Following on from their previous hilarious escapades, Dodd's Army continue their adventure, but, for the first time, find themselves in a face to face firefight.
Those Yanks, when they invaded, they invaded first class. Their soldiers had learnt to fight hard, and when it was over, they expected decent food, and plenty of it, along with showers, bars, cafes, cinemas, and all the comforts of home. Having been previously been shocked and disappointed in the rubbish facilities awaiting them in Africa, nowadays they brought their own comforts with them.
So when the Americans came to Naples, the change was miraculous. When they arrived, there was no electricity or gas, no telephone. Not that that affected the average Neapolitan – Naples was an impoverished city and most people didn’t have any of those services anyway, but they didn’t have much of anything else either.
And the bombs kept coming – the fact that they were now German bombs, trying to finish the job of disabling the main port and blocking roads, rather than American or British bombs which had been attempting the exact same thing, was of little interest to the pragmatic and long-suffering Neapolitans.
The sudden change in the weather didn’t help either: winter issued a fanfare announcing its imminent arrival, a sudden cold wind from the north blasting vicious flurries of rain along the narrow streets and alleys, into every crevice – nowhere seemed safe from it.
But the Americans brought many treasures beyond price with them - soap, tobacco, chocolate, real coffee – and began to repair infrastructure and supply at least some food.
The Americans made it plain they were here to stay, with immediate benefits to the populace, especially those like the youthful Toni and his scugnizzi, and Doctor Danielli, who were all anxious to resurrect their pre-war activities, so were inclined to regard the newcomers as tourists rather than invaders. Thus, the Americans had arrived on 1 October, and two days later, Danielli’s nightclub, il Farmaccia, still run down but liberally supplemented with beer and spirits supplied by the Americans, was packed with soldiers from several countries.
After a week of loafing around, basking in the acclaim of the Allied troops who were grateful that they hadn’t had to bludgeon their way into Naples house by ancient and tight packed house, Dodd’s group was becoming a little bored.
Kelly and Tullett were both in hospital: Kelly was there to get proper treatment for the bullet wound to his knee, and the surgeon, having noticed Tullett limping slightly when he went to visit Kelly, had interrogated Tullett about his injury. He’d had trouble understanding Tullett – the extent and range of Tullett’s swearing had confused him, but with Kelly acting as translator, he’d been fascinated about Tullett’s land mine survival story. The surgeon then insisted that he have his damaged foot X-rayed, after which he’d warned him that while the old doctor back in Casagrigio had done a good job, it could only be temporary and he’d be permanently on crutches within a year or two if he didn’t get it sorted out.
Tullett, of course, had dismissed the idea, but when Kelly told him about his mate who’d been crippled after not getting treatment for a nasty kick from a steer, Tullett had reluctantly and with great ill grace, as though he was doing the surgeon a considerable favour, accepted the surgery.
The boredom of hospital was relieved for Kelly by the appearance of Sofia, the girl who’d led him over the Neapolitan rooftops to attack the Germans. Kelly hadn’t really realised how much he’d missed her until she showed up in the ward one day, clutching a small parcel, badly wrapped in second hand brown paper.
She’d appeared at the end of Kelly’s bed as he dozed, and stood quietly, looking more like an embarrassed and uncertain child than a heroine, not knowing whether to wake him, or just leave.
Luckily for her, and for Kelly, Tullett was awake and gave her a smile and a “shake him awake” gesture. Sofia beamed thanks, moved forward and gently touched Kelly’s shoulder. She got no reaction, and Tullett did his gesture again, this time calling ‘Ted! Ted, wake up fer fucks sake! You got a visitor!’
Kelly awoke, baffled for a moment, then saw Sofia, still hesitant, having retreated to the foot of his bed, and beamed. Of a sudden, he realised why he’d been out of sorts for the last few days. He beckoned Sofia to the chair next to his bed, and in a few minutes, the pair were gaily chattering away, which was a surprise to Tullett, since Kelly spoke no Italian, and Sofia no English. After a while, Kelly reached out and took Sofia’s hand and it was her turn to grin from ear to ear.
Eventually, the nurse came and told Sofia it was time to go. She pouted like a child until the nurse, who spoke Italian, told her she could come back tomorrow, and repeated the news in English for Kelly.
