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Lance Sergeant William Donaldson.
We have been contacted by the family of Lance Sergeant William John Donaldson, who served with the 2nd Battalion London Irish Rifles (2 LIR) during the Second World War before he was killed, at the age of 21, in Italy during May 1944.
Elizabeth Longman, William's niece, told us in her note:
"William was brought up in a small village called Moneynick, near Toome, on the north side of Lough Neagh. At the outbreak of war, he joined up with the London Irish Rifles in Northern Ireland and through my father, William's brother, I still have his cap badge and have been attending the Cenotaph March Past for the past two years with the Monte Cassino Association on his behalf."
From the war diaries, it appears that L/Sgt Donaldson had travelled to North Africa with 2 LIR and was wounded during the bitter fighting near Bou Arada, Tunisia in the early part of 1943. He was hospitalised in Algeria but would re-join the battalion on the mainland of Italy in the early part of 1944 as they prepared to join in the prolonged series of battles near Monte Cassino. William Donaldson was killed on 16th May 1944 during 2 LIR's successful assault on the German defensive strong points at Sinagoga.
"I guess the service records will totally clarify things. This detail fits with the information that I have, albeit it's quite sketchy. When my father died two years ago, I found additional relevant information about Billy, as he was known. My father never really talked about him, but as far as I am aware Billy wanted to follow my father into the RAF, but ended up, as we know, in the London Irish Rifles. This has whetted my appetite to research his service record further."
From a notebook sent back to William's family, it is further clear that he served with 17 Platoon (H Company) under the command of Lt Michael Clark MC, who would also be killed at Sinagoga.
In memory of the men serving in 17 Platoon, we list the names of those noted by L/Sgt Donaldson to have been present with the platoon during April and May 1944:
Lieut MOW Clark MC (kia), Sgt Stokes, L/Sgt Donaldson (kia), L/Cpl Edge, Rfn Williamson, Rfn Sullivan, Cpl Dean (kia), Cpl Martin, Rfn McKee, Rfn Anderson, Rfn Jarvis, Rfn Whitehead, Rfn Cranfield, Rfn Grogan, Rfn Morley, Rfn Burrows, Rfn Stokes, Rfn Pritchard (kia), L/Cpl Todd, L/Cpl Brodie (kia), Rfn Duggan, L/Cpl Roberts (kia), Rfn McClanaghan, Rfn O'Leary, Rfn McAnavery, Rfn Shields, Rfn Rands, Rfn Barrett, Rfn Powell, Rfn Meldrum (kia), L/Sgt Sye DCM (kia), Rfn Todd. Rfn Stewart, Rfn Dean.
Sergeant Alfred Cook
At the recent Remembrance Sunday parade at Connaught House, we were absolutely honoured to meet with veteran Alfred Cook, who served with the 1st Battalion, London Irish Rifles (1 LIR) during the Second World War.
Alfred had travelled with the battalion when they left Liverpool in August 1942 and remembered visiting South Africa and India before arriving in Iraq in November. After spending a rather dispiriting six months in the north of the country near Kirkuk, the battalion would travel back to Egypt in April 1943.
Over the next two years, Alfred would be in the front line with 1 LIR, as they fought their way north through Sicily, during the battles at Monte Camino, Castelforte and Anzio before taking part in the desperate fighting on the Gothic Line in September 1944 and the final advance towards victory in Northern Italy during April 1945. By the end of his war, Alfred had been promoted to Sergeant and would spend the immediate post conflict period with the London Irish Rifles in the Trieste area before eventually being de-mobbed back to civvy street.
Alfred clearly remembers a number of events during his Army career - including the wonderful hospitality shown by the residents of Cape Town, where they stayed for a few weeks on route for Iraq. A particularly vivid memory was being present when the former Commanding Officer of the Regiment, Colonel Macnamara, was killed when he was visiting 1 LIR in December 1944. Alfred recalls "only being a few yards away" when the German artillery stonk came into the battalion's lines.
Now 97 years of age, Alfred lives in nearby Stockwell with his grandson Dean and partner Amanda, and displays a remarkable resilience and vitality, possibly stemming from his East London upbringing and his working period as a Docker. Alfred was married to Ann for 75 years before his wife died earlier in 2016.
