Irish Brigade

The story of the 38th (Irish) Brigade in the Second World War

Continuing in the Mountains


On 4th January, I went back to stay for a night with the Skins at Castro San Martino and join their Christmas party. On the next night, I visited the Divisional pantomime at Castel del Rio. This pantomime was absolutely first class. Although an all male cast, it compared very favourably to many a professional show at home.

On the 7th, there was a little more snow and any patrol movement became an extremely difficult matter. Both sides had snow clothing now. Consisting of a sort of white overall worn on top of everything else. A Bosche patrol, so clad, arrived within fifty yards of Pt 156 on the 8th but was seen off by the Faughs, leaving blood stains behind them on the snow. Our air reconnaissance was able to get a great deal of information about occupied enemy localities and supply routes by photographing tracks through the snow but I don’t think it really added very much to what we already knew.

About this time, I decided that it would be some satisfaction to the men who were continually performing some gallant or outstanding act if we published their names in Brigade Orders. I also intended to give a simple certification to each man, recording the fact that their names had been so published. The trouble was that the allotment of “Mentions in Despatches” was very small and it took from nine months to a year for the London Gazette to publish the award.

We felt that this simple token could not be thought by anyone to infringe the general awards and would give COs some way of giving early recognition to good work, which did not quite come up to the standard of an immediate award.

I enclose, at the end, a copy of the certificate and a list of those published to date in Brigade Orders for outstanding work.

That the idea was sound was encouraged by the fact that the Divisional Commander decided, about two months later, to institute a similar arrangement throughout the Division. His object was the same as mine but he hit on the excellent plan of allowing anyone who was awarded the Divisional “Mark of Merit”, to wear a small piece of braid under that their divisional sign. He also decided to make it retrospective to the beginning of October, when we returned from Egypt.

I then made our publication of names in Brigade Orders retrospectively to the same time and that automatically carried on award of the Divisional “Mark of Merit”.

On the 11th, I was told quite unexpectedly that I had been allotted an air passage for a fortnight’s leave at home. It was the beginning of a new scheme for Lt Colonels and above to go home on leave. It was thought, and probably rightly, that if they could be spared for the two and a half to three months required for the ordinary sort of leave, they might as well be dispensed with altogether. Johnny Preston GSO1 of the Division took my place; Bala Bredin went from the London Irish to do a turn at GSO1 and Jimmy Stewart, who had just returned from commanding the West Kents, took over command of the London Irish.

I left the Brigade on the 12th for Florence and an aeroplane to take me home. I saw John Horsfall in Florence on my way. He was still using a stick but had mended from his wound quite well. It was clear, however, that he was not fit enough to return to the Faughs and an offer of a job as GSO1 Training provided the right sort of change for him for the time being.

The story here is taken on by my staff.

On the 13th, our acting Brigade Commander went off early in the morning to visit the London Irish and the Skins. It was snowing at the time and, to the surprise of one of his staff, he accepted Colonel Bredin’s suggestion that he should visit Fitz’s Company at Sasso and Lucca. Despite the handicap of heavy mackintosh clothing, in addition to white snow clothing and some two feet of snow, the ascent went off quite smoothly. The snowfall cleared quite suddenly just as we were being welcomed by Fitz and the acting Brigade Commander was rewarded with a very clear view of Tamagnin. He then went on to visit the Skins before returning to Brigade Headquarters.

On the 13th, the London Irish reported that the culvert had been blown up, although no one had heard any noise of the explosion. Considerable controversy started amongst the battalions concerned as to when this deed had been perpetrated. It was not settled until some air photographs arrived which showed a large black object covering the snow around the culvert. The “I” Boys said that this was a cloud of smoke and that the photographs had been taken at the actual time of the explosion. By some proofs of higher mathematics, they were able also to tell us the height of the smoke cloud. The fact that the photographs were taken at 11.15 on the morning of 11 January made this difficult to believe. In broad daylight, it could not have escaped our notice.

Brigade Headquarters was surprised one morning to find the snow covered ground dotted with dormant bodies. On close investigation, those proved to be Americans from 85 US Infantry Division, who were coming up to relieve 1 British Division on our left. The DDA and QMC was heard to state that many of his problems would be solved if any of our warriors could be induced to do the same thing when in transit.

Close contact was quickly established between the Brigade and our neighbouring Yanks. The Reserve Platoon of the Left Company of the Faughs, who occupied Bazzano, shared slit trenches and section positions with II Battalion, 338 Regiment, US Army, who were on their left. This wise measure, which was extremely popular with all concerned, prevented any possibility of unhappy incidents occurring at night through either passwords being muddled or our Allies, because of their helmets, being mistaken for Bosche. It also produced a quick demand for shaving kit to be sent forward by the Yanks in this area. Cooperation was likewise cemented by the hospitality of the Faughs to the Second-in-Command of the 85 US Division when he was visiting their area. Rum and a dash of tea preceded his departure to the skirl of pipes. A small bottle of rum was to be noticed in his hand.

On the 17th, Brigade Headquarters entertained the officers of Headquarters 338 US Regiment to dinner. Paddy Bowen Colthurst produced a team of Indians from the affiliated mule company to cook and serve the meal. The Americans took this strange form of waiting at table and cooking as a matter of course; they neither asked questions nor showed surprise.



 

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