During September 1943, Lawrence (Lawrie) Franklyn-Vaile continues the written dialogue with his wife, Olive, sending ten letters to her during the month.
Lawrie’s first letter confirms that he and John Glennie had now joined up with 1 Royal Irish Fusiliers (Faughs) near to Patti in Sicily and he spends the first part of the month reacquainting himself with the battalion, which includes many men that he had known very well at the regimental depot in Omagh. He hears of the terrific exploits of the Faughs during their campaigns in Tunisia and Sicily but also learns of the deaths of, and serious injuries suffered by, a number of good friends.
His descriptions of this training period convey a sense of excitement that he now has the chance to play a leading role in the forward progress of the Allied Armies in Italy. While at the Brigade Training School, Lawrie becomes aware that, although he comes with extensive home front experience, a number of former “junior” colleagues are now holding more senior positions right across the Irish Brigade.
In his letters home during September, Lawrie continues to express hope that Olive had now been able to settle down in England, and raises ongoing concern about family finances, a theme that will continue over the succeeding months. This feeling is exacerbated by the fact that he has yet to hear from his wife due to the vagaries of the military postal system while he has been on the move. Lawrie also expresses pleasure in learning of the rapid advances of the Red Army on the Eastern Front, but it seems that his left leaning views do not always coincide with those of all of his comrades within the battalion.
On 22nd September, Lawrie takes over the role of Intelligence Office (IO), which requires close coordinated support of the Faughs’ Commanding Officer (CO), Lieut-Colonel Beuchamp Butler. He suggests that he might be slightly ill suited for the role, and would prefer a mainstream position in one of the fusilier companies, but recognises the advantages of working closely with the CO. It is clear, though, that Lawrie is well regarded throughout the battalion.
The last letter of the month, sent on 29th September, suggests that the Faughs, along with the rest of the Irish Brigade, had travelled to mainland Italy. The battalion had actually arrived in Taranto on 25th September (although the town is not able to be named) before travelling by train to Barletta, where they arrived on the last day of the month.
Due to the rapid advances of the 8th Army in Italy, the expectation of the battalion’s officers was that they would not see offensive front line action for a week or two. This belief, of course, turned out to be completely mistaken and October 1943 proved a most difficult month for the Faughs, bringing some shattering events for Lawrie and the whole battalion.
Lieutenant Douglas Room, who was with the Brigade Group in September 1943.
“I am writing this letter to you sitting under a lemon tree “somewhere in Sicily”. Above me, the hot sun beats down fiercely although it is tempered by a slight breeze and below is a huge vineyard extending almost down to the sea. It all seems very faraway from England and it is amazing to think that it is only just over three weeks since I left you….”
“As you can see from the above address, (1st Battalion, The Royal Irish Fusiliers, CMF) I have duly arrived with the 1st Bttn . I have written a long letter from the Rest Camp which describes, in some detail, what has happened. After leaving North Africa, we travelled by boat to a port in Sicily from where we went to a rest camp and spent four days living under lemon trees in a vineyard….”
“….I am settling down in the battalion although there are very few here I knew originally. Edward Gibbon has returned – he does not look at all well and is very thin. He is now a Captain. There are no other officers here you would actually know. I am very friendly with Dennis Dunn who lived at the Newall’s house in Mourne Park until he came out here in February….”
“…We are not doing over much here at present. Reveille is at 6am and we have PT from 6.30 to 7. I take my own platoon on PT and quite enjoy it. We then have a swim which is very refreshing. After breakfast, we do fairly vigorous training from 8 until about 12.30. The heat in the afternoon is usually very considerable and little is done….”
“Nothing very special has happened since my last letter a couple of days ago. Day after day continues to be extremely hot here – the sun shines fiercely all day long from a cloudless blue sky. Sounds very nice on paper, but it is very tiring when one is doing strenuous training. It would be more pleasant but for the flies….”
“…At present, I am up at the Brigade School of Tactics in the somewhat curious position of pupil cum instructor. John Glennie, two others, and myself are here. When I came up on a visit the other night with Dennis Dunn, the Commandant, a very decent fellow named Jack White of the London Irish, told me I was down for the course but that it was ridiculous in view of my experience etc that I should be on a Platoon Commander Course….”
“Today is pleasantly cool – the first day of this kind we have had since I arrived here. I am having quite a good time on the Course, doing a certain amount of instructing and learning quite a good deal regarding mines. I now feel reasonably competent to clear an enemy minefield and to render harmless enemy mines. They are an extremely pleasant crowd up here and we are doing ourselves very well on food, very much better than the battalion….”
“Today, I have been appointed Intelligence Officer for the Battalion, and I’m probably the most unsuitable person of all for the job. This morning, I was just starting a lecture to the Company on Assault Boating when a message came that the Adjutant wanted me immediately. On arriving, the CO, whom I only met yesterday for the first time since I only knew him slightly in Omagh, came out and said “Colin Hill (the IO) is going to hospital, and I want you to become my IO…”
“….I find the job of IO quite interesting, but would prefer to be with a Company. I had a long talk with the CO last night, as we were by ourselves and he got quite animated. I put it to him that while I found the IO work very interesting, I had always got on well with the men and liked the Company role. He likes people who are rather keen on fighting and he agreed….”
“….Yesterday morning, we had a gruelling route march across country. I was with the CO the whole time and had to keep on checking up with the leading platoon to see that they were keeping in the right direction which, during the greater part of the time, they were not. I don’t think I have ever lost so much perspiration – all my clothes were wringing wet and my mouth was parched….”