11th (Service) Battalion
Lancashire Fusiliers

"In May 1944 the Battalion left Malta and landed in Naples and from there proceeded to Afrigola for a few days before proceeding to San Martino. This again was only a stopping off place and after several days we were again on our way down to Brindisi for a further spell of garrison duties at one of the main distribution depots. In July we left Brindisi for the staging area at Taranto where, after a brief seven days and a pep talk from Major General Ayres, we left for the Guards IRTD at Cervanaro, where the Battalion was split into two companies, one to the Welsh Guards and the other to the Coldstream Guards as a reinforcement unit.

We sweated it out here doing intensive field training until the end of August when to the surprise of everyone we were again united as a Battalion and became a fighting unit of the 1st British Infantry Division and were soon on our way to the Italian Theatre of War after Capt (QM) T Broc achieved the impossible by equipping the Battalion in seven days.

August found us at Greave, overlooking Florence, and on the night of 29th/30th August we crossed the Arno and onto the outskirts of Florence where we had five killed and 18 injured on the first day and one killed and seven injured on the second day, which proved that sheer guts was not enough. The Brigade was now in position on the northern bank of the Arno, patrolling against the Boche who had mined everything possible, and the official report stated that the Fusiliers' first efforts were creditable but costly.

At the end of August the move forward began and the Battalion's confidence increased. The first major action of the Battalion was the attach on the Gothic Line, that endless toil of mountain after mountain coupled with the horrible conditions underfoot. Rations, water and ammunition had to be transported by mule train and man pack to the very summit of the Appenines under conditions which were almost impossible at times. This was a loosely knit battle in which manoeuvre and endurance paid big dividends. The cry was "push on" and the Battalion certainly did just that. On the southern slopes of Monte Cazzolano the Battalion got caught on a bare ridge and suffered heavy casualties but even this was not without profit as a flanking advance by another Battalion of the Brigade was helped to success by their action.

Day by day as September and October passed, the weather became colder and wetter and man and mule crawled their way up the mountain sides composed of liquid mud. On the way up Arrow Route towards Bologna, the Division was held up by the enemy holding two peaks commanding the axis. The first of these, Monte Ceco, was captured in a very gallant attack by another unit. To the 11th Battalion fell the task of completing the success by taking the second half of the feature. North of Monte Ceco ran a knife-edge ridge that ended in a pinnacle called Pt 734, and this was the objective, but there was also a subsidiary spur running east of Ceco which had also to be cleared of the enemy. During patrols, heavy enemy opposition had been encountered, and it was known that it would only succeed if completed with the greatest dash and courage. Just before dusk, after a short but intense artillery concentration, the Fusiliers went over the skyline of Monte Ceco. The distance of the objective was little more than 400 yards but every yard was a death trap and casualties were heavy. The leading company got most of the way but were left with insufficient strength to complete the task, so the reserve company, led by Major Walker, went in behind them and in the gathering darkness rushed the last position.

The Battalion had lost the equivalent of a company in this action, almost a third of the men employed in the attack. For this action, Major Lister was awarded the DSO, Capt Sawkins and Lt Wilcox the MC, Sgt Latcham and Fusiliers May, Denton and Gill received the MM.

Three more months of Italy in awful weather were proving a tremendous task, and in January 1945 the Division was pulled out of the line and left for Palestine for a so called rest and retraining. but this had not to be for shortly after arriving we were hastily despatched to Syria, to a camp outside Damascus. to keep an eye on possible insurrection in the capital, but as things quietened down, we returned to Padres Hannah in Palestine to keep a watchful eye on the Stern Gang.

After over four years abroad, the Battalion left Haifa for home on the troopship SS Franconia and four hundred officers and men arrived safely at Liverpool in September 1945.

After leave, the Battalion was stationed for a period at Guisley and Greengates near Bradford, and here the time-expired civvies went back to home and families, whilst the younger members of the Battalion were posted to Germany to join the ranks of the CMP.

In summing up, I must say that there is such a lot more that could have been said but sufficient to say is that we each have our memories of the XX The 11th Battalion which will forever live in our minds.

sent in by
Janice Crossley.
Daughter of Lesley Hill

Location Information

If travelling by road, from the A1 Rome to Milan exit at Firenze Sud. Go along the ringroad and take direction Pontassieve. The cemetery is a further 2km, on the right hand side.

