Sinagoga Wood, 16 May 1944

Major Mervyn Davies was OC, E Company of 2 LIR during the battalion’s attack on Colle Monache on the morning of 16th May 1944 and here he recalls the events of that day.

“On the afternoon of 14th May 1944, the battalion crossed the Rapido (Gari) river by a bailey bridge put up by 8th Indian Division. N Mosley, J Bruckmann and Desmond Fay were the E Company platoon commanders. I remember Sergeant Mayo MM and Sergeant McNally as two of the platoon sergeants with CSM Charnick.

The crossing of the river was quiet and I remember no shelling. We spent a quiet night just inside the bridgehead. Next day, the battalion O Group moved to an area called ‘Happy Valley’. Here, there was some shelling and Geoffrey Phillips, who was in charge of G Company, was hit in the head, but not badly. Peter Grennell took over as OC G Company. At about the same time, the Commanding Officer, Colonel Goff, was killed by shellfire as was the Officer Commanding 16/5 Lancers (Colonel Loveday).

German SP gun destroyed at Sinagoga.

The battalion was to attack with the Lancers. Bala Bredin was on the scene. He was with the Skins and I rather think that, following Colonel Goff’s death, he gave to the LIR the orders for the attack on the next day. In any event, E Company moved into the area, from which it was to attack Sinagoga Wood, a feature about 2000 yards ahead. We were shelled when we arrived at the starting point. Mosley was hit and so, I think, was Bruckmann. Most of the night was fairly quiet save for the noise of tank tracks, which we hoped were ours and not theirs. We had a splendid breakfast prepared by CQMS O’Sullivan.

The attack started at 0920hrs, preceded by very heavy artillery fire which began at 0900hrs. We went forward with a troop of 16/5 Lancers (and Derbyshire Yeomanry, perhaps). The initial advance was through a cornfield where the corn was quite golden and very tall and it was a shame to see tanks mow it down. On the other hand, the corn afforded useful cover to the infantry.

Due to the noise of the artillery and tanks, we did not realise that we had come under heavy fire until we saw the odd man fall. I remember seeing Lance Sergeant Williams, a young soldier who had come from the 70th Battalion, fall at this point. We were able to approach the wood under the protection of our own artillery fire, which was very accurate. I had an air photograph and this was of the greatest help in enabling us to take advantage of the fire plan. I remember trying to communicate with the tank commander by using the telephone on the outside of his Sherman tank, but of course, the thing would not work. But the tank commander obligingly opened his turret when I hammered on it with a rifle and I showed him where I supposed some German fire was coming from.

The company was, at this time, using what cover there was about 100-200 yards from the wood. With the ending of the barrage, I realised that the company had to go forward. I got up hoping that those around me would do so too. Every man did so, and we ran for the wood, which we reached despite about a dozen casualties. In the wood, we took 60 prisoners of the 90th (PG) Division. I walked through the wood to find G Company on our right and who had kept up with us. In the wood, there was a small farmhouse, which I took to be Sinagoga Farm. I went in and, in a bedroom on the ground floor, there was a very old man and his wife. They were unhurt and I tried to comfort them.

I returned to the company’s position in the wood as a dreadful Nebelwerfer stonk arrived. This killed two of the best men in the company: Sergeant Mayo MM and Corporal O’Reilly MM.

The men of Mayo’s platoon (No 8) buried him there and then. Before we moved on the next day, they had put a cross over his grave. On the cross were the words,’ Sergeant E Mayo. The finest sergeant that ever breathed.‘  This, I saw myself.”

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