The Skins in Sicily – Arriving on the Island

On 25th June, the battalion moved to Hammamet, a two day journey through beautiful scenery and, in the later stages, through the recently won battlefields.

Hammamet was situated on the coast, 40 miles south of Tunis. General Montgomery inspected us and have us the war cry “Kill the Wops”. 1st Army was already in a state of decomposition and it was then obvious that we would form part of the reconstituted 8th Army.

We left Hammamet for the concentration area on the day that Sicily was invaded so there was no doubt where we were going. The concentration area can be summed up in a few words – sand, melons, and jelly fish, hardening exercises, more endurance tests and oppressive heat.

During these two months, we had wasted no time and now felt we had everything and were ready for anything the Bosche might try out. We had made up to establishment and were pleased to welcome amongst others, Major Savage (RUR) who took over command of C Company, Captain McPhillips and last but not least Major Crocker, who arrived just in time, quite out of the blue, while we were in the concentration area to take over command of A Company.

So on the nights of 25th and 26th July 1943, the battalion sailed for Sicily. The rifle companies in LCIs went first and had a smooth crossing. Battalion HQ, the transport and S Company in LSTs the day after and were unfortunate as they had a rough time.

By the time the battalion landed in Sicily, a third of the island was in Allied hands. We landed south of Syracuse, where the Brigade Group had everything under control. It wasn’t long before we all married up after a night drive to Albospino. It wasn’t long, either, before we found we were to be mule borne and were to take to the hills, higher hills that we had encountered in North Africa, but somehow more gentlemanly and not so precipitous or stony; tracks existed and sometimes these were even on the map.

A night march over the hills on the 30th and another night march over more hills on the 31st brought us onto the hills overlooking Catenanuova, which were being taken by another brigade in the division.  A and B Companies took up a defensive position on the right flank of the division and C and D Companies under the command of 1 RIrF were in brigade reserve on the left. So, at least, we had caught up with battle and many men that night heard and saw shots in anger for the first time and saw the battle area ablaze with enemy transport and dumps, which had been set alight by our artillery.

(NA 5399) Carriers and troops of the 6th Inniskillings, 78th Division move up to Catenanuova, August 1943. Copyright: © IWM.

An afternoon march on 1st August took us through minefields, over blown bridges, through Catenanuova to a late enemy HQ north of the town, which must have been extremely hastily evacuated as much equipment, transport, dead Bosche and marked maps were found. The Pioneer Platoon had gone on ahead and had buried most of the dead Bosche by the time the main body arrived so the stench wasn’t too bad, but the hum of a dead mule wasn’t too pleasant.

Anyway, we were only a mile away from the forward troops, and we expected to be pushed through the brigade in front next day. And so it proved to be. A message was received about midnight that breakfast was to be ready at 0330hrs, but the troops were not to be woken before orders were received. The CO spent the night at 36 Brigade HQ so that he could hear the progress at Centuripe, which was being attacked during the night by that brigade.