All posts tagged Sicily

Wed. Nov. 17. 8.30. a.m. [1943]

Very squally again this morning but I hope not quite so cold. It was “perishing” yesterday. It came a very snowy sleet shower about 4.30. to 5 and on the sea-bank in shade of a bramble-bush sat or rather stood, a beautiful pheasant. I was putting up black-out curtain and saw “the Sprogg” run across the lawn and creep up the fence so wondered what he saw and it was that. Its feathers blended so well with the grass and leaves that it was only when it shook its head or turned it that it could be detected. I stood and watched it some time, with “my mouth watering”, but alas, even if anyone had been here with a gun, it was no use, for the bird was in the middle of the mine-field! Sprogg crept quietly along the road and the last I saw of him was when he was starting up the sand-hills. I don’t think he had much chance of catching the bird, especially as he went up the wind side of it. I looked out a bit later and it was gone. I hopefully scattered some bread on the lawn as I have seen signs there sometimes of its presence.

Rene washed at “Bev.” ['Beverley'] yesterday. I may have a few things washed to-day if it is reasonably fine. Must wash hankies in any case. Father was on watch at 12 noon yesterday so we had early dinner. Then before Rene came for hers I changed sleeves of my A F [air force] Blue cardigan so that the elbow wear would come in a different place. They look so well that I am wondering if they were put in wrong the first time, as they were made for left and right! Usually they are both alike. I saw the idea in a book or paper and thought it very good as my cardigan was very thin at elbows in fact. I had to darn underneath one tho’ not in actual holes. Did two patterns on my new one and think found where I make mistake in patterns. It is a teaser or I am a bit stupid I think, and it is very difficult to alter mistakes in it. Think Jean’s green skirt will turn out alright but I was rather foolish to cut it out when I was so seedy as I have got it about 6 inches too long. I can cut it off but the piece left might have been more use in one piece.

Had a nice letter from Ron yesterday dated 10 Oct so not so bad. Says he likes to go in the churches they are so quiet and peaceful. It seems strange to think of him being able to go a two hours ride to a town in a country at war. It is good to think he is well away from the fighting line. He does not seem so hard-worked at the time of writing, and says it was a lovely day, everything drying up after the rain (I am afraid they’ve had a lot more since then) and he was sitting outside writing his letter. His letter was quite cheerful, but somehow I feel he was very homesick when writing. It is really nothing in his letter, but the tears came to my eyes as I read of his liking to visit the quiet churches, as they seemed so peaceful and he could think of home. I should think the lack of privacy, and leisure to think and be quite alone is as trying sometimes as too much solitude.

After being based for two months in Sicily with his RAF Spitfire squadron, Ron and his unit had moved on to mainland in Italy in late September 1943. He had been in Battiplagia, Salerno, about 65km from Naples, for about two weeks when he wrote the letter on 10th October.

Have you read an introduction to May Hill & family (includes photographs) and explored ‘The Casualties Were Small’?

Mon Oct. 25th 8.20 A.M [1943]

A thick fog this morning and rather cold at present. Hope it clears as I told Rene we would wash. So far I have done no Autumn cleaning and it’s time I did. We had another letter from Ron 16th Oct written on 2nd and Emmie one dated 6th so it is nice to be up to date again. He sounds very cheery in all of them. I wrote him a long letter last night and enclosed a 1944 calendar. We are sending a parcel this week for his birthday, Nov 26, and Xmas. We, at least, Rene got a nice leather writing case, a small one, at Sk[egness]. It has no zip but is very soft leather lined Kid. It cost 17/11. It won’t take up much space in his kit which is the main thing and will just keep his unanswered letters together and perhaps a snap or two. Emmie’s gloves have arrived, she is very chuff and she says he has bought Xmas presents for us all. Do hope they come safely. He is sleeping in a little bivouac tent now with Roy Paget his pal. Hope they have better billets for the winter as I think the nights are very cold. Says there are a lot of little lizards, very pretty and quite harmless which go like quicksilver when disturbed.

