2 Commando, Salerno Aftermath

"As the No. 2 Commando War Diary states, the remnants of the unit, following the Salerno campaign, were redeployed to Catania, Sicily. For once they were not lodged in their usual dusty field. By some accident they had been given a roof over their heads in the shape of a former Italian barracks.

These happenings were unknown to the author who had been placed aboard a hospital ship and was on his way from Salerno to Tripoli in North Africa. The ship’s medical people quickly removed the shrapnel from both of my legs and efficiently stopped any incipient blood-poisoning. Both legs were clean, but very stiff when the ship docked in Tripoli harbour. Then it was off to the nearby Army General Hospital.

It was natural that the author’s mind was occupied by wondering what was happening to the Commando, and the plans that needed to be worked on concerning the return to No. 2 Commando. Meanwhile, much time was taken up by swimming in Tripoli harbour to strengthen my legs so that I could undergo the long trek back to the ‘family’!

Getting back to one’s unit from hospital was no easy task. In those days, as soon as one was discharged from hospital, any ‘other rank’ was simply put in a ‘transit camp’ and was subject thereafter to be drafted to any regiment that needed replacements. At that time, this author was definitely an ‘other rank’ – his commission was to come later in his career. So, upon receipt of his hospital discharge, and declining a kind offer of transport to the transit camp, he set a course westward heading along the desert road bound for the Libya-Tunisia border on what he remembers as the first stage of his journey ‘home’. What followed was walking, riding on farmers’ trailers pulled by tractors, riding in an ore hopper car on a narrow-gauge railway, sneaking into a covered R.A.S.C. lorry which only travelled about ten miles. But, ten miles was ten miles! And Ben Gardene, Souse, Sfax, came and went and the author found himself looking out at the blue Mediterranean from the Bizerte waterfront. Sicily and Italy seemed so far away. He had by his estimate, walked about a hundred and ten miles so far in addition to the distance covered by the various forms of transport.

The author’s contemplations were interrupted by an American M.P. in a jeep calling out something like, ‘How are ya!’ This good soul was from a U.S. Army Air Corps base nearby and he listened to my story of wanting to get back to my Commando unit. At his invitation to ‘hop-in’ I obliged and then was given over to the care of some of his friends who were crew members of a C-47 (Dakota) transport group. A clean U.S. set of overalls was provided for me, together with washing and shaving gear – plus cigarettes! At 6:00 p.m. that evening I was escorted to a mess-tent and served a meal of steak and canned potatoes, followed by canned fruit-cocktail! The next morning a pilot of the group awakened me and observed that ‘you sure were tired!’ After breakfast we boarded the C-47 and had a nice flight to Catania, Sicily. After enquiries were made at the R.A.F. transit office, it was established that No. 2 Commando was right there in Catania – I WAS HOME!

The Commando that this author had rejoined was very busy. Officers were off on recruiting trips as the number of available men had shrunk to 125 – all ranks. Other Officers had gone on travels to far-off places trying to locate our boys who had been wounded at Salerno, but had since been stuck in transit camps. Capt. Sam Jenkins swooped on a camp near Bone, Algeria, and snatched four of our boys from the clutches of the paper-waving, protesting ‘desk-warrior’ who ran the place, and added insult to injury by recruiting an Officer who looked like a ‘likely lad’ to Sam on his way out of the camp gate.

Our Colonel Jack, meanwhile, had signed up Major Ted Fynn to be 2i/c in place of Dick Lawrie, and having done this, decided to resume ‘training the hell’ out of us. A novel innovation comes to mind. Mount Etna is very close to Catania and Mad Jack decided to take advantage of its near proximity. Our leader ordained that No. 2 Commando would, that night, climb the volcano and would line the rim of its crater by First Light of the next morning. We duly climbed the slopes until we reached the summit. In the dawn’s early light, we found ourselves peering down into the crater. It was kind of weird, but – ‘ours was not to reason why!’

Sometime in early November, we packed up and went by L.C.I.s to Taranto, Italy and thence by train to Molfetta – a town on Italy’s east coast. At Molfetta many volunteers arrived from the 8th Army – Lieuts. Coyle and Parsons among them. Pte. Eric Buckmaster, who had been in the Commando for a long time, was joined by Pte. Stanley Buckmaster, his brother, who volunteered to join us.

Christmas 1943 came and went, and it was – next stop Yugoslavia in January 1944."

nb. The above  account is part of the overall history of No 2 Commando by Bob Bishop No 2 Cdo.


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