Irish Brigade

The story of the 38th (Irish) Brigade in the Second World War

Percy Hamilton – Crossing the Trigno River

As the Irish Brigade moved forward to the north of Termoli, Lieutenant Percy Hamilton took part in ‘C’ Company’s patrol activity as they moved up towards the River Trigno. At the end of October 1943, the Faughs and Rifles attacked the town of San Salvo.


“After the week or so spent in our nice house in Montenero, we had to move up to take over the Trigno bridgehead from the LIR. The move up was confused. We followed the road until about a mile from the bridge, which had been blown just before the LIR had reached it and then struck off to the left to cross the river half a mile above the bridge, as it was not safe at the latter because of shells. He had the bridge well and truly registered as we were to find out later.

The move up was after dark, and we had sent guides over first, who were to meet us at the river and show the way up to the positions.

‘C’ Coy’s positions were on the right of the road, so although we crossed to the left of the bridge, we had to come right across the road again.

At this point, the River Trigno runs roughly east-west. On the north bank (we were now taking over), there is a strip of wooded country running parallel to the river and abut four hundred yards wide. The positions were about half way through this wood. More or less a line of slit trenches in groups or strong points. The visibility was limited owing to the undergrowth. Company HQ was a bit nearer the river.

Having crossed the river by the ford, about six inches deep, we got our boots full of water. In the morning, we were able on dry socks, but as it rained nearly the whole time we were there, about a week, this was a waste of time. The night after we took over, it rained so much that the slit trenches got a about a foot of water in them. I was trying to get a bit of rest sitting on a haversack, till the water came up to my bottom so I had to spend the rest of the night sitting on the edge of the slit.

The nights were bad in that position. With the short visibility, it was necessary to stay in the slit trenches and not go wandering around except on urgent business. Then it was hard to keep awake when on stag and after a bit, even the bushes seemed to be creeping around. He did not shell much at night.

By day, there was not much danger from enemy patrols, but he kept a pretty continuous shelling of the area. We got used to hearing the gun going off (there was one very big one), and then listening to the shell going/coming over. It involved being ready to duck if it seemed to be coming too close. Most of them went just over our heads to burst on the ruins of the bridge, presumably to stop the REs building a bailey there, and Coy HQ got a few of them. There was a steady drain of casualties. I lost a good lad L/Cpl Johnston, who had his head smashed by a shell which burst on striking a tree above his slit trench. My platoon sergeant (Dackombe) went sick with sore feet but in the light of later events, I am inclined to think his complaint was ‘cold feet’.

Getting our food up was a problem, as it was always likely that he would start shelling, while the ration party was out of cover. Fusilier McKenna, the scruffiest of the platoon, was exemplary in volunteering to go for the food.

Cpl Marsden took over as platoon sergeant.

After our time there was up, we were relieved by the LIR, who had been there before and knew the position. We moved out by night and were able to use the ford beside the bridge thus saving a detour. It was not pleasant all the same, so nobody wanted to hang around.

We moved back a mile from the river and went into a rest position in undulations in the ground. There was a sort of outhouse in the company area, so Coy HQ and Jack Suffolk and myself took up residence in it. The thing was the size of a small room with mud walls about three feet high and a grass roof. It was not very clean, but at least it was dry.

Here we stood to and so forth, cleaned weapons and selves and got cursed for going too near the sky line.”



 

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