1st Battalion London Irish Rifles in Italy

Discussion in 'General' started by Quis Separabit, Nov 12, 2019.

  1. Quis Separabit

    Quis Separabit Junior Member Patron

    Transcribed details of 1st Battalion London Irish Rifles entry in Royal Ulster Rifles "Quis Separabit" journal from November 1944 (apologies for redacted unit and location sections).



    "South Africa, 1900-02,"

    The Great War – 3 Battalions “Festubert, 1915" "Loos," “Somme, 1916, ‘18” “Flers-Courcelette”
    “Morval,” “Le Transloy,” "Messines, 1917," “Ypres, 1917,” “Langemarck, 1917,” “Cambrai, 1917,” “St. Quentin,” “Bapauma, 1918,” “Ancre, 1918,” “Albert, 1918,” “Pursuit to Mons,” "France and Flanders, 1915-18,” “Doiran, 1917," “Macedonia, 1916-17,” “Gaza,” “El Mughar,” “Nebi Samwil, "Jerusalem," "Jericho,” “Jordan,” "Palestine, 1917-I8"

    Duke of York's Headquarters, Chelsea, SW3

    A FULL ACCOUNT of the doings of the Battalion has been written, but unfortunately had not reached the Editor in time for publication in this issue of the Journal. It is hoped, however, to be able to do so the next time Quis Separabit is published.

    The following brief account has been compiled from a series of letters written to the Colonel of the Regiment when security reasons prevented the writer from disclosing much which would have been of the greatest interest to readers.

    The Battalion embarked in England in the autumn of 1942 on a voyage which lasted many weeks and which eventually landed them in Iraq, having visited South Africa and India en route. The voyage involved several changes of ship. These varied considerably in standards of comfort. They were generally crowded, but this was expected and cheerfully accepted by everyone.

    It is gratifying to know that in all the troopships in which the Battalion sailed the high standard of cleanliness and tidiness of the troop decks and the behaviour of the men were very highly commented upon.

    The inhabitants of a port of call in Africa gave the troops wonderful reception and showed the most astonishing kindness and hospitality. There was hardly a man in the Battalion who was not asked out for a meal or taken for a drive round the town to see the sights. In fact some of them became almost part of a household for the time the troopship remained in port. The great regret of everybody when leaving, was their inability to show some sort of return for the many kindnesses they had received.

    The last lap of the voyage was carried out on a Dutch ship, whose Captain and Officers were most charming and helpful in every way, and looked after everyone extremely well. Lack of space made training extremely difficult, but a certain amount of individual training was got through combined with talks people from other arms, and a daily P.T. period.

    On arrival in Iraq, the battalion went under canvas, and at first had to struggle hard to keep warm and make the camp more comfortable in the appalling mud and rain which were experienced. Various exercises including one large scale one were carried out in very bad weather before Christmas, and earned for the battalion favourable comment from the directors. Christmas Day was luckily fine and by buying early in the local turkey market and doing their own fattening up, enabled the cooks to produce a

    first-class dinner, which was followed in the afternoon by a very successful tabloid sports meeting run at full speed.

    St. Patrick's Day parade was somewhat spoiled by the non-arrival of the shamrock, but the Battalion were highly complimented by General Quinan on their turn-out and everybody was much impressed by the short talk he gave. The day concluded with a barbecue feast roasting whole sheep over open fires. This was followed by a concert and sing-song which went with a swing and was much enjoyed by everyone.

    The C.O. Lieut-Col. Ian Good and several members of the Battalion were attached to units of the 8th Army for a week, and arrived the evening before the battle for the Mareth Line. The whole party were very much impressed by the handling of the Artillery, the colossal weight of our bombardments, our air bombing which was visible and effective and the almost complete absence of enemy air opposition.

    Lieut. Gibson. the Battalion Mortar Officer, took over a platoon in a battalion, which were short of a Mortar Officer and got in some pretty shooting. His triumph was sniping a German motor-cyclist and bringing him down at the third shot.

    Early in the summer the Battalion lost one of its oldest members, Capt. J.Q.M. Toal, who left to take up another appointment. He was greatly missed by everyone and before he left he was presented with a parting gift suitably engraved by the officers.

    Iraq was not destined to be the war station of the Battalion and in the early summer, it embarked once more for a sea voyage. After a quite uneventful and comfortable journey it found itself one fine morning sailing into Syracuse harbour, piloted by a Sicilian pilot, complete with straw hat. He shook hands all round and welcomed everybody as if they were ordinary people arriving in normal times. He regarded the arrival of the Allies as definitely a good thing from his point of view.

