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Genealogy:Fogbound - A story of My Trip to Troon
Posted by: Judith Wilson on July 27 2013 18:46

FOGBOUND

A Story of My Search for My Ancestors.

The deep yellow fog lay heavily over the wide grey sands. The tide had receded so far that there weren‘t even any little tidal pools left behind. Now and then figures loomed out of the fog: usually with a dog in tow. The rising sun was weakly trying to break through. As the fog thinned, more and more figures appeared. A 747 shattered the silence, its wheels not far above my head as it landed on the Prestwick runway behind me. Seal Island emerged, a ghostly grey shadow against the spiky background of the Arran Mountains. The pale, streaky sky was latticed with the vapour trails of jets passing high overhead.

My Mother was born here, and played on these sands as a child. She had described them as golden and hot, with donkeys to ride, Punch and Judy shows to watch and ice creams from the ice cream barrow to eat. I saw them as bleak and grey with sand dunes and marram grass. The dog walkers were muffled against the chill. I had come to Troon to try to break through the fog surrounding my mother‘s early life in Scotland, to find out about her family and understand their circumstances.

I walked over the boardwalk which protected the sand dunes, and between two of the houses by the beach, to reach my hotel. This hotel was enormous, Victorian Georgian. It was three stories high and turreted. My room was a little attic room set above the third floor with its own private staircase. It had a little window seat, in a wee three-sided, window alcove which projected over the street. The downstairs rooms were all public rooms, dining rooms, bars and a ballroom. Once a week there were old-time dances, as well as weddings and bar mitzvahs.

Whole families came along in the evenings to have bar meals of fish and chips or steak and chips. It also had huge drying rooms with gumboots and raincoats, hats and umbrellas, and golf bags, all soaking wet, muddy and smelly. It was summer mind you, but summer in Scotland. The carpet, deep red and blue tartan with matching curtains, must have been original and was probably once expensive. I couldn‘t quite make up my mind whether the decorative style was shabby gentility or just plain tacky. There were no lifts or escalators and no one to carry your bags.

After lunch, I walked along Ayr Street, past colourful flowerbeds and elegant herbaceous borders which did much to brighten the day. There I saw a war memorial with a solid plinth and a warlike Britannia striking a pose on the top. On one of the faces was my grandfather’s name - Thomas Howie. I knew he had been killed at Albert in Flanders, France in 1916 but it had never occurred to me that his name might be on a war memorial. Only a few metres away, I also found the house where my Mother had been born. Her birth certificate stated that she had been born at 21 West Portland Street, but I hadn’t expected the house to still be standing. It was an old three storied, dilapidated house with a bright red door opening straight on to the cobbled street. Like most of the houses in the street, it was all boarded up and seemed to be condemned.

At the top of this street, near the Market Cross, was a little Italian Ice cream shop. Not a bright, clean, chrome and glass ice cream parlour such as those you would see in New Zealand but cramped and dusty. Although it was a very cold day I had to sample the rum and raisin ice cream. The slim, dark, very good-looking Italian boy who served me said “Enjoyin’ yer stay, then, are yer?” in broad lowland Scots. When I heard him say this I was so surprised I nearly dropped my ice cream.

I set off to look for Granny’s house which was at 37 Barassie Street. This was a well-to-do street near the municipal Golf Course. Mum used to talk about collecting the lost golf balls and selling them back to the golfers, so that fitted. My other great grandparents, Jane and Alexander Howie, used to live next door to Granny but Jane had died before Mum was born. I couldn’t find the house, so I looked for Burnside Cottage instead, where Jane and Alexander had lived when they were first married in 1880. I had been corresponding with the Secretary of the Troon @ Ayrshire Family History Society. She had said that there was a Burnside Place off Barassie St. I walked underneath the main road and along Burnside Place.

A middle-aged, dour man, wearing over-alls, was standing outside his garage and workshop, wiping his greasy hands. I got into conversation with him. I asked about Burnside Cottage he drew the dirty cloth across his brows and replied;“The farm that this garage is built on was called Burnfoot. It belonged to people named Howie.”

I was very excited. “That’s the very name I’m looking for. Thank you.”

He added; “I’m sure there’s a picture of Burnfoot Farm in a book called Old Troon.

I almost ran back to a bookshop I had seen, and sure enough I found the book called Old Troon by Ian McPherson, but, when I had bought it, I found that there was no picture of the farm. There were pictures, though, of the sands with no sand dunes and instead a promenade, a bands and, a putting green, and bathing huts on wheels. I called into the library on my way back and asked if they had any books about old Troon.

The elderly, rather fussy librarian said; “Oh, we have them on sale. Ooops, There’s none left. There’s only this faded and bent copy we had as a sample.” She hesitated, looked at the book in her wrinkled hand and said; “Here, you can have it.” It was called Troon Memories by Mae McEwan and was the right one - the one with the picture of Burnfoot Farm. A little girl was sitting in a kind of dog cart pulled by a tiny pony with a little boy standing by the pony’s head. There were also more pictures of the sands with crowds of people, donkey rides, Punch and Judy shows, and an ice cream barrow belonging to Giovanni Trogneri from Tuscany. The family still owned that little shop I had been in earlier. No wonder the boy who served me had spoken in lowland Scots. He would probably have been a third generation Scot.

There were also some old pictures of tidal flooding of West Portland Street in 1911. I hoped my, then pregnant, grandmother had had all her belongings up high, preferably on the second floor. People were pictured wading about in waist deep water. I understood then why they needed the sand dunes; to protect the town.

I stood on the sands, staring into a sepia scene of children clustering round an ice cream cart. Was that my mother with the blob of ice cream trembling on her nose? Or was that her in a white pinny and button-up boots riding on the donkey? I inhaled the rich, warm aroma of the donkey’s coat and felt its ear tickle my cheek. Was that Uncle Alec racing around in bare feet with the other boys? The raucous voices of Punch and Judy, the band playing Sousa marches in the rotunda, and the barks of the dogs chasing the seagulls in the warm sunshine, rang in my ears.

The illusion faded, and I lifted my eyes to the grey vista of dripping sand dunes and soggy marram grass. The raw north-wind swept down from Glasgow causing me to raise my hoodie. The forlorn sand-sweeping machine was left all alone, still endlessly grooming the empty sands, in fruitless expectation of the return of the summer crowds.

I bought nine pounds worth of flowers to put on my grandparent’s graves and spend a rainy afternoon fossicking around the cemetery in the drizzle and mist, wrecking my Warehouse boots in the process. I called in at the Black Bull for some warming soup and bread. A plump and rather untidy waitress, with her crumpled blouse half tucked in and tendrils of blond hair escaping from her pony tail, came shuffling over. I told her what I had just done. She said cheerily, “Och, ye shouldnae ha done that. Ye ortta jus picked some ootta someone’s garden, like.”

