Return To The Liri Valley, October 2011 written by Richard O’Sullivan.
It was 72 years ago that my father, Edmund O’Sullivan, then working for Hawkes the military tailor’s in Savile Row, was obliged to take the King’s shilling, with an initial commitment of 6 months. When he entrained from Villach, Austria in March 1946, he had served 6 years, 4 months and 18 days with the 2nd Battalion London Irish Rifles (2/LIR) and served as CQMS throughout their overseas service with the 38th (Irish) Brigade, which was initially part of the 6th Armoured Division and from March 1943 onwards part of the famed 78th (Battleaxe) Division. His service record included being present with 2/LIR at the battles on the Bou Arada plain, Heidous near Tunis, Centuripe in Sicily, Salso and Simeto river crossings near Mt Etna, Termoli, the Trigno and Sangro river crossings on the Adriatic coast, the Liri Valley, Lake Trasimene in Umbria, and at the decisive final breakthrough the Argenta Gap – Edmund was mentioned in dispatches in July 1945.
To mark the anniversary of my father joining 2/LIR at Liverpool St railway station along with Edward Mayo, a Ford’s car worker from Dagenham and Charles “Pip” Ward, a printer from Dartford, I had the absolute honour of spending a joyfully memorable and emotional week in the company of my dear friends, and members of the Associazione Linea Gustav: Damiano Parravano, his girlfriend Marisa, Alessandro Campagna, Benedetto Vecchio and our faithful four legged companion Birillo in retracing my father’s personal journey from March to May 1944.
Highlights of the week’s visit included:
Looking up at San Angelo in Theodice from the flood plain on the east side of the Gari river, and then taking the opposite perspective down from the “heights” of the village looking onto the area where my father and his comrades spent a week in late March 1944.
The view from San Angelo across the Gari towards Mt Trocchio.
Climbing the 771 metre Monte Castellone to look down on the abbey of St Benedict at Monte Cassino. – my father spent 26 consecutive nights from 31st March 1944 climbing Castellone with a group of up to 30 mules starting from Caira village to supply the front line E Company, who were positioned on the peak of the mountain.
– the 1667 metre Monte Cairo gazing serenely down on us all the way through the climb.
Mt Cairo from the summit of Mt Castellone.
Visiting San Michele and following the Inferno track.
– my father would collect his supplies of ammunition and food from San Michele, following the Inferno track, before crossing the Rapido valley, travelling along the “Mad Mile”, crossing the river itself by a stone bridge near to the Italian barracks before making a precipitous journey up from Caira to the peak of Monte Castellone to join his comrades. This nightly round trip would last 12 hours – and the re-crossing of the valley would need to be completed before sunrise. Looking from San Michele across the Rapido valley towards Cassino.
Walking the Cavendish Road from Caira to Albaneta Farm
– looking up and across to both Phantom and Snakehead Ridges, and the memorials to the bravery of the Polish Corps and seeking to visualise the numerous assaults by men of all nationalities on Pt 593 and near to Albaneta Farm during Feb/Mar and May 1944.
– spending 45 minutes speaking to Dom Germano, a monk at the abbey of Monte Cassino, and who was a trainee seminarian at the abbey in 1943.
Albaneta Farm at the end of the Cavendish Road.
Following the advance of 2/LIR from their echelon area behind Monte Trocchio, their journey across the Gari river via Congo bridge, bridging the Pioppeto river, and walking to Colle Monache close to Casa Sinagoga, which traced the route of 2/LIR’s assault on the Gustav Line strong points on the morning of 16 May 1944.
– my father’s dear friend Sgt Edward Mayo MM lost his life here at 12 noon on 16 May 1944.
– speaking to the Sinagoga family and listening to their family memories of the time when their grand parents’ were “confronted” by my father’s OC Major Mervyn Davies as 2/LIR stormed into their farm.
Looking towards Mt Cairo and Monastery Hill from near to the Piopetto river crossing.
Tracing 2/LIR’s advance from Sinagoga to Piumarola on 17th May 1944. their forward movement to Aceto and their subsequent rest period at Casa di Fiore from 21st to 26th May 1944.
– speaking to Damiano’s uncle who owns the farm at Fiore which 2/LIR used as their HQ, and where they stayed for 5 days during May 1944.
Casa de Fiore.
Following the upper Liri valley to Arce and Ceprano and then tracing 2/LIR’s cross country journey before their attacks on Hill 255 and San Giovanni, the successful capture of which allowed an unopposed entry into Ripi at the end of May 1944.
– Gazing over the undulating countryside south of Ripi which 2/LIR had to cross without access to road transport or armoured support.
From San Giovanni towards Ripi.
Visiting the CWGC cemetery at Cassino to pay the greatest reflective respect to the near 4000 men who lie at peace there – including 148 of my father’s comrades from the Irish Brigade.
– placing a picture of my father alongside his pal Eddie Mayo whose photographic image had been identified for me for the first time two weeks before by another of my father’s comrades Charles “Pip” Ward, now a sprightly 92 years and 11 months old.
CWGC cemetery at Cassino.
The angels were certainly following all our journeys throughout the week.