Family Soldiers: 1/4th Essex (WW2) & 25 Field Regiment R.A.(Post-War)

Discussion in 'Searching for Someone & Military Genealogy' started by Charley Fortnum, Mar 21, 2015.

  1. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    I'm toying with the idea of transcribing the (scruffily written) letters from this series. I've knocked up a decent facsimile of the covering letter, but it all gets trickier from here!

    CAB 140-145: Lt-Gen Tuker on Mediterranean and Middle East, Vol 4 Feb 1959-Oct 1961.jpg P7900337.JPG
     
    Last edited: Mar 2, 2019
  2. Stuart Avery

    Stuart Avery In my wagon & not a muleteer.

    In my opinion i would leave them alone ( its like trying to re type history.) I could understand if they are all scruffy handwriting? No one is perfect & it has already been edited has to the one that you have shown. If we want to be perfect, your signature is not much good & you have used the colour black instead of blue for the Cabinet Office etc. The paper on the original also has a look of sky blue colour. Are the rest all like the one that you have shown & how many letters are in the series? I spent a rather long time in typing a (nine page) narrative that ended up in a rather large frame that hangs on my wall. You will be at it forever.

    Regards,
    Stu.
     
    Charley Fortnum likes this.
  3. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    I think I misled you.

    The first couple of pages are typed pages and only written up out of completeness. The remaining ninety-odd pages are bloody horrible handwriting.

    My line of thinking--as with the war diaries I've done--is that by typing them up they become searchable. That's an image, but I have a digital copy that you can use by hitting edit > find.

    Signature is rubbish, I agree, just a 'handwriting' font.

    Edit: for the record, having seen examples, Stu has exquisite handwriting and has produced some beautiful reproductions--I don't object in the slightest to constructive criticism.
     
    Last edited: Mar 2, 2019
  4. Stuart Avery

    Stuart Avery In my wagon & not a muleteer.

    Charley,
    I should of mentioned that you have got the font correct in my eyes on the knocked up facsimile.I do recall you spending a long time in putting together three PDF documents of War diaries, maps & illustrations for me (something I've still) not managed to work out how to do myself! I never have liked working with PDF docs.:wacko:.You will be at it for while with (ninety-odd) pages & i doff my cap to you.

    The uploaded file below is the narrative that i mentioned & its some what of a landscape at (3 ft wide by 2 ft in height!) Everything bar building the frame was done by myself. The mount was cut from card, the narrative was done on my laptop & the formation badges/ patches was drawn by own free hand. I'm about to take it to a shop to get the mount re-cut & some of the badges removed has some of them belong in another frame. Click on if required.

    Regards,
    Stu.
    Narrative 2-7 Mx Anzio..jpg
     
    Last edited: Mar 2, 2019
    Charley Fortnum likes this.
  5. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    No idea how I missed this, but the BBC has a 1/4th Essex capture/PoW narrative!
    I'm going to copy the text(s) here as I have no faith that their pages will remain online in the long term:

    Contributed by: Ron Stephens
    People in story: Rowland Henry Stephens
    Location of story: North Africa
    Background to story:
    Army
    Article ID: A6398427
    Contributed on: 25 October 2005

    Source
    :
    BBC - WW2 People's War - The Last Four Days Before Capture

    On the 24th June 1942, as records show the big retreat to Alamain was well under way. All heavy armour etc. was hell bent eastwards towards Alexandria. Not so our Brigade, which was halted at Mersa Matruh to form a defensive line about five miles west of Mersa Matruh.

    25th - 28th June 1942. The Company stood ready for action but it stayed fairly quiet, except for the odd shell or mortar bomb. It appears Rommel had once again slipped by on about the 26th June and was now at Eldura about fifty miles behind the Brigade.

    28th June 1942. We were told a breakout was planned for 10 o’clock that night. We were given hand grenades with four second fuses. At the start all hell broke out - shells, bombs, bullets all over the place. There must have been some casualties but lucky for us only our lorry got hit. After a short while all was quiet again so the eight of us kipped down for the night.

    During the night we heard and then saw a German convoy consisting of tanks, guns and lorries full of troops going east. This was about 500 yards away from us. I suppose we could all have been run over and finished off, but we were still lucky. There was also the sound of a lot of movement going on to our north, but we could not see anything until morning.

