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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 were delighted to have been contacted recently by Adrian Woods, the son of Major Desmond Woods, who served with the 2nd Battalion as Officer Commanding of H Company from October 1943 to June 1944 until he was wounded in the fighting near Lake Trasimene in central Italy.
As well as his note to us, Adrian also passed over some additional extensive written details of his father’s service with the London Irish Rifles that had been transcribed from an interview by military historian, Richard Doherty – it’s a most remarkable story indeed and these details will be filed in the Museum’s archives.
During his 8 months with the London Irish Rifles, Major Woods was present during some of the most momentous battle periods for the 2nd Battalion – at the Sangro river, near Monte Cassino and at Sanfatucchio to the west of Trasimene.
During the assault on Casa Sinagoga on 16th May 1944 , H Company formed the centre of the battalion’s advance which ultimately broke through the vaunted Gustav Line in the Liri Valley and it was here that Major Woods was awarded a bar to the Military Cross that he had received before the war – at the same time, he would unsuccessfully recommend Corporal Jimmy Barnes for a posthumous Victoria Cross for his part in that day of most bitter fighting for 2 LIR.
After being wounded and medically downgraded, Desmond Woods became a Training Major for the Italian Gruppi Cremona in northern Italy before undertaking a distinguished post war service overseas with the Royal Ulster Rifles and later with other units in Northern Ireland.
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 !
During the recent Association visit to Sicily, we were delighted to receive a copy of a new book outlining the story of Piedimonte Etneo during the Second World War written by our friend Dr Felice Vitale. The book, which has been privately published, relates the background to the events of August and September 1943 when British troops stayed in the town after the final liberation of the island.
For the London Irish Rifles, in particular, it was a most memorable stay as the men, who had been engaged in very heavy fighting during July and August, were able to relax as well as commemorate the 28th anniversary of the Battle of Loos with a parade and service for the 1st Battalion who stayed in the town for five weeks. In fact, the war diaries state that “Piedimonte was the most confortable place the Battalion had stayed in since they left England”.
Felice’s own mother, Angelina, and his grand parents had witnessed the entry of the London Irish Rifles’ pipers into the town and this allowed him to gain a unique insight into the feelings of townspeople as they were being invaded by a large group of friendly Londoners with a very distinct Irish flavour.
The book is currently only available in Italian and can be viewed in the Regimental Museum and we hope to add a translated version to the website at some future time.
Great work indeed.
We are pleased to receive a note and some photographs from Chris Jeffrey with information about his father Louis, who served with the 1st Battalion in the UK, Middle East and Italy during the Second World War. Rifleman Jeffrey first joined up with the London Irish Rifles in May 1938 and was finally demobbed in June 1946.
In his note to us, Chris said:
“I know my father was based with Lord Gault’s HQ at the outbreak of war as an interpreter. Obviously they were forced to withdraw but I’m not sure if they got out via Dunkirk or Cherbourg.
This picture was taken in Mersham sometime in 1940/41 and shows the Pipes with Tara the Irish Wolfhound and Mascot. I believe my father was based in Hatch Park which was part of the Brabourne Estate before deploying to the Middle East. Part of his duties at that time was patrolling Romney Marsh on his motorcycle. He also met and married my mother, Mona, who was living at the time with her parents lived at Hatch Lodge – her father, my grandfather, had worked on the Brabourne estate.
This picture shows my father with the CMF in 1945 enjoying some skiing in Cortina which can be seen behind the group. My father is sitting on the ground far right at the front.
I know my Father was wounded at Anzio and sent back to Blighty to recover. He eventually arrived back at the Depot in Ballymena but I’m not sure how long he was there before returning to Italy to rejoin his Battalion.
He spoke fondly of his CO, Colonel McNamara, who was sadly killed by German mortars in 1944 while visiting the Bn as they were moving into the Senio Line. “
We’ve received some tremendously evocative photographs from David Sweeney, the son of Sergeant Pat Sweeney, who served with the 1st Battalion London Irish Rifles throughout the Second World War. David told us that his father, who was born in 1912 in Galway, joined the London Irish before the war when, at the time, Pat lived with his family in Chelsea very close to the Duke of York’s HQ.
Sergeant Sweeney served with the Carrier Platoon during all of the 1st Battalion’s service period overseas in Iraq, Sicily and on the mainland of Italy – a remarkable journey indeed as he remained largely unscathed during the various battle periods, including the attack on Fosso Botacetto, the ascent of Monte Camino, the crossing of the Garigliano river, the defence of the Anzio beachhead, the assaults on the Gothic Line and the final advance towards the Po river.
At the end of the war, Pat remained with the London Irish Rifles until the mid 1950s and was a very well respected and popular presence for many years at ‘Club Nights’ and parades at the Dukes. Pat married Ann in the late 1930s and the growing Sweeney family would later move to Greenford – though perhaps that location was less convenient for enjoying too many late nights at Sloane Square!
We would like to thank David Sweeney for sharing this gallery of fantastic photos.
