Back To Italy

“There is not much to be said about Taranto. Its amenities and general attractiveness had not improved since the brigade first saw it about a year before. The first few days we were kept pretty busy sorting ourselves out and getting everything ready to move north. We had a training area, which was used a little, but there wasn’t very much time for this sort of thing. We were told we must get away as soon as possible. We were to be ready by the 25th. There was some talk of a PAD scheme being brought into action, but as there hadn’t been any hostile aeroplanes for 6 months, this didn’t raise great enthusiasm. Air sentries were posted but what anyone did, when the alarm was given, seemed open to question. No one proposed to waste time and energy digging fox holes in that hard unyielding earth if they could avoid it.

The battalions were right up to strength plus first reinforcements. The first reinforcements were to be sent to the No 3 CRU and kept there under Divisional supervision. The Brigade Pipes and Drums beat Retreat one night in the 2 LIR lines, which coincided with a visit from Colonel Macnamara, MP for Chelmsford, and who had commanded 1 LIR at the beginning of the war. He was a great enthusiast for Irish Regiments. Unfortunately, he was later killed at Christmas time visiting his old battalion in the 8th Army.

Paddy Bowen Colthurst had the bright idea of holding an A/Q party in the Officers’ Club at Taranto. He invited all the quality, which was in any way connected with A and Q in the division and in the battalions. It was a large impressive gathering and we had an excellent dinner followed by appropriate singing afterwards in which the Sassenach joined with great heart. All the guests felt that Paddy’s lucky evening at the tables at the Mohammed Ali Club in Alexandria, could scarcely have been put to more congenial use.

The weather got a lot cooler about this time, and we changed into battle dress before leaving Taranto.

On the 23rd, advance parties, including myself, started north. We were to move by Brigade Groups to Fano and come into 8th Army reserve. It meant three days drive for the column, two days of 150 miles and 85 miles on the third day. At 5am on the 25th, the Brigade Group started off. All the usual people were with us and remained with us during the next quick move which was to follow later. The only changes that had occurred were Colonel Bevan was commanding 152 Field Regiment since Bob Lyttle left to take charge of a General Hospital and the Kensingtons had undergone one of their periodical reorganisations which resulted in Major Foxwell (Foxy) being in command of our group instead of Philip Marshall.

Our route went straight up the shore of the Adriatic from end to end, not a very interesting road, with the exception of the part that went through the autumn battlefields – Termoli, the Trigno and the Sangro. Everybody arrived intact on the 27th. We had been allotted a pitch for Brigade Headquarters in a doubtful looking field. This was quickly changed to a cross between a castle and a villa, in which one might suitably stage a party.

On the 29th, the rain started and made a fearful mess of the countryside. The general situation, as we found it, was distinctly disappointing. The battles of the Gothic Line and afterwards had been a desperately hard struggle. Casualties had been pretty heavy. The manpower problem was getting acute for the Divisions in the line. We had been encouraged by the idea that the war was ending; that the Hun was pulling out, that he “had it” and didn’t intend to fight anymore; that he was going back to the Po as hard as he could leg it, if not beyond. It was pretty obvious that this was all nonsense; someone had made a blunder. The over optimistic outlook had not yet quite died at the time. I was told by a very highly placed officer that the Hun was merely waiting for the rain to pull out, blowing the roads behind him; with the country then too wet for us to get after him. The Americans still thought they were going to get Bologna at any moment. The ‘I’ Boys were full of theories. Events proved nearly all of them wrong.

We paid an interesting visit to the independent republic of San Marino, by way of reconnaissance. It was perched on top of a very high hill overlooking the battlefield below, where the 8th Army was still breaking through in the plain about San Archangelo and San Savignano.

We were told that the Hun artillery was fiercer that it had ever been before; that he was fighting hard, and giving up ground grudgingly. All this looked a bit discouraging after our high hopes of the month before. We were told that when our battalion strengths dropped to 30 officers and 700 other ranks, we would be compelled to fight on a three company basis. The COs didn’t like the idea of this at all. That fourth company had so often turned the day in previous battles.

Hugh Holmes gave up his job as Second-in-Command of the Faughs at this time and went back to the Middle East as a G1. I was sorry to see him go, as were many of us. He had been with the Faughs, on and off, since we left Scotland. Jimmy Stewart, my Brigade Major, took his place and was succeeded by another Argyll, Pat Spons, whose initials TPDS were the same as my own.

We continued our programme of training, which we had started at Taranto, during these few days. We had one or two lectures in the art of war in these parts. The most interesting part of these was the use of Searchlights for night movement and the equipment now available with an assault RE unit.

We had a big party for the Brigade Group on the evening of the 1st October, in which singing and dancing played a leading part.”

Read ‘With the 5th Army’.


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