If travelling by train , from the main station (Santa Maria Novella) take bus A14 to 'Girone' and get off at the terminal. The cemetery is 50 metres ahead on the main street.

Cemetery address: Via Aretina, 38 - 50061 Girone Compiobbi (FI) Tuscany.

GPS Co-ordinates: Latitude: 43.769756, Longitude: 11.342584

Visiting Information

The cemetery may be visited at any time. Please note however that the gates are kept locked outside of the gardening staff's working hours which are as follows:
Winter: 8.00am to 12.00pm and 1.00pm to 3.30pm
Summer: 7.30am to 12.00pm and 1.00pm to 4.00pm

Outside of working hours, access to the cemetery can be gained by entering 1221 on the combination padlock. To open the padlocklock, press the button on the lock after having dialled the combination number.

Wheelchair access to the site possible via an alternative entrance. For further information and enquiries please contact maoffice@cwgc.org

Historical Information

On 3 September 1943 the Allies invaded the Italian mainland, the invasion coinciding with an armistice made with the Italians who then re-entered the war on the Allied side.

Following the fall of Rome to the Allies in June 1944, the German retreat became ordered and successive stands were made on a series of defensive positions known as the Trasimene, Arezzo, Arno and Gothic Lines. Florence, which was taken by the Allied forces on 13 August 1944, was the centre of the Arno line and the point from which the attack on the German Gothic Line defences in the Apennines was launched.

The site for the war cemetery was selected in November 1944 for burials from the hospitals established in and around Florence but the greater part of those buried here lost their lives in the fighting in this area from July to September 1944.

After the war, 83 graves were moved into the cemetery from nearby Arrow Route Cemetery, when it proved impossible to acquire the site in perpetuity. Most of these burials were from the fighting in the Apennines during the winter of 1944-1945.

Florence War Cemetery now contains 1,632 Commonwealth burials of the Second World War.

Once the threat to Malta had disappeared,11th Bn LF sailed on the French ship Ville D'Oran to Italy, disembarking at Naples on the 21st May 1944.
They then moved by Lorry to a transit camp near Afragola.
The plan was for these heroes of Malta to be disbanded and the men to be sent piecemeal as reinforcement/replacements wherever they were needed.
Fortunately, common sense prevailed and they were kept together, but had to undergo a winnowing out process where only those still fit for battle were retained.
The newly refreshed and fully trained Bn was then sent to Greve, where they became part of 66 Infantry brigade.
The Germans were at that time withdrawing to the Gothic Line and on the morning of 1st September the 11th Bn took up the pursuit.
B and C Company were up fron having crossed Monte Rinaldo and immediately were faced by a minefield.
Picking their way cautiously through this,D Coy were engaged by enemy Mortar fire, killing one Officer and 4 Ors, as well as wounding 9 others.
A patrol from C Coy made a firm position on the outskirts of the village of Montorsoli and as an attempt was made to join them by A and C Coys,they came under very heavy mortar fire, well directed.It was suspected that a German Red Cross station, atop a hill, was direcing the fire and acting as an OP.Radios chose that moment to stop working, so no comms.
Heavy casualties.
The Bn were involved in a number of scraps during the next few days until on the 12th October the Bn was established on the Western slope of Mount Ceco.
Their mission was the capture of two features NE and SE of it's current position.
There had already been 5 failed attacks by other Units.
The plan was to attack at night against trenches,which got off to a bad start and at dawn the forward LFs began to take heavy casualties.
It became clear that a Company attack would not succeed,it would require at least a Bn attack.

During the recce for this Bn attack, the Germans opened up on a B Coy patrol with grenades and Spandaus.

Captain R P Sawkins attacked them single handedly, causing some casualties amongst them but was wounded himself and fainted from blood loss.
When he came round he found himself amongst other Fusiliers who had also been wounded and he set about treating them.he and three fusiliers crawled back to their Company and they were later joined by a fourth man who had lain doggo for 2 whole days behind enemy lines.
The Bn attack on Cico then took place and in spite of heavy losses managed to secure both positions.

Awards for gallantry were:-
DSO to the CO,DSO to Major Walker OC D Coy,2 MCs were won and five MMs.

Fus Gill won the MM exposing himself to heavy fire whilst cooly and determinedly giving help to a wounded comrade.

Heroes all.