Had the British been able to launch an Invasion in January of 1943 they would have found the island of Sicily almost defenceless but American caution meant the Invasion did not take place until July 10th 1943 which enabled the Axis powers to reinforce the islands defences.
The sea was very rough as 6th DLI splashed ashore in Sicily Captain Henry Eland Walton was in command of C Company during the Initial landings Walton was reportedly hit in the Stomach and was last seen by his men singing The Blaydon Races as he was washed away his body was later recovered and lies at rest in Syracuse Military Cemetery.He was 25 years old.Born in Witton le Wear, County Durham, in 1918, Henry Eland Walton had been commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the 6th (Territorial) Battalion DLI in 1938 his father had commanded the same battalion during the first world war.
Lieutenant ffrench Kehoe took command of C Company and using mines he had borrowed from the sappers blew holes in the barbed wire realising the company had been landed in the wrong place he quickly moved his company and elements of `A` Company off in the direction of Avola
Primosole Bridge 1943 During the night of the 13 July, 1943 part of the 1st Parachute Brigade was dropped in the area of the Primosole Bridge which stretches across the River Lentini in Sicily. It removed the demolition charges placed there, however, many of the troops had been dropped wide of the target and consequently only a small force was available to hold the bridge against repeated German attempts to recapture it. It was, therefore, essential for troops of the 50th Division to reach the Bridge sometime during the 14th or at latest by nightfall As 69 Brigade had so far borne the brunt of such fighting as there had been during the advance, 151 Brigade now took over from them. The three Battalions set out on a forced march of some 25 miles, the 9th Battalion leading, followed by the 8th and then the 6th. By afternoon the 9th Battalion was well over half way and by dusk, together with 4 Armoured Brigade, it was within a mile of the bridge.
Primosole Bridge 1943
During the night of the 13 July, 1943 part of the 1st Parachute Brigade was dropped in the area of the Primosole Bridge which stretches across the River Lentini in Sicily. It removed the demolition charges placed there, however, many of the troops had been dropped wide of the target and consequently only a small force was available to hold the bridge against repeated German attempts to recapture it. It was, therefore, essential for troops of the 50th Division to reach the Bridge sometime during the 14th or at latest by nightfall As 69 Brigade had so far borne the brunt of such fighting as there had been during the advance, 151 Brigade now took over from them. The three Battalions set out on a forced march of some 25 miles, the 9th Battalion leading, followed by the 8th and then the 6th. By afternoon the 9th Battalion was well over half way and by dusk, together with 4 Armoured Brigade, it was within a mile of the bridge.
6th DLI with Italian Prisoners of War
The paratroopers had bad news to relate. All day they had fought back repeated counter-attacks with success, but at about 7.30 pm, just two hours before the arrival of the 9th Battalion, lack of ammunition had forced their sadly depleted force to withdraw in the face of another counter-attack. With demolition charges removed, of course, the bridge could not be blown and the paratroopers were near enough to prevent the enemy planting any more. But the Battalions of the 151 Brigade were too tired after their forced march to fight a battle that night and the Brigadier decided to postpone any such attack until the following morning. It was not the Italians with whom they would have to deal but Germans of the 3rd Parachute Regiment, most of whom were veterans of the Crete and Russian campaigns and all of whom had been flown from the Italian mainland only a short while before. The country round about the Primosole Bridge is flat and open. The road running north from Lentini runs along the ridge and from about 1,000 yards south of the bridge a good view is obtainable not only of the bridge itself but also of the country beyond it. The bridge was four hundred feet long with a superstructure of iron girders about eight feet above a sluggish reed-bordered river. North of the bridge were two small farms, one each side of the road, each consisting or two or three buildings and a barn.
The road beyond the bridge could be seen running absolutely straight, between two lines of poplars, towards Catania. North of the river are thick vineyards, dotted with olive groves, to a depth of some four hundred yards; beyond them lies open country. Nothing, however, could be seen of the enemy positions nor of a sunken road some few hundred yards north of the river; indeed such cover as there was lay all on the enemy side of the bridge for the British side was completely flat and open. Both the 8th and 9th Battalions tried to snatch a few hours rest during the night. The 6th Battalion was still some way behind, after clearing un at Solarino, and did not arrive until later on the 15th. But at 4 a.m. the 9th was attacked by some Italian Armoured cars which penetrated as far as Battalion Headquarters before being halted. The Battalion antirank gunners quickly came into action and soon put an end to this desperate Italian bid from which there were few enemy survivors.
Sharp at 7.30 a.m. the 9th Battalion attacked as planned, supported by the fire of two Field Regiments. But the companies advancing over open ground were heavily machine-gunned before they reached the river bank and lost a number of men. Only a few platoons were able to cross the river and where they did so, ran into heavy resistance from Germans concealed in the vineyards and lining the sunken road which hitherto no one knew existed. Many were drowned in the river as they crossed. After fierce hand-to-hand fighting the Battalion's precarious hold north of the river was finally broken and those men who had gone across were driven back, leaving their dead and wounded behind them.
