Desmond Fay at Monte Spaduro

In October 1944, the Irish Brigade were involved in desperate fighting north of Florence in the mountainous area near Monte Spaduro. Amongst those present at Spaduro was a young lieutenant, Desmond Fay, who was awarded a bar to the Military Cross for his extraordinary courage:

“On 23 Oct ’44, Lt Fay was ordered to take a recce patrol to ascertain the strength and dispositions of the garrison of Spinello Farm on the Monte Spaduro area. This farm was known to have a minefield in front of it. Going out about midday with a Sergeant (Farthing) and two Riflemen he advanced to a point some 80 yds from the farm over extremely difficult country under view from the flank and very precipitous.

He left his two Riflemen under cover and advanced with the Sgt over open grassland to the farm at the front edge of which he found a slit trench which contained three Germans one of whom he shot, the second escaped whilst the third he took prisoner and brought back to Bn HQ. The garrison although over 30 men strong and backed up by a Coy on a nearby feature were completely taken by surprise. 

This prisoner gave much information which helped greatly in the capture of the farm which took place two or three hours later. Having had to crawl a good proportion of the way Lt Fay was very exhausted by the end of the patrol.

Later in the afternoon, he took part in a daylight attack on the farm and took over command of the company when his Coy Commander was wounded. During the early part of the night, he beat off four attacks with his depleted Company and was a source of encouragement and inspiration to all, organising and improving the consolidation of his position. 

The gallantry and enterprise which Lt Fay showed both in his patrol and his defence of the farm was quite out of the ordinary and can seldom have been surpassed.”  

Desmond Fay would later recount the full details of these acts of valours and parts of his eye witness account are re-produced below, courtesy of Richard Doherty’s ‘Clear the Way’, the definitive history of the Irish Brigade:

“I move over to Bn HQ.

My CO’s genial, ‘Ah Desmond, I have a little job for you to do’ sounds very ominous and my tummy turns over a few times. ‘I want you to take small patrol and find out all about Casa di Spinello. It’s just possible that the Jerries may have pulled out.’

Possible, I think to myself, but bloody unlikely. I ask a few questions and move back to my patrol.

I began to feel familiar fear rise in me; it’s always there just before an action. I glance at my wrist watch, a kindly gift from a Jerry prisoner. Is a little after midday and a brilliant Italy sun overhead. I don’t consider this patrol at all funny. I tell Sergeant Farthing about the patrol; he is not amused either. I decide it will be the sergeant, myself and a Bren group; we decide on Fitzmaurice and McWilliams, both steady lads with plenty of experience. The four of us discuss the patrol and I tell them that it’s information we want and no heroics. I don’t know how the others feel but I don’t feel the least bit heroic…..

…..We work our way up near the rim of the valley and move along. After a short distance, I halt the patrol and we smear mud over our legs and arm and across our chests and some on our faces; it might help. We continue working up the valley – the going is heavy and tiring. All the time, the valley is widening out. It is now about 800 yards wide at the top: further on, it is well over 1,000 yards wide. We continue slowly, some eight to ten feet below the rim of the valley, the mud sucking all the time at our boots and gaiters. A little further on, I halt and climb up to peer cautiously over the edge of the valley. I can see the houses 300 yards half right. I leave the bren group here; they should be able to give us good covering fire, if we need it. I tell them no firing unless the sergeant and I get into trouble. I always prefer a silent approach if at all possible….

….I make my mind up that I must find out for certain if the area is held so we decide to go in but not fire. I say the infantryman’s prayer before action, ‘Not in the guts or the face, dear Lord’. We are up and over the rim, doubling across to the houses, my sergeant to my right. We are almost up to the houses when I see a weapon slit, two Jerries resting half-asleep. I fire a burst into the side of the slit: one Jerry scrambles out and away, brave man, the other lies there terrified. I don’t blame him. He had the ribbon of the Iron Cross on his tunic, he is young. I motion him up and out. I swing round in time to see the first Jerry dashing towards the houses. I fire from the hip, miss, kneel and sight on him but the back-sight is full of mud. I fire, miss, my sergeant fires and misses. Enough of this, we have a prisoner and the houses are definitely occupied. ‘Get out,’ I shout….

…..I send the bren team and my sergeant back to Company and report to the CO with the prisoner. I push him on ahead of me into a lower room in Bn HQ. At least, his troubles are over in this war and, before long, the lads will give him a smoke. In war, hate only starts about five miles either side of the front line. The entry of a real live Jerry in uniform causes quite a furore and I add to it by telling the Adjutant that he is a dangerous bastard and needs watching. The Adjutant bawls for an armed guard. Actually, the prisoner looks to me a very level headed infantryman and is quite satisfied to be a prisoner but I want some fun after the patrol and I have no love for Adjutants since one in England disallowed six attempts of mine to volunteer for active service and thus lost me the Africa Star.

I go and report to the CO; he seems pleased. I tell how level headed Sergeant Farthing was and suggest putting him in for an MM. I also praise the bren group for steadiness. The CO gives me a generous mug of rum and I find I need two hands to hold it, so I have survived another patrol.

How many more?


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