27th March 1944

My Dearest Olive,

Received a letter dated 20/3, which was very quick in arriving. Sometimes the mail is very good that way. I am glad Valerie is not one of those excessively shy children. It is nice to know that she gets on well with people, but it is a great pity that I am missing this very lovely period in her life.

View across the Gari river towards San Angelo.

The weather is steadily improving and today is lovely in the sun – quite warm and the countryside has quite a pleasant aspect, although I would much prefer the softness of an English spring. It is still quite cold at night time; the other night we had a fairly heavy fall of snow but it soon melted under the influence of the warm sun. I expect in another couple of months we will be cursing the heat.

The shelling during the past few days has been absolutely incredible in its power and concentration. The whole 24 hours, our guns are thundering and just to make matters a little more pleasant the RAF periodically go over and drop their bombs, and the whole earth shakes for miles around. About the most amazing sight I have ever seen was our shells pouring into a certain town (Cassino) and the remainder of the town being shelled at the same time by the Germans.

It is almost beyond comprehension how anyone could continue to live in such an inferno of hate but they do and the resistance of the Germans is a thing to be marvelled at. I often think of how my instructors at the OCTU told me that the German was first rate at attack but could not fight in a defensive war. His tenacious resistance here against overwhelming superiority in artillery and air force makes it seem more remarkable than ever how the Russians have been able to advance at such a pace.  Of course, this country is absolutely perfect for defence and, in most places, it is very difficult to outflank him.

We have not been worried much in our positions. Night time is, of course, very much the time for alertness and the utmost vigilance. The second in command told me yesterday that the CO was rather worried about Chance and Collis, both of whom are having their first close contact with the enemy and who are rushing around all night long, never getting any sleep and consequently not only becoming nervy themselves but getting everyone else in a similar state.

This Coy Commander has become very cool and it takes a lot to get me worked up. I made my plan and placed my defences and that was all there was to it and I jolly well get as much sleep as I possibly can. Jimmy Clarke and I are regarded as the veterans and the CO does not bother us much – he was very well satisfied with my defence dispositions. I have good platoon commanders and I don’t keep on worrying and nagging at them. Pat Howard is an excellent chap with bags of experience and very cool and steady and Douglas is putting up a very good show, very cool and confident and has a good grip over his platoon. My third platoon commander by the irony of fate is Frank Higgins. Rather curious to think that three people who arrived just about the same time at Ballykinler should 3½ years later be in the same Company here, one commanding the Coy and the other two platoons. Frank of course commands as a Sgt. Through a chapter of accidents, I was reduced to one Sgt and tackled the CO on the question. He said he would get me a good Sgt and then the following day asked if I would like Higgins. Of course, he knows I like Frank and to quote his own words, ‘Higgins requires handling – he is first rate by the person over him and has confidence in that individual’. The great thing to be said for him is that is very cool, as experience has taught him the answers as the saying goes out here and he can be absolutely relied upon. I would not pretend for one moment that he is a born leader or even a great leader but he has acquired the ability to lead and because he has proved himself on the field of action, he is well respected by the men.

The CO saw the photo of you and Valerie recently and said, ‘So that’s the little girl I have heard so much about, Lawrie. She is lovely and the wife too – very nice indeed, you are a lucky man, Lawrie’. He was married in 1938, the day Hutton broke the record but has not been able to spend a great deal of time at home. He was in Norway as a platoon commander, France and came out to N. Africa with the battalion as a Company Coy. (Major) John Horsfall has recently returned and has gone to the London Irish as 2 i/c. He, of course, has a very big reputation.

The papers you send arrive quite regularly. The last lot was dated the beginning of February. Two hundred cigarettes from Pat (Long) arrived a couple of days ago. Look after yourself, darling, and don’t worry more about me than you can help, I am doing very well and in good spirits.

All my love and kisses to you and my precious little daughter.

Your devoted husband


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