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di Cyril Ray (1908-1991)

Winter is always hard in these highlands, but that winter - and the Italians were vehement in telling us so - was one of the bitterest in living memory. The first snow had fallen on Boxing Day, and within three days it was a foot deep in the narrow streets of the upland villages, and the roads leading down to the Adriatic coast were blocked. There were many cases of frostbite, and of 108 cases of exposure in the Division five men died. It was difficult to evacuate the sick, as so many of the regimental aid posts were snowbound. Major Joyce, of II Field ambulance, himself an expert on skis, improvised ski-stretchers on which sick and wounded men were successfully handled down to hospital. Food and other supplies often had to be dropped to forward troops by parachute, and the Northamptons instituted a carrier-pigeon service in case they were cut off by snowdrifts. For three weeks 56 Recce were cut off in the snowbound mountain village of Capracotta, fed from the air. With them was a Polish commando that fought off most gallantly a German counter-attack, and other units in the Division were glad of the cooperation of a Belgian commando, notable especially for its skilled and dashing patrolling.

  • C. Ray, Algiers to Austria. The History of 78 Division 1942-1946, Eyre & Spottiswoode, London 1952, p. 110.

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