18 Battalion and Armoured Regiment
CHAPTER 36 — Florence—But not Quite
Florence—But not Quite
From 27 July, with the Eighth Army drawing close to Florence, Jerry began to dig his toes in. The whole New Zealand front was over the Pesa now, and was shaping up aggressively to the last defence line before Florence. Until 4 August, when Kiwis and South Africans surged forward to the very edge of Florence, the story is one of hard, bitter slogging, attack and counter-attack along the pleasant ridges running up from the Pesa. From Cerbaia, where 6 Brigade had forced its way across the river, one ridge sloped up two miles to la Romola; the second ridge to the left of this was crowned by the still smaller village of San Michele, not much more than a church and a double line of houses straggling for two or three hundred yards along the dusty ridgetop road. These two obscure little rural hamlets were in those few days to be written in large, permanent letters on 2 NZ Division's battle record. This was infantry country, with vines on the lower slopes and thick woods farther up, and on the infantry fell the main burden of the fighting; but the armour was there too, supporting the attacks, bolstering the line against Jerry's counter-strokes, working hard under difficult conditions, until the weight of the advance broke Jerry and sent him hurrying back across the River Arno.
This was the summer's hottest part, just before it turns towards autumn. Baking sunshine day after day, the nights very little cooler. Everything tinder dry, so that drivers had to take it easy along the lanes, for, as warning notices told them, ‘Dust brings shells’. Everyone went stripped to the waist, and torsos were magnificently brown.
The prospect of a few days' spell by the Pesa, then, suited the regiment very well. But it did not turn out that way. The misadventures of 6 Brigade on 28 July put a sudden end to that. Before dawn that day 24 and 26 Battalions, with tanks of 19 Regiment, penetrated deeply along the intervening ridge page 524 between la Romola and San Michele; then Jerry, counter-attacking with a vigour not shown for a long time, tumbled them back almost to their starting point. Anti-tank guns on both flanks wrought havoc among 19 Regiment's Shermans. Before midday a call for help had gone through to 18 Regiment, and at 1 p.m. C Squadron was ordered forward urgently. By 1.30, after a fevered scramble to pack up, Lieutenant Brosnan had 9 and 11 Troops on the move. The rest of the squadron followed later in the day.
That was 28 July. From then until 3 August 18 Regiment led an unstable life—Regimental Headquarters, A Echelon and a few odds and ends in the Pesa valley, the fighting squadrons disappearing forward one by one, perhaps to reappear after two or three days, tired and dirty, full of tales of hide-and-seek with Jerry among leafy lanes and fields where his bazookas and anti-tank guns were so desperately hard to locate.
During those few days the most straightforward, least exciting job fell to Brosnan's tanks. After dark on 28 July they groped their way up from Cerbaia to the Talente ridge on the right flank, where daylight found them looking across a shallow valley at Jerry's commanding position at la Romola. On 29 and 30 July, while 22 Battalion struggled vainly to drive Jerry from this height, the tanks were busy, pouring high explosive into la Romola, crumbling houses on the ridge where Jerry was almost certainly lurking, shooting up any traffic brave enough to appear on the ridge road. For a while everything looked pretty hopeless, as Jerry sat tight on his ridge and could not be shifted, even by fighter-bombers. But in the dead of night on 30 July 22 Battalion, with Shermans of 20 Regiment in support, launched a set-piece attack on la Romola, climbed the ridge, and early next morning entered the village. All day there was a confused struggle up and down the ridge, but Brosnan's tanks could no longer fire without danger of hitting our own men, and their usefulness here was ended. They came down from Talente and back to their postponed rest in the Pesa valley.
18 Regt in the Florence Campaign, 27 July-15 August 1944
This operation, by any standards, was a mess. The fields and vineyards round here were still infested with Germans, snugly hidden, well dug in and hard to shift. In San Michele were some 24 Battalion men and some Shermans of A Squadron, and on the next ridge to the west a group of German anti-tank guns was making life in San Michele sheer hell. The C Squadron tanks, as they moved on, fired at everything they saw; 10 Troop and the Staghounds tried to find a way to get at the offending anti-tank guns, but the only result was that Captain Tyerman's tank ran on to a mine and was then set alight by an armour-piercing shell. Farther west a Staghound was also hit, and retired from the battle with its turret crew dead.
