Guns and vehicles of 48 Field Battery, 146 Field Regiment, Royal Artillery sink in mud during the advance to the Volturno.

Guns and vehicles of 48 Field Battery, 146 Field Regiment, Royal Artillery sink in mud during the advance to the Volturno.

Gunners pick up shells in a flooded 5.5-inch gun position on the Volturno front, October 1943.

Gunners pick up shells in a flooded 5.5-inch gun position on the Volturno front, October 1943.

Bombardier Spike Milligan had arrived in Italy on 23rd September but had almost immediately contracted Malaria, and had spent most of the time in hospital and then recuperating. It was a very common illness that would affect many troops in Italy.

On the 19th he had rejoined his artillery battery on the front line. They were still very badly affected by mosquitoes, covering themselves with gas capes at all times to try to protect themselves.

It seems Milligan had not yet fully recovered from the Malaria, he awoke at 7am to discover he had slept through a dozen Germans shells that had arrived around their position during the night:

22nd October, 1943

We all realised as we drank our tea that the guns were silent.

“Is it a strike?”

“No,” says Bombardier Fuller. “There’s Jerries in the area supposed to be massing for an attack, and so we don’t give our position away, we been ordered to stay silent.”

“Oh,” I said, “are we talking too loud?”

“He’s up there,” said Bill Trew, emerging from under his gas cape long enough to point to a hill about 4,000 yards away.

“You mean he can see us?” I said.

“Yer,” says Trew.

I gave a cheery wave at the hill. “Hello, lads,” I called. It was amazing, Jerry could see us but wasn’t doing anything about it, a strange uneasy feeling; anticipating a Stonk by Jerry, we set to and dug a funk hole into the side of the ditch. A plume of black smoke is ascending from the Jerry position.

“He’s still got fags then,” said Edgington. We made a floor out of bits of wood that kept us off the mud. At the same time we were also involved in digging an alcove for the telephone exchange; also along the ditch was the Command Post, Cookhouse, Officers’ Mess and Battery Office. It looked very much like a World War 1 trench.

An incredible find by Edgington, a huge cupboard that we wedge into our funkhole — we sit inside with the door closed to avoid the mozzies.

At about 0930 the guns open up again and we could see our shells bursting on the hillside behind Sparanise. The siting of our guns was obviously good, behind a bank of trees that hid them from view, but we gunners walked about the fields in full view, like the silly sods we were.

A big attack is going in tonight. The Grenadiers and Scots Guards are the poor bastards. They’ve got to take the hill to our immediate right to deny Jerry observation and put our OP on it. The sirens have gone and an air raid starts on Naples.

0430: the Artillery opened up and fired non-stop until 0624, then a silence. From the distant hill we hear the dreadful sound of Spandaus and Schmeisers that are spraying the early morning with bullets, and I can’t but wonder at the courage of these lads in the Guards Brigade forward into it. What a terrible, unexplainable lunacy.

There must have been a lot of casualties as there was talk of us having to send gravedigging parties. In the end they sent some Gunners from the Wagon Lines.

When they came back they spoke of Italian civilians being shot out of hand by Germans. There must be a lot of needle between these two nations. I should hate to be a German prisoner thrown to an Italian mob…

During the day there was a story that suddenly, on one of our wireless sets, a German had been heard asking for information. The Signaller recognised the accent and said, “Fuck off, Fritz.” The answer was instant, “Alright, English bastards, Off.”

See Spike Milligan: Mussolini: His Part in My Downfall .

An Otter light reconnaissance car crossing a Bailey bridge over the Volturno river at Grazzanise, 14-16 October 1943.

An Otter light reconnaissance car crossing a Bailey bridge over the Volturno river at Grazzanise, 14-16 October 1943.

Men of the 10th Royal Berkshire Regiment move up to the heights of Calvi-Risorta, 27 October 1943,

Men of the 10th Royal Berkshire Regiment move up to the heights of Calvi-Risorta, 27 October 1943.

