Marine H.E. Merrett (top row, centre) and comrades pose for a photo shortly after their arrival on the Italian "boot", Molfetta, Italy, October 1943.H.E. Merrett
Marine H.E. Merrett smoking a pipe somewhere in Italy, 1943.H.E. Merrett
"B" Troop, No. 40 Royal Marine Commando, Italy, 1943. Marine H.E. Merrett is seated on the far left of the bottom row.H.E. Merrett
Royal Marines enjoying Sicilian grapes, 1943. Marine H.E. Merrett is on the bottom right.H.E. Merrett
H.E. Merrett, shortly after his enlistment in the Royal Marines, Scotland, 1940.H.E. Merrett
"We never had any support when we were going in on jobs. It was just going in, do the job and get the hell out of there."
I joined up in the war. First I was in the [Royal] Marine Brigade, but then there was a chance to go in the Royal Marine Commandos, which is a unit that did special jobs. Every time they went into action, they were eyeball to eyeball with the enemy. Not like the ordinary infantry.
So one job we [No. 40 Royal Marine Commando] had was a place called Termoli [Italy], which was on the mouth of the Biferno River. [Field Marshal Bernard] Montgomery figured the Germans were going to make a stand on the Biferno River, so we had the job of landing there in Termoli and clearing the way. So we did, we went to land on Termoli, and they put us into land there, but they hit a sandbank and then there was 50 yards or more from the shore and the water was six feet deep. So I have my Bren Gun [light machine gun] to carry and I have four packs of ammunition in my pouches and there was no way I could swim.
So I was walking along as far as I could on the bottom, holding my breath and I’d have to jump up and get a mouthful of air. I did make it to the shore okay. Well, one guy was court martialled because he wouldn’t go in the water. [laughs] He said he couldn’t swim. [laughs]
Then we got ashore there at Termoli and I had the job of covering anybody getting out from Termoli to let the Germans know we were in there. So I was put on the mountainside and I was 800 yards from the road which they would come out. So to make sure, I put tracer bullets, one-in-three tracer bullets, so that I could fire like using a hose pipe, so I could drop on the road. So anything come out, they’d run right into the bullets I was firing. And there were not much come out, we were waiting. Then one time I remember, this dispatch rider [military messenger] come out and I knocked him out; and we went over and took one prisoner, one killed and one wounded there. There was three of them in there. He spoke perfect English, [laughs] and he spoke good English and he said to me, "good shooting." [laughs] Anyway, we did our job in Termoli and we captured a bunch of German prisoners too there, and put them up in the boat.
Then we went up to Anzio. At Anzio, had a lot of trouble there. At Anzio, the Germans were fighting. There was long gullies, irrigation ditch gullies, and we were on one side and we could hear the Germans, they were mortaring us. We had no mortars, we were a pure fighting force, you see, Bren Guns and some small side arms. You could hear them dropping the mortar down the barrel and then you could, you had to wait for it to land and we lost a few men like that.
A guy named Herman, he was with me. He had one slit trench and I had the other little small slit trench. One time he came to me and there was always something or other coming out of his mouth. He said, he was telling me about this story about his mother. In the First World War, his mother drove an ambulance there and she met a Belgian there, that’s why his name is Herman. He told me this story and then like we went back and we waited for the night, you see; and then they started mortaring us. I used to call out, "Ginge" (I called him Ginge). When we got in the slit trench, I’d call out "okay, Ginge, okay?!" They more or less mortared us every morning. And then they mortared us, and I called, "okay, Ginge?" No sign, nothing. I looked, and he’d had a direct hit with a mortar in his slit trench. It was a small one [the slit trench].
That was Anzio. We never had any support when we were going in on jobs. It was just going in, do the job and get the hell out of there. That was what we did.
Interview date: 18 October 2010