Tom Hayden (top) with his friends on Mt Etna in 1943.Tom Hayden
Tom Hayden's friends; Norm Smith and Martinson (first name unknown) have a drink on Mt Etna in 1943.Tom Hayden
A mobile workshop truck is loaded aboard a ship in preparation for the invasion of Italy, July 1943.Tom Hayden
Laundry day on the Siegfried Line. Tom Hayden took this photo as he was moving into Germany in 1945.Tom Hayden
"So when nightfall came, we were there alone, we had no rifles, we had nothing, we had just a box of tools."
Before we left England, we moved up to Scotland, and we went through the process of waterproofing all the vehicles. Some of that was not too good because there were air vents, and that meant as soon as we got to Sicily, we had to take this, because it was like plasticine we put over these air vents.
But it was very, very necessary because they found out that if the rear axles had an air vent on them, when the air couldn’t be released, it churned the oil into such a foam that it went out through the axles into the brakes. And you had no brakes. So it was very dangerous they found out. So the first few days we were in Sicily, myself and another chap was sent right down to the shore, and as the trucks came in, we took off the plastic, like putty it was, off the air vents so that that wouldn’t occur. Also, we had to take it off the distributor because the distributor would sweat and then it would short out. So we had to take off that. It was quite an experience.
The two of us were taken down to the waterfront and the LSTs [Landing Ship Tanks] were bringing the trucks in and dropping them off on the shore. We were there to, when our vehicles came in to do this job of taking off the plastic. Our officer that took us down to the shore, which was maybe four or five miles, he forgot about us. So when nightfall came, we were there alone, we had no rifles, we had nothing, we had just a box of tools. So it was a little scary because Italy soldiers had been, well, they weren’t prisoners of war actually because they capitulated very soon. But they were wandering around and you didn’t know which was a good guy and which wasn’t. (laughs) So it was kind of a risky bad time.
And another thing. They had rollers going a way out in the water because the small boats couldn’t get into shore and unload the ammunition. So they had these rollers way out into the water, and they had the Italians on each side, just pushing the ammunition boxes in on these rollers. And then when they got into land, they loaded them on trucks and then hauled them away. But it was quite a sight to see them. And then they’d only allow to keep them out there for I think about 15 minutes and then they would change them. And these were Italian prisoners if you want to say, doing this work, so they were only in the water for at least maybe 15 minutes.
Most of the time, in workshops, you were always working on the vehicles because you had some breakdowns, and then there was some that was damaged quite badly. So we would be maybe 20 or 30 miles from Mount Etna so they took us to Mount Etna and drove us up as far as we could go on the road in the truck. And then you have to walk from there. Norm Smith and I, we were buddies right from the start and we joined up together. So we went up and we climbed Mount Etna. But there, we were kind of fooled. When we got out of the vehicles, you’re looking at a mountain and you see the path going up around the side of it and you think that’s Mount Etna. Well, it isn’t. Mount Etna is in behind.
And Norm and I said, “Well, what do we want to walk all the way around there, why not just cut across it? It’s a little bit rough but we’ll climb up over the rocks this way, it’d be a lot faster.” And so we did. So we climbed this little mountain in front and then we found out that Mount Etna was in behind it, so we had to go down on that. Now, that going down was very easy because that was all cinders being blown off from Mount Etna. So you would just have to jump out about six feet, and then you would slide 20 feet in these cinders. We went down very fast but it wasn’t very good. But that’s where we caught up to some of our other boys that had gone around the outskirts. Yeah, it was quite the thing. Climbing all over the rocks and no path or anything, and then finding we had climbed the wrong mountain. (laughs)
Yeah, it wasn’t too bad. But we had a good time. When we got up there, this path that went up, it was pretty solid, so it wasn’t too bad. So we found an old wheelbarrow up there. And we thought, well, we’ll take some pictures and we got in the wheelbarrow, and we were coming down the mountain, wheeling each other down the mountain in the wheelbarrow. Yes, we had some good times.