Following the successful assault on the Pytchley Line at Sinagoga, 1 RIrF were brought up to continue the Irish Brigade’s forward progress and at 730am on 17th May 1944, a further artillery barrage presaged the Faughs’ attack with the objective of reaching high ground near Massa Cerro (Fernie Line), which would then allow them to threaten Route Six.
At the start line that morning, C Company OC, Major Lawrie Franklyn-Vaile, who was born in Melbourne, was killed by a shell burst along with one of 16/5 Lancers’ squadron commanders, Major Robert Gill. Despite these setbacks, the battalion moved forward and successfully achieved all their objectives by midday.
Late in the afternoon, the Skins were again called forward and ordered to attack the strongly fortified village of Piumarola, with 2 LIR guarding their left flank. They attacked with “almost indecent haste”, but their commanding officer, Lieut Colonel Bredin was severely wounded at the outset although he refused to be withdrawn for medical treatment until he was clear on the outcome of the attack. In fact, Bala Bredin was strapped to the front of a jeep to continue to give orders before he was finally moved back to a medical aid post. Following the cutting of Route Six later that day, a full withdrawal of German defensive positions was ordered and Polish forces were able to enter the abbey at 1020am on the morning of 18th May 1944.
The London Irish group stopped for a short period near to the Faughs’ start line and listened to an account of the background to Lawrie Franklyn Vaile’s death – including a letter he had sent to his wife, Olive, on 16th May 1944 and a letter sent two days later, again to Olive, describing the grim circumstances of his death, written by Lieutenant Douglas Room, one of C Company’s platoon commanders.
This was another remarkably moving moment in a most remarkable day of remembrance.
A postscript to this battlefield review was that on the following day, Lawrie Franklyn–Vaile’s granddaughter, Katherine Lynch (above), was able to visit the Cassino area and pay her personal respects to the memory of the men, including her own grandfather, who fell during those desperate days of battle.
At the British Embassy commemorative service at Cassino CWGC cemetery, representatives from the Australian government, including their Defence Attache for Southern Europe, Captain Paul Mandziy, also paid their respects to men from their homeland, who had fallen during the battles in Italy. A number of other Australians, most of whom served with the ‘Desert Air Force’, are buried at Cassino cemetery.
Before his visit to Cassino, Captain Mandziy had written to the Irish Brigade web site: “Thank you for the link to Major Franklyn-Vaile’s letters on the website. Having an insight into what he went through during the war, through his letters, brings a degree of personal connection that will make attendance at the Monte Cassino commemorations this year something special.”
Thus, in memory of Lawrie Franklyn-Vaile and his Australian comrades.