NZEF in Italy, 1944

'NZEF in Italy - Winter Front' (1944) shows the activities of New Zealand soldiers during the Italian Campaign. It was filmed in the winter of 1943/44 and covers soldiers at work, heavy snowfalls, artillery firing, and transport movements over mud and snow.


Along the greasy roads come the trucks of the NZ Division. Supplying the front lines in winter is a tough job, but the Kiwi drivers keep up the great reputation they earned in the desert. It takes more than slush or sand to stop them.

Ahead of them is Hellfire Corner – the start of the Mad Mile – a mile of road in full view of the German guns in Orsogna. The shelling is continuous, and so is the traffic. ‘Is your journey really necessary?’ is not the question to ask these boys.  

The New Zealand gunners are not idle either. Between firing orders they line up their shells and snatch something to eat. Jerry does not have it all his own way. From the observation post the artillery officer keeps their lines well taped. For any signs of movement over there, he has an answer. A compass reading is taken, and the boys let Jerry have it.

The shelling keeps the Germans below ground. To blast them out of the town the planes are called up. Through the traditional Italian landscape, bombs add a deadly pattern. These ancient hilltop towns were built for defence. Orsogna is no exception – it commands the surrounding countryside. From it, the Germans can see every Allied move. Every building is a fortress, it cannot be stormed. Only bombs can drive the Germans out.

Back at base, General Montgomery has just taken leave of the 8th Army. After 18 months, he has read his last order of the day as its commander. In his final speech Monty said that he’d always tried to remember that an army was made up of human beings. He thought that the 8th Army’s success was due to its emphasis on the human factor. Certainly, few modern generals have been so idolised by their men. Few have so richly deserved it.

In the front lines, the Kiwis had a muddy Christmas. Christmas dinner had to be eaten out in the open. If the men had been dreaming of a white Christmas, they were disappointed. But they certainly got a white New Year. And it wasn’t so merry and bright either. The whole Division was snowed under, and there was no rest until it was dug out. Fortunately, Jerry was in the same boat.

With the snow on them, the camouflage nets were most effective – the men couldn’t even find their own guns. The snow filled everything, including the food dixies. That’s what comes of not putting away the dishes at night. Motor transport was in a bad way. Right now the New Zealand Division could scarcely be called a mobile division.

Some of the New Zealanders had not seen snow before, and now they’re not overjoyed that they have. Their tent collapsed on top of them, and they spent a cold night huddled in trucks. That won’t happen again – after a hot drink they set to work to build a more permanent shelter. Its architecture owes something to a Taranaki cow bale. With sides and roof protected by bamboo and covered with canvas, it will at least be snow-proof.

In the meantime the Kiwi drivers have overcome another obstacle – they’ve got their trucks and jeeps going again.

On the peaks is a world of white. One of the few remaining Italians in this area looks for food for his small flock. The condition of these people is pitiful. German demolition bands have blown up their homes. Typical is the town of Gessopalena. Here the Germans followed their blasted-earth policy. Italian towns are too solid to burn, so every building was systematically mined. This town lies in no-man’s-land. Through it now moves a British patrol. There is always the chance that the Germans may return, or use some of its ruined buildings for observations posts.

At scattered points men check their equipment after digging it out of the snow. From the ridges mountain troops are bringing in a wounded mate. This is always a difficult job in this tough country, and today the snow makes it tougher still.

In these mountains wheeled traffic is not much help. Men have to rely on themselves and on animals. With mud and snow, the army mule has come into his own again. In spite of all modern equipment, an army is still at the mercy of the weather. Here too the rugged country ties it down. But the men of the New Zealand Division slug on. No matter how tough the going, or how rotten the weather, they always win through.

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