Salerno RAP article headline



HOME

Padre G Meek was the Battalion padre from mid-1943 through to the end of war. Somewhat infamously he held a premature service of Thanksgiving aboard his landing ship when news of the Italian Armistice came through on the eve of the landings. See this poem by CSM W ‘Jimmy’ James, who was aboard the same LCI. Padre Meek wrote this very evocative article for the Battalion Magazine ‘Geordie’ in late 1945. Special thanks again to Alex ‘Jock’ Gray, who loaned me the original magazine from which the article has been transcribed. I have added a few explanatory notes at the end, but otherwise the article is exactly as written. The heading above is reproduced from the magazine. ‘69 RAP’ means Regimental Aid Post for the 16th DLI. The number 69 was the code for the 16th DLI which was painted on all of their vehicles and direction signs (incidentally that of the 2nd/5th Foresters was ‘68’ and that of the 6th Lincolns was ‘62’).

I imagine those of the Battalion who were at Salerno will remember it for some time to come. I certainly will, it was my first experience of battle at reasonably close quarters. Dust, greenness after the barrenness of Blida, bunches of purple grapes, hot sunlight and a city in a nightmare. It was the first time the RAP (1) had re­joiced in a building for action; we went there for half an hour before moving on that hectic Sunday evening and we stayed there seven days. The safest corner was a niche under the stairs in the hall and, when the pace grew hot, we gravitated there by general consent.

They were queer times, on the evening of D Company's famous bayonet charge (2) we had a short service in the RAP: the whole thing was unreal-- the hymns, prayers and lesson were punctuated by insistent bangs which seemed to be right outside the door. Some irresponsible person looked in to say 'Jerry's broken through!' and almost immediately a quietness descended, as it seemed everywhere, which was particularly ominous. Men could be seen gathering kit together with no spoken intention; everything not being used was put on the truck, the light faded and the silence persisted.

Towards dark, a casualty arrived and the story of the Durhams’ counter attack filtered through in bits and pieces--a name mentioned here and there. The big moment came when two Jerry wounded came in, an officer and another ‘gerfreiter” who told us the news: Mussolini had escaped, Rommel was organising an army in the north and soon the British would be pushed out of Italy. I’ve often wondered if he has ever thought about that because, even as he spoke, the hold on Italy was being secured.

There were other moments, one when Miller pointed to two figures, which we took to be snipers, and there were plenty about, on the roof of a nearby building; as we stared we saw one of them move and I believe a section went to surround the house. As the moon rose the two figures turned into chimney pots and all was well.

Another night the RAP Sergeant (3) on stag stalked a ‘visiting’ sergeant thinking he was a intruder--they eventually met in the grey light outside and ‘fortunately’ no one was hurt. When the battalion finally moved out we were left behind, having been told to expect relief about midnight and to be ready to move when the word came from BHQ (4). The relief arrived but no word from BHQ. One by one men loosened their equipment, sat down and went to sleep--soon all was quiet. At first light we awoke wondering what was happening, surprised to find we were still in our old position. We decided to move out and off we went, on our way we met Captain Reynolds (5) who told us that we had been “missed”.

I’ve never revisited that house, in a side street of Salerno; the inhabitants have long returned. The main thoroughfares are pompous again in their streams of traffic. But for seven days that street was England's front line, part of the 'calculated risk' (6) of that operation which succeeded by reason of the courage, tenacity and endurance of those who were there.

Notes:

(1) RAP: Regimental Aid Post, the first stop for casualties being evacuated from the frontline.

(2) D Company's famous bayonet charge counter-attack was on the night of September 15th 1943. Captain F Duffy received the MC for his actions on this night. To read his citation, click here.

(3) This would be Peter Griffin, later awared the MM, who was the Battalion's Medical Sergeant through to the end of the war.

(4) BHQ: Battalion Headquarters.

(5) Captain Tom Reynolds MC was the CO of HQ Company at this time, which included the RAP.

(6) US General Mark Clark, the commander of the 5th Army, later used this phrase as the title of his autobiography.

The Regimental Aid Post at Salerno, by Padre G Meek