Alone on bulldozer in no man’s land
BY VIVIENNE HALDANE
Learning to drive a Sherman armoured bulldozer with a three ton blade was one of the challenges Charlie Anderton faced as a young soldier in Italy with the NZ Army Corps, 28th Assault Squadron in 1943.
“It was exciting because I had to go ahead into no man’s land and what made it more interesting was I had no crew. I was alone in this big tank,” he said, reminiscing just days before this year’s Anzac Day commemorations.
“I said to my ofﬁcer in charge – ‘you want me to go into action with this damned thing and I don’t even know how to drive it!’ He told me to ‘go away down the paddock and do what you like with it’.
“So I set to work and built this great big mound and the poor old Italians were there by the dozen; they couldn’t understand what I was doing.”
It was part of the drive by the assault squadron to build crossings over the Po River to replace bridges blown up by the Germans as they retreated into Northern Italy.
“The trickiest thing I ever did was to have to level a place for the ﬂame throwers. There was no one within cooee. I didn’t know where Jerry was. I ﬁnished the job and was so steamed up that on the way back I put the bulldozer into top gear, my foot went hard down and I came to a culvert with high sides on it. You could see everyone ducking for cover as I came. I hadn’t lifted the blade high enough and it trimmed 4 inches of concrete off on either side; 30 tons of machinery really shifts things ……”
Corporal Anderton 430142 was awarded a military medal in 1945 for gallantry for service in Italy.
It was a long way from the life he left in Hawke’s Bay, including his wife Isa and their infant son Ross.
There is still a twinkle in the 93-year-old’s eye. He has a ready laugh and his memory is excellent.
Next year he and Isa, who live in Waipukurau, will celebrate 70 years of marriage.
When Mr Anderton decided to sign up to the NZ Army in 1942 he was 22 and had been working as a shepherd at Raukawa, near Hastings.
“We were all so much more patriotic in those days. We really thought we were going to ﬁght for our cause and that it was a way of life worth ﬁghting for. I don’t know how they would get on these days.”
His company, the 20th Battalion and Armoured Regiment, 2NZEF, landed in Egypt in 1943 but the North African campaign had closed and after a stint in Maadi doing administration work, he was soon on a ship to Italy.
“I was fortunate really. I didn’t see much of the action – the Allies had more or less broken through by then. We were in Italy four to ﬁve months and the Germans were being pushed back until we got to the tail end of Cassino.
“We did the Sora campaign through Rimini. It wasn’t bad once we got on the move chasing Jerry back – he made it pretty hot for us at times. We lost our tank in Rimini and carried on to the last campaign up the Po River when I joined the assault squadron and drove the Sherman bulldozer.”
War ended for Mr Anderton in May 1945 in Trieste, Italy, when he took part in the liberation of that city. However, a ﬁnal hurdle nearly scuttled this.
“We nearly had another war with Tito’s forces – they had arrived to occupy the city before we did, but the people of Trieste wouldn’t surrender to the Yugoslavs.”
Diplomatic intervention by the Allies solved the problem and in June the Yugoslavs left the city. How “relieved and thrilled” he was, when it was all over.
He was 26 and had survived mostly unscathed.
“It was good fortune or good luck. Call it what you like. You lost mates over there. It was just a matter of being in the right place at the right time.”
What does he think looking back over the years?
“I don’t think one would have done things any differently. “Young people tend to question more these days – maybe that’s good, A lot of us were just herded like ruddy sheep, you know whether we liked it or not. There was no alternative The same thing is happening with the Yanks today; if the big wigs think they should do this or that, they expect soldiers to back them up.” From his time in action there is something he will never forget. An incident that still perplexes him.
“It was a foggy morning. There didn’t seem to be any Germans around. A chap in our company went across to another building. He must have sensed something. I don’t know. Anyhow, Jerry came around the corner. He never gave him the opportunity to surrender. He just shot him. I have never forgotten it and he seemed pleased about it. I would have given him the opportunity to surrender. The poor bugger; he just came round the corner. I didn’t say anything at the time, but I thought: how callous can you be? I wouldn’t have done it.”
He remembers some of the good times they had in Italy.
“They used to try to ﬁll us up with grog and made bread especially for us that they handed it out as we came through. They welcomed us with open arms. Most of us learned enough Italian to talk to them . . . we could make them understand us.”
Returning home in 1946, Mr Anderton was happily reunited with Isa and their 16-month-old son. The couple went on to have two more children and farm in Central Hawkes Bay.
He has never missed an Anzac service and is now the only surviving member of the 28th Assault Squadron.
Photo captions –
Anzac soldier: Charlie Anderton as a young soldier in WW2.
Soldier on: Charlie Anderton has many memories from his war years.