Excerpt of The Wartime Memoirs of Albert “Jeff” Jeffrey.
The 2 LIR’s visit to the Pope in June 1944 is well documented but nothing has been written of the Band’s performance. On arriving we did the usual trick of counter-marching on arrival at any church, so as to be facing the following marchers who then wheeled and marched into the church. The band would then stop playing and look around for a pub or cafe, being sure to be back in time for the end of the service. In this case we surveyed St Peter’s Square, but there was no place of refreshment to be seen, so we stood about smoking.
In a while a priest emerged from the Vatican and said that we should go inside. We told him that we were not of the faithful, but merely the musical accompaniment. “It doesn’t matter,” he said, “come along in.” Not wishing to be rude, we followed him into the audience chamber.
The Massed Bands of the Irish Brigade 2nd Bn. LIR pipers are from left to right: Ronnie Briar, Jeff Jeffrey (behind the leading piper Paddy Brennan of the Royal Irish Fusiliers) with Sammy Turner glimpsed behind the two of them.
It transpired that the Pope (Pius XII) had expressed a wish to hear the pipes, but the heathen pipers were outside. So the priest was sent to fetch us.
‘The Wearing of the Green’ seemed to be suitable for the occasion, so we played that. His Holiness seemed to enjoy it and we were all given a rosary and a photo of the Pope to take away with us. The photo never survived the vicissitudes of war, but the rosary I gave to a very pretty peasant girl at Tavernelle near Lake Trasimene. It didn’t do me any good – her father warned me off.
When we came out into the sunlight, we were accosted by some Irish priests who, being Irish citizens and therefore neutral, had been living in Rome during the German occupation. It seems that they were desperate for a cup of tea. They had not been able to get any and, like drug addicts, were feeling the pangs of withdrawal. A truck was dispatched back to camp and it brought back a chest full of tea. The young priests were loud in their gratitude and invited us to visit their seminary. So we piled into the truck – and squaddies, priests and tea chest set off through the streets of Rome.
On arrival, the tea was carried reverently into the kitchen and a brew was soon on the go, with the priests sniffing the aroma like Bisto Kids. It was heartwarming to watch them drink the first cup they’d had in months. “Aaaaah!” they said. Having satisfied their craving, they showed their gratitude in a practical way. Tea may have been scarce, but communion wine was plentiful, and they produced it in abundance. I remember little of that afternoon, except a haze of alcohol and good company. They talked about the rigours of the occupation and we brought them up to date on the war so far. Eventually, amid many expressions of goodwill on both sides, they went back to God and we went back to camp.