than our main highways) follows the route known to the romans as via Apia, or Apian Way. Caesars legions would often have passed this way and probably Hannibal with his black troops and his elephants did likewise, and now the Fords and Chevs of the United Nations are cutting the journey out in a few hours.

As a modern highway it’s not up to much, Bob Semple and his public works gang would have a lifetime job cutting out corners and steep inclines. In parts it climbs out of deep valleys and winds up over deep ridges for apparently no other reason than merely to pass through the centre of a mountain town. I expect it suited the romans well enough though, they weren’t in the habit of doing things in such a terrific hurry as we do today. From a tourist point of view the drive would be A1, but when you are driving a three tonner and trying to keep your distance of a hundred yards or so behind the vehicle in front of you, it doesn’t give you much time to admire the scenery.

The villages we passed through coming over were fairly large and well-populated, the people were mostly very dirty and very hungry, but all seemed to have money although money in itself is not really very nourishing, which goes to show just where the real wealth of a country lies. The villagers can speak three words of English fairly well, “hello” “biscuit” and “cigarette”, and they were used pretty frequently.

If we happened to stop in a village we would have a crowd round each truck waving lire notes and trying to buy cigarettes from us. We threw a few hard biscuits out at times and you could tell by the way they pounced on them, just how hungry they were.
You may find some of my letters rather confusing. At times I have said that the people have been clean, and that they seemed to have plenty of food. And other times I have said just the opposite, but for some reason or another conditions seem to be entirely different in various parts of the country.

The people in the villages around the Sangro had plenty of food and all looked respectfully clean, whereas if one of the villages we have been through lately were to have been picked up and put down on the banks of the Nile it wouldn’t look very much different to the villages already there, and the inhabitants would be just about on a par for dirt and hungry looks. In the area that we are camped at the moment the people seem pretty badly off for food.

Every mealtime there are a tribe of dirty ragged children waiting round the cookhouse with tin billies for the scraps that are thrown away, and any food that may be left after everyone has eaten, and women and children patrol the area most of the day after our washing, and root about in the rubbish holes after food or anything else of value. They have become a nuisance and we have clamped down on them a bit lately. We generally have our gear spread around the truck and they are not backward in examining it all and trying to beg food or anything else that takes their fancy.

We have had nothing stolen yet but I doubt the honesty of some of them, and we have heard reports from other units of stuff being stolen. One cannot help but pity them however, after seeing the food we throw away, and the abundant clothing each of us has, Musso’s story about the haves and have-nots would sound very convincing. It is fairly certain they would not be at liberty to roam through this area if we were Germans instead of British.

There is another outstanding thing about this part of the country, the villages are built in the valleys, whereas on the other side they usually built on the crown of a hill or an easily defended ridge. In the bad old days, several centuries ago, Italy was divided into a number of often hostile states, and a certain amount of raiding, and throat cutting was indulged in at times. Those people who had their villages on the ridge evidently found them fairly easy to defend, but in this particular area things would not be so good, so to even matters up they built castles on the hills above the villages, probably the home of the local Padrone in peacetime, and a refuge for the villagers when things got grim.

Within just a few miles of us there are the ruins of half a dozen castles. The nearest one to us stands on a cone shaped hill about two miles away, and I was seriously thinking of walking across and having a look at it during the afternoon, but it occurred to me that the hill would have made a first class defence position for Jerry and he may have sown a few mines there. Largely imagination perhaps, but it has damped my curiosity a bit. And so I will be content with a distant view.

Another rather curious thing we noticed on the way across were the number of people on the roads carrying bags of flour. They had apparently come from Foggia and were heading towards Naples. There were men women and children and they must have numbered several hundred, they have evidently gone to Foggia to buy the flour, for if AMGOT had been distributing it, they would have done so from each individual village.

A small percentage of the div are able to go on leave to Pompeii each day, but as everyone will not be able to go lots are being drawn for the leave. I don’t suppose I will have the luck to strike it, but may get the chance at some later date.