Lieutenant Greenfield of 12 Troop takes up the story:
So there we were with armoured casualties both ahead and behind us and Jerry sitting on top of the ridge throwing 88 m.m. A. P. at us…. It was certainly an emergency…. There we were in a sunken road without infantry support and in close country with very little knowledge or information…. We exchanged A.P. with whatever was firing at us from the ridge but we couldn't really see what was there and every time we fired the muzzle blast raised a cloud of dust which obscured the shot…. Finally we were ordered to withdraw which we did with A.P. skipping all round us.
There was little prospect of this excursion being a success. There was one good piece of co-operation, when 10 Troop reported the position of an anti-tank gun and an A Squadron tank tackled it and put it out of action after a lively duel. But the C Squadron tanks could do no real good there. They pulled back to their starting point by Cerbaia, spent the afternoon there harried by shells—for Jerry had Cerbaia well page 527 ‘taped’—and in the evening were recalled across the Pesa in a tearing hurry to go into position for another ‘do’ next day. This time the Shermans were to stay west of the river and hold Jerry down while Divisional Cavalry made another sortie on the east bank.
This seemed a crazy move, typical of this crazy campaign. The six tanks set out at midnight with sleepless crews. Just before dawn Greenfield's tank went up on a mine at a crossroads looking down on the Pesa, at a place which supposedly had been cleared of mines. The Shermans then stayed where they were, two at this crossroads, the rest farther up the hill more or less under cover, and when day broke they began to make themselves as unpleasant to Jerry as they could, harassing the roads beyond the Pesa and knocking pieces off the houses.
All the tanks had a good view over the valley, and at first had a wonderful time, but this was no healthy spot, for soon Jerry opened up with everything he could muster. The two tanks at the crossroads were sitting shots. Both of them were knocked out by big anti-tank shells, and their crews eventually had to make a quick dash up the hill and over a crest with metal flying all round them. The other tanks took revenge later when they scored hits on an anti-tank gun and put it out of the fight, but still the day's honours were with Jerry. What made the tankies particularly sore was that, after all this, the Staghounds across the river did not even move that day.
That was the Shermans' last job on the left flank. When night fell the remaining tanks moved back to the rest area. After two nights with practically no sleep, the crews could have asked for nothing better.
San Michele, that tiny cluster of battered houses, was a focal point of 6 Brigade's fighting. It changed hands several times, and sometimes was a sort of no-man's land. It was the scene, from 28 July, of the Kiwis' most violent action since Cassino. Early on 29 July a company of 24 Battalion entered the ruins almost unopposed, but was then hit by furious counter-attacks. Four Shermans of 19 Regiment which accompanied the infantry were all put out of action, most of them in flames. At nightfall a few 24 Battalion men still had a precarious hold in the church crypt, but unless they could be reinforced the page 528 prospect was very doubtful. Without tanks or anti-tank guns Jerry could hardly be kept out, and 19 Regiment was now low in tanks and needed relief. So at 8 p.m. an urgent call went back to the 18th for a squadron to come at once and attach itself to 19 Regiment.
The Sherman crews, disinclined though they might be for hard work at ordinary times, could move fast when they had to. In less than half an hour A Squadron was on the move, and by 9.15 p.m. it was over the Pesa and had joined 19 Regiment at Castellare, near the junction where the San Michele road turned uphill away from the river.
This looked a hot spot all round. Shells were smashing into Castellare, and up at San Michele, according to Major Dickinson, ‘all hell had broken loose’. So far A Squadron had been too busy to learn what its sudden move was all about, but now the news went round that 24 Battalion had been pushed out of San Michele or most of it, and that there was to be a fresh attack to get it back. This sounded like one of those midnight moves that seemed to come up so regularly these days, and which everyone hated.
