War artist Edward Ardizzone takes Italian surrender

Troops Manning their Assault Landing Craft before the Landings in Sicily, Dawn, July 10th 1943

Troops Manning their Assault Landing Craft before the Landings in Sicily, Dawn, July 10th 1943

Edward Ardizzone was a remarkably prolific artist, drawing almost constantly. He had been appointed an Official War Artist in 1940 and had travelled with the Army in France that year. After North Africa he was to cover most of the European theatre, right through to Berlin in 1945.

Ardizzone was supposed to be travelling with the rear echelon in Sicily. Instead he had chosen to land with the 50th Division and had accompanied a friend throughout the campaign across the island as the fighting progressed. Sometimes he got rather closer to the front line than he might have wished:

Now begins our incredible adventure. Geoffrey, with enormous coolness and sang-froid and myself, slightly panic stricken, and both unarmed, capture the town of Taormina plus a Colonel and four hundred Italian troops.

Our route was through Giardini which was completely silent, deserted and shuttered, though one could hear snatches of conversation from behind the closed doors. Four very old men and one old woman were sitting under a tree but paid no heed to us.

We walked cautiously and slowly as there were many mines and there was every possibility of being fired on. Climbing into the town we heard a shot fired but as it did not seem to be at us, we went on.

Turning a corner we came almost face to face with half company of Italian infantry with Spandaus. We hailed them and walked up to them, asked for the Commanding Ofcer. A Tenente and Soutenente pushed their way through the soldiers, we demanded their revolvers, which they rather unwillingly handed over. After a minute it transpired that they thought we were Germans. When they discovered that we were English they broke into smiles.

The men cheered, shook us by the hand and offered us wine and food. Some rather dirty men and women with them. Frightful smell of shit.

We ordered the Tenente to collect his men and march them, disarmed, down the hill towards Giarre. Before doing so he took us to some large caves where there were some more of his Company, fifty in all. Surrounded by a mob of smiling women and children there. We then ordered the Tenente off with his troops and climbed some steps to an hotel, where we lunched in style on pasta and champagne.

In the meantime Geoffrey had sent a message by the hotel manager to the Italian commander, an Alpini Colonel, telling him to report at once to us alone with his Adjutant. I was on tenterhooks in case he should call our bluff and know more of the situation than we did, we had learned that he had four hundred men under his command.

To my surprise he turned up with the Adjutant. We told him that the town was surrounded and that he must surrender and ordered him to disarm his troops and march them away southward. Over a glass of champagne he meekly and sadly complied.

We then borrowed his car and, in company with the hotel manager and a comic proprietor of the Water and Electricity Co, made a tour of the town, visiting the Greek and Roman ruins. Passed through some barracks and ordered the men away.

Leave the car and were met in street by the Chiefiof Police and his two assistants, ceremonial dress, much shaking of hands. We give them instructions about maintaining order in the town. Drink Veuve Cliquot with them at the Police Station.

Demand two bicycles. Sundry characters, the violent anti-Fascist who burst into our room at the hotel, Madame Vanderveldt, supposedly Dutch. Drink vermouth at the canteen of a barracks, smiling populace.

Back to the hotel, our bicycles arrive. We gingerly ride off, threading our way past the mines, two Sappers blown up on the road, my back tyre flat. Have to lie down in the dirt when the REs fire a charge. Wade the river and arrive, half dead with fatigue, at the place where we had left the jeep …

This episode is undated in his memoirs. See Edward Ardizzone: Diary of a War Artist.

Battle in an Orchard of Almond Trees in Sicily: Morning of July 21st 1943

Battle in an Orchard of Almond Trees in Sicily: Morning of July 21st 1943

Forward Patrols in the Outskirts of Giarre, Sicily, August 11th 1943

Forward Patrols in the Outskirts of Giarre, Sicily, August 11th 1943

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