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1st Battalion Irish Guards – War Diary March 1944

25th February - 7th March 1944

The battalion came out of the line in the early hours of the 25th February, and did not again take part in any active operations in the bridgehead. There were times, however, during the next ten days when it seemed very possible that the Brigade might be committed in support of 56th Division, and this appeared increasingly likely when the date on which we were to have sailed was postponed, and when the Grenadiers came under command of 167 Brigade. Fortunately, however, this postponement was not a long one and on 7th March the Battalion embarked for Naples. Before sailing we were addressed by the Division Commander, Major General W.R.C. Penney CB, CBE, DSO, MC who bid us God speed and good luck. Referring to the part played by the 24 Guards Brigade in the bridgehead, General Penney applied the famous dictum of our Prime Minister that ”Never was so much owed by so many to so few".

Wednesday 8th March 1944

Early this morning we steamed into Bagnoli, a small port in the Gulf of Puzzuoli, a few miles to the west of Naples. We formed by companies on the quay and marched to the outskirts of the town where we were met by Captain J.T. Egan and the transport. Fortified by mugs of hot tea and a type of rock-cake peculiar to the army we then embussed for a two-hour drive to our billets. The battalion is split up over an area of about four miles, with Battalion HQ, and HQ Company in a small hotel. Support Company and the Officers Mess about a quarter of an mile away in the little village of St. Agata and 2 Company, MT, and B Echelon in Massalubrense.

Thursday 9th March 1944

The battalion proceeded by companies to Castellammare for medical inspection, baths, and a complete new set of clothing.

Friday 10th March 1944

At 1100 hrs this morning Mrs Barion, the "driver- operator" of the YMCA, Mobile Canteen paid us a visit. She was welcomed by the Commanding Officer who congratulated her on the fine display of "jammy wads". The rest of the day was spent in scrubbing web. The Commanding Officer and Father Brooks left for a short visit to General Alexander.

Saturday 11th March 1944

This afternoon the Regimental Band arrived. Rumour has it that some of them are "Bassoon-Happy" but this has not been confirmed officially. The Commanding Officer and Father Brooks returned tonight.

Sunday 12th March 1944

Holy mass was celebrated in the Church of Our Lady in St. Agata, also in the Church of Our Lady in Massualbrense. A Church of England service was held at Battalion HQ.

Monday 13th March 1944

The Commanding officer inspected billets at 1100 hrs. At 1330 hrs the Brigade Commander addressed the on on the square at Massalubrense. Expressing his regret that we were leaving his Brigade, he said that he had been told that we were the finest battalion in the British Army - a dangerous statement, but a nice thing to have said about you. We then practised the 'March Past' for St Patrick's Day with the Regimental Band which later gave a performance to a motley crowd of civilians and soldiers. In the evening there was an ENSA show in the Cinema at Sorrento.

Tuesday 14th March 1944

A new No. 3 Company was formed today under the command of Major. D.M. Kennedy with CSM Smylie as its Company Sergeant Major. The company is billeted in the village of Pastena, halfway between Battalion HQ, and No. 2 Company. In the evening the Regimental band gave a performance in the road outside Support Company's billets. There was a Sergeants Mess Meeting in the evening.

Wednesday 15th March 1944

There was another practise for St. Patrick's Day in the morning, and in the afternoon a fresh batch of men arrived from the IRTD. This evening marked the beginning of a series of cinema shows which are being shown in No. 2 Company's billet, a former fascist school building in which one of the rooms is equipped with a screen and a projector.

Thursday 16th March 1944

Another practise parade was held in the square at Massalubrense: otherwise an uneventful day spent chiefly in cleaning up for tomorrow.

Friday 17th March 1944

St. Patrick's Day. The parade was held under ideal conditions and in the attractive setting of the square of Massalubrense. The Commander-in-Chief, General The Honourable Sir Harold Alexander presented the shamrock which had arrived only just in time by air. Immediately after the presentation General Alexander decorated several officers and men of the battalion and brigade with awards earned on the Anzio bridgehead. The parade concluded with a March Past and High Mass in the Church of Our Lady. Colonel Ryan, Senior Chaplain of the US Army, gave the address. Much to everybody's disappointment, the General had to leave immediately after the parade to get back to the Battle of Cassino.

That this parade, a never-to-be-forgotten occasion for all who took part, was equally impressive for the many spectators was fully borne out by the congratulations of our visitors and guests: but our chief pride is in the tribute - contained in a letter to the Commanding Officer - paid by General Alexander. In this letter General Alexander says:- "I do so heartily congratulate you on having such a really fine battalion. It was a real joy to me to be with them today, and I thought they looked just fine. Smart, proud of themselves, in fact just what one wishes and expects guardsmen to look like. It must have impressed all the onlookers very much, like it did me.

