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Some interesting photos of the London Irish Rifles, probably members the 1st Battalion, training in London during November 1939.
Some excellent photographs have been discovered at the Imperial War Museum (IWM) showing the intensive training manoeuvres undertaken by the 2nd Battalion London Irish Rifles on the cliffs near Haverfordwest in Pembrokeshire during October 1940.
As the ‘London Irish at War’ noted:
“Following Dunkirk, invasion became even more likely and work on the defences of Britain was intensified. The 2nd Battalion spent several weeks on local-defence duties in Knutsford, Cheshire, and subsequently underwent hard training at Haverfordwest. At the same time they had to be prepared to join in coast defence.
CQMS Edmund O’Sullivan recalled that period in Wales:
“Company training followed. We were bussed to Newgale Sands for a fortnight’s intensive battle preparation. This involved forced marches and long runs that culminated in nude bathing in the cold sea, watched appreciatively from a distance by local ladies. Route marches with full packs, stalking and crawling and field-firing using live ammunition were among the pleasures we endured under Captain Geoffrey Phillips, our temporary Company Commander. On the final Friday evening, he treated the whole company in the local hostelry as a mark of his appreciation for our efforts.”
There were occasional moments of ill-discipline. Rifleman Waddy Weir, worse for drink, attempted on three occasions to swim home to his wife in Ireland. After pulling him out of the shallow sea twice, I said on his third attempt: ‘Drown then.’ He did not, as the next day he was once more asking to borrow ‘fippence’ for a drink. We returned to Haverfordwest feeling more like soldiers, tough and prepared for anything.”
We have learnt of the recent death of former Rifleman Donald Zec, who served alongside his brother Philip with the 2nd Battalion, London Irish Rifles. Although we do not have full details (nor any pictures) of Rifleman Zec’s service period with the LIR, we do know that he created an illustrious post-war career with the Daily Mirror.
Donald David Zec, journalist, born 12 March 1919; died 6 September 2021
On Loos Sunday, we were delighted to meet with Sean Flynn, the son of Lieutenant Terry Flynn, who served with the 2nd Battalion London Irish Rifles during the Second World War. Although the details of Lt Flynn’s service period is not exactly clear, it is certain that he was serving with 2 LIR during its final advance through the Argenta Gap to the Po river in April 1945. He then went onto undertake peacekeeping duties with the battalion in Austria for the rest of 1945 and it seems that he may then have transferred to the 1st Battalion in 1946 when they were based in the Trieste area and completed his war time service with them in Italy.
During his visit to Connaught House, Sean Flynn shared some photos of his father as well as providing additional details about his background with previous strong family connections with the armed forces. We were also delighted that the Flynn family wishes to donate a number of interesting artefacts and some boxing trophies that Terry had won during the period of military training in the UK.
Sean went onto tell us that his father was born in 1923 and, after the outbreak of war, initially served with the Royal Armoured Corps as a “tankie” in North Africa and Italy before transferring to the LIR. It is probable that he was commissioned into the Royal Ulster Rifles after serving with distinction with a tank regiment.
As often was the case, Terry Flynn didn’t share too much detail with his family after the war but he certainly was deeply affected by some of the events that he witnessed during the final advances in Italy. He died on 17th March 2002 – perhaps fittingly for an Irish soldier – and left a legacy of heroic memory. We hope to perhaps learn more about his army career over the coming months.
Many thanks to Sean Flynn for visiting us and sharing his father’s story.
We recently received a note from Gerard Bryson, the nephew of CSM Patrick Keenan, who was killed on 9th September 1944 while serving with 1 LIR during the Gothic Line battles.
Patrick Keenan’s service record is not entirely clear but it seems that he started his army career with the Skins/Faughs during the early 1920s and served for 15 years before the war. He joined up with 1 LIR in Egypt or Italy in 1944 – perhaps he was shipped out from the UK during the year, the battalion needing reinforcements after Anzio etc.
This clip from ‘The London Irish at War’ confirms the circumstances of CSM Keenan’s death:
‘It was realised that the San Sevino Ridge was the key to Croce, and that Croce was the key to the whole Corps line….
The battalion stayed on for three days, enduring heavy bombardments and throwing back strong German patrols probing at danger-spots. Casualties were heavy. Lieutenant Johns in the Support Company was wounded by our own twenty-five pounders; D Company lost several killed and Lieutenant Michael Spiller and others wounded in a direct hit on a house.
B Company suffered the battalion’s greatest loss during that period, when CSM Keenan, a magnificent soldier and man, was killed in his slit trench by a mortar bomb bursting in the trees above.‘
In his note, Gerard went onto tell us more about the Keenan family:
“My uncle was the second born of a family of eight and his father James was in an artillery unit in the Boer war. His two brothers, James (who died before the war) and William (Skipper), were merchant seamen. His uncle William, also a seaman, appears on the Tower Hill memorial having died from exposure in a lifeboat after his ship the SS Brayhead was torpedoed in 1917. Clearly, our family has a long association with the military.
