South Shields woman retraces steps of late husband who fought in Second World War campaign

A South Ttyneside woman has spoken of how her work tracing the footsteps her late husband took during an overlooked but brutal chapter of the Second World War has helped her make sense of the conflict’s impact on her life partner.

By staff reporter
Thursday, 14th January 2021, 4:48 pm

Patricia Rigg, who lives in South Shields, says her efforts in later life to uncover her late husband Brian’s lived experiences of combat have ‘brought her closer’ to him.

Pat has spent recent years retreading Mr Rigg’s steps when he fought as part of the Allied Forces’ Italian campaign, a bloody but often overlooked chapter of the Second World War.

The Italian campaign played a key part in the Allies’ victory in the Second World War. But, whilst Pat was always aware Brian had served in Italy with the Fourth Indian Division, she says she knew very little of the ordeals her husband underwent as he rarely talked to her about his experiences during that time.

Mrs Rigg (middle) pictured on one of her recent trips to where her husband fought in Italy

In an attempt to get to the bottom of the true story behind her husband’s wartime experiences, the retired homeowner at McCarthy Stone’s Seymour Court, has made a number of trips to the former battle sites.

Through the series of trips and organised tours, some in collaboration with the Monte Cassino Society, Mrs Rigg has been able to follow the routes taken by those on the Italian campaign, from their first landings at Salerno – which nearly ended in disaster – to the later, seemingly endless months of grueling combat over mountains, through torrential rivers, mud, snow and rain.

“After doing some research on the Italian campaign I realised perhaps that many others might not know about this time in WWII,” she explained.

“Going to where Brian fought, meeting veterans and standing in the Commonwealth cemeteries, surrounded by the shadows of those who have gone before, has been deeply emotional, and in a way, has brought me closer to, the man I was married to for 40 years.”

Brian Rigg (left) fought as part of the Allied Forces' Italian campaign in World War Two

Her late husband’s uncharacteristic reticence over his experiences in Italy were part of what drove Mrs Rigg to undertake the expeditions.

Mr Rigg also served in Greece and the Middle East.

"He had such a big smile and he was always there for me whenever I had a problem or needed a lift home from a party,” she said.

“I guess you could say that’s how he won my heart.”

Pat Rigg (right) has spoken with a number of Italian veterans as part of her recent trips

Along her journey, Pat has met many veterans from the campaign who have shared their still-vivid memories of the conflict with her.

She has penned a poem, entitled ‘Old Soldier’, as a kind of tribute to the lot of the often-misunderstood veterans of the Italian campaign – sometimes known as ‘D-Day Dodgers’, their efforts having been overshadowed by the historic Norman landings operation.

“Raising the profile of Monte Cassino is very important to me as at the time it was pushed out of the pages by the Normandy landings,” Pat said, “although it was no less significant.

"In fact, the Battle of Monte Cassino was probably one of the most blood-thirsty and savage battles of WWII.”

The poem was due to be read out at the National Arboretum at the Monte Cassino Society’s’ Commemorative Remembrance Ceremony, but Covid-19 meant the event had to be cancelled.

Old Soldier – words supplied by Patricia Rigg

You see an old soldier,

Veteran of days gone by,

Standing in the shadow of life,

Upright,

As far as he is able.

It’s not easy.

Old age. Arthritis.

Walking-sticks.

He’s military-smart,

Medals glinting,

Eyes, suspiciously bright.

He stands amongst the graves,

The graves of the war-dead.

Slowly, silently, sadly,

Tears no longer hidden,

He breathes the air of sacrifice,

Feels, once more,

The blackness of war.

The boys,

The men,

The fallen.

They fill his thoughts.

So many years have passed,

Yet, still,

He sees their faces,

Feels their pain.

Old soldier,

Veteran of days gone by,

You salute your friends,

Your mates.

You honour the fallen.

We do, too, but more,

We salute you.

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