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"In less than a month the orders came again 'Pack up' and this time again it was to 'set sail' and the destination was Sicily, landing on the beaches of Pacino. We were welcomed by the inhabitants who even helped us to unload our equipment! The village where we camped amongst the grape vines was very pleasant but we didn't stay for long and were soon back on the road. Chasing the enemy up the coast towards Augusta we stayed nearby on a small air strip on the slopes of Mount Etna, a pretty place, but we soon discovered on the lower slopes where the landing strip was located. It was infested with mosquitoes and they were the type that carried the malaria bug. Our sleeping area was higher up the slope, but it still had to have mosquito nets, but the little blighters got in anywhere! However, for all that, they didn't bother me much but some of the lads were bitten alive and had to report Sick with all sorts of fevers. it wasn't a healthy campsite!! We endured it for about a month and then we were ordered to pack up and move out. The road was pretty rough and took us towards Messina via Cattania Taormina -very pretty place. On reaching Messina it was on to another L.T.C. and across straits to Italy and landed at Reggio. Only a very short trip then we headed towards Taranto, around the coastline to Brindisi and Bari.
Everywhere was so peaceful and I remember well the miles and miles of apple orchards. The people who lived in these regions were very helpful and not at all difficult to deal with. It was reckoned we would be staying at an airfield just outside Bari but although we stopped and had a meal and stayed overnight, it was back on the road the very next day and we found our next call was Foggia and we did stay there. There was quite a large airfield there but our domestic camp was outside the airfield in a large olive grove which suited us. It gave us chance to get into the town more often. Not a lot there, but quite friendly. It was there that I met up with Arthur Slater on 178 Squadron on the airfield. We wintered it out at Foggia and a good job we did - it rained and rained and we were flooded out much of the time and were pleased when the Spring of 1944 arrived with the promise of good weather.
Fate stepped in and in early April 1944 I, along with a few more of the lads received postings - some local but mine was to the U.K. and then I found that Arthur had his U.K. posting also and we both had to report to 113 M.U. in Naples! It was arranged for us to fly there from Foggia. The flight was arranged for us, sometime in April/May and we were both there all packed and ready to go. We waved goodbye to Foggia. It was a good flight to Naples and after reporting in, nobody seemed to know what to do with us. They didn't want us, but we were given a bed space and just told to hang around and wait for instructions Well, after a week, we got fed up and on the point of rebelling. All we said was duly noted. We were then told that our ship had been sunk and we had to wait until we were found a new berth. After another couple of weeks we were put to work on re-building gun turrets Out of crashed aircraft which was OK as far as we were concerned, but as we had plenty of time on our hands, we soon used it to look around the area.
Often we got out and about into Sorrento and many other sites around the Bay of Naples, the vineyards and cellars where much of the Italian wines are grown and made. It was a great chance and we did enjoy it - spent many happy hours there and so the weeks rolled by and it wasn't until mid-October that we were given the news that new berthing dates were now available! The following day we were given the 22nd October as the sailing date.
That date came and yes, we were on a boat and we expected the boat to transport us to the UK and it did, landing us all at Greenock, Scotland. We were all hustled transport and we finished up at a dispersal camp outside Glasgow. Within a day or so most of us were sorted to a destination. I, along with about 25 more were soon on our way to North Devon and we were very upset, because we should have been going on leave as was our right. It was called disembarkation leave. On arrival at RAF Wrafton, we soon complained and we were told that our skills etc. were needed and could we compromise and half of us take leave then and the remaining half take when the first half returned. We accepted this and drew lots to decide who was to go first or second! It was during this stage that I realised that Arthur was not with us. He had been posted elsewhere. I would have to find him. Anyway, I went on the second and whilst I was on leave I received orders not to return to Wrafton but to report to Hawkinge in Kent! This suited me - much nearer to home so this I did at the end my leave. I proceeded to Hawkinge and found that most of the folk there were ones who I had left at Foggia in Italy and also Arthur Slater!! It was 451 Squadron and the date was January 1945.
We travelled the length and breadth of Britain - our aircraft knocking out the German Flying Bomb sites and his rocket launching sites. We went through England, Scotland and up into the Orkney Islands. It was quite a trip but as we worked, it came out right, as we knew it would from our experience in the desert!! After that was completed in August 1945 we thought no-one would need us any more. However, we were wrong, because suddenly it was the time honoured call 'pack up' and we were on our way to Harwich and another boat!! This time it was to Ostend and then overland to Germany and the date was September 1945.
Us boys from the R.A.F. must have had something about them, we were in such demand everywhere. We knew we were good and were proud of it and why shouldn't we be? I spent a good two months there until one day I was to receive a posting to UK, but this posting was to be my last. It was my de-mob and the date was about the 2Oth November 1945 I was back in England within a day and sent to the Personnel Dispersal Centre for de-mob on the 26th November1945. As I was owed quite a bit of leave I was sent home and reported back on the 13th January 1946. When I finally said goodbye to the RAF. I have to state that my time in the RAF was NOT unhappy. Some of the pals I met in the RAF were very good friends and comrades, like Arthur Slater, I tried hard to keep in touch with, and succeeded up to a point. Others I lost touch with completely because we all had our own lives to live."
Pictured left is The Lion. This beautifully, intricate, ornate carving spent years in the dining room sideboard drawer, it was ever-present and I, like my brothers and sisters before me, never really understood what it was or where it came from. Keith remembers it having pride of place on the living room mantelpiece when he was growing up at Balmoral close and then on the dining room window sill when we moved to Briar close. There was something about it that made it special and to me it always seemed out of place. It didn't belong in the sideboard drawer, it was far too special, perhaps it didn't even belong in the house. The last seven years of Don's life were spent in Bridlington, Yorkshire and during this time, away from the everyday pressures of life, I had the opportunity to speak to him about his mother, our grandmother, Sarah Ethel. His memories of his grandfather George Hollings and his early life growing up in Chingford where he met and married our mother Winifred. It was during one of these conversations he told me about his time in Sicily, the people he met there and his frequent trips to the local opera house where he acquired a love for the music. The Lion, he told me, had been hand carved by Carlos and given to him as a "Thank you" from the Italian people, a wonderful souvenir of his time in "Italia". He couldn't remember exactly where Carlos lived but Keith remembers being told that Carlos at the time was quite young, perhaps not yet in his twenties, that being the case adds another dimension to the gift, it is fine craftsmanship for one so young. Don couldn't or wouldn't explain why he was singled out, but maybe all the men came away from Italy with something similar, maybe, maybe not. It is just a feeling, but I think perhaps not.
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More information on the RAF Station Cardington Here
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