After this first encounter it was clear to the Brigadier that the bridge was a tougher nut to crack than had been hoped. Although a further attack by the 6th Battalion was planned for later in the day news had been received from Corps Headquarters that there was no immediate urgency for the capture of the bridge provided that a proper footing was secured on the far side by the 16 July. Another daylight attack would be suicidal; so the 8th Battalion's attack was postponed and timed to take place by the light of the moon at two o'clock the next morning.
The Battalion was fortunate in having the help of Lieutenant-Colonel Alastair Pearson - CO of the Parachute Regiment - in the operation. The information he provided was invaluable, and he offered to lead the attacking companies over the river at a crossing place he knew of, some hundred yards upstream from the bridge. Two companies were to cross here, then move back towards the bridge and when once they had captured it, the rest of the Battalion was to cross over it.
For an hour and twenty minutes before Colonel Pearson guided "A" and "D" Companies across the river the guns put down concentrations upstream of the bridge and a squadron of tanks and a platoon of machine-guns joined in the overture. For the last ten minutes every gun was concentrated on the area of the bridge. Then at 2.10 a.m. the two companies waded the river at two points fifty yards apart. Once across, the thickly planted vineyards made movement difficult - it would have been difficult enough by daylight - and platoons had to shout their numbers to maintain contact. However, the unexpected form of attack took the Germans by surprise and when the companies reached the bridge only a few of them were encountered. So far so good, wrote David Rissik in his book "'The DLI at War". Both companies established themselves across the Catania road, though "A" Company had to run the gauntlet of Spandau machine-gun fire to get there; and once in position visibility was limited to only a few yards due to the thickness of the vines, shrubs and tall grass for it was the middle of the growing season. Constant vigilance was needed to keep the Germans at bay.
Now it was the turn of the rest of the Battalion to cross the bridge. Colonel Lidwill, who was with the leading companies, had arranged a number of alternative signals for bringing up the Battalion; but when he got back to the bridge every one of them broke down. The mortar flares had got separated from the mortars; the wireless sets had got "drowned" during the crossing, and an R .E. Carrier with a wireless received a direct hit as it reached the bridge. Just at the critical moment, however, a War Office observer turned up at the bridge riding a bicycle. It was rather like a fairy tale but the C.O. dispatched him back to the Battalion to tell it to come forward at once.
Night fell and the Brigade prepared to deliver the coup de grace. Ibis was the task of the 6th and 9th Battalions who, shortly after l.30 am, forded the river upstream from the bridge area where the 8th had crossed the night before. They had little difficulty in crossing; but once on the far bank they encountered savage resistance from the German paratrooper who stood and fought it out until they either shot down their assailants or were shot down themselves. Movement was not easy through the vineyards and companies got split up in the thick undergrowth. As they fought their way forward in the moonlight they cleared up opposition in their path but inevitably left pockets of resistance on their flanks. "B" Company of the 6th Battalion, under Captain Reggie Atkinson, had just such an experience. Once in the vineyards it met intense automatic fire from the Germans in the sunken road and cleared tie Germans from it. Then they struggled on, using bayonets and grenades, to a position beyond it on the left of the Catania road. There, approximately one platoon strong and entrenched in a shallow ditch and a large shell crater, Reggie Atkinson and the remnants of his company were able to engage any Germans tying to advance up the road to reinforce the bridgehead and, what is more, to prevent any in the bridgehead from withdrawing from it. At dawn the Germans managed to infiltrate back into the sunken road and for a time they made things difficult for the Company; but for three and a half hours the enemy were kept at bay and finally driven back. This gallant action very materially influenced the course of the battle.
"A" Company of the 9th Battalion was less fortunate. It started out only two platoons strong and almost at once came under heavy fire. The advance was not made any easier by loose telephone and barbed wire lying among the vines; but the Company pushed on towards the main road and captured a machine-gun post and took three prisoners; by which time the Company Commander, Captain Hudson, found he had only fifteen men left. Heavy fire was then opened on this small party from their rear. So they began to withdraw towards the main road. As it got lighter, fire was opened on them from the road itself, but Hudson, recognising the Commander of another Company advancing on the far side of the road, managed to attract his attention and signal to him to attack the post on the road.