    29th June 1942. At first light we were about six hundred yards from the main road to Alamain where a convoy of Germans was going east towards Alamain using, of course, a lot of British lorries together with their tanks, antitank guns etc. It looked like we had had it. On walking east we saw an abandoned lorry which was full of rations - bully beef etc. Coming the other way we saw two figures approaching us who turned out to be two South Africans from the S.A. Motorised Battalion. It was decided to see if the lorry would still run. It did.

    The next question was did we go by road or by desert tracks? We decided to go by road as we did not possess a map, compass, water or fuel. Then how did we get onto the road amongst the convoy as the road was higher than the sand?

    We drove along the sand following the road on our left and came across a small oasis which led up to the road. On driving through the oasis, we went straight through a group of Germans sitting eating their breakfast. Like us, they were so surprised seeing our lorry rushing through them that they just sat there dumbfounded. We were on the road and in amongst the convoy before they could react. Our luck was still holding.

    As we came onto the road, "a nice German driver" eased back from the lorry in front of him and allowed us to get into the line of lorries, and so we drove with the convoy for around ten to twelve miles. Then came a full stop, a road block checking each lorry. That was really the end as we were put in the bag with hundreds of others who got caught before us.

    End of freedom for thirty-four months.


    Contributed by: Ron Stephens
    People in story: Rowland Henry Stephens
    Location of story: Africa, Italy, Germany
    Background to story: Army
    Article ID: A4622573
    Contributed on: 30 July 2005

    Source:
    BBC - WW2 People's War - Life As A POW For 34 Months

    I was captured on the 29th June 1942, at 10 miles east of Mersa Matruh after an unsuccessful attempt of a breakout by our brigade, from behind the German lines.

    There was twelve of us in a 10 tonner which unfortunately was hit by a mortar (I think) and put out of action.

    We were herded into an area where hundreds of our forces were being held as prisoners, and so started life as a POW for 34 months.

    The first person I saw milling about in the crowds was an old pal who was called up with me in February 1940 called Dave Wagstaff. I had last seen him in the latter months of 1941.

    After around seven to ten days we were loaded onto old Italian lorries and driven with escort to Sidi Barrani, where there must have been between five to six thousand of us.

    While waiting at Sidi Barrani for our next move we used to sit in little groups and natter about all sorts of subjects mostly though about food, which of course we were short of. In due course it turned out that ten of us always appeared to be in the same group, so we decided to stick together. They were George (Bouncer) Russell, Dave Wagstaff, Cpl. George (Spud) Taylor, Ginger Watmough, Taffy Evans, Bob Avery, Stan Studd, Frank Hyam, Sgt. George Southgate and myself.

    In October 1942 we were put in an old Italian ship, put down the holds and boarded over until we arrived at a port called Brindisi. A few days were spent in a field until we entrained in cattle trucks and had two days travelling to a camp called Campo 82 at a place called Latrina.

    We were billeted in tents , twelve - fifteen in a tent. We got one meal a day. A loaf the size of a hot cross bun, plus a bowl of watery mixture called stew! (If you were lucky you found a horse’s tooth in the bowl.)

    We managed to keep in the group and ended up in the same tent. Each morning and again at night we paraded for roll call, I don’t think the Iti’s ever got the same number twice.

    Eventually the Italians built a row of huts, no windows or doors, in which we were housed. The bunk beds were two tiers high and sighted along the length of the huts.

    We had five double bunks all together, lucky again. The conversation was grub, fags, home life and roll on the boat!!

    Things improved slightly after the red cross parcels arrived. These really helped to keep us alive. Soon a market formed where you could exchange one article for another, of course a lot of bartering went on to get what you wanted.

    There was an area allocated for brewing up etc. and all sorts of ovens were made up from the empty tins from the Red Cross parcels and we made corned beef stew, Yorkshire puddings and all sorts of concoctions turned up, but nothing was wasted.

    We tried to keep fit by doing all sorts of exercise, running, walking, games, mostly football. International games caused a lot of amusement, South Africa versus Scotland; England versus Ireland etc. - all good fun. On one occasion Spud offered to be the referee (Scotland v Ireland) football match. All went well until the goalkeeper picked the ball up outside the penalty area. Blowing his whistle he gave a penalty which was completely wrong. The crowd went crazy and a Sgt. Pye took over. Poor old Spud was booed off the pitch. First time I think a ref. got a red card!! We then lost Bouncer and Frank Hyam as they were picked for a working party. I next saw Bouncer after we got home. So that left eight of us in the party. And so life went on until the Italians capitulated in September 1943. All the Italian guards disappeared on September 12th. 1943.