Well dear, news is just about finito so I will say bye-bye for the moment. I don’t know how long I will have to hold this letter but you will get it eventually. Every letter counts and if you are like me it won’t matter how old the date. Best wishes and lots of love to you all, yours ever, Arthur.
(Posted 1st of March)

4th of February 1944
Have had a good rest and beautiful weather since we have been in this position. We are moving out in the morning with the advance party.

7th of February 1944
Are in our new position and div arrived today. Weather has turned cold and wet and we are up to our ankles in mud again. We are in a land of broad valleys and rocky and precipitous hills. Some of them actually mountains with a sprinkling of snow on the top. The white cone of mount Cairo is a few miles due north of us.

So far I have not seen so much destruction before as I have seen here. We passed through acres of olive groves, cut to ribbons by American barrage. There are four villages within a few miles of each other and practically every building is almost demolished. The odd houses standing about in the valley have practically all suffered in the same way.

A few of them have been blown up by jerry to give him a clear view from his defence position. Dozens of cypress trees in a cemetery near here have been cut down for the same purpose. Many of the vaults have been blown open and coffins and bones are scattered about. The yanks have some wonderful equipment, and are very well looked after in food, clothing, showers and other comforts.

The main road here is very like Queen Street Auckland for the amount of traffic and a provost is posted at every corner. The road is also patrolled by MP on motorcycles.

8th of February 1944
Ran a line to 6th brigade this afternoon, and one to 5th after tea. This area is crammed with guns and jerry was dropping shells over at intervals. We had a close shave when he put one over the hedge on the other side of the road, and the shrapnel began to fall about us. ONE DOES NOT KNOW WHAT FEAR MEANS UNTILL AN EXPERIENCE SUCH AS THIS.

10th of February 1944
Ran a line from the Indian div in San Vittore last night over a road in full view of jerry which has a bad reputation for shelling. We were rather lucky as we spent two hours there and did not hear a shell.
The weather has improved but it is still very windy and cold.

We are now a corps H.Q. with Tommy and American troops attached and it is making a lot of work. We have over a hundred miles of line to maintain, and faults are very frequent with so much traffic about as well as shelling.

There is far more shelling from jerry on this front than the other. He cut the 5th brigade line in a dozen places today in the space of half a mile. After seeing the dirty black shell holes in the road we were glad to get it fixed and out of it in case he came again.

14th of February 1944
Out on faults again on the Indian div line last night, which took us from 9 till 3 this morning to get through. Jerry put a few over and wounded a provost.

Into bed at 4am and slept till dinner time.

There has been a lot of air activity in the last day or two and they have been having a go at the monastery on Monte Cassino.

18th of February 1944
An attack was put in by the Indians and Kiwis last night preceded by a heavy barrage. Jerry counter attacked and they lost their objectives due to lack of support.

We were reeling in lines up on the hill and could see Cassino covered in a pall of smoke.

Fighter bombers made an attack on the monastery again, which is now a ruin. Jerry was very active shelling the crossroads and set one truck on fire. We came home the back way to avoid that spot.

20th of February 1944
On duty at the test point last night from 5pm till 9am this morning. I would have had a good night except for a tank which got into the drain and tore the lines about and kept us out till 1am.

The scene at the test point is reminiscent of the last war as we read about it. Five of us sitting around a brazier in a storehouse with one side blown out by a shell. The artillery all round us blazing away every now and then and a few hundred yards up the road the notorious crossroads. Jerry has the range pretty fine and the road in this area is pockmarked with shell holes. He got a truck yesterday and killed the driver, why he doesn’t get more of them is a wonder.

He also wiped out two "long johns" yesterday. A couple of the boys found a kitbag of yank underwear and a bag of rubber boots yesterday on the road and they have distributed them among the section. The underpants are A1 in this weather. We were also given a box of cigarettes tobacco and matches which at the ruling rates at home would have cost at least ten pound. They were also distributed about the section. In spite of the cold I had a shower at the yanks, the water is good and hot and plenty of it.