Patrick is survived today by his 83 year old daughter.”
We have just received the sad news of the death of Rifleman Albert Leddy who served in Italy and Austria with G Coy, 2nd Battalion London Irish Rifles before becoming a piper with the 1st Battalion in Italy.
Albert had written a little bit about his life in Liverpool prior to being called up:
“When I left school at the age of 14, I started work as a chandler’s boy going out with a horse and covered wagon selling soaps and washing powder and other cleaning materials in and around Liverpool. Then I went to work in a stable for a haulage firm near to Liverpool docks, then later I was sent to another stable to take out a pony and trap used for carrying small loads or the odd bale of cotton. I later went back to the other stable to work with a one-horse wagon working around Liverpool docks and railways. I finished working for them and went to work for a shipping butcher in Old Hall Street and supplied many of the big ships that came into Liverpool docks with meat, veg and fish.
In October 1942, when I turned eighteen, I received my calling up papers for military service…”
When Albert was called up, he was initially posted to the Royal Artillery before transferring to the Faughs in 1943 and then sent out to Italy to join the Irish Brigade as part of a reinforcement draft. He transferred with 2 LIR in the front line in April 1944 just before the final Cassino battles. From the Liri Valley, he journeyed with the London Irish to Trasimeno, Rome and Egypt, returning to Italy in September 1944 for the Gothic Line winter battles, manning the Senio riverbanks and joining the final Kangaroo Army advance through the Argenta Gap up to the river Po in April 1945.
After seven months of rest in Austria, in early 1946, he transferred to 1 LIR, who were then based near Trieste and, there, he learnt to play the pipes. Piper Albert Leddy was de-mobbed from Italy in 1947.
His son, David Leddy, wrote to us to tell us more about his father:
“He was still playing the pipes as late as the last New Year (2020/21) to his fellow residents at his care home. He was really pleased with the pipers’ cap badge that the LIR sent to him and wore it with pride. My grandfather was a coal merchant in Liverpool just before the war and I understand that my father was his pony wagon driver, assisting him to deliver coal. After the war, my father moved to Warwick to live with his brother (Ted) and went to work in the motor industry. At first, he worked at the Ford Foundry in Leamington Spa for a short period, then moved to Coventry to join the Standard Motor Company producing cars. He moved back to Ford and later went again to work for the Standard Motor Company where he stayed for 21 years and, there, joined the works band, the Standard Triumph Pipe Band, with whom he played for many years.”
Albert was 97 years of age. A full, long life indeed !!
Faugh a Ballagh !
January and February of 1945 were among the coldest winter months recorded in Europe in the entire 20th century. In Silesia, then part of the Third Reich but now in Poland, temperatures fell to 25 degrees centigrade below freezing.
These were the conditions that faced Prisoners of War (POWs) at the Stalag VIII camp near Lamsdorf (now Gmina Lambinovice) when they were ordered to march west before the huge Soviet offensive that commenced in early 1945. Most of the POWs had been weakened by years of bad food. None had suitable clothes and they were now ordered to walk up to 25 miles a day. The evacuation was part of a massive movement from camps including the Auschwitz extermination camp in the path of the Red Army steamroller. It was a formula for suffering and death.
Around 80,000 men from Stalag VIII and other POW camps were driven west. They included David Moore, a native of Airdrie in Lanarkshire, who had been enlisted into The Cameronians in January 1940 before being transferred to the London Irish Rifles at the end of 1942, not long after he got married.
Moore had been dispatched to join the 2nd Battalion London Irish Rifles in North Africa at the end of November 1942 and was involved in the battalion’s battles in Tunisia, Sicily and along the Adriatic coast. In March 1943, he had been promoted to Lance-Corporal.
L/Cpl Moore was a section leader with No 7 Platoon, E Company when they were posted in January 1944 to a patrol outpost north-west of the village of Montenero in the upper reaches of the Sangro river valley. The battalion’s role was to watch for patrols from a German Mountain Regiment, which were harassing the Allied front line in the Abruzzi mountains 40 miles east of Cassino .
Lacking winter equipment and camouflage, E Company had been camping out for several days in deep snow drifts on Il Calvario, a high point more than 3,000-feet above sea-level. On the morning of 19 January after another freezing night, Moore was attending an ‘O’ Group with other section leaders in the tent of 7 Platoon commander, Lieutenant Nicholas Mosley, when German ski borne troops attacked. A mortar shell hit a tree about a foot from the door of the tent, injuring a couple men including Moore who suffered wound to his arms and head. Mosley ordered the riflemen into their trenches and to prepare to put up resistance, but they were quickly surrounded, Five London Irishmen had been killed in the short battle.
