I got back from leave on the 18th January 1945 and found everyone in excellent spirits. Getting away from mountains and mules had done everyone a power of good. The only major change that had occurred in my absence was the departure of Rollo Baker. On 23rd January, this trusted friend of two years standing, gave up command of the 17th Field Regiment to take up an appointment at home. He was so much a part of the Brigade that his departure was a great blow to us. A farewell party was held for him at Brigade Headquarters on the night of his departure and several of his own officers attended. We wish him well and welcome his successor, Rupert Lecky, from Country Carlow.
A number of people, from the Army and Corps Commander downwards, congratulated us on the smart turn out of all our soldiers. I certainly congratulate them – they added great tone to the streets of Forli.
This period in Forli was one of hard preparatory training and strenuous social gatherings in the evening. Most exhausting. There was not any particular event of noteworthy importance – except to the individuals concerned. The Faughs held most successful Barossa day celebrations in their billet – the one time “Adolph Hitler Barracks” – correctly renamed by them “St Patrick’s Barracks”. I enclose their account:
“At precisely 0700 hrs, the band, with Pipes and Drums playing merrily, awakened the battalion from its slumbers in traditional style, Another Barrosa Day had dawned.
The first event of the day was the Irish Dancing Competition – this to take the form of a Four Hand reel. By eleven o’clock, the crowd had started to collect. It was easy to pick out the teams from the different companies. The ‘victims’ stood slightly apart from the others looking rather nervous and far from confident and the pipers stood with their various discoveries giving them a parting word of advice. The judges, Brigadier Scott and Brigadier Low, an old Faugh who had come up to see the fun, together with the Drum and Pipe Majors, took up their respective positions. After a short introduction and a word of advice – and warning – to the competitors, Brigadier Scott gave the word for the first team to take the floor. The dauntless four of B Coy stepped forth.
The Piper’s fingers moved swiftly up and down the chanter, the dancers moved gracefully into the ‘Hands In’ and the crowd gazed on enraptured. The crowd remained silent until the last movement when they raised various war whoops and cries, to the delight of all and the discomfiture of the dancers.
And so it went on – ‘D’, ‘C’, ‘HQ’ and ‘S’ Companies one after the other in quick succession, each team trying to bring forth all the Irish blood in their veins in an effort to bring out the best. Indeed RP Bennett was strained to the utmost for he had to produce enough Irish blood for four in his set, the remainder of the team being “furriners”.
Nor should the efforts of ‘C’ Coy be omitted from this record. It may be that they were put there to affect the Irish humour necessary for such a day – they certainly produced the ‘goods’. Their respective movements would have done justice to any herd of bull elephants, as they darted forward to grasp a hand that was not there, or stamped a foot down on to another foot that was there.
Faintly, about the sound of the pipes, one could hear ‘Get on wid ye’…’That’s the wrong hand’ – ‘You’re …… wrong’. The crowd roared. Yet we all enjoyed the dance. I’m sure the dancers did, for they had a good laugh to themselves after the show.
‘D’ Coy were judged the winners with ‘HQ’ second. One of the ‘furriners’ had stepped on the wrong foot, despite the Dublin blood coursing through the team. The winners received prizes from Brigadier Low, after which the Officers performed with grace, followed by a demonstration of how it should be done by the pipers themselves.
The next item on the programme was the Officers v Sergeants Football Match, held at three o’clock in the afternoon, in a small field between the rows of vines at the rear of the barracks.
To any ordinary spectator, it would appear that a major battle was in progress once the game began. Over to the right, a 6 pounder anti tank gun was booming forth with a terrific roar and all the vim and vigour and arduous endeavour possible was applied by both sides. It would be quite impossible to describe the sartorial designs upon which the eye rested owing to the fact that they changed every passing moment: for instance, an officer in a beautiful creation of pale pink pyjamas would flash past and the next moment would flash back – minus the pyjamas. The Sergeants’ goal was ably defended by the RQMS wielding a sack of flour to great effect. Grenades, of course, were much in evidence and the efforts of Sergeant Cross saved at least one goal. It happened thus. CSM Robinson made a magnificent break through and had an open goal before him, he trotted complacently towards it, intending to make a touchdown in the centre of the posts when, without warning, and to his intense amazement, both goal posts suddenly went sailing sky high and the ground was rocked by a great explosion. Another of Sergeant Cross’s specials.
Even the spectators were not immune. RQMS Cheyne found it necessary to chastise the Pipe Major, who was both floored and ‘floured’ in one stroke. Capt Chambers also became white haired through the same deadly implement, although he was only the referee. Major Jack Phelan was there with his usual steamroller tactics, the Adjutant, as usual, was torn to shreds; Capt Broadbent as Longstop; Lieut Molliard with his usual dash and daring – all did their damndest, but eventually the aid of the Royal Artillery had to be called in. Naturally, 26 Battery of 17 Field Regiment obliged and became a danger to both sides as well as to the spectators. Flames belched from the barrel as round after round bellowed forth. It became necessary in the end for the Sergeants to make the field gun their main objective. The gun was charged by a motley throng. It was at this stage that the immunity of the spectators became imperilled. Captain Dickie Richards, who preferred the company of the fair sex to the manly ‘sport’ had dared to bring with him a rather attractive member of the Nursing services. He was taken by a low flying tackle by Captain Broadbent, dragged to earth and set up on by about half a dozen willing aides and finally stuffed with grass and straw from a particularly convenient haystack. After a short sharp scuffle around a shell hole filled with water, in which more than one innocent went for his annual bath, the great match ended.
No one knew to this day who won.
The rest of the day was given up to private parties. There was a good stock of wine available. Stores had been accumulated for weeks past. NAAFI issues had been jealously guarded and brought out for the occasion and, in the evening, the barracks rang with songs and laughter.
The Officers held a dinner party in the evening at which a considerable number of old faces were present. After the dinner, a few speeches were made and then the remaining members of the Brigade Group began to arrive to wind up the evening in wine and song.
Gradually, the parties broke up and the song and laughter died away. Silence reigned, except for the occasional ring of the sentry’s musket on the concrete and another Barrosa Day had passed into history”.
The weather was glorious all this time. In fact, there was hardly a drop of rain for two months. It was warm and pleasant. Spring would soon be here. In Spring, new campaigns begin and far reaching plans are made. This was the phase we were now entering so I shall conclude my story for the present.