On the first day of July, we started our move back to a concentration area near Rome, where we were to hand in all our transport and give everybody as much opportunity of visiting Rome as we could. Advance parties left in the afternoon and I slipped off about the same time. The brigade was to follow the next day.
The concentration area was on Route 4, about eight miles east of Rome. There seemed to be a certain advantage in establishing my Tac HQ at the Eden Hotel in Rome. This consisted of John McClinton and myself. It proved to be a wise move. We had decided to hold a Brigade Dance in the city, which was to be as far as we could make it, the sort of show that everyone would remember. A lot of preparation was needed, including a good deal of contact with the local Romans. I don’t think we could have ever done it without a ‘pied a terre’ on the spot.
Our object was for as many men as possible to visit Rome as often as possible, and I think most of them got in every other day. There was a lot to be done in getting all our transport and G1098 stores sorted out for handing over.
On the 5th, the advance party of the incoming brigade started to take over our equipment.
I was glad to welcome, at this time, four Canadian officers who had – in some cases – voluntarily given up higher rank to come and fight with the Faughs.
One of the main drawbacks in Rome was the shortage of places where troops could eat a meal. There was very little spare food in Rome and what few restaurants there were had to be run with the aid of army rations. We decided to launch out on our own in this matter and opened ‘The Shamrock Club’ for all members of the Brigade Group. Paddy did great work with Peter Chalk, our BRASCO, getting this place under way and. for the short time, it lasted it was a roaring success.
On the evening of the 8th, Brigade HQ held their big dance for the Brigade Group at the Barberini Palace. About 400 guests were present. It had been a terrific business rounding up the necessary quota of females. Eire Minister’s family collected a fair amount of locals. Other people raided hospitals for nursing sisters. My contribution was rounding up a number of ATS staff officers from General Alexander’s HQ. This I did by walking round the vast building, which housed HQ AAI and, with the moral support of John O’Rourke, walking into every office displaying a female name on the door outside.
The party started with the Pipes and Drums playing Retreat in the Palace courtyard. We then had a buffet supper. This was prepared by the RASC from army rations and I have seldom seen such a fine and ingenious display. Our late host of Tavernelle mansion, Gulio Moretti, gave us all the wine we wanted. The party went with a swing and the dances were interspersed with Irish dancing as the evening went on, both pipers and ourselves. Everyone joined in a Haymakers Jig with great gusto. Two old Faughs turned up for the party, Alban Low, now Deputy Commander of the Rome area, and George French, who had recently given up command of a battalion of Manchesters. Bala Bredin ingeniously arranged to return from hospital on this evening, having recovered from his Gustav Line wounds.
While we were near Rome, most of the people who had been unable to attend the Pope’s special audience for the brigade went on their own to audiences. All creeds seemed to take part in this. Perhaps, the amusing incident was how an Orange sash came to be blessed by His Holiness.
This sash must be unique in the history of Orange Lodges. How it came about was this. That fine old warrior Sergeant Major Hamilton MM of the Irish Rifles, at other times a leading Orange light of Sion Mills, had boasted of wearing his Orange sash on all occasions for many years. So when he decided that his visit to Rome would not be complete without seeing the Pope, naturally the Orange sash went too. Whether this experience had anything to do with breaking the custom of years, I don’t know, but he told me lately that he had forgotten to wear his sash on the 12th of July.
In every way, our visit to Rome had been a success and on the 10th we left for Taranto.
One thing, only, cast a shadow towards the end of our stay. It was the tragic news that the 6th Inniskillings were to be disbanded. General Keightley did all he could to stop this seemingly unfair decision, but orders had come from the War Office and nothing could be done. Everyone from General Alexander downwards was only too aware of the magnificent fighting spirit and performance of this now veteran battalion. They had played a key part in many battles since they landed in North Africa in the dark days of November 1942. Two Tree Hill at Bou Arada, Tanngoucha in the mountains of Medjez-el-Bab, Centuripe in Sicily, Termoli, the Trigno and the Sangro on the Adriatic shore and then the great advance from the Gustav Line, were all battle honours, which this magnificent battalion had earned for the Inniskilling Fusiliers. It was all a question of manpower and gradually the War Office was disbanding all war formed battalions. At first, we were inclined to look upon the thing as another injustice to Ireland, but I am satisfied that this was no so. On the 9th, I spoke to the 6 Innisks’ men and told them all of this fateful decision. They took the blow extremely well. They would – they were a great crowd.
There were two things on the plus side. The 2 Innisks were to take their place and, if it was humanly possible to do so, the powers that be promised that everybody in the 6 Innisks would either remain in the brigade or become reinforcements for it. If 6 Innisks had to go, no better solution than the 2nd Innisks taking their place could possibly have been thought of from our point of view. It meant that the new party would already be one of the family in our eyes. The 2 Innisks had been in 5th Division throughout the war, and had fought in that Division throughout with great distinction, first in France and later in Italy on the Garigliano and at Anzio. They would be naturally sad to leave their old Division, but we were pleased to welcome them. Above all, it made a whole difference to the 6 Innisks being able to hand over their fine traditions directly to their regular battalion.
