Cassino trip rekindles wartime memories
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.