Mr Wilkinson A.R.P.W [air raid precautions warden] came for his [Ron’s] address on Friday. The B[ritish] Leg[ion] is sending parcels. It is over a year since we saw Ron. I can still see the train pulling out with Ron waving from a carriage window, and how I felt as if he was taking a part of me with him, feeling as if I must strain my eyes for as long as I could see him, knowing it might be that it was the last sight of him we should ever have. Emmie did get to Peterboro’ for a few days and he got to Yea. for a few hours. It is a year since the tide turned for us at Alamein and we won that first big battle on the borders of Libya and Egypt. Godfrey Talbot described it on Radio and the white cloud on the desert of 600 white crosses. Now 800 more British have laid down their lives in Italy in just over a month, more than that because that is only 5th Army and then there has been all the fighting in Africa and Sicily. It is a mad, bewildering, world.

Keith and Marian are here, it would be a sad homecoming, the first since Raymond’s death was reported.

“He sleeps where Southern vines are dressed
Above the noble slain.
O’er him the myrtle showers its leaves
By soft winds fanned.”

Roy Paget was Ron’s RAF friend in his unit in North Africa and Italy.

Mr Wilkinson, here, was very probably the retired policeman, Jack, the father of ‘Spitfire Ace’ Royce Clifford Wilkinson (see 29 May 1943). He used to recount his son’s exploits to Joe Kirk and fellow drinkers in the tap-room of the ‘Vine Hotel’ (see Village Map).

Godfrey Talbot was one of the best-known BBC war-correspondents.

The ‘Southern Vines’ epitaph was based on lines, slightly changed, from two verses of ‘The Graves of a Household‘ by Liverpool-born poet Felicia Dorothea, née Browne, Hemans (1793-1835). May had copied the original into her ‘Poetry’ exercise book when a pupil at the village school.

Have you read an introduction to May Hill & family (includes photographs) and explored ‘The Casualties Were Small’?

Thurs Sep 23 8’oc. P.M. [1943]

Have just added last few lines to my poem which I call for the moment, “The little house”. It is almost a week since I wrote most of it instead of in my diary. P.C. Coates has just called. I wonder what he is after. He was enquiring about something to do with Mr Moore (Ki. Moore). Said he had a list of his patients and Mr and Mrs Hill were named. I think we ought to have notice of questions and visits but still I only told him truth, if I gave the wrong answer I can’t help it, we don’t owe Moore anything. I told him the only dental treatment we had from him was, that he made Father a set of teeth some years ago. Can’t remember when. Think before the war but not sure.

There is a continual rumble of planes going out. There were a few planes over here last night and bombs dropped. I don’t know how near but I slept well. Father is patrolling so I am not so nervous. Churchill is back. War seems to be going in Allies’ favour all over now. We won the day at Salerno and 8th Army joined 5th much quicker than they expected, but I am afraid there has been a lot of lives lost and maimed. We had an A.M. [airmail] letter from Frank Adams to-day. We are pleased to hear that he is safe and not in Italy so far, at least he was in Sicily on Sep 6. We were pleased to get it but disappointed that it was not from Ron. Also we wonder if Ron has moved as it is over a month since the date of Ron’s last letter unless Emmie has had another. Frank said he could get to a town and that they were getting things normal and ship-shape again very quickly there. He had bought silk stockings and silk underwear set for Sybil and sent home. I hope it arrives safely. I must write to her, she will be relieved that he is not in Italy just now. We all feel better for knowing he’s safe, but it has made us wonder more than ever if Ron has moved again. We had several letters last week-end but they were all old ones, we had already had the newest one dated 17th. They cheered us up at first, as they were very cheerful letters. He seems to be more settled now as if he had got used to being away and we can get used to most things and it is a little easier then. However that has passed and we are anxiously awaiting a letter from him.

‘The Little House’ (or ‘The Little Home’) was almost completed on 17th September 1943.

Police Constable Coates was NOT the regular local officer. The policeman for Hogsthorpe and Chapel St Leonards was PC Fenn, father-in-law of Grace, née Clowes, Fenn who was a member of WRNS at ‘Royal Arthur’.

‘Kimoor’ was a bungalow, opposite ‘Sunny Side’ (see Village Map), named after the wife of dentist, Mr Moore.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill arrived back in Britain on the battleship ‘HMS Renown’ following an extended stay in Canada and the USA. He had been attending the top secret First Quebec Conference with US President Franklin D Roosevelt and host Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King.

