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A FULL account of our experiences in Jugoslavia during the past year would require more care, space, and hence more time, than the urgent need of presenting certain aspects of those experiences will justifiably permit. It shall, therefore, be the object of the writer to endeavour to present the picture of conditions and life in Jugoslavia as they were found, in general form, and leave the great mass of essential detail to complete the picture at a later date, when time and occasion will permit of their proper treatment.
About a year ago, early in the Spring of 1943, it was deemed expedient by our Military Authorities to make contact with groups of people in Jugoslavia who were believed to be actively opposing the forces of Germany and Italy, which were trying to subject their country. Such groups of people were usually referred to as resistance elements.
The desire to make contact with these resistance elements had a twofold purpose. The one was to learn something of the resistance forces themselves — the other to seek their co-operation in the destruction of military objects, such as railways, which would hinder the movement of enemy troops and supplies; and to facilitate any practical assistance to local efiort in order to weaken more effectively the enemy's hold on that country.
To effect contact with resistance elements in Jugoslavia, the method of approach had been very cleverly and carefully planned. Citizens of that country had been recruited in other countries (they were volunteers, men of outstanding courage, character and patriotism), and trained to jump by parachute. Certain areas in Jugoslavia were selected for these men to drop in. Such areas, from the meagre reports received, were believed to be safe and in control of local resistance forces. Suffice it to say the method of approach proved to be wholly successful. These men were dropped "blind" to Jugoslavia. And to these men who dropped "blind" must go the honour and credit for preparing the way and reception for other personnel who were soon to follow.
Our party, consisting of two officers and a wireless operator, was organised, equipped and instructed to be ready to proceed to "some-where in Croatia" and join a resistance element there, described by intelligence reports as a people's movement called the "Partisans". And early in May, 1943, when the contact men who had been dropped "blind" in Croatia a few weeks before had turned up and reported all favourable for our reception, we took flight, and withinthe space of only a few hours found ourselves slowly and comfortably drifting to the moonlit turfs of Croatia, secured to our parachutes.
The following is a personal account of the experiences of one of our party: "... From various books and articles — in particular a book written by Miss Flavia Kingscote, entitled 'The Balkan Exit,' it was apparent to me that the terrain of Jugoslavia, and the people whom one might expect to find there, were in many respects similar to the country and people so well known to me in the Maritime Provinces of Eastern Canada.
note. — To be dropped "blind" means to parachute into a country with-out a knowledge of conditions there — one might find the enemy to be where one dropped.
"It was on the approach to ground, as one became conscious of the hills, fields, the black patches of wood and general nature of the terrain, that this similarity so greatly impressed me. After two years of the sands of the Desert, to find oneself suddenly dropped in the midst of such familiar and homelike environment no doubt prepared me for the warm embrace of the first person to greet me. This was a young Croat who had watched my 'chute and came running excitedly to the spot where it landed.
"There are occasions when emotions serve more adequately than words to effect understanding. That was just such an occasion. The deep, rich qualities of the people of Jugoslavia, which, during my year among them it became my unique privilege to know so well and enjoy, were sensed by me on that occasion. The basis of friendship was struck. The direction was clear. ..."
The entire reception party had soon gathered. Greetings were exchanged and Sergeant Alexander Simitch, M.M., who had dropped blind, together with two English-speaking Croats, only a few weeks before, led us to a lorry, where another group of Partisans were busily engaged in loading our equipment and stores, which they had salvaged from the field.
The ex-Italian lorry, a heavy Diesel, barked its way along the main road for several kilometres; then along a very narrow road for many more kilometres, until it arrived at what was left of a small village after the Italians had fired everything that vrould burn.
Among the ruined houses we could make out several lorries, small cars and quantities of material, from stacked lumber to anns and ammunition. We gathered from the amount of activity — vehicles coming and going, troops resting, others arriving and moving off — that this must be a transport depot.
We waited there for a few minutes, when we were transferred in an orderly manner to saddle horses, and proceeded on our way up a long, rough, mountain road, deep into the woods, to what we learned the next day was the Headquarters of the Croatian Command. Our baggage was following along behind on pack mules.
After almost two hours on horseback, we dismounted at what seemed to be a large clearing, and followed our guide on foot until we came to a ravine, which we followed for a kilometre or two, when suddenly we were challenged by a loud, sharp, "Stoj! " Our guide, having gone on at the sentry's command to be identified, called out to us to proceed. We passed the sentry's shelter and soon came to rest in front of a long, cabin-like structure with a wide verandah, on which a sentry stood on duty at the entrance.
We were shown into the building, and in a few minutes were comfortably seated around a long board table in a large room flooded with electric light.
A young man of soldierly appearance introduced himself, and in very good English welcomed us, apologising on behalf of his senior officers for their absence, explaining that duty had kept them out all night the night before and suggested, if we agreed, that we should have something to eat, retire to our room, and, after a good sleep, meet the Commandant and the members of his Staff in the morning.
A young woman in uniform appeared with a tray of cold lamb, hot fried potatoes, bread and tea. The latter, so we were informed, was made from a plant quite common in Croatia and Slovenia. The bread, though very dark, made of wheat and corn flour, was most appetising. Sugar, but no milk, was available for tea.
By the time we had completed the meal we had learned that the young officer who had received us and made us feel so much at home was the Adjutant, Drug Manola.
We were then shown to our room. A cubicle opening off the main passageway, with window and stove, furnished with a large green felt-top desk and two iron bedsteads, with blankets, exposing freshly laundered white sheets.
Almost numb with bewilderment, we were quite prepared to resign ourselves to sleep, switched off the light, little daring to speculate as to what the morrow would bring forth, but not a little amused to find ourselves at last with the Partisans in Croatia.
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