During May 1944, the Irish Brigade were involved in their most bitter fighting period since the previous autumn on the Adriatic coast as they joined the spearhead thrust of 78 Infantry Division to break into and through the strongly fortified Gustav Line and move to cut the vital German supply routes along Highway Six, just to the north of Monte Cassino.
During the early part of the month, Major Lawrie Franklyn-Vaile, OC of C Company of the 1st Battalion Royal Irish Fusiliers (1 RIrF), continued to write to his wife, Olive, about the circumstances of his battalion’s training regimen and in these letters, Lawrie appeared in a relaxed mood but a noticeable change in tone occurred after the onset of the Allied Armies’ assaults on the Gustav Line during the night of 11th/12th May.
Lawrie’s letter home to his wife, written on 16th May from the Gari bridgehead, is a most remarkable testimony to the honorable traditions of an infantry unit on the eve of battle as he describes how he sought to steady the men of his company during a period of disquiet…
…This was the final letter sent home to Olive as, at about 0730 on the morning of 17th May 1944, Lawrence Franklyn-Vaile was killed by a concentration of German shells, which fell directly on the Faughs’ start line. Despite this set back, the three battalions of the Irish Brigade were entirely successful in achieving the objectives set that day for them.
The final letter in a most remarkable set of correspondence, written on 18th May 1944, was sent to Olive Franklyn-Vaile by Lieutenant Douglas Room, one of C Company’s platoon commanders, and provides an outstandingly moving eulogy of praise for the period of command of Major Franklyn-Vaile.
Faugh a Ballagh!