The next day, the 26th May, we started off to the wars again. It was interesting driving through the much vaunted Hitler Line, which had been turned so quickly. There was nothing wrong with it either. It was a maze of earthworks, anti-tank ditches and all the rest of the paraphernalia. That fine outflanking movement, which the French did and the very determined thrust through Pontecorvo by the Canadians was what really put paid to it. The leading elements of our Division had done little more than sit and look at it.
We were in the process of changing our Armoured Regiment at this juncture. It was rather an awkward moment to make the change. As I have said, the success was dependent on the various people getting to know each other personally, and there was not much time to do this. Our new Regiment was the 3rd Hussars, commanded by Peter Farquahar. I knew him well, as he had been my JUO at Sandhurst and often kicked my bottom. He took the reversal of the situation well and did everything that mortal men could do to help us. The Regiment had only fought in the desert before and the difficult going in Italy was about as different a problem for his point of view as anything could be.
The Faughs had had the best time so far and so they led off with the London Irish second and the Skins last.
I give you here the Faughs’ account of the next day:
“On 26th May, we embussed and motored up ACE Route, through Aquino and along Route Six to the Melfa River, where we got out because one feels rather naked in a TCV when under shell fire. Then started a long march due west from Route Six across country to Ceprano. The Guards were fighting for Monte Piccolo and Monte Grande to our north, and our task was to by-pass this resistance which was preventing the capture of Arce and to meet up with the Canadians in the Ceprano area.
So off we set. D Company led the way to the first bound and B Company went through until contact was made with our Maple Leaf cousins. This advance was not opposed except by the closeness of the country and the presence of several natural anti vehicle obstacles, the latter, however, being easy meat to Ronnie Denton and his boys. We halted that night round a road junction five miles from Ceprano, where we took over positions from the Irish Regiment of Canada.
One incident remains fresh in my mind – that of a Canadian standing at the junction calling ‘Canadian Irish, this way, English Irish that way.’ It was at this location that we were heavily shelled with a large percentage of wounded and dead amongst Bttn HQ. Such is war, however, and only serves to emphasise that forward of Division, you aren’t safe anywhere.”
We eventually concentrated the remainder of the brigade in the Coldragone Woods and a very unhealthy place it was too. The Germans had their OPs on Monte Grande and had all the tracks taped. These two mountains were the key to this area and to Arce beyond them. At one time, it looked as if we might get dragged in to assist the Guards Brigade in the task of capturing them. I was anxious, therefore, to get on and away from there.
To return for a moment to the Faughs’ advance to Ceprano. They really had a rotten day of it. A major battle was being waged on their right, they did not know what was to their front or left. The going was terribly difficult.
The tanks put up a magnificent show keeping up with them. Imagine their feelings when they eventually reached the road, which was their objective, to find a large notice stuck on a tree – ‘Heart Route’. The Canadians had been there before them. I set off in a tank with Colonel Purvis to see the Irish Rifles and I anticipated it would take about the same time to get to the Faughs. I picked up the CRE here and we all went on together. It was as hair raising a drive as I ever want to do in a tank, not on account of the enemy, but the ground. It was a good hour or more before we reached the Faughs and it had got dark.
What with one form of hold up and another and my wireless going out of order, I was not in my silkiest humour by the time I reached the Faughs. This was made worse by not being able to find anyone when I got into their area and I started ‘giving tongue’ in no uncertain manner. I had noticed, just before reaching their HQ, a few burning objects that looked as if they had recently caught fire, but what I did not realise was that they had just sustained some very heavy shelling that had knocked out a lot of very useful chaps. A tank makes such a noise that one does not hear quite a lot of exciting things. Anyway, I was duly contrite when I discovered the state of affairs, and gave them the form as far as I could.
It was dark by now so we abandoned the tank and started back in a borrowed jeep. It was a long and tricky drive across country with goodness knows what between us and our destination. We lost ourselves once or twice but eventually ran into one of Ronnie Denton’s bulldozing parties. These chaps thought nothing of playing about on their own in no man’s land. They showed us the way home when we thought we were finally lost. It was well after midnight when we got in and people were beginning to wonder what had happened to us.
The next day, the 28th, we started our move towards Ceprano, the Faughs still in the lead. The bridge by which they were going to cross the Liri was not all it was supposed to be and so there was a long hold up. However, they were in position the other side of the Liri, north of Ceprano, by 8pm, having met no opposition other than mines. Norman Bass was temporarily put out of action by one of those. The Skins were moved into the Faughs’ late positions in order to step up a firm base in case anything went wrong. Early next morning, the Irish Rifles and Brigade HQ joined the Faughs without any untoward incident. Later on in the day, the Skins came over too.
On the morning of the 29th, our last squadron of the Canadians changed over with the 3rd Hussars, who were now complete.