There was a lot of coming and going at Castellare as the counter-attack force assembled. A company of 25 Battalion appeared from somewhere; so did a few anti-tank guns; and Second-Lieutenant Speakman's1 troop of A Squadron made ready to join the party. About 1 a.m. the infantry set off up the road with the tanks following. In front of them 25-pounder shells were falling, making the night almost unbearably noisy.
Surprisingly, there was not much for the tanks to do. On the way up they frightened away a few stray Germans who were popping up where they had no business to be, and Speakman reports: ‘We accounted for at least one Hun, who attempted to mount one of the tanks to throw grenades in the turret.’ But San Michele itself was empty except for the handful of Kiwis in the crypt, a few corpses, the still burning remains of 19 Regiment's tanks, and a mess of gear and weapons lying higgledy-piggledy all round the place. The 25 Battalion men went through the village and established themselves at the far end, with the tanks and anti-tank guns in among the buildings not far behind.page 529
The previous evening 18 Regiment had been all set to relieve the whole of 19 Regiment. This emergency at San Michele put thoughts of routine relief out of everyone's mind for the night, but in the morning as soon as it was light enough to see the armour was on the move again, 18 Regiment Headquarters forward over the Pesa, two more troops of A Squadron up towards San Michele, the 19th back out of action with all its bits and pieces. By 11 a.m. these had all vanished, and the 18th was in sole support.
The early morning lull on the ridge was followed all too soon by another storm. From mid-morning poor little San Michele seemed to be the target for all the ‘hate’ the whole German Army could unleash. One man wrote, heavily underlined, in his diary: ‘Hottest spot of war.’ All day Jerry did his best to push the defenders out, stabbing from the front with vicious little counter-attacks, smothering the ruins with shells, bombarding village and ridge from three sides with mortars and rifle grenades. This was a day to try any nerves. Much of the shooting came from the left rear, on the next ridge to the west; Speakman's tanks, parked safely (they thought) beside buildings in the lee of the village, unexpectedly came under fire from a high-velocity gun not far away in that direction, and nobody could spot just where this gun was, though Captain Passmore took his tank over to that side of the ridge and gave all likely places a ‘doing over’ with high-explosive and armour-piercing shells. All the tanks in San Michele were hit and had various bits knocked off them. A Sherman from Regimental Headquarters, which had come up that morning with an artillery OP officer aboard, was set alight by the same elusive gun. Trooper Howard2 was killed and two more of Speakman's men wounded, and there were a dozen infantry casualties when a house in the village crumbled under the shelling.
Jerry had no monopoly of the war that day. A Squadron worked hard to keep him in his place. Two German tanks tried to get into San Michele from the north, but ran into a hostile reception from Shermans and artillery, and then from the RAF, which came over bombing and strafing, a skilful piece of work, even if a little too close to our own troops for comfort. page 530 Several times during the day the fighter-bombers were over, going for Jerry's high ground a bare two miles ahead, but this support, cheering as it was, was a bit haphazard because for most of the time the wireless link between San Michele and the outside world was pretty shaky.
By evening it was more than shaky, it was non-existent, for all the tanks' wireless sets were out of action. Major Dickinson came hot-foot up to the village, very worried at the silence, greatly relieved to find his tanks and crews still more or less intact. Hearing the full story of the German guns to the left rear, he moved the Shermans back to a slightly more sheltered position, for there seemed no sense in exposing them to the same thing next day.
That was a bad night in San Michele. There were rumours of more counter-attacks, but nothing came of them, which was just as well, for the defenders were in mediocre shape now, jittery and shaken by the shelling, hungry and tired, liable to shoot at anything that moved. But for the Shermans, whose presence put some heart into the infantry and tended to discourage Jerry, almost anything could have happened.
