Sicily 1943

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History Short number 21

This is another in the series of short historical articles by Members and friends of the Audlem and District History Society.

The general editor of the series, Jeremy Nicholls, writes

I'd welcome a few more submissions from readers and not necessarily ADHS members.

'The History Shorts series has covered a remarkably wide range of topics. Some have involved unusual and even quirky takes on familiar subjects. Others have introduced us to subjects we possibly knew nothing about. If you've been interested, moved, fascinated, or even amused by any of them, please consider writing a piece yourself. It's difficult to think of anything that doesn't have a potential historical angle to it.

There is a page about the history "shorts" here, or you can get to it via the features tab on the main menu bar. On this page you will links to many of the past History Shorts and brief guidance on submitting a piece.'

Number 21 - This is an unusual war story, though I suspect Anthony/Lawrence wasn't the only baby named after a relative, assumed dead, but who showed up again.

After a lot of digging through Imperial War Museum and other photograph collections, I was delighted to find the one of the soldiers fighting in Catania and couldn't believe the coincidence that it was taken on exactly the same date as Uncle Lawrence was captured.

Sicily 1943

by Lawrence Anthony Pearson

I am writing this on August 5th which is the 77th anniversary of an event which has caused me some considerable inconvenience and annoyance throughout my life, even though it happened nearly a year before I was born. I have to lay the blame on the German gunners who laid down a barrage on a vital crossroad to the west of Belpasso — 10 km north west of Catania — which was the next objective of 15th Infantry Brigade in the Allied drive to capture Catania on the east coast of Sicily. Three subsections of 13 platoon, D company of the 7th Cheshires, a specialist machine gun regiment, were in two trucks moving up to support The Green Howards.
On arriving at the crossroads, they found that the military police traffic controllers had sensibly made themselves scarce due to the German bombardment. They unfortunately chose to take the wrong turning which led them directly towards the German lines. The error was quickly discovered as, rounding a bend, they found themselves confronted by two MK IV Tiger tanks one of which promptly fired a shell into the engine block of the leading truck. Under machine gunfire the section abandoned the trucks for the safety of the roadside ditches though the section sergeant and another soldier were killed in the process. The ditches offered no protection as they were immediately confronted by enemy soldiers and taken prisoner.
One of the 15 captured was my Uncle Lawrence. The family back in Manchester received the standard telegram to say that he was "missing believed killed in action". Subsequently, when I appeared on the scene, I was named in his memory and it was only months after my birth that the family learned that he was, in fact, a prisoner of war in Stalag VIIIB in Poland. The fateful decision was made to now call me by my second Christian name to avoid confusion on his eventual return.
So, I have always been Anthony to the family and Tony to friends and work colleagues. But to the world of officialdom I am Lawrence. Passports, National Insurance ID, NHS ID and other official records all identify me in this way, which has been at best inconvenient and at worst downright confusing, testified by the fact that at one time there existed two separate records for me at Leighton Hospital under these different forenames.
Returning to Uncle Laurie, he remembered the British POWs sharing their rations through the wire with the Russians in an adjacent camp who were being systematically starved and he later endured the horrors of the "Long March" away from the advancing Russians in the spring of 1945 when, on occasion, the British prisoners stood in groups in fields tracing out the Letters 'POW' to avoid being strafed by allied aircraft.
Remarkably, he never expressed any bitterness to his captors and claimed that they twice saved his life. Once, when on a train carrying POWs that was stopped in Naples and the German guards used their rifle butts to deter angry Neapolitans who wanted to wreak revenge on the British. Secondly, when working (as all non-officer prisoners had to do), a German Army surgeon saved his leg after he suffered a serious accident on a railway line.
In retrospect, annoying though the name confusion has been, I am nevertheless proud to bear his Christian name.
Lawrence Anthony Pearson