A letter sent by Raymond to his
parents from Tripoli, in 1943.
We embarked from here on Aug 30th and I never expected to be back in a month. I remember well the last night in harbour when I sat up on deck listening to Rachmaninoff's 2nd Concerto - yours and mine! Our convoy moved slowly round the west end of Sicily to Termini, where we anchored for the afternoon and had a bathe. It was to have been a night ashore but a heavy sea held us up a bit. The next evening we saw Capri on the horizon and soon we saw all the mountains round the Gulf of Salerno - surely they could see us!
And they did; we were bombed at 7 p.m. just as we turned and made for the landing beaches and thereafter at intervals throughout the night. We knew then we were expected and were very surprised to land quite quickly and not to be shot at as we streamed off the beach in a solid mass 20ft wide, along the only road to the assembly area where we sorted ourselves out and dug in.
Here it became apparent that all was not as planned for we were being sniped, though in theory Jerry should be miles away and Montecorvino aerodrome was being strongly held. So instead of proceeding peacefully to the concentration area (which turned out to be the scene of the bloodiest battle of them all, if you heard about it - the tobacco factory) we worked slowly forward for several days and ended on a defensive line short of the factory and Battipaglia and a realisation that we were up against more than we could tackle. The powers that be had wisely decided to cease battering against a stone wall - it was costly and German reinforcements were coming up. So we made a wonderful system of mines and wire which gave the 16th Panzers absolute stink when they attacked us on three successive nights, with the avowed intention (from a prisoner this) of driving the lot of us into the sea. The Company was in a first rate position by a farm living on the fat of the land, I'm afraid, roast pork for dinner once! I was very happy living with an officer from the Cheshires who was attached to us with his machine gun. I don't know if people realise how near a thing it was some days beforehand - Jerry made a very bad mistake somewhere. He knew where we were going to land, had time to concentrate the necessary troops and even to practise driving an imaginary landing force into the sea, but by some freak it didn't work, though we asked for it. When Monty arrived, he eased back and we moved forward. Then we were switched to Salerno itself. Our Company positions were on the top of a fearsome hill where you couldn't move in daylight without being mortared, very hot and dusty and very little water, and a perpetual Mad-Hatter tea party of changing platoon positions after dark every evening because one on the very top was particularly bloody. We were glad to get out of it and move more forward to do the attack which landed me here. It was a hectic business in which we ran into more than we expected and had a lot of close quarter fighting before we actually cleared them all out - about a Company or so of Panzergrenadiers. Half way up one of them sniped me through my left forearm and grazed my right before I settled him with a rifle. We lost rather a lot of people but certainly gave more than we got. I was sent back to Bn H.Q. (the wireless having broken down) to get ammunition, stretcher-bearers and more men and had a rather unpleasant and tiring walk back through some mortar fire which was more frightening than anything else. Luckily nothing hit me. It wasn't till I was sent back to the A.D.S. and the excitement of battle had died down that I realised that I had bled a lot and was very tired (having had very little sleep in the last fortnight in any case) and fell asleep and don't remember much more till I found myself somewhat to my surprise, on a Hospital ship.