This they both did but were halted by very heavy fire. Hudson then found himself both short of ammunition and with only seven unwounded men left so he ordered them to make their way back to the Battalion as best they could. He himself was wounded and was soon afterwards taken prisoner. At about 6 a.m. the Germans counter-attacked with tanks, but the attack was broken up by shell-fire; and shortly afterwards both the 6th and 9th Battalions reported they were well beyond the bridge, At 7 a.m. some Sherman tanks crossed into the bridgehead and broke through the grapevines shooting at everything in sight. The effect of this added support was felt at once. The sunken road was quieter than for 24 hours and gradually white handkerchiefs began to appear in increasing numbers along the length of it. The Germans had had enough. By mid-day all resistance had ceased; over 150 Germans had surrendered; and their dead on the ground numbered over three hundred. The area around the bridge was a regular hell's kitchen; it was littered with smashed rifles and automatics, torn pieces of equipment, bloodstained clothing, overturned ammunition boxes and the bodies of British and German dead. It was a scene of terrible destruction and telling evidence of a bitter struggle in which neither side had asked or given quarter. There can have been few better German troops in Sicily than those who held the bridge. They were Nazi zealots to a man, but they fought superbly well and as their Battalion Commander was led away to captivity, Colonel Clarke of the 9th Battalion quietly shook him by the hand.
Apart from the British paratroopers the brunt of the fighting had fallen on the 8th Battalion who owed much to the conspicuous leadership of their C.O., Colonel Robert Peisley Lidwill, and to the countless deeds of individual heroism that occurred over the period of the battle. But when at the end of the fighting the three DLI Battalions counted their casualties they had lost between them five hundred killed, wounded and missing.
Six regiments were awarded the Honour which the Durhams, Parachute Regiment and the London Scottish elected to carry.
Company Sgt Major Selby Wardle 4451703
Company Sgt Major Selby Wardle 4451703 was a pre-war territorial serving with the 8th Battalion The Durham Light Infantry. The son of Robert and Isobel Wardle, of 21 Gardiner Road Chester-le-Street, Co. Durham (Former residents of Pelton Fell nr Chester le Street). .He and his wife Mary and son James lived at 2 Jubilee Terrace ,Chester-le-Street. A former employee at Pelton Fell Colliery near Chester le Street he was a Lance Sergeant in the TA where he served in 10 platoon `B` Company 8th DLI. During the BEF campaign in France 1940 he was fortunate to escape back to England following the British Army`s evacuation from Dunkirk.
Sgt Major Selby Wardle then served with the 8th DLI in North Africa 1942-43 and Sicily.It was during the Sicily Campaign that he was awarded The Military Medal sadly he did not live to receive the award.Sgt Selby Wardle died of wounds received in Sicily according to the CWGC on 13/08/1943, although correspondence to Selby`s brother quotes the 12/08/1943 as the date of death .Selby`s wife and son James received his Military Medal.
The short reply recieved by Selby Wardles brother Anthony who was also a Sgt serving with the RASC in the Middle East following his enquiry on his brother Selby`s welfare.
CSM Wardle was awarded the Military Medal for actions around the Primosole Bridge in Sicily During the action of July 15th and 16th which resulted in the establishment of The Primosole bridgehead across The Simeto river the above mentioned Warrant officer was Company Sgt Major of the second Assault Company
He was one of the first men of his Company across the River and throughout the advance to the objective he was always in the foreground.
Completely ignoring the enemy fire and encouraging his men.His Company suffered heavy casualties and his Company Commander was wounded but CSM Wardle carried on and the Company gained its objectives.A heavy enemy counterattack developed at first light but CSM Wardle had reorganised his men and it was beaten back with heavy enemy casualties.Enemy snipers were abundant and were constantly harrassing his men but he moved about amongst them encouraging them and he himself accounted for several snipers by accurate Bren fire from an exposed position.Several more enemy counter-attacks were tried during the day but the above mentioned Warrant Officer had the situation completely in hand by this time and beat them back with severe losses.
Throughout the action this Warrant Officer showed outstanding courage,devotion to duty and complete disregard of enemy fire,and was an inspiration to all ranks,and his outstanding courage played a vital part in the success of the operation.
Lieutenant E J Cousins wrote to Selby`s family outlining the circumstances of CSM Selby`s death....On the 11th August 1943 `D` Company of which CSM Selby Wardle was now part of at this time were one of the forward Companies, as elements of 8th DLI advanced down a side street in Giarre which is 16 miles north of Catania,suddenly without warning the enemy began to lay down a heavy concentration of shell fire upon the company`s position.Although many of the shells fell on the rooftops of the surrounding buildings,one shell fell into the middle of the road just in front of the advancing company,Sgt Major Wardle was one of the men who took the full force of the blast.One man was killed and seven others including Selby Wardle were wounded He was immediately attended to by stretcher bearers of the regiment before being taken to the Regimental Aid Post.Selby was then taken,apparently at his request,to 149 General Hospital, he died in 15 Casualty Clearing Unit from his wounds on the 12th/13th August 1943 he was twenty five.Selby Wardle was a Methodist and a memorial service was held at Station Road Methodist Church in Chester Le Street on September 12th .
CSM Selby Wardle lie today at peace and in Good company in Catania war Cemetery Section III. Row C. Grave 31.(Grave Photo Wikisicily.com)
The letters from Lieutenant Cousins to Selby`s brother `Tony` outlining the circumstances of Selby`s death in Sicily
Sad reminders the Graves Registration Label and CSM Wardles Cap badge which were kept by his family.
