A Little Question of Dates and route from Algeria to Italy

Discussion in 'Service Records' started by hutt, Jan 11, 2018.

  1. hutt

    hutt Member

    I would really appreciate help in interpreting part of my father’s WW2 record. My assumptions re x lists are based on the thread here X lists (Service Records) and I assume the New Zealand system was the same as the UK.

    The basic problem is I can’t quite square what I recall him saying about being in Sicily with the written service record. Essentially, my reading of the record is that after leaving the 1st General Refit and Training Depot, he joined 1503 Fd Regt Platoon on 22 11 43. Looking in the column under Part 11 Orders, I see a reference to the x(iv) list dated 13 9 43 so I assume that is the date he was moved forward as a reinforcement.

    The question is what happened between leaving the refit depot and joining 1503 Coy RASC.

    Now, I know from its diary that the refit depot was at Philippeville in Algeria and 1503 Coy, on 22 11 43, had reached San Salvo which is on the east coast of Italy, north of Termoli.

    So my initial question is how was dad transferred from North Africa a point a third of the way up Italy over a period of about 2 months and what unit was he in.

    Unfortunately, unless I am missing something obvious, this is where things get a little complex.

    One of the few things my father mentioned was that he had been in Sicily and specifically, had caught Malaria on the plains of Catania. Indeed his medical record states Malaria commencing 7 11 43 treated in the 50th General Hospital which I know from their diary to have been at Barletta which is back down the coast towards Bari.

    The next question is which unit was he in when near Catania if the record is exact in stating he didn’t join 1503 until November. I do know from 1503 RASC Coy diary that they were operating Falcone – Catania – Messina mid September and were on the Italian mainland on the 24th. That still leaves 2 months to account for. My contention is that Dad was probably with 1503 Coy from Mid September even if his record suggest he didn’t join till 22nd November.

    My ‘evidence’ for this being a hospital discharge slip (record 3 below) dated the 19th November from 50th General Hospital to the CO, 1503 FD Regt RASC.

    On the assumption that you could only be sent direct to a unit if you were already part of one, is it reasonable to assume that the service record entry for 22 11 43 is somehow incorrect and that Dad would have been part of that unit from an earlier point in time?

    Any thoughts would be appreciated

    Attached Files:

  2. hutt

    hutt Member

    Any thoughts?
  3. Tullybrone

    Tullybrone Senior Member

    I follow your logic and suspect you’ve got the correct sequence of events.

    He would likely have passed through an intermediate RASC? Depot on mainland Italy en route to his unit but perhaps it was for such a short stay that it was never recorded or it’s merely a clerical omission.

    From records I’ve seen Soldiers could be returned to their original unit from hospital either directly or via a Convalescent Depot. If they were not being posted to the old unit post discharge they were usually posted to an intermediate Depot pending posting to the new unit. The original unit field returns usually specified whether they were desirous of the return of the absent sick/wounded soldier.

    The answer should be in his unit War Diary field returns as his absence in hospital would ordinarily be recorded there.

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  4. 4jonboy

    4jonboy Daughter of a 56 Recce

    I have also read that soldiers who were discharged from hospital could be transferred to ANY unit.
    Service records weren't always kept up to date-my father's records had him still in North Africa in July 1944 when he was well up into Italy:-P.

    This obviously caused problems, as men who had been with their units for a while wanted to get back to their mates. John Gowan of 56 Recce, 78th Division spoke about this in his interview for the IWM which I transcribed a while ago-
    Trooper John Gowan, 56 Recce - IWM Interview transcription

    "... it all boiled down to the fact, that when you leave your Regiment you want to get back to it, because it’s your mates there and your friends, and that’s what we did. In our Division, if you went to a transit camp, you’d find, if you stood near the gates, there would be one of our Division’s vehicles pass - you only had to look for the Battleaxe - you just had to go (presumably makes a hand gesture) and they’d get you off back to your own unit, and you didn’t bother with papers, you see you didn’t go to tell them I’ve found my unit can I have my papers. You just got on that vehicle and got away, at least you were with your own Division which meant you’d get back to your own unit. They didn’t understand that, the British Army, they think if you come out of hospital, they can post you where they like, they ignored the fact that you’d got mates you’d been with for three or four years fighting, relying on each other, they don’t realise that... they sent you to a transit camp, that’s why they had that lot of trouble about them refusing to move off the beaches, I don’t know if you read about it. They sent a lot of chaps over to Italy and they refused to get off the beaches because they were going to a transit camp..."
    BBC - History - World Wars: Mutiny at Salerno: The Story and the Background

    So after that rather long-winded reply, maybe he went to a transit camp before joining his unit:).

