A WIRRAL veteran is returning to Italian shores where he fought in World War II.
Matthew Toner, 87, will return to Anzio after 69 years with the Big Lottery Fund’s Heroes Return 2 programme.
Matthew, from Birkenhead, joined the Royal Navy when he was 16, and made his first voyage to America to pick up a newly built Landing Ship Tank (LST) 410.
They were designed to carry troops and heavy vehicles from sea to shore, with a predicted 80% casualty rate.
Matthew was deployed to the main invasion of Italy at Salerno in September of 1943.
He said: “At Salerno we were landing the original 7th Armoured Division Desert Rats.
“The Germans had quickly replaced the Italians so they were waiting for us and came toward the beach, there was a lot of hand to hand fighting. It was terrible. The coast was bombarded and it was there that I first saw remote control bombs. One hit HMS Warspite and put her out of action.”
Despite the heavy German counter attack the combined British and American forces finally secured bridgeheads at Salerno and Taranto. They pushed up toward Naples where an allied offensive was launched to break the German Gustav line at Monte Cassino.
But due to the difficult mountain terrain the allies struggled to capture the German stronghold, so Operation Shingle was launched to land troops along the Italian coast below Rome to establish a beachhead at Anzio behind the enemy lines.
Matthew added: “There was horrific shelling at Anzio. Wherever we were sent we knew there was trouble but you always tried to be a little bit macho as if you weren’t scared. But sometimes I was scared.
“We must have made 30 trips back and forth between Anzio and Naples, and the Germans were shelling us with Anzio Annie, huge guns lobbing shells right into the harbour.”
D-Day followed, Matthew was also deployed to the beaches of Normandy and to the West coast of India where he caught sandfly fever.
He came back to England in 1946, and stayed in the Navy where he served in mine clearing operations round the British Coast, then later as part of the Atom bomb testing in the Pacific Atolls.