I just smiled a nice friendly New Zealand smile.

The next day I drove out to try to find Girtreig Farm, the home of Thomas’s paternal gt-gt-grandparents. I drove around and around in circles. Finally I stopped and questioned an old man. He said; “That be Girtreig Farm there. Her belongs to a Mr Howie now.” He indicated over his shoulder.

I photographed it and raced around to the driveway but it was so long and narrow that I was afraid to drive up it. There was no place to park on the road. My rental car might have got squashed by a tractor and then I would have had to pay thousands of dollars. I decided to leave that visit for the next trip.

On my last morning, I breakfasted in the dining room with its wide vista of sand dunes and soggy marram grass looking like a man needing a shave. It was raining, of course. I was beginning to emerge from the fog but I think it will take more than one visit to be finally out in the sunshine.

SOURCES USED

McEwan, Mae. Troon Memories. np: South Ayrshire Council.1995.

McPherson, Ian. Old Troon. np: Stenlake Publishing. 2006.

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Genealogy:The Withers Family
Posted by: Judith Wilson on July 27 2013 04:41

The Withers Family of Ayrshire.

Maternal grandfather’ s mother - Jane

Withers and family.

I had always known that my mother and her sister Jean had been named for each of their grandmothers, Janet McFadyen and Jane Withers ( Mum was called Nettie and Aunty Jean was called Jeanie) but I always thought that my mother had been named after her father’ s mother. However, when I got my grandparent’s marriage certificate, (Agnes Reid and Thomas Howie 1908), I realized my mistake and subsequent knowledge of the Scottish naming pattern explained that the eldest girl is always named after her mother’s mother and the second girl is named after the father’ s mother. In this case they were the same first name Sinead (pronounced Sheena) in Gaelic.

It was quite easy to locate Thomas’ parent’s marriage (Alexander Howie and Jane Withers –m. 1880).On this certificate, Jane’s parents were given as James Withers and Annie Harper. For many years I felt as though I were against a brick wall. I could find neither a birth, nor a marriage for this pair. There were many James Withers in the town of Ayr but none of them seemed to have been married to an Annie Harper.

Then Scotland’s People came on line. I found a death for Jane Howie nee Withers (1890) but her father was given as Alexander Withers and her mother Agnes Dunlop. I knew that Alexander’ s father had been another Alexander Howie and that his mother had been Agnes Dunlop as I managed to get his birth certificate – 1854 and also had his death certificate. Obviously, the son who had supplied the details for Jane’s death certificate had not actually known who his mother’s parents were. I became suspicious and thought that I may have some false information. I was unable to find a birth for Jane. I knew she was given as deceased on Thomas’ marriage certificate.

I located Jane and Alexander Howie in the 1881 census, newly married and living with their already two year old son (obviously born before they were married) living in Burnside Cottage in Troon. In the 1891 census I found Alexander’s mother, Agnes Dunlop, living with them and a girl called Agnes Howie, three years older than little 12 year old Alexander. As they had called their next daughter Agnes Dunlop Howie (Fanny), I assumed this older girl must be Alexander’s brother’s, (George) daughter - aged 15 who must have just happened to be staying with them. I got her birth certificate to check all the details. Using Scotland’s People again, I entered Jane Withers into the 1861 census and up came a Jane Withers - aged 4 and her little 2 year old brother, Thomas, living with their grandmother in Ayr - Catherine Harker, born in Ireland, a War Widow. In the same household was an unmarried woman called Fanny Harker whom I assumed was a maiden aunt. This seemed to indicate that both Annie Harper and James Withers were dead. I searched in vain for their death certificates. I found Catherine Harker’s death certificate. Catherine died on the 31st January 1864 at 1.45 am aged 86. She was the war widow of Thomas Harker, Yorkshire. This death certificate was signed by her daughter, Agnes Harker. I entered Agnes Harker in the 1881 census and found her living in Ayr, the same address as that given on Jane’ s marriage certificate, with her granddaughter, 5 year old Agnes Howie. I then found Agnes Harker’s death certificate for 22nd January 1891 – 4pm. She was also known as Fanny, unmarried. It was signed by her daughter, Jane Howie. She also gave her mother’s maiden name incorrectly - Rankine. On her grandmother’s death, the young Agnes must have gone back to live with her parents in Troon. As they already had a daughter called Fanny (Agnes Dunlop Howie), named for the paternal grandmother, it must have caused some problems.

I located the War Records for Thomas Harker. He was in Gore’s 19th Foot Regiment. He was born in Leyden, Yorkshire, England and discharged 1816, aged 28. I also found him on the Chelsea Hospital records. He was wounded at the Battle of Waterloo. I later found his attestation papers showing that he joined up in Armagh, County Armagh, Ireland. I now have a parchment scroll showing his service in Gore’s Regiment and a miniature of the medal he won. I have framed them beside a picture of the uniform worn. I found the marriage for Tommy Hawker (Harker) and Catharine McCaig in Ayr, Ayrshire, Scotland on 19th December 1820 and purchased a copy of the marriage entry. I found Catherine’s birth in Liniskea, County Fermanagh, Ireland. Her parents were James McCaig and Mary Montgomery.

I found a baptism record for Thomas for 18th March 1787 in Halifax near Leyden and also near to where the Bronte sisters lived. He was baptised in St John’s Church, Halifax, West Riding,Yorkshire, England. (The name was written as Harger). His father was James, a blacksmith, a common occupation for gypsies. They travelled around the farms with their tools and bellows on their backs. I suspect the family may have been part of the large gypsy settlement near Leyden. Harker is a common Gypsy surname. Mum always insisted that she was descended from Gypsies. Thomas died on the 1st November 1853 - aged 70, in Peeble Street, Newton-on-Ayr, Ayrshire, Scotland. They had 6 children. Thomas was born on the 28th May 1821 in St Quivox, Ayr, Ayrshire, Scotland and died on the 19th December 1895 in Wishaw, Lanarkshire, Scotland. He was buried in the Cambusnethan Cemetery, Lanarkshire, Scotland. Frances (Fanny) was born in 1833. Jean, Mary, James, Henry, John, Alexander were other children.

I have been unable to find the burial place for either Jane or Alexander Howie. But I have managed to find a birth for little Thomas Withers, but the certificate simply says father unknown. His mother Fanny had three other children (Catherine, James and an unnamed child). These children were not named Withers and were all illegitimate. They all died shortly after birth. The 1861 census shows her living with a ‘boarder’. His name was not Withers.


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Family stories:Dad's War Diary - Pt 2
Posted by: Judith Wilson on July 26 2013 06:02

Sorry - the end of the Diary didn't print out so here it is now.

19th February 1944 – Saturday

Our guns ‘stonked’ the blighters.