27th of February 1944
Div has shifted to more forward area to shorten the lines. Now under Jerry observation and strict blackout. I have been manning the test point on route six as well as Tac Div and San Michele. We are waiting on the weather to settle in readiness for the attack. Everyone praying for fine weather like schoolboys waiting for a holiday. Each detachment taking turns on San Michele test point for 48 hr periods, and each hoping to be there for the show which may start any day now.

San Michele To Castellina

3rd of March 1944
I turn twenty eight today. I received photos of kiddies and they have given me a great lift. Ed has changed a lot and looks a real little man. It is a great inspiration to have them waiting at home for me, and the day I return is surely worth waiting for.

17th of March 1944
Our detachment struck test point for the attack on 15th. The first bombers came in about 8.30 and we had a grandstand view of the bombing, and listened to reports of progress over the wire. Heavies came in first and it was an awe inspiring sight to watch the destructive power of their bombs.

We wondered what Jerry’s feelings would be, and were soon to have a taste of them ourselves. About the fifth flight flew directly over us and the first six planes unloaded over our heads. Our first warning was the whistle of the bombs, and the crowd who had gathered there fled in all directions. I took to my scrapers and made for a hole behind the house.

The unexpectedness of it struck terror into all who were there, and I personally thought my time on this earth was finished.
The nearest bomb landed several hundred yards from us, and broke down our lines. Nev and I were out on the job right away.

The air was filled with dust and smoke, ambulances were already on the scene carrying out the wounded. The bombs dropped in the Indian area and there were several killed and many wounded, while trucks had been blown over in all directions by the blast. We were considerably shaken and kept our eyes on every flight that came anywhere near passing over us.

We were able to laugh over the incident later and each told where he had run to and his own personal feelings at the time. Bren crowded into a dog kennel which was already occupied by three yanks. One of them praying fervently aloud. Bren also prayed. Nev was in the house at the time and the blast blew open the windows, and he was showered with dust. My own feelings were rather vague, the thought uppermost in my mind was the futility of running away. To pray did not enter my mind, and I did not think of those at home, although that was my first thought when the danger had passed.

Bombs were dropped on Cervaro later in the day and 14 Tommys were killed. Our opinion of the Yanks has dropped considerably, although, except for these two mistakes, the bombing was very accurate.

The last wave of bombers were over Cassino about 1pm and as the last bombs hit the ground the artillery opened up, and kept up a heavy barrage on the town till well on in the afternoon, when we saw the infantry and tanks moving in from the north and as they advanced the barrage was moved gradually to the south of the town.

The reports coming over the line from the battalion described the destruction which had taken place. The tanks could not get into the town on account of the craters and wreckage on the roads, and the infantry had to climb over wrecked buildings and rubble to reach their objectives.

A bulldozer was working in an attempt to clear the road for the tanks, but the drivers were being picked off by snipers. Two jerry tanks were still in the railway station, which was later plastered by dive bombers.

A pall of dust and smoke hung over the town and was gradually spreading all over the valley.

Reports coming over the wire in the evening showed the fighting to be very confused and when night fell a halt was called until the moon rose at midnight, for fear of the platoons losing contact.
Next morning dawned clear and bright and Cassino was hardly more than a heap of rubble. It was rather surprising that any troops had remained alive there to oppose our boys and was an exhibition of Jerry’s fighting qualities. Our relief came up at 9 and I was pleased to get back to Div. I had seen enough of destruction for one day.

21st of March 1944
Our attack has stirred up a hornets nest. Jerry has brought up more guns and is shelling everything within range and still resisting fiercely in Cassino.

Some troops have been cut off and are being supplied by parachute.

The full length of highway six is under Jerry’s fire and is referred to by the yanks as purple heart alley.

Keeping the lines in is a heart-breaking job and some of the Tommys attached to us are more hindrance than help.

San Michele is being shelled and the test point has had to be moved.

 March 29th 44
Div has had to shift back from the previous position. We were shelled a few nights ago and four killed, twelve wounded. A shell landed on the edge of a dug in bivvy and how the three inside came out without being killed was remarkable. Two were slightly wounded, and the bivvy was torn to shreds and blown into the trees.

