A gale of remarkable force rose in the night. Tiles, roofs and even walls were blown down, an olive trees uprooted in all directions. Fortunately, no-one was hurt. The Africa Star ribbons became available, though without the distinguishing clasps, and were worn, not without pride, by those who qualified for them.
The main event of the day was the battalion’s belated Christmas dinners, which began about midday and ended late in the afternoon. The Quartermaster had surpassed himself, and the bill of fare included tomato soup, turkey and pork with vegetables, plum pudding, cake, fruits, nuts, chocolate, cigarettes, two bottles of beer per man, hot rum punch and vino ad lib. In the afternoon orders were received to move into Corps reserve near Aversa, some 20 miles nearer Naples. An advance party set off to recce the area. Another party went duck shooting in the marshes between our former FDLs and the enemy.
It had been intended to celebrate Hogmanay today, but owing to the move it had to be postponed. The floods from the recent gale had washed away the bridge at Cancello and the Brigade travelled a circuitous route to the neighbourhood of Aversa. Our allotted area was in Lusciano; and though it at first appeared to be a villainously dirty place, the inside of the houses were better than outside and the battalion got itself into reasonably comfortable billets.
The battalion spent the day settling in and washing itself.
Hogmanay was celebrated. Major-General G.W.R. Templer, DSO, OBE who commanded 56 Division, which he had just left, and Brigadier R.B.R. Colvin were among our guests. Forty-nine officers sat down to dinner and everyone had half a roast wild duck – the result of the shooting parties in our last position. After dinner the officers were entertained by the Sergeants in the traditional fashion and about the rest of the evening comment is unnecessary and perhaps undesirable.
The following awards were today published in Part One Orders: -
Immediate awards granted by General Sir H.R.L.G. Alexander, CBE, CSI, DSO, MC, General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, 15 Army Group on 29th December 1943.
The Military Cross – Captain A.M. Balfour, Lieutenant R.S. Dollard
The Distinguished Conduct Medal – 2696194 Guardsman W.L. Chadwick
Extract from supplement to the London Gazette No. 36261 dated 25th November 1943, published in Regimental Orders No. 350 dated 1st December 1943.
The Military Cross – Major W.D.D. Crichton-Stuart
The Military Medal – 2692565 Lance-Sergeant C. Riches
Mentioned in Despatches – 2697000 Colour Sergeant Major J. Foulstone
Leave parties left for Salerno.
Captain M.J. Fitzgerald-Brockholes became Adjutant of the battalion. For the order of battle at this time see Appendix A.
Among visitors from 24 Guards Brigade were Lieutenant-Colonel Andrew Scott, DSO, commanding 1st Battalion Irish Guards and Lieutenant-Colonel G. Gordon Lennox, DSO, commanding 5th Battalion Grenadier Guards.
Church parade. The area was unsuitable for training, being entirely flat and covered with poplar trees supporting vines. A party, therefore, left to recce an area near Limatola, north east of Caserta.
The three infantry companies set off at 0400 hrs for four days in their new training area.
Leave parties returned.
13 January 1944 companies returned from Limatola. The battalion was re-equipped by QM up to War Establishment. During this period the battalion was rested and parties were sent daily to ENSA concerts and cinema shows. Major Coke took over command of F Company from Major Rose.
1000 Conference of Company commanders and Specialist officers, to discuss forthcoming operations, and the organisation for the move forward. The day was otherwise given up to detail preparation of equipment and stores.
The Commanding Officer accompanied by the Intelligence Officer and Signals Officer left Luciano at 0830 hrs. They drove to TAC Brigade HQ which was then at Carano, the headquarters of 5th Division, when the Brigadier and the other commanding officers all met.
