CQMS O’Sullivan crossing the Trigno river

“At that time, the Trigno was only about 20 or 30 yards wide and generally less than a foot deep. Its mighty bridge, which catered for a raging torrent, was about 600 yards long but about 50 yards was blown in the middle. E Company was sent to relieve the Faughs at the bridgehead. I followed with a string of about a dozen mules and crossed the Trigno by a ford.

The silence was eerie and the darkness complete. At my destination, I entered a dug-out where a Faughs’ officer handed over and explained the position. I was horrified when the outgoing officer lit up a cigarette. The flashing of his cigarette lighter must have been seen for miles. I still do not know whether it was relief or bravado. I sent my mules back to base as soon as we had unloaded them and remained to receive Lofting’s instructions.

The muleteers were immaculately accoutred Sikhs. Their mules had been spotless when they had been loaded with supplies for E Company earlier that day under the supervision of a Subadar Major with a great sweeping moustache and a beautiful beard. All wore the Pagre ritual turban. None had steel helmets. On the way back from the company’s lines that night, they stopped in the middle of the Trigno and washed their mules. They were immediately heavily shelled and some were killed. Was it the officer’s cigarette lighter or the noise they made washing the mules that brought down the fire? I waited until it was quiet and walked alone a couple of miles back to the mule point in pitch blackness. I crossed the Trigno ford in which there were now bodies.

E Company was to be the sole occupier of the bridgehead until the next phase of operations which were to extend and widen the bridgehead. I was pleased to hear that the Subadar Major had issued orders that mules were not to be cleaned until they had arrived back at their stables. Every night, I crossed the Trigno with my mules and was extremely nervous in the middle. It was so exposed and there was nowhere to dive. The engineers working to repair the bridge throughout the night were often shelled and many were killed. The smell of rotting flesh pervaded the Trigno and I felt I was walking on bones. But were they those of a man or a mule?


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