Visitors to the Irish Brigade

On the 23rd, the Faughs, who had now relieved the Skins, had a bit of excitement on their floodbank. It mostly concerned in their B Company area and seemed to go on one way and another for about 24 hours. It reached its peak in a fierce hand to hand battle, which lasted about three hours and, in which one of the Bays’ tanks was able to give support. The main credit was due to Lieutenant KEG Taylor and his platoon, who fought off the attack with great spirit and inflicted considerable casualties on the Germans.

A good deal of Red Cross display went on by German stretcher bearers during this period. We found it difficult to decide whether the Faughs had really knocked out all these people or whether the Germans were using their Red Crosses incorrectly to have a good look around. Anyway, one afternoon, one came too close and was promptly taken prisoner, quickly followed by a Polish deserter, who said anything up to twenty five casualties had been inflicted by us. The grenading started up again as soon as it got dark and was pretty fierce for the first couple of hours. It looked as if they were trying to counter attack – if they were, our defensive fire kept it from materialising. Between 0430 and 0545 hours, no less than three hundred mortar bombs landed in the centre of the Faughs’ area.

The next morning, the Faughs took two more prisoners, who put the casualties we had inflicted during the previous day up to three killed and forty seven wounded. They said that reinforcements had had to be brought in from other Companies to bolster them up.

On the afternoon of the 24th, John Coombe (Commander 2 Armoured Brigade) and I held a cloth model exercise at Brigade Headquarters to get a bit more detail and guidance down to Company Commanders for the ‘Kangaroo’ Exercise that the Skins were going to do. This mighty exercise was called “Hossanah” and the ‘Kangaroos’, we were to use, were of the ‘Priest’ variety carrying fourteen men. The Skins had with them an Armoured Regiment, representatives of all supporting arms, ‘Rover David’ – who actually called on fighter bombers and a flood of Umpires and other people cruising around with wireless set listening to what was going on.

The general argument that arose at this stage was whether infantry or tank commanders were in command of any particular phase of the battle. This is the sort of thing that can easily cause a breakdown if either side are not prepared to play full out but if both parties are good chaps and know their business and each other, it is a matter that sorts itself out quite logically when the time comes. This is precisely what happened when the time did come. There was never any difficulty.

A feature of the floodbank war about this time was that both sides started verbal propaganda from behind their lines. The armies were nice and close for this sort of diversion. The Bosche asked the London Irish one night, “Why sit on the floodbank with your wives in England?” Why indeed! Why were the fool Germans waiting on their side of the floodbank to be annihilated. We told the Huns that they’d got to pipe down on their stretcher bearers; they were using far too many and it was very questionable as to who they all were. These remarks were really in response to the Huns, who wanted their stretcher bearers, whom the Faughs had captured, sent back to them. Incidentally, the last thing the stretcher bearers in question wanted to do was to return to their comrades!

While we were on the Senio, we had an absolute spate of visitors. On the 13th, General Wimberley, Director of Infantry came. On the 14th, the Army Commander, General McCreery, had lunch with us. On the 15th, the CCRA 5 Corps – Dolly de Fonblanque turned up. On the 17th, the General brought Clare Boothe Luce. When she arrived, I could not for the life of me remember who this distinguished American lady was, or what she was doing. I told her I thought all politicians were a menace. That remark soon made it clear who she was; no less than a member of the United States Congress. I had quite an amusing quarter of an hour baiting this good lady about Ireland, politics and any other controversial subject I could think of. Apparently, it went down quite well. General Nye, Deputy CIGS, came with the Army Commander on the 21st and visited the Skins and London Irish. The Corps Commander came one afternoon and told me how pleased he was with the offensive actions of our chaps on the floodbank.

It was unfortunate that we had a certain number of casualties that we could ill spare during this period on the floodbank but, on the other hand, it had given our warriors an opportunity to prove their individual superiority over their immediate opponents. They had to use their own weapons and use them skilfully. They had unquestionably established a man to man superiority over the Germans. I believe that this really hundred percent infantry experience, where you could rely on nobody but yourself to fight your own private battle, was an extremely useful prelude to the offensive that lay ahead. We had been rather given to relying on the more remote forms of support but this party had rubbed it in that there are many times when the infantry does well to handle its own weapons skilfully.

Arthur Weldon, who had been commanding our 254 Anti Tank Battery for so long, left about this time and handed over to Murray Anderson.

Read ‘St Patrick’s Day’.


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