|Private Graham Swain
That's the closest I think, apart from one other incident at Anzio when I've been close to it as it were.
Tell me about the other incident.
Well the other thing was at Anzio with the Ox and Bucks, which history says, the Anzio bridgehead was totally under shell fire, no matter where you were, if you were a cook in B Echelon, there was no escape from shelling, and one night another despatch rider and myself, Eric Catton, we were detailed to move to a forward company with our motorbikes, and on the way a 'stonk' starts to come down so we abandon the bikes and go into this house. When we get in there there's 4 or 5 other people sheltering and then all of a sudden there was an almighty wallop and the house was hit and we were all buried. Then we heard shouting and people pulling the bricks and stuff away from us and Eric Catton who was near to me said, I looked up and there was this bloody great German paratrooper pulling the bricks off me and he said he thought we'd had it, but it transpired that the German was a prisoner and so all was well. As a result of that I copped some deafness and get a pension for it but that was the other real close call.
Tell me about communication and what sort of communication because visitors in the future might not be able to understand exactly what communication was like.
Well by today's standards it was absolutely primitive. There was a little tiny box set called a 38 set, which was supposed to provide communication between Platoon and Company Headquarters, a little tiny thing and virtually anyone could use it but unless you were about 50 yards away you could shout more than that. The main communication from Company to Battalion, which was important, was an 18 set which weighed about 251bs and it operated on a flat battery which was about the size of a 41b sugar cube with the commensurate weight, and as I said earlier, two of us would go out to a company and in addition to carrying the set and all your personal gear and your personal weapon whatever it was, you had to carry spare batteries because the longer you were on open net of course the more they would diminish. Now, provided you've got no hills or something in the way it was fairly good and they'd operate I suppose 3/4 mile perhaps longer, maybe more but that was the general thing, now that was OK. If you were in a static position it would also be your responsibility to lay a telephone line from the Company headquarters and we had a little portable telephone set called a Don 5 which was primitive compared with the German set because ours was battery operated and the Germans had one which had a magneto in so you always had a constant supply of high voltage electricity and towards the end of the war if any signal platoon could get hold of a German field telephone we did and use them because they were far more effective than ours. Then we would run the cable from the telephone back to Battalion Headquarters where there was some form of small switchboard and the Headquarters Signallers would operate this. Well of course, half the time as soon as you had laid a line down came a shell or something and busted the damn thing so you were nuked. Well it was a job then to repair the line and what you would do was go out and follow the line through your hand and you might go 30 or 40 yards and all of a sudden you've got an end, so you would tie a knot in the end so you'd know that was your line and then you would look in the ditch and if you were lucky there was only your cable there but if it was in an area which had been occupied for a long time, there would be 8 or 9 of these wires. You didn't know which was yours, so you had to put your handset on each one to see if you could get, some of them were broken further afield so you got nowhere but quite often you would get through to your own company, know that that was the one you were and then you would just join it. We had a special kit of pliers, insulating tape and all that, and you would mend it and you would turn around and it would get busted further up the road.
Can you describe when you were in Italy, tell us about your kit.
Every soldier had a kit bag and that was it. In there was all your spare things, personal things, but when you actually moved into battle you had a small pack on your back which had your mess tins, your little bits of shaving gear, and all that sort of thing, your housewife sewing running repairs, and then everybody, no matter who or what you wore, had pouches which contained, I think it was 3 Bren gun magazines, or in the case of signallers, we still had to carry the Bren gun magazines even though we had to carry our own batteries. Nobody carried our batteries for us, and then you had your entrenching tool or a shovel whichever you had at the time, and you had your personal weapon. At the beginning of the campaign we had an ordinary .303 rifle, towards the end of the campaign occasionally one of the operators would have a Tommy gun, a Thompson sub machine carbine, but they only took 30 rounds and if you weren't careful they were gone, so they weren't really popular and in any event when we were employed as signallers we hoped we wouldn't have to fire anything, but you had to take it with you of course. Oh, and your gas cape and your respirator, gas respirator, because one never knew, I mean they never did, but whether they were going to use poison gas we always had it and of course the gas cape was twofold because it was waterproof and we used it as a mackintosh, although that was strictly forbidden, but everybody did, I don't know what material it was, but it's similar to plastic. Your tin hat, your field dressing, which most of us strapped to our tin hat, it's a pack, in your uniform there was a pocket here for a field dressing which was a little 3" by 2" thing, but most of us had 2 or 3 and the spare one you would tie around your tin hat so if you had to use it well it was handy to get at. Oh, and your water bottle, don't forget the water bottle, sometimes it didn't always contain water, but it was supposed to contain water.