Newspaper clippings again kept by the family of 4451703 CSM Selby Wardle.
5677650 Lance Cpl Stanley Seymour Rose 9th DLI
On the night of the 14/15th July 1943 whilst the battalion was resting preparatory to making a dawn attack on the Primosole Bridge near Catania,seven Italian armoured cars suceeded under the cover of darkness,in penetrating to Bn HQ area.Here one 6pdr anti tank gun of which L/Cpl Rose was the layer,was sited in an open position on the side of the road.In great danger of being hit by the enemy Oerlikon guns who were firing in every direction.L/Cpl Rose held his fire until the nearest armoured car was only 30yds off.With his first shot he knocked it out.Then he was wounded.In great pain he continued to fire his gun until a second armoured car was destroyed andthe remaining ones routed.L/Cpl Rose had shown exceptional coolness and bravery in the most difficult circumstances.It was due to the sucessful handling of his gun that the enemy force was beaten off before they could inflict real danger to the Battalion
4039943 Lance-Sergeant Patrick Daly 9thDLI
As soon as his platoon reached the far bank enemy automatics and snipers opened up on all sides from the reeds and vineyards at very close range.4039943 Sgt Patrick Daley showed splendid leadership and great courage in the hand to hand fighting.
Further counter attacks by the enemy forced the platoon back into the river where the water was deep.Soon three men were shouting for assistance from drowning,Sgt Daly quickly threw off his equipment and re-entered the water in the face of close aimed small arms fire on the bank and regardless of danger endeavoured to rescue the drowning men.He remained in the water for fifteen minutes and suceeded in bringing ashore two of the men under constant fire of automatic weapons.Throughout this day Sgt Daley had inspired all members of his company by his great personal valour and magnificent leadership
3191164 CSM John Ritchie Hannah 8th DLI
3191164 CSM John Ritchie Hannah was Company Sergeant Major of the leading assaulting Company when the 8th Battalion DLI secured a bridgehead across the Simeto River on the night 15/16 July 1943. he led his men splendidly across the river and was one of the first men on the objective. the Company was heavily counter-attacked the next morning and was forced to withdraw. One platoon was some distance away and the sergeant major went himself to warn them to withdraw. During the withdrawal this platoon and the CSM were separated form the rest of the Company. He then withdrew his men across the river and made a detour, crossing the river again higher up where he found the rest of the Company and assisted his Company Commander in organising a new position. During the day of the 16 and 17, the Company was constantly under heavy machine-gun, mortar and shell fire, but he was always amongst his men, cheering them on and keeping them continuously supplied with ammunition and water. Throughout the two days his devotion to duty and complete disregard for his own safety was a magnificent example to his men and was a very vital factor in the Company maintaining the position until the enemy were forced to surrender.
Hannah was born in July 1918 in Eastriggs, Dumfries & Galloway, he was employed as a carpenter before he joined the Army in 1939. He served with the 8th Battalion DLI during the Second World War in Africa, Italy, Sicily, France and Germany. As a Company Sergeant Major in Sicily he gained the Military Medal for his bravery during a battle around the Simeto River in 1943 he was later commisioned into the battalion After leaving the Army, he worked as a civil engineer. John Richie Hannah died in February 2004
John Scott Burnett Holt was born in
288944 Lieutenant Holt rejoined his battalion on the 22nd May 1943 in preparation for the invasion of Sicily Lieutenant Holt saw action with the 6th DLI at the Primosole Bridge.Following this action on the 25th July 1943 Lieutenant Holt led two platoons of `B` Company onto a railway bridge near Fosso Bottaceto which they briefly occupied before being forced to withdraw with three men wounded.
Lieutenant Holts promotion was not announced in the London Gazette until the 31st August 1943 by this time the brave Lieutenant was already dead. On 6 August 1943, near
Lieutenant John Scott Burnett Holt was killed along with two other men and the rest of the patrol were taken prisoner.News of his death and the fate of the patrol was delivered by a local civilian who had been tasked by the German Lieutenant whose men had engaged the Durham`s patrol .
