My father, born in 1911, battered by the depression and by war service, didn’t say much about either when I was growing up.
One of the few times I got him talking about his war experiences was after I came home from a Contiki tour of Europe which had included a visit to Monte Cassino, the Italian town which was the scene of a famous, but ultimately futile, battle on the Allied advance up Italy in 1944.
My father was a trooper (‘drooper’, he said) in the 20th Battalion and Armoured Regiment – part of the Second NZEF. He drove a tank, initially in Egypt and North Africa; it was a British-made Crusader with a 37mm gun. Useless, he said. Kept breaking down. Couldn’t handle the sand. Engine overheated, and 37mm was just a popgun against the German tanks with 75mm guns.
In Italy, he drove an American-made Sherman tank. Much better engine, better gears, and it had a 75mm gun which matched most, but not all, of the German armour – they had some Tiger tanks with 88mm guns, but fortunately for us, not that many.
The big clash of arms for him was at Monte Cassino. When I went there in 1980, I made a point of visiting the town and taking lots of photos. I showed him these on my return, and he became (for him) very animated and instantly recalled a series of incidents.
It was one of the few times he talked about his war experience. Very typical of his generation.
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