In the Allied invasion of Italy, the British 8th Army, Montgomery’s ‘Desert Rats’, and US 5th Armies had joined forces at the Salerno bridgehead, from which the Germans withdrew.

Have you read an introduction to May Hill & family (includes photographs) and explored ‘The Casualties Were Small’?

Mon Aug. 30. 8.40. a.m. [1943]

Jean and Father have departed. I am not working to-day. Rene will probably collect Red + pennies and we will wash tomorrow. Wrote a long letter to Ron yesterday and went to Chapel evening service. Tom preached. He is a good preacher and gives the impression that he has spent time and thought on his preparation. Mary and C[harles] were there. M. looks and sounds worn out with sorrow. We are not wearing black. M of course was in blk with white blouse. I hope she won’t think it heathen but I resolved long since that I would only go in blk for anyone very near and then only for a short time. There is scarcely a home without loss and if all wore black it would have a very depressing effect and that is the last thing that we need.

Tom gathered blk.berries and gave them to Jean to take to school for jam for winter puddings. Mr. Sp[endlove] says the jam allowance is totally inadequate for school dinner but that the Gov[ernme]nt would let them have sugar if children brought fruit. It is very windy this morning and is just coming a shower. I expect Ron would like to see it. He says he understands now why the poets write of England’s green and pleasant pasture lands. We had letter from him on Sat. date July 23, and airgraph Aug 11, so had been delayed. Think he would be in Malta then. He had collected bits of wood to make a frame to keep his bed off the ground, tho’ it would not be comfortable. Says he has almost forgotten what its like to sleep on a proper bed. Poor boys, they remind me of little motherless children, tho’ I know they are full of resources and by no means as helpless as we are apt to think them. Father is coming off box at 11 to go to station.

Russians are keeping up their advances well. Trouble seems to be boiling up in Denmark and Sweden now. Danes are getting tired of the German yoke which presses ever more heavily. Danish king is kept a prisoner in his palace. Swedes are being severely reprimanded by Ger. press for their own press’s way of discussing the war. I have seen the last few sheaves of a fodder stack thrown out sometimes and the mice, which hitherto the cat has been able to catch one by one and devour, run out in all directions. The cat is so bewildered that most of them get away. Well I think Hitler is getting nearly to that, but I think he will be fortunate if he gets away. I rather think the mice will continue and rend him. Summer seems to have slipped away with our hour of D[ouble] summer time. These last few days have felt very like Autumn, a damp close atmosphere that depresses one. Let’s hope we have a month or six weeks of golden Autumn days yet before winter. It is not Sep. yet so we could get two months fine weather yet. It was open weather until Xmas last year.

Mary and Charles Hill were in mourning for their son Raymond, recently reported lost in action (see 24 Aug. 1943).

Ron had in fact already been moved from Malta to Sicily on 20th July.

Have you read an introduction to May Hill & family (includes photographs) and explored ‘The Casualties Were Small’?

Tue Aug. 24 8.20 A.M. [1943]

Over a month since I wrote in my diary. The long light days don’t seem to allow time for writing except for letters and I seem to get more and more to answer these days. Also, Emmie has been 2 weeks Wed. Aug 4 to Thurs 19. She was under Dr. and thoroughly run down but improved wonderfully with rest and sea air. I got out with her as much as I could and enjoyed it. Had a letter from her yesterday. Says she gained 3½lbs. and had been taken off the panel. Hopes to go back to work after this week, which she is spending with Joan Smithurst at Windermere.

Emmie at  'Beverley' - August 1943

Emmie at ‘Beverley’ – August 1943

Sicily has been in our hands some little time and we seem to be preparing to land in Italy unless they capitulate. Mussolini has reached the bottom and resigned. A good while since I said he was at the top of the arc and would for the future be coming down (as a shell from a gun goes up so far then falls to its level) and it has proved so. Ron was in Sicily on Aug. 5 and presume he still is. He had gone from N.A. via Malta and had some days there when he got a few nice swims. He seems to enjoy swimming in Med. I sincerely hope he did not mean he had to swim, but he says so little.