The note which the civilian delivered paid tribute to the gallantry of the Durham patrol ,listed those killed and the whereabouts of the mens graves.The note also assured the battalion that those wounded and captured were being well cared for. John Scott Burnett Holt was 27 years old he lies today in Catania War Cemetery Section 3 Row D Grave 35
Lieutenant John Scott Burnett Holt (288944) The 6th Durham Light Infantry lies at peace in very good company in Catania War Cemetery Sicily Section 3 Row D Grave 35(Grave Photo Wikisicily.com)
3662261 Pte Harold Duckworth The 6th Battalion The Durham Light Infantry
During the action at Solarino on the morning of 13th July 1943 `C` Company were advancing towards a wood strongly held by Italians.The Company came under heavy small arms fire which temporarily held up the advance at a wall some 20yards in front of the objective.Pte Duckworth realising the position immediately ran from the cover of the wall,entered the wood and there he began sniping from tree to tree so successful was this action that the enemy were completely surprised and bewildered,thinking that they were being attacked from a flank and before and before long they all surrendered.There is no doubt that the surrender of this group of enemy was largely due to the bravery and iniative of Pte Duckworth.A further example of Pte Duckworths outstanding bravery and iniative was shown on the morning of 17thJuly 1943 during the attack made to enlarge the Primosole bridgehead .His company were holding aposition astride a sunken road and were being heavily sniped by German Parachutists with automatic weapons.Pte duckworth left his trench ans stalked a sniper while under fire from an automatic weapon and suceeded in killing the sniper with his rifle.he then spotted a further position which he later put out of action with a 2" mortar.Throughout both these operations Private duckworth showed great bravery and iniative and complete disregard for his own personal safety.
Born in Middleton, near Manchester, in 1910, Harold Duckworth originally joined The South Lancashire Regiment but was sent as part of a draft to the Middle East, joining the 6th Battalion DLI at Mersa Matruh in 1941.Following his Military Medal action Harold Duckworth fell ill with Malaria and was sent to to Egypt but after recovering he was not returned to 6 DLI but was sent with other barley fit and wounded men to Salerno in Italy. They had previously been told they were rejoining their respective DLI units however once ashore in Italy they were told they would be posted to other units and regiments as reinforcements.Angered at being deceived a large number of these men refused to join othe units and requested to be sent back to their original battalions,a request which was refused they were then classed as mutineers Harold Duckworth part in the so called `mutiny` but gave up before the end. After a brief spell with the 16th Durham Light Infantry he rejoined his beloved 6th battalion DLI.
He survived the war, Harold Duckworth lived and worked in Blackpool
4453511 Pte Richard Robinson 6th Battalion The Durham Light Infantry.
On the night of the 16th/17th July 1943 during the (6th)battalion attack over the River Simeto,Pte Robinson`s Company were given the task of clearing the left flank and forming a flank guard.The Enemy comprising of German Parachutists were concealed in the dense undergrowth and vineyards on the North Bank.Immediately after crossing the river the Company came under heavy sniping and machine gun fire.During the advance whilst endeavouring to clear this thick ground on their way to their objective, the company were fired upon again and again by the cleverly concealed enemy posts, with complete disregard for his own safety and although wounded in the arm,Pte Robinson on each occasion moved forward with his 2" mortar and successfully cleared post after post with the most accurate fire enabling his platoon to advance.This he did at least four times using all his mortar ammunition.His bravery and coolness under heavy fire was an example of the very highest order and an inspiration to the other members of his platoon
4453511 Pte Richard Robinson was a native of Sunderland and received the ribbon to his Military Medal from Field Marshall Bernard Law Montgomery(above) on the 28th August 1943 near Torre Venera. Pte Robinson was the son of Richard and Edith Robinson, of Grangetown, Sunderland, Co. Durham he was later killed in Action on the 10th September 1944 whilst serving with the 6th DLI in North West Europe he was 24 years of age.Today he lies in good company in Gheel War Cemetery Section 3 Row A Grave no 16.
4459865 L/Cpl George Worthington The 6th Battalion The Durham Light Infantry
During the operations on the River Simeto the battalion attacked a considerable force of German Parachutists on the night of 16th/17th July 1943,concealed in the very thick undergrowth and vineyards on the North bank of the river.Although by daylight Companies had gained their objectives they were pinned to the ground by numerous snipers which still existed and in consequence all movement was impossible.Thus it was not possible to collect the numerous casualties.No consideration was paid by the enemy to the stretcher bearers two of whom were killed at their work and on one occasion a casualty was killed on the stretcher carrying him away.It was under these conditions that L/Cpl Worthington worked with complete disregard to his own safety throughout the early morning of the 17th until all the enemy posts had been dealt with for nearly three hours he showed a truly magnificent example to the other stretcher bearers.
4464458 Pte Douglas Harry Saban The 6th Battalion The Durham Light Infantry
On the 17th July 1943 during the battalion attack to widen the bridgehead at Reitano the Company Sgt Major of `B` Company(CSM Pallas MM) was badly wounded.The Company had just advanced out into the open from the vineyards on the left of the bridge when the sergeant major was hit by a bullet fired from an enemy machine gun just on the edge of the vineyard further to the right of the companies position..After suffering further casualties from shell fire and been constantly shot up from the open right flank the company was ordered to withdraw to the line of the vineyard where it took up position in a ditch.Pte Saban who was attending to the Sergeant Majors wound as there were no stretcher bearers available,however remained out in the open,quite regardless to his own safety and did not withdraw to the cover of the ditch until he had completed dressing the wound.All this time shells were bursting within a few yards of him and he was plainly visible in the moonlight to the enemy machine gun posts on the companies right. The dressing was found later properly applied to the Sergeant Majors wound and might well have saved his life had he not received further wounds later.Later,when the objective had been captured Pte Saban deliberately risked his life by exposing himself to enemy machine gunners who were sniping company HQ from the rear,in order tooperate his 38 wireless set effectively back to Battalion HQ.Throughout the whole action this company (The only one for a very long time) was in communication with battalion HQ through this soldiers suberb coolness and bravery.
