Remembering the fallen
MORE than 1,000 members of the Irish Brigade lost their lives in the Allied campaigns in North Africa, Sicily and Italy from November 1942 until the war in Italy ended in May 1945. You can find them all on the They Shall Not Grow Old page of the Irish Brigade website.
|Orvieto war cemetery looking south west towards the town of Orvieto.
Analysis of the roll of honour shows the following:
- Age. The average age was just under 26. The youngest to die fighting in the Irish Brigade was 17 and the oldest was 48. Nine were 18 or younger; 38 were 19; 92 were 20 and 102 were 21.
- Rank. A total of 66 per cent of those killed were riflemen or fusiliers, the most junior rank in the battalion. Lance corporals, corporals and lance-sergeants -- non-commissioned officers who led sections of 8-10 men -- accounted for 211 of those who died. The number of sergeants killed was 43. One platoon sergeant major, five sergeant majors and one Warrant Officer II died. The brigade lost two Colour Sergeants; both were serving in the London Irish Rifles. The mortality rate among officers was high: 43 lieutenants; 20 captains and 14 majors were killed in action. The brigade lost three battalion commanders during its campaigns: Charles Allen of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers on 7 April 1943 during battles near Medjez el-Bab; Beauchamp Butler of the Royal Irish Fusiliers on 27 October 1943 in the battle for San Salvo on the Adriatic and Ion Goff of the London Irish Rifles on 15 May 1944 during the 4th battle of Cassino. Bala Bredin, commanding officer of the 2nd Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, was seriously wounded on 17 May during the assault on Piumarola during the Cassino battle and John Horsfall, commanding officer of the Royal Irish Fusiliers, was seriously wounded in the battle for Monte Spadura in the autumn of 1944. James Dunnill, commanding officer of the Royal Irish Fusiliers at that point, was taken prisoner during the battle of Trasimeno in June 1944.
- Location. More than 350 died during the battles in Tunisia between the end of November 1942 until May 1943; about 140 during the battles in Sicily; around 150 in the battles for the rivers Sinacre, Trigno and Sangro in September-November 1943; more than 80 in the Battle of Cassino; 45 during the Battle of Trasimeno; 88 during the battles around Monte Spadura in October 1944 to January 1945 and 52 in the battle for the Argenta Gap in April 1945. The single bloodiest day for the brigade was on 5 August 1943 during fighting on the River Simeto. All three of the brigade’s battalions were involved in the attack and a total of 40 men lost their lives that day.
- Time. More than half the brigade's fatalities occured in December 1942-August 1943. The biggest losses were incurred in April 1943 (138), January 1943 (134), August 1943 (116), October 1943 (99), May 1944 (76), November 1943 (57), June 1944 and April 1945 (55 each month), and October 1944 (53).
- First and last. The first member of the Irish Brigade to die in theatre was Lance Sergeant Cecil Gamblin of the Royal Irish Fusiliers. He died on 6 December 1942 and was 26. The last to die on the battlefield was Rifleman Edwin Hunt of the London Irish Rifles who was killed during the battle for the Argenta Gap on 26 April 1945, seven days before the end of the war in Italy. He was 20. Members of the brigade with serious wounds continued to die in the weeks following the end of the war in Europe.
- Unit. The London Irish Rifles lost 345 killed; the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers 351 and the Royal Irish Fusiliers 354.
It is estimated that over 10,000 men served at some point in the Irish Brigade. Those that survived the war included thousands who were wounded, including many that were permanently disabled. There is no precise figure, but it is likely that at least 3,000 suffered wounds during the Irish Brigade campaigns. In addition, hundreds suffered from malaria, which would resurface years after the disease was first contracted. Then there are those without number that experienced lasting psychological trauma as a result of their battlefield experiences.
To the final tally of suffering and sacrifice must be added the grief of the friends and families of those that died or suffered wounds and other injuries. When we think of those who made the ultimate sacrifice, it is only right that we think of them too.