    Our bright RSM and sergeants in charge of the camp told everybody to keep calm and remain in the camp and everything would be OK (how clever and wrong could one be).

    Monday 13th September 1943 announced the arrival of the Germans, and on the 17th September after a few days of mayhem we were marched off to the station put into cattle trucks ,about forty in a truck. Our first stop was Bologna, where we had to change trucks.

    We arrived in Germany at Stalag IVb about 1a.m. of Monday 20th of September 1943.
    We were marched to a field, we had to strip and our heads were shaved by horse clippers. We then had a cold shower, all our clothes were deloused and fumigated and left in a large heap.

    We then entered a large hut where four doctors stood and we got four inoculations, two in the chest and one in each arm. After that we had to find our clothes (if you were lucky!).We were marched to a hut and left there until seven o’clock the next morning. A cup of some sort of coffee and a slice of black bread was breakfast.

    In parties of eight we arrived for our photo session. Four sat on a bench and the other four stood at the back. We all had to hold our POW numbers up in front of us and then be photographed. Yes it was the same eight faces on the photo. Shortly after Sgt. Southgate and Dave Wagstaff were detailed for a working party. Then there were six (just like the ten green bottles). Later we were then allocated to another working party consisting of South Africans, Irish, English etc. - about fifty altogether.

    So I became POW No. 223954 at Stalag IVb and life in Germany started.

    Tuesday 5th of October 1943. Our working group left Stalag IVb for IXc at Urfurt which was a working camp about a five mile walk away. We arrived on Wednesday 6th October.

    Thursday 7th October. We left IXc camp for a sugar factory and arrived at a place called Stobnitz at 8.30pm where we got a hot meal of cabbage stew and a third of a red cross parcel.

    Sunday 10th October 1943. I was detailed night work 6pm through to 6am. Every two weeks we changed shifts and worked 18hours out of 24 hours. During the changeover myself and a chap called Bob Avery were put on outside work called hocking. This meant using a fork like a pitch fork and pulling the sugar beets into a channel of moving water which in turn took the beets into the factory, turning them into sugar, etc.

    During November and December it was very unpleasant at 2 o’clock and 3 o’clock in the morning in the snow and wind and ice etc. When the sugar beets were finished we had to fill the railway trucks with the snitchel (This is what was left of the beets after the sugar was extracted). This was used to feed the cattle. This went on until Sunday 2nd of January 1944.

    Sunday January 2nd 1944. We were marched away from the sugar factory and entrained for the Sweilager.

    Monday January 3rd 1944. We arrived at Mulhausen prison camp. It took three hours to march to camp.

    Sunday January 9th 1944. I was put in hospital bay with an attack of malaria (originally had six weeks in hospital in Sierra Leone in 1940-41.)

    Tuesday January 11th 1944 discharged and sent to catch up with the old working party who had gone on to a salt mine at a place called Merkers. Arrived at 4.30pm. Owing to my stay in the sick bay I lost touch with my working mates, and was put in a hut full of Scots, who were captured in 1940 time of Dunkirk. My bunk was next to a young Scot called Stephen Frazer who came from Inverness. We palled up together, most of the other Scots were not very friendly, I must say.

    I had my revenge though - We had an England versus Scotland football match one afternoon and we won 1-0 -- guess who scored? YES ME - my name was mud back in the hut, they didn’t even speak to me for quite a while - still revenge is sweet!

    29th January 1944. Received news through the Red Cross that my father had died. I arranged through the German Camp Commander and the Red Cross to have my army pay plus my Prudential pay made payable to my mother to assist her with the weekly expenses, etc.

    Commenced work down the mine. 6.30am - 2.30pm with no days off at all. As you went down the mine you got a bottle of water which you returned each end of shift. There was one blessing though, you got a hot shower each day after your shift, you then marched back to camp. Some days there were searches as you arrived back at camp.