Pte Douglas Harry Saban survived the horrors of Sicily and took part in the D-Day landings he was,unfortunately Killed in Action on the 14th June 1944 at Verrieres (Please refer to North West Europe section for photograph of his grave)
162663 Lieut Philip Godwin Hampson The 8th Battalion The Durham Light Infantry
During the whole of the action of July 16th/17th 1943 which resulted in the establishment of a bridgehead position across the SIMETO River at the PRIMOSOLE Bridge this officer was always conspicuous for his exceptional leadership.He was in command of the 3" Mortars Platoon of the battalion and throughout the action he kept them firing from completely exposed positions.Any target which presented itself was immediately engaged by this officer who himself acted as OP for his mortars.He was always to be seen among the forward troops cheering them on and inspiring them with his own cheerfulness and self confidence.Wherever the enemy fire was heaviest he was present completely disregarding it and always looking for targets.He was responsible for the complete breaking up of at least three enemy counterattacks and any effort the enemy made to form up was immediately frustrated.
His cheerfulness,courage and devotion to duty and his obvious keeness for battle were an inspiration to all ranks and it was largely due to his untiring efforts that the bridgehead was maintained and finally won.
CSM Thompson, 'C' Company, DLI crossed the River Simeto during the daylight attack on the Primosole Bridge on July 17th with Comapny HQ immediately behind the leading platoons. As soon as they set foot on the far bank they were attacked by Germans on all sides. During the hand-to-hand fighting the Company Commander disappeared and both Platoon Commanders became casualties. CSM Thompson took charge. He organised the Platoons so that they fought off all efforts of the enemy to overrun his Company. Finally, realising they could not hold their ground, he skillfully arranged their withdrawal back across the river so that they suffered the minimum casualties. During the night attack on July 18/19th on the same position CSM Thompson took charge of a portion of his Company who became very split up owing to very well hidden enemy strong-points in the vineyards. When dawn came his small party were taking cover with most of Battalion HQ in a ditch only 100 yrds. from an enemy strong-point in No Mans Land where they were being shot up badly on both sides. CSM Thompson volunteered to crawl 200 yrds. back to get a smoke screen put down. So successful was the smoke screen that all the force got back without further loss.
Catania War Cemetery Sicily
2987671 Private Patrick McKeown Kay The 6th Durham Light Infantry
On the 6th August 1943 after the march through Catania enemy MG positions were encountered north of Canalicchio.After capturing an Italian post astride the road the company reorganised and Pte Kay,who was acting section leader was ordered to take up a position with his section covering the road.About mid-day the enemy became very active and it became apparent that he was working himself into positions from which he could engage the forward sections.After exchanging fire for some time the left forward platoon was rushed and forced to withdraw,but the enemy was soon pinned down again by Pte Kay`s section which prevented them advancing down the road itself or immediately on either side of it.To counteract this the enemy decided to work around the other flank and after manouvering through the orchards rushed and captured the section post on the right of Pte Kay.This left Pte Kay in a very exposed position,but instead of withdrawing he decided to go forward and occupy a wash-house which adjoined a farm just in front.The enemy spotted him going in and tried to turn the section out with hand grenades.Pte Kay,however kept them back with rifle and L.M.G. fire.At 5pm the Company withdrew to another position presuming that Pte Kays section was captured.Pte Kay however continued to resist all attempts by the enemy to drive him out and remained there entirely isolated till dark when he slipped out with his section intact and returned to his unit.It was later discovered after the enemy withdrew that the farmhouse adjoining the wash-house was infact an enemy strongpoint which had been manned by German Parachute Troops.Large quantities of Spandau ammunition had been left behind.There is no doubt whatsoever that by his great courage Pte Kay not only saved his section from being killed or captured,but also kept the enemy fully occupied while the Company withdrew to another position.He displayed the very highest degree of coolness and bravery and his leadership was an example to all.