Jerry has started shelling first with the ‘Nebelwerfer’ then with a bigger gun. He has been co sots of times and I am not too keen on this business. I am inside and just as well. We have a direct hit on our house and what a scatter. The upper floor was hit but the ground floor is covered in debris. It has put out our fire and was a hell of a fright for us below. Now the ammo dump and the big Yank gun behind us have just received direct hits. It is a terrific explosion with all the houses rocking alarmingly. Guess there will be some casualties as bits and pieces of ammo are showering all over us from two or three hundred yards away. The tanks are still lining the road below us waiting for the Engineers to complete the last of the three bridges. This has cost the Maoris their gains because they have had no tank support. I have just heard that the Maori boys who sang so well for us at the party the other night were among the casualties. Both Ray and Ted were killed. One boy is missing, and one, Rewi, is wounded and these are just the ones I know of. I am very sad about this bad news. Of the 130 in the Company only 30 are left. These survivors are back with us again and they say that the German tanks got in amongst them after they had taken and held their position and that ammo was very short.

20th February 1944 – Sunday

Another gun has blown up in the 4th Field Regiment and this time 3 chaps were killed. A ‘Nebelwerfer’ was troubling us last night so we counter battered the cow. There was some heavy shelling from both sides whistling well over our heads. It was a quiet morning with a couple of Jerry guns shelling the cross roads in the afternoon. We had a go at them as well as some other batteries and some transport we had under observation from the Observation Post. We pushed a lot of loose bricks and mortar out of our house. Our chimney is now level with the floor of the upstairs room. The house has been hit before so there is now little wood left. The tiles are all scattered and the furniture and the woodwork have all been smashed. Most of the houses in the area have been holed by shells.

Shortly after this, Curly, as he was known, stopped writing in his diary and, shell –shocked, was returned to the camp at Maadi. From there he was sent home on the hospital ship ‘H.M.A.H.S. Wanganella.’ He was formally discharged on 13th March 1945.

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Family stories:Dad's War Diary
Posted by: Judith Wilson on July 24 2013 21:59

Dad’s War Diary

These are selected entries from the diary of

Gunner Leicester Samuel Wilson

Regiment number 60943

2nd NZEF 1939 – 45.

We leave New Zealand.

27th June 1941 – Friday

Written while in bunk with the ship pitching and in a poor light.

The train pulled right on to the wharf and loaded straight on to the boat. I was given a bunk in the hold amidships on F deck. There are some more decks below us but I don’t know how many. There are 198 bunks in here and it is very comfortable. There are air vents everywhere and there is one almost alongside my bed. The upper decks are very extensive but I haven’t had time yet to tour on all of them. A good old ship this ‘Aquitania’, and, as I am writing this, on the evening of the first day out, I’ll say she rides wonderfully well. She carried 10,000 American evacuees from Europe, in just one trip, during the last war. There are 4,600 troops aboard, so that gives some idea of her size. She pulled out into the stream at about 12 o’clock and a few launches came out and cruised around. We had a visit from the Governor-General and some members of Parliament earlier, while we were still at the wharf. We pulled out almost immediately the Governor-General left and passed the Heads at about 5 o’clock. The sea was fairly choppy and the little ‘Jane Seddon’ and another boat that had accompanied us part of the way were shipping some water. We couldn’t feel a thing on our boat. The ‘Achilles’ was tailling us, not far behind. The crew of the ‘Jane Seddon’ gave us a good send – off and cheered time and again; ‘Good luck to them all.’ This was the last I saw of good old New Zealand as we then had to report for tea. Nothing wrong with the food here, although I had a bad first impression at breakfast. We had a three course dinner with wonderful soup. I didn’t like the dried milk and ration of butter though. We had a bit of lifeboat drill but there is nothing much to do. I ran across Reg Carr and Mick Free while on duty shifting some films. Ossie Batchlor is not on board, so Mick tells me, but will follow later. I haven’t struck young Georgie Craw yet, although there are some other Burnham boys here. I went to bed fairly early and slept like a log. Quite a number of the boys are sick already. So far I find it difficult to walk about and feel a bit giddy at times. Stairways, and there are plenty of them believe me, have me on and keep sinking under my feet – a rotten feeling really. One chap tells me he will have no stairways in his home after this. There seem to be plenty of luxuries here and the upper decks are magnificent.

Trincomalee

16th July 1941 –Wednesday

Land was sighted early and we anchored in Trincomalee Harbour, Ceylon at about 7 am. There are bush clad shores, and the harbour is very well-sheltered. There is a small township and Naval Base. A row of buoys protects the inner harbour. The ‘Queen Elizabeth’ is anchored right in and the ‘Queen Mary’ passed very close to us to anchor immediately in front of the ‘Queen Elizabeth.’ It gave us an opportunity to get some idea of her gigantic dimensions. Aeroplanes are fairly numerous…

22nd July 1941 – Tuesday

Clocks back one hour – Nine hours all told. We have been issued with identification discs, field dressing bandages and also the ship’s magazine. This was put into print soon after we left Australia, so it only covers the first part of the journey. I was on picket at the ship’s goal and it was extremely hot. We have been joined by another cruiser the H.M.S. ‘Callenden’ off Aden. We are now entering the Red Sea which indeed is a brownish sea. The growth is very evident. The H.M.S. ‘Australia’ has apparently gone to Aden. We passed a lighthouse after dark.

We land in Egypt – Tewfick

29th July 1941 – Tuesday

We arrived in Tewfick – spelled Tauliq – at about breakfast time. This port is about four miles from Port Suez and is filled with shipping. A British boat the ‘Georg’ was damaged by an air raid in full view and beached quite close. This boat is over 30,000 tons and it is very badly knocked about. The balloons are everywhere and a very modern city can be seen in the distance. m writing this while waiting for the train to start and we might see more of the city. I hope so. We came off in lighters and had all our bags to carry, also our water bottles and huge sandwiches. I gave these to the Gyppos who pick scraps out of the heaps of rubbish. We had a hot tea to have a go at but the heat and flies and the black cooks made it a bit unappetizing. We have just been for a shunt and a joyride towards town. Kids are very much in evidence and they made a few pennies. Everybody came out of the shops to look at us and they are mostly Gyppos. I didn’t like leaving the old boat in a way but I am glad to have the opportunity to be back on land. The heat was terrific and it didn’t improve when we got ashore. It is lovely now at about 7.30 pm and we will be leaving shortly for Maadi Camp arriving there at about 3am. There is a lot of excitement and a number of boys, who got past the picket to town, have just arrived back thinking that the train had left them behind. Numbers of Gyppos are around the train. The kids are corker but the men are as low as ditchwater. They beg all the time and pick up anything we throw away. A few seem to be of a better class and perhaps something may be done to improve the ways of the masses. I will soon learn some of the language at this rate. The kids are very popular with the soldiers but the thousands of men who work around the wharves are in rags and tatters. One boy is running up and down the train shouting; “All bloody Irishmen.” They do seem a happy crowd and very cheeky.