The fight for San Michele did not rise again to such heights. On 31 July the village was still an uneasy place, under constant fire, still dominated from the ridge to the west, with Jerry still close to the northern edge and still dangerous. But San Michele was now more or less a backwater, for the main action moved east to 22 Battalion at la Romola. Between la Romola and San Michele, too, 26 Battalion was slowly pushing uphill, and was now level with San Michele and still going.
At 11 p.m. on 1 August our artillery put over another big barrage, 6 Brigade attacked up the road from Castellare, and Jerry departed. When the San Michele garrison got up on 2 August it was no longer in the forefront, and everything was unusually quiet. The battle had receded overnight, and could now be heard away up on the hilltops to the north.
This night attack from Castellare marked B Squadron's return to battle after five days' rest. It was better off than A and C Squadrons this time, for it was fresh and it had nearly a whole day's notice to move, so that Major Stanford could go forward, make thorough preparations and tie up all details. page 531 At 9 p.m. B Squadron set out for Cerbaia and thence to 25 Battalion on the Castellare road. Some of the Shermans had six-pounder anti-tank guns hitched on behind, and one had a big 17-pounder, all with the gun crews riding on the tanks. A new idea this, intended to bring the anti-tank guns into action as quickly as possible once the attack was over, so that the tanks could retire, refuel, restock their ammunition, and have repairs or minor maintenance seen to.
This attack was a complete success, but not before the tanks had had a bit of fun. Just past San Michele Lieutenant Oxbrow's troop, which was leading, had a short shooting match with some Germans in two houses beside the road. While the shells were flying Lieutenant Collins's troop slipped past and pushed on to the shallow rounded hilltop which was the final objective. There was very little shooting, but by the light of flares Jerry could be seen departing in a hurry. On top of the hill was another German post in some houses, but even here the opposition was very half-hearted, and Jerry did not wait to discuss matters fully with the tankies. The whole thing had been astonishingly easy. The air had buzzed with the usual rumours of Tigers, but there had been never a sign of one. By dawn two companies of 25 Battalion were firmly on the hilltop, with Collins's troop right forward among them, and the other troops one behind the other, back down the road at intervals of a few hundred yards, guns trained forward. The anti-tank guns were unhitched and put into position just behind the objective.
At daybreak mortar fire began to come in from the hills ahead, and everyone was looking for a counter-attack, but none came. The foremost tanks had a few light anti-tank shells fired at them from the right flank. A little way down the hill in this direction Collins's tanks shot a house to pieces for the infantry, and also started a spectacular fire in the scrub.
Then, suddenly, round a corner in front of the objective, a Mark IV tank appeared, evidently not suspecting trouble, moving serenely along the road with its crew sitting outside. The surprise lasted only a few seconds; then the 17-pounder crew swung into action, and ‘fixed’ tank, crew and all with one shot at a hundred yards' range. This was pretty good evidence that the position was secure, and that there was no page 532 need to fear counter-attacks too much, even if Jerry was game to launch any more. A little later a ‘tank-buster’ also arrived on the scene to improve matters still further.
There was no counter-attack, but there was a slogging match that lasted all day. Though thrown off this round hill, Jerry was still on the hills to the left, where a little village called Santa Maria, stuck up on a high ridge, seemed to be the centre of resistance. B Squadron's foremost tanks kept up their fire, aimed largely at Santa Maria; the 25-pounders laid a smoke screen in front of the village to spoil Jerry's observation; our wonderful fighter-bombers came over and had a crack at it too. Life, in short, was made as distasteful as possible for the Santa Maria garrison. Collins's troop had a satisfying day, made more so by the fact that some of the boys, from the highest hilltop just ahead, could see in the distance the tall towers of Florence sticking up out of a grey haze.
After dark on 2 August the firing gradually died away; the last part of the night was unusually quiet, and next morning searching patrols found Jerry gone. On the Kiwis' right flank, after several days of hard slogging with little visible result, 5 Brigade had at last cracked Jerry's resistance and was heading for Florence. Now 6 Brigade found itself suddenly unemployed. At 11 a.m., the B Squadron tanks, their usefulness over for the time being, left 25 Battalion and went back to rejoin the rest of the regiment among the trees and vines just above Cerbaia.
