A Sicilian beach 2014

Following the end of fighting, the Irish Brigade spent two weeks encamped between Randazzo and Maletto in an area which had been dubbed ‘Mortar Corner’, but by the month end, they had been able to travel to the sea front and spent time near Patti on Sicily’s north coast.

The next four weeks were mightily appreciated by everyone.

During their recent visit to Sicily, the Irish Brigade web site co founders, Edmund and Richard O’Sullivan, were also mightily appreciative at getting the opportunity to visit some of the island”s scenic and cultural beauties as well as being entertained by the nightly firework display from the frequent eruptions of Mt Etna. The thunderous noises from the mountain did indeed evoke some further thoughts of their father’s time in Sicily during August 1943.

Visits to the Norman built church masterpieces at Monreale and Cefalu as well as to Nelson’s Castle, near Bronte, where both Generals Alexander and Kesselring spent some time during 1943 were a fine coda to a quite marvellous week of remembrance and relaxation.

A Celtic Cross at Nelson’s Castle.

Lieutenant Percy Hamilton recalled arriving at Patti:

“When we arrived at the rest area, we found that we lived in tents in among shady fig trees with a vineyard on one hand and the sea on the other. There were no parades at all and the men did not even have to get up for their meals if they didn’t want to. We used to pick a large bunch of grapes and take them down to the beach, where we would lie in the sun for hours. The figs were also in season and we ate them; there were a few lemons too. We were about five miles from the town of Patti and used to go there to get a haircut; there was hardly any shopping as there was nothing to buy.

After the whole Bttn came there, the CO made the officers learn Irish dancing. In the light of two or three Jeep headlamps in the evenings in the yard outside the mess, he would have us all at it.”

Cefalu’s Cathedral of Saint Salvatore, completed in 1131.

CQMS Edmund O’Sullivan’s stay by the seaside, though, nearly ended in tragedy:

“I caught a train to Patti on Sicily’s north coast where the London Irish were stationed. The battalion was very short of men due to malaria and dysentery. The Simeto had particularly nasty mosquitoes and flies….

Patti looked out over the blue Tyrrhenian Sea. In the distance, we could see smoke and steam issuing from the volcano island of Stromboli. The men trained and rested while I continued in my never-ending task of feeding, clothing, quartering and equipping my company. This necessitated making a journey to Palermo, a beautiful city.

The beach at Patti today.

We were to spend the remainder of August and most of September in this comparative paradise. I managed to bathe in the sea most days. A little way out, seemingly, was an attractive little island which always drew my eyes. One evening, I foolishly decided to swim to it. I entered the sea and made towards it with steady strokes, but the island appeared to get farther away. Tiring, I sensibly turned back and used an economical side-stroke to get to shore. I had not reckoned with the current and my evening swim became a struggle to remain afloat. As the shore finally came nearer, I repeatedly tried to find the shingle bottom with my toes but to no avail. Being the shore of a volcano, the beach was steep. Finally I found a toe hold and desperately threw myself above the water line. Here I lay panting for a quarter of an hour. It was a very narrow escape. This was confirmed the next day when two men were drowned trying to make the same short swim. The island was in fact more than two miles distant. The current was treacherous.“

Monreale Cathedral completed in 1182.

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