Cassino trip rekin­dles war­time mem­o­ries

Central Leader - - NEWS - By JENNY LING

Doug Har­ris had sev­eral ‘‘lucky escapes’’ while serv­ing in the Ital­ian Cam­paign dur­ing World War II.

He spent end­less hours driv­ing sup­plies in­clud­ing ar­ma­ments to the front line for the Royal New Zealand Army Ser­vice Corps, Di­vi­sion Sup­ply Com­pany from 1943 to 1945.

One night he was driv­ing ‘‘black­out’’ (with no lights) with a load of 25 pound shells in his truck.

He hit a bomb-hole and the truck tipped over, land­ing in a ditch.

‘‘We jumped out as quick as we could to get the hell out of it,’’ he says.

Mr Har­ris, 91, re­calls his time in the war af­ter re­turn­ing from a visit to Cassino to mark the 70th an­niver­sary of the Bat­tle for Monte Cassino.

He was among a con­tin­gent of about 40 other vet­er­ans who, along with their rel­a­tives and mem­bers of the New Zealand mil­i­tary, trav­elled to the his­toric site in May.

Though Mr Har­ris didn’t ac­tively serve at Cassino, a town south of Rome, he knew plenty who did in­clud­ing his older brother Cliff who ‘‘ was on the 25 pounder guns’’.

Mr Har­ris says the 14-day trip was won­der­ful.

‘‘Be­cause I knew so many guys that were there in­clud­ing my brother, it was pretty touch­ing, par­tic­u­larly the ser­vices,’’ he says. ‘‘It was a won­der­ful ex­pe­ri­ence.’’

An es­ti­mated 60,000 Al­lied and 50,000 Ger­man soldiers died in Italy dur­ing the cam­paign.

In Cassino, 343 New Zealan­ders died and at least 600 were wounded in the bat­tle.

The monastery was heav­ily bombed and de­stroyed and has since been re­built.

Mr Har­ris, who lives with his wife at Sel­wyn Heights Re­tire­ment Vil­lage, Hills­bor­ough, en­listed in the New Zealand Army aged 18.

Three years later he was called up for over­seas ser­vice.

Ini­tially his reg­i­ment was shipped to Egypt for around 10 months be­fore head­ing to Bari, Italy, then trav­el­ling north to the Po River.

He also served in Venice, and Faenza.

As the war ended, the com­pany went to Tri­este.

Mr Har­ris re­turned to Auck­land in 1946 and took up work as a gro­cer’s boy at his cousin’s shop in Buck­lands Beach.

He went on to own his own busi­ness be­fore re­tir­ing at the grand old age of 81.

Over the years he has been awarded a 1939-45 Star medal, an Italy Star, a De­fence Medal, a War Medal 1939-45 and a New Zealand War Ser­vice Medal.

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