The triumph and anticlimax of this campaign, when on 4 August New Zealanders burst through to the southern suburbs of Florence only to be pulled back into reserve just as they reached it, concerns 18 Regiment only indirectly. It was still sitting near Cerbaia, quite comfortable, if a little unhappy at not being in at the kill. When the story of Florence found its way back, the 18th was as indignant as everyone else about the way the Division had been treated, but this was futile anger and soon spent itself.
The last few days of action had been very scrappy from the 18th's point of view. It had had no cohesive fighting, only squadrons and half-squadrons away out all over the place busy with their own little battles. Casualties had been light page 533 this time, one man killed, sixteen wounded, five Shermans wrecked, a few more knocked about. There had been plenty of frights and some sticky moments. Luckily, the regiment had met no Tigers this time. Their great wide tracks had been all over the ground in places; 5 Brigade had come up against them farther east, but to 18 Regiment's relief they had not come into the fight ahead of Cerbaia.
On 5 August, now that the war had passed on, both halves of B Echelon came up to Cerbaia and the regiment had one of its rare days together. ‘The day passed by uneventfully,’ says the war diary, ‘and everyone enjoyed the spell.’ It was a very short spell, for on 6 August the tanks were once again on the move.
The New Zealanders, having been dragged back from Florence, were now to sidestep to the left and take over from 8 Indian Division and Canadian tanks facing the Arno River, which was now the front line. Jerry was holding here strongly, was in no hurry to leave, and had the bad habit of crossing the river and patrolling round at night. So this new job might well provide a little fun before it was over.
The regiment was now back in its own 4 Armoured Brigade, quite an unusual thing these days. The riverbank was to be held by 22 Battalion, with the tanks in support, spread out by squadrons in ‘gun lines’ for indirect fire over the Arno. They were also to be ready to see off counter-attacks, but, said the war diary in one of its flashes of masterly understatement, ‘this is rather unlikely to happen’.
This meant another night move, which nobody liked, but there was no option, as the roads ahead of Cerbaia were still in Jerry's view and dust still brought shells. The CO and the squadron commanders, with their ‘recce’ parties, were all heavily shelled when they went up to arrange the changeover. Regimental Headquarters went up late on the afternoon of 6 August and set up shop in a big battered house. The squadrons had to wait till the Canadian tanks moved out, as the roads here were narrow and twisty and difficult for tanks even in daylight. However, all three squadrons were on their way forward just after midnight, and before dawn they were in their gun lines and the crews were digging the tanks in. Before the Shermans arrived advance parties, Honey tank crews and page 534 others had begun this work, but there was still a good deal to do, for it was no mere token job. The tanks were buried in good big holes, some of them to above the tops of their tracks.
The squadrons were a long way apart here, B and C about two miles from the Arno, A Squadron farther back, not far uphill from the Pesa River, so that it could drop shells on the south bank of the Arno if necessary. The ridges were a little flatter than round Cerbaia, but still liberally covered with trees and vines, and the tanks were well hidden. The crews lived in bivvies or houses or under the tanks. ‘OPs’ were set up on the highest points that could be found, looking out over the Arno to miles and miles of flat country, with a dim line of mountains beyond. One of these OPs was in a huge monastery, full of refugees and occupied by artillery observers of all shapes and sizes; it was a perfect observation spot, its only disadvantage being that, as an outstanding landmark, it was one of Jerry's favourite targets.
The set-up here was very poor from the signallers' point of view. As there was a strict wireless silence to hide 2 NZ Division's move to the left, telephone wire had to be run from Regimental Headquarters to all the squadrons and up to the OPs, which took all day and used up every inch of wire the 18th possessed or could scrounge.
