Extract from the War Diary of 2nd Lothian & Border Horse
"1944 August 28th 19.00hrs.
'B' Squadron reported that some of their fitters walked into a booby-trapped house in Borselli 0270 which blew up. Two men missing."
The above, almost laconic report, was an incident I witnessed myself, and therefore can give you a much more detailed account.
Our squadron was in action near Firenze (Florence), when we received a message from the R.E. (Royal Engineer), that the road just north of the small village of Borselli had been blocked by the Germans as they retreated. The countryside was very undulating and hilly, with many streams and gullies, so tanks were forced to drive on the narrow, winding roads. Our Shermans had been halted just short of the village, so the Squadron Leader called me over, and he asked me to go forward in my Honey reconnaissance tank, to assess the problem and estimate the delay. I found the R.E.'s were already in the village, and had already called up a bulldozer to clear the road ahead. They said an explosive device in the bank at the side, had covered the road in rocks and debris to a depth of several feet.
After a few minutes the bulldozer arrived so John Howarth, my driver and I set off in our Honey, to escort him up the road to the blockage. All was quiet and we were almost there, when there was a thunderous roar, and H.E. artillary shells started landing on and around the road. The German's had chosen that spot deliberately because it could be seen by an officer in an O.P. (Observation Post). They knew we would attempt to clear it, and they hoped the barrage would cause more casualties and delay. We had no choice but to get away, so we both did a U-turn. The bulldozer would only do about 6 mph and I told John to stay with him, but my driver wasn't having any and accelerated away.....I suppose he was right, really.
As we started back to Borsell,i there was a tremendous explosion, and a column of black smoke shot up high into the air, above one of the houses in the village. I thought it must have been caused by a stray explosive shell. We arrived back to find a large house completely disintegrated into a pile of bricks and rubble. A few minutes later the bulldozer arrived. I had never seen anyone shell-shocked, but the poor driver, having escaped by a miracle, was shaking and trembling so violently, that he spilt most of a mug of tea which had been trust into his hands!
The next shock was when we were told what had caused the explosion about 10 minutes previously. Two Lothians fitters (mechanics), from the rear echelon, had walked into the village and noticed a front door slightly ajar. They made a fatal mistake that no front-line soldier, infantry or tankman, would ever do.....they pushed open the front door.
It was booby-trapped with what must have been a massive bomb, and the house and both men simply disintegrated. I glanced down and noticed very small pieces of flesh and army clothing scattered around, all that remained of the two men. I found a bucket and started to collect as much as I could fine, thinking I could bury it at the side of the road and let the families know of their last resting place. But there was so little, the largest piece I found was the heel of a foot still with a tattered piece of grey army sock still attached to it. I gave up with the bucket still only 3/4 full with little more than fragments of raw meat.
I was reminded of the above incident when I saw a paragraph about the experience of a First World War veteran in France. See below..*"
Frank Dennis Gent February 2012
* "It was 73 years ago. I had been in France only three weeks, and I was asleep in a trench. My friend Malthouse was beside me. In the middle of the night there was a terrible explosion. One of our own naval shells had gone off. Malthouse was blown into 20 pieces, each about the size of a leg of lamb. I was completely unscathed. I gathered up the bits and put them in a small sandbag. I buried him within the hour. He never had a proper grave."