On the 14th, General Allfrey, Commander of 5 Corps, flew to Taranto to give the 6 Innisks a special message from General Alexander. He had been our Corps Commander throughout North Africa and knew the battalion intimately. He was most disappointed about its disbandment, but explained the reasons very fully to all the officers and men. It would have been difficult to have chosen a more appropriate person to give the 6 Innisks their final blessing.
A good deal of reorganisation was going to be necessary to absorb the 6 Innisks, Bobbie Scott, commanding 2 Innisks, was to remain in command; Bala Bredin, who had only just returned from hospital, went straight off to command the 2 LIR, his own regiment, and John Horsfall took James Dunnill’s place commanding the Faughs. That was all done before we left Rome. The rest would be started when we reached our destination in MEF.
On the 23rd, the whole brigade had arrived in their MEF concentration area. We, at once, started taking over our new equipment and sending everyone on leave to Cairo, Alexandria or Ismalia. The leave arrangements were extremely good. Everyone was fixed up in a hotel and made as comfortable as possible. I think a good deal of money was spent, and a certain amount was lost by the roguery of the local population but, on the whole, everyone enjoyed themselves.
John McClinton and I had arrived by air about a week ahead and I started making the necessary arrangements with GHQ for our Inniskillings’ reorganisation. The 2 Innisks were already in the country, and so we went down to spend a few days with them and started tying up. I spent one very pleasant morning wandering round the battalion in their camp renewing many acquaintances among the older soldiers. A number of them I had known when I was adjutant of the Faughs and before that. Two I found had actually drilled in the same recruit squad as me when I was a 2/Lieut in Dover.
RSM Kilduff had been a slim member of D Company in my platoon commanding days, Three CSMs and three CQMSs I had known. There were a few members of the old band and drums, among them Shuhy, Adams, Gilligan, Shanks – now Pipe Major, McAleer. The one time battalion runner, Fusilier Reed, was a company storeman. It is always good to see faces one knew of old.
In the 2nd Skins, there are a good proportion of old soldiers, so essential to any battalion, and also a very high proportion of Irishmen. I felt these chaps would be a great asset to the brigade and didn’t feel that they would find new surroundings with us difficult to get used to. They were part of the family already.
Soon after the rest of the brigade arrived, we had our plans finished for the disbandment of the 6 Innisks. We were going to be able to retain everyone in the brigade except 180 ORs, who were to be earmarked as our reinforcements. This was better than I had hoped.
The welfare arrangements in this command were outstandingly good, and those who were not on leave had plenty of NAAFIs to visit, concerts and cinemas and daily leave for a limited proportion to one of the big towns. It was pretty hot but not unbearable.
On the 30th, our Divisional Commander, General Keightley, who had just returned from lecturing in England, got sudden orders to take command of 5 Corps, and left the same day. We were glad that he had got this command for his own sake, but we were very sorry to see him go. He was an old friend of the brigade’s; we had served under his command in 6 Armoured Division in North Africa and in Italy since December when he had been changed over to command 78 Division. We shall miss him a lot and hope his successor will treat matters Irish as sympathetically.
On the 7th August we joined up with the 2 Innisks and completed the final arrangements for the disbandment of the 6th. Both the Irish Rifles and the Faughs were taking a certain amount of them.
On the 10th, the 6 Inniskillings officially ceased to exist and in memorial of this much respected battalion, I conclude with this tribute written by Roy Hingston of the 2nd Battalion.”
To the 6th Inniskillings by Captain GR Hingston MC, 2 Inniskillings.
Born in a moment from the womb of war,
Heralded by trumpets speaking blood,
Mothered by tradition, sired by Mars,
Your adolescence fashioned rough and nude.
Barely of age, fate rushed you into war,
And, watching you, we others held our breath.
Entrusting you the Inniskilling Scroll,
Which you defended with your life: till death
With treacherous hands came stealing on you morn
And with one stroke slashed down the growing corn.
A son has died,
One who was most beloved,
And all the regiment will mourn the loss,
For never was a son more worthy.
Time shall enumerate; history shall tell
The deeds you did.
How in Tunisia your flowers fell
Leaving their fragrance to the regiment.
While there are Inniskillings left to hear
Tanngoucha shall speak,
And Centuripe, star of Sicily’s sky
O’er all the graves where Inniskillings lie.
Shall we forget the Sangro
Which your blood has sanctified?
Can we forget the noble part you played
Upon the gloomy mountains of Cassino,
How you stayed
The trumpet spoke again,
And echoing its death defying cry,
You smashed the Gustav Line
A second time.
And you were there,
But not for you the joyous celebration.
Onward you swept, scattering the parting Hun
Like dross before a fresh West Ireland breeze.
And then the rally sounded,
With your heads held high,
Proud sons of a proud regiment
You returned to die.
We mourn our loss
But through the sweet refrains,
Of our sad Londonderry air
Come stealing all the skirling savage strains
Of Ireland’s battle songs.
The songs you played and sang.
And where those Irish songs are ever heard
No Inniskillings can forget
The way you fought and how your voices rang
And as our rolling drums pay out your soul,
Proudly we add your honours to our scroll.