    Disembarkation was followed by three days very hard marching to catch up with the battle, in considerable heat and uphill with very heavy loads, as the Battalion transport had not yet been landed. The men stuck it remarkably well and there were only a few temporary casualties due to heat exhaustion. The Battalion's first introduction to war came at the end of the third day, when a long-distance night patrol was carried out to confirm whether some bridges were held. It was found that the bridges were held and the experience gained by those taking part in the patrol was of the greatest value.

    The following day the Battalion was warned to stand by for an attack - orders were received during the afternoon for a night attack covered by a barrage. Only a long distance view of the ground could be obtained in daylight and it was not until later that it was discovered that the British F.D.Ls. were not so far forward as at first thought. This raised some minor difficulties.

    Hostile shelling was troublesome on the way up to the assembly area, but no casualties were sustained. The Battalion's objective was the two high embankments covering the South side of the Catania Airfield. As a result of an armoured recce, information was received just before the attack was due to commence that the enemy were pulling out, if not already gone. At the last minute orders were issued for a "silent attack, but

    apparently these did not reach a few of the guns or M.MGs. as they opened fire at Zero as originally ordered. The Battalion was the left Battalion of the attack, and on such a wide front, three companies had to be put up. All went well at first and night attack formations and drills practised in training worked very well, except for a few minor hitches, mainly due to the difficulty of getting wheeled vehicles and carriers just where they were wanted.

    When the leading wave had practically reached the German wire, it was quite evident that the Huns had not gone, and had no intention of doing so. They opened up very heavy automatic fire thickened with mortars and some guns, but the leading Companies continued the advance to their first objective. When, however, they tried to make further progress they were pinned down by fire from both flanks and in front. Unfortunately, the Battalion on the right were stopped further back and the Battalion which was to switch through the London Irish left and outwards, was not up at this stage. In fact, the outward swing never succeeded even later.

    Aided by our own mortar fire and artillery, the enemy's fire was sufficiently subdued to enable the Battalion to get into its second objective, where it found both its flanks in the air. As this would have left them in a very exposed position in open ground in daylight, a withdrawal was ordered and much to everybody's disappointment and with considerable difficulty, the Battalion fell back into line with the rest of the Brigade. The next few days were spent in holding a flat open plain, using shallow irrigation ditches some 800 yards from the enemy's F.D.Ls. as trenches and patrolling vigorously each night.

    It was not an easy introduction to war, but the Battalion acquitted themselves with great credit, all ranks showing great dash and steadiness throughout. They were congratulated by the Brigadier and Divisional Commander on their performance. Casualties were fairly heavy, some 8 officers and over 100 other ranks being killed, wounded or missing. After this initial attack the Battalion continued to chase the Germans out of Sicily. Most of the time it was extremely strenuous marching and working over close vineyards and lava rocks, up and down hills with only very narrow and rocky paths for supply - country ideally suited for a withdrawal.

    The Germans were very skilful at it not only in their timings, but in their placing of small numbers of men well supplied with weapons and ammunition. Some days they were met with and on others there was no trace of them.

    About half way through the campaign, when the pace was apparently too hot, the Hun stood and put up a stiff fight. It cost the Battalion some 45 casualties before advance could be resumed. Some days were most amusing, and everywhere the troops were received in a most welcome fashion. In one village the battalion was received with a sort of “battle of flowers and fruit”. The C.O. had a near miss from a melon. The inhabitants rushed to ring the Church bells and the “mayor" made an impromptu speech referring to the British as liberators and calling for cheers for Churchill and Roosevelt.

    Those who did not take steps to avoid it were heartily embraced by bearded and garlic-smelling Sicilians.

    The Battalion did not take part in the final phase of the fighting on the island but were billetted on the coast, which gave everyone an opportunity of bathing and

    getting rid of the lava soil which makes one filthier in a shorter time than one could have believed possible. After the conquest of Sicily the Battalion crossed to Italy and took part in the fighting. They found at first that the conditions of fighting were in many ways similar to those in Sicily, but that the Germans were not quite so skilful nor so tenacious or daring. Nor did they appear to have the same quantity or quality of equipment.

    For the first few weeks their casualties were light, but later on the fighting became more severe, and except for a short break at Christmas. They were kept hard at it for some time.

    The latest news of their doings was that they were fighting hard in the Anzio beach-head, and having a sticky time of it. News of what happened to the Battalion after the break-through and advance northwards, has not yet reached us, but we feel convinced that in whatever operation they were engaged they gave an excellent account of themselves and worthily upheld the reputation of the Regiment.
    Last edited: Nov 12, 2019
  2. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

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