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I won the toss, so Lloyd went on the last inspection - he was killed; WWIIHEROTO RETURNTO THESCENEOF TOUGHBATTLE.


HE WOULD not be alive today had he not won the toss of a coin on the battlefields of Monte Cassino.

Now, World War II veteran Fred Burton is preparing to return to Italy next month to commemorate the fallen comrades who fought at his side in the Italian Campaign.

From 1943, Mr Burton fought in Italy until the German surrender in May 1945.

Etched in his memory is one fateful day when a coin was tossed to decide who would "run" to deliver a message between one company and another in no man's land.

Mr Burton won the toss and a comrade and friend from Swansea made the run. He was shot and killed.

The harrowing situation is similar to that depicted in the 1981 film Gallipoli, starring Mel Gibson, the story of two Australian "runners" in Turkey in World War I. Mr Burton was called up to theWelsh Guards (1st Company 3rd Battalion) when he was 19. Two days before he set sail for the shores of Italy he met his future wife, Beryl.

Little did he know that he wouldn't see her again for three-and-a-half years.

He is making the journey back to Monte Cassino for the first time since the war ended as part of the Big Lottery Fund's multi-million-pound Heroes Return 2 programme, which provides grants of between pounds 150 and pounds 5,500 to allowWorldWar II veterans to return to battlefields and cemeteries across Europe.

Mr Burton, 87, from Newport, said: "It broke my heart that we were sailing to war on my birthday.

"We got chased by German U-boats as soon as we got into the Irish Sea."

The battalion eventually arrived unscathed in Naples where the gruelling Italian Campaign was about to begin. They fought in a number of campaigns in central Italy before joining the 8th Army and being sent to Monte Cassino to garrison a part of the town of Cassino.

In October 1944, the battalion was sent to the mountains to relieve the Americans at Monte Battaglia, a position under constant counter-attack.

In appalling weather conditions and under constant danger from shelling and sporadic attacks, they held the trenches until the last week of October 1944 and handed Battaglia back over to the Americans.

With the German army retreating, the 3rd BattalionWelsh Guards spent the winter of 1944-45 in the Apennine Mountains, holding a sector of the line which stretched across Italy.

After they took Perugia, Fred was made a company runner, passing messages from one company to another in no man's land.

He said: "We would inspect the troops twice a day with the major in command.

"I remember one particular day when I tossed a coin with myfriend, Lloyd, from Swansea, to see who would go with the major first. I won the toss, so Lloyd went on the last inspection.

"Lloyd was shot and killed on that run and the major had his leg blown off. I'm only here today because of a coin toss.

"The message came back down for me to go up and help them with two stretcher bearers.

It was a difficult job because when the Germans retreated, they always laid down thousands of mines on the side of the tracks.

"The mud was so deep that the stretcher bearers would trip up and the bodies would roll off them back into the mud. We would have to pick them back up and start again each time.

"That happened three times and it broke my heart. I've never ever forgotten it. I'll sit in my chair sometimes and think about it."

Following the end of the war, Mr Burton spent the next four months in Austria and returned home for a month's leave, when he married Beryl.

But he has never been back to Monte Cassino and doesn't know what to expect when he returns.

"I'm hoping I can go to the abbey and look down and pinpoint the dugout down below where I was during the war," he said.

"I can then show the family where I was. I know the spot. I've never forgotten it."


Fred Burton today with his wife, Beryl and below in his war days Mel Gibson in the film Gallipoli which includes a war-time 'toss-of-the-coin" decision similar to the one that Fred Burton, pictured right with his wife, describes
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Aug 30, 2010
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