A truly memorable life.
Drawings of Rifleman Herbert Bick
We were recently contacted by the nephew of Rifleman Herbert Benjamin Bick, who had served with the 1st Battalion, London Irish Rifles (1 LIR) in Italy. Rifleman Bick, known as "Ginger" was killed at Anzio during March 1944 at the tragically young age of 19 and is buried at the Beachhead Cemetery in the town. It is likely that Herbert had only recently joined 1 LIR in the desperately difficult circumstances of the bitterly fought defence of the Anzio beachhead.
In a note from his home in Norfolk, Robert Bick told us that his uncle was the youngest of six children and grew up in Merthyr Tydfil before his family moved to Ponders End. All four of Herbert's brothers: Robert, Frank, Fred and Arthur served in the Armed Forces and they and their sister, Violet, all survived the war.
Robert Bick also told us that his uncle Herbert had left a set of caricatures within his personal effects and he has kindly let us include some of these below.
We would like to send our fraternal Regimental greetings to the Bick family.
Exhibition at the National Museum of Ireland.
We were delighted to be visited recently by Lar Joye, the Military Curator from the National Museum of Ireland (NMI) in Dublin.
Lar was in London to give a lecture for the National Army Museum about the involvement of Irish men and women during the First World War and took the opportunity afterwards to visit Connaught House and enjoy a short tour of the Regimental Museum along with Curators, Alex Shooter and Nigel Wilkinson.
The NMI at the Collins Barracks has recently opened a new exhibition ‘Recovered Voices’, and this includes the detailed stories of 21 Irishmen and women, who took part in the First World War.
Within the exhibition, there is a section on Rifleman Ralph Summerland, who served with the 1/18th London Regiment (London Irish Rifles) before being killed at Loos on 21st October 1915. Rifleman Summerland, who lived in Willesden, is buried at Dud Corner Cemetery.
Rifleman Ernest Miles.
We recently received a note from the great niece of Rifleman Ernest Miles who was killed while serving with 1/18th Bttn, London Regiment near Ypres during June 1917.
A remarkable element of Rifleman Miles' story is that he is listed by the CWGC as being aged 17 years at the time of his death.. but, in fact, the family believe he may actually have only been 16 years old.
In her note to us, Nathalie Lemley explained,
"My great great Uncle, Ernest Elgar Gordon Miles, was a Rifleman (592603) in the London Irish Rifles 18th Battalion and was killed on 12 June 1917 in Belgium when aged 17. I am very keen to find out more about him and what happened to him when he went to war (family legend is that he was killed within three weeks of leaving home although I don't know of anyone who can confirm this). I have looked at numerous websites, and have visited his grave a couple of times, but unfortunately I seem to have limited information about him and cannot find anything new.... most of all, I would love to see a photograph of him. Hoping you can help me.
I have attached a photograph of his grave, taken in November 2013, at Chester Farm Cemetery, Belgium. I like to visit every year to leave my poppy..."
Nathalie described some further family background:
"Ernest was the youngest of eight children... and I did see today on Ernest's birth transcript that he was born in the third quarter (I presume either July, August or September) of 1900 so that actually made him just 16 when he was killed although his headstone states that he was 17, so we can only come to the conclusion that he lied about his age, or that he was a little more honest and the recruiter signed him up anyway.
Chester Farm is such a peaceful, small, cemetery and I did see a couple of other LIR soldiers' graves (a total of eight London Irishmen are buried there). I visited again just after Christmas and it was touching to see not only Uncle Ernest's grave but also poppies and wreaths on other LIR graves. I think it is so important that these men are always remembered, even though we have never met them. Uncle Ernest is part of my family just as much as my living relatives."
Loos Sunday 2014.
As D Company was at Annual Camp in northern Italy, there was a smaller parade than normal this year but a good turn out from the Association, Army Cadet Force and the Pipes and Drums complemented a beautifully sunny morning as Colonel Ian Denison took the salute. A Service of Remembrance then followed in the Drill Hall, which was conducted by Reverend Gary Piper.