The Micks were always good (the best in the whole Brigade) but I really believe they are better today than ever they were or ever have been.

I am only so sorry I could not remain longer with you go to High Mass and go round the company dinners and then lunch with you - but as you know I have this important and tricky battle of Cassino in full swing, and it must be won. This is my fifteenth St. Patrick's Day on parade with the Regiment and the fifth on active operations not counting Constantinople and Gibraltar in 1922-24. Good luck to you all."

Dinners followed and great credit is due to the Quartermaster and his staff for the magnificent meal provided. The battalion then quietly disappeared to "sleep it off" and the rest of the day was free. There was a very successful party in the Sergeant's Mess in the evening, lasting until the early hours, when one well known character was seen to give the sentry on the door a tip, and tell him to call a taxi?.

Saturday 18th March 1944

Vesuvius today began an alarming series of eruptions unparallelled in violence since 1929. By night especially the fiery streams of molten lava, moved slowly down the mountain side provide a magnificent and unforgettable sight.

Within the battalion the day passed quietly.

Sunday 19th March 1944

Divine Services were held as usual. The Church of England service being conducted by a padre from the 201 Guards Brigade in place of Reverand Browning, 5 Grenadier Guards. About midday Lieutenant-General Lloyd, GOC London District, paid an informal visit to the battalion and spoke to several officers and other ranks.

The following extract from Part I Orders is printed below:-

St. Patrick's Day Parade.

The Commander-in-Chief wishes to congratulate the battalion on their fine bearing on parade.

The Commanding Officer wishes all ranks to know that the Commander-in-Chief purposely saluted the battalion before it saluted him, in order to show his respect and admiration.

Monday 20th March 1944

A quiet day - nothing of interest.

Tuesday 21st March 1944

Main Guard was posted for the first time since leaving Anzio, in Massaulbrense.

Captain T.C. Keigwin, MC, appointed Musketry Officer. Sgt. Kenneally, VC, appointed Sergeant Instructor Musketry. The isle of Capri has been placed out of bounds to all ranks.

Wednesday 22nd March 1944

Battalion parade this morning had to be cancelled owing to bad weather. The battalion proceeded to Castellammare for baths. An intelligence course at Brigade HQ, started today. Four officers and the Battalion Intelligence Sergeant attended.

The eruptions of Vesuvius are now becoming serious, and American transport is standing by to evacuate civilians from nearby villages.

Thursday 23rd March 1944

Drill Course for Lance Corporals started today. There was heavy rain early in the morning which later gave way to a dust storm; this dust, which had to be seen to be believed, was hurled out of Vesuvius every few minutes in enormous clouds which rose several thousand feet and was then blown over the countryside to fall like light rain. Civilians are being evacuated from the base of the volcano.

Friday 24th March 1944

All roads near Vesuvius have been placed out of bounds to all ranks not on duty, so as to facilitate the evacuation of civilians from the danger zone. So thick was the dust that 'Duties' were mounted wearing anti-gas eye-shields. In the evening, a Guardsmen's Dance was held in No. 2 Company's billets; dance music was provided by a section of the Regimental Band.

Saturday 25th March 1944

On the occasion of the battalion leaving the 24th Guards Brigade a farewell ball was given by the Commanding Officer at the Pensione Jaccarino, St. Agata.

Sunday 26th March 1944

The usual Divine Services were held in the morning. Main Guard will in future mount outside Support Company billets instead of the square at Massalubrense.

It is announced in Part I Orders that the President of the Supreme Council of the USSR, has conferred on General Alexander the Order of Suvorov, 1st Class.

Monday 27th March 1944

An officer's and Lance Sergeant's class started this morning.

The Commanding Officer congratulates Lance Corporal Hislop, Royal Corps of Signals, on the immediate award of the Military Medal. Lance Corporal Hislop joined the battalion at Wellington Barracks before it embarked for Norway, and remained with us until the battalion left the 24th Guards Brigade.

Tuesday 28th March 1944

A party of men who went on leave to Salerno several days ago returned tonight.

Wednesday 29th March 1944

Battalion parade cancelled. Companies held drill parades under their own arrangements.

Thursday 30th March 1944

Message of congratulation received from Officer Commanding 1st (British) Division, Major-General W.R.C. Penny, CBE, DSO, MC, on immediate awards to members of the battalion. Several men from the Convalescent Depot in Sorrento joined the battalion today.

Friday 31st March 1944

A quiet and uneventful day.

The National Archives (TNA) WO 170/1354 1 Irish Guards