5th,56th, and 46th Divisions under command of a 10th Corps, all attacked across the River Garigliano in the early hours of the morning conforming to further activities by the Americans and Free French in the region of Cassino. In the first, 13th, 15th and 17th Brigades were to force a crossing of the river and penetrate the enemy positions in the hills beyond, going as far as Monte Natale and the villages of Trimonsuoli and Scauri. 201 Guards Brigade was then to cross the river by bridge an attack a further stage forward, 6th Grenadiers being given the Scauri Peninsula as its objective, and 2nd Scots Guards the higher ground to the north of the village of Castellonorato.
This plan approved by too ambitious, for although the brigades of 5th Division undoubtedly fought well, they were seriously hindered by minefields and the rough country made defence easy. Owing to the slow progress, the sappers were prevented from bridging by daylight and move of 201 Guards Brigade was postponed for 24 hours. 56 Division crossed opposite Castelforte but 46 Division failed to get a bridgehead across the River Garigliano the Commanding Officer therefore returned to Lusciano.
The commanding officer again left Lusciano at 0730 hrs to join the Brigadier for his Order Group. Once again, the battalion spent the day in a state of readiness and waiting in the troop carrying lorries for the order to move. However, the Garigliano bridges were not ready so there was a further delay of 24 hours.
1500 The Commanding Officer crossed the river to join the Brigadier at Minturno, with the intention of doing a recce at last light, but this also proved to be impossible because the town had not been cleared of the enemy. The three commanding officers spent the night at TAC Brigade HQ which was installed in a quarry about a mile back from Minturno.
1300 The company commanders arrived at Brigade headquarters.
1500 The necessary features of Monte Natale and Trimosuoli were at last captured and the Brigadier held it his O Group on Point 141, a bare and exposed hill just west of Minturno. The Commanding Officer held his O group in the same place immediately afterwards, but as it was not possible to get a sufficiently detailed view of the Battalion objective, the Brigade plan only was given out and a further Order Group fixed for tomorrow at Trimosuoli which is the next feature to the west.
2230 The battalion, which had moved forward under the command of the Adjutant, cross the River Garigliano at 2230 hrs. They moved forward to concentration area by the side of the road, which passes south of the hill on which Minturno stands; this hill appeared to give a measure of protection but the road subsequently became a of most popular target for harassing fire.
0600 Owing to the slow progress of the last few days and the stiff resistance which had been encountered, the plan for the attack by 201 Guards Brigade had been considerably modified. 6 Grenadiers were still to go for part of the Scauri Peninsula, this battalion was to capture Scauri village and the Coldstream were to remain in reserve at Trimonsuoli. In accordance with this plan all arrangements and reconnaissance of the area were carried out. The battalion was sent for, to move up to the start line, when the whole attack was postponed till first light the following morning. The reason given for this was the discovery of a counter-attack forming up in Scauri.
In the early hours of the morning a shell hit a house occupied by Michael Fitzherbert-Brockholes, Duncan Cambridge and about twenty signallers. It burst in a basement and the floor of the room in which the signallers were sleeping collapsed. Four men were killed and five others wounded.
0800 The counter-attack of the last night was continued at dawn and although successfully held, it was felt that the troops who faced it were pretty exhausted. In consequence Right Flank was sent up to Point 141, the hill west of Minturno, to consolidate that position in case of further encroachment. This hill is bare and rocky, digging was extremely difficult and the inevitable result was a gradual wastage of men through harassing fire. Victor Gordon-Ives was killed in this way by a shell when carrying out a reconnaissance for his platoon position.
The mortar platoon under Ronnie Jenkinson was supporting the Coldstream in Trimonsuoli from mid-day yesterday until this morning. The reason for this was that the Coldstream platoon had suffered very heavy casualties from one shell and had become disorganised by their loss. Our platoon was kept busy engaging opportunity targets which they did quite successfully, unfortunately six men were wounded before they moved out.
The carrier platoon took up a position between in Minturno and Trimonsuoli, facing west.
The enemy were reported to be reinforcing their 94th Division, which is now badly reduced, with their 90th Panzer Grenadier Division.
