Patrick’s Day was the next orgy. We started the day by being placed at four hours notice to move. I had made a secret arrangement with the General that nothing short of a calamity would cause him to move the brigade before late on the 18th. I kept this secret pact to myself for obvious reasons but was glad I had it when I saw the shape the party was taking. Italy is a country of unlimited, cheap and potent wine and sometimes worse.
We started off with two parade services, one being the traditional RC service and the other a C of E one, so that all could attend something. I had endeavoured to synchronise the duration of these services so that they would finish at the same time and we could continue with item 2 without a hitch.
I was thwarted in this aim by Dan Kelleher, our excellent RC priest, who decided to hold communion during the mass. Naturally, it was impossible to do anything about this during the service but I pointed out to him afterwards that it was an entirely unprecedented ritual during our traditional St Patrick’s Day mass.
He duly apologised for the breach. I happened to tell my wife about this incident and she said that it was a great pity that Ireland could not be run on the lines of the Irish Brigade and that she would see me matting Cardinal McRory if he did anything that I did not fancy.
When we had eventually united the rival religions, we held the ceremony of distributing shamrock. As often happens in foreign parts, the national emblem was hard to come by and what we had was difficult to recognise. However, the Irish Rifles nobly produced enough shamrock for us to present some to the officers and warrant officers.
Owing to the battle, General Keightley had to cancel his intention of joining us but sent a personal message to which I added my own:
PERSONAL MESSAGE FROM MAJOR GENERAL CF KEIGHTLEY CB OBE, COMMANDER 78 DIVISION.
ST PATRICK’S DAY 1944.
To all ranks 38 (Irish) Infantry Brigade:
I regret that the present battle does not allow me to come and wish you personally all god fortune as I had originally arranged.
I do wish you it with all my heart.
If the whole army fights with the same spirit and gallantry, which you have done in the past year, then the Bosche will soon be exterminated.
I am confident that next St Patrick’s Day will see the extermination complete and your return home with all the honour, which will be due to you.
In the meantime, let us fit ourselves for our last battles: May they be short and successful.
Good luck to you,
CF Keightley, Major General.
After the shamrock had been presented, the Brigade Pipes and Drums played Retreat and the Irish Rifles’ hospitality provided an excellent drinking booth on the pitch. The rest of the day was observed as a holiday, a term which was expressed with considerable energy and alcoholic stimulation according to each Regiment’s likes. It was a good day. The Skins had an officers v sergeants football match and some of the officers were certainly a sight for sore eyes. The CO was dressed in KD shirt and shorts, vivid socks, boots and Italian black coat and a green port pie hat pulled down over one eye. Smudger was resplendent in khaki trousers, shirt and beautiful net veil. The Adjutant, always keen, was dressed in FSMO complete to the last detail. Badger Dicker appeared around the corner on a donkey, Stan Pollard riding pillion with black eye and adhesive tape and holding an enormous aspidistra. Bradford Myles appeared as a magnificent Arab. Sgt Cain riding a donkey led the team into battle. The Sgts’ team took an unfair advantage by using carriers in the hull down position.
The RASC band, on tour in Italy, appropriately visited us on this day and played for the Faughs in the afternoon. There was two old Faughs in this band, one was Dwyer, who many of us had known in the Regiment. Possibly the best part of the their programme was given when the Faughs’ shoemaker, Fusilier Fergusson, decided to take the bandmaster’s place and conduct matters himself. Whether the excellence of these items was due to Fergusson’s innate skill or the band’s ability to follow him, I don’t know, but I have seldom laughed more.
When commanding the Irish Rifles, I had had great success in the evenings at Guelma encouraging the officers to sing songs of a national character. We had great talent and some delightful evenings were spent. Encouraged by this success, I started similar nights at Brigade HQ when various guests from the battalions were present. The attractions of an evening like this grew so much that we decided to publish a book called “Songs of the Irish Brigade”, so that we could all join in when we felt inclined. We collected material from various sources and though still incomplete, had the book printed at Campobasso. This song book had been an invaluable asset during many an evening in many an odd place and is much sought after by people outside the brigade.
This pleasant interlude came to an abrupt close when we had to take over a defensive position on the Rapido and we left our winter quarters on the 22nd of March.