- Popski's Private Army -
Popski's Private Navy
This page is
dedicated to the men of Popski's Private Navy.
Lieutenant Brian Thomas
has sent us the names of the other five Royal Engineers of the 945
Inland Water Transport Compagny in Popski's Private Navy, along with
some photos of the pre-fabricated wooden Cargo Lighters (RCL's a.k.a.
Ramped Craft Logistic) used in the Venice escapade and for transporting
PPA around the marches, canals and flooded areas in Northern Italy.
As an interesting point of records, Popski's Private Navy, comprising
just 6 men, represented the smallest independent unit of the British
Army (yup, smaller than the original No1 Demolition Squardon).
Further than that, they must certainly hold a military record, since
every man of the unit was Mentioned in Dispatches!
Est. - Att.
Thomas, Brian (Skipper)
Story of Lt.
Brian Thomas of PPN.
Lt. Brian Thomas of PPN
Popski's Private Navy.
In the summer of 1943 Lt. Brian
Thomas, one of the Royal Engineers with the 945 Inland Waterway
Transport Co, came from Great Britain to Italy. They landed in Augusta
and were there for 2 days. Later they marched up into Syracuse, where
they were moved three days later along to Catania. After 2 weeks in
Catania they were told to get ready for their next trip up into Italy.
They were going to Taranto on a big Italian ship which came from Messina.
They got to Taranto 3 days before the surrender of the Italian navy.
They had been in Taranto for a week when he was told that his unit was
to go by road to Brindisi. Brindisi would be their first working port.
His first job was to recce the whole port to get all the working boats
of all types to take them over for the army to use. Afterwards they
moved as a unit from Brindisi to Bari, to Barletta, up to Pescara and to
Ancona. From Ancona he was sent with a few men to Pesaro with 6 RCL’s
and 2 Canadian Tanac tugs.
Lt. Brian Thomas himself goes further…
…We did a lot of training in Pesaro, my small unit of some 20 men, which
included 2 sergeants, 4 corporals and the rest were crew. The training
was to go out to sea, come back in, train to load and unload with the
ramps, as if we had vehicles onboard, when on one day two jeeps arrived
unexpectedly. A captain of one of the jeeps came out and asked if I was
in charge. I said: “Yes.” He introduced himself as Captain John Campbell
of Popski’s Private Army. They had had some rather bad previous
experience with craft to take them from A to B by sea. They had actually
used the RASC’s DUKWs which had come up from Ancona to Rimini. They were
not very happy with the DUKW to be used with their type of vehicles. He
saw ours and said: “Brian, that is exactly what we want. Can we try them
out?” I said: “Of course you can.” So we put his 2 jeeps onboard one of
our RCL’s and took him 3 miles out to sea and back again. The beauty of
it was that the top of the jeep was in an exact line as the top of the
gunnel of the RCL, so nothing could be seen of the jeep except for their
armement. Each of their jeeps had a Bren Gun, a .55 Browning, a 2 inch
mortar and a 4 inch mortar. John said: “Think what we could do if we can
get 4 of these boats. Think of the firepower of one of these small boats
and that’s the main reason. If we will need you, we’ll let you know.”
They disappeared after we tried them out and I thought I don’t know if
we will see them again, but at least he was impressed by the show we
gave him. All of this happened, these trials with our boats with John
Campbell during, January of 1945.
We then moved up to Rimini as a unit, again waiting for the 8th Army to
push up a little further. We had been in Rimini some 2 months when I had
an order to take 6 RCL’s and their crew up to Ravenna. I went by truck,
leaving the boats and their crew to come up by sea and I met them up in
Ravenna. When we were in Ravenna, we knew that something was going to
happen. Not knowing exactly what, we were just expecting every day some
contact of Popski’s Private Army, but we didn’t know for certain.
