We were then being re-equipped with Clipped Wing Spit IX’s with Merlin 66 engines – very powerful (7). The Clipped Wings made them very manoeuvrable at low altitudes.
Late April we moved to a grass airfield at San Angelo to prepare for the Battle of Casino. We
continued sweeps over the battle area; TAC R’s, ARTY R’s and Photo R’s. A few days before the battle a high-ranking Army Officer briefed us on what was going to happen. On 12th May all hell broke loose and we were very busy doing ARTY R’s and TAC R’s, although the smoke and dust were so intense that visibility was very poor. It was here that Eric (Judy) Garland was shot down. Judy was an ex Army Commando and had the MC & Bar. I met him again after the War and he has escaped from the train going through the Brenner Pass and had led a band of Partisans to the end of the war. Judy now lives in the Isle of Man.
Webmaster’s Note: Although a work of fiction, James Holland’s novel ‘A Pair of Silver Wings’ (8) describes the exploits of a Spitfire pilot who is shot down in Italy in April 1944, and who spends the remainder of the War fighting with Italian partisans. It might well have been based on the exploits of ‘Judy’ Garland.’
After Casino things moved very quickly (9) & (10) and every few weeks we had to move airfields to keep up with the Army. The number of airfields we moved to after San Angelo will give you some idea – Venafo, Aquino, Asa (near Rome), Falerium, Orvieto, Castiglione, Cecina, Arrezo, Maligio (near Sienna) and finally, for me, Florence.
Rome fell on the same day as D-Day in Normandy, but we had our own war going on so we really didn’t take much notice of it. Some of us went into the city to look at the sights three days after it fell and as we were the first RAF personnel they had seen we were treated like Royalty.
Florence was the first airfield on our way up through Italy with a proper hard runway – all the others had been grass. We really appreciated that and also the fact that we had a proper mess, as up to then we had been living under canvas. We were now into autumn and operations continued as before when the weather