When John Profumo visited the Irish Brigade

John Profumo

Following the autumn battles at the Gothic Line, the British Army in Italy had began to suffer acute manpower shortages and like other units, the three battalions of the Irish Brigade were reduced to three rifle companies at the start of November 1944.

In early December, they were visited by two MPs, Richard Stokes MC, who was a First World War veteran, and John Profumo, MP who was on Field Marshal Alexander’s staff.

Stokes has been raised a Catholic and was a member of the parliamentary Friends of Ireland Group which believed that socialism rather than reunification would end conflict in the island of Ireland.

As Pat Scott and the brigade’s war diaries noted at the time:

“On the 8th December, we were visited by Lt Colonel John Profumo and Mr Stokes, MP for Ipswich…

…They wished to see the conditions of front line troops generally and to learn our complaints and needs and our views in general. It was impossible for them to visit a battalion due to the time factor and a walk up a nearby hill to see the ground proved fruitless due to the rain and mist.

Lt Col Bredin, Commander of 2 LIR, came down to Brigade HQ to see them and also Rev D Kelleher RA ChD.

Rifleman Barry spoke to Mr Stokes and in general expressed and represented the thoughts and wishes of the men themselves….

…Among other things mentioned to them was getting Irishmen into the Irish Brigade. As Mr Stokes was half Irish, he said he would look into them when he got home. Judging by telegrams alleged to have been sent by the Prime Minister to AFHQ on this subject, he seemed to have done his best…”

Richard Stokes actually raised another point with the Secretary of State of War on his return to the House of Commons as Hansard notes him asking Sir Percy James Grigg:

“…whether he is now satisfied that the supply of thick woollen socks to the troops in Italy is adequate; and whether the shortages in the unit, of which he has been advised, reported to him by cable on 11th December, have now been made good.”

John Profumo may be the better known historical figure but Richard Stokes clearly continued to have the best interests of the men from the Irish Brigade uppermost in his mind.

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