We received a note and some photos from Colin Prentice, the son of Robert John Prentice who served with the 2nd Bn London Irish Rifles during the Second World War – he is seen below (directly behind Lt Searles) on guard duty with H Company for General Montgomery at Vasto in December 1943 as he prepared to leave 8th Army.
In his note, Colin told us:
“I remember Dad telling me he was in the London Irish Rifles and then later served with the REME.
My Dad was in the Territorial Army at Girdwood Barracks on the Antrim Road in Belfast and worked at Gallaher’s tobacco factory for over 23 years. When he retired he worked at the police authority in Belfast as security next to the Royal Ulster Rifles Museum in Waring Street.
I have enclosed a few photos of him, one with his two brothers who were killed in action in Burma.
Below, my dad is in the middle with brothers Alfred, left and David, right.
My Dad is top left below in the boxing team
Below, my Dad on the right with his men on exercise, with the REME I think,
I also remember my father telling me that he was a boy soldier.
He did get wounded himself in battle being shot in the shin and then was hit in the other leg – with a “dum dum” I think he called it. He was then injured in the head and had to have a silver plate inserted and I remember him telling me that the doctor said he might not last long but my Dad lived until he was 73.
At his funeral service in 1996, his army comrades – Joe Farrell at the front and Billy McCullough at the rear – would flank his coffin “
We have been contacted by David Jenkins, the nephew of William Jenkins who served with the 2nd Battalion (2 LIR) in Tunisia and Italy during the Second World War. In a moving note, David told us:
“I have been meaning to contact you for a while now in relation to my uncle, Rifleman William Norman Jenkins, No. 7020240 and his friend Rifleman John Slater Wilson, No. 7023037, who were both killed by the same German shell at Termoli on 6th October 1943.
Major Phillips from G Company sent a letter dated 5th February 1944, to my grandmother detailing how William and his friend John were killed. Here are extracts taken from that letter:
Unfortunately I was myself wounded shortly afterwards and have only recently returned from hospital. The circumstances of your son’s death are as follows – he was digging a slit trench with his friend, a lad named Wilson, in which to shelter from fairly heavy shelling which was going on, when a German shell landed right between them, killing them both instantly. He was well liked in the company and his death is regretted by all of us.
William’s remains were then taken for burial to the Public Garden off Main Street near the Central Cemetery in Termoli. At a later date, he was then removed for burial to Sangro River Military Cemetery where he and John Wilson are buried beside each other.
William Jenkins was born in Londonderry on 3rd December 1919 and had two brothers and three sisters. His father, Samuel Jenkins, was one of eight brothers who had fought during the Great War. Samuel had served with the 6th Inniskillings at Gallipoli and Salonika where he came down with malaria but would recover and go onto serve with the Labour Corps in France. During the Second World War, he served in the Royal Fusiliers with the BEF in France and was rescued off the French coast 10 days after the last man had been lifted off Dunkirk. Following this, he served with the Queens Own West Kent Regiment Home Guard in Kent. In July 1941, Samuel and his company were billeted in a castle when he got up during the middle of the night, opened a cellar door and fell down a flight of stone steps. He was taken to hospital with concussion but died of his injuries the following day.
By then, William had joined the 7th Bn Royal Ulster Rifles – on 21st October 1940 in Londonderry, where he had been an Apprentice Baker. His records state that he was posted to 2 LIR on 29th August 1942 when they were located at Cumnock in Ayrshire. The records state that he embarked from Glasgow on 11th November 1942 and disembarked at Algiers on the 22nd. On 19th April 1943, when the battalion were positioned north of Medjez-el-Bab in Tunisia, William suffered a wound to his left thigh and was taken to the 95th General Hospital B.N.A.F., where he wrote a letter home stating that ‘there was no need to worry as his leg was healing well’.
He was discharged from hospital on 2nd August 1943 and joined up with the 2 LIR again on 6th September 1943 in Sicily before they departed for the mainland of Italy. Sadly, my uncle would be killed exactly a month later during the battalion’s fighting defence of the Termoli perimeter .
I have been looking for information about William’s friend, John Wilson, for over ten years now and it was only recently that I had a breakthrough. I was searching through newspaper archives and found John mentioned in a Manchester newspaper dated November 1944. He seems to have come from Wythenshawe and was recorded as being with the LIR but for whatever reason the article stated he was said to be missing. There is also a picture of him in uniform.”
We are most grateful to David Jenkins for sharing his family’s story.
We have received a most moving note from Neil Willis, the son of 7017683 Corporal George Richard “Dicky” Willis, who served with the 2nd Battalion London Irish Rifles from 1940 to 1943.
