At the start of April 1944, 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. After a most uncomfortable three and a half weeks, the brigade withdrew to a rest area several miles to the south near to Formicola.
During the month, the newly promoted Major Lawrence (Lawrie) Franklyn-Vaile continues to be in reflective mood as he writes home to his wife, Olive, and imagines what his family must be thinking as they listen to the BBC news.
In his letter home on 8th April, Lawrie writes to his wife:
“I hope you were listening to the 8 O’Clock News this morning. It gave a very graphic description of conditions on the Cassino Front. The broadcaster said how ‘Nothing to report’ gives a completely wrong impression in people’s minds. He described the ordinary night routine – the mule trains, the Jeeps coming forward loaded with rations, water, mail, etc, the unloading in the dark, the almost continuous sound of machine gun fire, the artillery and mortar duels as the Germans try to put crumps down on our positions and our supply routes and we, of course, do the same with them. The patrols going out into ‘No man’s land’, and all this occurs every night, even when the official communiqué says ‘Nothing to report’ and it is always a time of anxiety, excitement and strain.”
In another letter home later in the month, Lawrie further describes conditions in the line for the Faughs:
“I am writing this letter in a small dug out on the side of a mountain. There is very little room to move around, but it has been made fairly snug by hanging blankets abound the sides and over the entrance while the roof is covered with logs. This afternoon, it poured with rain and, after a time, the water started to drip through the roof and we were threatened with disaster.”
Thus, the fate of an infantryman when not in action.
On 19th April, Lawrie tells Olive that he has now been able to take leave on the Amalfi coast, before returning to the Faughs by the end of the month. By this time, the Irish Brigade were back in the serenity of Formicola, and awaiting orders to move forward for further front line action.
They didn’t have to wait very long for these orders…
“Here we are in April. The war still continues, but the news from Russia is very hopeful. They seem to be able to keep the offensive going and I feel there is a reasonable prospect of finishing the war this year provided the Second Front is not too long delayed. Here in Italy, as you have no doubt gathered from the news, the fighting is still very desperate and bitter and the German is taking a tremendous amount of dislodging from the high ground to which he clings….”
“…Incidents that live in the memory. One night some little time ago three of us listened to the 9 o’clock BBC News in a small ruined hut. The announcer was speaking of the bitter fighting at Cassino and I thought of you very probably also listening in and outside was the tremendous roar and thunder of our guns and the darkness was punctured with flashes of light as tracer bullets winged their way. And through the roar of artillery, came the rat tap tap of British and German machine guns and the sound of explosions. I listened to the news and I thought of you sitting quietly at home with Valerie probably sleeping and it seemed strange indeed that the same voice was probably speaking to both of us and how different were our surroundings….”
“…I hope you were listening to the 8 o’clock News this morning. It gave a very graphic description of condition on the Cassino Front. The broadcaster said how “Nothing to report” gives a completely wrong impression in people’s minds. He described the ordinary night routine – the mule trains, the Jeeps coming forward loaded with rations, water, mail, etc, the unloading in the dark, the almost continuous sound of machine gun fire, the artillery and mortar duels as the Germans try to put crumps down on our positions and our supply routes and we, of course, do the same with them….”
“I am writing this letter in a small dug out on the side of a mountain. There is very little room to move around, but it has been made fairly snug by hanging blankets abound the sides and over the entrance while the roof is covered with logs. This afternoon, it poured with rain and, after a time, the water started to drip through the roof and we were threatened with disaster….”
“…I received an airgraph from Lloyds informing me that they had paid £40 to you this month and in future would pay £30 per month. They informed me that after paying you £40 for April, I have a credit balance of £145/17/8, which seems a highly satisfactory state of affairs to me. There is every reason for it to steadily increase and, by the time I am demobilised, what with that and some sort of gratuity, which we are almost certain to receive, we should be able to do something….”
“I am writing this sitting on the balcony of a hotel gazing out at the sea – the sun is pleasantly warm and the sea looks very blue. From this, you can conclude that I am having my first leave since I joined the battalion. As I told you in previous letters, I did not want to go but Dicky Richards, back from his course, was fresh and very keen to come up and relieve me for a short spell….”
“…I am glad I have had this leave, I was beginning to feel rather stale but now I feel full of life and energy and ready for anything. Actually, I think there must be something unnatural about me. I am quite eagerly looking forward to getting back to the battalion to all my friends, my Company and all the many interests I have there….”
“…We have come out of the line for a rest and are in quite a pleasant area. Unfortunately, it has rained heavily and continuously for the last few days and the weather, after being warm, is now quite cool again which is not so pleasant under canvas. Still we are not complaining. It was a nice change after the noise of battle and it is very quiet and peaceful here and seems well away from the unpleasantness of war….”
View from Monte Castellone towards Monte Cassino (taken in October 2012).