“Later We Erected the Wooden Crosses”

In Westminster Regiment’s War Diary* I have found out that Ivar Lindström belonged to the ‘A Company’. The company lost 18 men at the same day, the 24th of May 1944. On page 96 I found Ivar’s name and a description of the simple burial service two days later. The Padre, Captain D R G Owen (born 1914), performed the service and described the scene in the following words:

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‘It was necessary to use explosives in order to get down deep enough.’

”I think it was the second day after the crossing of the Melfa River when I got a message from the C.O. to go over at first light. The Regimental Aid Post (where I made my HQ. with the Medical Officer) was still on the south bank. I knew what this message meant. They had collected several bodies on our side of the river, and I knew there were many more on the other.

We set out (in the early morning) in a Bren carrier, taking with us our dead which we had wrapped in blankets. When we reached Tac. HQ. a grim sight greeted us. Here was a long line of bodies. The R.S.M., Mr. Clifford, and a work party were attempting to dig graves. The ground was baked hard and it was necessary to use explosives in order to get down deep enough. I proceeded to the task of identifying the bodies and preparing them for burial; in all, there were about twenty. We wrapped each one in a blanket, and put all the particulars in a tin to be buried at the head of each grave. I sent the names back to the Pioneers who prepared crosses on each of which was stamped the Regimental Crest.

Finally, everything was ready. We lowered the bodies into the long row of graves. A good number of officers and men gathered around and I began: ’I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord; he that believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live… Let not your heart be troubled; ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions… Man that is born of woman hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery. He commeth up and is cut down, like a flower… In the midst of life we are in death.’

At the conclusion of the little service the graves were filed in; we piled stones around each mound. Later we erected the wooden crosses, and the local inhabitants painted the stones and put flowers on each grave. We learned subsequently that they tended them carefully until the bodies were removed to an official military cemetery at Cassino.

And so, on the north side of the Melfa River, exactly on the objective, the bodies of twenty Westminsters lay quiet, eloquently but silently witnessing to the first great achievement of the Regiment in battle–and its price.”

*The Westminster War Diary was published in 1964 by Major J.E. Oldfield. The book is an unofficial history of the Regiment in World War II. While many contributed Major Oldfield re-wrote the many parts into one manuscript. I find him a very good writer, which makes the book easy and enjoyable to read.

I found the War Diary  on The Royal Westies web.

 

 

 

 

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