A very interesting part happened then which we helped with and that was
a unit with two 15CWT trucks which arrived in Ravenna. I have yet to
know what the unit was called, but they must have been a unit
specialized in camouflage. They contacted me and asked me for the help
of half a dozen men. To our surprise they brought out of their lorries
20 or 30 packages, which were broken open and it was no more then a lump
of rubber. This rubber turned out to be a full size tank when it was
filled with air, which these men produced by cannister. There was this
tank, sitting in front of us, as if it had appeared from nowhere. The
man in charge of it, said to one of my men: “Right, would you take that
tank over there.” And with disbelieve this man got hold of the tank and
just lifted it up and moved it across where he was told to put it. The
outcome of this was some 20 to 30 rubber lifesize tanks and 15CWT trucks
and officers cars, all assembled on the quay at Ravenna. And than
ofcourse the truth came out, because these boys knew that the
information had gone forward that there was a big army being assembled
in that area to do an invasion of that part of the Adriatic up towards
While we were talking about and looking at these things, there was an
air raid warning sounded in Ravenna and up above us, coming towards us
in the open clear sky, there was a stratosphere bomber. This was not
sent to that point to bomb us, but as a recce. The men in charge of
these tanks immediately started running about and placing smoke
canisters among the tanks ()and at a given time they were all set off,
but not before they had given the recce plane enough time to take all
the photographs they wanted to. For the next 2 days we moved these tanks
all over the place and the recce plane came over 2 or 3 times. Anyway we
helped them to do that and it was after the second or third day of that
I was wanted at the office of the NOIC, Naval Officer In Charge. I
proceeded to the office of the NOIC and he said that he had a telegram
from Army Headquarters and would I please read it. In short the telegram
said; “You are required to have ready 5 RCL’s and their crew to be under
the immediate command of Popski’s Private Army on the 10th March 1945.
You must be ready by 06.30 on that date. PPA representatives will be
contacting you sometime during this day.”
A few hours later John Campbell and his jeep and driver arrived and said
that 10 of them were arriving the next morning and if we could get away
at first light with 2 minesweepers to escort us with his jeeps up to the
We arranged everything quickly and I held a meeting with my men and
asked for volunteers to come with me. I am pleased to say that the
volunteers who stepped foreward were amongst those that I would have
picked for the job myself. I was pleased to see that and I picked out
the crews for the 5 boats. I told the volunteers what we were expected
to do. I don’t think any of us slept that night. At 06.00 o’clock we
were down at the boats, made sure that they were all full of diesel,
everything running, everything working and at 07.15, Popski’s jeeps
arrived. We loaded up very quickly and we left the harbour at 07.35.
This was right at high tide and perfect for what we had to do, to meet
these minesweepers outside. We then proceeded 10 miles of the coast all
the way up along the Italian coast going north.
There was an incident at one point when daylight was just coming to
brightness. Butch Freeman, one of my men, shouted:”Object ahead sir!”
From were I was, some few feet above him, because I was in the rear of
the boat. I could see that it was a magnetic mine coming towards us. So
we immediatly flashed with signals and flags to those behind us to move
over towards the port-hand, which we did. All of us moved pass the
magnetic mine some 20 to 30 yards away from us.
When the last boat had passed it, we decided to try to sink the thing.
We fired at the magnetic mine but none of us hit the thing. We hit the
antenna of the mine, but not on top of it. We let the Navy boys know and
apparently they must have informed somebody interested behind us.
Nothing else happened on the journey up to the Po Delta, until we
suddenly saw 2 fishing boats being rowed out towards us. 2 chief
partisans came onboard and they helped us to navigate into the river Po
di Goro. This was one of the small tributaries of the river Po that
comes out in the Adriatic a few miles south of the actual Po. We entered
that, nothing showed up, no enemy appeared at all. We went some mile up
the river and we came across 3 large cables going across the river. I
told this to Popski’s chaps and decided we would stop there and then and
let them off on the bank. Because these 3 cables in our minds must only
be mines layed across the river.
Popski’s men were quite happy to be put off where we put them and they
disappeared on a small track on top of the river bank. Half hour later
one of jeeps was back with John Campbell onboard, he said: “Brian, I
want you to come with me to meet the partisans in the near village”. I
asked to Sgt. Jimmy Kinealy, who was in charge of my boat, to try and do
something about the three cables across the river. I said. “Take no
changes at all but see if you can do anything about them”. Off I went
with John Campbell and we met in a farm about a mile away from the river.
