“We’re the D-Day Dodgers, way off 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, way out in Italy.”
On the 6th June 1944, as units of the British 2nd Army and their allies stormed ashore on the beaches of Normandy, men of the British 8th Army, the Desert Rats, and their U.S allies were liberating Rome. One campaign is remembered and honoured to this day. The other is forgotten.
It is in the nature of soldiers to complain. As Gunner Spike Milligan, who served in Italy, once said, “It is grumbling that keeps us so cheerful!” – so it is possible to understand why the troops fighting their way up through Italy in 1944 felt aggrieved and overlooked when the world’s attention was focused firmly on the D Day campaign in Normandy. Why were they being so ignored? Had they not already fought their way across the Western Desert, ousted Rommel, invaded Sicily and were now engaged in liberating Italy? Had they not had many grim D-Day invasions of their very own at Anzio, Salerno, Sicily and Taranto? Although Italy was thought to be “the soft underbelly of Europe” were they not experiencing massive losses as they fought their way up the Italian peninsula?
The sense of umbrage amongst the troops was compounded by a rumour that Lady Astor has referred to them in Parliament as “the D-Day Dodgers” – implying that they were avoiding the ‘real war’ in France. This came apparently after she received a letter from a disillusioned soldier in Italy who signed himself ‘D-Day Dodger’. (Lady Astor denied making the comment and there is no record that it was ever said.) Whatever the truth the rumour suited the mood of a disaffected Army and in November 1944 a song appeared called “The D-Day Dodgers” which detailed with acid sarcasm their situation…
We landed at Salerno, a holiday with pay,
Jerry brought the band down to cheer us on our way
Showed us the sights and gave us tea,.
We all sang songs, the beer was free.
We are the D-Day Dodgers, way out in Italy
It was set to the tune of ‘Lili Marlene’, well known to the Desert Rats from their time in the western desert, and was written by Lance-Sergeant Harry Pynn who was with the 79th Division serving south of Bologna.
The lyrics of the song are sometimes credited to Major Hamish Henderson of the 51st Highland Division although some researchers say that he only collected the various versions that were circulating around the Italian front at the time.
The song became very popular not only amongst the troops in Italy but also by folk singers who took it up after the war. It has since been covered by Ian Campbell, the Clancy Brothers with Tommy Makem, Hamish Imlach, Ian Robb, Pete Seeger and countless others.
‘D Day Dodgers’ by Hamish Imlach
So while we rightly salute all those who scrambled ashore 70 years ago in Normandy, many never to come home, let us not forget the forgotten:- the ‘D-Day Dodgers’ in Italy, the 14th ‘Forgotten Army’ in Burma and all the others, men and women around the world, who stood up to fascism, defeated it and in bringing peace vowed that it should never return. It is in their memory that we must always keep on our guard.
“Do not rejoice in his defeat, you men. For though the world has stood up and stopped the bastard, the bitch that bore him is in heat again.”
BERTHOLT BRECHT ‘The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui’ 1941
— from Martyn Day