We have lost Raymond. He was killed in action on July 11, 2 days after the first Sicily landing. We think he was there. News came Aug 11. It is a great blow to us all. He had been on Mary’s mind lately a great deal, and the shock is great to them. I think he would be 26. Emmie, Rene, Jean and I went to Mary’s to tea two days before the news and she showed us his last photos and we talked of all the boys. He was a fine, good boy, a good son and brother and now he has gone with many a hundred more.

“The little leaping lad of days that were
Somewhere alone amid the wrack of war.”

When I came from taking Emmie to Will[ough]by on Thurs. and saw the fields of corn all ready for leading, such bounteous crops and all the peaceful countryside, I thought of all the sacrifice that had been made to keep it for us and prayed that we might try to be worthy of it. Down here we know so little of the great sacrifices people even in England are making and we have had none of the terrible sufferings a lot of them have had. Just a few scares and “near misses” as they say in the papers, but so far no one even injured in our little village, tho’ two girls have been hurt at their work away from home. Certainly we are all living under a certain amount of strain and anxiety. I seem to feel a dull heaviness now when I think of Ron, a little fluttering fear creeps in. I do not seem to dare to look forward to the end of the war, there will be so many gaps in our numbers, Hugh Green, Tony, Ken and Raymond. If Ron should go we have no other son.

News of the recapture of Kharkov by Russians on the wireless this morning, Stalin keeps determinedly out of war talks. Winston and Roosevelt are in Quebec discussing situation. Finns trying to start negotiation for peace with Russia. Japs being pushed back. Woodhall Spa was smashed badly last week, 2 land mines dropped and caused a lot of damage, few casualties.

The photograph of Emmie was taken in the garden of Rene’ and Tom’s bungalow in Sunningdale Drive, Chapel St Leonards (see Village Map).

Raymond Hill was 26 when he died in action on 11th July 1943 as an army private serving in the Northamptonshire Regiment, 2nd Battalion. His official memorial is at Syracuse, Sicily and he is honoured on the Chapel St Leonards village memorial. (Some information from Commonwealth War Graves Commission Casualty Register.) May’s epitaph was probably inspired by AE Housman’s work A Shropshire Lad.

‘Leading’ refers to leading the horse-drawn wagons loaded with sheaves of corn, from fields to farmyard.

Kharkov in the Ukraine was first recaptured by the Russians in February 1943, re-taken by the Germans in March and again recaptured by the Russians in August.

Woodhall Spa had a bomber airfield. The ‘Petwood Hotel’ in the town had been requisitioned by the RAF and was used as an officers’ mess for 617 ‘Dambusters’ Squadron after it moved to nearby RAF Coningsby from Scampton in August 1943 (and later to Woodhall airfield).

Have you read an introduction to May Hill & family (includes photographs) and explored ‘The Casualties Were Small’?

July 23/ 43.
The Captive.

All’s over then, the battle lost, and I

A “prisoner of war” in Alien hands.

My misery, and sorely wounded pride too deep for tears or words.

I sit and watch their reinforcements landing on my native soil.

My aching wounds and heavy heart,

In deep despair, await the order to embark,

And sail away in a prison ship to a prison camp.

Oh! Little home, I see thee now,

My wife and dark-eyed baby girl and little son,

Receding from my sight for many a day.

I leave thee now and I must wait,

In impotence, with idle hands,

While war’s deep waves roll ever nearer thee;

And haply may engulf thee in its tide.

I speak no word, I cannot. Deep despair

Has fallen on me, body and soul are one great mound of poignant misery.

Soon, I shall rise and lift my heavy load, to bear it like a man but now,

I watch the conquering foe come in.

My heart is bleeding inwardly, I see there go,

Lost hopes, lost battle and most bitter blow, lost liberty.

My cup of woe is full, I live not, but endure.

‘Italian, Captive and UNhappy’ in the Daily Mail, Friday July 23rd 1943.

‘Italian, Captive and UNhappy’ in the Daily Mail, Friday July 23rd 1943.

Following their victorious North African campaign, the Allies had turned their attention to Italy. May’s son Ron was  amongst many RAF and other military personnel who were transferred from North Africa to Italy.

‘The Captive’, an original draft, was inspired by an item ‘Italian, Captive and UNhappy’ in the Daily Mail, Friday July 23rd 1943.