    My work was with two Germans, one was about 65-70 and the other about 40. We had to clear the road ahead, level it all out and then lay the rails for the wagons to go further into the mine. I suppose we were working about two miles from the pit head and we rode in an old type charabanc of the 1930’s (no top just seat benches across the width of the coach. About forty of us rode in it.

    The mine was about two thousand feet down, and the main roads were about fifteen feet wide and ten to twelve feet high. The workings branched out either side of the main road.

    Blasting took place after each shift. The main thing to remember was keep looking above you for any loose rock likely to fall down.

    Towards the end of February and March 1945 stoppages got longer as the air raids lasted longer each week, this went on until April 2nd 1945 when we were again marched away to ? Nobody will ever know as we never reached there.

    The Final March. We marched each day from 9am until around 4pm with short rests in between . We got coffee (so called) with a piece of bread before starting and about 5pm (most days) something to eat. Nights were spent in village halls, barns or some nights in a field if you weren’t near to a village.

    This went on until (I think) 21st April 1945 when we saw some young boys eating chocolate and gum. We asked them where they got it. They replied from the Yanks in a large tank.

    We decided to tell the two old guards to disappear and go home. We turned around and retraced our steps. Unfortunately nothing turned up that day . We saw nobody , not even a Jerry. We came to a village square and it was decided to find shelter for the night. Steve Frazer and I with others went into the hotel and bar and demanded shelter for the night. The owner must have thought we were the advancing army and he said OK. He gave us coffee and some bread (black of course). We all agreed to meet in the square at 8 o’clock the next morning. During the night we heard a lot of heavy armour and lorries going through the square.

    The following morning 22nd April 1945 we all met up again and moved off about 8.30am. It must have been around 12.30 or 1pm as we went through this forest road we saw straight ahead this enormous tank with its gun pointing at us. We all stopped dead and a sergeant in charge of us walked ahead to the tank and explained who we were. Fags, chocs, K rations showered down on us and they put us on their tank and took us back to a little village and told us to wait there for further instructions.

    As we walked down the main road we saw hundreds of displaced persons: Poles, Czechs, Russians, all sorts. Quite a lot were milling around a certain shop. The owner of the shop was gesticulating at the crowd. On seeing us he came up and said he was the village baker, and they were after bread. Our sergeant detailed us to help. I stood at the door and let them in one at a time. In due course the bread ran out, so we had to turn the rest away. The baker was quite happy and we all went into his back room and had coffee.

    Shortly after the Yanks came back with a truck and said they would take us back. Guess where we ended up?

    Yes - our old camp at the salt mine. What a waste of time and marching around for twenty days - for what?

    Soon after that was when the Yanks brass hats (General Patten etc.) saw the gold and pictures stored down the mine. Some we saw being bricked up in some of the old workings. They were brought in lorries during the night.

    We then spent another three days at the camp before the Yanks came back and took us to a large store by an air strip. We were kitted out in Yankee uniforms, and flown to Brussels before we were handed to the Red Caps. What a difference. What’s your name, number, rank, unit - where and when were you captured, and on and on. We were then given some cash and free again for two more days.

    28th April 1945. The RAF came and took us to an airfield and they flew us to Wing in Aylesbury in Lancasters. We arrived about 4.30pm and went in a large hanger and given tea etc. Then by army lorries to the camp at Wing.

    We were told we would be going on leave in three days . It turned out to be eight or nine days. Refitted out in British army uniforms, ration books etc. The Women’s Institute sewed all our ribbons and stripes on and we were told we would be taken by lorry to the station.

    I arrived home around 4 o’clock on May 7th. The end of five years of wasted life and still one more year before being demobbed in February 1946.

    I have worked out roughly the hours I worked (5000 hours). The rest of the time left of the day was spent locked up in your hut. No recreation outdoors, poor food and no wages. Would you call this ‘Slave Labour’

    Ron Stevens
    6021932
    D Coy.1⁄4 Battalion
    The Essex regiment
    4th Indian Division
    Left England August 1940.
    Home May 1945.

     
    Last edited: Mar 4, 2019
  6. Stuart Avery

    Stuart Avery In my wagon & not a muleteer.