Most of 7 Platoon were taken prisoner including Lt Mosley himself, though he and three others managed to escape their captors as a result of a partially successful rescue by E Company’s reserve platoon and led by Company Commander, Major Mervyn Davies. David Moore and 19 of his comrades, some without boots, were marched under armed guard through deep snow into the mountains north of the Allied lines and he was then treated for his wounds at a hospital in Florence. At one point, when he awoke and saw the distinctive uniform of the nurses, Moore had thought that he had “died and gone to heaven”.
From Italy he was shipped by train to an enormous complex of POW camps in Silesia. His destination was Stalag VIII-B in Lamsdorf, which was also known as Stalag-344. The camp was originally built for no more than 15,000 but, by the end of 1944, it held an estimated 49,000 men, including more than 3,000 Allied prisoners. The military hospital and the infirmary of the camp were always overcrowded. Inspectors from the Red Cross criticised the poor conditions of the clothes of most prisoners and the lack of medication in the military hospital. In winter, the barracks were barely heated and, by 1944, there was a lack of water. Russian and Italian prisoners would be denied all medical assistance.
“(It was a) time he didn’t say very much about,” his son David Moore says. “On his release he said that his treatment had been reasonable though food was in short supply. Red Cross parcels helped to keep him alive.”
This was to change for the worse when the camp was evacuated in February 1945 when POWs were marched out in groups of around 200 into an arctic landscape. The Germans provided farm wagons for those unable to walk and teams of POWs often pulled the wagons through the snow because of the lack of horses. The reception was mixed in the German villages that they passed through on their journey west. There was occasional hostility and rocks were thrown by people angry about Allied bombing while on other occasions, penniless people shared whatever little food they had. At night, those with intact boots who risked taking their boots off to avoid trench foot found they couldn’t get their swollen feet back into them in the morning. Boots froze and were sometimes stolen. There was almost no food and the men had to scavenge, eating rats and cats to fend off starvation. Dysentery and frostbite were common and there were cases of typhus, which was spread by body lice. Some men died of exposure while they slept.
As the weather slowly improved in March, the widespread thaw turned roads into a quagmire of mud. Many POWs marched more than 300 miles before they reached Allied armies advancing into south-west Germany. Up to 3,500 British, Commonwealth and American POWs are estimated to have died in what is known as “The Death March.”
“It was a nightmare experience for my father,” his son says. “He spent the next ten weeks walking between 15 and 30 kilometres most days until he was finally released by Allied soldiers and repatriated to the UK. He suffered all the privations recounted by many who took part in and survived this horrendous experience including bitter cold and extreme hunger. I recall him speaking about it only when he recounted the kindness that he and a pal were shown by a German woman who cooked them a good meal when they arrived at her door with only a handful of rice and had asked her to boil it up for them. By the time he got home, he was suffering from flat feet, damaged ankles and metatarsalgia as a result of prolonged standing.”
After recovering his health, David Moore was transferred to the RASC where he remained until he was released to Army Reserve in May 1946. He then returned home to his wife Sadie in Scotland and they would have two children, three grandchildren and two great grandchildren who knew him, plus two others who were born after David’s death, at the age of 92, in January 2009.
A most remarkable story of human resilience.
A memorial was later erected on the site of Stalag VIII in memory of the thousands who died there and during “The Death March”.
The inscription on the sandstone plate next to the memorial reads: Stalag VIII: A place sanctified by the blood and martyrdom of the prisoners of war of the anti-Hitler coalition during the Second World War.
David Moore has written to us about his father, Lance Corporal David Moore, who served with the London Irish Rifles during the Second World War:
“My father was born on 18th February 1917 in Airdrie. His Army number was 3249725 and he served in the Cameronians before joining the LIR and then joined the RASC when he returned from POW camp in June 1945 until he received his release papers on 17th February 1946.
My father served in the 2nd Battalion, London Irish Rifles from 26th November 1942 until 13th June 1945. During this time, he was in Tunisia and Italy but was wounded and taken prisoner in January 1944. He was eventually sent to Lamsdorff POW camp and, in 1945, was forced to take part in “The Long March” across Europe. He survived this horrendous journey but, as with many old soldiers, my father wouldn’t talk about his experiences in later life – something I now very much regret especially as I spent my working life as an historian.
I received his Army records recently and these helped greatly in clarifying some details of his time with 2 LIR. He was indeed transferred to the Battalion on 26.11.42 and, according to his records, he fought in North Africa from December 1942 until the fall of Tunis in May 1943. It may be of interest to you that he was in E Company and was promoted to Lance Corporal in April 1943.
