Having survived a series of comic escapades behind the lines in wartime Italy, when given the chance to rejoin the Allies, Dodd's Army opts to get back behind the lines and continue their adventure.
The seven assorted soldiers and two Italian civilians manage to wreak more havoc, and end up joining the popular uprising known as The Four Days of Naples.
Angelo Santangelo spoke lovingly to his ramshackle old Lancia truck as he coaxed it westwards, along the alleged track away from the farmlands of south east Italy towards the ramparts of the mountains. Angelo and the vehicle had been an inseparable feature of the landscape around Casagrigio, his little country town, for years. Until a few years ago, Angelo had described himself as an agricultural trader, which was true to the extent that he traded with the farmers, though his stock often included more exotic goods than were grown locally. But as the Italian government became ever more greedy for agricultural produce to feed the ever growing army, and to pay for the weaponry provided by the Germans, agricultural goods for trade became ever more scarce, and Angelo had added a range of rare and precious items to his menu - things like razor blades, soap, tobacco and silk stockings. But now, mostly, such things were unobtainable at any price, and in any case, nobody had money to pay for them. Nobody, that is, except the fascists, and Angelo refused to deal with them.
But now, with his mate Dino alongside him, Angelo had a new treasure trove in the back of the truck. British army uniform clothing was piled alongside cases of food, which in turn jostled with box after box of ammunition for the Bren and Beretta submachine guns, as well as for the old faithful army issue Lee Enfield rifles. And in pride of place, a whole new supply of explosives, detonators and the other gear needed to make things go bang. Not that any of this was for trading – it was, in modern parlance, for personal use.
British regular army Sergeant Brownlow had taken the wheel of the British three tonner, and followed along, though his driving style was, it’s fair to say, more assertive than Angelo’s. Where Angelo wheedled and cajoled his vehicle, Brownlow demanded and swore at his.
Beside the sergeant in the cab, sat middle aged Lieutenant Dodd, whose slender frame and pale complexion had been compared with Noel Coward after a long illness, mulling over their recent adventures. He found it hard to accept what his memory told him was true: the crash, the stealing from the army camp, then the burning of it, the thwarted demolition of the road bridge and the capture of the rail bridge – could that, and all the other escapades, all have happened? Truly? It just didn’t seem possible, let alone plausible, and yet, here he was, alongside the sergeant, tailing the Italian truck. How else could he have got here, if not as his memory told him? And in his adventures, he reflected, he’d been a major, which had felt quite good, even though it was in a German uniform, but he’d much preferred his time as a British colonel, even if it was a pretence – he’d just felt more comfortable somehow, as a senior officer, more at home, which he admitted to himself was a little strange, since it wasn’t that long ago he’d been at Gulles College, Oxford, lecturing in Mediaeval and Renaissance Italian History. Could that possibly only have been, what, two years ago? Dodd scrubbed his face with his hands and smiled. Astounding! But excellent! Who would have guessed his fluency in Italian would have brought him here?
Dodd had been one of three scheduled passengers on the aircraft that crashed into the sea, on his way to Sicily to join a forward intelligence unit as an interrogator, though he was uncomfortable with that word, with its connotation of, well, unpleasantness. It conjured a completely incorrect image – Dodd had found that if he gave most of the Italian soldiers prisoners half a chance, it was harder to stop them than to force information out of them. Though he was an accomplished German speaker too, Dodd hadn’t come across any German prisoners yet, except the handful of yokels and misfits back at the bridge, but he imagined the proper German soldiers might be a little more reticent.
Dodd had long since realised how lucky he, and the others, had been that Brownlow had been cadging an unauthorised ride back to his unit when the plane was shot down. Dodd had wondered, once or twice, what might have happened to them if the sergeant hadn’t been there – behind the wire, probably, by now. Or worse. But then again, he mused, the lanky Australian corporal, Kelly, might have stepped up: he was quietly competent, too, and gave the impression that whatever was needed, he’d be happy to at least have a crack at it. He’d also been grabbing a free lift on the aircraft: he and Brownlow just seemed to be that type that would manage to do whatever it took.
Behind Dodd, in the back of the truck, the other soldiers shared the discomfort with Angelo’s mates Giovanni and Bimbo. All the Italians were, in a sense, in uniform, since they all wore the standard Italian working man’s outfit of aged but cleanish black suit with waistcoat, collarless shirt and boots, black and worn but well tended. The only variation was that some men, who fancied themselves dandies, wore a bright neckerchief, red being the favoured hue, while others went for the more macho look, with a hint of grey woollen undergarment fighting with a robust thatch of chest hair at the open neckline. To complete the ensemble, the well accoutred Italian rural male almost invariably wore a moustache your average RAF squadron leader with be proud of, and a minimum three days growth of stubble, black against sun-weathered skin. The overall impression of Angelo’s group was of a gang of vicious bandits, but this was dispelled by their shy good manners and boyish grins. At any distance, it would have been difficult for an outsider to tell them apart, except for the giant Bimbo, who stood head and shoulders above his mates.
The men had all been in high spirits as the journey commenced, laughing and joking, even between English and Italian, who, of course, had no idea what the others were saying, but the mood was enough to make understanding of the actual words unnecessary.
The exchange of cigarettes helped to maintain the confidential atmosphere - the smokers carefully ignored the fact that all the cigarettes were identical British Players, which Dodd had ordered from the British army, which was a curious twist, because the first time there’d been a fag swap - incredibly, after all that had happened, just a few days ago - it was all Italian tobacco being exchanged, and then, of course, after they’d captured the bridge, there’d been some German cigarettes in circulation as well.
As the drive continued, the men settled down, finally relapsing into a restless and exhausted silence, squirming and twisting, trying to find a comfortable position in the truck, but the best they could hope for was the odd few minutes doze before being shaken awake as the vehicles lurched and staggered ever more slowly along the track, which, rough and unkempt as it was when the journey started, became steadily worse as they laboured inland. The men in the back of the British truck didn’t even notice the difference when the vehicles parted company with the well worn track, which followed the river bank, while they slowly started climbing as they approached the mountains that form a central spine virtually right down the length of Italy.
Privates Johnny Burgess and Stan Tullett had been the other stowaways on the aeroplane, hopping an illicit flight rather than suffer the days of heat and flies needed to catch up with their company by truck along the awful road from Cairo to Tunis. The pair had been mates from childhood, and had somehow managed to stay in company since joining up. Burgess always seemed to give the impression he was, not fat, exactly, but carrying some excess baggage, but that was mainly because he was usually stood next to Tullett, who was one of those wiry, lean faced, hooded eyed people, so common in London’s East End. In addition, Burgess, by his juvenile and enthusiastic manner, which reminded Corporal Kelly of a kelpie puppy he’d once owned, appeared to be about thirteen years old, whilst Tullett behaved like someone much older, more worldly, more suspicious of life. This had led to his habit of finishing every other sentence with a mournful ‘Kin’ ‘ell,’ from which his nickname, Kinnell, had derived.