30th July 1941 – Wednesday

We had a long train ride in third class carriages. We stopped at various places along the way and there were always Gyppos or kids trying to sell something. We struck Cairo in the early hours and it is a very large city. We marched about 11/2 miles to Maadi Camp and had a cup of tea at 4 am. We slept for an hour and were drafted into new troops first thing in the morning…Cairo and the Pyramids are in the distance…The Niggers seem to do all the outside fatigues here and there is miles of sand about. The high cliffs close to the camp are really hills. We don’t do much from 10 am to 4 pm. We sleep on the concrete floor on straw palliasses in well-ventilated huts holding 24 men. The meals seem good and the washing is done free of charge.

The Break-out at Minqar Qaim

27th June 1942 – Saturday

Of the many fine chaps that were killed in last night’s bombing raid four of those buried were from our B Troop. Four or five were wounded, of those two very seriously. Some of those at Headquarters that I know of were killed and wounded but A Troop fared much better with only some wounded. The Infantry, 21 Battalion, lost about as many trucks as us but had more men killed. My old truck was again smashed to pieces and two were killed. Our signal truck was also riddled and we had one wounded. This was our only signal casualty. One gun Quad’s crew were all casualties but their quad was left intact. Details are better forgotten. We were on duty all morning and any plane had us on edge. We had orders to move out at 1 am and left A Troop to hold the position. Apparently the 5th Regiment was stopping a lot of stuff and we were to join them. After a couple of hours we came to a halt and it seemed that something was wrong. Was the Regiment that we were going to join surrounded? Were we in the same position? We moved forward and had a good view of our four guns and I feel much more cheerful. The other alarming tales about the Division also seem to be unfounded and the guns are rolling back to Kaponga. Another Division of our tanks is coming up and will carry on. We had a few tanks for a start but our job was only to hold on for a few days until the rest arrived.

The sun will shine again.

26th June 1942 – Friday

We travelled all night at a very slow pace for only a few miles into the desert. Some enemy planes are very active with flares and bombs just ahead of us. There is some machine gunning also. I am very cramped and weary this morning and we are now waiting for some tanks to loom up as an attack is imminent. Our bombers and fighters are chasing Jerry up continually and go over in flights of nine bombers and four fighters. The weather has been fine but hot since we have been up here. We moved off still further off to a new location. We had a late evening meal at 7.30pm with all the vehicles crowded together. Then, suddenly, just as we were ready to move, there came our blackest spot so far in this war. A flight of 27 planes of doubtful origin passed overhead. Ten of them sorted out themselves out and dive bombed us. I spent a terrible two or three minutes under our truck which was only carrying ammunition. Bombs and machine gun fire of red hot lead struck our truck on all sides. Trucks were set on fire and ammunition was blowing up on those ammo trucks that were on fire. I made my way out after the first and only attack, making for a safer spot and by a miracle I came through. There was a lot of disorganisation but we made our position stand all night and dug in. There was another raid over in which another bomb was dropped. I only managed a couple of hours sleep and manned phones in between.

Unfortunately many fine chaps were killed and it was our blackest day.

We shifted to another position in the afternoon and dug in once more. I drew a midnight shift on the telephones. I had just finished when we had a terrific air raid. It lasted hours. The Jerry planes went up and down and bombed mercilessly, all about us and in and our immediate area. To sleep was impossible. I didn’t hear of any casualties. It was more terrifying than effective.

The El Alamein Line: Order of the Day; – ‘TheAlamein Line must be held’ and our job is to hold it.

30th June 1942 - Tuesday

We were told to ’stand to’ at 4.45 am and then got an hour’s notice to move away immediately after breakfast which was at 7 am. The guns and wireless trucks went out on a Tank Alert Mobile Patrol and the other signallers were left behind. We travelled all day to a new position and were joined by three boys who had broken away from Maadi and made their own way here. We dug in again and have the prospect of a better night’s rest. The guns were not back when I went to bed. The Jerries are moving in but the news in the situation reports favours us.

1st July 1942 – Wednesday.

We had to ‘stand to’ at about 5 am and we shaved and washed on half a mug of water. The guns are now back with us and we have shifted over to where they are positioned. We have had breakfast and the guns are going out again on mobile patrol. This is probably to engage a small enemy force that is known to be operating close in. Distant heavy gunfire has been heard all morning. I slept soundly last night and there was no air raid as far as I know. It is very hot with a hot breeze flowing across us. This afternoon was of an easy nature but we unloaded ammo after tea and had a tank scare. I was posted on picket and did a midnight phone shift. When returning to my slit trench I got hopelessly lost and wandered around for some hours in the heaviest of air raids. I was scared stiff. Flares dropped and lit up the place like day and the bombing was terrible. When I finally did find my slit trench, I dropped asleep from sheer exhaustion. I must admit that one’s slit trench is the only haven and is one’s first thought when danger presents itself. Our truck had been shifted after I had gone to bed earlier and this partly accounts forgetting lost.

2nd July 1942 – Thursday

I found my truck hopelessly stuck in the sand about half a mile away but it was collected and taken to the guns. We moved into a Field Position and dug in once more. The air raid last night was only our bombers and I didn’t know. The tanks are fairly close in and a terrible battle is raging. The gunfire is most depressing but I’m sure we are doing the attacking. A-Troop guns had a smack at some moving Military Transport. It was enemy fortunately. I am making these notes in the command post and night is drawing on. The news is not so bad after all. I chased around half the night trying to get some assistance for the Troop Commander’s truck which was stuck somewhere in the area. I was unsuccessful in locating any and somebody, me, had to sleep without their blankets and it was fairly chilly.

3rd July 1942 – Friday

Another move and a few frights from the air. There were plenty of our Ack-Ack guns about so it wasn’t too bad. The guns were in action all afternoon and we had a Tank Alert. The news was even better and the enemy is getting plastered. The R.A.F. is doing great work and our tanks are superior so far. Some of our boys went out last night and captured 20 guns and took 300 prisoners. A few can be seen marching through the lines far away in the distance. They are Jerries, I should think. I am helping to cart up a bit of ammo and am generally manning the phones in a semi-field role. We moved again late in the night, a few miles towards the enemy. There is something in the wind but I haven’t got the slightest idea of what it is. We had a hectic ride as the Convoy struck loose sand and the trucks stuck. We made out location and I bedded down in a slit trench.

