By Con McGrath
Private Andrew Snodgrass recalls his experiences serving with The Irish Brigade at the Battle of Monte Cassino
“As an eleven year old,” writes Mr John Shiels of Strabane, then a resident of Lifford (having been born in Ramelton, Co. Donegal), “I recall meeting a local man who had a hollow on one cheek resulting from a bullet having penetrated his face. His name is Andrew Snodgrass who at that time resided in Conneyburrow Road, Lifford. He sustained his injury, in Northern Italy, while serving with the Eight Army.”
A regular reader of this series, Mr Shiels felt that the story of Andrew Snodgrass must be made known. Having established contact with Mr Snodgrass, who now resides in Canada, and probing for details the following remarkable story has come to light.
“I was born 6th of November 1925.” began Andrew, “There was eight of us in the family, I was the third oldest. My mother came from Ballina, Co. Mayo, she was Margaret Strong. My father, Ross, came from Strabane, Co. Tyrone. I was born on the Donegal side of the River Foyle, on a little farm.” Andrew considers himself a Donegal man, adding, “I still have a soft spot for the place.”
Andrew attended the Boys Academy in Strabane. “After this I went to the Wesley College in Dublin. In the city I used sometimes see DeValera. My father died suddenly before the war starting.”
In 1942, when returning as usual by train to boarding school in Dublin, Andrew made a detour that would have a very real impact on his life for the next three years. “I stopped off at Omagh and enlisted in the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.”
Andrew did not pick the Inniskillings by accident, as he explained: “The regiment I joined, the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, their recruiting ground was Donegal, South Tyrone and Fermanagh.”
Andrew had not just territorial reasons but family reasons too: “My father had a cousin Quinton Snodgrass, who served with the Inniskillings in the First World War. He survived, but one leg was badly damaged. There was some piece of metal left in his leg. As kids he would tap his leg and joke he was an iron man.”
“Another cousin of my father also served in World War One, he was a Surgeon. I never met him but I gather he died soon after the war. He was operating on a patient, and the gloves I understand got punctured and he got the same disease the patient died of.”
Not surprising than that Andrew can say: “I consider myself an Inniskilling man. They came from everywhere. We were all volunteers.”
“I was 16½ when I joined, the recruiting guy knew I was lying.”
Andrew’s sister Mrs Joan Baird told John Shiels: “Initially, unaware of what he had done, mother made contact with Andrew in Omagh to see him.” Speaking about this event Andrew said: “I convinced Mother to let me stay in the army. The British didn’t let young boys out abroad. I trained in Omagh 6 weeks, then they shipped me to a training battalion, which was the RUR, outside Ilford, near London.”
Eventually Andrew boarded a troopship, departing from the Clyde, bound for the Mediterranean. “We disembarked in Algeria, trained there for a while, and got put into divisions. We replaced causalities from the first assault on Italy. And by the luck of the draw I ended up in the Royal Irish Fusiliers, part of the Irish Brigade.”
From Algeria they sailed to Taranto, in southern Italy. Andrew recalls seeing local children, with protruding ribs, who were starving with hunger, eating tea leaves and hard tack.
Andrew’s battle experience, with the Eight Army, started in Taranto and continued up the Adriatic Coast before crossing to the Western side south of Cassino.
Referring to the long bloody battle on the Cassino mountainside as “hard to describe” Andrew instead shared some stories to illustrate his activity.
“It was all routine patrolling, and ambushing.”
“Most patrols were a night time thing; you daren’t show your nose at day time.
We were below, the Germans were above.”