In his note, Neil told us: “My father never talked about his experiences during the war but I managed to glean some information from him and my mother before they passed away. He told me that he had joined with friends from London and made the trip to Ballymena and signed up on 19th June 1940…
…My father did his basic training and saw his first action in North Africa but was shot and badly injured at Points 279/286 near Bou Arada in Tunisia on 20th/21st January 1943. The Germans overran his position and he sustained machine gun wounds to his upper left leg – one round passing through his thigh and then through his lower right leg. He was attended by a German medic who undoubtedly saved his life and the medic stayed with him until a counter attack drove the Germans back to where they had come from.
My father was taken to a field hospital and then he was shipped back to the UK before spending a long period of rehabilitation at Roehampton Hospital but unfortunately he had already lost his left leg from just above the knee. He used to say that his favourite memory of the time in hospital was being given a pint of stout each day!”
Corporal Willis was medically discharged on 30th September 1943 and, after working for British Petroleum for more than 20 years and as a bookkeeper in the Brighton area, George died of a heart attack at the age of 66 in 1981.
On Loos Sunday, we were delighted to meet the son and grandson of Rifleman Thomas Charles Hatton, who served with the 1st Battalion in the UK from April 1940 to June 1942.
His son, also named Tom, explained to us that soon after joining up, his father was based in Kent where the battalion was helping the return of the Dunkirk evacuees. After this, they would continue to be positioned in the south east of England during the Battle of Britain period and then spent time at Bognor Regis before the London Irish Rifles moved onto Essex in 1942. It was during this latter period that Rifleman Hatton was seriously injured in a training accident that led him to be formally discharged from army service on 4th June, a few months before the 1st Battalion were to go overseas to the Middle East.
After returning to his wife Daisy and baby son in south London and, despite the effects of his war time injuries, Tom was able to live a very long and eventful life well into his 90s.
During the visit to Connaught House, Tom Hatton jnr shared a few photos and details of his father’s war time service with us.
It was marvellous to learn more about Rifleman Tom Hatton’s war time service and meet his son and grandson who, perhaps unsurprisingly, is also called Tom !
Within our extensive archives, we have recently re-discovered a document that sheds a fuller light on the recent history of the London Irish Rifles during periods of both war and peace.
Historians of a certain vintage, especially those who occasionally like to embellish the truth, are likely to be view these valuable insights in the same way as the discovery of the remains of ‘The Piltdown Man’. The authorship of the narrative below can probably be traced to some of the more upstanding members of our esteemed Regiment and we are delighted to add it to our annals for future historical research.
Like all good stories, it starts on a Sunday morning in early September 1939.
“1939-1945: Disgruntled Austrian corporal, annoyed that in his view the London Irish Rifles had previously changed sides – having fought for ze Germans in the 1870s, and then went on to beat his Hunnish buddies in the Great War – invades Poland. This sparks off another big war. Spin doctors realise that calling this the ‘Greater War’, which is the linguistically logical progression, might sound incorrect, plump instead for the Second World War. The LIR, never having heard of Poland, down their pints and enter the fray, but then get sent to a desert a couple of years later (Editor’s note – they were also sent to a djebel or two). They find Germans there, and bump them off, whilst getting killed in return. The Germans scarper across the Med, and sensing victory, the LIR chase them all the way from Sicily to Austria, sneering….or, in other words, winning.
Wer wird uns trennen.
1945-1989: The LIR go back on the beer, assuring themselves that after showing their prowess three times in the past (four if you count the Franco-Prussian thing), no foreigner is going to be stupid enough to kick off another scrap. The lads are told that funny Russian blokes called Communists and who want everyone to have no money, apart from those in charge, want to invade. The chaps shrug, thinking that this sounds very much like how things are in London. They are told that this is the “Cold War”. The boys look at black and white slides of T-52s T-64s, and T-72s, and are trained to shoot at these monsters with Charlie Gs that have wildly bent iron sights. Sighing, they go and see Eric for more drinks after each boring lesson. The Soviets decide not to invade Western Europe, having heard about the LIR’s nonchalance. The LIR win – of course.
кто нас разлучит
1989-2003: Drinks are on the house!!! Another win!!!…Cold War over!!!..In this hiatus period, the LIR continues to run one of the best TA recruiting centres in London, the ORs’ bar, subsequently re-named Mulqueen’s, is named after an incumbent who had worked for both the British and the Germans, very like some of his predecessors…winning every time.
In July 2018, Pearse Kelly was presented with his 7 years service Fórsa Cosanta Áitiúil (Reserve Defence Forces) medal by Commandant Richard Armstrong at McKee Barracks, Dublin.