Excerpts from the wartime diaries of Trooper Ron Goldstein, 4H, 11th – 25th April 1945.
Ron was the Operator/Gunner on ‘A’ Squadron’s SSM Stuart Jalopy, turret removed and replaced with machine guns. The image is that of a Stuart Jalopy tank used by The 4th Hussars Squadron Sergeant Majors and RECCE Troop.
Wednesday 11th April 1945
Woken at 4 am to go into Lugo area with Recce party. Stood at crossroads for a couple of hours. The area is lousy with mines. Late breakfast when tanks arrived.
On April 11th I went with Lt. Walmsley by jeep to Lugo, the fortified town that is surrounded by water and to which access is made by many small bridges. We stopped the jeep on the outside perimeter and looked across one of these bridges at the town that we could see in front of us. The trouble was that the bridge had obviously been hit by shell fire and was in a bit of a mess. It did, however, look as if we could get across on foot through the rubble.
With its back to us, a notice board had been fixed in the centre of the bridge and Walmsley said to me: “Nip over there and see what it says.” Without any further thought, I did this, and after I had reached the spot and read the notice I called across to Walmsley in what I hoped was not too shaky a voice: “It says ‘Achtung Minen!’. I had, in fact, just walked through a Jerry minefield and was now faced with the unpleasant task of trying to remember exactly where I had placed my feet on the journey in. The fact that 58 years later I am able to write about the incident means, of course, that at the time I must have been blessed with either a good memory or good luck.
Thursday 12th April 1945
Bit of stonking last night. Moved into the area Southside of the Santerno river and waited for the bridge to be slung across. After supper lined up with 2nd. Armoured Brigade column.
Friday 13th April 1945
Moved over the Santerno. Some Machine-gun nuisance and one High Explosive round landed about twenty yards away. Bags of prisoners, Kiss from Signora. “Liberatoris !”. Chasing after Tedeschi’s with .30 browning blazing!
The Browning machine gun referred to was rarely fired in anger, the exception being on this one occasion when I nearly killed Hewie our Stuart Tank driver.
We had been on the move all day and the Germans were surrendering left, right and centre. To our left, about two hundred yards away, German infantry was climbing out of slit trenches with their hands high and we were gesturing to them to get behind us and to make their way to the rear. Suddenly someone to our right opened light rifle fire at us and Busty (SSM ‘Busty’ Thomas) lost patience and yelled at me “Let the bastards have it!” Hewie swung the tank to the right so we could face a new threat and I started firing non-stop, without giving Hewie a chance to drop his adjustable seat down below the level of fire belching from the Browning. A horrified Busty yelled: “Get down you stupid bastard!” and to my immediate relief, Hewie disappeared from view before I could hit him.
Within seconds the rifle fire was replaced by more hand-raising, and we were able to proceed without further incident. Whilst looking through a transcript of my remaining Diary entries I came across the following that I felt should be included in my ‘memoirs’.
Wednesday 18 April 1945
“Stonked near wood for a solid hour. Corporal Todd was wounded badly in the head when air burst caught their Honey. Farmhouses burning, stuck in a ditch.” The entry in my diary is fairly innocuous. Checking back using Regimental Diaries I can see that we were with the 2nd Armoured Brigade column in the Reno bridgehead area and that I had been with the 4th Hussars for about three weeks.
The day had started with my tank commander, Busty Thomas MM, going sick, I believe with an old wound, and he had been replaced for the day by Sgt. Broderick. Shortly after moving off at dawn, we came under mortar fire from dead ahead, and Broderick craftily directed Hewie (Steve Hewitt, our driver) to place us under a knoll, or hillock, that was directly in front of the wood from which the fire appeared to be coming from.
As I’ve already explained in an earlier tale, our tank was an old Stuart tank from the days of desert warfare and its turret had been removed to make it into a light reconnaissance vehicle. Protection from shell and mortar fire was not one of its major priorities.
It soon became apparent that we were safe, or relatively safe, as long as we stayed where we were. Every time we tried to move, however, the mortars landed within yards of us and we saw other tanks getting hit only yards away.
They say that when you are about to drown all your previous life flashes in front of you. Well, that is exactly how I felt that day and I could almost read the article that would appear in the local Hackney and Kingsland Gazette. “We regret to announce the death of Trooper Ron Goldstein on active service in Italy. It is ironic that whilst on leave in Egypt some six months earlier he had tried to see his brother-in-law Jack Rosen, without success and only a few days before his death he had also tried to see his brother Mick, a Sgt. Major fighting with the Jewish Brigade, but again without results.”
I just can’t remember how long we remained sheltered in this manner but the German mortar crew ahead of us must have found some more interesting targets and Broderick was able to get us away to regain our position with the rest of the Squadron.
By the time the long day had finished and whatever we had to do had been done I realised that I had survived and that I was therefore not due to be killed that day after all. Looking back now over this period of my life, I realise that it was pretty much the toss of a coin that decided whether we lived or died. On that day my coin landed the right way up.
Tuesday 24th April 1945
Flap in the night and we moved off at 2 am. XXXXXX was blotto and consequently net was lively. Made sweep of Ferrara suburbs. Busty smashes the door in.
Wednesday 25th April 1945
Moved off at first light. Stopped at casa where Busty fitted out old people with suits. Pulled into new H.Q. area then out again. Finally stopped at the factory.
This episode about Busty was a piece of pure ‘black comedy’.
The squadron was advancing Northward, and in the middle of the night of the 24th, we came across a small farmhouse. Busty, Tommy Gun in his hands, very melodramatically kicked open the door of the house then, as no one was in residence, rummaged through a chest of drawers.
He found and ‘liberated’ a tweed suit saying ‘this might come in handy later for a bit of swapping’. The next day we were at another farmhouse where the occupants gave us a bottle of vino and Busty promptly gave them the suit he’d ‘liberated’ the previous day. I couldn’t help wondering at the time whether or not at some time in the future farmer A would see farmer B and ask him ‘Where did you get that suit from, I used to have one just like it !’
Looking back at this event some sixty-odd years later I suppose that other folks might have considered this came under the heading of looting. In all honesty, Busty would have hotly denied this and I suppose that as I shared in the bottle of vino I was also an accomplice and I certainly don’t feel guilty of any such crime.