Irish Brigade

The story of the 38th (Irish) Brigade in the Second World War

6th February 1944


6.2.44

My Dearest Olive,

As you can see, at last I have had to revert. Everything seemed nicely settled, with the Brigadier agreeing that I should command ‘B’ and McNally ‘C’ and then all of a sudden, a very senior Major (Heidenstam) from the Gloucesters arrived together with two regular ‘Faugh’ officers, (Major Neville) Chance and (Major Larry) Collis. Chance was commissioned in 1936, and was at the ITC in the early days of the War, then with the 6th and instructing at an OCTU. Collis was commissioned in 1935 and commanded a Company in the 2nd for two years before doing a staff job. Neither has seen any fighting at all in this war. So Chance commands ‘A’, Collis ‘B’ and the Gloucester Major ‘C’ (Jimmy Clarke continues with “D”) and McNally, Norman Bass and I are all to revert to Captain, while Dicky Richards and two other Captains revert to Lieuts. 

Well, I confess, darling, I feel very sick about it.  I was really very happy commanding ‘B’ and put my heart and soul into the job. The CO was very nice, and he reminded me that he had warned me when he promoted me in December that this might happen, but he had struggled as long as possible against it. He said he was very pleased with what I had done with ‘B’ Coy and my chance would come again. He said at one point he was going to impress upon me was that now we have plenty of officers, in the next battle I would be LOB (left out of battle). In theory, the 2 i/c of the battalion and the 2 i/c of Rifle Companies should always be left out of battle because they would be able to take over in event of anything happening to the Company Commander. In practice, it very seldom occurs, because of the shortage of officers but for the time being our situation is good. In any case, I had managed to get myself involved in a couple of battles that I was not really supposed to go into, but I don’t propose to do that again. Still it is a poor consolation, as I would much prefer to be leading my own Company into action. 

The pity of it is that Collis comes to us just when the Company needed a rest after this tiring spell and has started an intense campaign of ‘spit and polish’. He has the real Regulars outlook, whereas I was the most un-regimental of officers -very strict on what I regarded as essentials, cleanliness of the individual and his weapon, clean tidy billets, alertness on duty but he is going to the ridiculous extremes and in a couple of days is almost causing a riot. I was always very friendly with my NCOs and if their obvious pleasure when I took over and the many expressions of regret over this change mean anything, they must have liked and respected me. 

The Sergeant Major told me that the NCOs are feeling very bitter about it and consider it most unfair to me and Cpl Nixon, the Company cook, an old soldier and a great personality came up and shook me by the hand and said, ‘I am very sorry, Sir, it is a damned shame on you’. Of course, the others are equally badly off and poor Dicky’s rather upset at the thought of going back again to a platoon commander after all the fighting he has done in that capacity. Nevertheless it has knocked the heart out of me for the moment, as I just feel I cannot rouse an interest in the job of 2 i/c, and under a man whose ideas are so different to mine. I think I mind losing the Company more than the Majority, great pity as that is. Fellowes, my batman, was very angry about it and said, ‘You get a little happiness in this bloody Army, Sir, and then it is promptly taken away.’  Very true, as twice I have been really happy – with John in ‘B Coy and he was then killed and then commanding the Company and now I lose that. 

Received your letter of 29/1 darling. I am glad Valerie is in such grand form, and it would be marvellous to see her again and I expect I would notice some very big differences. Sorry this has been rather a dismal letter, darling, but I think you can well understand.  

All my love and kisses to your both. 

Your devoted husband

Lawrence



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