Naples '44DVD - 2018
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Volunteers from the Armed Forces in World War II found to possess linguistic qualifications were frequently directed into the Intelligence Corps. At the end of this fortnight, trainees considered to have shown promise were interviewed by the selection officer, who went through a pretence of discussing with them their future. What the trainee did not realise was that, however encouraging the report on the major's desk, his fate had been instantly settled from the moment of the officer's first quick scrutiny of his face. The selection officer believed that blue was the colour of truth. To the blue-eyed trainees, therefore, went the responsible and sometimes glamorous jobs, while the rest were tipped into the dustbin of what was then called the Field Security Police.
The escape from this predicament was a posting to an overseas section, employed primarily as linguists, to bridge the gap between the military and the civilian population.
On the 1st of September 1943, I was posted to 312 Field Security Service, who had been temporarily attached to headquarters staff of the American Fifth Army. On the 5th of September, we sailed in the Duchess of Bedford to join the invasion convoy bound for Salerno. This was the greatest invasion in this war so far, probably the greatest in human history. The sea was crowded to the horizon with uncountable ships, but we were as lost and ineffective as babes in the wood. No-one knew where the enemy was, but the bodies on the beach at least proved he existed.
For a while, it didn't matter whether you were in the infantry, the air forces or the navy. The fire was hot all around. We could hear big navy guns and the anti-aircraft guns and the roaring of the dogfighters out at sea.
At about 11 o'clock, an excited American officer dashed up in a Jeep. We'd been issued with a Webley pistol and five rounds of ammunition apiece. Most of us had never fired a gun. With these weapons, we were ordered to assist in the defence of army headquarters against the Mark V and Tiger tanks that were now rolling towards us. What this officer did not tell us was that he and the rest of the officers were quietly pulling out and abandoning their men.
We crouched in our slit trench under the pink fluttering leaves of the olives, and watched the fires come closer and the night slowly pass. We set out to explore a little of our immediate environment. As the sun began to sink splendidly into the sea at our back, we wandered at random through this wood, full of chirping birds, and suddenly found ourselves at the wood's edge. We looked out into an open space on a scene of unearthly enchantment. A few hundred yards away, stood in a row, the three perfect temples of Paestum - pink and glowing and glorious in the sun's last rays. It came as an illumination - one of the great experiences of life.
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