14206449 Private Sidney Worthington The 6th Durham Light Infantry
During the advance of his battalion from Catania to Riposto in Sicily this soldier was acting as batman to his company commander.The Company was in contact with the enemy whose dispositions were unknown in the village of Alterello.Pte Worthington seeing an opportunity of using his own iniative proceeded to work his way up a dried river bed into the village in question.On entering the village he approached a German sentry and pretended to be one of the retreating Italians in the neighbourhood.In consequence he was shown two M.G. positions,a mortar O.P.position with the mortar itself,and noticed himself where the M.T. were parked.He also found out about the minefields in the neighbourhood.The sentry shouted for an officer who came down the steps of one of the houses.As he approached Pte Worthington shot him and the sentry with a Berretta revolver which had been handed to him for safe custody earlier in the day.He then made his escape to his company who later (entirely due to his information) with Artillery support,entered the village.All the minefields negotiated.There is no doubt that the enemy were dislodged out of the strongpoint through this soldiers outstanding daring and his coolness and iniative were an example to all the others in his company
3658132 A/Lance Sergeant Charles Richard Critchley The 6th Btn Durham Light Infantry
On the night of the 11th July 1943 the battalion attacked a considerable parachute force hidden in the thick undergrowth and vineyards on the North side of the River Simeto.L/Sgt Critchley`s platoon had a considerable portion of this extemely rough area to clear of the enemy.Immediately it crossed the river the platoon came under very heavy fire from enemy machine gun and sniping posts at close range concealed in the undergrowth.The platoon was momentarily caught off its balance but Sgt Critchley seeing the situation,took immediate control of the leading elements and moved forward firing his thompson sub machine gun with the greatest effect and encouraging the men with complete disregard to the enemy to the enemy fire.Sgt Critchley himself engaged several enemy posts causing them to withdraw and showing the highest example of leadership led the way straight to the Company objective on the edge of the vineyard,which was successfully taken all enemy on that flank being forced to withdraw.The outstanding bravery of this NCO was an inspiration and example of the very highest order and was to a large extent responsible for the Company arriving on its objective so quickly.
130505 Temp/Captain Dennis Arthur Neale 8th Durham Light Infantry
During the night attack 15th/16th July 1943 on the PRIMOSOLE BRIDGE the Company Commander of `B` Company 8th DLI was wounded Captain Neale immediately took charge and reorganised the Company. By first light all the Company Officers were either wounded or missing the Sergeant Major killed, but Captain Neale fought a very successful withdrawal action to a more favourable position, throughout that day and the next he held his company positions until the enemy surrendered, throughout the whole operation he showed no regard for his personal safety being constantly under very heavy artillery, Machine Gun and Mortar Fire and also being continually sniped. His splendid example of courage, cheerfulness and devotion to duty under very exacting conditions inspired all and played a big part in the successful holding of the Primosole Bridgehead.
75176 T/Captain Christopher Lowery Beattie 8th Durham Light Infantry
Captain Beattie was Company Commander of the assaulting Company when the battalion crossed the Simeto River and established the Primosole Bridgehead. He was first across the River and was quickly onto his objective. At dawn the next day the Company was very heavily counter attacked by German Infantry and compelled to withdraw. He did this so successfully that the majority of his Company were able to establish themselves in a more favourable position and they held this until the enemy were forced to surrender. During the whole two days of this operation this officer showed complete disregard for his own safety and was always to be seen encouraging his men where the firing was heaviest .His courage,cheerfulness and devotion to duty inspired all his men and although he was constantly sniped and under very heavy machine gun,Mortar and shell fire he never showed signs of fatigue. His example under exacting conditions for two days played a very big part in the establishing of the Bridgehead Position.
73424 Temp Captain John Angus Leybourne The 8th Durham Light Infantry
The above mentioned officer was second in command of one of the leading Companies during the night attack across the SIMETO River to establish the bridgehead around the Primosole Bridge on the night of July 16th 1943.His company ran into heavy opposition and his Company Commander was wounded but this officer encouraged his men forward and the objective was gained. Throughout the day of July 17th his Company was under intense Machine Gun and Shell fire and was being constantly sniped but the above officer constantly moved amongst his men encouraging them and inspiring them by his example. One machine gun post on a flank was causing particular trouble but this officer moved out towards it under very heavy observed MG fire and Sniper Fire and by LMG and 2 " Mortar fire he was able to silence it. Throughout the whole operation this officer showed outstanding qualities of leadership and devotion to duty. His courage and devotion to duty did much towards the high morale of his men and the success of the operation
Pte Joseph Duffin Stevenson Durham Light Infantry carried this document in his pocket it tells of the sacrifice of the DLI at The Primosole Bridge and the building of a memorial cairn near to the bridge to commemorate the fallen of 151(DLI) Brigade during the action.
The letter below is reproduced by kind permission of Josephs Grandson Greg
Copy of report by Lieut D Leslie 50th Div Observer for the English newspapers
A Grey stone Cairn faced with a white marble tablet has been erected in the Primosole Battlefield by officers and men of the Durham Light Infantry. In memory of their comrades who died in the bloodiest battle of the Sicilian Campaign.
The Cairn stands at the entrance to "Stink Alley" Close by the Catania coast road some 300yards north of The Primosole Bridge.
On the tablet is the " Durham Bugle "under it the following inscription
In a three day battle against `crack` German paratroops,whom they routed the " Durham`s" had some 500 officers and men killed ,wounded and missing .
Well armed and in strong defensive positions beyond the North bank of the River Semito ,the paratroops lost 300 killed with other 160 taken prisoner .
