“Withdrawn from the line, the company rested in the rear areas. But there was no rest for me. I had the task of virtually re-clothing the company, as their boots and trousers had, like them, suffered. One day, I found myself with two crucial tasks: to sell the NAAFI ration and to collect trousers from an RASC store in a distant town down south. I left instructions for Jimmy Barrett and the other two sergeants to sell the NAAFI ration to the chaps. When I returned in the evening, they handed over to me the total amount in lira.
I asked them: ‘What about my ration?’
‘Here it is. Cigarettes, sweets, soap and razor blades.’
‘But I haven’t paid.’
‘That’s alright. The money’s correct.’
I looked in the corner and there was a whole case of beer.
‘Whose is that?’ I asked.
Unblushingly, they said: ‘Ours.’
I did not know what to do. They had done me a favour but had robbed their comrades. They had no conscience about it and probably thought I did the same. I explained that I had never profited from selling the men their entitlement and generally finished with a loss, as I let them owe me small sums. I could not return the beer. But, that evening, I went to their canteen and bought drinks for everybody, saying that, owing to an error, they had been slightly overcharged.
As I left, I saw Major Davies, who was visiting the battalion. He greeted me with a smile which turned to a frown. ‘Where are all your medals?’
‘What medals?’ I replied. ‘I’m wearing the Africa Star. That’s all I have had issued.’
‘But I thought…,’ and his voice trailed off. He appeared a little embarrassed. After such a poor start over a cup of tea, Davies had become a friend.
I was sent off to the town of Forli as an advance party. To get there, however, I had to go due south to Lake Balsano and then over the mountains to the main road which connected Pesaro with Bologna. I stopped at 5th Army Corps headquarters for the night. A good meal and comfortable quarters were given to me. I sat down in the mess and a completely bald-headed but young man sat next to me. I instantly recognised him.
‘Molloy?’ I asked. ‘Sully!’ he said.’
We had sat next to each other at the Oratory in the early 1930s. We chatted and I discovered that being a signal sergeant at corps headquarters had its compensations: a comfortable warm billet, a separate room with a proper spring bed, a sergeant’s mess with four meals a day and plenty of drink, although they sometimes ran out of soda water. I was told it was hard work as they occasionally worked late. I expressed commiserations.
The company arrived at Forli. I was called by E Company commander Major FitzGerald who told me that I was going on a two-week administration course at Benevento. I took the train to Rome and spent a pleasant day there in the spring sunshine before taking the express to my destination. Here, we were a part of British headquarters and were accommodated in a large building. The course was a doddle and I became friendly with two company quartermaster sergeants from the Jewish Brigade. It was a second convalescence.
FitzGerald had seen how ill I had been. One morning, I was entering the main building in Benevento when I saw the tall figure of Colonel Horsfall who had been wounded at Monte Spaduro. I saluted and he greeted me with a broad smile and an inquiry as to my health. We had known each other a long time. He had been my runner on the battle course in Norfolk in 1942, my battalion second-in-command and my commanding officer from Cassino to Trasimeno.
After Benevento, I returned to Forli to find the company occupying positions on the flood banks of the River Senio. George Charnick was back as E Company CSM after 28 days leave in England. I too had qualified for leave but had missed the chance due to my absence in Benevento. Charnick was soon transferred to S Company and Doug Meighan replaced him. Major Davies had returned to the company earlier with Captain Cave as Second-in-Command.”