This page is part of the fuller description of Ray Rigg's early life and his war time role and experiences , to return to the shorter version click here.
The Italian Campaign 1943 - 1945
MCAF Map of the Italian Campaign landings and railway routes opened.
As the scale of his role grew, Ray was assigned to Movements Control Allied Force (MCAF) and he found himself involved in the planning and preparations for the major campaigns of the Mediterranean theatre. This included the planning prior to the Allied invasion of Sicily - Operation Husky, which took place in July 1943. Operation Husky was the largest amphibious operation of World War II in terms of size of the landing zone and number of divisions to be put ashore on the first day. The US Seventh Army were to be landed in the south of the island and British Eighth Army in the east.
He told of whilst in North Africa, being given charge of a briefcase containing important information as it was known that the transit camp in North Africa they were using was possibly to be subjected to attack by German paratroopers. With the briefcase handcuffed to himself and with a driver and sergeant to accompany him, he was sent out into the desert to keep the papers safe. He slept in the desert overnight, having buried the briefcase in the sand nearby for safekeeping.
British Troops going ashore during the Sicily landings. © IWM (A 17918)
During Operation Husky, Ray took part in the landings at Syracuse in the east of Sicily by the Eighth Army (XIII and XXX Corps). The landings took place between Pachino and Syracuse on beaches codenamed 'Bark' and 'Acid'. Later in life he told of the feeling of helplessness whilst being kept below deck (by locked doors) on an LST (Landing Ship - Tank) all night prior to the landings, under air attack and hearing explosions close by and all around. He was very glad to get ashore the following day. He described that experience as the worst of his war and the time he was most frightened. Research shows that there was unexpected north-westerly gale (force 7) on the afternoon prior to and the night of the landings. As he described his landing as being at Syracuse, it seems most likely it was on Acid Beach at or near Marzamemi as this is closest, although it is difficult to be certain.
A B-24 Liberator in RAF markings (no upper turret fitted).
More light-heartedly, on another occasion, Ray needed to travel from Southern Italy to Greece and was fogbound for 2 days at an Italian airfield. Whilst waiting, he slept on tables in the crew area at the airfield. As the weather started to improve, the chance of a lift to Greece on an RAF B-24 Liberator bomber crewed by Australians arose. Taking the opportunity, he was installed in the upper turret for the trip. All went smoothly during the flight until the crew spotted a submarine on the surface below, which they took to be Italian. He was mightily relieved when upon diving to investigate they found it to be British, for one thing he had not been shown how to operate the turret's gun! He further described his embarrassment when upon landing in Greece and leaving the aircraft, the parachutes were thrown out from the aircraft onto the ground. He stooped to pick his up, but unfortunately picked it up by the ripcord handle and the parachute deployed - the envelope covering them all in the silk. He received much ribald comment from the Australians!
US troops view the plume of the March 1944 eruption.
In March 1944 Mount Vesuvius erupted, affecting the Allies operations around Naples. The image to the left, from the United States National Archive, shows US troops viewing the eruption from the village of Massa di Somma to the North West of Vesuvius. This village was almost completely destroyed during the 1944 eruption making 600 people homeless; it was rebuilt after the war.
Ray told of making a similar trip with others in an open jeep to view the erupting volcano. Such journeys were not without hazard; a couple of days after his trip, Ray recalled hearing of a British Army Sergeant being hit and killed by falling rocks whilst on the slopes of the volcano.
Click here to view British photographer George Rodger's photos of the eruption from the American magazine 'Life'.
The Mess at Perugia.
As the Italian Campaign progressed, the MCAF headquarters moved northward through Italy. Officers from MCAF either being quartered at the headquarters location or nearby in an appropriate building. One such quarters was a villa which was requisitioned and occupied. It had previously been in the hands of the Germans. The water from the well at the villa was used for cooking, drinking and bathing and it was only after a couple of weeks there that they discovered that someone, presumably the Germans on leaving the villa, had put a dead sheep in the well. Luckily there was no resulting illness - Ray described it as his nearest brush with typhoid! e
His batman, an Irishman had on occasion very innovative methods, once having been gone for an long time having been sent to deliver a message by bicycle, explained on his return that he had had a puncture and had repaired it by stuffing the tyre with grass from beside the road!
Castello di Brolio.
At another quarters in Tuscany, Ray took his turn on the rota as Mess Officer, this duty involving buying provisions locally for the officers mess. He visited and bought wine from Castello di Brolio and he never forgot the Chianti Classico from there, in later life he found a local UK store selling it and bought a rather large bottle. After consuming the contents, he made a table lamp using the empty bottle; it remained in use as such for some years.
Later in the campaign Ray found himself in Northern Italy and surviving photos show a little of his time there.The Mess used by Ray's organisation was obviously in central Venice as can be seen from the photo on the left. Upon returning to Venice in the early 1950s on a family holiday, one evening he took his future Father in Law on foot to see the building that had served as the Mess - they were gone quite some time leaving Jo Hill to complain that he'd walked all around Venice!
The Rigg Family of Southwestern Lakeland © Michael Rigg 2018