4th July 1942 – Saturday

I had a good night’s sleep and a good breakfast. The guns are pointed towards the sounds of a Tank sortie. There is a dog-fight in the air but it is of short duration. I can’t see into the sun and am waiting for what may eventuate. Dive bombed, an, although our area is a mess of craters and the trucks are riddled, no-one has been hurt. A piece of spent flying shrapnel hit me on the leg but fortunately all I felt was the burn. In the concentration of vehicles, eight were hit and set on fire. Outside of our area, there have been quite a large number of casualties. This happened at about 10 am and it has imposed a nervous strain all day. Our Ack-Acks managed to keep the planes up but we had a serious attack of machine gunning from the air at about 3 pm and two or three more dogfights. Just about sunset, over came 20 bombers, straight at us, but our Ack-Ack veered them off and eventually scattered them, shooting down two. This was almost the last straw and my nerves were fairly on edge. Word came of a move later but we eventually didn’t go; so I slept without blankets again. Some gun Howitzers are now with us, doing great work with a 60lb shell and a range of over 10 metres. I am very proud of our Ack-Ack boys who do such magnificent work.

5th July 1942 – Sunday

We have had a lazy morning and shift again at about 8 am. A lot of mail arrived and I received seven letters and also snaps from home. It was most cheering. There are not so many vehicles showing in our new area and we are ranging well with the guns. The Jerry planes were back last night but generally it was quiet. All planes, whether enemy or friendly, have us jumping into slit trenches. Another move has just been verified. The news is still holding good and the prisoners, that we have just captured, seem to have been having a pretty bad time of it lately.

Another dive bombing attack, seven or eight plans and bombs dropping, away from us but still too close. This time is 12.20 am. Shelling has been carried on by both sides but the enemy has just moved away. We had a good night until a wave of bombers appeared but their attentions were directed on to a neighbouring unit.

6th July 1942 – Monday

We travelled well into the night and our truck got involved in a collision. We were towed from then on and repairs were affected this morning. It is an extremely hot day and we are digging in again. An Italian Division close by are being bombed by the R.A.F. There are4 some dog fights too, Otherwise it has been fairly quiet and I am tired and dirty. I wish it was all over.

9th July 1942 – Thursday

We had a good fright when about 20 of our bombers flew overhead. Jerry bombers dive bombed on our immediate front but it was a fair distance off. Some M.E. 109s were screaming like fire engines. A dozen of our bombers were in not long before a gunfire barrage sent down a few.

10th July 1942 – Friday

I woke early to realize that the enemy had attacked. Parts of our line had retired a little but there was no harm done. It was a terrific battle with all the tanks involved and things seemed a bit ‘iffy’ there for a while.

Takrouma

21st January 1943 – Thursday

We got away to a late start with a Tommy convoy. We are making slow progress and the leaders of the convoy eventually got stuck in a sandy wadi. This has held us up considerably and there is not much daylight left. The boys are busy playing ‘Bridge’. They play at all opportunities. They even play while travelling when we are bathed in dust. They have good humoured effortless styles and wouldn’t call the King their uncle. We might make another start at any time now. We have left the 6th Field boys behind and, even now, we are so overcrowded about half a dozen have to ride on the canvas top of each vehicle and now the framework of ours is badly bent. We had a tin of NZ jam from a parcel at lunchtime and we got a wash.

22nd January 1943 – Friday

We are bumping, rolling and weaving over pretty rough going. The water tins, biscuits, bedrolls, boxes and the Army gear are stacked precariously around. There is a haze of fine dust everywhere and breathing is difficult. I am almost sick but I have been jolted into activity by a jolting roll and a sudden jar upwards and outwards. This is a great life and we are making little headway. We have a slow pace and numerous stops. It is cold by night and hot by day and a regular feast of card games. Shaving, washing, and mending are as rare as charity and we are still on our way and the hood is caving in with the boys on top.

20th April 1943 – Tuesday

The attack was not wholly successful but a lot of ground has been made. One strong point held by the enemy is overhung by a ridge and this made the position very obscure. A heavy barrage was fired last night – practically all night. We had three officers in the Command Post preparing the tasks assisted by an efficient Aide, Frankie McEwen. A busy time was had by all and I was on duty on two shifts. A good deal was sent back this morning and some of it was a little too close to be nice. There have been a few ‘Messerschmitts’ on the hurried raids. A flight of over 26 of our ‘Hurricanes’ just paid Jerry a visit. The Indians and their 4-51/s are doing a lot of counter firing work. We just joined in and also fired a number of ‘stonks.’ The sky is very heavy and rain is threatening. The temperature is 97 degrees Fahrenheit at 2pm. Some new pests, flies, are making their presence felt. A counter-attack by the enemy is brewing and our guns are very busy at the moment. Some ‘Spitfires’ were in the sky just now. My pen is out of order and writing is a bit difficult.

21st April 1943 – Wednesday

‘Stonks’ galore today.

The noise is beginning to jar and it is not a good thing for the nervous system. Some enemy fire was closing in on us and some of this solid concentration shut him up, particularly one gun of his that has six barrels and fires the lot with the most hideous crash. Jerry fires on our forward positions with his ‘Hanover’ guns mounted on tanks. There is heavy firing all round and the weather is still good and fine.

22nd April 1943 – Thursday

The inter-change of Artillery fire is terrific again today. Takrouma fell to our Brigade yesterday and many German prisoners were taken. I don’t think that much more is required of us – at the moment anyway.

23rd April 1943 – Good Friday

There is much harassing fire from both sides and our telephone lines are getting badly cut about. A smoke screen is being laid by our guns on the enemy lines and a Squadron of 18 of our bombers have just bombed the area. It is a wonderful day and there is not too much stuff coming back. Many flights of our bombers are operating in conjunction with the NZ Division today. There are some solid stonks’ – predicted Artillery barrages – to be put over today between 3 and 4 pm. The Jerries say that our gunfire is barbaric. No wonder. The 1st Army is pushing hard up Jerry’s way. Jerry evacuation planes have been shot up lately and the Italian towns are beginning to know terror from the air…

26th April 1943 – April

Doves frequent these cactus bushes and their cooing is very pleasant to hear. It is hardly a sign of peace though. Our maintenance signallers do a lot of work on the lines which are continually being broken by shell-fire.

27th April 1943 – Tuesday

A heavy 4-5 barrage was whining over our heads for a good part of the night. It is inclined to rain just now and it is very overcast. Jerry is sending a few ‘ding-dongs’ just on the other side of the ridge from us: a peculiar battle-ground this. We occupy the Southern plain and some high points in the numerous sets of ranges that run at all angles. Some of these are a goodly height. We also occupy Takrouma on a conspicuous long ridge with a detached hill or small mountain with steep slopes on either side. Jerry is all through the mountains and hills extending back as far as I can see. The Free French Forces are making good headway at Port du Bon about halfway between us and Tunis City.

