The very good Second World War Italy Attack on Casa Spinello 23rd October 1944 ‘Immediate’ Military Medal group awarded to Corporal later Colour Sergeant E.W. Flavell, 2nd Battalion, London Irish Rifles, later 1st Battalion, London Irish Rifles - Royal Ulster Rifles, who having seen service in North Africa where his battalion became the first unit to enter Tunis in May 1943, would have then seen service in Sicily before landed at Taranto in September 1943. It was for his gallantry in action during the attack on Casa Spinello on 23rd October 1944 that Flavell earned his ‘immediate’ award of the Military Medal, when he was wounded in action. When commanding one of the sections that was giving close fire support during the attack, at about 1900 hours, after the attack had succeeded, he was wounded in the thigh. Although he had every opportunity to be evacuated to the R.A.P. he remained at his post keeping his gun firing as counter attacks were beginning to come in. Another company with extra ammunition and grenades was ordered up to reinforce but ran into a minefield. Flavell then volunteered with the help of another man to guide them round it to his own company position. This he accomplished in the dark, over rough country and under heavy enemy defensive fire. Only after this did he allow himself to be evacuated, he having displayed gallantry, devotion to duty and disregard of the fact that he was in great pain, which resulted in much needed men and ammunition arriving at the correct spot in time. He later re-enlisted post war, and was serving as a Colour Sergeant with the 1st Battalion when awarded the Coronation Medal 1953.
Group of 7: Military Medal, GVI 1st type bust; (6351125 CPL. E.W. FLAVELL. LOND.IR.RIF.); 1939-1945 Star; Africa Star; Italy Star; Defence Medal; War Medal; Coronation Medal 1953.
Condition: Good Very Fine.
Together with the following:
Recipient’s Buckingham Palace forwarding slip for the Military Medal, issued in the name of: ‘6351125 Cpl. E.W. Flavell, M.M. London Irish Rifles, The Royal Ulster Rifles.’
Recipient’s Coronation Medal 1953 Award Certificate, issued in the name of: ‘22243061 Colour-Sergeant E.W. Flavell, M.M., 1st Bn. London Irish Rifles.’
Also sold together with a heavily polished Royal Ulster Rifles other ranks cap badge and London Irish Rifles green hackle for mounting on the caubeen, and a copy of the book ‘Times at War’ by Nicholas Mosley, hardback, first published 2006, in which the action in which Flavell won his Military Medal is mentioned.
Ernest William Flavell was born on 20th August 1922 in East Ham, London, and by 1939 was working as a general labourer at a chemical works, and living at 410 Lonsdale Avenue. With the Second World War Flavell then enlisted into the Territorial Army as a Rifleman (No.6351125) into the 2nd Battalion, London Irish Rifles. Flavell then saw service with this battalion as part of the 38th Irish Infantry Brigade, 78th Division in North Africa and Italy.
The 2nd Battalion sailed from Greenock to Algiers along with the rest of 38th (Irish) Brigade in November 1942, before seeing its first action in northern Tunisia near Bou Arada in December 1942. The battalion faced a bitterly fought six month campaign struggle in the djebels west of Tunis before becoming the first marching troops to enter the city in May 1943. They were in action again in Sicily during August 1943 and then crossed to Taranto on the mainland of Italy at the end of September 1943. The battalion fought throughout the Italian campaign, apart from a two month break in Egypt, seeing fighting at Termoli, the Sangro river, Cassino, Lake Trasimene, Monte Spaduro and at the Argenta Gap.
It was whilst in action in Italy at Casa Spinello on 23rd October 1944 that Flavell, by then a war substantive Corporal, was wounded and won an ‘immediate’ award of the Military Medal for bravery in the field, the award being published in the London Gazette for 12th April 1945.
The original recommendation for Flavell’s ‘immediate’ award of the Military Medal reads as follows: ‘Corporal Flavell was commanding one of the sections that was giving close fire support during the attack on Casa Spinello on 23 October 1944. At about 1900 hours, after the attack had succeeded, he was wounded in the thigh. Although he had every opportunity to be evacuated to the R.A.P. he remained at his post keeping his gun firing as counter attacks were beginning to come in. Another company with extra ammunition and grenades was ordered up to reinforce but ran into a minefield. Corporal Flavell volunteered with the help of another man to guide them round it to his own company position. This he accomplished in the dark, over rough country and under heavy enemy defensive fire. Only after this did he allow himself to be evacuated. This N.C.O’s gallantry, devotion to duty and disregard of the fact that he was in great pain resulted in much needed men and ammunition arriving at the correct spot in time, and is worthy of the highest praise.’
