"On 9th September 1943 the first major assault on the mainland of Europe was made at Salerno on the SW coast of Italy. Salerno Remembered brings the battle to life through the recollections of those who took part in the operation."
My father, Albert John Williams was there. It was a battle that changed the course of his life. He didn't like talking about his war experiences as the injury he sustained during that battle was forever a sad reminder of those days and the friends he lost.
I never knew anything about the battle at Salerno, except the brief stories my father chose to tell us to explain the nature of his injury.
Then, after my father's death in 1994, I came across the book "Salerno Remembered" by Geoffrey Curtis who was a platoon commander in the 2/6th Queen's regiment at Salerno. His book is a fascinating account of what happened and helped me understand how my dad sustained his injury, which involved losing part of his hand.
My dad was modest about his role in that battle and almost embarrassed talking about it. He was not even proud of the medals he received (recorded in his army book as "Africa Star with 8* army clasp and 1939, France, Italy Victory etc") From what I remember he disposed of them over the years.
I've always been curious to know more about his time in the army and why he became a reluctant hero. I call him that because in my eyes he was one of the many brave that fought for our freedom. But for my father it was just painful and depressing for him to reflect on that time.
As a family though we were always encouraged to respect and acknowledge Remembrance Sunday and at 11am we would stand quietly watching the laying of wreaths at the Cenotaph on television. My mother would always be tearful when Big Ben struck 11am. For her it was a reminder of my father's disability and how that had impacted on her and shaped the family life that we had.
The details of that moment dad was injured can be found on pages 46-47 in the book Salerno Remembered, but the background to events leading up to this were described at the start of the chapter. It explains that British troops had secured a particular hill that gave them support and protection, as well as a vital observation point of the enemy.
It is described how this occupation of the hill was a thorn in the side of the Germans as the British gunners were able to shoot up any movement in the valley below. My father was in charge of one of sections guarding the hill.
Pages 46-47 explain that "..the Battalion 3in mortars had also been in action and that Sgt Cardwell, who was the Mortar Platoon sergeant at the time, recalls getting a message that Sgt Williams (my father) and that he had been badly wounded in the hand. When the Germans had got behind them in the valley, Sgt Williams had turned round his mortar, firing it down hill at them and he had been hit by a bomb before he could get his hand away from the muzzle."
The details of what happened in the immediate minutes after this incident are not recorded in the book, but my father had told me of the time when he arrived at the first aid tent to be treated by the doctors.
When he told me the story it was never clear if he knew at that time the exact extent of his injury. He knew that a number of his fingers were badly damaged and hanging by a thread. I'm only hoping that some pain relief had been administered, but this was unclear. He only describes, quite graphically, how the doctor treating him, quickly and swiftly cut the damaged fingers (three of them) straight into a bucket.
My father's hand was then bandaged and he was shipped back to the UK. This is all dad would tell us. It seemed quite cold hearted what the doctor had done, but I'm guessing there was no room for emotion and decisions on how injuries were dealt with needed to be quick.
The days, weeks, months and years following my father's ordeal are long and detailed so probably best told another time. But as today is Remembrance Sunday I thought it important this part of his time in the army was told.
Dad's Army Book records state that he was discharged from the army on 2nd February 1944 and his military conduct recorded as EXEMPLARY.
There is no doubt my father was an exceptional man and I can't wait to tell you more about him.