Following the review of the area where 2 LIR had held their ‘O’ Group on the afternoon of 15th May 1944, the London Irish Rifles group followed the line of attack for the battalion on the morning of 16th May.
After the death of their Commanding Officer, Ion Goff, the previous day, there was some concern how 2 LIR would react when they were ordered to move forward at 9am, but they unhesitatingly moved quickly towards the heavily fortified hamlet of Casa Sinagoga. Here, they encountered some desperate defensive resistance, and H Company, who led the advance astride the road, met some strongly formed positions beyond the farmhouse. It was here that Corporal James Barnes was killed, whilst rushing machine gun posts and he was recommended (unsuccessfully) for a posthumous Victoria Cross by his commanding officer, Major Desmond Woods.
After three hours fighting, the defensive positions right across the Pytchley Line (including Colle Monache) had fallen but it was then that a nebelwerfer strike killed highly respected Sergeants Mayo and O’Reilly of E Company, both holders of the Military Medal – this was a most tragic outcome for the battalion.
The London Irish group walked the last few hundred yards along the road to Sinagoga. Narratives describing 2 LIR’s attack, written by Major Mervyn Davies, John Horsfall and Desmond Woods, were read out to the group, which included Mervyn Davies’ memory of encountering a “very old man and his wife” in Casa Sinagoga, itself. The group were piped along the road in this current day advance by Pipe Sergeant Robert Williams.
As the Garryowen rang out and the group approached the farmhouse, the extended Sinagoga family came out to greet them, including current owners Franco and Clara and their children Antonio and Alessandra and their grandchildren…a fantastic moment.
Once inside the compound, Peter Lough, the Chairman of the Regimental Association, presented a copy of the painted scene of 2 LIR’s ‘O’ Group to Franco and Clara Sinagoga and, with the interpreting help of Damiano Parravano and Alessandro Campagna, described the background to the events of May 1944. It is known that Franco’s own direct family were present at Casa Sinagoga during the battle period.
The Sinagoga family then led the group on a tour of the old compound area and to the buildings where 2 LIR had spent the night of 16th May 1944 and came across the well from which they would have drawn water. Franco remembered family stories recalling the fact that the retreating German forces had destroyed twelve vats of wine before withdrawing from the farmhouse – a most vivid family memory was the sight of a river of red wine flowing down to the nearby Piopetto stream.
The afternoon continued with the opportunity to sample a sumptuous array of food and wine, and Pipe Sergeant Williams played long and hard into the afternoon, although he was occasionally assailed by a rogue singer or two. As the group finally made their exit from Sinagoga, more uplifting tunes were played amidst truly heartfelt farewell greetings.
A wonderful afternoon – with the memory of the men who fought so bravely here seventy years ago remaining uppermost in our minds throughout.