Resting at Formicola

Division had found the most delightful place for a camp at Formicola, about ten miles north of Caserta and a good thirty away from the nearest gun. It was a really lovely valley and after a loathsome place like the barren and stenching slopes of Monte Cairo, it seemed about the next best thing to heaven that we had seen for a long time. Everything was green, crops were sprouting, the dark red clover was in bloom, the trees were all freshly in leaf and nightingales were singing. It was a good spot. The first four days were spent by each battalion in sorting themselves out. When this was over, they started in turn to carry out a comprehensive programme of battalion exercise, which had drawn up by Division.

One sound clause about this training programme was that it was not to interfere with people’s leave. The Sorrento peninsula was very popular at this time of the year. Division had organised a very excellent leave camp for all ranks near Amalfi. It was in a delightful situation and everything was laid on that could be including the local signorinas, who came to dances. I am told they were well chaperoned. Those that did not visit the Divisional Rest Camp went for seven days to a rest camp at Bari, also a pleasant spot, but I would have preferred Amalfi at that time of the year. There was a certain amount of individual enterprise too. Some officers paused in Naples for a while, quite illegally I believe, others travelled about in the Sorrento area. I found a caravan was a very acquisition for a holiday of this sort. This leave did all a power of good and we returned to the fold well refreshed and ready for everything that was on. It was fairly obvious to all of us that there would be plenty on.

While I had been away, the Army Commander had what was referred to as his ‘Malaria’ conference at which he explained the outline plan down to COs.

The Pipe Band performed a certain amount in this area and gave quite a good show almost as soon as we got out of the line. They were also invited to play out by other units. On one occasion, they were invited to perform before Kendal Chavasse’s 56 Recce Regiment. The invitation can come through Division. I naturally assumed that Kendal had laid this on as it was the sort of thing a Faugh might do. I decided to go there myself as well. When I arrived, Kendal seemed slightly disconcerted and his confusion increased when an irate lady set upon him and me because the Pipers, who had started to de-bus at the canteen were moved on to some more appropriate football field. She asserted in round terms that she had ordered the Pipers through Division to come and play outside her canteen for the whole evening. The big idea seemed to be that they should sit around in a happy circle and play continuously for about three hours. The fact that our Pipe Band does not perform like that was a matter of no consequence to her at all. Kendal was so overcome by this lady’s dominating attitude that I really thought at one moment that he was going to beg me to accede to her wishes. It transpired then that Kendal had only found by accident, just in time, that the Pipers were even coming at all. His soldiers had been kept rather in the dark both on the matter of time and place. However, it was a lovely evening and we did not mind a bit. We waited until all were ready and then gave quite a good exhibition. The canteen lady had taken umbrage and declined even to put her head out through the window to see what was going on. It was all very funny but I felt rather sorry for Kendal.

We had a very good party one night with the Band at our 152 Field Ambulance. After listening to the performance, they gave a very pleasant party in their mess. It closed in a variety of ways, foursomes in jeeps making frequent pauses on their way home seemed to be the order of the night. The technique of the Pipe Band was improving and dancing was beginning to feature in the programme.

During our Volturno training in March, we had had a few TEWTs (Training Exercises Without Troops) with 16/5 Lancers and we were beginning to get to know each other. Here, we had the opportunity of training with them in the flesh, if one can call a Sherman “the flesh”. The initial training and getting to know each other, which we did with this excellent regiment, laid the foundation stone for what happened later on in battle, not only with them but it gave us clues for dealing with others.

We had to leave our delightful village to think about more important things and then go off to do them on the 10th of May. We had had a longer pause and better leave than we had dared to hope for. It set everybody up mentally and physically and put them in the best possible fettle for the next phase, and so we left this place in the evening, sorry to go, but grateful to it and hoping one day to see it again.

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