Topic: An Italian Workday by Hugh Harrison

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A WWII story by Hugh Harrison showing some entrepreneurial skills, a few German blankets and General Freyberg himself. Reprinted with permission from the 1998 No 9, 6th Battalion (Hauraki) Regimental Association Newsletter.

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6th Hauraki Insignia

Viv Lewis was known to us all as Lou. A light-hearted Auckland Art student full of fun and friendly to all. He was my appointed driver in the No 2 Bridging Train (seventeen vehicles) commanded by the 5th Field Park Company Engineers. The no 1 Bridging Train (Eighteen vehicles) were with the 7th Field Coy Engineers.

 Six bridges or crossings would go over the river Senio in the big attack. An hour behind the infantry, with the enemy only 1000 yards away, bridging sites and assembly areas were likely to come under fire, which they inevitably did.

After bulldozers had carved a passage through the stop banks the first two or three trucks would go forward to the bridge site. Swiftly and without bustle they would be unloaded and the bridge building commenced. The remaining trucks would advance as needed.  

On March 3rd 1945 we were part of a demonstration and practice of the methods to be used in the real attack on the Senio which took place on April some seven weeks later.

 After the practice Lou and I had to winch the bridge panels back over the stop bank and load them on our truck.

 We were last to leave but did not get far as the driver's side front wheel became bogged down in a hidden hole in the old battle ground. There was a bulldozer parked some distance away, so I sent Lou off to see if he could find it's driver. In the meantime, there was nothing else I could do, so I lit up a cigarette and leaned casually against the load enjoying the late afternoon sunshine and thinking of home. Suddenly, I realised someone was standing in front of me. It was none other than General Freyberg himself who was personally conducting the exercise.

 He summed up the situation in a glance and asked me curtly what I was doing about getting the vehicle mobile again. I told him I was waiting for the bulldozer to pull us out. He appeared not fully convinced and firmly told me that he was going into the nearby operations tent for a short meeting with the rest of his officers. If the truck was still there when he came out, he would be having another talk with me which I was sure would not have enhanced my "military career." What could I do?

 There was still no sign of Lou, but at the very moment I saw the General enter the tent I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was the bulldozer driver who had by chance walked around the end of the truck. He asked me if he could help. I said yes but there was no time to lose. In a few minutes the truck was again on firm ground.

Just as the bulldozer drove off Lou returned. He threw something into the back of the truck then climbed into the driver’s seat as if nothing unusual had happened. I asked him where he had been. He said that when he couldn't locate the driver, he thought I would sort something out anyway, so he decided to check out an old German dugout in the stop bank, he had seen earlier in the day. What he had thrown into the truck were "spoils of war not loot" Three dirty blood stained German blankets. That night he washed them in a creek and after they were aired and dried they fetched a pretty good price from some villagers.

 Lou handed me half of the proceeds which he said was because we were good mates and he was grateful for the way I had appeased the General by getting the truck out in such rapid time without him.

We had many more adventures with the Bridging Train in the next few hectic months, crossing rivers and other such jobs on our journey to Trieste and the war's end.

After coming home to NZ, Lou and I continued our friendship visiting each other at his place or mine, until sadly last year, as a retired schoolteacher he passed away.

Hugh Harrison.


The article archived at Perma CC in September of 2016:

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