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Memories of Monte Cassino & the ‘D-Day Dodgers’

posted on 10/03/17

Unusually among our tour leaders, Patrick Mercer often has a personal involvement in the tours that he leads. In the case of Monte Cassino, it relates to his father Eric.

Having recovered from wounds incurred at El Alamein, Eric Mercer – who later in life became Bishop of Exeter – served as an infantryman throughout the Italian Campaign of 1944. ‘He “dodged” D-Day’, Patrick recalls, ‘but was at Rome when it was taken, at Florence when it fell, and was one of the first British officers to cross the Rubicon River during the assault on the Gothic Line'.

Like many of his fellow soldiers, Eric was understandably miffed at the suggestion, alleged to have originated from the lips of Lady Astor, MP, that those who fought at Monte Cassino – and therefore missed the Allied landings in Normandy two weeks later – were 'D-day Dodgers'.

D-Day, I'll give you bloody D-Day!’, Patrick recalls his father protesting, ‘I was at six D-Days and none of them was in France: they saved that one for when we'd already won the War!’. As one of the toughest and most significant campaigns of the Second World War, one can sympathize with his indignation, which was echoed by fellow veterans of the Italian campaign during 75th anniversary commemorations in 2014.

At the time, the men took the insult on the chin responding with their own sarcasm. A song was written, ‘The Ballad of the D-Day Dodgers’, sung to the tune of Lili Marlene. It begins: ‘We're the D-Day Dodgers out in Italy – Always on the vino, always on the spree. Eighth Army scroungers and their tanks We live in Rome – among the Yanks. We are the D-Day Dodgers, over here in Italy.’ You can hear a version of the song by clicking here.

Another satirical response came from the popular cartoonist ‘JON’. The Welsh-born William John Philpin-Jones (1913-92), as he was otherwise known, spent most of the war on active service in Italy and it was here that his most famous cartoons, 'The Two Types', were drawn.

‘JON’’s family and estate have kindly allowed us to reproduce the wonderful cartoon above, which perfectly illustrates the human history behind this tour. Dating from 1944, it is captioned: ‘When they call us D-day Dodgers, which D-day do they mean old man?’ JON later said of his wartime experience: ‘You drew to escape. You drew for the very moment. You drew what was happening. This is how it is – now. So you drew it.

He went on to have a long career as a cartoonist, writer and publisher, working for over 20 years at the Daily Mail and producing over 15,000 cartoons in his lifetime. Patrick Mercer, meanwhile, followed his father into the Sherwood Foresters and remains passionately interested in a campaign where ‘that fine old Regiment fought so well’.

By Charlotte Crow, Operations Supervisor


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