There were these 20 fully armed partisans, grinning and smiling all over
their faces, meeting us, because they had been waiting a long time for
us. We had a meeting about what Popski’s unit should do and how we
should help them with the rivers and canals to get PPA across the
We were sitting down to drink coffee and to eat something with the
partisans when Jimmy Kinealy came in and asked for me and I said:
“What’s wrong Jimmy?” and he said: “Nothing sir, we are across the
cables.” I said: “How did you do that!?” He said: “We went to the middle
of the river and we put a stick over de bow of our boat and told Butch
to go very slowly right in the middle of the river, I did touch the
cable once at four feet, but as we only draw two foot six, I drew the
stick up and we went over the top, sir.”
We went back to the boats with the order of Popski’s boys to meet them
as near to or on the Po as we could get to. We went a few hundred yards
up the Po di Goro until we came to a small canal leading towards the
river Po. We went off here until we came to a lock gate. This had been
completely tempered with, so we couldn’t open it or close it. But faith
must of been on our side because we put one boat, one RCL, in the side
of the lock and left one outside. The thing that we had to do was to
close the downward lock without any cables, because they were smashed
and we actually put ropes onto the doors themselves and pulled from the
inside. The RCL on the outside pushed and between us we managed to close
the gates. You couldn’t tell anybody to do this, because it wouldn’t
work but we actually made it work. So much so that, they closed and the
lock itself started to fill up. It took some 3 hours because, if you
know what lock gates are like, the closed gate is always losing some
water into the lock itself, it’s running all the time and the fact that
we had closed the gate behind us, it started to fill. And as it filled a
bit more and more, so we managed slowly to open those gates to get the
water in properly. We get through eventually and had to go through the
whole lot again for the second RCL came through. But we eventually did
it. This was all done at night. An Italian came up to us while we were
doing it and said in broken English “Why are you doing that?” And we had
to tell him. “You know, in the offices here are German troops.” And I
said: Thank you very much. We had no thought of any Germans being around
there, while we were doing this at night, trying to do it as quiet as we
could, luckily a jeep arrived and fired a round with their bren guns at
the office and brought these Germans out quickly with their hands up and
we knew we were safe to carry on through the lock.
When we got the second RCL through we met the first of the jeeps on the
bank and they asked to be taken across to the other side, which we did.
The two of them went across. The soldier in charge of that jeep told us
that we had to go to a point which he gave me on the map, which was the
first bridge across the Po where some 120 prisoners had been caught and
were waiting to be picked up and brought back.
I left orders with the remaining 3 RCL’s to stay at those locks and keep
them open. So when we bring these prisoners back we could transfer them
into their boats and they would take them back to Ravenna. We went up
the Po, line astern in case we touched ground, one of us could get off.
The Po itself is a straight river, but the course of the river, the
actual riverbed winds away from one bank to the other. The deep part
goes from one side to the other, even although the actual Po is
straight. But to get over this, the Italians had put, what they called,
Marshals on the banks and every time we had to turn towards the next
bank, the Italian would wave his hand and we would aim towards him and
that is how we went up the Po without going aground.
When we saw the bridge we had to get to, it was completely broken. It
was hanging in the water. The sight of these bridges is in everybody’s
mind today when they look back on photographs of damaged or bombed
bridges. The bridge itself was made of the same type of bridgework as a
Bailey bridge, but the diamond shapes within the sides of the bridge
were larger then on a Bailey bridge. So when we got to that bridge, we
thought we’ll never get through here to go any further. But when we got
to one of these diamonds and found out that our boat, by cutting our top
most part of the stearing portion of the boat off, we could just squeeze
under. And we went through the very first large angles of this bridge.