    Charley,
    that is rather a good find & a most interesting read ( I'm not sure) how you missed it? Not like you at all! o_O I hope you don't mind, but i thought it would be interesting to other forum members to read the following war diary pages. It probably crossed your mind to do it, but you have not got around to doing it ? They are rather good with some more detail that Ron Stevens has given. They run from 23rd - 30th June 42.

    rsz_p6220246.jpg
    rsz_p6220247.jpg
    rsz_p6220248.jpg
    rsz_p6220249.jpg
    rsz_p6220250.jpg
    Click on images if required.

    Regards,
    Stu.
     
  7. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    Yes, good thinking.

    The breakout from Mersa Matruh was a real baptism of fire for the battalion. Chaos in the night, close calls in the dark and a surprising percentage got through.

    Most involved never forgot it.
     
  8. Stuart Avery

    Stuart Avery In my wagon & not a muleteer.

    These pages are rather tidy & they have a look has if they have not been looked at for many years with ( not many finger folds etc.) I've yet to check the rest of the diary for 42. Edit. May be one of the most well presented diaries that I've come across. The Adjutant was good at his job.

    Regards,
    Stu.
     
  9. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

  10. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    Map dated after the war, but generally useful as an illustration for the Essex Brigade diaries.

    Screen Shot 2019-03-28 at 23.39.00.png
     
  11. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

  12. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    The following medal set is up for sale:

    A North West Frontier and World War Two African Campaign Group of 6 to Lieutenant W. Scott, Essex Regiment. India General Service 1908, Geo V, clasp North West Frontier 1930-31 named to 6001619 Private W. Scott, Essex Regiment. 1939-45 Star, Africa Star, Defence Medal and War Medal 39-45, all unnamed as issued. Efficiency Medal, Geo VI, Fixed Territorial Suspender named to Lieutenant (Quarter Master) W. Scott, Essex Regiment. William Scott born Bethnal Green, enlisted for Regular Service with the Essex Regiment at Warley on 20th June 1921, a Machinist aged 15 years and 311 days. William Scott served as a Drummer with the 2nd Essex in the Red Shirt Rebellion 1930-31, discharged at Warley as a Drummer on 19th June 1933, with exemplary conduct. William Scott re-enlisted in the 4th Battalion, Territorial Army on 12th April 1938. He initially served in North Africa with 1st/4th Essex Regiment during WW2. He served overseas for a period of five years, mostly in South Africa and Mauritius. Commissioned (Emergency Commission) as a Lieutenant Quartermaster on 19th May 1944 with the Regular Army. Having served briefly as a Lieutenant in the Essex Territorials in 1951, he was transferred to the Royal Pioneer Corps and served as Lieutenant, before resigning his commission 27th June 1957. With Colonel Shepherd he founded the Boys Cadet Force at Brentwood, and through Shepherd’s influence found an office job at Marconi’s. Scott died in 1977. Loose-mounted. (6) Good very fine

    Link:
    A North West Frontier and World War Two African Campaign ... | Wellington Auctions

    That's definitely a varied service!
     
  13. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    A nice picture of the same from the talented Malcolm Root: Home Page

    The Essex Regt By Malcolm Root.jpg
     
  14. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    I've taken advantage of the Fold3 free download period to get some very large bombing images of Monte Cassino, the advantage being that I can zoom quite a bit without losing quality. There are a good number, but I've picked these ones in order to look carefully at the route up Castle Hill to the Castle itself on Pt.193.

    Two routes appear viable, although the final side shot shows the one to the 'left' (roughly climbing north) as a whole lot more inviting that the one to the right that abuts the ravine and runs roughly west (and indeed men were lost, having fallen in the dark).

    May 1944: (Full Image / Zoom)

    01 Full.jpg 01 Zoom.jpg

    7 April 1944: (Full Image / Zoom)

    02 Full.jpg 02 Zoom.jpg

    15 Nov 45: (Full Image / Zoom)

    03 Full.jpg 03 Zoom.jpg

    The shape of the castle can be made out pretty well, including the tower. Here are a sketch of the layout of the interior at the time of the 3rd/4th battles and another photo taken in Nov 1943, before it had been damaged (No. 38, and how neat the town looks).

    Screen%20Shot%202017-05-04%20at%2002.20.08.PNG Nov 1943.jpg

    And here's a second after the battle, taken from somewhere in the vicinity of Pt. 165, the switchback at which the road turns back 180 degrees and starts ascending Monastery Hill in the opposite direction. The 'keep', surprisingly, is still standing.

