War artist Edward Ardizzone, alone on the battlefield

A Bren gun team from the 2nd Cameronians, 5th Division, take up a position high up in the mountains, 21 November 1943.

A Bren gun team from the 2nd Cameronians, 5th Division, take up a position high up in the mountains, 21 November 1943.

The Sangro River November 1943: Mortar fire explodes among Allied armoured vehicles on the Sangro riverbed.

The Sangro River November 1943: Mortar fire explodes among Allied armoured vehicles on the Sangro riverbed.

In Italy the Allies were making their next big push, across the River Sangro, as they came up against the German ‘winter line’ of defences.

War artist Edward Ardizzone made a habit of getting close to the frontline, against orders, perhaps unnecessarily exposing himself to risk. On the 27th he took on rather more than he anticipated:

27th November Saturday

Cross the Sangro with two A.F.P.U. Sergeants at first light, not a shell as we cross. Gurkhas and an occasional Sikh with a white mule loom up at us through the half light on the track beyond. Walk for about a mile towards the first ridge, passing tanks disguised with branches and trains of pack mules.

Find an Indian Div. H.Q. in a farmhouse with a rather sad corpse laid before the door. Speak to a charming, grey-haired Colonel with whom I leave the two Sergeants. Then walk for what seems miles by myself in deserted country to find the 2 Btn. K.R.R.CS. I find B Company in a castellated mansion on a spur of the ridge. I am given a very pleasant welcome and spend an hour or so making drawings of the house and the O.P. on the top floor. Magnicent view of our bombing of the enemy position only a thousand yards away. Could see also the Sangro with our tanks and Bren gun carriers coming across and being heavily shelled.

Decide, rather against my better judgement, to go back and attempt the river crossing. A longish walk across the fields, then by a sunken path to the road by the first bridge where I found a tank stuck and abandoned. I see not a soul on the way, missing the path once which was rather frightening as I had been told to keep to it very carefully owing to mines. From there I struck the half-mile matting track to the Bailey bridge.

At the beginning I met a Bren gun carrier and anti-tank gun and two M.P.s who asked me to take a message to the other side that their telephones were dead and the track was being badly torn up. After this a solitary walk over the wire and matting across ploughed fields and by patches of young bamboo. Within a quarter of a mile of the river the whole area came under considerable mortar and shellfire.

Felt rather lonely and scared but nothing for it but to go on. Find three tanks, two Bren carriers with A.T. guns and men huddled under a slight escarpment by the river. Direct the carriers on the right track, then hurry over the shingle and Bailey bridge. Seem to be followed for some way on the other side by shells. Give my message at the Control Post and get to our schoolhouse very muddy and tired at about 1.00 p.m. A noisy afternoon with shelling and an occasional M.E. strafing.

See Edward Ardizzone: Diary of a War Artist.

After the Fall of Naples, October 1943: Jeeps Fording a River. Edward Ardizzone.

After the Fall of Naples, October 1943: Jeeps Fording a River.
Edward Ardizzone.

With the 8th Army on the Sangro, November 1943: Observation Post on the Top Floor of a Country House. Edward Ardizzone.

With the 8th Army on the Sangro, November 1943:
Observation Post on the Top Floor of a Country House. Edward Ardizzone.

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