Scraping and sliding we’ve heard the propeller had touched when we went
through with the tide, but anyway we got through and there a half mile
further up, were these men waiting with Popski’s boys for us to put them
onboard. We got them onboard, took them back through the same way as we
had come, back to the 3 waiting RCL’s, transferred to them and they were
taken back to the minesweepers that were waiting outside and taken back
to Ravenna. Our 2 boats were asked to go back to the point opposite
where we left the prisoners. Opposite that was another lock gate going
up another canal towards the river Adige. I sent the first boat through
and he got through. He closed every thing up as he went through waiting
for us to come through, when the great stone parapet at the top of the
outside gate fell and lodged itself down in the front of the lock gate,
which opened on to the River Po. This made it completely impossible for
me to get through. Luckily an Italian saw what we were trying to do,
said he knew a way arround through the open waterways of the Po by going
less then a quarter of a mile down the river into a little stream and
out into the open waters of the Po Delta itself. So I said; “Are you
prepared to come with us?” and he said “Yes”. So he came onboard. We
went down the river and we found the entrance to a very tiny little
river. If anybody has ever been to Suffolk and been down to the River
Flatford, they will know exactly what type of little river we were in.
In fact our boat only had something like 2 yards either side to spare.
It was slightly daunting to think that we were going, not knowing if we
could get through, but this man said we could do it, so we put our trust
in him. At one point in this river, the water became to shallow that we
grounded. But we grounded at the stern where the heaviest part, the
engine, was. I immediately got the 2 other crew and myself to remove all
the ammunition boxes, all the heavy stuff from the stern of the boat up
onto the ramp itself. Luckily this levelled the boat out. So, instead of
drawing two foot six down in the stern, we were overall about two feet.
Just enough to get of the ground and we proceeded along this river,
until we came out of the river into what it looked like a field of
water. There weren’t any hedges, but there were parts of raised ground
that we could see ahead of us. But it was just like a flooded field.
The Italian aimed where we had to go to. Two of us were up onto the ramp
with 6 foot sticks, so we could tell where the deep water was, literally
touching almost all the time at 3 feet. We proceeded across this
field-like water to a gap in a raised, no more then a yard wide,
footpath, into another water aera. There he said we must turn now left,
pointing with his left hand and we turned and did exactly the same
through this water. Up ahead after about a mile we came to these
fishermens stilted houses, which I had read about, but never seen, these
people who lived out on the water of the Po Delta. They lived of nothing
else but fishing. Luckily the water became deeper and deeper and then at
a point passed the houses the Italian said: “Now a bit more to the left
and join the canal where you left your other boat.” The whole journey
had taken 3 to 3 and a half hours. And what a relief it was when we
suddenly saw the boat ahead of us waiting and we joined them again.
We had no idea what we were heading for, who was in the water area,
whether the fishermen living in the stilted houses were friendly or not,
or whether there were Germans in the offices. The whole operation was to
get back to our boat and connect at the point given to us by Popski.
Luckily we got back to our boat safely, they were relieved to see us and
we proceeded to the point on the map where we would meet Popski’s jeeps.
When we met the second in command Jean Caneri, he was the first to meet
us with his jeep he said: “Thank God you’ve arrived. I have made
arrangements on radiophone to go across the Adige and up to Chioggia to
meet the German officers in charge there under the white flag of truce.
Will you please take me across the Adige and leave me there and wait
until I get back.” We took him upon to the shore on to the road some
mile from Chioggia. Only 10 yards from the bank was a telephone box.
Jean Caneri said to me: “I bet that’s not working, let’s try.” He went
into the telephone box, lifted the receiver and immediatly got an
Italian voice saying: “What number?” He was absolutily amazed and said:
“I don’t want a number, I want the officer in charge of the German
forces in Chioggia.” He said this in fluent Italian. This clever person
on the other end managed immediatily to put him through and Jean said:
“We’re on our way, please be prepared to hand over your authority to me
when we arrive.” And off he went. An hour later he came back to say that
everything had gone according to plan and that he got the agreement of
the surrender of the German troops to himself, but would I with my two
boats proceed round to Chioggia for the next stage.