In March 1944, Jack returned to the UK as a result of the news that Joyce was suffering from tuberculosis and he was temporarily relegated to W(T) status and joined the reserves before being permanently given this status. Joyce and Jack went on to have two further children, the youngest born in 1953, and he would continue in the building trade, eventually taking over his father’s business and would lead a very busy life, being an especially keen sportsman. Jack passed away on 8th March 2012, a few months before his 90th birthday.
Glenn concluded his note:
“My father-in-law spoke little about the war, just on the odd occasion – he was a quiet man who considered myself nothing special. We know better.”
We do indeed sir.
We have received a note and some great photos from the son of Rifleman George William Hurdley, who served with the 2nd Battalion from 1939 to 1945.
In his note to us Tony Hurdley said:
“My father’s number was 7014849, and he enlisted on 27th April 1939 and was then called to the colours at the outbreak of war on 2nd September 1939. George was from Enfield and was recruited at Chelsea. He was born in 1917 and married Irene and they had two children and five grandchildren.”
The Regimental Association was honoured to attend a Commemorative event in the town of Piedimonte Etneo on the north eastern slopes of Mt Etna that took place on the exact 75th anniversary of the date when men of the 1st Battalion, London Irish Rifles entered the town in early September 1943.
The Chairman, Major Peter Lough, and Association Members, Richard and Edmund O’Sullivan, whose father served with the 2nd Battalion in Sicily, attended a Service of Remembrance at the town’s Chiesa Madre before a marble plaque was blessed by the parish priest, Dom Mario, outside the church. The plaque honours the memory of the 90 members of London Irish Rifles and numerous Sicilians civilians who died during the fighting on the island.
The 1st Battalion London Irish Rifles would stay in Piedimonte for over a month from 8th September to 10th October 1943 when they en-shipped for Naples. A witness to the events of 1943, Angelina Vitale, was on hand to tell us of the day when she and her family welcomed the London Irish into her home town as liberators and garlanded them with flowers.
It is really quite remarkable, that in a small town in Sicily, there are now two memorials dedicated to the men of the London Irish Rifles – entirely funded by the local townspeople.
Thanks are due to Dom Mario, Mayor Ignazio Puglisi, Deputy Mayor Giuseppe Pagano, the President and Members of the Town Council and all the townspeople of Piedimonte Etneo for their fantastic welcome again.
The Association Chairman’s speech is reproduced in full below:
I am delighted to visit your lovely town again. This is my third visit here to Piedimonte and I would like to thank you all for your usual most hospitable welcome. Today’s commemorative event is a truly remarkable one for our Regimental Association.
As you know, 75 years ago this week, the 1st Battalion of the London Irish Rifles arrived in this town after a very difficult period when they were embattled on the east coast of Sicily during July and early August of 1943. On 8th September 1943, the men of the London Irish Rifles moved from the coastal area near Fiumefreddo to the cooler climes of this town. It was a very welcome move and it is perhaps not surprising that our Regimental history stated that: “Piedimonte was the most comfortable place that the Battalion had stayed at since leaving England in August 1942…” Some of you will remember that day when London Irish Riflemen, wearing what some of you thought were “orange skirts”, entered the town – I can certainly see Angelina, who did indeed witness those historic events.
Two weeks after the London Irish Rifles arrived, a Parade and Service of Remembrance would be held here in the town to commemorate one of our Regiment’s most famous battles during the Great War: the Battle of Loos that took place in northern France. The Commanding Officer of the 1st Battalion London Irish Rifles, Lt-Colonel Ian Good, addressed the parade in Piedimonte that day.
Our Regimental records noted that after the parade:
“the Battalion marched to their respective services, both Roman Catholic and Anglican, which were held for the remembrance of men of the Battalion who fell in the battle of Loos and for those who fell in the fighting in Sicily.” One of the services, held here at this church at that time, was conducted by Father Denys Rutledge, along with our own battalion’s padre, Father Treacy.
At this point, I would like to reflect on the memories of those desperately difficult days in September 1943. Both the Riflemen and the people of Sicily had suffered so much over the previous months, and it was quite fantastic that they could all come together in fraternal friendship during the 5 weeks that the town of Piedimonte hosted their visitors.
I am sure that the moments of deep prayer and solemn contemplation and reflection were directed to both the military combatants of all countries and the civilians of Sicily, who were sadly caught up in the fighting on the island. I am equally sure that the events of the day would have been of great spiritual comfort to everyone and would indeed have contributed greatly towards a continuing period of close mutual friendship in the town until the London Irish reluctantly left Piedimonte on 10th October.
As I say, 25th September 1943 was a most important day of reflective contemplation that has been mirrored at the Service of Remembrance here today. It is a most remarkable thing that I can now look out across to your own War Memorial marking the sacrifices of the Great War, the Memorial that is dedicated to men of the London Irish Rifles and can also stand close to the Commemorative Plaque.
I cannot thank you enough for such an incredibly generous and moving occasion that will further underpin the deep friendship between the London Irish Rifles Association and the people of Piedimonte Etneo, both today and far into the future.”