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Oct

21

1943

Audie Murphy watches the ambush of a German patrol


21st October 1943: Audie Murphy watches the ambush of a German patrol

Germans labor up a draw that cuts the slope like a wrinkle in a fat man’s stomach. Despite all care, their boots slip on the stony soil; and at each small sound the men start nervously. The leader is obviously an old-timer. I can see from his actions that he does not like the situation at all. The route he has chosen is dangerous indeed, but is the best that the area offers. On two sides, he has at least partial concealment.

Oct

20

1943

Bomber on fire and under attack over Leipzig


20th October 1943: Bomber on fire and under attack over Leipzig

was hit. lt came through the fuselage and hit me low, down through the top of my legs, and lifted me up and smashed me right across the soft edge of the structure. I fell down onto the floor, ending up underneath the navigator’s table which was only a short distance away. Afterwards I pulled myself up, because everything below my waist was in a hell of a pain. Because it was dark I didn’t know how it had happened or really where I was.

Oct

19

1943

Disabled PoWs repatriated in Prisoner Exchange


19th October 1943: Disabled PoWs repatriated in Prisoner Exchange

hours spent among the 1,200 new passengers in the Drottningholm on Monday morning furnished a stimulating and indeed an inspiring experience. Most of them had been prisoners for well over three years; all had endured long and severe hardships; some were maimed and many more had less obvious injuries, yet all of them displayed a buoyant spirit. It became apparent, after on had talked with the men in different parts of the ship, that theirs was not merely the natural cheerfulness of men who were going home. These were men whose confident spirit had remained high and intact through the darkest period.

Oct

18

1943

Carrier Pigeon “GI Joe” wins medal


18th October 1943: Carrier Pigeon “GI Joe” wins medal

message contained information that the British 169th Infantry Brigade, of the 56th Infantry Division, had captured the village of Colvi Vecchia at 10:45 hours just a few minutes before a unit of the Allied XII Air Support Command was due to bomb the town. The pigeon made the trip of some twenty odd miles, from the 10th Corps Headquarters, in the same number of minutes.

Oct

17

1943

Joy and tragedy as Canadians liberate Italy


17th October 1943: Joy and tragedy as Canadians liberate Italy

the following morning Gerry Swayle and his platoon were told to occupy San Stefano. It was assumed the enemy rear guards had all withdrawn across the Biferno overnight and Gerry would meet with no resistance. I saw him just before he started off and told him about the joys of liberating Ripalimosani.

Oct

16

1943

The Germans hold the Dnieper Line


16th October 1943: The Germans hold the Dnieper Line

Russian infantry in solid serried ranks attacked behind a barrage on a narrow front, with tanks in support, and one wave following the other. Numerous low-flying planes attacked those strong-points which were still firing. A Russian infantry attack is an awe-inspiring spectacle; the long grey waves come pounding on, uttering fierce cries, and the defending troops require nerves of steel.

Oct

15

1943

A suicidal German counter-attack


15th October 1943: A suicidal German counter-attack

Minutes passed. It seemed like an eternity, although it was not long after mid-night. The seriously wounded Obergefreiter had become still and his breath was coming in gasps. I saw the white of his eyes glistening and felt his sound hand feeling for mine. Then a sigh was wrung out of the dying man. ‘Ah, Herr Leutnant’, he said. His head fell to one side. Again, I was shaken by a feeling of horror. Finally, I made off from crater to crater.

Oct

14

1943

The Sobibor Death Camp revolt


14th October 1943: The Sobibor Death Camp revolt

4:15, Oberscharfuehrer Graetschus, the German in charge of the Ukrainian guards, arrived at the cobblers’ shop to pick up his order. While Yitzhak held the Nazi’s leg in a firm grip, pretending to pull the boots, Arcady Wajspaper and Siemion Rosenfeld slipped out from the back room and split the skull of the Nazi with the ax. Then his deputy, the Ukrainian Klatt, entered, calling his boss to the telephone. He too was attacked and killed.

Oct

13

1943

Infantry attack across the Volturno River


13th October 1943: Infantry attack across the Volturno River

had orders to keep our rifles dry but they trailed over our shoulders. The three 2 inch mortars in their case were under water as I struggled to keep hold of the rope. Completely soaked we reached the enemy side where our pioneers and many helping hands pulled us up the bank. Sodden but relieved we formed up in a soaked, shivering long line. The enemy had left us alone.