The Brigade was ordered to take San Salvo by night attack on 27th/28th October.
Information about the enemy indicated that he was not holding the position in great strength but it was not very convincing information: mostly based on patrols, which in many cases failed to gain contact. The night was very dark and it might be that the enemy was “lying low and saying ’nuffin’.”
However, we did know that he could not be in sufficient strength to compete with two Battalions if things went well.
But things were fated to go badly.
The plan was made:
a) The London Irish to advance on the right of the road and take San Salvo and some high ground on the right.
b) The Faughs to advance on the left of the road and capture a defended feature on left of the town.
The advance to be covered by a heavy barrage.
During the afternoon, there was heavy rain, which made cross country going extremely difficult, and postponement was requested.
This was not granted and the attack went in.
The troops formed up on the taped start line without incident, old hands doing routine work. But the barrage overshot too many MGs; the going was very, very heavy and the Bosche D/F fire – artillery and mortar – was formidable.
Casualties began to mount up.
However, the troops stuck doggedly to their job and progress was made, but it was tough going of the toughest description.
And then fate took a hand. I commence with the Faughs, who had pushed far ahead. An unlucky mortar bomb killed Paddy Proctor and all his Platoon Commanders as they were planning to attack the final ridge.
Dennis Dunn, commanding the other leading Company, was killed by a shell when all his Platoon Commanders had already become casualties.
And finally, Beauchamp Butler, forward as usual encouraging his chaps, was killed by an MG bullet.
A somewhat similar fate had befallen the London Irish, though they had not been able to advance so far. Kevin O’Connor was killed by a shell and they had lost two Company Commanders.
There just were not the leaders to tell the chaps what to do and there can be no successful advance without leaders.
The chaps dug in grimly where they had reached but there was no object in leaving them at half cock between the bridgehead and the San Salvo ridge. It only meant further heavy casualties when daylight came.
They were withdrawn to the bridgehead.
It was sad, bad day for the Irish Brigade.
I would like to wipe it out of my memory for ever – but that cannot be done.
The loss of Beauchamp Butler was a tragedy for the whole Brigade and the Faughs lost one of the best Commanding Officers they have ever had – in peace or war. He was a smallish man gifted with a quiet charm of manner and I never heard him say an unkind word about anyone. But his somewhat deceptive exterior hid an inflexible will and he was a most determined and skilful leader of troops in action. It was heavy hearted party, which saw him laid to rest in the British cemetery at Termoli to the wail of his pipes. May he fare well in that happy valley which must be the last home of all good soldiers.
Kevin O’Connor was another great loss. One of my Staff Officers from ‘Y’ Division, he had been with the London Irish for nine months and was completely fearless.
Paddy Proctor and Dennis Dunn were two senior Company Commander of the Faughs and had proved their worth in many battles. Both were grand leaders and sadly missed.
In addition, the Faughs lost several gallant WOs and Sergeants, amongst them CSM Keir, who had done so well in Sicily.
We had a dusting.
The Skins were sent forward to relieve the Faughs in the bridgehead and the latter were sent back to San Giacomo to rest, refit and reorganise.
I went round to San Giacomo to talk to the chaps. Their reaction to rather a “doing” was very heartening. They seemed to feel “Everybody buys it once and often twice. We’ve never bought it before, so it must have been our turn but – wasn’t it a pity about the wee Colonel – we’ll have to square all that.”
I departed confirmed in the fact that a good Regiment is always a good Regiment – in fair weather or foul.
The thing was to find a CO, who would be worthy of these good chaps.
I was in luck. I managed to get James Dunnill, now recovered from wounds suffered at Heidous.