But I’m digressing again.
The first obstacle confronting the 22nd Battalion was the Marrechia River. Jim Henderson described the crossing in ‘The Official History’ …
“Spandaus (heavy machine-guns) had stopped any of Hutcheson’s daylight patrols from testing the river and because of this 2 Company would have a miserable crossing…… unfortunately another bomb had blasted a crater in the riverbed …. ‘As the company forded the river in the pitch dark of a cloudy evening every man must have had the experience of plunging into a hole four feet deep,’ Hutcheson recalls. ‘With great difficulty I raised both arms and managed to keep dry my map board and walky-talky wireless’…but in 1 Company’s case all went very well indeed……a detour which under cover of the northern stopbank, took it back into position alongside Hutcheson’s sopping men, who somehow managed to flounder through their unexplored part of the river…Then, side by side, the two companies would advance, attacking over a mile to a watercourse called the Fossa Turchetta.”
This is where Amedeo’s article, written more than 50 years later, placed my father on the night of 21 September.
Rimini rather reminded us of Mount Maunganui, or Surfers Paradise without the glitzy tower blocks. Hotels and apartments line both sides of the road along kilometre after kilometre of beach. Enzo Ferrari had his villa here. The white sand is now peppered with thousands of multi coloured beach umbrellas along almost its entire length.
But in wartime the beach-front was a sinister and threatening maze. The Official History continues….
“Houses thickly dotted the land ahead and gave good cover to the enemy machine-gunners and riflemen waiting to meet the advance. …… To the right, nearer the coast, Hutcheson’s force would clash with well-equipped troops from 303 Regiment and 162 Turcoman Infantry Division, who would make the best use of fortified villas, minefields, and fortifications which had been intended to smash any invasion from the sea.”
At Scolo Brancona, baking in the sun, we found it hard to visualise the action of 1944. Behind us the hum of traffic, ahead the laughter of children, as a warm breeze wafted in from the Adriatic.
“Hutcheson saw six enemy running along the beach, set after them with a couple of comrades, landed up by a big gun emplacement and bagged fifteen Turcomen cowering in a nearby trench. The Russians obligingly pointed to a camouflaged dugout, where a solitary German under-officer was added to the bag.”
About 10am battle was joined once again, 2 and 3 Companies, with tanks, starting off up the coast towards the small seaside resort called Viserba and the canal almost a mile away. Just nine hours later, the Chiefs of Staff of (The German) Tenth Army (Major-General Fritz Wentzell) and of Army Group C (Lieutenant-General Roettiger) held this telephone conversation:
Army Group: ‘I don’t understand what is going on to your left.’
10 Army: ‘That’s right … 303 Turcoman Regiment was there.’
Army Group: ‘But isn’t the line at Viserba?’
10 Army: ‘It was. A strong enemy patrol with tanks broke through at Viserba …’
22nd Battalion, with 19 Armoured Regiment’s tanks, was responsible for this part of the chat and for scattering 303 Turcoman Regiment, in the words of the Germans, ‘to the four winds’.”
Finally, we came to the stretch of Rio Fontanaccia which was the start-point for 22ndBattalion the night our father was wounded. Miraculously it is still very much as it was during the war. The river, really little more than a wide and shallow ditch, is the boundary between two local counties and the bureaucratic complications of having to comply with two sets of building ordinances seems to have deterred development close to either bank of the river.
Amedeo had previously identified two old and derelict buildings, one of which he thought may have been 22 Battalion HQ, mortared by the Germans that night.
In the end we couldn’t be sure, but it didn’t matter, we knew we had come to within a few metres of the place we were seeking — as far as our father had come. It was now a peaceful scene with corn growing high on the far bank, from where, years before, the Panzer Grenadiers would have fired on the Kiwis.
Insects buzzed, birds chirped happily in trees that had grown since those days, heedless of the attack of September 24, 1944.
The roof has collapsed on the smaller of the two buildings, doors and windows are missing or bricked up. Damage to the walls of the larger could have been caused by shell-fire, or indiscriminate use of a hammer, it is impossible to say. But we knew we were near. We could feel it.