For eight busy days the regiment was there, and it certainly kept Jerry on the jump. Signa, a big industrial town straddling the Arno in front, was ‘stonked’ repeatedly, and shells were poured into the smaller towns across the river (all no doubt stuffed full of Germans), and on to houses and crossroads and bridges. In the first two days B Squadron had the joy of blowing up two bridges—this was a most unusual feat, and presumably demolition charges were hit, for the bridges went up with lovely big explosions which could not have come from 75-millimetre shells alone.
In those two days there was perhaps a little waste of ammunition, for the war diary says:
After hearing of the amount of amn that we are using Division became a little alarmed as to supply and from tomorrow we have been restricted to 300 rds. for the Regiment.page 535
This was the first time tank ammunition had been rationed, but the restriction weighed very lightly on the regiment, which had a good stock saved up. So Divisional Headquarters' orders were blandly ignored. ‘Five rounds rapid’ from all sixteen tanks of a squadron was quite common, and on 12 August the whole regiment combined to ‘stonk’ mortar positions across the river. One man commented: ‘48 guns with 5 rounds each on same target within as many seconds must have scared Ted’.
There was also a neat piece of work at La Lisca, on the south bank of the Arno just where the river takes a sharp bend. Here Jerry used to cross at night and man two houses, both in a little hollow and hard to observe from any distance back. Before dawn on 11 August a telephone line was run to a house only a few hundred yards away, and from this close vantage point Major Stanford of B Squadron directed A and B Squadrons' guns on to the houses, smashing them both badly.
Up here by the Arno the 18th did not have everything its own way. Jerry was very free with his shells, and put over some regular ‘plasters’, all squadrons getting their share. Every move was shelled, even a lone jeep sneaking along the lanes. The OPs caught it heavily. The telephone linesmen seemed to spend their waking hours crawling round the country mending broken lines. One stray shell on A Squadron killed Second-Lieutenant Doug Crump3 and wounded two others, but these were the only casualties. A few trucks and jeeps were damaged, one scout car was badly bent by a direct hit, there were a lot of bad scares, and that was all—except for the famous episode of Captain Passmore, who got a piece of shrapnel in his leg one day when a shell blew the front wall out of A Squadron's OP house, and that evening, visiting the RAP to have it cut out, was given a large mugful of Friar's Balsam in mistake for rum. The effect of this medicine was much severer than that of the wound. Captain Passmore was one of the regiment's best-known characters, and the story went like wildfire round the unit, gathering embellishments as it went.
These few days in the gun line, after the furious actions at Route 2 and the Pesa River, were anticlimax, especially as the page 536 Kiwis, according to the grapevine, were due to move out of action. On 13 August Major Playle went away into the blue with an advance party, and everyone knew that something was going to happen. Then on the 14th the order arrived to pull out the same evening, except for one squadron, which would hold the fort until the arrival of the Americans who were to take over the New Zealand line.
This was pretty short notice, and, as the war diary records, the squadrons had to ‘get busy to fire away small dumps of amn which had been put on the ground in their areas’. This was very satisfying, as the previous night Jerry had turned on an extra special ‘stonk’ and ruined everyone's sleep. It was, thought everyone, a fitting farewell to these Tuscan hills, so beautiful to look at and so vile to fight in.
B Echelon left for the rear that afternoon. At dusk Regimental Headquarters, B and C Squadrons and one troop of A Squadron moved out and groped their way back down the dark lanes on the Pesa's east bank, stopping for the night just short of Cerbaia. This first leg of the trip was slow and uncomfortable, the narrow road thick with traffic, the dust rising in choking clouds. The short move, less than ten miles, took about four hours, and it was after midnight before all the boys were in bed. During the night a few shells passed overhead to land round Cerbaia, but there was nothing near the tanks.
Next morning they crossed the Pesa and went on past their old battleground at Strada, through Morocco and San Donato, through Castellina (where 18 Regiment had first come into the Florence sector), and by peaceful hedge-lined lanes to its new camp, miles from anywhere, high up in the hills, in what seemed at first glance a pretty desolate spot. Here were open, straggly olive orchards and oak woods, scattered farms and tiny, rather down-at-heel villages, very different from the opulent Florence country with its mansions and well-kept farms.