2nd April 44
San Michele test point has been abandoned along with one div, and a telephone centre established on highway six. The three detachments are taking turns at manning it.

We laid a line from phone centre to 5th brigade via the ambulance track. It was started in daylight but we had to lay off till dark on account of shelling. Even after dark things were grim because Jerry was shelling the whole length of the road at intervals. We knew the line would be a failure before we laid it but orders are orders. It was finally laid but was cut in several places and we made no attempt to fault it. After reporting it through and stating that it was hopeless to try and keep it in we were told to abandon it. Such is the state of affairs when a pig headed C.O. who knows nothing of the conditions in the forward areas over-rides the advice of the men who know.

I had the nearest go ever when a shell landed six feet from the jeep, but luckily it was in soft earth and the blast went into the air. On our way back we were within a quarter mile of the phone centre when Jerry began shelling route six and we were kept in the drain for about ten minutes.

Most of the shells were duds and were landing on the opposite side of the road from us. Every time one landed it shook the ground under us like an earthquake. It was altogether the worst night I have ever experienced.

April 8th 44.
We are moving out of this area for a short rest, and the rumour is we are taking up a holding position in the hills. Our new site is beside the Volturno near Venafro.

14th April 1944
Well sweetheart, I have just finished a letter to Andy and I suppose you would like a letter too. We have a job on shortly and so I will have to make it snappy. My pen has just about had it, so I have had to fall back on a pencil. There is nothing in particular to write about at the moment except war and I suppose the less you hear about that subject the better.

It is very difficult to find a subject to write about at all, at times, every day and every week is more or less the same with us. While we are playing an operational role I cannot say very much about the type of country we are in, or mention villages and the like as it may give a clue as to where we are, and although the chances of a letter falling into enemy hands is rather slim, the censors are very particular about these matters.

I have described villages to you before, and they are all very similar. The only difference is that some are untouched by the war, some have received slight damage, and others again are not much more than a few walls standing among heaps of stone. Generally speaking, most of the country around this front is very hilly.

The hills are rocky and barren except for patches of scrub. The valleys between the hills are very fertile and they vary greatly in size. They do not go in for grapes or olives so much as was the case further south, but go more for raising crops, and sheep and cattle. Well as I was saying, I find it hard to find a subject to write on at times. Most of our talks and discussions are about the war, or concerning our work, and one day is very much like another, in most respects. So if you think I am writing you too many lectures sometimes, remember that it is because there is not much other to write about.

I was telling Andy about a dog in his letter, so I will tell you a dog story too. You may remember me telling you about a dog named Paddy when I was in Maadi, it may have been in a letter to Ed. Anyway he belonged to a chap in our section, and came originally from Tripoli.

We brought him across in the boat with us. But soon after we landed, our CO got his eyes on him and finally made us get rid of him, as there was already a dog in the section. Her name is Peggy and I may have mentioned her also. So paddy was given to another unit who were near us at the time and that was the last we saw of him for five months.

A couple of weeks ago, who should come trotting in to camp but old Paddy and was he pleased to meet his old friends! It was like the return of the prodigal son. He was petted and feed like a king, for he had been neglected and was very thin. I have not seen him about lately, we are often separated from the rest of the unit and perhaps while we were away, his master thought it best to find another home for him. Where ever he is I hope he has found a better master than the chap he was given to before.

You could tell Ed all about Paddy, I am sure he will be interested. Well sweetheart this is just a sort of impromptu letter. I started it this morning and had to go out on a job. It is now about 10.30pm and bed is calling. We have to be up early to carry on with the good work, but I will write again as soon as possible, so for the time being dear, all my love and kisses to each of you. Night-night sleep tight. Yours ever, Arthur.

5th of June 1944
I have been neglecting to write up the diary lately but the events of the last few weeks are not easily forgotten.