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  5. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

    Similar to John Gowan's story, my own dear Dad was hospitalised in Alexandria in Sept 1944 with pneumonia (after swimming in Stanley Bay) just before his unit was sent back to Italy... his account of trying to get back to the front which was then in the mountains north of Florence to join his mates makes interesting reading:

    “I was desperate to get back to the London Irish and was pleased when, after two weeks of luxury, I was posted to the training depot at Fayid on the Suez Canal. Here I received a shock. The depot was in the Middle East Force (MEF). My battalion was in the Central Mediterranean Force (CMF). Getting transferred from the MEF to the CMF was to prove a challenge. The tented depot was full of sergeants and other ranks who apparently were more than happy in the sun. But there were a couple of dozen from the Irish Brigade who wanted to get out. I pestered the officer in charge practically daily to get back to Italy with my Irishmen. Finally, my perseverance paid off and a party from the Irish Brigade and a detachment of various Scottish regiments were transferred to the CMF. We were transported to Port Suez and were embarked once more for Taranto. On the voyage, we heard that General Montgomery had been promoted to Field Marshal.”

    “At Taranto, our party was allowed to leave our kit on the quay and walk out for a few hours. All the men from the Irish Brigade were paraded correctly. Some Scots were accompanying us. Suddenly, a party of the latter appeared and one, shouting imprecations, rushed at me with his rifle butt aimed at my face. Two large Skins threw him to the ground. We placed him under close arrest, put him on the train to the north and locked the compartment door. We slept on the train which arrived at Benevento east of Naples the next morning. When we unlocked the compartment, all were there except the one who had tried to injure me. He had left everything and run away. On questioning the other Scots, we discovered that my attacker had deserted before El Alamein in 1942 and had been in a military prison since. I don’t think he bore me any malice but was not too happy about the prospect of being killed. Assaulting an NCO would have put him back in prison for the rest of the war.”

    “We were transported to another training depot where we were confronted by a massive barracks comprising Nissen huts. Innumerable men were being marched around in platoons to the bark of CSMs and sergeants. I was astounded to see squads of sergeants suffering the same indignities. Dinner was a revelation. I was given a ticket for the sergeants’ mess eating at the fourth sitting and thought of the forward battalions with platoons of 20 often commanded by a corporal. All were infantry sergeants.”

    “Personnel below my rank were to drill each day. I was exempt and had nothing to do. I made a bee-line for the company office and fixed an appointment to see the OC. The next morning, I was marched in to see the major who informed me that I was to stay until posted. Immediate release, however, could be obtained if I volunteered to serve with the Special Boat Service in the Adriatic as a company quartermaster sergeant or, even, as a regimental quartermaster. I thanked him but said I wanted to go back to my own unit. I saluted and left the office.”

    “I inquired about the location of the office which dealt with postings and thumbed a lift there. I found it in a large building in Caserta and was taken to the London Irish section. Here, I was enthusiastically greeted by ORQMS Ryan, an old friend, and his predecessor, who was now a subaltern. He roundly condemned the depot filled with sergeants and immediately set about giving a movement order for myself and my 20 or so Irish Brigade personnel. He took me to the mess for lunch. Returning to the depot, I saw a squad of sergeants from many famous regiments being chivvied on parade by an ungentlemanly sergeant major. They endured this as the alternative was to be posted up the line. I laughed to myself. My group would be out of this soon.”

    “The next morning, I was sent for by the officer in command of the depot who demanded to know who gave me permission to leave the camp. But as I had been posted, I would not be charged. The next day, my little group entrained for another depot near Florence. It was unbelievable that a soldier had to surmount so many obstacles to his loyalty and how easy it was to move about the base areas with nothing but your stripes as authority. How simple it would have been to desert.”

    And thousands did indeed desert !!
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2018
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  6. Ron Goldstein

    Ron Goldstein WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran Patron

    HI !