My father was subsequently sent to Sicily and you are very familiar with E Company’s movements there – then onto mainland Italy. He was with the 2nd Battalion all the way up the Adriatic coast and then was at Campobasso at Christmas 1943. Unfortunately, he was in 7 Platoon, under the command of Nicholas Mosley, on the morning of 19th January 1944 at Montenero Val Cocchiara when his platoon was overrun – he was with Mosley at his tent when a shell exploded nearby and was wounded in the side of the head and arm. Sergeant Sale was tending my father’s wounds when they were surrounded and captured.
My father is specifically mentioned twice by Mosley in his account of the event – firstly, his wounding and secondly, when he was a prisoner being led away by his captors. His army records note that he was taken prisoner at “Alvadene” but this is not correct, though I suspect that he was taken from the mountains near Montenero to Alfedena down in the valley. My only recollection of my father’s account of this episode is how angry he was at Mosley but I can only speculate as to the reasons. In one report I read, it suggested that, after Mosley was freed by Major Mervyn Davies, he would return to Montenero to face some “awkward questions”.
Further details of the German raid at Montenero are given below:
In the grip of an Italian winter high in the Apennines, 2 LIR were in the Castel de Sangro area where they took up defensive positions in blizzard conditions on New Year’s Eve. The nights were long, daylight was in short supply in the middle of winter and the weather was atrocious as they were high in the mountains and suffering freezing conditions.
In January 1944, he was a Lance Corporal in 7 Platoon of E Company of the 2nd Battalion London Irish Rifles with each company taking turns on the front line in exposed forward positions on a mountainside opposite the German line near the small town of Montenero Val Cocchiara.
There was some shelling on the night of 18th January – the prelude to the dramatic events of the following morning. The Germans had fired shells towards the positions held by 7 and 9 platoons so it appeared that they knew the soldiers were there and a dawn raid was anticipated but did not materialise and perhaps the soldiers dropped their guard. At 08.30, while L/Cpl Moore was with the Section Commanders at Lieutenant Nicholas Mosley’s tent receiving orders for the day, a shell exploded in or near the tent and all of the Section Commanders were wounded.
According to Lieutenant Mosley’s account:
“At Calvario on the 19th January at 08.30hrs a Platoon ‘O’ Group was assembled to receive orders in the Platoon HQ tent when a shell hit a tree about a yard from the door of the tent…. I immediately ordered the platoon into their trenches….. In the next trench Sgt Sale, himself wounded in the wrist, was trying to bandage L/Cpl Moore who was bleeding from the side of the head and the arm.”
By the time Mosley got out of the tent, the entire platoon had been surrounded and was being disarmed by the Germans. They had materialised out of the woods wearing white smocks armed with machine guns, grenades and with bayonets fixed. The men of 7 Platoon had no chance and surrendered rather than be killed. Lieutenant Mosley saw L/Cpl Moore and Sgt Sale being led away by the Germans as prisoners but escaped himself.
L/Cpl Moore was transferred from Alfedena to Florence where he spent a month in hospital having his wounds attended to. When he awakened on arrival, he thought that “he had died and gone to heaven” when he saw the nuns all dressed in their white uniforms and wimpoles. That period in “heaven” didn’t last long as he was then moved to the POW camp, Stalag 344, at Lamsdorff in Poland.
From February 1944 to January 1945: A Prisoner of War in Poland – a time my father didn’t say very much about. On his release, he said that his treatment had been reasonable, although food was in short supply. Red Cross parcels helped to keep him alive.
21st January to 2nd April 1945: Everyone was ordered to leave the camp and to begin what became “The Long March” west away from advancing Russian troops. L/Cpl Moore and the other men spent the next ten weeks walking between fifteen and thirty kilometres most days until he was finally released by Allied soldiers and repatriated to the UK. He suffered all the privations recounted by many who took part in and survived this horrendous experience including bitter cold and extreme hunger. I recall my father speaking about it only once, recalling the kindness he and a pal were shown by a German woman who cooked them a good meal when they had arrived with only a handful of rice they had asked her to boil up for them. By the time he got home, he was suffering from flat feet, damaged ankles and metatarsalgia as a result of prolonged standing.
14th June 1945: As a result of his injuries, my father was transferred to the RASC, where he remained until he was released to the Royal Army Reserve on 13th May 1946.
For his war service, L/Cpl Moore was awarded The 1939-45 Star, The Africa Star, The Italy Star, The War Medal 1939-45 and the Defence Medal.
1946 to 2009: David was happily married to Sadie, who he had married in 1942, just before he joined the London Irish Rifles and they were together for just over 66 years. They had two children, three grandchildren and two great grandchildren who knew him, and three further great grandchildren born since his death in Airdrie on 9th January 2009.”
A remarkable long life and cetainly well lived.
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 “