Irish Brigade

The story of the 38th (Irish) Brigade in the Second World War

Resting in Forli

“Withdrawn from the line, the company rested in the rear areas. But there was no rest for me. I had the task of virtually re-clothing the company, as their boots and trousers had, like them, suffered. One day, I found myself with two crucial tasks: to sell the NAAFI ration and to collect trousers from an RASC store in a distant town down south. I left instructions for Jimmy Barrett and the other two sergeants to sell the NAAFI ration to the chaps. When I returned in the evening, they handed over to me the total amount in lira.

I asked them: ‘What about my ration?’

‘Here it is. Cigarettes, sweets, soap and razor blades.’

‘But I haven’t paid.’

‘That’s alright. The money’s correct.’

I looked in the corner and there was a whole case of beer.

‘Whose is that?’ I asked.

Unblushingly, they said: ‘Ours.’

I did not know what to do. They had done me a favour but had robbed their comrades. They had no conscience about it and probably thought I did the same. I explained that I had never profited from selling the men their entitlement and generally finished with a loss, as I let them owe me small sums. I could not return the beer. But, that evening, I went to their canteen and bought drinks for everybody, saying that, owing to an error, they had been slightly overcharged.

As I left, I saw Major Davies, who was visiting the battalion. He greeted me with a smile which turned to a frown. ‘Where are all your medals?’

‘What medals?’ I replied. ‘I’m wearing the Africa Star. That’s all I have had issued.’

‘But I thought…,’ and his voice trailed off. He appeared a little embarrassed. After such a poor start over a cup of tea, Davies had become a friend.

I was sent off to the town of Forli as an advance party. To get there, however, I had to go due south to Lake Balsano and then over the mountains to the main road which connected Pesaro with Bologna. I stopped at 5th Army Corps headquarters for the night. A good meal and comfortable quarters were given to me. I sat down in the mess and a completely bald-headed but young man sat next to me. I instantly recognised him.

‘Molloy?’ I asked. ‘Sully!’ he said.’

We had sat next to each other at the Oratory in the early 1930s. We chatted and I discovered that being a signal sergeant at corps headquarters had its compensations: a comfortable warm billet, a separate room with a proper spring bed, a sergeant’s mess with four meals a day and plenty of drink, although they sometimes ran out of soda water. I was told it was hard work as they occasionally worked late. I expressed commiserations.

The company arrived at Forli. I was called by E Company commander Major FitzGerald who told me that I was going on a two-week administration course at Benevento. I took the train to Rome and spent a pleasant day there in the spring sunshine before taking the express to my destination. Here, we were a part of British headquarters and were accommodated in a large building. The course was a doddle and I became friendly with two company quartermaster sergeants from the Jewish Brigade. It was a second convalescence.

FitzGerald had seen how ill I had been. One morning, I was entering the main building in Benevento when I saw the tall figure of Colonel Horsfall who had been wounded at Monte Spaduro. I saluted and he greeted me with a broad smile and an inquiry as to my health. We had known each other a long time. He had been my runner on the battle course in Norfolk in 1942, my battalion second-in-command and my commanding officer from Cassino to Trasimeno.

After Benevento, I returned to Forli to find the company occupying positions on the flood banks of the River Senio. George Charnick was back as E Company CSM after 28 days leave in England. I too had qualified for leave but had missed the chance due to my absence in Benevento. Charnick was soon transferred to S Company and Doug Meighan replaced him. Major Davies had returned to the company earlier with Captain Cave as Second-in-Command.”



 

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