Friday, June 13, 2008

WWII Letter from Donald Malcolm Delaney of Nova Scotia

March 15, 1944
2300 hrs.
Somewhere in Italy
G 43024 G.M. D.M. Delaney1 2 C.M.R. R.C.A. C.M.F. C.A.O.

My Dear Father:

This letter will undoubtedly take some time to write as I intend to give you some idea of what we’re doing and how we’re living it etc. So I will start it now and finish it up to-morrow. It will I know be very interesting to you, but I don’t advise you to show it to Mother as she might worry more than ever.

Our gun-watch finishes at midnight, we have been in since 4 o’clock. For some weeks now we have been on the go for 18 hrs out of 24. But we should start to get a bit more sleep from now on as we are more or less better organized. There is not much action now, except for infantry, patrols and we have been doing a little but not much shelling of enemy batteries. As you know we are Med. Artillery firing 100 pound shell, and I might say at this point that I have carried quite a few of them, and they aren’t getting any lighter. This one should make you smile.

When we first moved into position none of us knew just exactly how we would re-act under shellfire and naturally we were quite tense waiting for the first one to come. We did not have long to wait. One landed, I just don’t know how close, but it was close enough, we could hear it coming and by the time it hit the ground, I was flat on my face. It was a dud however and did not go off.

But that was nothing compared with what was to come. The first few nights we laid in bed and would listen to the Gerry Shells whistling overhead and finally they would land and explode, that is about every three out of every five would explode. He certainly fires a lot of duds. Perhaps we do too for all I know, but I do know that he has a lot more duds than we do. And another thing I know is that for every shell he fires at us we fire easily ten back so it can be easily seen who has the most artillery.

I’ve picked up a German rifle all intact except that the chamber is plugged with a round that has been jammed in the barrel. When I get that out, I intend to do a bit of shooting as there are countless German rounds laying around as well as machine guns, mortar bombs, helmets, web, etc. and I might add German graves. They certainly must of put up a stiff battle here, but they lost and the Canadian Infantry certainly had a lot to do with it, much more in fact than anyone else, and everybody here knows it.

I also have picked up a couple of automatics, one is a 9 mm and the other is a .32 automatic. But it is very difficult to get that type of ammunition. They are both Italian guns. I picked them up in Bari when I was there one leave. I haven’t seen a German plane in the air since I arrived in this country, but I have seen plenty of them in the ground, as well as their famous Tiger tanks. If I only had a camera with plenty of film, I certainly could have lots of interesting pictures to bring home.

This is certainly the place to come if anybody wants to save money. I haven’t been in pay parade this year yet, nor have I been afforded the opportunity to spend any money, except for the weekly canteen and all you can buy is usually a chocolate bar and if you are lucky a bottle of beer. Despite all this I have in my person at the present moment exactly $58.00. Besides this I have those two automatics that I could sell easily for three pounds a piece. And I have in my pay book to my credit over $50.00.

Now in case you jump off your feet and say why in hell don’t I send some of the money or all of it that I have in my person, home, the fact is I can’t. I cannot give money to the Paymaster to send home I can only send the money that’s in my book. Around the middle of Feb. I sent $40 home. Mom should have received it by now. Now I am taking a chance and sending a $10.00 bill that I have bought off one of the boys and am enclosing it in this letter. I’ll also enclose a 50 lire note as a souvenir. It is not Italian Currency but is put out by the Allied Govt and is the money that we use. One lire is valued at one cent. So 100 lire is one dollar and a pound is valued at $4.00.

The soldiers’ best friend in this country is his slit trench and his gun. To date I haven’t had to make a dive for one. But believe me if the time comes that I think I should I won’t hesitate. And I haven’t had to use my rifle except to shoot at targets and I don’t expect that I’ll ever have to. While I’m on the subject of shooting, yesterday I borrowed a tommy gun with the intention of having a spot of fun. I had it alright. I fired a few rounds and I chanced to take a glance at the barrel after feeling something splash me in the face. Apparently the first few rounds got out the barrel but the last two didn’t. One apparently was an oversize round and it jammed at the muzzle, the one that came up the barrel after it practically came out the side, that was when I felt the something splash in my face, it was some fragments of the casing in the shell. The barrel looked like somebody went to work with a can opener and ripped it open.

