Part Four – The Battle : A while ago I went to Monte Camino In Italy, with my parents to visit the site of a World War Two battle in which my maternal grandfather, Eric Causey was injured. On my return I made a series of panels telling the story of his war experience. They will be shown in the Stockport War Memorial Art Gallery over the Remembrance Day weekend 2016. Previous posts told the story of the first three pieces, Home,London and North Africa and Italy
This piece tells the story of the Battle for Monte Camino November 6 – 11th 1943. My grandfather would not speak of this event and all we knew before I began my research was that he lost his left leg in Italy. However, I now have the only contemporaneous accounts of that battle written by his commanding officers, which allowed us on our visit to the mountain to imagine only too well what he went through.
The plan was to capture Monte Camino because it dominated the so called Migano gap ( a flat valley) and was essential to allow the army to advance to the better known Monte Camino. F Company Scots Guards went to support the 6th Grenadier Guards who had gone ahead . Whilst waiting to go up they dug into a large pit. It was impossible to move about in daylight without being observed by the enemy who were dropping shells quite close. They were short of rations and delayed leaving for the mountain as long as possible in the hope that more would turn up, but they did not. They left the pit at 2230 hours on 7th November. It was raining hard and most men were soaked through before even starting up the mountain. They were climbing in a greatcoat but not carrying blankets.
They climbed up a ridge known as “Barearse Face’. Captain RL Coke who assumed command later when his superior was killed, later wrote, “The going was terrible hard, mainly over great sharp-edged boulders and sometimes long grass growing amongst it; one had to choose each foothold and sometimes climb with hands and knees.. .200yds or so was all we could manage at a time, especially towards the end when were all getting very tired. There were rainstorms most of the way up and a biting cold north wind.”
They arrived with the Grenadiers about 4 am and there was just time to build a very tough stone sanger around themselves before daybreak and from then on there could be no movement. Coke wrote “It was bitterly cold and we made a poor breakfast due to the shortage of rations.” There was a good deal of mortaring and spandauing. By 4 pm on 8th November the 2nd Company of Grenadiers further p the mountain sent messages to say there were on their last legs and might have to give in at any moment. F Company of the Scots Guards ( including Granddad) set off to support them in holding what was known as the ‘pimple’ – the vital part of the mountain. On the way up they arrived at a wood where some Grenadiers were based. F Company were told that it was uncertain whether or not any Grenadiers were still holding out on the pimple. It was thought very doubtful but known that there were wounded stuck there. To get there they would have to go across a narrow saddle back ridge.
They put off the attack until 9th November at 4.30 am due to the fact that this was their third night without sleep and they had had very little to eat that day. That night the Grenadiers got water and rations and got their wounded away but no rations came for the Scots Guards. Overnight the Scots Guards had to split up to reinforce the defences around the Grenadiers camp and so when it cane to attach it was “pitch dark, the moon having gone in, things were rather chaotic and it was found quite impossible to collect the Company for an Attack before first light”
At 4.45 am Captain Coke took a party of men to act as cover for the Grenadier Stretcher bearers who were trying to rescue their colleagues from the pimple. They got to the saddle-back ridge and were fired on by Spandaus and mortars. It was obvious they would take heavy casualties so they were ordered to return . However, the decision was then taken to attack in full light after the Company had had something to eat. Many of the men were not then properly protected as it was thought they would be moving almost immediately.
At 7 am a recce patrol was sent out to try and find a covered way to the Pimple but they got only 50 yards before sustaining injuries and retreating. At 7.30am heavy Spandau fire opened up on them. This went on in bursts all day with some periods of very heavy shelling until about 2 pm. All that time they were gradually losing men. At 2pm Coke recorded that “the Germans got very close to our position… The Germans then threw a lot of hand grenades amongst us without showing theirselves and called on us to surrender. This was greeted by loud cheers followed by 36 grenades. The Germans then unexpectedly withdrew, for no apparent reason except presumably they had had enough. It was then about 1400 hours. At 16.00 hours the Spandaus etc started again as heavy as ever.. we had no food at all left by now but the Grenadiers managed to give us a little of their rations. “
A message was received on the wireless to say that help was on its way, as soon as it fell dark. Coke recalled that “we collected all the wounded, put some of them on the stretchers available and did all we could for them, this being very little. That night no reinforcements or food came and the Germans did not attack us although we knew they were moving about around us. Owing to the cold and length of time since they had been wounded many of the stretcher cases died that night. It was terrible to watch and to know one could do little or nothing for them.”
My grandfather would have been one of those stretcher cases waiting for help and treatment.
In fact the reinforcements promised did not arrive and by 4 am on 10th November it was decided to send back the walking wounded. The stretcher cases had to stay on the mountain.
As it got light on 10th November they were attacked again. The wireless failed and although they could hear guns they thought were friendly they got no news until 16.00. They were very short of food and many of them again had nothing to eat all day. However they held two boxes of rations and decide to issue then on the morning of 11th in case no reinforcements came again that night. That afternoon they were shelled again but with no more casualties and a message was sent that the Oxf. &Bucks regiments were coming at 3 am on 11th to attack the pimple and allow F Company to go down. They were going to bring a stretcher party to take the stretcher cases down. On the strength of that they opened the rations and gave the men a good meal before they had to move down the hill. The rest of the night was busy with shelling and Spandauing. The Oxf .and Bucks turned up and the Scots Guards began their descent passing over the skyline mid heavy Spandauing and managing to do so without further casualties. They arrived at the bottom having descended via mule track at about 7 am on 11th November.
On our visit we were able to see the house which had been taken over as a field hospital at the base of the mountain. The war damage is still on the walls. From there the wounded were taken south to a large hospital and then sent home when stable.
My Granny’s memoir takes over at this point as she writes that she received a letter stating that “He had been wounded and was on the way by boat to Southhampton and from there would be taken to a hospital in Liverpool. We were nearing the end of 1943 by the time I received further information. He was in a hospital in Childwall – one taken over for limbless ex-service men.”
Read tomorrows post with the final piece of art to find out the end of the story!