We went down the Adige towards the mouth and strangely enough, the water
at the entrance to the Adige was shallower further up the river. We
learned then from the Italian, who was still with us, that this happened
at low tide only. So we had to wait in the Adige some 2 hours for the
tide to rise. Eventually we scraped out into the Adriatic and proceeded
as quickly as we could up the coast to the entrance to the port of
Chioggia. Again we came across these great cables going from one side of
the entrance of the harbour to the other. Not knowing whether Jean
Caneri had agreed to the surrender and also to all the unplugging of
electrical detonators, we didn’t like to take the chance of just
charging in. So we put off all of our engines and the rising tide took
us over the top of these cables. With our hearts in our mouths we passed
the third and last one and got across without any trouble. From that day
to this we didn’t know whether they where actually live or not. But we
got in the harbour of Chioggia, tied up alongside the quay, being looked
at by many hundreds of bewildered Germans. Within 6 hours of tying up in
Chioggia Popski arrived. Popski had just arrived back from England where
he had had a beautiful chromium plated hook fixed to his left arm, where
his hand had been taken of. I think most people know that Popski himself
lost his hand during one of their little wars, south of Rimini. Anyway,
he arrived back with this beautiful hook, brandishing it to everybody,
showing what a great thing he got. “Nobody is going to stop us now
boys!” he then said: “Have you boys eaten today?” So we said: “No, it
has been a long time since we have had any food.” So he said: “Right,
leave your boats and come with me.” So he and his driver and myself and
my four men walked quite nonchalantly into the German camp, into the
main office part, into a great dining hall and we sat down with some 150
Germans, also eating and we were supplied food by German soldiers.
Nothing seemed to be unusual, everybody accepted us. Most smiled, except
for the officers, because they were in shock, they sat and didn’t eat.
But the rest were a friendly lot.
Later on, Popski came up to me and said: “Brian, are you ready for the
next move?” and I said: “Any time you like.” And he said: “I have been
in touch with the Canadian troops. They’re going in tomorrow morning at
the north of Venice and we’ll go in south by water.”
The next morning we went off just after half past 6, just when it was
daylight. We found that the navigatable canals were all marked by
sticks, so instead of having to plod straight across unknown water, we
did follow the staked out canals, right up between the Island of St.
Giorgio and Venice itself, across the grand canal to a point immediately
at St. Mark’s Square.
The thrill of this moment can never ever be told properly, because we
were going to experience something that no other men had ever have done
and that is drive a vehicle around in St. Mark’s Square. Popski went off
first. Jean Caneri with me on board his jeep went off second and the
whole Italian population of Venice seemed to be out in St. Mark’s Square
cheering us as we went round. This was a marvelous moment. I think
probably the most marvellous moment of any of our Allies. Anyway we did
that triumphant trip round, Popski went up one of the side alleys as far
as he could in his jeep and met a Canadian officer coming down at the
other way and exchanged greetings. There were a few snipers to pick up
which they did and that was the end of it. I think Venice was very lucky
to be saved without any real fighting going on. Popski then said “Right
that’s fine, we must just check up on one other point.” His jeeps got
back on to our RCL’s and we took them down to the entrance to the Lago
di Venezia. But we turned north, when we got to the Lido, to a strip of
land that comes down from the northern bank of the Lago di Venezia.
Popski said: “If you put us ashore here, we will go up to the most
northerly point of the Lago di Venezia. I hear there are quite a lot of
Germans still up there.” We couldn’t put him off at the jetty, a nice
little available jetty, because of a coaster. An old rusty coaster was
lying right at the head of the jetty. So we found us an available spot
to put our ramps down and let Popski off and he said: “We’ll see you
back here as soon as we’ve finished our little trip up the road.”
I said to Jimmy Kinealy, the sergeant
with me: “Let’s try and move that coaster away from the end of that
jetty. So when Popski comes back, he comes straight down the jetty to us
on board.” I went with Jimmy onto the boat, just to see what of sort of
thing it was. Was it an empty boat or what? We undid the hatches folded
back with canvas and to our surprise we found a hold half full of water
in which were floating some 20 to 30 magnetic mines. We didn’t know what,
why or how they have been left or whether they were live or whether they
could go off any moment or what. But we decided, because we’ve gone so
far, it would be worth trying, very slowly to drop the ship slowly down,
by releasing the bow ropes and let it float downstream on its stern
ropes. Luckily nothing happened, so from that day to this, we have no
idea whether those magetic mines were primed or not. It was a nasty
While we were waiting we walked ashore and we saw some grey buildings,
metal sheds and we forced our way into one and we found mountains of
bottles. We thought we were lucky, we thought it must be Vodka, but all
they were were rations for the German forces of Vichy water. But we did
find in these sheds something which became very useful to us afterwards.
