Major Lawrence Franklyn-Vaile’s Letters Home

The Irish Brigade web site has the privilege and absolute honour of adding the transcripts of a series of previously unpublished letters, which were sent by Major Lawrence (Lawrie) Franklyn-Vaile to his wife Olive and daughter Valerie from Italy during the period from August 1943 to May 1944.

Lawrie served with the Royal Irish Fusiliers from 1940 onwards and, after a period as an instructor in England and Northern Ireland, he joined up with the 1st Battalion (1 RIrF) in Sicily during August 1943. He entered front line action with 1 RIrF in October 1943 during their campaign along the Adriatic coast of mainland Italy, and was present at the battles of Termoli, San Salvo, and in the advance north of the Sangro River. After a winter period spent in the Italian Apennines near to Castel di Sangro, 1 RIrF transferred to the Cassino front in February 1944, and along with the other two battalions of the Irish Brigade formed part of the successful assault on the German Gustav Line in the Liri Valley. At 0730 on 17th May 1944, whilst about to lead C Company in an advance north from Sinagoga towards Route Six (Via Casalina), Lawrie was killed on the start line by a German artillery strike.

The letters home to his wife and daughter describe his time serving with the Royal Irish Fusiliers in Italy in remarkably evocative detail, recounting the times at rest and also the grim realities of 1 RIrF’s northward advance along the Adriatic coast during the latter part of 1943.

We would like to express our deepest thanks to Lawrie’s daughter and grand daughter, Valerie and Katherine, in allowing us to publish this remarkable testament to the heroism and profound humanity of Lawrence Franklyn-Vaile and his comrades.

August 1943.

Lieutenant Lawrence Franklyn-Vaile’s first six letters, which were sent to his wife, Olive, during August 1943, describe his sea journey from England to the north coast of Africa.

September 1943.

During September 1943, Lawrie continues the written dialogue with Olive, sending ten letters to her during the month. His first letter confirms that he and John Glennie had now joined up with the Faughs near to Patti on the northern coast of Sicily.

October 1943.

During October 1943, Lawrie wrote another ten letters home Olive. In the first letter of the month, he describes the days in early October that the Faughs spent relaxing in Taranto

November 1943.

During November, Lawrie continued his written dialogue with Olive by sending twelve letters to her. The start of the month saw the Faughs recovering from the heavy casualties suffered by the battalion at San Salvo, with large numbers of reinforcements joining up with them and James Dunnill taking over as commanding officer.

December 1943.

The start of December saw Lawrie taking part in the Irish Brigade’s advance north of the Sangro river to San Vito and onto the River Moro. For a short while during this period, he takes over command of A Company as several of their officers become casualties.

January 1944.

January saw Lawrie continuing to command B Company as an acting Major. The Irish Brigade were brought forward to take up defensive positions near to Castel di Sangro in appalling wintry conditions and, early in the month, the Faughs relieved 2 Lancashire Fusiliers with the administration of the town now largely coming under the control of Major Jimmy Clarke, OC of D Company.

February 1944.

At the start of February, the Faughs were relieved by Polish forces from their defensive duties in and around Castel di Sangro and, after a period in reserve, the whole Irish Brigade were transferred across to the 5th Army front, along with the rest of 78 Division. There was expectation that they would soon be taking part in offensive action near to Cassino.

March 1944.

March saw the Irish Brigade continuing a period of training near to the Volturno river. Whilst the brigade awaited the call to join any successful breakthrough near to Cassino, they were able to celebrate Barossa Day and St Patrick’s Day in customary fashion.

April 1944.

At the start of April, the entire Irish Brigade was positioned on the Cassino massif with a perfect view down onto the Monastery built in the 6th century by St Benedict, but which was now in total ruin. Both the Skins and the Irish Rifles were close to the summit of Monte Castellone and the Faughs and the Brigade HQ on the lower slopes near to the village of Caira.

May 1944.

