British Element Trieste Force 1945 - 1954
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The Army Welfare Unit had a box for some performances at the Teatro Verdi. This was advertised on the BFN (British Forces Network) and applications were invited from interested groups in units. A group would be selected by lot to have the use of the box for a particular performance. A group from TSO, about six of us, I think, were fortunate on two occasions, both in the following year, 1953, although we were the first to be picked on only one of these. This was for a performance of 'La Traviata' in which Renata Tebaldi sang Violetta. On the other occasion, we had been selected as reserve but the unfortunate winners could not attend as they were put on duty that evening. I have always suspected that this was a piece of malevolence by a senior NCO responsible for organising duties. The performance they missed and we enjoyed, was by a British touring ballet company whose principal ballerina was Mona Ingoldsby (but billed, for Italian reasons, as Monica).
The Americans also had their own local radio station (AFN, of course). The building above our garage was occupied by a detachment of the US military police. Their windows above the yard between the buildings faced north so that, unshuttered, they could be kept wide open in summer. It was therefore not difficult to hear AFN broadcasts. We became over-familiar with 'The Blue Tango' and with the news provided by 'AP, UP and INS'. The US troops were constantly being exhorted to relax.
Our windows which overlooked the yard, of course, faced south. So, in summer they too were kept wide open during the day. They were doubled and both opened inwards to enable the wooden shutters outside to be closed. The louvres were adjusted to let in some light and restrict some of the sun's heat. There were occasional heavy storms resulting in a torrent of water running down the Via del Coroneo. In summer, they did not last long and soon after the sun resumed its sway, there was no evidence of the storm's visit. Thunderstorms at night provided an almost constant flickering light as the lightning played on the tops of the surrounding hills.
The summer of 1953 was not as good as that of the previous year. However, our unit did play some cricket against other army units. Somehow, TSO had acquired three wicketkeepers. One match, played on tarmac (a parade ground at Rossetti barracks?) to which I, accompanied by Geoff Simmons and Mike Wood, went as scorer, we had only ten players in the team. I now have no idea how this had happened. Our ninth wicket fell at the end of an over and I was elected our 11th man. I stopped scoring, literally. The end I went to was, of course, now the non-striker's. The first ball of the next over bowled David Piper. We had batted frst, so we had the disadvantage of one poor fielder in our eleven. We lost.
In the late summer or early autumn of 1952,we had a change of OC. Major Romilly was succeeded by Major Tom Carew. An early installation in his office was a small glass tank complete with water and two goldfish. However, night alone in the office seemed to give the fish an ambition to explore the office by flight. A daily succession of dead fish on the floor led to the tank's disappearance. Instead, he later acquired a small dog, although there was a rumour that the dog had adopted him.
In the flrst week of December, Part I Orders were posted ordering four of us to report to 'Q' Movements for our return to Maresfield for demobilisation. Ian Murdoch and Tom Strang, on the grounds that they had been temporary acting sergeants for less than six months, demoted themselves to corporal. This was to avoid all possibility of being made Orderly Sergeant for a week at the depot.
I was, as I feared, made Orderly Sergeant the morning after we reached the Iintelligence Corps Depot at Maresfield. The RSM was a WO I from the Irish Guards (was his name Miller?). He thought that the stripes on my sleeves were a little too low and ordered me to correct this. So I wore the other BD instead.
The week ran from Wednesday to Wednesday, the orderly Sergeant being distinguished by a red sash. He had his own small office, complete wlth bed and bedding. He ate at the Sergeants' Mess where the food was dreadful. One of the duties was to visit the ORs' mess at mealtimes to receive any complaints about their food, which was in fact considerably better.
On the last Wednesday, I was as usual in the ORs' mess at breakfast time when the Signals Regiment Orlderly Sergeant (there was a Signals detachment also based at Maresfield) suggested that perhaps I ought to have been outside calling the roll for the NCOs' parade. I had completely forgotten this, the Orderly Sergeant's last task of his week. Looking out of the window, I agreed with him but said it was now too late to do anything about it. In any event I had no roll of names to call from. No-one, not even the formidable RSM said anything about this to me. If it had been mentioned, I thought of saying that probably everybody else who should have been present was there because no-one, including myself, could have known previously that I would not be.
After breakfast the next morning we were taken to Uckfield station. On boarding the train, we from TSO had a compartment to ourselves. My companions then
began to talk about the interviews they had had with the Depot's OC, still Major Wilkins.
He had tried to persuade each of them to stay on in the Army. I listened to them, quietly amused. They then asked me about my interview. I had not had one; Major Willins evidently thought that the Army would be well rid of the incompetent national serviceman.