The end of a long journey had come for the Irish Brigade but, soon after the final surrender in Europe, they were ordered into southern Austria to take up a different role as peacekeepers in a chaotic post war period of disarming previous foes and organising flows of refugees.
The last few days of the Irish Brigade’s time in Italy was later described by Brigadier TPD Scott:
“On 1st May, the New Zealander Division linked up with Marshal Tito’s forces of Monfalcone, north west of Trieste. I had always imagines that linking up with allies is a rather dramatic moment. I found out later that it was not quite the sort of think I imagined.
On the 2nd, Paddy Bowen Colthurst, John O’Rourke, John McClinton and myself went to have a look at Bologna and then on to see, from the German side, the old battlefields of the winter about San Clemente. Father Dan Kelleher had been there the day before and found the remains of three London Irish lads, who had been reported missing during a patrol to Tamagnin. How the Germans went on sitting in some of those forward positions of his, like Tamagnin, for month after month I cannot imagine. Tamagnin, for instance, was looked right down on from about three sides and some of his other positions between that and the Clemente – San Pietro road were not much better.
From the German positions, we had an excellent view of our old Brigade Headquarters and especially of the hill behind it where we used to go out ski-ing. I suppose that our ski-ing activities were not considered a worthwhile target – perhaps German brigadiers do not do that sort of thing or, at any rate, in such places.
That horrible valley was now lovely in its clothing of Spring. The black forbidding earth had changed to green and the valleys were a mass of wild flowers and young vines. It was difficult to force back into one’s mind the picture they presented only a few months before. Nightingales were now singing where previously there had been a continuous banging along some part of that big salient. It is a pity that the scars of war are not healed so quickly in towns.
We started back for home rather late and dusk was beginning to fall as we drew near Ferrara. Every evening since the battle stopped, there had been a mild display of verey light and so on. On this evening, there seemed to be more than usual as we drove towards the north. Paddy spotted a cart laden down with strawberries and asparagus. We bought as much as we could of these and filled the back of the car with them. As we went on again were verey lights than ever seemed to be going up and we began to wonder if it meant that Hitler was dead or what on earth happened.
When we got through Ferrara, there was a veritable cascade of stuff going up along the Po. We stopped and asked someone what was going on and were greeted with the surprising information that the war was over. Although this possibility had crossed our minds, the statement took us by surprise. It seemed hard to believe. We stopped and asked somebody else to make sure. Yes, they said, the war was over or, at any rate, in Italy. We hurried on to get back quickly and see what was the truth about all this. We hurried for more reasons than one. Worse things than verey lights were now flying through the air. Before guns had opened up, tanks were sending streams of tracer into the air, there were bangs and flashes on all sides. We had no intention of stopping one of these missiles even if the war was over.
After going at about 60 mph through a barrage of two inch mortars firing light signals – which I thought might well get mixed up with High Explosive in the excitement – we got back to our Headquarters.
The Army Group South West, under General von Vietinghoff, had surrendered unconditionally to Field Marshal Alexander.
I authorised a rum issue. There was not much else I could do.
I knew we had no rum to issue except the buckshee stuff that the Quarter Masters always kept up their sleeves but I thought this was as good a night as any to work off some of that.
Such celebrations, as there were, did not go on very long and, by midnight, all was quiet and peaceful. It was such a big event that it took time to assimilate.
I heard people remarking that, at any rate, we had beaten Monty to it; the ‘D Day Dodgers’ had got in first; and other kindred remarks.
Poor old ‘D Day Dodgers’: they had a long fight for their money.
What a long time ago, it seems since these early days in North Africa with the appalling discomforts of that campaign. It seems a long time, too, since the epic battles of Sicily and Southern Italy.
How very few had seen them all.
How few in the Rifle Companies, who had landed in North Africa were still with us to see the culmination of their efforts.
One’s mind turned that evening to a lot of faces of old friends whom one would not see again. One hopes that they, too, were able to join in the feeling of satisfaction and thankfulness that the last shot had been fired.”
May 1945 Roll of Honour:
2nd May 1945 – Fusilier Douglas Newman, Royal Irish Fusiliers.
13th May 1945 – Fusilier James Kelly, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.
Links to the transcribed May 1945 war diaries.