Anzio battlefield after the breakout

The ruins of Cisterna, which US Rangers made a disastrous attempt to capture on 30 January (6 out of 767 men returned), photographed after its final capture by the Americans. A dead German lies in the foreground.

The ruins of Cisterna, which US Rangers made a disastrous attempt to capture on 30 January (6 out of 767 men returned), photographed after its final capture by the Americans. A dead German lies in the foreground.

Men of the King's Shropshire Light Infantry eat a meal before going into action at Anzio.

Men of the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry eat a meal before going into action at Anzio.

In Italy the Allied breakout from Cassino and Anzio was gathering momentum. Some units joined the pursuit, others found themselves paused before rejoining the battle.

Lieutenant Harold Mitchell had been commissioned into the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry but had found himself posted as a Liaison Officer with the Free French. Feeling that he should be more closely involved with the war he sought a transfer and in May 1944 joined the 1st King’s Shropshire Light Infantry in the Anzio bridgehead.

On the 18th May he had written home:

This is a grand life and I am thoroughly enjoying myself. Please don’t think I am saying this just to make you happier. It really is so. I’ve not been so happy since my early days with the Legion, and I wouldn’t go back to liaising on a Div. level for anything under the sun. I had almost forgotten what a terrific satisfaction Platoon commanding is. There is no job in the Army to touch it. You are the link between the idea of the C.O., Brigadier or Army Commander, and the men who carry that idea out.

He and his men were involved in the breakout battle from Anzio but found himself able to examine their defences after they had retreated.

On the 1st June he wrote:

The glorious first of June, and lovely weather with it! I’ve actually had a bathe today – took the company down to the beach. Nice to get a bit of fresh food — even though the meat is stringy and the potatoes taste of soap (‘I do like my food clean’, says TW, ‘But that is taking cleanliness a bit too far.’).

In the line one gets rather tired of the tins. Actually my Platoon had a bit of luck, as a shell hit the reserve dump of compo boxes, and scattered tins of every variety all over the wadi. I had a search-party out scavenging for tit-bits — salmon, marmalade, pudding, steak-and-kidney, and so on. The stores were written off as ‘destroyed by enemy action’, but we had them as buckshees and kept dark about what we had found.

I suppose the censor will let me say (what is in all the newspapers) that Jerry has been retreating. It was quite a novelty, being able to stand up in broad daylight in positions where previously one wrig- gled, crawled or crouched, to be able to stroll over and see where those posts actually were, which had been so annoying, to see what sort of field of fire his spandau had, to see just how near one had got when on patrol, and so on; to be able to stroll with impunity round landmarks which had been notorious hot spots, all of them nick- named with English names, some reminiscent of home . . .

We found a lot of our own boys, killed earlier on, lying where they had fallen, unburied, in corn that is waist-high. The odd German grave with ‘UNBEK. SOLDAT’ on the cross. A ruined house, smashed to rubble, with a child’s pram, painted white, spick and span in the middle of it. A dug-out that had been scooped out under a knocked out tank. All most entertaining and instructive.

Tailpiece: After a particularly heavy stonk, the guns quieten down. Dust and smoke are still in the air. Figures emerge tentatively from trenches and dug-outs. A voice, querulously: ‘To think my mother wouldn’t let me play Rugger because she said it was too dangerous!’

Love to all. Roll on that second front. It can’t be long now, and I dare say you’ll be glad when the tension of waiting is over.

This was the last letter home written by Lieutenant Harold Mitchell, he was killed by a mortar bomb very soon afterwards. This and other letters appears in Michael Carver (ed) Imperial War Museum Book of the War in Italy: A Vital Contribution to Victory in Europe 1943-1945.

The crew of a Priest 105mm self-propelled gun of 22/24th Field Regiment eat a meal beside their vehicle, christened 'Anzio', 28 May 1944.

The crew of a Priest 105mm self-propelled gun of 22/24th Field Regiment eat a meal beside their vehicle, christened ‘Anzio’, 28 May 1944.

Men of the 7th Cheshire Regiment, 5th Infantry Division's machine gun battalion, in a captured German communications trench during the offensive at Anzio, Italy, 22 May 1944

Men of the 7th Cheshire Regiment, 5th Infantry Division’s machine gun battalion, in a captured German communications trench during the offensive at Anzio, Italy, 22 May 1944

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