The poem has been added to the poems collection on this site. It also appears in the book The Casualties Were Small which contains over twenty of May’s poems as well as selected diary extracts, including those which suggest the background to each poem, accompanied by many nostalgic photographs.

Have you read an introduction to May Hill & family (includes photographs) and explored ‘The Casualties Were Small’?

July 13. 2. a.m. [1943]

Father has just gone on watch and Jean is nearly asleep on couch. I had heard planes about for a long time and felt in my bones they were hostile. Then round about 1 o’clock DST [double summer time] I heard the guns. Very heavy so at last I woke Father. One big explosion shook the house, it may have been a plane. It is a very bright moonlight night. When Father got up at 1.20 Jean and I got up too. Fire not quite out so put a few sticks on and revived it. Will make some tea soon and if quiet go back to bed. I have been very seedy last few days, felt better to-night but weak and breathless. Father not well either. Everyone complaining of feeling over tired. I wonder how the people feel when we raid so often.

[Aside: Sicily invaded about 8 weeks after Tunis won.] We have invaded Sicily. Wonder if Frank Adams or any of the boys from here are there. Peter Kirk went on Mon to Wales, met an old school pal, Northern, on the journey going to same place. Charlie Parish has to go this week and Ted Hall goes for medical.

Planes still about but unidentified as they say in W.Bx. Guns not so frequent. Wonder if poor Grimsby is getting it again, over 100 killed last time. Had 2 letters from Ron Sat. by Air Mail. Jean’s contained photos of Ron, 1 each. They are quite good we think. He looks older but that is to be expected. He looks well, that is the main thing. It is nice to have a glimpse of him. Says he never got that corn harvested, he had to move after it got shoulder height.

Ron - 'to Dad'

Ron – ‘to Dad’

Mrs Wilson came Tue. and stayed night to attend to the cottage. She stayed up talking until nearly 12 then was up before 5 a.m. as she had to catch the 10.30 bus to Sk[egness]. She is very jolly, much plumper than she was and has aged a lot since war started. Arthur is in M.E.F. still. She laughs and jokes about him, but can tell she is anxious, he is the only child.

Our roses have been especially good this year and the white lilies too are very fine. Cant[erbury] Bells I gave Fra[nk] last year have flowered this and are huge, he brought a stalk on Sat about 3 feet high with masses of blooms, cup and saucer variety. All are deep blue, I had 3 blue and a white last year but none survived winter, even the two that did not flower died. Carnations starting to bloom, very fine. Nearly 2.30 a.m., wind freshening, do hope it won’t be a warm soft gale again to-day it really gets me down. A wicked-sounding plane about but it may be one of ours returning. Now for some tea and so to bed again.

January to July a book of patchwork pieces
Our circle is unbroken still, altho’ the beads are far apart.
Another phase of strife Mars now releases.
The last I hope. Towards victory let us start.

[The following note appeared on the inside back cover of this Diary, and probably referred to Ron’s postings (or mailing addresses) in 1943:]

                                                  June                  July
B.N.A.F      M.E.F               CMF

[British North Africa Force]

[Middle East Forces]

[Central Mediterranean Forces (Italy)]

Ken Northern had attended the Lumley Secondary School in Skegness with Peter Kirk. However the ‘pal’ might have beenr another member of that family. (Ken’s brother, Bernard, had also attended the school, as had Ron, May’s son.)

Charlie Parrish (aged about 18 at this time) had been mentioned as a Home Guard member less than two months earlier (see 29 May 1943).

Ted Hall was Doris’s brother. He was joining the Navy, like his chief petty officer father, Albert (see 16 Mar. 1942).

‘Arthur’ refers to Mrs Wilson’s son but (as previously noted) her only child was known locally as ‘Laurie’ (see 11 May 1943).

MEF – Middle East Force. The same abbreviation was used for the Middle East Land Force, but was also believed to apply to one of Ron’s RAF postings (at least for Army Post Office purposes).

Frank, here, almost certainly refers to May’s brother.

BNAF – British North Africa Force. Ron’s first RAF posting abroad came within this description.

Have you read an introduction to May Hill & family (includes photographs) and explored ‘The Casualties Were Small’?