Sunday, December 25, 2005

Piping Picture for Christmas Week

The picture, shot on Christmas Day, 1944, somewhere in the freezing mountains of the Abruzzi, is taken from Colin Gunner's riveting story of the Irish Brigade's campaigns during the second world war, Front of the Line. Note the two drone pipes played in this Irish battalion. Here is Gunner's description of that day:

The road to Rionero snaked and twisted and always rose higher into the sea of peaks, but the sun shone and some of the marching troops had their jackets slung that warm and spring-like morning until the sky filled like a cistern, the day becme twilight, and the wind, the child of Heaven, came bellowing and cryng down from the now invisible hieghts. Snow we had never dreamed existed hit us, flakes that hissed on the engine covers, hissed, hit again, and choked exhausts and vents; snow that blotted out the carrier in front and drove the marching troops into the lee of any vehicle that could be seen in the white, grey, black bedlam of whistles and wind squalls.

Every carrier became its own little world, every man his own igloo as we struggled on to Rionero and hoped for cover and warmth. The Germans had denied us that by the simple means of attaching a Teller mine to every wall in the village and exploding them. To rub it in they had written up: 'Hope you like your winter billets, Tommy.", on the signpost outside the village. So it was, that when we did slither into the village it only resembled a white ruin with the odd wall or chimney sticking up out of the drifts. Those who got there scratched around like weasels for some hole to burrow in or simply slung a cover over the carriers and, running the engines until the petrol gave out, crouched in them all night.

. . . . .

It was homely when night fell and the great crests glistened in the moon and starlight to hear the old familiar banshee wail of the pipes as [Adjutant] Brian Clark ordered the duty piper to play 'Officer's Mess' outside their shored-up cowshed and let the world know that tempests may rage but the machine of the Regiment grinds on, and it was to this lamplit hovel that a written note bade me report for dinner.