During October 1943, Lawrence (Lawrie) Franklyn-Vaile wrote another ten letters home to his wife Olive.
In the first letter of the month, Lawrie describes the days in early October that 1 Royal Irish Fusiliers (the Faughs) spent relaxing in Taranto (although the town is not named). He describes his first impressions of the difficult state of life for Italian civilians and his experience of shopping for some gifts to send home to his wife. This quiet period quickly became a distant memory as the Irish Brigade sailed from Barletta to front line action as they joined the successful defence of the Termoli bridgehead.
At this time, Lawrie is promoted to Captain and takes over as Second in Command of B Company and the rest of the letters during the month describe the various patrolling activities undertaken by the Faughs as the Irish Brigade push forward northwards towards and across the River Trigno. Lawrie comments on the close camaraderie he enjoys with his Company Commander Dennis Dunn and fellow officers Denis Haywood and John Glennie.
As the month continued, there is an increase in fatigue levels as the battalion holds onto an exposed position to the north of the Trigno and Lawrie’s letter of 29th October describes the calamitous result of the Faughs’ actions during the night of 27th/28th October as they and the London Irish Rifles attacked towards the hill top town of San Salvo.
Lt-Colonel Butler DSO, CO of 1 RIrF.
“I am now able to tell you that we are in Italy. We arrived at a certain port and found conditions not at all good in the town. Practically all the shops were empty of stock and the food and water situation appeared fairly acute. We camped outside the town for a couple of days and then moved forward. I was fortunate in journeying by road with the CO…”
“…The gap since the last letter is due to the fact that I have just had my first battle experience . I cannot say a great deal about it, except that I came through quite alright. A bullet whisked across my hand and left a slight scar but there was no other. It was rather grim but also rather exciting….”
“….We are up in a defensive position and Coy HQ is in an old cowshed. The first night, we were absolutely bitten alive by fleas, although we were exhausted after the battle and, in any case, Dennis Dunn and I had to be awake half the night as we just could not sleep. They crawled over us in their thousands and became so fat on our blood that catching and killing them became the simplest matter as they did not even have the energy to jump away….”
“…At present we are having a quiet time. This town has changed hands and we have a grim example of the ruthlessness of war. All business is completely at a standstill – there is no electric light or water and the only thing that seems to flourish are hairdressing saloons and wine shops. I have never seen a more dejected and miserable looking place…..”
“…We are having a quiet time at the moment, resting after the last engagement. We have managed to get all our company under cover in a railway station and what was, once upon a time, a station hotel. The three of us have a room in what appears to be an apartment house and, with our batmen in another room, are quite comfortable, sleeping in proper beds which are quite alright except for a few fleas and actually having a wardrobe and wash stand which makes us feel quite civilised…”
“….We entertained the new second in command (Bala Bredin) to dinner last night. He is RUR and a very brilliant and intelligent man. He has won the MC and bar, and served with Brigadier Wingate back in Palestine. Edward Gibbon and Jerry Cole were also our guests and we had a very pleasant evening and the best conversation I have had since my arrival….”
“….John and I had dinner with an Italian family the other night. He was rather taken with the daughter, a dark attractive girl of about 21, who was a very intelligent school teacher, although she is not doing much teaching with everything completely disorganised. She spoke fluent French and he speaks quite good French so she translated for her family and he translated for me, so it worked quite well…”
“…Dicky Richards has been awarded the MM for gallant services as a sergeant in North Africa. His company commander Denis Haywood gave him a pleasant little dinner in honour of the occasion last night to which I was duly invited. It may sound peculiar to be having dinners quite close to the enemy but we try and get a little pleasure and a change when we can….”
“I am writing this sitting on the edge of a slit trench in a wood ready to dive into it at any second if any artillery shell bursting is at hand. It has been a grim few days since I last wrote. The first day we marched 20 miles, then at night marched another 10, and dug in before daybreak. In the afternoon, we marched another 12 miles, fought a battle at night, dug in, moved in the morning, dug in again, moved and re-dug….”
“….We launched a big night attack on a certain day and met with very fierce opposition. My company got rather badly knocked about and amidst the confusion, John and I bumped against each other. We decided to rally what men we could and push forward and, by using our ground carefully, we made a considerable advance. Despite the terrific noise, I have never felt cooler or more confident….”