In late January 1944, CQMS Edmund O’Sullivan joined the Irish Brigade in their move back to reserve positions north of Naples but is shocked at some of the decisions taken by the Army’s administration senior command. The London Irish Rifles awaited orders to move forward to join the assault on the German defensive lines near to Cassino.
“Companies were told to surrender all winter clothing. I collected the pitiful assortment of duffel coats, jerkins, boucheron boots, string vests and dirty winter socks. The quartermaster called the colour sergeants and said that a court of inquiry would be convened to investigate the losses, which amounted to about fifty per cent of what had been issued. I was asked what happened to most of mine. I explained we had losses due to evacuations, casualties, deaths and prisoners. ‘Why did you allow men to go to hospitals wearing winter clothing?,’ I was asked. I was dumbfounded. It would have meant stripping men already hurt and suffering from shock and stripping the dead before burial. No court of inquiry was ever convened. I noticed that duffel coats were the normal attire of the quartermaster’s staff.
We moved back and then westward where we joined Route 6, the north-south road from Naples to Rome. Here the battalion was allocated space in vast olive groves and each company had a farm building as headquarters near the village of Santa Maria. Spring was in the air. Our new home, although mainly under the stars or olive trees, was comfortable. We had a large Italian stone oven and plenty of wood. Jim Sadler was delirious with delight.
We could see to the west Mount Vesuvius with steam emerging from its cone. Santa Maria was small and out of bounds but we were quite close to Capua and Caserta, the site of Allied headquarters. The 78th Division, of which we were part, had been transferred out of our original army corps which had been renamed 30th Corps under General Freyberg. We heard that the other two divisions in 30th Corps were engaged at Cassino. The 78th was a reserve division and would be used after the attack went in.”