A much more detailed account of the action in which Flavell won his Military Medal is detailed below, and is taken from a website detailing it:
‘After several abortive attempts to make a breakthrough at Monte Spaduro, on 23rd October 1944, the 2nd Battalion, London Irish Rifles (2 LIR), were ordered to assault and occupy the strongpoint of Casa Spinello, which was a key position on the approach to the Spaduro ridge.
During the afternoon, a patrol from E Company, led by Lieutenant Desmond Fay MC, accompanied by Sergeant William Farthing and Riflemen McWilliam and Fitzmaurice, was sent out on a mission to find out the layout of the German defensive positions in the area. This they were able to do successfully as they brought back a prisoner, who divulged details that allowed a plan to be formed for the occupation of Spinello and the assault would be undertaken later in the day.
Desmond Fay would later describe the approach that he took that day with typical infantryman understatement:
“It really was a matter of skill rather than bravery. We covered ourselves in mud and we advanced along dead ground, where we could not be seen by the Germans.”
An except of Lieutenant Fay’s citation for the Military Cross (MC) highlights the true nature of the patrol’s exploits:
“…(Lt Fay) left his two Riflemen under cover and advanced with the Sergeant over open grassland to the farm at the front edge of which he found a slit trench which contained three Germans one of whom he shot, the second escaped whilst the third he took prisoner and brought back to Battalion HQ. The garrison, although over 30 men strong and backed up by a Company on a nearby feature, were completely taken by surprise. This prisoner gave much information which helped greatly in the capture of the farm which took place two or three hours later….”
You can read here further details of Desmond’s Fay mission for which he was awarded a bar to a previously awarded Military Cross.
As a result of this remarkable success, a platoon from E Company, led by Lieutenant Nicholas Mosley, was sent out in the early evening and, under heavy fire, entered Casa Spinello and were then able to beat off a series of counter attacks over the next few hours.
Desmond Fay brought up his platoon in support and, despite being wounded, E Company commander, Major Mervyn Davies, was able to arrange much needed supplies and ammunition to be sent forward.
In his memoir, ‘Time at War’, Nicholas Mosley would describe the hours that his platoon spent at Casa Spinello:
“…During the night, three or four counter attacks did come in from the further hills but, by this time, we were experiencing a strange exhilaration. We felt invulnerable, heroic; when we heard Germans approaching, we opened fire with all our weapons from every opening in all directions. I remember one man, who had lost his spectacles and could find no room at a window, firing his rifles repeatedly straight up in the air.
We yelled and whooped our war cry – ‘Woo-hoo Mahommet!; – and blazed away until the attacks seemed to fade into the thin night air. It was all quite like, yes, an apotheosis of a mad apocalyptic children’s game. Only once, I think, did a German get right up to the wall of the house; he shot one of our men point blank through a window. Grenades usually bounced off the walls and exploded outside. After a time, things quietened down. Our wireless was not working so, at least we were out of touch with headquarters so they could not order us to do anything different….”
As a result of the occupation of Casa Spinello, other units of 78th Division, including 2 Innisks, were able to overwhelm Monte Spaduro that same night and this would establish a base for possible forward progress towards the northern Italian plains but the onset of winter rains intervened and further operations in the sector soon had to be suspended.
Six London Irishmen, including Major Ronnie Boyd MC and Lieutenant John Bruckmann, were killed at Casa Spinello and, a few days later, Sergeant Farthing would succumb to wounds suffered during the assault.
For their outstanding actions at Casa Spinello, Nicholas Mosley and Mervyn Davies were both awarded the Military Cross, and Corporals Tomkinson and Flavell received the Military Medal.
Nick Mosley’s MC citation would state that: “….After bitter fighting amongst the buildings, they were cleared of the enemy except for two who maintained resistance from beneath the floor of a building. Lt Mosley personally disposed of these two with his tommy-gun and a grenade. His company commander becoming a casualty, Lt Mosley took over temporary command of the Company and rapidly prepared for counter attack under very heavy shelling and mortaring….”’
Flavell later re-enlisted into the London Irish Rifles post-war, by which time it was a part of its parent regiment, the Royal Ulster Rifles, and as a Colour Sergeant (No.22243061) with the 1st Battalion, was awarded the Coronation Medal 1953. Flavell died in 1994 when living at Vale Royal, near Northwich, Cheshire.