Further counter-attacks were expected from the newly arrived 90th Panzer Grenadier Division but then failed to materialise. German activity was confined to shelling Minturno, which mattered very little in itself, but a good many rounds fell on Right Flank and some came over the hill into area of Battalion Headquarters, Support Company and A Echelon. Right Flank had seven casualties during the day; S Company had one.
At 1600 hrs an attack was put in on Monte Natale by the Brigade on our right. This might have had important repercussions but unfortunately it failed.
Right Flank was relieved of Point 141 by the Carrier platoon. Later in the day they were given a sector between F Company on Point 56 and the railway. A few shells landed in the Battalion HQ area and along the road back to the river. One of these wounded Tommy Marsham-Townshend in the back; he died a few hours later. G Company took over Point 141 from the Carrier Platoon at dusk. Owing to the lack of cover it is intended to hold the feature with as few men as possible by day and to use a different company each night.
The carrier platoon took over Point 141 from G Company after morning stand-to. There was a remarkable incident later in the morning when a German officer appeared, walking towards them from the direction on Monte Natale. He walked into the platoon position while they remained quiet and waited for him. He turned out to be from Formia and had been sent to examine the country beside the road from Santa Maria Infanta to Minturno, with a view to attacking with tanks from that direction. He said that he had just returned from a week’s leave and had omitted to ask where our respective lines were.
G Company took over Point 141 at dusk.
Carrier platoon relieved F Company for the day and were in turn relieved at dusk by G Company. Peter Atkinson-Clark was killed by a shell during the afternoon; he was doing recce for his platoon position in almost the same place as Victor Gordon-Ives. G Company had one other casualty.
A complete company of Welsh Guards under Raymond Buckeridge arrived to join the Battalion as a fourth company. The spent the night at A Echelon.
The carrier platoon took over Point 141 for the day, being relieved for the night by Right Flank. The Welsh Guards company took over from F Company so that with four companies to occupy three positions it became possible to keep one company resting each day.
The enemy reduced their shelling of Minturno and deviated their energy to Trimonsuoli, a change which suited us well but had unfortunate consequences for the Coldstream and Grenadiers whose positions were rather exposed.
The Welsh Guards Company took over Point 141 for the night. There were no changes of position and no casualties.
The new divisional commander, Major-General P.G.S. Gregson-Ellis OBE, having taken over from Major-General G.C. Bucknall, MC, called at Battalion HQ during the morning.
Colonel Eric Mackenzie GMG, CVO, DSO visited the battalion.
3rd Coldstream having endured a long and unpleasant spell at Trimonsuoli exchanged positions with this battalion after dark. They had carried out a successful advance of about 700 yards last night in collaboration with 6 Grenadiers on their right, who took 80 prisoners. The positions taken over were located with the two companies on the forward slopes, west and below the village, with the reserve company and Battalion HQ actually in it. F Company were given the reserve position, G Company and Right Flank were forward in the appropriate order: the carrier platoon were on the left, a short distance down the road to Minturno. Battalion HQ was in a relatively safe but very inhospitable downstairs room in a house in the centre of town. It opened onto a narrpow street protected on the enemy side by two rows of three storey houses, which it was hoped would stop shells coming in straight and were also high enough to catch most mortar bombs on their way. These houses were on the forward edge of town overlooking the company positions and the ground sloping down to Scauri and Formia. They gave excellent observation and the Intelligence Section kept our post permanently manned, the gunners used another.
Sergeant Thomas of G Company was killed in the evening when out on a patrol. Another man trod on a S mine, which wounded three of them, but Sergeant Thomas jumped into a slit trench to escape, and set off either a booby trap or another mine.
A padre from 17th Brigade came to Battalion HQ to say that he had buried an officer and three Guardsmen at Pontifiume. They were identified by documents to be Ian Tait and Guardsmen Reidy, McGhee and Miller.