Following the service, the Chairman of the Regimental Association, Peter Lough, was delighted to receive a plaque conferring on him Honorary Citizenship of the Municipality of Piedimonte Etneo and which honours the men of the two battalions of the London Irish Rifles who served in Sicily from July to October 1943.
Rifleman William Edwards
We've received a photograph from Association members, Bob and Gary Carlisle, of the final resting place of Rifleman William Edwards, who is buried at Dartmoor Cemetery, Becordel-Becourt, which is near to Albert in Northern France.
Rifleman Edward was killed on 16th September 1916 at the time of the bitter fighting for the London Irish Rifles at High Wood, near the Somme.
2nd Battalion in North Africa.
Another rather excellent photograph has been uncovered within the London Irish Rifles' museum archives.
This one shows the officers of the 2nd Battalion, under the command of Lt Colonel (later Brigadier) Pat Scott, when they were resting at Guelma, Algeria in June 1943. A number of familiar names and legendary reputations. It should also be noted that the battalion's Second in Command, Major APK (Kevin) O'Connor was later killed during October 1943 at the River Trigno in Italy.
It is also noticeable that the officers are wearing different shades of caubeen and this has been explained to us by historian, Richard Doherty:
"The officers are wearing a mixture of rifle-green and drab (khaki) caubeens, as well as St Patrick's blue and green hackles. All the pipers would have worn caubeens, but 2 LIR was the sole battalion in which everyone wore them. The 'Skins' adopted them after their 2nd Bn made their own in the Anzio beachhead and the Faughs then followed.
Officers and WOs in the LIR wore rifle-green caubeens with St Patrick's blue hackles while all other ranks wore drab caubeens with green hackles. Needless to say, the stores would not have been carrying a stock of officers' caubeens, since officers had to buy their own headgear, and thus the more recently commissioned and transferred-in had to make do with drab caubeens and green hackles. Pat Scott did manage to get a rifle-green caubeen!"
The London Irish Rifleman.
During a recent review of the LIR archives, we came across this rather excellent photograph of a steam engine nameplate that was included in the LIR's 100th anniversary commemorative booklet published in 1959.
When we contacted the National Railway Museum at York this week, they told us:
"The nameplate “London Irish Rifleman”, was attached to a Royal Scot Class locomotive of the London, Midland & Scottish (LMS) Railway. No. 6138 was built at the North British Locomotive Works, Glasgow and delivered to the LMS in 1927.
Originally named “Fury” after a famous locomotive of the London & North Western Railway (a constituent company of the LMS), the decision was taken to rename it in line with the policy of naming this type of locomotive after regiments of the British Army that had a connection with the LMS region, and in October 1929 the engine was renamed “London Irish Rifleman”.
The engine was largely based in the North West of England and North Wales, but was occasionally used to cover services run from London and Aberdeen. At the nationalisation of the railways following the Second World War, the locomotive was renumbered 46138 and remained in service until early 1963.
The engine was scrapped at Crewe in May 1963 having travelled approximately 2.5 million miles during its working life.
Unfortunately, I am unable to tell you where the nameplates now are or even if they survive."
We note the mileage of the engine, which may seem a quite familiar figure for both our Veterans and current serving Riflemen.
"Further to the previous information, we can confirm that at least one of the nameplates for this locomotive survived but unfortunately we cannot confirm its whereabouts. The book “Nameplates on Display” by Ian Wright (Pennine Publications 1986) lists a nameplate and its associated regimental badge as being on display at the 'Big Four' Railway Museum in Bournemouth. The museum hosted the nameplate collection of Frank Burridge, a railway enthusiast, collector and author who had acquired a sizeable collection of nameplates. Unfortunately the museum shut many years ago and the nameplate collection was sold off, mainly to private buyers.
However there would have been two nameplates on the engine originally, one on each side, so there may actually be two plates out there somewhere. When BR was scrapping engines in the 1960s plates were often offered/presented to any organisations they were named after and I understand a number of the Royal Scot class regimental nameplates are in the hands of the relevant regimental museums as a consequence of this. However BR was also selling plates for relatively small amounts of money to interested enthusiasts and collectors who approached them so the plates are often still in private ownership."
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