We found a beautiful naval Aldis lamp and a tripod. We found a 28 inch
German naval telescope and tripod and these became very useful aditions
to our boats for the rest of the time we had them. We waited about an
hour when Popski arrived back. He had met up with quite a lot of Germans,
some thousend apparently were still active on that part of Italian
mainland. But within half an hour of arriving there, they had managed to
suppress them and found the Canadians also doing the same mopping-up job
in the same area. They handed all their prisoners back to them. Popski
came back on board and we took him down to our starting point in
Chioggia. That was on May 2nd 1945. And that, as far as we were
concerned, was the end of our operation with Popski, the most succesful
and very exciting 3 or 4 weeks of our lives. I think everybody agrees
that what has been done had helped to finish the war much more quickly
then if it hadn’t happened, because we heard afterwards that the Germans
had had to bring over a complete Panzer division to that area, because
of the numbers of troops they thought we had South of Ravenna, which was
all a make up.
We stayed in Chioggia with Popski, as two separate units, until V-E Day
on the 8th of May. The only memory of my own of V-E was the day before,
on the evening of May 1st, as I am not sure of that date. But what I do
remember is, that when we heard that VE day had happened, John Campbell
and I went out onto a veranda in Chioggio. He, in very fluent Italian,
shouted out to the people within earshot that he was very pleased to
tell them that the war was over.
P.P.A. jeeps at the St. Marco Square in Venice - Italy
L to R: Lt. Brian Thomas, Capt. Jean Caneri and Gigi Cardona.
Life for me after Popski’s incident became extremely interesting,
because as a unit we were moved up into Venice to run the port of Venice
and I was then in charge of all the crafts that moved within the lagoon,
even motorboats had to come under my command. The only things that
didn’t come under my command were the traghetti, the ferries that ran
across at vareous points of the canal.
The whole unit of 945 was billeted on the island of St. Giorgio. Quite a
fantastic island, because it was equiped completely with a harbour, a
basin in which we put all of our boats. And round the southern side of
the island was a complete dockyard with launching ramps for repair work.
Everything that was needed for our unit was there on the island,
including very good accommodations for the men.
Well, I was with 2 other officers billeted in very spacious, wonderful
palaces on the grand canal. I suppose this was our pay off for the war,
that’s how we felt of it, because it was a very great enjoyment of ours
to get this at the end of the war. But then, few weeks after that
landing in Venice I was asked if I would like to do a special trip. This
was to go to Genua and take 6 ‘Z’ crafts, being 160 foot steel ramp
cargo vessels, rather low landing craft but used for equipment rather
I took this job on very quickly and I had to take enough men for 6
crafts. A sergeant and a sapper for each one, and the rest of the crews
on each boat were to be Italians, who I had to meet when I got to Genua.
Very quickly we moved over to Genua and found the port of Genua in a
shocking state, including the Italian Royal Yacht which was sunk, but
its funnel was sticking out, so we knew exactly where and what is was.
But there were 20 or 30 sunken ships all over the harbour downed by the
German to stop us using it. But slowly and surely we got these ‘Z’
crafts kitted up, fitted up, fuelled up and crewed by Italians who were
very keen to earn some money. We told them it would be about 8 or 10
weeks and our trip was to take these 6 ‘Z’ crafts and 2 Tanac tugs round
We went off the very first day and headed south and made for Portofino.
