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Some more photographs of men of the London Irish Rifles – this set from the IWM collection are new recruits being shown what’s what at the Duke of York’s HQ in November 1939.
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
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.
We have been been contacted by Jan Clarke, the daughter in law of CSM Ashton Clarke, who served in Italy with the 1st Battalion London Irish Rifles from 1943 to 1946 and where he was Mentioned in Despatches.
In her note to us, Jan explained that CSM Clarke had served overseas with the 56th (London) Division in Iraq, Egypt and Sicily, initially with the 10th Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment, before transferring to 1 LIR after the bitter fighting for 168 Brigade near Catania and where the London Irish Rifles, London Scottish and the Royal Berkshires all suffered very heavy casualties.
Quite remarkably, before his death, Ashton had compiled a 300 page memoir tracing the whole of his war time service and we have been honoured that the Clarke family has sent a copy of it onto us and we plan to add excerpts of this very evocative story to the website in due course.
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.