    Castle Hill.jpg
     
    Last edited: May 26, 2019
  15. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    The account of how the New Zealanders of D-Coy 25 Battalion took the castle to hand off to 1/4th Essex is brilliantly told. It looks as if 17 platoon took 'the right' route and 18 platoon 'the left'.

    I have no idea of the landscape within the ravine, but what 16 platoon achieved sounds extremely challenging. A look at the 'zoom' of the 7 April photograph above does show a point near point 165 at which the cliff face has subsided and could, conceivably, be scaled.

    It sounds possible that the 'upper houses' cleared by 18 platoon could be those marked 'No.36' on the Nov 1943 photograph above,


    The operations of D Company (Major Hewitt) against Castle Hill have still to be described, and here there is a much brighter tale to tell. In the early afternoon the company was held up outside Cassino by the slow advance of A and B Companies in the town. The orders for the attack gave B Company the task of clearing the lower slopes of Castle Hill so that D Company could then attack from the south-east. As B Company had been forced away from the hill into the town, Hewitt moved D Company up the slopes at the foot of Point 175 (450 yards south-west of the quarry and 700 yards due north of Castle Hill) and then into the ravine between the two hills. No. 16 Platoon was sent farther to the west along the ravine to attack Point 165 (an off-shoot or lesser peak of Castle Hill, about 90 feet lower and 150 yards south-west of the summit); at the same time the remainder of D Company moved round to the east of Castle Hill to where a sharp ridge led straight up to the fort at the top. Company Headquarters was established at the foot of the ridge and 17 and 18 Platoons then delayed their advance up Castle Hill to give 16 Platoon time to develop its attack from the opposite side.

    About 1 p.m. 16 Platoon was at the foot of an almost sheer cliff below Point 165 and began the slow and very difficult climb. Private McNiece, a Bren-gunner in No. 1 Section, describes the extraordinary events which followed:

    ‘It was about 1300 hours when we reached the foot of Castle Hill and started to scramble up the cliff face where a goat would have had difficulty in getting up. After a very hot and hard climb we reached the shelter of a very large rock, about 100 feet from the top of the hill. Cpl McInnes i/c

    No. 1 Section, directed myself (Bren gunner) and Bill Stockwell (2 i/c Bren) to go out to the right and protect the pl's right flank.

    ‘We hadn't advanced ten yds when I looked back and saw Cpl McInnes with two Jerries with their hands well in the air; they were scouts posted on the lookout to warn their HQ of our approach but we were so close on the arty barrage and the Jerries were as deep down as possible in their dugout, so that they failed to hear or see us. If they had spotted us we would never have had a chance to climb the hill face; from their position they could have quite easily picked us all off.

    ‘As Bill and I came to the edge of the rock I noticed a concrete pillbox on the top of the hill—it was about 12 feet square with a small window two feet square and four feet from the ground. I said to Bill “That's a likely place for a Jerry or two; what about having a look”... I raised the Bren to my hip and made for the pillbox which was about 20 yds distant. When I had covered the distance I heard Bill yell “Look out for the Spandau” and he fired past me into the window. I did not see the Spandau but made a dash for the side of the pillbox. Bill kept on firing and the Jerry withdrew the Spandau. I was now between the window and the corner of the pillbox, a distance of five feet. My first thoughts were of the three HE 36 grenades that I had on me and in a few seconds I had pulled the pin out and slipped one grenade through the window. There was a lovely explosion, dust and splinters of stone and wood came flying out of the window; a few seconds later there was a clatter at my feet and there lay a Jerry stick grenade smoking and spitting out sparks—without stopping to think I grabbed it up and flung it over the cliff— I didn't hear it go off but the boys at the rear of the platoon said it went off just below them! I immediately slipped another grenade through the window and it went off with a bang; another stick grenade came out through the window and landed just out of my reach—I fell flat on my face and hoped for the best; the seconds seemed like ages; then there was a terrific explosion. Dirt and rocks flew in all directions. I was completely obscured in the dust and Bill said to himself “Mac's had it”. My head felt as if it had been bashed in and my ears rang and ached cruelly. [Note: He was evacuated to hospital on 8 April suffering with ruptured ear drums.] When the dust cleared away I was standing by the window with the Bren gun held out at arm's length pouring a stream of hot lead through the window. I then threw my last HE 36 grenade inside and stood with my back to the wall wondering what to do next.