The rest of A Squadron stayed in its gun line on 15 August and was relieved that evening by the American tanks; it spent the night by Cerbaia, and after lunch on the 16th it followed the regiment's trail, along with some of the recovery people who, as usual, had stayed behind just in case. By 4 p.m. it had reached the camp in the hills, and the whole unit was together, B page 537 Echelon and all, out of earshot of the guns, more than ready for a bit of leave and relaxation, and also (but not quite so eagerly) for refit and training for wherever the war would take it next.
Doubtless it would be in again before long, for Jerry's vaunted ‘Gothic Line’, the first really strong, prepared, permanent defence line since Cassino, was not far ahead of our armies, and it was a safe bet that there would be a full-scale attack to break this line while the summer weather lasted. So the boys had to make the most of every short respite.
Here in the Sienese hills, despite their uninviting look, the 18th managed to have a thoroughly good time. This was still the edge of the Chianti district, and there was a reasonable supply of wine. By this time, too, some of the boys had learnt the essentials of the distilling profession, and if the resulting ‘shudder juice’ did not have the smoothness of the best local brews, it had all their strength, and more.
There was very little to do round camp. The boys wandered round the lanes, and some of them got quite excited to discover bushes of ripe blackberries tangled among the hedges—the first of these anyone had seen since New Zealand. The local peasants were a bit stand-offish here, and it was hard to get washing done, which was considered a poor state of affairs, for the boys had become rather spoilt for doing their own washing.
As much leave as possible was organised. A lucky few went for four days to a leave camp outside Rome. The unit began a private leave scheme to the west coast, where eighty men at a time went for two days, camped in a pine plantation, spent their time in the lovely warm, clear, buoyant Mediterranean water, or strolled along the waterfront to the nearby town of Follonica, where the Americans had a leave centre with a real picture theatre and more home comforts than the British ever thought of.
And nearly everyone went to Siena for at least one day. Siena, eight miles from the regiment's camp, was now swarming with sightseeing Kiwis, but still had something to offer, lovely locally-made pipes, assorted wineshops, a magnificent cathedral, old paintings and sculptures for those whose interests lay that way. You could buy big, luscious water-melons quite page 538 cheaply there. There was also the skyscraper tower of the Municipal building in the main square, a landmark visible for miles, an incredible height above the town. This was the first of the immense towers of northern Italy that the men had seen at close quarters, and most of them made a point of climbing it, even though their legs were ready to give out before they reached the top.
In the nine days here, work took a very second place to play. In theory there was a full-time training programme for all hands, but after the repairs and maintenance on tanks and trucks were finished, the guns ‘T & A'd’, gear and stores brought up to scratch, nobody could bring himself to think very seriously of training. Even the big parade for Winston Churchill on 24 August roused only languid interest.
This parade was not really a success. It was very hot; the boys had to polish themselves up as they had not done for months, then ride five dusty miles in trucks, and line the road for what seemed an interminable wait, with no relief from the glaring sun, till Mr Churchill appeared, driving along with General Freyberg in an open car, with his big cigar and ‘V’ sign. Orders for this parade said, ‘Officers will salute, OR's will cheer’; but the cheer that rose was pretty thin, not through any lack of respect, but because Kiwis are not demonstrative and resent being made so to order. Anyway, it was too hot to cheer. So Mr Churchill passed along through largely silent ranks.
After this the next move came quite suddenly. A long move this time, halfway across Italy, back to the Adriatic coast that the Division had left seven months earlier. The movement orders arrived on 25 August, and that afternoon an advance party disappeared southwards towards Siena, while the rest were busy packing gear and painting out the New Zealand signs on the vehicles. After lunch on 26 August the soft-skinned convoy left, and at 9 a.m. on 28 August the tanks. Both groups met their 4 Brigade convoys on Route 2, two miles outside Siena, then headed south and east through Siena to leave the hills of Tuscany behind for good.