It wouldn’t have been so bad if I owned it and I had had permission to fire it but it belonged to someone else and I did not have permission to fire it. Only too well aware of these facts, I indeed had a lot to think about. My only hope is that they will overlook the fact that I neglected to obtain permission from my worthy superiors and treat the unfortunate affair as an unavoidable accident. Otherwise instead of boasting a sizeable credit in my paybook, the credit will swing to debit. The Captain had a talk to me about it and hardly think that they will hold me responsible as it undoubtedly was an oversize round. I hope not anyway.

I hope you are receiving the papers I am sending to you. They should be interesting. An English general popped up yesterday accompanied by the usual escorts all wearing enough red tabs to set a bull mad. And as usual everybody tried to look respectful, concerned and very interested in everything. At the least our Officers did and I guess they thought we would too.

How disillusioned they were. To start the ball rolling when he came to our gun everybody forgot to stand to attention except the Sergeant. And when the general spoke to one of our boys about the mail and how long it took to come, he unfortunately picked one who is a rather nervous person with none too clear a view on how to pay the proper respects to one with the red tabs. He had a pick in his hand when the general spoke to him and when the lad answered he didn’t stand to attention and he started to swing the axe to and fro and talking at the same time and I think he even forgot to say Sir. You should have seen the look on our Officers faces. The only person who didn’t seem to mind at all was the General himself.

So that’s the army for you. The ultimate result of this episode was a stern speech from the Sgt. Major on discipline, etc. etc. We are eating fairly good. We are very fortunate at the present to be getting bread three times a day. I know we haven’t been in the past and won’t always be so lucky. We also get lots of mutton which we can eat with a mighty effort, if we are hungry enough. That stuff I believe is more unpopular than bully beef. It’s dehydrated and frankly it’s awful. For breakfast we get porridge, bacon or egg powder, sausage meat, bread, jam and coffee. For dinner we usually get canned stew, sometimes lately a bit more often, fresh meat or mutton or bully beef (Camouflaged, that is covered up in the form of a fire. Potatoes, carrots. For dessert we have usually, rice or prunes. Supper is the same. We have no other means of getting food like in England, that is what we have to live on. Sometimes the cooks get really energetic and cook doughnuts or some kind of cake but not often.

I know my chances of getting home for awhile at least, are very slim, but I do hope that I can return to England soon and never, never return to this part of the world again. England indeed is a wonderful place and it is even more appreciated when you are sent to a dirty rotten country like this. During the heavy rains that we have had we were issued rubber boots, coat and pants which keep us reasonably dry if we were handy enough to grab them when the rain started. We certainly had a lot of mud. It was always for a long while over our ankles and in some places to our knees. One time we had to move our gun out of our pit, it took us from six o’clock at night until about ten o’clock the next morning to move it from the position to the road which was a distance of roughly 200 yards. And it took two of our diesels to do it and about thirty men pulling on drag ropes. The gun weighs six tons the trucks weight about ten ton each.

Please don’t worry over me, I am quite safe. Always remember to remind Mom that I am if she shows any signs of worrying over me. If she doesn’t hear from me regular the mail sometimes is held up and lots of times I won’t have time or perhaps I won’t have the material to write with. As you know Med. Arty is well behind the lines and our only danger is shelling or bombing, and I haven’t seen or heard a German plane since I have come here and we have only been shelled once and that was very little. We were in our dug out at the time and one landed that was a dud and we could see the red hot shell sizzling in the mud. As long as a fellow digs in and uses his head he’s quite safe.

We’re off duty now and it is time for bed. March 16, 2000 hrs. We have just got our tea ration for the night and we are preparing our evening snack. To-day I received a box of chocolates from Mother which were certainly welcomed, a lot of the boys received parcels as well. It has been another quiet day to-day with a little firing but not much on both sides. This morning I had a shower, the first in a month and I certainly needed it. To-morrow if I am lucky I might get the chance to go to a show. Well, Dad I reckon I’ve said enough for now.

Best of Luck Your Son .

Submitter: Julie (Robinson) Small

Notes: This letter was written during WWII by Donald Malcolm Delaney, eldest son of Harold Vernon Delaney of Digby, NS who served in WWI. Donald died in Oct 2002. He left no known heirs. However, as his loving neice I would like you to know that Uncle Donald lived an eventful life even though he never returned to Medical school. He always championed higher education and encouraged his nieces and nephews and "adopted son" Timothy to seek an education. Donald's niece, Julie -

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