Caira village is situated about two miles to the north of the town of Cassino, slightly hidden away on the lower slopes of Monte Castellone. Beyond the town is the winding road to Terelle, which leads on to higher slopes of Monte Cairo.
At the end of March 1944, this area became the focal point for the Irish Brigade, a short while after being transferred over to the 5th Army front from the Apennine mountain area near Castel di Sangro. The Skins and Irish Rifles were defensively positioned near to or actually on the summit of 771 metre Castellone, and each night, all their supplies had to be sent across the Rapido Valley from their Echelon area at San Michele and then had to be transferred to a mule train for the extremely perilous journey to the top of the mountain. The Quartermaster teams certainly did a fantastic job in keeping their battalions supplied with food – it was a constant twenty four hour requirement of preparation and then delivery of the vital means of survival for the front line riflemen and fusiliers.
Meanwhile, both the Brigade and Faughs stayed in the village itself, but this was also an exposed area as their HQ positions continued to be fired upon and, in fact, at this time, Caira was described as “the most heavily shelled pinpoint in Italy” Thus, it was with great relief that the Irish Brigade were relieved by the Polish Corps towards the end of April after over three weeks in the area and withdrew to the Capua area for much needed rest… the lull before a coming storm.
Today Caira, of course, is a quieter place but even now, some of the local residents remember those desperate days. One of them, Salvatore, spoke to the Irish Brigade co-founder, Richard O’Sullivan, and described the entry of American forces into the town at 930am on the 30th January 1944. He had been fifteen at the time and remembered it as an “exciting”, if “terrifying” time.
A short distance away from the village centre is the German cemetery which commemorates over 20,000 men who had fallen in this area of Italy during 1943 and 1944. Its location is overlooked both by Monte Castellone and by Monte Cairo looming large in the medium distance.
The whole area and the current day scenic outlooks provides a most evocative reminder of those difficult days of early 1944.