From a Rest Camp “Somewhere in Sicily”
My Dearest Olive,
I am writing this letter to you sitting under a lemon tree “somewhere in Sicily”. Above me, the hot sun beats down fiercely although it is tempered by a slight breeze and below is a huge vineyard extending almost down to the sea. It all seems very faraway from England and it is amazing to think that it is only just over three weeks since I left you.
I was not at all sorry to leave N. Africa. The heat, the sand and the flies made conditions most trying. We departed on Sunday (28 August 1943) and after a wait of about four hours on the quayside under a blazing sun, which almost shrivelled us up, we finally embarked. The two drafts had been split up: the RUR were all on another boat and John Glennie and I shared a cabin with an RAC officer. He has been out here for 2 years and 9 months. I seized the top berth by the porthole. We had quite a pleasant voyage – rather too short this time. The food was very good.
We disembarked at a port in Sicily and had a 5 mile march to a rest camp. It was certainly a gruelling march carrying the large pack on the back with two blankets inside, small pack and a respirator. However, we managed it alright. The town we passed through has certainly witnessed the ravages of war – scarcely a house has not been damaged. The local population seemed very friendly waving their hands and smiling. On the whole, they are rather a low type. Most of them seem very poor which is not to be wondered at, as it is practically impossible for them to obtain cigarettes and all the way along they were begging cigarettes from us. A lot of them appear short of food, and some of the children seem very hungry.
Conditions at the Rest Camp are very primitive but that is only to be expected under the circumstances. We are all camped in the vineyard under trees. The food simply consists of bully beef, biscuits and tea. The tea is something of a consolation – the best we have tasted since I left England. The biscuits are so hard that it almost breaks one’s teeth to eat. However, the small boys accept them with alacrity and eat them with relish. They keep on coming up and asking me for more. Last night, I could not eat them but this morning they tasted somewhat better, presumably because I was hungry. One of my men asked a small boy ‘where is Mussolini?’ and the boy grinned broadly and drew his hand across his throat. So I then said ‘where is Hitler?’ and the small boy promptly replied ’Italy’.
We joined up with our RUR friends here, but unfortunately it was only for a short duration because last night they were posted to a battalion of the Inniskillings. This was particularly annoying to Aubrey and McConnell who have been with these regiments for a long time. I had got very friendly with them – also O’Brien and Ellis – and it was sad to see them depart. It would have been very nice if we had all been able to go to the same battalion, but such are the fortunes of war. Glennie is still with me – he is a good lad and we get on very well together.
One of these bright days, a letter will come from you and I will be very happy indeed but, of course. even happier when I am back home with you again. In the meantime precious, look after yourself and remember I love you more than anything in the world. Keep cheerful and get out and about as much as you can.
Give Valerie some big kisses from her Dad.
Your devoted husband