The Recce party cleared the site on the evening of the 12 May ready for the 5 am start the following morning.
The Shiny Seven Association held the Amazon Bridge 70th Anniversary ceremony at 0500 on 13th May 2014 in memory and appreciation of this epic feat - a feat that demanded great courage and determination from sappers in the three Fd Coys of 4 Inf Div. 15 men paid the ultimate price. This achievement has been immortalised by Terence Cuneo in a painting commissioned by the Corps and which now hangs in the Officers’ Mess at Brompton.
The aim of the ceremony was to commemorate the exact moment, 70 years to the minute, that the bridge opened for business. 20 mins later, the Sherman tanks of 17/21L, led by Lt Wayne, streamed across the Class 40 in support of the hard pressed infantry who had established the original bridgehead but who could not progress without their armour.
As our group of 36 stood on the near bank in the dark awaiting 0500, one could get a sense of the atmosphere that the sappers experienced, less of course, the very nasty bits of mortar and artillery exploding all around. At bang on 0500, a bugler sounded ‘Last Post’ which was chilling yet enthralling. After two minutes of eerie silence as the sun rose, he sounded ‘Reveille’.
Those assembled including serving sappers from 7 HQ & Sp Sqn, 59 Cdo Sqn and 225 Fd Sqn, retired sappers with links to these Sqns, direct descendants of the bridge builders and a number of local guests. The author then gave a brief run-down on how a Bailey bridge is built, and the difficulty that the sappers faced, not because of the shelling or small arms fire, but because they were unable to get to the far bank to lower its height. To compensate for this, they had to construct the bridge 4 feet off the ground - a most unusual and challenging task.
Spr Bush of 7 HQ & Sp Sqn, as the youngest sapper on site, then read a prayer for the fallen and the families and Sqn representatives were then presented with bespoke 70th Anniversary Shiny 7 Association shields as a memento of the occasion. Wreaths were laid on the bridge site and 15 poppy crosses - one for every sapper killed, were planted and the area covered in poppy seeds.
The Amazon Bridge site shortly after 5 am
13 May 2014
Amazon Bridge 70th Anniversary
May1944 - May 2014
The Shiny 7 contingent
225 field Squadron represenatives
59 Commando Squadron representatives
Peter Hobson with sister Elizabeth and son Robert
Family of Lt Hobson who was Officer in charge of bridge construction until he handed over to 59 Field Company, though stayed on the bridge until it was completed
Front row except far right
Ron Gilleard with family,
son of Spr Joe Gilleard who was one of the last to leave the bridge after decking it down and ramping the far bank
John Riordan, son of
Sgt Tommy Riordan who was in charge of the boom and stayed on the bridge until completed.
Tommy also wrote the most excellent book on the history of 7 Field Company
1939 to 1946
Between Ron & John, wearing glasses is Jeffery Tribich whose dad was a 59 Field Company bridge builder
On 12th May 2014 John Riordan planted a Poppy Cross in memory of Spr S G Gunns who was mortaly wounded on the railway line by a Shu mine nearby on 5 May 1944. R.I.P
Frank de Planta gives a briefing on the break-through into the Liri Valley once the tanks had crossed Amazon Bridge
Poppy Crosses were planted at the Congo Bridge site in memory
of Sprs Appleby and Moore who were killed 11/12 May 1944. R.I.P.
Leaving the Amazon Bridge site after the ceremony with Monte Trocchio sihouetted in the background as dawn breaks. A sight that would be familiar with the Sappers working on the tracks to the bridge sites, as they left their work places before daylight came up.
This photo was sent to Frank by a friend
who visited the Amazon Bridge site
a few days after the ceremony
H.R.H. Prince Harry visited Cassino a few days after we left:
Please keep checking this page for updates
HRH Prince Harry lays a wreath in the
CWGC Cemetery Cassino May 2014
Serving sappers from 7 HQ & Sp Sqn, 59 Cdo Sqn and 225 Fd Sqn, retired sappers with links to these Sqns, direct descendants of the bridge builders and a number of local guests stand side by side to commeorate the 70th anniversary of this Epic Feat
Serving sappers & families of the bridge builders stand side by side to commemorate
Below; latest video clip of the 70th anniversary of the Amazon bridge commemoration, 5 am 13 May 2014.
Updated with new version which includes medal awards (6 July 2014)
click on the YouTube link:
This is what we were commemorating at 5am on 13 May 2014
The Prime Minister at Pegasus bridge, midnight on the 6th June 2014 for the 70th anniversary of its liberation.
A commemoration not too disimilar to that of the Amazon bridge commemorated 5 am 13 May 2014.
The Amazon Bridge 70th Anniversary Commemoratve Shield
The Amazon Bridge
The war was going nowhere fast,
The terrain was too steep, too many obstacles to pass.
The fields too wet and deep with mud,
Many a river bank steeped in blood.
Many had tried and tried, but too many rivers had to be crossed,
By night, by day, by boats too many lives had been lost.
For months and months the army tried to advance,
But the Germans with observation and heavy fire, made their stance.
Again and again we tried to move forward,
Mountains either side, our direction northward.
Railway lines had been destroyed; there were minefields to clear,
Routes to be made, to bring supplies from the rear.
Constant threat of enemy fire as we progressed,
Never enough time or cover to get refreshed.
Always another track to build or supplies to deliver,
Troops moving here, moving there, the Germans we tried to out manoeuvre.
It was then decided , the time had come to make our move,
Three bridges were to be built, the Germans to remove.
“Congo” “Blackwater” and “Amazon” were the bridges to be constructed,
But weather conditions and enemy fire, caused this plan to be disrupted.
So it came down to the last command,
This is where we will make our stand.
A bridge to be built “At All Cost”,
This bloody river will be crossed.
A start was made at half past five,
Towards the enemy many would strive.
The bridge inched forward, under constant fire,
A bridge to be built at all cost, heroics we would require.
For twelve hours, men struggled to build this bridge,
Heroics were performed by many, in ground like porridge.
Until at last the bridge was finished enough for tanks to cross,
Then and only then, was the count taken to confirm our loss.
On the banks of the Rapido River in May ‘44,
So many had toiled in the mud and the blood as never before,
Fifteen had died and fifty seven had been wounded,
A bridge to be built at all cost, the task concluded.
When you stand on that river bank at 5am,
Reflect on the task, the chaos and the mayhem,
In the darkness and in the mud,
Remember,.................and count the cost in blood.