    Very interesting thread !

    I thought I would add my own limited experience to the pot.

    Whilst with my Light Ack-Ack unit at Monte Cassino I went down with a nasty attack of impetigo and after a couple of days in a Field Dressing Station was packed onto a train and eventually finished up at a hospital in Naples.

    I was there for a few weeks and then returned (with no problems at all) to my unit which was still at Cassino.

    Through the generosity of Andy( who photographed botl my units War Records) I was able to see the list whereby units were asking for their men back but was not able to see my own name,

    Best regards

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  7. hutt

    hutt Member

    Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to reply and expand on the original questions especially as I can’t be the only person who will uncover frustrating gaps or inconsistencies in a serviceman’s record. Each of the narratives will help expand the value of this site as a unique record of details that will never get into the history books.

    When I made the original post I omitted a couple of additional bits of information so as not to make an already rambling post even longer.

    My fathers original unit in Tunisia and from which he originally fell ill was the 1532 LAA Regt Platoon, RASC and from his medical record he went first to 1 Casualty Clearing Station on the 7th August and was evacuated to 104th General Hospital on the 10th. 1 CCS diary lists its location as being in Tunis and my father’s unit diary states them as operating from Megrine which seems to be just south east of Tunis itself. In the 104th General Hospital diary, they are recorded as being at El Arrouch, Philippeville and it mentions an ambulance train of 197 cases arriving on the 10th. Dads medical record states he was discharged on the 25th August. Although the date for joining the depot is listed as the 29th August.

    It is interesting that Both Steve and Ron mention the field return sheets and for this period in hospital, there are 3 entries in the 1532 LAA Coy diary requesting Dads return on the 14th, 21st and 28th August. If only these sheets existed in the 1503 Coy diary as they would confirm without doubt his presence in that unit for the November spell in 50th General Hospital but unless I missed them in copying that diary, I am pretty sure they are absent.

    So, taking everyone experiences about the difficulties of a man returning to his ‘home’ unit, I think it may well have taken a protracted series of journeys, possibly via an intermediate depot before dad finally reached 1503 Coy who were by then some way up the east coast of Italy.

    There still remains the question of when exactly did Dad reach 1503 and if the service record entry is correct. My suspicion is that the recorded date is in error and I have one final piece of evidence that could support this. First, Steve’s statement that men could be returned direct to their units from hospital and also from some of the letters addressed to my father.

    Amongst the 100 or so letters that my father kept are two aerogram Christmas letters for 1943. Anyone familiar with these will know that they were stamped with a ‘post mark’ on receipt at a UK post office before being photographed, microfilmed and sent out to theatre before being photographically re printed at a readable size (clever idea!). Both these letters are addressed to Dad at 1503 Field Regt Pltn, RASC, CMF but frustratingly the postmarks are unclear except there is enough to see they were posted from Acton W3 in November 43.

    Now, obviously, for someone in the UK to address a letter to a serviceman, then they must have known his address and that must have therefore have been forwarded back to the UK in a previous letter from Dad. In that case I think it slightly implausible that they would have heard his new address so soon after the 19th November when the discharge slip indicates that he was going to 1503 Coy unless the postal system was even quicker that I would assume. I therefore am tempted to conclude that Dad would have given a new (1503) unit address before his hospitalisation in November.

    Sorry, this is all a bit rambling but I think to conclude, I cannot assume that Dad necessarily went direct from Algeria to 1503 Coy but equally, he may well have been in 1503 Coy before the date in the service record.

    Thinking a bit more about the Field Returns, there could be a remote possibility that if Dad was in a different unit to 1503 prior to his Malaria in November then his absence may be recorded in another RASC unit diary. Assuming he would have been posted to something similar, driving, handling artillery ordnance etc, then it might be worth doing a trawl of other units. I have both the RASC Operation Husky order of battle and the 78th Div CRASC diary and even a quick review today would suggest that a good number of the listed RASC artillery platoons have diaries at Kew covering the summer and Autumn of 43 so I may well have set myself another task on a future visit.