We had a spell of nearly two weeks near Venafro with good weather and little to do, and then shifted into the hills overlooking Cassino. The lines were very long and we had over a hundred miles of cable to maintain. From div to brigade was about 15 miles. Three test points were established, one at Acquafondata, one in the Inferno, and one at Begonia, and we took week about at manning them.

One week at div and one week at a test point.
The Inferno gave us a lot of trouble as it was under observation from Mount Cairo and was shelled regularly. We finally shifted all the lines across country but it was a long and tiring job on account of the steep hills.

Jerry shelled Hove ammunition dump and blew the whole works up which meant shifting more lines.

An attack opened on the 11th of May. The poles attacked with our boys just holding the right flank. It took nearly two weeks before jerry was cleared from the high ground, and during that period he threw everything but his guns at us.

We drove through Cassino after it was cleared and the place is a worse mess than it appeared from a distance. It stinks like the devil with hundreds of dead under the rubble. We looted a polish tank knocked out in Cairo village, and got the wireless set, periscopes and first aid kits.

We are now about thirty miles forward. Jerry has retreated fairly rapidly but is still holding out on the hills on our right flank and shells every now and then. Div was shelled for the third time since we have been on this side. There is talk of us moving over towards Rome to chase Jerry and relieve the Indian Div and leaving one battalion to hold the valley here.

Events have turned out differently to what we expected. After chasing jerry up the valley through Aeterna and Sora and beyond we have lost contact with him on account of demolitions and two rapid retreats, as he is in danger of being cut off in the north. Groups of Jerrys have been left behind in the hills and they are being rounded up. He has also had to leave behind all of his heavy artillery. The road through the narrow valley north of Sora was well done over by the RAF and jerry lost a lot of transport there.
Many dead have been thrown into the ditches and hastily covered up.

4th Field Regiment had a good many casualties just before Herman moved out. They moved too close to him apparently in daylight, and he gave him all he had including mortars. Took him too cheaply perhaps. Knowing he could not get his guns out he fired off all his ammo the night previous to his withdrawal but his shooting was wild and did little damage.

14th of June 1944
Have moved from our last position near Sora and are out for a spell. We are near Arce and directly behind Mount Cairo which we can see in the distance. We are parading each morning for rifle inspection, which takes only a few minutes, but otherwise we do very much as we please.

We had a few days reeling in to do around Sora and up the valley as far as Balsorano, but made more of a picnic out of it, taking our lunch with us. Working in the mornings and spending the afternoons swimming or touring in the jeeps.

A few days ago I went with Gordon in one of the jeeps up the valley as far as Avezzano, covering a hundred miles there and back. It is one of the most beautiful drives one could wish for. Avezzano is a very modern place and surrounded by thousands of acres of farmlands. The whole is situated in a vast level basin and is a great sight from the hills above.The Yanks bombed the town after Jerry had moved out, and the people were very bitter about it.

Old Mac has helped put us in touch with the count of Balsorano, and his mother. He first got speaking to the Count one day while we were having lunch below the castle after reeling in. Several of us looked over the castle next day.

Half a dozen shells had gone through the roof and made a mess of some of the upper rooms. The greater part of the rooms were unfurnished, the only ones furnished were those in the lower part where they were living. The castle is very well preserved and was built in the 13th century. Although the inside has been refurbished at times, and modernised, the outside walls remain just as it was built in 1200. A small party of the boys were invited to go to the castle and spend the day and seven of us went in a jeep and spent an enjoyable day there.

June rolls on. We have been out of action for several weeks now and having a really easy time. The rumour is going about again that we are going home, along with conflicting rumours that we will soon be in the line again. We have had very little trouble with the lines as the div is packed together and the lines are short.

We have been doing pretty much as we like and as there are plenty of good swimming places in the streams about here we are spending a lot of time in the water and also doing a lot of touring in the jeeps.

The weather has been very good while we have been here.
I have had a weekend in Rome, unofficial, as leave is being granted only for daytrips. I didn’t see very much of the city as it was too hot to get about much, but saw St Peters which is perhaps the greatest sight in Rome, besides several other points of interest. I may get the chance to get back there again when the weather is cooler.