Arriving in Portofino at about half past 4 in the afternoon we dropped
anchor in this beautiful town. The water was so clear that we could see
the anchors lying some 40 feet down below us. We went ashore and got the
necessary vitals that we hadn’t got in Genua and decided that it was a
nice place to stop for a few extra hours. I sent a telegram off to IWT
Headquarter that we had trouble with the engine of the Z 77, so we could
stay a bit longer and enjoy ourselves for a few hours. We thought it was
a reasonable thing to do. Anyway from then on we travelled some 40 miles
every day until we got to Naples, 3 or 4 days later. In Naples, we were
told to go to lay along side the decontamination warf. We never
understand why but perhaps the natives themselves, seeing our funny
types of crafts, didn’t want much to do with us. Anyway, we laid there
for a few hours. I went ashore and made arrangements to collect 40
gallon barrels of diesel for the rest of our trip. I forgot to say that
we were escorted from Genua to Naples by 2 HDML’s with very cheerful
crews on each one. They were strange crafts. I don’t know what HDML ever
stood for, but they had open wheel houses, something I have never seen
before in escort vessels of the navy. We went onboard one while we were
on the way to have a meal with them. It made me feel extremely sick and
had to leave the wheelhouse and go down below. They prepared a complete
meal below deck and my stomach didn’t feel at all well and when I
finished with that, I was much happier on top.
Anyway, they left us in Naples and I loaded up with diesel and headed
south. Again we went from one coastal port to another, 40 miles each day
till we got down to Messina. Whether I was right or not, I had my
sergeant, who was with me on my boat, come up and he asked me whether it
was possible to let the Italian fishermen of Messina have any of our
diesel. Supprisingly of the 60 barrels of diesel I had taken on in
Naples, the Americans, who had supplied them, had not wanted one single
signature. So I said to the sergeant: “Find out how many barrels these
fishermen want.” He came back to me and he said: “Four.” So I said:
“Well, as we have got them free, we’ll let them have four.” Sincerely I
had no idea of finance, that didn’t come in to my mind at all. I heard
these four barrels being rolled across the deck onto the shore and we
proceeded on our journey from Messina to the toe of Italy. We got into
the port of Bianco, just as it got dark, we tied up and after a very
well needed meal after a long day, we eventually made our bunks. Getting
into my bunk, tossed the pillow into a comfortable position, my hand
felt something under it. So putting the light on again, I pulled
whatever it was from underneath my pillow. To my surprise I counted a
110 thousand Lire. To me, this was a fortune, so I called the sergeant
to me and said: “What is all this about?” And he said: “Say nothing sir,
each and every one of us has received the same.” This was grattitude
from the fishermen. Obviously I couldn’t give it back. I say again, I
started the whole thing with no idea of personal gain, but it was very
pleasant to receive and I was glad we were able to help these fishermen
go out fishing for their livelihood again.
We did the next trip, the first time only we went all day, all night and
then the next day without touching land, untill we rounded the heel of
Italy to Farno, were we landed for the next night. The next day we
proceeded and docked in Brindisi. Here the officer in charge, the IWT
commander, met me and said: “Thank you Thomas for getting the crafts
round as far as here. Instead of going to Triëst we are going to ask you
to take them to Bari.” So the next day we went up to Bari, handed these
boats over, got the Italians back home and that was the end of a rather
pleasant holiday trip…
I would like to add a moment which I
will remember for ever. We were heading steadily towards San Giorgio
Island and could just see when we were heading for to land all 12 jeeps
of Popskis’. When Popski came quietly up to me as I stood on the half
opened ramp and he put his hand on my shoulder and quietly said: “Brian,
thank you for all you and your boys have done for us. You know what is
just about to happen. We will land all our boys on Venice, clear any, if
any, Germans and then it will all be over.., I mean the war,” he said
with meaning and he followed on with: “There is only one way we will be
going in the next few weeks and that is the Far East… Now how about your
unit coming with us because I know we can do something great there as we
have here!”v These words thrilled me and I turned round immediately and
said: “The answer is yes Popski we will come with you willingly. And I
meant it seriously.”
Ofcourse things did not happen quite like that. Popski and his men went
up into Europe and sorted things out and my men and myself were settled
in Venice for the next 18 months, a very nice way for the men in charge
to say: “Thank you for all you have done.”
Mr. Thomas we will thank you for this story.
Source: P.P.N. veteran Lt. Brian Thomas.
Photos: Research and Archive Section of P.P.A..