    ‘All the time this was happening a Spandau was firing past a corner of the pillbox and the hot lead was only missing my legs by inches. I looked down at Bill and saw him calling to the Jerries to come out. I then looked at the window and saw a Red Cross flag held out. I called on Jerry to “Camarad” and he replied “No, no, wounded”. I looked through the window and saw some wounded Jerries lying on the floor. I called Bill up and covered him while he entered, then I scrambled in and covered the Jerries while Bill took their arms away. At the far end of the pillbox there was a ladder down into a huge dugout about 12 feet square and 15 feet deep. Jerries were filing up the ladder with their hands in the air. When we counted them up there were two dead, twenty-three alive, five of whom were wounded. The pillbox was a German Coy HQ of the Paras. The captain, a 21 yr old boy, was dead and the 2i/c, a lieut, was seriously wounded. After we had disarmed them I sent them one at a time, down the hill to our officer —all this was done in a few minutes.

    ‘In the meantime the Jerries in the Castle had come into action— mortars, rifle grenades, and bullets were flying in all directions. Cpl McInnes had stopped a burst of Spandau in the back and was dead. Gerry Marsh, a boy of 21, was also killed by a Spandau and several others wounded.’

    It was indeed an amazing feat and McNiece and Stockwell had well earned the Military Medals they were awarded.

    After occupying Point 165 16 Platoon tried to move up the slope to the summit of Castle Hill but was pinned down by the heavy fire described by McNiece. The platoon had done well. By its skilful approach and through the resolution of McNiece and Stockwell it had achieved a brilliant success which greatly assisted, if indeed it did not actually make possible, the subsequent capture of Castle Hill.

    Meanwhile, about 2 p.m. on the other side of Castle Hill, from the buildings at the foot of the slope east of the fort, 17 and 18 Platoons began their climb. On the right 17 Platoon went straight up the ridge while 18 Platoon followed a stone wall leading up to the fort on the south side. The houses on the lower slopes were occupied by the German snipers and machine-gunners who had been so troublesome to B Company and other troops in Cassino and the leading sections were soon engaged with them. One section of 18 Platoon used a grenade and a tommy gun against one house, killing the four occupants; pushing on, it found a man of B Company pinned down by fire from a house in front and a flank attack enabled another three Germans to be killed with the tommy gun. Continuing the climb the section passed the last houses and approached a couple of dugouts or tunnels; while endeavouring to fire down these the section leader was shot through the head by a sniper. Now reduced to three men, the section was pinned down by rifle fire on one side of its stone wall and by a Spandau on the the other and, until the rest of the platoon advanced along the wall, had to remain there for an hour or more.

    At this stage 17 Platoon was in sight moving up its ridge and the advance continued with no further opposition until the top was reached. Germans were then seen running from a broken wall on the left to the shelter of a keep in the quadrangle of the fort, a German officer being wounded by a lucky shot as he ran for cover. The two platoons occupied the broken walls, and after an exchange of fire and the throwing of grenades down a hole in a wall leading to terraces below, a German called out ‘Kaput no shoot’ and came up through the hole with a Red Cross flag. The German walked across to where a wounded corporal of 18 Platoon was lying and brought him in. Two more Germans, one with a Spandau, then surrendered; two dead Germans were found in the hole in the wall and three more on a terrace below where six prisoners were taken, three of them wounded. By 4.45 p.m. all resistance had ceased and the company took up defensive positions in the fort, 16 Platoon shortly afterwards coming up from Point 165.

    In this well-planned action which was conducted with skill and resolution by all ranks, D Company had scored a very important success. Its casualties were six killed and sixteen wounded. The prisoners reported captured by the platoons numbered forty-seven and the Germans killed, in the various incidents related, were nine, apart from the final episode at the fort where, on rejoining the company, 16 Platoon found ‘dead and wounded Germans lying everywhere’. Though there were the usual discrepancies between the number of prisoners reported by the platoons and those recorded at Brigade Headquarters, for which the explanation apart from error could be casualties en route or prisoners passing through other units, the German losses in killed, wounded, and prisoners, were undoubtedly severe.

