The start of December 1943 saw Captain Lawrence (Lawrie) Franklyn-Vaile 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.
In Lawrie letters home to his wife, Olive, he describes the desperate realities of the advance towards the River Moro, when at one stage the Faughs were the spearhead force of the 8th Army’s progress northwards. His letter home dated 6th December perfectly encapsulates the experiences of an infantry unit in the front line, and is clearly written under the most trying of circumstances.
The Irish Brigade are replaced in the front line by Canadian forces, who will soon face some desperate fighting of their own at Ortona. After coming out of the line, Lawrie takes over command of B Company as the Faughs are able to spend two weeks in relatively benign conditions well behind the front line in central Italy. After some days of rest, Lawrie’s letters re-focus on Olive’s life in England, and he also describes some of the social activity of the battalion, including cross country running. He is acutely aware that his command of A Company may be subject to change if more senior officers are posted to the battalion in the New Year.
The Faughs are able to spend a relatively restful and comfortable Christmas period and Lawrie describes a day of relaxation and occasional libation spent with his comrades and friends across the battalion. Positive spirits are most certainly the order of the day.
At the end of December, the Faughs are moved forward to positions near to Castel di Sangro and encounter blizzard conditions as they start to face the realities of being overlooked by German defensive strong points in the mountainous area to the north.
“I am sorry I have not been able to write for some time but the BBC and newspapers probably made the reason fairly obvious. Sometimes I wondered if I would ever write again but thank goodness I came through alright and now I think we are in for a nice long rest…”
“….I am now commanding ‘B’ Coy. As I told you, I took over ‘A’ Coy in the middle of the battle and Dicky Richards told me today that when he was at Battalion HQ on the night following my action against the German MG posts he heard the CO say to the Adjutant, ‘I am very pleased with the way FV handled that Coy, he certainly made things get a move on’….”
“….We have got quite comfortable billets and are having a decent break. Eight of us have established a very pleasant Mess in an Italian house with a nice roaring fire to sit beside and with a gramophone and some good food and sleep, we feel very different men from a few days ago….”
“….We are now well back resting and never has there been a rest more well deserved or appreciated. The “Faughs” have, as usual, put up a magnificent show but have suffered very heavily and many good friends of mine have gone….”
“…Something to remember – at one stage of the Sangro battle I must have been the most forward man in the British Army. Towards the end, when we were on the ridge, the CO told me to place a section right forward overlooking the next river (Moro). I went forward with my runner to recce the position and sitting on the slope looking down on the German ‘lines’, it suddenly occurred to me that as the ‘Faughs’ were at that time the spearhead of the 8th Army, I was presumably right in advance of anyone else – a curious position…”
“…My Company is billeted in a large school and is fairly comfortable. We have made an excellent ‘rest room’ and have managed to collect a number of papers and periodicals. The CO was very impressed with it and when the Divisional Commander visited us today, the CO brought him round specially to see our ‘Rest Room’ and I was duly congratulated….”
“As you will see from the above, I have at last achieved the exalted rank of Major. The CO sent for me this afternoon and told me he was promoting me. He said, ‘I want you to realise, Lawrie, that if some of these senior officers arrive I may have to bring you down, but you are doing a fine job of work and I see no reason why you should not have the benefit of the pay’….”
“…We have successfully got over Xmas and it has proved a big success. I was hoping for a letter from you, but none have arrived for the past few days – I hope everything is alright. A good deal of liquor has been consumed over Xmas. We had a very gay party on the night of my promotion, and the CO was in great form and he and Magginis ‘pulled my leg’ a lot….”
“Certain censorship regulations have been relaxed and I am now allowed to give you the address of certain places at which I fought, up to a given date. We landed at Termoli at the beginning of October after having first set foot on Italian soil at Taranto and then came up through Bari to Barletta….”