28th April 1943 – Wednesday

We moved out from our position flanking Takrouma after midnight. How this place was taken by the Maoris and the Jocks is a chapter in an epic saga ranking with Gallipoli. There are practically sheer sides on this island fortress standing alone with protection on all sides from the high enemy country. We left our position with its cactus and its fleas and once more we have a forest of olive trees screening us from the enemy. We passed through Enfidaville in darkness close under the enemies’ nose and dug in North East of our old position and back 9 miles. Jerry has been sending shell-fire across our way in spasmodic interludes. We haven’t fired a shot yet but perhaps we will tonight. Another of our Artillery ‘Stonks’ and an R.A.F raid will break his line by the long high ridge he holds and then our Infantry and Tanks may attack.

Italy

17th October 1943 – Sunday

6 pm and the harbour lights are twinkling although much subdued.

18th October 1943 – Monday

We sailed at daybreak. Destination Italy.

Taranto

22nd October 1943 – Friday

I get to put my foot on Italy’s shores.

We landed at Taranto and arrived there shortly after breakfast. We marched 5 miles through rock strewn country along a tar-sealed road. There were camps all the way and the area allotted to us is very rocky on a hillside. We have a splendid view but will have some hard beds. We had a hot tea and erected our ‘bivvies’ before dark. I was very tired and went to bed early. I had enough grapes to last a week – inside me.

23rd October 1943 – Saturday

Buono Giorno

It is cold, with very heavy dew. We had a good breakfast, and more grapes… We had a short parade and then time to organize a bit and rebuild our tents. The sea and the harbour are clearly visible across rows of olive trees. A stone castle is close by and there is a village over the way.

13th November 1943 – Saturday

We got off to a bright and early start. It was hilly going and we struck the coast at Teroli. We trucked north along the hilly coast, crossing the River Trigno where a big battle was fought a few days ago, with the town of San Severo on the heights nearby. The bridge was blown as many small bridges all along the way have been. The Engineers have been kept very busy. Unfortunately, there are bomb holes in many villages and the inhabitants are still there. Several homes are blasted yet the people just carry on. They are dirty, poverty stricken places.

22nd November 1943 – Monday

There was a rattle and a bang early in the evening and some shrap was flying. A half dozen shells landed in amongst us and some of the boys who were new to the game got a real thrill. There is a ‘170’ shelling the road with great bursts belting the ground. They hit a truck too, destroying it. Our own guns are mildly active. The bombers are over often and some Yanks put their ‘Kittyhawks’ on to our forward troops, bombing and strafing them. Our boys put up flares, which are supposed to be recognition signals, but it was no use.

27th November 1943 – Saturday

Some ‘Messie’ fighters made a skirmish on our right flank but there were some ‘Spitfires’ handy. Soon after, over 200 of our bombers passed over us and gave Jerry the works.

28th November 1943 – Sunday

The attack went in at 3 am this morning. It was successful on all points and achieved all objectives. The ‘Luftwaffe’ scored a couple of hits in air raids but our tanks and carriers are now over the River Sangro.

31st December 1943- Friday

Written during a ‘Messie’ raid - another year finito.

1st January 1944 – Friday

There was a raging blizzard with a foot of snow during the night. The wind is at a high velocity and there is a cruel sting in the air. The ‘bivvies’ were all flattened and most gunners were washed out. My barn shipped a lot of snow under the eaves with the howling gale.

17th January 1944 – Monday

There was a minor attack by the ‘Hun’ at 2.30 am. We answered and shot him up. We pulled out at about 10 am and I slipped over in the mud with about half a dozen telephones on my back. I was covered in mud and skinned my knee. I’d had a few drinks too so no wonder I fell over.

20th January 1944 – Thursday

We turned off towards Naples. We had another breakdown.

21st January 1944 – Friday

We broke down again. We slept in a shed behind a firehouse. I had my first view of Vesuvius smoking away, only a few miles across country. Great flights of bombers were going in all yesterday, 60 ‘Flying Fortresses’ at a time. It looks like we are going to be ‘in’ with the 5th Army - on a surprise move maybe.

Cassino

3rd February 1944 – Thursday

A party is out reconnoitring a gun site and we move into actin probably tomorrow, worse luck. We assist the Yanks as Cassino is still a stumbling block to the beachhead and Rome.

The attack is proceeding.

4th February 1944 - Friday

It is raining and a grim task is promised. We are ready to move. We may take up a very exposed position to await the attack we are intended to launch.

5th February 1944 – Saturday

It is a bright cold morning and we travelled 30 odd miles to join the Americans. We were shelled on the road right under observation. The vehicles were nose-to-tail and it was pretty grim. We reached our positions after lunch and we were shelled at intervals all afternoon. Close enough, some of them. My gears received a direct hit and were buried and riddled. The truck had only just left and I was away digging best luck. There are many American guns here and this position is a regular army arsenal. Big and little dive bombers were ‘in’, further out on two occasions. There was much Ack-Ack fire from the ‘Yanks’ all around.

6th February 1944 – Sunday

American 36th Division

No picnic this!!

Heavy shell fire all night long but we are having a quiet morning with only a few ‘Messie’ raids. The Yanks also are bombing Jerry lines. Jerry has just dropped some bright containers. It might be food for his surrounded troops. They are shelling us now and they are very close. One truck has been hit and our house is less than half a chain away. I can hear the pitiful cries of a wounded man. The American Ambulance has come quickly to his aid. I stick by my slit trench as there is so much shrap flying.

7th February 1944 – Monday

It is very cold and there is snow falling on the mountains. It was a very noisy night but the noise was nearly all ours. There were the usual ‘Messie’ raids but we have had a quiet day so far. We are all ready to deal with our future objectives. One of the 47th Battery was wounded in yesterday’s shelling. There was one Yank I heard yelling and one was killed. There was a direct hit on a bivvy tent belonging to two B Troop gunners but fortunately the boys were ‘standing to’ their gun at the time. They lost all their gears though – blown to smithereens. It was very lucky that they were not in the dugout at the time.

8th February 1944 – Tuesday

Gustav Line

I slept fitfully through an extremely cold night. I was on a pre-midnight shift and the guns were firing harassing tasks until then. We were on H.B. Targets from 4 am. Some ‘Nebelwerfers’ came over our heads at teatime and landed way across the flat. Molto ‘Nebelwerfers’ were far away forward all this morning so we were giving them the works to try and quieten them. It was like feeding time at the zoo with these screaming ‘mee-mees’ sounding like a cross between a seal’s cry, a lion’s roar and an elephant’s trumpet. Our planes are going over in great droves and Jerry is well ‘dug in’ on his Gustav Line.

9th February 1944 – Wednesday

Rapido River

I heard rain all night and many are flooded out again. I have just been called on picket but I reported to find chaps all sleeping in our Command Post. It is fine now but we have charcoal burners going in the damp dug-out. They are not shelling the monastery now, the oldest monastery in the world. I am adverse to its destruction but Jerry has, however, got guns in there.