    In the early afternoon when D Company approached Cassino, Major Hewitt was confronted with a difficult situation. The battalion plan required B Company to clear the enemy from the lower slopes of Castle Hill close to the town so that D Company could form up there for its attack up the hill. When Hewitt found that B Company had been forced away from the base of the hill and that he could not form up there, he immediately sized up the position, formed an entirely new and very sound plan, and carried it out with skill and determination. For this operation and his subsequent fine work in Cassino, Major Hewitt was awarded the Military Cross.

     
    Last edited: May 25, 2019
  16. minden1759

    minden1759 Senior Member

    James.

    You have me hooked now. I am out in Cassino with a group in mid-Sep. I will be going out a day early for some recces and will now include the route of D Coy 25 NZ Inf Bn. With the text from the Official NZ History and your photos, I should be able to work it out.

    Regards

    Frank
     
  17. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    The things that's troubling me is that I'm at the point of drawing lines on the map, but the map of the 3rd battle in Matthew Parker's book shows the advance arrows for 1/4th Essex and 1/6th & 4/6th Raj Riffs as going up the ravine and then climbing it at a point near pt. 165 before turning back to return to the castle.

    If that route is correct (and not just a vague approximation), it seems odd because it is not the route described for 17 & 18 platoon 25 Battalion and, frankly, for long periods of the battle would be walking through serious sniper fire. All the sources I have read about resupply and reinforcement make it sound as if they had a 'back door' route into the castle.

    See here:

    Map-9-The-Third-Battle-large.jpg
     
    Last edited: May 26, 2019
  18. minden1759

    minden1759 Senior Member

    Yes, I thought that odd too because it is fully exposed to German direct and indirect fire.

    I think that the supply/reinforcement route was up the front face of Castle Hill. The troops might have been exposed to direct fire from Cassino town but they would not have been seen from Point 236 overlooking the castle. It would also have been impossible for German arty to reach the front face from their positions way north in the mountains. Mortar fire may have been able to reach them but I doubt that many rounds would have found their target.

    In going up the route suggested by Parker, the troops would have arrived at Point 165 and been exposed to fire from Point 236.

    The forward slope of Castle Hill would have been less exposed once 24 NZ Inf Bn had reached Route 6. That would have put Castle Hill on their right rear.

    Regards

    Frank
     
  19. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    More digging.

    I have a personal account written by Pte Harold Brand (6 Platoon 1/4th Essex) in which he describes he and Ted Kenworth carrying stretchers down from the castle during a cease-fire. Their route was "through a hole in the wall (of the castle) on the side over looking the wadi."

    (That would be the north wall)

    He adds:

    The slope was so steep that we had only just started when I slipped, I had to let go of the stretcher in case it came with. I slipped about ten foot then caught hold of a scrub.

    Before this on his way up to the castle from 'the ammo dump' (which I take to be the quarry), he says:

    We walked down the road in single file, straight into Cassino. [...] We stopped a couple of times and then climbed over what I think must have been a high bank. We found ourselves on what must have been the start of the track.[...] we then turned right on to the track [...]

    and went on up the hill, only once taking the wrong track and having to come back about forty yards. The last 100 yards up in to the castle were worst, the track was loose stones and when I slipped a couple of times I could see myself hitting the ruins in Cassino.
    In other words, he certainly didn't go up the ravine/gully.

    These two parts from Ensign in Italy also suggest to me that the Welsh Guards were taking the route pioneered by 17 Platoon, 25 Battalion.

    Ensign in Itay copy.png

    The two sides would be the gully overlooked by Pt. 175 (friendly) and the town of Cassino itself (not yet clear).

    Ensign in Itay.png

    And Parker's route is not a hog's back track--it sounds like that taken by Pte. Brand.

    Edit: No, this is conclusive for me (8th Argylls' History):

    8th Argylls at Cassino 02 copy.jpg

    They were using, as you say, the two routes on the front face of Castle Hill--somebody get on the blower to Parker!
     
    Last edited: May 26, 2019
  20. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    I've just been trying to discover anything else about those two men. As seems common with the Kiwis, you read something absurdly courageous--some really serious soldiering--and then you discover the man was a farm hand before the war (as McNiece was). They were made of tough stuff down south.

    You could put the award citations in your information packs.

    Screenshot 2019-05-26 at 23.39.17.jpg Screenshot 2019-05-26 at 23.40.56.jpg
     
    Last edited: May 26, 2019

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