John Thurlby

I look upon life as a journey, and my own wartime journey took me first to North Africa, then to Italy. My experiences in Italy and with its people were destined to play a very special role in my life. In recounting my life story, I hope to show that in our dealings with one another, it’s always better to look for common interests and to reach out to brothers and sisters. With the spirit of friendship, we can use our ingenuity and humour to overcome problems and help each other. In other words:

Love Conquers All

From: John Thurlby, My Life Story

John Thurlby

Born on the 17th February 1924 near Newark-on-Trent, Notts.

On 19th February 1943 he was called up and he joined the British Army. After some primary training he was posted to the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineers (REME). Men who’d been engaged in vehicle maintenance and men with electrical skills formed the nucleus of this new corps, which he was one of the first raw recruits to join. In October 1943 he got embarkation to Africa, destination Algiers, where he remained for a short period, before being sent to Italy. In mid-November 1943 he landed at Naples and from there he started his way north through Italy. Transferred to the 12th Royal Tank Regiment, he took part in the Battle of Cassino, then he moved north to Rome, Lake Trasimeno and Siena.

In the autumn 1944, after a 48-hour trip across the Apennines, John arrived with his regiment on the Adriatic sector, just south of the Metauro River. After the long and bloody fighting at the Gothic Line, his Unit proceeded up the coastal road, supporting the Canadians who were pushing ahead and gently worked their way into the areas of first Cesena, next Forlì, then Russi and finally the small town of Bagnacavallo. By this time the Canadians and other Allies had taken Ravenna. The opposition again was increasing because the Germans wanted to restrict the allied advance and when they reached Bagnacavallo there was a fierce battle for the Lamone River. In late November the Canadians stormed the banks of the Lamone River and after some fierce fighting took the bridge just to the south of Bagnacavallo.

The Bailey bridge erected by the Engineers enabled the regiment to advance to the Senio River just north of the town where they dug-in for the winter as did the Germans on the other side, thus forming the Winter Line for the 8th Army. John and his friends were billeted in a house, which was in the shelter of the north bank of the river Lamone, just by the Bailey bridge erected by the engineers. February 17th, 1945 was John’s 21st birthday. Much to his surprise, he found that the wife at his first billet had kindly baked him a birthday cake. This was presented to him by the daughter Pasquina,then a girl of 15. The neighbours Lena and her brother Paolo presented him with a large ceremonial key which his colleagues had made. It was beautifully presented in a nice white box tied with pink and red ribbons. Lena had learned enough English to wish him a very happy birthday.

It was a very touching moment. His mates had made him a sort of birthday card by signing their names on one of the airmail forms used for messages home. John remained in that place until late April 1945, when his regiment moved north. His comrades in 48th Royal Tank Regiment liberated Venice and John’s unit took Pontecchio. Thus ended the campaign in Italy.

Back in England he met and married his sweetheart Mary. Thanks to the links established between Bagnacavallo and Stone, where John and Mary lived, John was able, after some 60 years, to meet Pasquina. John has never returned to Italy, but clearly remembers loads of details of the time he spent in our country.

On the 60th anniversary of the Liberation of Bagnacavallo, the town Council bestowed on him and on Alan Woods the Honorary Citizenship. John presented Bagnacavallo with 24 plants of ancient English roses for a Garden of Peace, which has been located at the Herb Garden, in the centre of the town.

To our great regret, John Thurlby died on February 20th 2010, a few days after his 86th birthday. His love for the people of Bagnacavallo and his memory will remain with us forever.

Interview with Veterans John Thurlby and Alan Corlett Woods

BBC Radio Stoke interview