The brigade had now shot its bolt. We were to clamp down where we were and 36 Brigade was to go through.
It had been a very hard battle these few days. It was as hard as the Gustav Line and, what was worse, we were not expecting it.
There was also this advance party business. I really think that in spite of all this, the end of our 270 mile advance was marked by as fine a demonstration of leadership and guts as one may expect to see anywhere.
That evening, 36 Brigade crossed the Pescia and our job was now only to give them a firm base until they got on and cover the left flank of the Division.
The next day, 25th June, I went round to see the battalions, and especially James Dunnill to congratulate him on the Faughs’ battle of yesterday. He was out when I got there but, as he was expected within about half an hour, I waited with John Horsfall for his return. When he did not get back by midday, I went back to Brigade HQ, not really thinking very much about it. It takes a long time to visit one’s companies on these occasions. In the evening, John Horsfall rang me up to say he was getting very worried as James was still not back. Patrols had been sent out to try and find a clue. He had gone off to visit his companies in a tank with Duffy Anderson, the battery commander, and Gamble, the acting IO. It was beginning to look as if might have taken a wrong turning and got among the Bosche. Knowing James’ resourcefulness, I decided not to worry about it, unless he was still absent in the morning.
Next day, by dint of questioning local Italians, German prisoners etc, it became pretty clear that they had all been caught in the neighbourhood of Badia. Turning up that road was an easy mistake to make and lots of us have done stupider things and got away with it. He had just been unlucky. The great point was that they all seemed to have been unscathed. We have since had notification that James is a prisoner of war. I hope it will not be for long. He had been with me for so long that his loss, even though he was safe, was a bad blow. He had done magnificently with the Faughs, first of all commanding B Company and later as CO. He was a great loss to them. He was always cheerful, confident, and never ruffled.
There were no Field Officers left in the Faughs at this juncture and all the companies were commanded by South Africans, who had done this brigade great service since they came to us. Brian Clark, the Adjutant, became CO for the time being.
This day, the 25th, was a fairly peaceful one for us, though the Faughs did get a certain amount of shelling in Ranciano. The Irish Rifles swung out to their left to La Villa and held there, with their tanks in support. The 17 pounders remained with the Faughs, but they got no target.
I would like to say a word about Whiskers’ 254 Anti Tank Battery. Throughout the advance from the Gustav Line, they had been continually in action, consolidating gains made and taking over when the tanks pulled back. They were an indefatigable lot, and always in the thick of it. Whiskers and his officers used to make their recces often well before the situation had stabilised so that they would get their guns up the first possible moment. I remember meeting ‘Butters’ one day early on looking a bit dishevelled. He told me he’d just been dug out after being buried by a 210. It didn’t stop him getting his guns into action soon after that.
The roads in this part of the country were not quite so scanty as they had been, and our REs were not quite so pushed. A Field Company is inclined to buy it the whole time. Although Ronnie Denton and his sappers were supposed to work primarily with us, they really got pulled in for everybody else as well, because the amount of RE work was always great. We tried to give Ronnie’s men adequate infantry protection, but sometimes they used to get a bit enthusiastic and one found them plying their trade well ahead of anyone else. ‘Tiger Lil’, their tame bulldozer, was always to the fore. It may have caused the Bosche to pull back on one or two occasions, mistaking it for some new and powerful secret weapon bearing down on them. I remember one day when I was with Ronnie Denton, looking at his work, seeing a large pillar of smoke rising from the top of the hill in front. Knowing we had none of our own side ahead of us, I enquired rather anxiously what it was all about. ‘Oh’, he said. ‘It’s our chaps drumming up.’ As it was a large German cooker they were using, I suppose the Bosche mistook them for their own side. I have yet to meet a Field Company like this one.
The next day, the Irish Rifles extended their left swing to San Biagio and Badia. The forward move by the rest of the Division had been going satisfactorily. The Skins were relieved of their operational role and they came back into reserve. That night, we were able to pull back the Irish Rifles too.