The Forgotten War in Italy – 1944

Dad talking about the Second World War.

He was with the Eighth Army who landed in Italy in 1943 and worked their way up the East coast, the Adriatic Coast. The more famous battle was up the West Coast, the Mediterranean coast, so the advance up  the East coast was called “The Forgotten War”.

Here he is, 94 in the shade, telling soldier adventure tales. They had roared off in a Jeep looking for the Yanks. Then he goes on to talk about breeding pigeons. Like Darwin!

After pigeons he started moaning about his tenants, so I cut him off!


The “Forgotten War” – up the Adriatic Coast of Italy

The 8th Army continued fighting along the Adriatic coast; sadly this created the need for cemeteries at Ancona 1029 burials, Castiglione South African, 502 burials; Montecchio 582 burials; Gradara 1191 burials; Coriano Ridge 939 burials; Rimini Gurkha 618 burials; Cesena 775 burials; Medola 145 burials; Forli 1234 burials plus a cremation memorial for nearly 800 Indian servicemen; Ravenna 955 burials; Villanova 955 burials; Villanova Canadian cemetery 212 burials; Faenza 1152 burials; Santerno Valley 287 burials; Bologna 184 burials; Argente Gap 625 burials; Padua 513 burials.

Fighting along the Adriatic section of Italy was quite intensive and continuous from Bari in the south to Milan in the north. The CWGC estimate that the Commonwealth lost nearly 50,000 dead in Italy during World War II most of whom lie buried in 37 war cemeteries, and over 4000 soldiers whose graves are not known but remembered by name on the Cassino memorials. Almost 1500 Indian servicemen, whose remains were cremated, are remembered on three memorials in various cemeteries.

The purpose of this article is to demonstrate that the 8th Army had a difficult time fighting the Germans over very difficult terrain along the Eastern Adriatic coast of Italy.

german tank

The Mediterranean side of Italy was extensively reported on. Maybe it was because the American 5th Army proved to be more attractive to the news editors – or they had better PR?! More journalists? They certainly had more money.


The Canadians also fought on the Adriatic coast and have documented it here.



World War 2 – 94yr-old Dad reminisces


Dad was in the SA Signal Corps in the South Africa Defence Force (or the “Union Army”?). They fought in Egypt and Italy (in the 8th army – British). My military terminology will be found amateur and dodgy, but I’ll fix where I’m told to! Yes SIR!


SA played the Kiwis at rugby – “Springboks against the All Blacks” on Gazeera Island in Cairo.

The stadium was full so the latecomers climbed up lampposts to see. British MP’s tut-tutted and ordered them down “This is just not on, chaps. Decorum and all that” but they refused to budge: “This is important, don’t you understand? It’s the Springboks against the All Blacks!” So the Pom cops waited till the end of the game then hauled the Saffers off to gaol for the night. A civvie Egyptian gaol!

(After that whenever they met Kiwis in pubs a scrum would form as soon as the blood/alcohol levels reached an appropriate level. In Venice they scrummed each other right into a canal!)

Abdin Palace, Cairo, the palace of King Farouk. Dad drove (Major?) ____ there in a ___.

Polish troops in charge of grub. Carcasses hanging in a tree. The Poles had chickens and ducks for themselves. Where from? the SA troops wondered.

Always tea and sugar, even if nothing else. A Pom must always have ‘is tea (or char? Years later ex-serviceman Cappie Joubert used to call out “Coop a char ‘na boon!” – cup of tea and a bun – at our Sunday school picnics).

In the desert kites would swoop down on your plate as you walked. They also saw vultures & crows.



He went up the east (Adriatic) coast while the other ‘prong’ went up the west coast and some went up the middle in the mountains (“they had the hardest time’).


Cassino on the West coast. Monte Cassino the monastery on the hill.

Monte Cassino

‘It was still intact and should have remained so but the Yanks could not leave well enough alone and bombed it to smithereens’.

Monte Cassino bombed

Dad salvaged a piece of mosaic from the ruins, but isn’t sure where it is now.

The nearby Pontine Marshes hosted mozzies, and malaria struck down many Yanks and Poms maybe because of their lower immunity?

Making their way up the east coast (Adriatic Coast) of Italy in 1944 they got to the village of Lanciano where they bedded down in an orange orchard. On the way to the temporary mess in a cowshed, they had to cross an earth road which had a ditch running on either side. A landmine exploded in the ditch, killing seven of their men and badly wounding one Anderson, leaving his limbs barely dangling and his ribs exposed, but somehow the wiry trooper survived.

Went to Rimini

Lake Como pictures by V Paggiola salvaged somewhere. Two paintings about a metre wide and 900mm high.

Lake Como, by V Paggiola

Up North to Fano, where a Spitfire came back from a bombing raid with a partially-released bomb dangling below it. It was told to push off and go drop the bloody bomb in the ocean. It flew off and waggled its wings to dislodge the bomb over the ocean, thought it had got rid of it but returned too soon and dropped the bomb on the camp kitchen, killing five men and badly injuring a bolshy new kid fresh out of SA, Ginger Tidkin, whose legs got burnt in the petrol fire stoves used to cook the big pots of food.

Found a small forward-cab (cab over engine) Ford truck with a very short wheelbase which became Sergeant Dad’s favourite vehicle of the whole war.

Dad's Ford Truck2 Italy 1945.jpg

It could go anywhere and cross the steepest ditches thanks to its high ground clearance and very short length.

In Venice. In the pubs. Drunk. Couldn’t find Ken Morrison when it was time to go, but knew he was probably off with some of his girlfriends. Weaved their way back down rough roads and mountain passes in a 3-ton Ford truck with hooped rings holding up a big dark green tarpaulin cover over the back. When they stopped a comatose Ken dropped down from above ! He had been sleeping up on the tarpaulin all along!

They took the Ford off on an unofficial jaunt to Austria once they knew they were due to be sent back to SA any day soon! At Klagenfurt they were stopped and told “No Further!” “No papers, no go”. Dad approached a Pommy Brigadier who listened to his sad tale of woe and said to the border guards “Why are you giving these Springboks a hard time? Let them through! Here, I’ll sign the papers for them.”

On they went to Graz and Wiener Nieustadt. Ken Morrison and Jimmy Jardine went along for the ride.


Their time was ending, the war was over and they were due to be sent back home. But they were having too much fun! They had all the money they needed and much freedom to do as they liked. They approached Bullshit Bill Hearn, a Pommy (?major), gave him a very sad story which tugged at his heart strings and asked him to keep them on. He signed them on to stay a while longer and bought them eight more months in Italy!