Part III – Trigno River

The next barrier for the Irish Brigade on their route north was the River Trigno.   The Trigno River, with signs of the old bridge visible in the foreground.

Fording the Trigno.

On 22nd October, as the Faughs and Irish Rifles reached the banks of the river, one of the crossing points was demolished as they approached it, with the German defensive forces being then withdrawn to the strongly held hill top town of San Salvo two miles beyond and from here, they had a clear view down over the river area. At this time during late October, the Trigno was easily fordable and a bridgehead was created as a platform for an Irish Brigade attack on the town of San Salvo.

The modern Trigno river crossing.

Today the road crossing of the River Trigno is by a modern bridge, but evidence of the former (demolished) bridge is clearly visible, a few yards down stream from the current crossing place.

CQMS O’Sullivan remembered his river crossings to supply the bridgehead forces:

“At that time, the Trigno was only about 20 or 30 yards wide and generally less than a foot deep. Its mighty bridge, which catered for a raging torrent, was about 600 yards long but about 50 yards was blown in the middle. E Company was sent to relieve the Faughs at the bridgehead. I followed with a string of about a dozen mules and crossed the Trigno by a ford.

The silence was eerie and the darkness complete. At my destination, I entered a dug-out where a Faughs’ officer handed over and explained the position. I was horrified when the outgoing officer lit up a cigarette. The flashing of his cigarette lighter must have been seen for miles. I still do not know whether it was relief or bravado. I sent my mules back to base as soon as we had unloaded them and remained to receive instructions.

The muleteers were immaculately accoutred Sikhs. Their mules had been spotless when they had been loaded with supplies for E Company earlier that day under the supervision of a Subadar Major with a great sweeping moustache and a beautiful beard. All wore the Pagre ritual turban. None had steel helmets. On the way back from the company’s lines that night, they stopped in the middle of the Trigno and washed their mules. They were immediately heavily shelled and some were killed. Was it the officer’s cigarette lighter or the noise they made washing the mules that brought down the fire? I waited until it was quiet and walked alone a couple of miles back to the mule point in pitch blackness. I crossed the Trigno ford in which there were now bodies.

E Company was to be the sole occupier of the bridgehead until the next phase of operations which were to extend and widen the bridgehead. I was pleased to hear that the Subadar Major had issued orders that mules were not to be cleaned until they had arrived back at their stables. Every night, I crossed the Trigno with my mules and was extremely nervous in the middle. It was so exposed and there was nowhere to dive. The engineers working to repair the bridge throughout the night were often shelled and many were killed. The smell of rotting flesh pervaded the Trigno and I felt I was walking on bones. But were they those of a man or a mule?”

Lieutenant Percy Hamilton also recalled crossing the river later with the Skins:

“After the week or so spent in our nice house in Montenero, we had to move up to take over the Trigno bridgehead from the LIR. The move up was confused. We followed the road until about a mile from the bridge, which had been blown just before the LIR had reached it and then struck off to the left to cross the river half a mile above the bridge, as it was not safe at the latter because of shells. He had the bridge well and truly registered as we were to find out later.

The move up was after dark, and we had sent guides over first, who were to meet us at the river and show the way up to the positions.

C Coy’s positions were on the right of the road, so although we crossed to the left of the bridge, we had to come right across the road again.

At this point, the River Trigno runs roughly east-west. On the north bank (which we were now taking over), there is a strip of wooded country running parallel to the river and abut four hundred yards wide. The positions were about half way through this wood. More or less a line of slit trenches in groups or strong points. The visibility was limited owing to the undergrowth. Company HQ was a bit nearer the river.

Having crossed the river by the ford, about six inches deep, we got our boots full of water. In the morning, we were able to put on dry socks, but as it rained nearly the whole time we were there, about a week, this was a waste of time. The night after we took over, it rained so much that the slit trenches got a about a foot of water in them. I was trying to get a bit of rest sitting on a haversack, till the water came up to my bottom so I had to spend the rest of the night sitting on the edge of the slit.”


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