    Finally, Ron, than you for your contribution and I am sorry you never saw your name in the Field Return sheets. I have been fortunate to visit Kew a number of times and it was on my first visit when page turning the diary of 1532 LAA Platoon RASC that I suddenly came across my father name on these sheets. I was quite surprised and quite emotional that after 70 years, on paper that still felt gritty from sand, there was my father’s name!

    There is one final thing I will post pertaining to this thread but must leave that to another day.
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  8. Ron Goldstein

    Ron Goldstein WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran Patron


    What I neglected to mention is that in my own personal records I can clearly see the following dates, namely 13/3/44 Admitted to 11th Field Ambulance, 17/3/44 93rd General, 30/3/44 back at 49th LAA Army Records Ron Sheet 06.JPG

    Ron's Army Records | WW2Talk
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2018
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  9. HAARA

    HAARA Well-Known Member

    There seem to have been real problems of getting men back to their units after they had been admitted to hospital in Sicily and then withdrawn to North Africa (this arising from the need for bed space for anticipated casualties expected from the planned crossing into Italy). The following is an account by a member of 76th HAA RA who had been transferred back to Algeria in July with jaundice, trying to get back to his regiment in October. Note that even after this time, some three months, that the hospital had not been notified that he'd been transferred back even though he was present - a bit of a Catch 22:

    "When I went up to Records – a murderously hot climb up that hill – I saw Ronnie Hancock. He’d not even had a Casualty to say I’d been entered to hospital, so didn’t see how I could expect to be returned to the unit. Really, officially, I was still with the Regt, and you can’t go posting people back who’ve never left. So here was a quandary of the first order. Ronnie said he’d do all he could, but “there’ll be certain formalities to undergo first,” and “we can do little till we hear.” So, forlorn, I got back about nine o’clock, and got hopelessly cockeyed on Chartreuse Verte, of what vintage I do not care. I felt that if all the efforts in this war had been as badly run, deplorably organized, and so lacking in any form of discipline as that confounded place we’d never have got as far as the invasion of North Africa. It was almost like an establishment kept going in order that a number of quite high ranking persons downwards might be able to have a job to justify their existence – the hell they couldn’t!"

    It took a further month from the date of the foregoing for him to be reunited with the regiment.
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  10. hutt

    hutt Member

    Many thanks HAARA. Looks like some pretty conclusive evidence that this whole business of getting back from a spell in Hospital to a unit in the field could be fraught with difficulties and if between North Africa and Sicily / Italy, particularly so.

    As has been said on many occasions and in numerous posts, our fathers said little about their experiences but I do recall that this period, dads hospitalization, time in the training depot and the saga of being posted to a new unit away from his mates who he would have been with since the 1532 Coy was formed in December 41 in the UK was something that still frustrated him years later possibly as it may have been the time when his kit went missing although that may have been when he was flown back to the UK in November 45, who knows.

    If you look at the service record you can see that the only 'black mark' in his record was administered while in the holding depot and possibly around the time he may have learnt that he wasn't going back to his old unit. I guess its possible that he had 'expressed' an opinion rather forcibly about army bureaucracy!
  11. hutt

    hutt Member

    I can now post a short update. Last Saturday I spent the day at Kew and opened again the diary for 1503 Coy RASC for the period in late 43 (WO169-12023). I originally copied this back in 2012 and my photographs then did not include any of the Field Return sheets. Thinking back I must have ignored them for a reason. Anyway, looking again, there are indeed Field Return sheets but they are about as poor a set as I've ever seen with few entries and virtually non for 'other ranks'. Quite why they are so thin I don't know but its frustrating that just when these may have filled in the missing information there is nothing of any value. The best there is are some pencil notes on the back of some of the sheets giving sum totals of Officers and ORs going on or off strength and from which it would be wrong to draw any conclusions that they could be my father.

    I suspect the precise details of Dads movements at this time are going to be a mystery but I did have a look at a couple of other RASC company diaries that the Husky order of battle and 78th Division CRASC diaries mention and of course most of these had consistent, well completed Field Return sheets so if I was persistent and sourced all the diaries I can find I might just find a reference elsewhere but that's for the future.
  12. minden1759

    minden1759 Senior Member

    The quality of the WD depended entirely on the quality of the Coy 2IC who had the job of completing it.

  13. hutt

    hutt Member

    Agree, some WDs are so easy to read and seem detailed and complete, others just an afterthought!

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