Major Desmond Woods – Liri Valley VI

Corporal James Barnes.

Now, I had recommended Corporal Barnes for a Victoria Cross, a posthumous Victoria Cross.

This was one of the bravest actions I’d ever seen. Here was this young corporal left on his own, his platoon commander had been knocked out and it would been so easy for him to have gone to ground but not a bit of it. He intended to continue to the end. I am very sorry to say that he was never awarded his Victoria Cross.

He was the real hero of that day and I’ll never forget him as long as I live. I suppose the only credit I would claim really was the fact that I had put in a most tremendous amount of work preparing H Company for this attack. I don’t believe that H Company, when I took over at Termoli, would actually have made the grade. I feared at that time they might have gone to ground and I would never have got them going again. Wasn’t I lucky to have had leaders like this under me who, without any further orders from me or anything on my part, kept going forward of their own accord. It is a tremendous thing to have commanded a company like that but, unfortunately, H Company was never to be the same again and neither was I.

But war goes on and the company had to go on. We did get reinforcements and I remember getting a number of gunners in, ack-ack gunners some of them. They had no experience of infantry tactics at all and one had to try and once again patch up the company.

Now, on the wider strata, what was going on was that the Gustav Line had been broken. The Germans were starting to retreat, the landing at Anzio was going forward well – they were breaking out of the bridgehead – and General Alexander had told Mark Clark with the Americans to take an area of ground that by so doing would have opened, helped to stop the Germans escaping from the Gustav Line area.

Unfortunately, Mark Clark did not obey Alex’s orders. The prize of Rome was too much for him and he switched his axis of advance and he went for Rome so that he could announce to the world that the Americans were the first people to get into Rome but, unfortunately, that meant a lot of the Germans were able to escape that should have been put in the bag.