10th February 1944 – Thursday

The telephones are now in a nearby house. The yanks moved forward and so we took possession of the house they had occupied.

11th February 1944 – Friday

It has been raining all night right up until lunchtime so the area is well flooded. We are still searching for better quarters for all but most of the houses are full of shell holes and the roofs are out of repair. A cover or two and all’s well.

Some American Infantry are launching a strong attack on Cassino and our guns are doing some overtime – counter attacking and harassing. There is so much shooting at night when Jerry moves his stuff around. Today he is congesting the roads south in a big effort to reinforce this line and so some good targets are offering.

12th February 1944 – Saturday

I am writing this by a lovely fire. It has been a day of many surprises. There were many boom-booms in the early morning and throughout the day. Over the top of some heavy concentrations it seems that Jerry did manage to reinforce. A ‘Nebelwerfer is busy on the ridge above us and one or two of the ‘overs’ have not been so good. The Indian 4th moved up by night and there is much ammo coming up. The gun pits are very muddy and boggy.

13th February 1944 – Sunday

There were more harassing tasks and hostile batteries to shoot up by night and by day. I was wakened by the Ack-Ack guns 'doing' a couple of ‘shoofti’ planes that were over.

14th February 1944 – Monday

I was on duty from 4 am. An ammo truck is on fire and there are shells exploding at the foot of the hill. It is a lovely day and some barrages have been promised. We must make a move soon to relieve the 5th Army beachhead. There is to be a truce from 8-11 am to allow the Germans time to bury 244 dead, caught in our gunfire.

15th February 1944 - Tuesday

Many ‘Flying Fortresses’ are up again and they and the ‘Mitchells’ bombed the monastery off the map. Civilians were sheltering there, worse luck. But Jerry was using this ancient building for his gun positions. Even so special permission had come from Washington to allow them to execute this deed. It was wrecked entirely by 100 planes dropping huge bombs. Civilians are to be seen evacuating and what looks like a white flag is flying. A big attack is imminent and our guns are also firing on Jerry’s Ack-Ack to let our planes get in unharmed. There has been much air activity all day with bombarding H.B.s. About a dozen Tommies have been killed in nearby phone houses. There have been 4 or more direct hits.

16th February 1944 – Wednesday

We had a party last night. The Maori boys paid us a call to collect a few litres of vino and stayed to drink it – one stayed all night. There is much bombardment and ammo coming ‘in’. Many ‘Priests’ – mobile guns – are taking positions amongst us – 4-5s, 5-5s, and huge American ‘Howitzers’ - 205 mms or 9.2 inches with a 200lb shell.

17th February 1944 – Thursday

We have breakfast in bed occasionally. The Maori boys called around again and we had some singing by the fireside. The guns were active all night and the gunners are getting little sleep. I saw the plans of the impending attack by our boys and we are ‘standing by’ for it to start. The Indians also are to play a prominent role. The Gurkha never draws his knife (kuku), even to examine it, without drawing blood.

18th February 1944 – Friday

The big attack was all on at 9 pm last night. The Artillery was supporting the Indians and the Maori boys – objective – Cassino, the Railway Station, and the Benedictine Monastery. Most 5th Field guns were on counter battery only owing to a high hill which came between the guns and the line of advance. This is the first phase of the attack to join up with the Anzio Beachhead. The ‘Armour’ is to sweep ahead after the objective has been taken. Jerry put over a few heavy barrages yesterday in the early evening. We plastered the aerodrome of those ‘shoofti’ planes that our 28th Battalion had shelled the previous night. They had some casualties while moving into our area. The battle is still raging and the guns have been firing incessantly. The Maoris and the Indians have made their objective so far but are still a few hundred feet from the Monastery which is their final objective. German tanks are approaching these positions and some grim moments are promised. The Maoris are forced to withdraw when 4 tanks out-flank them at the Railway Station. This has been a bad day for us. Some vehicles have been knocked out at the cross roads just behind us. There is a terrifically cold wind and I have a very sore throat.

19th February 1944 – Saturday

Our guns ‘stonked’ the blighters.

Jerry has started shelling first with the ‘Nebelwerfer’ then with a bigger gun. He has been co sots of times and I am not too keen on this business. I am inside and just as well.We have a direct hit on our house and what a scatter. The upper floor was hit but the ground floor is covere

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Family stories:The Sting in the Tale
Posted by: Judith Wilson on July 22 2013 03:57

The Sting in the Tale.

When reading the death notice for Merlyn Haruru Craw in the Herald on Friday, January 17, 2003, you could be forgiven for thinking this was simply another 87 year old retired farmer living alone in Te Kaha by the sea he loved with his best mate, dog Jack; but not so. The reality reads like a blockbuster, movie script.

In 1939, as soon as war was declared, 24 year old Merlyn, from Linton, and his friend Skippy, rushed into Palmerston North to be among the first to sign up at the Army Headquarters. Skippy was called up first and Merlyn was upset at being left out. He discovered that his father, Loyal, had listed him as essential to the running of Lochmoigh Farm. After many hassles he was finally in Trentham Camp for three weeks basic training, then off to Egypt.

Only three weeks after arriving in Maadi Camp, Egypt, he signed up for

Long Range Desert Group and went on patrol with them, straight away. This same day the LRDG, as it was called, left Cairo and headed out along the Alexandria Road. Soon it turned off into the desert. Here, they worked stealthily, making lightning raids against the enemy, always working behind enemy lines. The following is part of a poem, written by C.O. Bluey Grimsby, a member of the LRDG. The whole poem was published in Kiwi Scorpions:

They wanted soldiers stout and strong to cross the arid lands

To pioneer the rolling dunes across the Libyan sands.

Where never camels trod, nor Wog, nor Sudanese,

Where never brush nor grass can grow upon the great sandseas.

They wanted men who could, when wished, go short of food and drink,

Be left unshaven and unwashed, yet not so much as stink!

To stand up to the furnace blast of scorching sand and heat,

Which drives into your eyes and mouth, and blisters face and feet.

Now where to find these men made GHQ to wonder,

Till Major Bagnold came along and stole away their thunder.

These are the men he cried , if you just give me time,

They come from one New Zealand, a land of sunny clime.

