World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

LT Westney 

The Port of Embarkation

By Actiondesk Sheffield

People in story: LT Westney
Location of story: Carthage & Tunis, Tunisia, Sicily
Unit name: Royal Corps of Signals
Background to story: Army

 

The Port of Embarkation

By
LT Westney

One wartime Sunday near Carthage, Tunisia, there was a lull in the telephone line laying activities of our unit of the Royal Corps of Signals. Recreation facilities were few and although not a Roman Catholic, I nevertheless hopped on to the Roman Catholic wagon bound for church in Tunis nearly twenty miles away. The Roman Catholics in the truck, a tight little community, slightly resented an intruder's presence and maintained a steady silence.

The journey did not take long however and I saw the Roman Catholics off into their nice little church before enjoying an adventurous little saunter into Tunis itself. The Catholics would go straight back to the Signals camp after their service, so of course I should have to make my own way back. I did not anticipate great difficulty in returning in the evening and indeed, no such difficulty did arise, but a setback was in store for me and quite an unpleasant surprise it was too.

A first look around any capital city enthralls and Tunis, with its Arabs, veiled women, churches, mosques and market squares, held even more interest than most capitals. I was well catered for too in respect of meals in as much as I soon found a NAAFI near the centre. Time passed quickly, interestingly, and after tea I made my way back to the road to Carthage to thumb a lift back to camp.

Early fortune was with me and a friendly Arab car owner chatted to me in quite fair English as he sped onwards.
I had noted landmarks at various stages of the way back and, rounding a corner, warned the driver that the field in which the Signals camp was pitched, was getting quite near. He slowed and, very soon, I asked him to stop. Not at the Signals camp but at a field that was conspicuous only for its vast and shattering emptiness. There was not a sign of a tent, vehicle, or even one soldier. Could it really be the right field? I looked around feverishly scanning every landmark. Yes, there was no doubt that it was the right field and that the birds had flown. But to where?

The Arab driver having commiserated with me in my very real predicament, went on his way and I looked around hopelessly trying to think logically. What if I could not track down the unit? Why, I should be classed as a deserter! Where on earth had they a1l gone to so swiftly, and so suddenly?
I tried to reason it out as I looked around. Across to the other side of the road was an American Army camp similarly situated in a field. It, afforded some little hope so over I went.

A short time later, I left the American Army camp, quite convinced that it was a "Salvation" Army as not only had I been given details of the embarkation port to which my unit had departed, but I had been plied with packets of cigarettes and chocolate biscuits, by well wishing allies.

It was now a question of whether I would be able to reach the unit before they actually embarked for Sicily. As all this happened around 1943, I have now forgotten the name of the Tunisian embarkation port. It is of little consequence but what was, of great consequence, at that time, was that I obtained a lift to the port almost immediately. I alighted in gratitude, raced down to the docks and peered anxiously around. There they were, large as life as ever, and all complete with packs, kitbags, rifles etc. I hoped they had brought along my tackle too. They were waiting for a troopship to take them to Sicily.

"You're on a charge," they said, in some criticism but in some relief as well.

A minor charge was of but small concern to me, considering that I could easily have had to prepare myself for a more serious charge if I had been less fortunate. Together with two or three other petty offenders, I was hauled up before the Commanding Officer shortly after we had arrived in Sicily.

I could not - and did not - grumble at a two day Royal Warrant sentence, which meant about four days loss of pay. That night a few tins of corned meat mysteriously disappeared from the Quartermaster's stores. I should say that the local Sicilians gained most from that action but my net pay deficit was reduced to nil. I had a quiet, reflective drink in a little Sicilian café next evening. First and foremost, I toasted the American "Salvation" Army camp which had saved the day.


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Traveling Down to Como

By Actiondesk Sheffield

People in story: LT Westney
Location of story: Lake Como, North Italy
Unit name: Royal Corps of Signals
Background to story: Army

 

Traveling Down to Como

By
LT Westney

In North Italy, up towards Switzerland lie the Italian lakes. They are all very pleasant , my particular favourite being Lake Como. I first went there in wartime, travelling down from Verona. It was towards the end of the war and I was the only soldier due for Italian leave. Duly ready and waiting at the appointed time , in that agreeable Romeo and Juliet city, I was staggered to find that a driver, complete with his three ton truck , had been detailed to take me the hundred and fifty or so kilometres across the top of Italy to Lake Como.

With my kitbag occupying just a very small area of the spacious interior of the truck, the driver and myself set off exchanging small pleasantries about three ton trucks roles in Army life. We stopped a couple of times for suitable refreshments before finally reaching Como city and the Army rest camp.

Como has pretty well everything required for a good holiday. It has a splendid unusual cathedral, good shopping and the summer climate is ideal for pleasant walks amidst sub tropical vegetation around the lakeside. If further and more varied shopping is required, the next main point on the railway is Italy’s capital of the north, Milan. Como is situated at the head of the lake and plenty, of boats depart from there to the other Lake Como resorts.

On one side of Como, high on the slopes towards the Swiss frontier, Winston Churchill used to have a villa and what an ideal spot he had chosen for his painting etc! On the other side it is well, worthwhile taking the funicular railway up to Brunate for the splendid lakeside views from the top.

From Como’s boat landing stage, it was possible to hire a rowing boat for the short journey across to the N.A.A.F.I. for a mid morning cup of tea. I rather enjoyed the exercise until a middle aged Italian lady with dark, expressive eyes told me, in most lugubrious tones, of the many men that the deep lake had claimed as its victims. She pointed down to the bottom of the lake. As enjoyment of my cup of tea was hardly enhanced by these grim warnings, I changed my cup of tea time and managed to dodge the Italian lady.

Now if the Army had been wildly extravagant in providing such large, wasteful transport to convey me to Como, it made up for it when the week's holiday was up. No three ton truck came to fetch me back.
In fact no return transport at all was provided, not even a handcart. In Como I had eked out my Italian lire with masterly organisation and financial acumen, so that it lasted the whole week.

I managed quietly for the next day and with still no transport arriving for me, then gave up smoking selling the remainder of my cigarettes to the local Italians. Next morning, with both money and cigarettes totally expended, kitbag on my back, I set off for the open road to hitch hike my way, back to Verona. On the way I saw the Italian lady. Or rather she saw me. That woman may have caused me a misgiving or two, but she must have had a fine nature. I never saw anyone look so pleased to see me. Her big, expressive eyes filled with thankful tears as I hastily retreated for the open road.

I was quite lucky with the hitch hiking, with the result that the Signals unit, of which I was a member, received a significant reinforcement round about tea time. In actual fact it appeared that no-one had missed me. My absence had gone entirely unnoticed. Later, in the unit office, I mentioned that a three ton truck had conveyed me to Como.

"What three ton truck?" They asked. I professed to see little difference between one truck and another.

"Who was the driver?" they persisted. I said I did not know his name but he had dark hair and liked vermouth. These gems of information were not considered particularly useful and I left the unit office wondering if I had imagined it all. But realism came through when I pictured the Italian lady with her big, dark expressive eyes. If only I could produce her to confront the unit office!

On second thoughts I don’t know though ...




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