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Sergeant Bill ("Shoe-balls")
Shoesmith produced his own 90-page
"Now, Did I Ever tell You About...?"
Landing in Italy (Lou
Here's how Bill remembered the spoils of victory in Africa and his unorthodox preparations for the invasion of Italy...
Peppered with a few of his marvelous observations of life on the ground:
Now came the time when the Squadron was to be split up... but just on a temporary basis. The Main Group, which was the majority of the men, were to go to Malta and then on to Sicily... with a Base component to stay behind with trucks and equipment before coming across later.
I was to be the Sergeant in charge of this Base unit, which was only about 36 men, and we were to go through Tripoli [Libya]. We were to be camped just on the outskirts of it ... right near the beach! To me, all this was most acceptable (not that I had any say in it anyway, just told: "you're it!").
We settled ourselves in the new camp, without much fuss or bother and, with the weather being pretty warm, being close to the beach was certainly a bonus. As I have said, we didn't complain!
Believe me, we were well and truly organized there. Everything was most enjoyable; but of course it didn't take too long before we started to clash with the Pommy officers who were running the Camp.
You see, it was like this: I always made out the Requisition Slips for our rations for food and when I'd seen the paltry bits of stuff we were getting (although they had us on the same rations as the Poms) I thought to myself: "Buggar this; at this rate, we'll starve." Next thought: "Let's do something about it," ...and I did ...I filled in the Slips for the following.....
1 Officer, 6 Sergeants, 83 Other Ranks = 90
... And seeing as how there were only 36 of us, I figured that would save us from dying of hunger.
After a couple of weeks, I had a visit from the Pommy officer and he wanted to meet the "Officer in Charge". When I said that I was "it", he very nearly had a fit and he wanted to know just who'd signed the Ration Slips.
Once again, when I said that I did that, he really flipped his lid ...said that I couldn't do that... So I just said: "Stiff bikkies... I'm doing it and I'll continue to do it otherwise the men will starve ... and anyway, our officers know what I'm doing." (Actually, they didn't know that at all, but by the time this rooster went and checked it out, it would be too late, anyway.)
To make matters worse, for him anyway, he wanted to know when we had our daily parade. ...Another coronary... I told him we never ever have them. ...If the lads shot-through into town, they always came back, so, "Not to worry ... she'll be right."
Anyway, he mumbled something about going to see into it ....
Same as another day... we were down having a swim, when up came a Sergeant (I think he thought he was J.C.) and said that we weren't allowed to swim there because it was too rough! One of the lads told him to: "**** off ... leave us alone ... our kids swim in higher surfs than this." (Stretching it a bit!)
Anyway, he started to take our names and some of the names they gave him, they were beauties. ... You know: Edward Kelly, etc etc. then Kanga Roo ... real good ones. When he found out I was the Sergeant, he too nearly had a fit. Said I should be setting a good example. Fancy me trying to set "anything" for our lot!
Finally I had to front their officer... We had a discussion???? I promised him we would be good boys from then on... Anything to get them off our backs (but I still kept signing the Ration Slips for the extras!).
Finally, we left Tripoli on the Army-Navy L.S.T.s [Tank-Landing Ships]; going direct to Italy and by-passing both Malta and Sicily before landing at Taranto in southern Italy.
When the Italian Army surrendered, we thought that it'd just be a case of going straight up to the top of Italy to the Swiss Border and continue on from there. But, oh no! Jerry had something to say about that and he was determined to make the Allies fight every inch of the way up the Italian mainland. Little did we know then that it would be another two years before we came back to Taranto on our way home.
Before I go on to the Italian Campaign, I must re-evaluate the North African Campaign... In other words: the "plus and minus" of it all. Of course, the main thing was that the enemy force had been driven out of North Africa even if at a very high cost of lives and materials on both sides.
We had lost a lot of friends and comrades; and even though it is to be expected in war-time, it still comes very hard at the time. It is to be hoped that they weren't sacrificed in vain... but only time will tell.
Comradeship... This we all learned a lot about... How to pull together as a team - and this is from the highest to the lowest. And this is something that I feel that we really came out ahead in ... because for the length of time we were away together (and that, for most of us, was over 3½ years) there was very little friction between us... Although, naturally, a few minor little disagreements, but nothing of any major proportions. And even allowing for this, the bond of teamwork was always there.
A photo from Bill's album "Xmas 1942, Beer Issue and Meal Line..." This was in the desert, half-way across Libya.
We had a lot of good and understanding officers... Sure there were a couple that were on the borderline, but then you'll always get that exception to the rule.
As for our Padres ... the three of them or, as we all respectfully referred to them, our "Unholy Three" namely Fred McKay, Johnny McNamara and Bob Davies.... honestly, if we had been allowed to pick our own fellows, we couldn't have got a better trio. They were really out of this world ... ask anyone in the Squadron. Never once did they ever try and ram religion down your throat. If you needed them, they were there. I remember one Sunday morning when the lads were having a game of two-up and the Padre asked if anybody would care to go to the Church Service. The lads just said: "Bring your Service here Padre and we'll all listen,"... he did just that. ... And I might add, it was a very attentive audience.
When he was finished, he took hold of the "kip", put the two pennies on, and said: "Come in spinner" and started the game going again... That is the type of men we had as our Padres... I would say, without contradiction, that those Padres were the most respected persons in the Squadron. We were indeed very fortunate to have had them with us.
They did not restrict their Services just to us, there were other Squadrons; they officiated numerous times ... and whenever a pilot went missing, they would obtain, from the Operations Trailer, the last known locality of the flier and then set out in their truck to try and find him. Lots of times they were successful.
There were so many "incidents" that happened during the Campaign that it would take a lot of writing to cover them all ... especially the humorous ones.... Like the time when a couple of our pilots - no names - and this was after the fighting had finished in Africa - the enemy had left lots of equipment behind when they surrendered. Amongst some of the more fancy things were some sports cars ... real snazzy little beauties too ...Alfa Romeo types plus BMW motor-bikes to name a few. Let's face it, they had no use for them where they were off to... Anyway, a couple of our intrepid birdmen thought it would be a good idea to have a couple of these cars back at the 'drome. So they proceeded to "acquire" them (on a temporary basis only of course) by hopping into the first two cars that were handy and they "shot-through" with them.
Now the British Military Police didn't take too kindly to this sort of thing happening under their noses, and decided to try and catch the culprits. The M.P.s had fairly fast motor-bikes, but our dynamic duo put on a good exhibition of low-flying and succeeded in losing the M.P.s. So back to the 'drome they came with their prizes... And, would you know, those M.P.s had the hide to come out to our place looking for the cars... They seemed to get the impression that our 'drome would be the most likely place to find them!
I tell you ... at times, we felt that we were being persecuted ... always getting the blame!
There finished up being quite a few cars there; we had some trouble hiding them all, but it was done efficiently, like everything else. We all had great times having races up and down the 'drome... Good way to let off a bit of steam. - So did the cars after a little time. They really went well on the 100 octane petrol we used in them (it was the same as the planes were using). A couple couldn't take it ... eventually seized up.
But, looking back, these were some of the really great days in 3 Squadron.
See also Bill's
Christmas at Mileni, 1943
and our Tribute to Bill, featuring a cheeky AWM photo...
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