The official insignia of the unit was the scorpion, which strikes suddenly and powerfully. Merlyn was in T Patrol, under the command of Captain Nick Wheeler. He was made a Corporal, in charge of a Chevrolet truck called Te Paki III. All the trucks in T Patrol had names beginning with T. Most of the men are wearing Arab Headdress called a Keffiyah, to protect from the sun, sand and wind. At this stage it was the official headdress of the unit. A rough pencil sketch drawn by the war artist Peter McIntyre while he was staying with the group near the Sand Sea shows a heavily bearded Merlyn about to go out in his truck with his men on Dawn Patrol. In Siwa they raided German and Italian convoys. Once they set up road blocks with signage in German. When the convoys stopped, the Patrol lobbed hand grenades on to the top of the trucks, and raced around in their trucks as Brendan O’Carroll puts it in his book The Kiwi Scorpions, shooting up any opposition. He also says that they came and went so swiftly that the Italians called them Puttuglia Fantasma or ghost patrol. Brendan O’Carroll tells the following story in his book, “That evening while Merlyn was handing out the meal one of the men said to his NCO, ‘You know Merlyn, you look just like Moses standing there.’ The reply came with a grin, ‘And this could well be your last supper.’” As Brendan O’Carroll goes on to say, Soon after the patrols set out in the darkness for Barce. Barce means kiss in Italian. In this case it was the kiss of death. Brendan O’Carroll describes the raid as Merlyn told it to him. On the way to Barce there were two trucks parked on the side of the road. The crews were relaxing and thought the approaching vehicles were fellow Italians. The LRDG sped up and tore past with blazing weapons, mowing down the surprised Italians. As they got nearer to the airfield they destroyed a petrol dump and threw grenades through windows. Then in single file they raced madly around the field, with the gunners giving all they had to each bomber in turn. Merlyn stopped at those bombers that had been missed and, believe it or not took one of his home made time bombs, carefully, out of a box mounted on his running board. He leapt from his truck and ran to the aircraft where he placed the bomb over the fuel tanks on the wing, flicked the switch and raced off again. He blew up ten aircraft this way. They again raced away through the town. The wheel of Merlyn’s truck struck the entrance of an air raid shelter, when veering to the right, trying to avoid enemy fire. It over turned and landed on its side, already alight, where it had been hit in the rear. Merlyn had been standing up behind his guns and was thrown on to his head into the shelter. He lay knocked out for a while. Although it was dark when he came to, he could see that the shelter was full of Italians, officers and men. The truck was burning, with fuel cans exploding sending flames right down into the shelter. As it was getting hotter and hotter, Merlyn took off his uniform jacket. This was to cause problems later. He kept edging further and further inside to get away from the heat. When the Italians finally discovered him, he instinctively drew his gun and as Brendan O’Carroll puts it saw the barrels of four Berrettas pointing at him. They struck the gun from his hand and dragged him by the braces out of a door on the other side. Five of the others were also captured. Because Merlyn was without a jacket, the Italians thought he was the officer, so he got special attention. A General arrived and Merlyn was expected to stand up and salute, which he didn’t. So he was bashed over the head with a rifle butt. They said he’d better talk tomorrow or they’d kill him. He said, “You might as well kill me now then because I won’t bloody well say anything more tomorrow.” The guards threatened to torture them, or slit their throats, and it was a relief to be taken to a civilian prison in Benghazi even though it was under fire. From there, they were taken to Italy, where Merlyn was put in camp 51, in Northern Italy.

He escaped from here with nine others. They were free for fourteen days but unfortunately they made for the hills. It was raining, and cold, and snowing, It was so cold that they broke into a hut and lit a fire to dry out. Merlyn got too close to the fire and his overcoat caught fire, and his synthetic Italian-made boots melted. What a disaster! Next day they set off to the top of the next hill, only to find another, even bigger, snow covered mountain. Merlyn had no overcoat, no boots and besides that they hadn’t eaten for days. They were so discouraged that they found a police station and gave themselves up. However, exactly 12 months after his first capture he escaped again, with an English friend. This time they made for the sea and, with the help of some friendly Italian civilians, they were successful. They found a boat and made their way down the coast. As Merlyn said, “We were on the right side of the war once again.”

He was sent home on furlough. In a photo of him at home in 1944, he is a battle hardened veteran of the desert campaign. He got a Military Medal for his efforts at Barce Airfield but the war wasn’t over for Merlyn yet. He was sent back, not to the LRDG, but to his original unit, the Divisional Cavalry. He slipped away from the truck as it was taking them to Bari, and hitch-hiked back to the people who had helped him escape. He felt really close to them and stayed six weeks. Still AWOL he went to Rome. There he saw a truck with a Scorpion Insignia on it. He introduced himself and off they went, to the ski lodge, in the San Grasso mountains, that was headquarters for the LRDG. They asked him to rejoin the unit and as Brendan O’Carroll says,

“Having nowhere else to go he agreed.” Brendan O’Carroll says, “ He was never brought to account for the time he was AWOL.” They learned mountain warfare, skiing, parachuting, handling pack animals and the management of small boats, before they were packed off again behind enemy lines. In Merlyn’s words again, “We were headed to the Gobi Desert when the Atomic Bomb was dropped and it was all over.” Home, to marry, take over the farm on his father’s death, and then retirement.

As his death notice said, the best mate of his dog Jack, living by the sea he loved, The only sting left was in the tale.

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Family stories:Craw Reunion
Posted by: Judith Wilson on July 13 2013 06:03

.

This is the first house that George built for Agnes at Chorlton, Little Akaloa, Banks Peninsula, Canterbury, New Zealand.

Getting set up for the evening programme of

registration and meet and greet.

Friday night was a get-together with drinks and nibbles and so much talk that I had a sore throat.

Discovering previously, unmet cousins.

Poring over the records.

It was wonderful to see all these (179) second cousins and it is amazing to think that it was all started by two people. Thank goodness I won’t leave behind so many descendants!

Saturday began with the study of the old family photos.

This was followed by a whole group photo including everyone and small group photos.

After lunch, the eldest cousin, (Robin 94), made a speech,

cut the cake with his sister Joan (92), and held the youngest Craw (about 9 months old).

On Sunday we all went out to Little Akaloa to St Lukes Church for a wreath laying ceremony in the cemetery. Unfortunately, the church still has not been repaired after the earthquake so we could not attend a service.

As you can see, every grave had flowers and there were many, many people there.

This was followed by a family picnic in the lovely front garden of Robin’s son, Alistair – called Longridge.

Bev Sloane, and Erin Gunn and Dawn Ferguson, posed with the commemorative Reunion Tea-towel depicting the old Post Office (still standing) that is situated outside the gate of John Craw’s homestead.

Packing up to go on the tour of old homesteads,

The children had a lot of fun rolling down the grassy slope of the lawn.

Taking shelter from an unexpected Autumn shower that struck while we were still packing up.

We went on a tour to see all the pre-1900 houses belonging to the Craw family.

This is the homestead that belonged to the son John

I would like to thank the organising Committee for all the work involved in presenting this celebratory weekend – Bev Sloane, Dawn Ferguson, Alison Whitelaw, Nelson Craw, Mervyn Craw and Heather Craw.

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