On 26th March, we were relieved by 11 Brigade and went back to our billets in Forli, We had been in the line on St Patrick’s Day and we had been promised that we could all get together for a proper celebration during this spell. Unless we could have got back to our more or less centralised Forli billets, it would have been difficult to carry out the ambitious programme that we had in mind. By some hitch or other, the Queen’s Brigade was still in our billets and, for a short time, it looked as if we might be spread about all over the countryside. In fact, if it had not been for the kindly efforts of General Arbuthnott, our Divisional Commander, supported by General Keightley, commanding 5 Corps, it is possible that this is what would have happened. I do not think that it really upset the Queen’s Brigade moving, as it turned out, because they had to go off and learn a bit of amphibious warfare about this time.
The 29th was the day chosen for our St Patrick’s Day party. We invited the North Irish Horse and the 1st London Irish as well as all the members of the Brigade Group to send representative detachments to spend the day with us.
It was a lovely day. We began with Church services, the Roman Catholics in Forli Cathedral and the rest of us in the Asperia Cinema. I have no doubt that Dan Kelleher’s Mass was every bit as good as the Church of England service which Victor Pike held for us in the Cinema. Victor Pike, a rugger international from County Tipperary, was an old friend of the Brigade. He had been Head Chaplain in 5 Corps since the landings in North Africa and had just been promoted to ACG Eighth Army. He was just the person for a St Patrick’s Day service.
General Keightley and General Arbuthnott both attended the service. I had tried to arrange for both services to finish together so that we could form up at the same time in St Andrew’s Square, Forli. This happened more or less according to plan and, by the time everyone had formed up in St Andrew’s Square, it was a very fine sight with all the hackles gleaming in the sun. Incidentally, I have added an appendix about our much admired head-dress.
The balcony of the Prefecture overlooked the Square and when everyone was ready, I made a short speech to the assembled multitude. I told the Brigade how glad I was that General Keightley had been able to come to talk to them and to present the shamrock. He had been our Divisional Commander in the early days of North Africa and again in 78 Division during our great battles of the previous Spring and now he was our Corps Commander. He had also graduated from an Irish Regiment – the Inniskilling Dragoons. The shamrock which had been sent out to us by post was sadly insufficient for our needs but I told the Brigade that I thought its potency was sufficient to bless some of the local variety that I had had to mix with it in order to make it go round.
General Keightley, in talking to the Brigade, pointed out that the remarkable successes on the Western front were directly due to the great success of our Brigade and all the troops in Italy over the previous eighteen months. We had held down twenty six of the best German Divisions.
When he had finished his speech, General Keightley presented a tray of shamrock to each unit on parade and a sprig to each officer personally.
After giving three cheers for the Corps Commander, I dismissed the parade and the Drums and Pipes of our three battalions and 1 LIR played in the Square. It was an impressive sight. There were fifty two pipers on parade and seventy two men in the whole band.
Brigade Headquarters entertained all the officers of the Brigade and all guests that were present at the parade in the Prefecture afterwards. During the afternoon, each battalion had its own diversions. The London Irish held an Officers v Sergeants football match, which to any casual spectator must have appeared like a minor war – perhaps it was merely anticipating Dublin on VE Day. The Skins had a similar orgy a bit later on. The Faughs held an extremely well organised race meeting with a tote and various exciting side shows with a certain amount of by play with mules during the meeting. An illustrated booklet on this St Patrick’s Day is available.
In the evening, the London Irish held an excellent dance in their Mess.
Regardless of thick heads and other discomforts, training started again with the same object as before on the next day and went on at high pressure until the big battle started.