During May, the Irish Brigade were involved in their most bitter fighting period since the previous autumn on the Adriatic coast as they led the spearhead thrust of 78 Infantry Division to break into and through the strongly fortified Gustav Line and move to cut the vital German supply routes along Highway Six, just to the north of Monte Cassino.

Lawrence Franklyn Vaile was born on 27th October 1910 at 105 Princess Street in Kew, a suburb of Melbourne, Australia.

His father Thomas Guy Vaile was born in Greenwich, England, and, at the age of 29, married Violette Beryl Jane Franklyn at Holy Trinity Church, Kew in October 1907. Violette, born in East Melbourne, was 27 when she married Thomas.

Lawrie’s father, known as Guy, held the position of Company Secretary with the firm of Parbury and Henty, and in 1923 was sent for six months to their parent company in London. The voyage was by sea and provided the opportunity for travel across Europe, where Guy visited the grave of his younger brother Walter, a 2nd Lieutenant with the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) on the Western Front. Walter was the first recorded casualty at the battle of Fromelles in July 1916 and is buried in the Military section of the Calais cemetery.

Lawrence receiving shamrock in 1941 at Ballykinler, Co Down.

Lawrie attended Trinity Grammar School in Kew and was a very sporty child, excelling at school in athletics as well as winning academic awards. When Guy died unexpectedly in March 1926, Lawrie completed his leaving year, but for financial reasons Violette then withdrew her son from Trinity, so he did not achieve his matriculation, or have the opportunity to attend university.

Lawrie became politicised during the late 1920s, and in 1931, launched a magazine of political comment called “The Commonwealth Review”, which featured political and economic articles by leading figures of the time. He was publisher and editor and the stated intention was “A Monthly Journal devoted to Politics, Economics, Finance and Commerce” with Vol 1, No 1 dated September 1931 priced at one shilling. A contributor was C Tapley Timms, who later married his sister Patricia in 1938. The first issue also contained articles by various politicians, including J A Lyons (a future Australian Prime Minister), J G Latham, T Paterson, J A Guy and Senator J F Guthrie. This was the time of the Great Depression and unfortunately the magazine folded after 14 issues. Despite this, it was a remarkable achievement for a young man forced out of school to have a first issue published before his 21st birthday.

The aftermath of this failed venture is believed to have been a considerable debt that left Lawrie bankrupt, and as a result, he travelled to England. Lawrie’s mother was a descendant of Richard William Franklyn, a junior member of the Ancient Corporation of Moneyers, but when he tried to make contact with the Franklyn family, which had been wealthy and influential in London, he was met with rejection. However, more distantly related members of the Vaile family welcomed him with open arms and contact is still maintained with them today.

By the latter half of 1934, Lawrie had met Olive Flint, and after a whirlwind romance, they married on 9th March 1935 at the parish church in Twickenham. His occupation then was described as “Organiser” with the British Anti-Vivisection Society and he travelled extensively throughout England during this period.

War broke out on 3rd September 1939 and Lawrie enlisted with the Army on 20th September of that year. While completing officer training at various sites in the UK, Lawrie, always a profuse letter writer, maintained a continual correspondence with his wife.

After officer training, Lawrie was posted to the Royal Irish Fusiliers in Omagh, Northern Ireland, a regiment he had applied for as his Vaile grandmother was Irish born, and it was in Omagh that his daughter Valerie was born in March 1942.

In Ireland the majority of his service was involved in training recruits with the I.T.C. (Infantry Training Centre), and he was Officer in command of Cross-Country Running and Athletics. Lawrie was extremely proud of his cross country team as well as being an active member. Winning the Northern Ireland Army Championship in 1941 was certainly a highlight. The time spent with the Royal Irish Fusiliers in Ireland was possibly the happiest of his life.

Feeling a strong commitment to the young men he had trained and who were being killed or injured on active service, Lawrie (often referred to as Frank or FV) requested to be posted overseas in 1943. There he joined the 1st Battalion who, along with the rest of the Irish Brigade were at that time at rest in Sicily.

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