Kelly pointed to his cheek and Sofia gave him a chaste farewell kiss with a promise, in Italian but which Kelly understood, to come back the next day.
Dodd was seriously contemplating collecting his myriad scraps of paper together to begin preparing a proper report of his group’s activities over the last weeks. Somebody was bound to ask for something on paper sooner or later. That’s the way the army works. The demand came sooner.
Colonel Bullivant called Dodd into his office (he’d been shifted out of the magnificent mayoral office, into a similarly splendid but much smaller room, though it shared the aroma of beeswax and cigars) and told him that he had great news: Dodd was to report back to a British headquarters further south, with an unofficial hint to take all his kit: the whisper was he’d be heading for London.
To Bullivant’s astonishment, Dodd reacted badly. Bullivant stirred uneasily: he could see Dodd was deeply upset and began to wonder if Dodd was going to cry. ‘Say, Captain, are you OK? Are you sure you’ve got this right? You’re going home. That’s great news, right?’
With an obvious effort, Dodd collected himself. ‘Yes, Colonel, I understand.’ He sighed.
‘It’s just that, well, I’m not sure how to explain it, but I feel there’s a strong bond built up between the chaps, and I feel part of it.’
He’d sighed again and spread his hands. ‘And I just wanted to carry on with what we were doing. I don’t know if you’ll understand?’ he added, hopefully.
Relieved, Bullivant leaned back in his chair and smiled. ‘Matter of fact, Captain, you’ve reminded me of a feeling I haven’t felt for a long time, seems like.’
It was the colonel’s time to sigh. ‘Yeah, feels like a real long time. You’ve been under fire with your guys, right? Shared danger, shared being wet and cold and frightened? Yeah, you get real close.’
He leaned forward and nodded earnestly. ‘Captain, let me give you a piece of advice: don’t accept any more promotions - least, not if it comes with a job that takes you away from that closeness with your boys. I don’t often get the chance nowadays.’
He stopped, and unbeknown to Dodd, wondered if he should tell him about being threatened with demotion by General Clark himself if he got himself injured again, but thought better of it.
Dodd was immensely comforted that the American understood: it would have sounded extremely stupid to someone who hadn’t experienced the comradeship of arms.
He continued: ‘I was hoping I’d somehow be able to keep my chaps together and you might help us get back behind the lines again to, er, well, I’m not really clear on that, but we’ve done rather well up to now, don’t you think?’
The two men sat and looked at each other for a long moment, before Bullivant replied ‘You know, Captain, I’d kind of hoped that too. I think I mentioned that.’
‘Yes, I remember.’
‘Captain, the only thing I can say is this: I’d be very happy to have you and your guys working with me, doing your thing. Pretty soon we’re going to bust out of Naples and head for Rome. Seems to me you could be very useful up there, making a goddam nuisance of yourself. But I can’t keep your guys here indefinitely. I guess that now your people know you’re here, they’re going to start wanting you back, don’t you think?’
Bullivant sat and looked out of his window, watching the wind whipping at anything loose, then rapped a hand on his desk.
‘Look, I’ll do what I can to keep your boys up here with me as long as I can, OK? But no promises – that’s the best I can do.’
Dodd replied, a catch in his voice, ‘I’m most grateful’ but found he couldn’t say more. The two men stood and shook hands.
And then Dodd had to announce his departure to his troops. He’d made sure that Kelly and Tullett were being visited by all their able bodied mates at the same time, so he didn’t have to go through what he’d pictured as a gruelling performance more than once and, with his trademark single hand clap to get their attention, gave out the news. He’d been dreading it, but oddly, none of them were particularly perturbed, hearing only that Dodd had to go away for a while – it didn’t occur to any of them that he might not be back, and Dodd had cheered up a little. Maybe he’d read too much into the orders, that he only had to go back and give somebody a report, and then he could come back and they’d carry on as before?
Dodd looked at Brownlow and raised an eyebrow: Brownlow returned that with a tight grin and a little waggle of the head – who knows? The powers that be must surely realise how useful Dodd’s miniature army had been, and it would be madness to split them up and return them to their units? Surely?
Watson translated the news for Sofia, who’d become a more or less permanent fixture at Kelly’s bedside. When he was there, Watson did his best, if a little uncomfortably, to translate for them but when he wasn’t there, they still carried on chattering away, neither knowing what the other was saying – just happy to be together.