by Liz Mildon, Assistant Curator Heraldry
The Italian campaign, which for the 2nd New Zealand Division began in October 1943, was a campaign that between 1943 and 1945 would involve the Allies in the construction of over 2500 Bailey bridges. The German army, as they retreated, did a thorough job of destroying the bridges over the many rivers and canals which the advancing Allied troops would then have to negotiate as they advanced up the north east side of Italian peninsular, towards their final destination of Trieste.
Between April 9 and April 16 1945 they crossed the Senio, Santerno and Sillaro rivers, and it was during this time that the actions of Driver John Graham Lee would result in him being awarded the United States Bronze Star, an award issued “For heroic or meritorious achievement of service in connection with operations against an opposing armed force”. Driver Lee was one of the drivers responsible for delivering the vital materials and equipment needed for constructing the Bailey bridges. Firstly, during operations at the Senio River on 9 April, while under enemy shell fire, he managed to remove a badly damaged vehicle that was blocking the road and preventing the transports from advancing. Then, on the evening of April 15 when his vehicle was badly damaged by shell fire, he carried out the repairs that were needed to enable him to carry on and deliver his load to the bridge building site in time. His Bronze Star citation states that on the night of April 15th he showed “considerable initiative and coolness”.
The success of the Allied Italian campaign depended greatly on the speed at which the engineers were able to construct new bridges over the waterways, and the engineers in turn relied on military transport drivers like Driver Lee, ferrying vital bridge building materials to them. As this was often under the most difficult of conditions; over heavily damaged roads and, the closer they got to the front, under heavy enemy bombardment, “considerable initiative and coolness” is what any of us could hope to possess.
Driver Lee’s recently donated medals will soon be on display in the National Army Museum’s Medal Repository.