"An outstanding achievement" was how Major General S C Kirkham CBE MC Commanding 50th (Northumbrian) Division The Fearless Fiftieth described the `Durhams` success which he said formed a major part of the Army Commanders plan.
The Cairn which is about 7 ft high and 6 ft wide at its base was built with stone taken from the ruins of a German Pillbox, Two sappers and 11 men from one of the battalions constructed it under the instruction of Captain J N Wheatley (8th Bn) of Eastern Avn, Reading .
There was no unveiling ceremony, it was not possible to arrange one But the O.C the 151st Brigade (Brigadier R H Senior D.S.O. TD) who wrote the memorial inscription travelled specially to see the Cairn completed. He was accompanied by Lt Colonel R P Lidwell DSO (8th Bn) and Lt=Col H E Woods DSO MC (9th Bn). also present was Capt G Nesbitt of Heworth Burn Crescent Felling on Tyne ( RC Padre 8th Bn)
The seven mile run out from Catania was soon covered Right up to the Primosole the Catania plain stretches as flat as ones hand the blue asphalt road stretching for the last mile or two between a arch of thin larches and stubby black and white guide stones.
We passed a number of slow moving gaudy coloured Sicilian carts. We also passed a few burnt out tanks and a shattered German Gun Some bomb craters near the roadway the twisted wreckage of vehicles, here and there a roadside grave And on either side, up to the Primosole only barbed wire entanglements, a chance farmhouse or the hard line of the banked Fosso Botacetto, to relieve the brown monotony of the plain.
Primosole itself has been tidied up since I was last there, but the scattered crosses in the vineyards, the ruined farmhouse adjoining the wrecked pill boxes and shell slashed earth-these and more remain.
Stink Alley is mercifully, no longer the "Stink Alley" which the "Durhams" left on the last morning when they broke into this long, dusty, cactus fringed lane. But only partly concealed by the dust are torn pieces of equipment, clips of ammunition, broken, rifles. Plain wooden crosses mark the German graves.
Brigadier Senior was met by Captain Wheatley, who stepped forward and saluted, " We are just finishing it " he said
"A very nice piece of work" replied the Brigadier.
I looked at some of the "Durham`s" graves. Within 20 yards of the memorial are the graves of CSM Brannigan MM, Pte H Turner, Pte T Clark, Pte Coulthard, Cpl H Clutton, Pte Proctor and Pte Rawlings.
I talked too, to the men who built the cairn, They are Sapper A.W.Massey,163 Christleton Rd Chester, Sapper A Barriskell,28 Hawthorn Rd Little Sutton, Cheshire. Cpl H Jopling, 7 High St Shincliffe Colliery, Pte H Donkin 17 Custley Terrace, Craghead, Pte J B Lyons 20n Willow Crescent, Easington Lane, Pte R Wilson 37 Somerset Street, New Silksworth, Pte H Weedon 55 Greenways, Pinner; Pte W Leighton,45 Westwood Land, Walling Kent and L/Cpl R Aitken,1 Dorset Road, Gateshead.
We crossed the Primosole bridge and ate our sandwiches on one of the high hill crests beyond.
From there the view Northward across the plain is spacious, Etnas head was buried in cloud,but the villages in the foothills glittered white in the sunshine. and Catania looked very large ,very flat and sleepy. A few miles eastward the sea made a broad blue band.
" The men of the Durham Light Infantry sleep in a fair isle. "
4466811 Pte James Linskill KIA Sicily 18/07/1943 serving with the 8th Durham Light Infantry he lies at peace in Catania War Cemetery Section 3 Row B Grave 19 (Photo Wikisicily.com)
4466148 Pte John Robert Hardman son of Benjamin Hardman, and of Alice Hardman, of Ushaw Moor, Co.
4451490 Pte Norman Proctor served with The 8th Battalion The Durham Light Infantry husband of Ivy Proctor of Gateshead Co Durham Killed in Action 17th July 1943 aged 34 years Today he lies at peace in Catania War Cemetery Section 3 Row C Grave No 38 (Photo Wikisicily.com)
4469377 Lance Cpl Robert Harold Wild served with the 9th Battalion The Durham Light Infantry son of Thomas
3605934 Pte Thomas Cole Brown served with the 9th Battalion The Durham Light Infantry Son of John and Mary Brown; husband of Irene Constance Brown, of Cramlington, Northumberland.Thomas Cole Brown was KiA during the Battle for the Primosole Bridge,Sicily 17th July 1943 Today he lies at peace in Catania War Cemetery Section III Row B Grave No24
4079715 Pte John Henry Copleston served with The 9th Battalion DLI formerly of The Monmouthshire Regiment Son of Frederick Augustus Copleston and Sarah Jane Copleston, of Ebbw Vale, Monmouthshire John Henry Copleston died on the 16th July 1943 during the actions around the Primosole Bridge He lies in good company at Catania War Cemetery Section 3 Row D Grave No 10