Irish Brigade

The story of the 38th (Irish) Brigade in the Second World War

2 LIR – April 1944

In the whole area the Germans enjoyed unpleasantly good observation over the Allied positions though there was a fair amount of cover by the river-side, where the ground rose gradually from fifty to a hundred feet on each side. From above, the Monastery looked down on everything. It was an awesome sight, its medieval magnificence and splendour reduced to a gaunt, jagged skeleton, often obscured by rising ground mists or enveloped in the foggy brown swirl from smoke bombs. The London Irish were soon to get another view of the Monastery, this time from the north. Extensive regrouping had been ordered to prepare for the next offensive which, it was hoped, would lead to the long-awaited fall of Rome.

The battalion was sent up to relieve the French on Monte Castellone, which was in effect one of the lower foothills of Monte Cairo. Three companies were perched almost on the crest of Castellone, and the fourth was in reserve. Every fourth day one company was relieved. Supplies were brought up the mountain paths by mules. A Echelon was eight miles away in the Rapido Valley, and the supply-route was under frequent shell and mortar fire. Warning notices: “Shell Trap-no Halting” were hardly necessary because no one who had any regard for his life dallied on the way.  One stretch, despite its bumps and holes, became known as the “Mad Mile” and along it jeeps and trucks broke all records. The Quartermaster, Lieutenant Aitkenhead, and all the company quartermasters earned the highest commendation for the way the battalion was unfailingly supplied. The London Irish bakery was warmly praised by the Brigadier for its supply of appetising cakes and other small luxuries sent daily to the riflemen on the summit of Castellone.

The men were shelled and mortared constantly and there were several forward-patrol brushes with the enemy, but on the whole their stay on Monte Castellone from March 31 to April 25 was uneventful.Pioneers worked particularly hard in laying minefields or building fresh mule-tracks because the animals had great difficulty in climbing the steep slopes in the intense darkness, and many precious pack-loads tumbled down the hill-side.

The next phase was handing over the position to a Polish battalion. They came with their own mule trains, with Italians as muleteers. The old hands of the London Irish yelled orders in Urdu and Hindustani, which the Indian-trained mules seemed to understand even if they did not obey. But then there came an international babble in Italian, Polish, English, and German, it provided a little diversion even though it added to the obstinacy of the mules and prolonged the agony of the change-over.



 

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