Many of the boys are doing the same and a lot of stuff is being hocked in there. Bill and a friend took a jeep in with a load and did pretty well. Benzene, food, and cigarettes are in big demand and fetch ridiculous prices.

10th of July 1944
July and the div is rolling again. We are camped under the steep hill on which Costina is built.

6th Brigade is in the line and getting set to throw Herman out of the heights above Arezzo.

We left Arce just after dark and travelled all night. Rome came into view at dawn, and it was daylight when we passed through the city. We camped about 20 miles north of Rome during the day, and got a few hours’ sleep in. Starting off again at sunset. The moon was up most of the night and it was good driving. We came through the walled town of Parne which I would have liked to have seen in the daylight. We could see in the moonlight that the town was built on the crown of a hill and on one side was a deep ravine widening into a valley.

After winding down the valley we passed beneath a long concrete railway bridge which came out of the hills on one side, and ended in a tunnel at the other. It is the longest and highest bridge I have yet seen, we passed through some very mountainous country and just as dawn was breaking passed another walled city. The name of which I do not know. We arrived at our staging area on the southern shore of Lake Trasimene at midday.

From daylight onwards we had passed hundreds of burnt out vehicles, tanks, and other enemy equipment pushed to the side of the road, testimony of the good work of the air force. In a tree lined side road we saw perhaps fifty vehicles, nose to tail, which apparently had been trying to hide from our planes during daylight.

Every one was burnt out. There seemed to have been very little damage done by our ground forces at all, from Arce to Arezzo. The only noticeable signs of a war were caused by either bombing or strafing.

We spent two days at the area south of the Lake and then moved to our present position near Cortona. The air force has been having a picnic around the area too, as far as railways are concerned. In one rail junction there are a dozen knocked out railway engines, besides dozens of trucks and carriages. There are plenty of geese, fowls, vino and vegetables around this area and we have been living pretty well. Charlie Barron and Rip got drunk and stole a young pig a couple of nights ago.

Mort, Foxy, and Chas have left us and are on their way home. Nearly everyone was blotto the night before, and Mort and Chas still that way when they left. I think they did it very hard, leaving us. Mort especially as he has nothing much to go home to. This detachment will not seem the same with them out of it. Gave Chas a special letter to post in NZ.

14th of July 1944
Have arrived at Castellina and are taking over from the French. The country is very hilly with bad roads. We always seem to strike this combination wherever we go. We passed the City of Sienna coming across, and it is the best example of a walled city I have seen in this country.

3rd of November 1944
Dear Lei, this airgragh is a supplement to the air letter dated 1st November which I have just posted off. And it will be interesting to see if they reach you together. Please let me know what date they do arrive. Need I mention that it is still raining, a fine day is something to write home about lately. It won’t be very long now before we have the snow, it has already fallen in the mountains.

My word, this is a small world. I have just learned that the chap in the bed next to me spent most of his life in the islands, and several years in Levuka. He knows grandfather and several of the uncles very well. He was working in the bank at Levuka until the time of the depression, when the bank was closed and he was moved to Suva. Just before the war he moved to NZ. We have had some interesting yarns, which helped me to recall many things which I had completely forgotten.

Have you heard of the service stripes, wound stripes etc, which they have issued us to be sewn to the sleeve of our battledress? A sergeant with two or three years’ service, and a couple of wounds looks very similar to a zebra and the Africa bar gives it an added effect.

Well dear, I am well and the eye is coming on very well. I hope yourself and the kiddies are in the pink. Keep the old pen scratching. I am looking forward to plenty of air letters. Love and best wishes. Arthur.


Boarded the troop ship Strathmore on the 6th of August 1945 with 4000 other personnel to return to New Zealand. Docked in Melbourne on the 26th September. Reached NZ 30th September and docked at Wellington. Disembarked at wharfs. Just walking down the gangplank at dusk with kit bag on the shoulder when a familiar voice hails me from the wharf. "Hello Arthur'' Andy is on guard duty tonight and he's just starting his rounds as he recognises me on the gangplank.








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