January 1944 saw Captain Lawrence (Lawrie) Franklyn-Vaile 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.
Lawrie’s letters home during January describe the relative peace of this period although the Faughs continued to undertake extensive patrolling activity into the surrounding mountains to deter the potential for German raiding parties coming into the town. A number of new officers, including some South Africans, joined the battalion as they continue to rebuild strength after the large amount of casualties suffered during the autumn campaign along the Adriatic coast.
Buildings in the centre of Castel di Sangro where Major Jimmy Clarke set up his HQ.
“New Year 1944 has been spent in icy cold weather. We were suddenly snatched from our comparative comfort and I spent Dec 30th and New Year’s Eve sitting on top of a mountain in the midst of a heavy snowfall. I have never seen so much snow – in places, it was waist and chest deep and what with an icy wind as well, conditions were far from pleasant….”
“…Our role at present time is a fairly static one. We sit facing the Germans but there is a river in between us and it is a ‘front’ in which very little is happening which is quite pleasant for a change. Occasionally, they send over a few shells and occasionally we do the same but provided we keep a minimum of movement during the day, there is very little damage and we have managed to make ourselves fairly comfortable…”
“…Myrtle gave me news of various people and Jim gave me some of the latest political news. Muriel writes to me every week, I appreciate it a lot – she writes very good letters and seems a fine type with much the same practical outlook as John had. I hope by this time you have written to them – she says in all her letters that she is thinking of you and knows how anxious you must feel….”
“…Don’t bother sending me the Daily Worker. It is not arriving regularly, so it is not worth the trouble. I would still like the ‘New Statesman’ and ‘Tribune’. The latter does give me a ‘left’ angle on events. I think it would be a good plan for you to get the ‘Times’ daily. After all it is worth the extra 1/6 and any items you think would interest me, you could cut out and send by surface mail. The ‘Times’ is well in keeping with a Major’s wife….”
“…Had a spot of excitement the other night. I was out with my runner visiting a platoon post and we heard sounds of movement coming towards us. Suddenly the movement ceased. I challenged twice and got no reply and then after a few minutes, the movement started in the other direction. I took three men from a nearby platoon and with my runner, we started to try and cut them off. What a chase!…”
“…I believe there have been a good many complaints at home that progress in Italy is very slow. It is very easy to fight a campaign from an armchair but people do not realise the conditions out here – the narrow fronts, the few decent roads, and the mountainous country which makes defence so easy. In addition, there are numerous rivers and the Germans have carried out a big programme of demolitions and this war, of course, depends more than ever on the means of getting our transport forward. The miscalculation most people made was to think the Germans would not fight in Italy or at any rate south of the River Po….”
“…I am very glad Valerie is much better, and I hope the winter has not been too severe. What kind of garden have you got? You implied that it was rather small, so can you sit out comfortably in it? I suppose exercising Sadi and Silva is rather a problem: how they must miss the walks in Ireland. It certainly was a wonderful country for them….”
“….Recently, the Germans launched an attack on the position held by my Company. At 3am, the Hun launched his attack, opening up fire on our position. We replied with very heavy fire on them, trying to make a right flanking movement which they met with further fire and beat a quick retreat. Our fire was well controlled, the men remained very cool and collected and the position had been well sited so we did not sustain one single casualty…”
“…Last night the CO visited us. McNally had arrived back a couple of days before, but we had taken no action over handing over the Company. The CO asked McNally how he liked being back ‘in harness’ again and then said to me, ‘I have got plans for you, Lawrie’. He paused for a couple of minutes and I wondered what the devil was in store for me….”
“Today is a lovely, sunny day – quite warm and the snow clad mountains present a most beautiful sight. Except for an occasional spot of shelling, the scene is peaceful and none of the shells landed very close. People’s ‘near bomb miss’ stories will seem rather futile to the average infantryman who has continual near misses….”
“…You ask about German atrocities. Of course one does not actually see them, one inevitably finds an enormous amount of damage in the wake of the Germans but that is sometimes done by our shelling and bombing. The language problem makes conversation with the Italians very difficult and, in any case, one can never tell whether they are telling the truth or simply putting it on for sympathy. My impression, after several months, is that actual atrocities are comparatively few….”