Home » First World War » Signal Corporal » The Final Curtain

The Final Curtain

Before this long digression, we left the 2nd London Irish in the Ghoraniyeh Bridgehead on the night of 4th/5th May.

After spending the first part of the night there, we left at 0315 for Anzac Dump near Jericho, where we had the rare luxury of travelling by motor trucks to a camping area near the northern outskirts of Jerusalem. We were then “resting” for 24 hours – and we were ready for it.

On the 7th, we marched ten miles north to Ram Allah but, before leaving, we were addressed by the Divisional commander and his words were recorded:

Sir John Shea said:

“I am not going to keep you standing here long but I simply could not let you start off on your march today without coming here and telling you how proud I am of you for the way you fought. I do not think you have ever (except at Kherbet Adasseh) been up against quite a big thing as you were the other day. You were fighting against big odds; you were fighting under the worst conditions and always worried by machine guns you could not get at – but you went on fighting, and that is the whole point, But so long as you have Officers leading you, like your colonel did, and those who gave you the example of Captain Crosby and Captain Manning, I do not wonder that you fought as you did.

It was your good hearts that helped you through and I congratulate you.

You can always go back and say – we lay out on that hill and were baked by the sun, we were raked by machine guns from the air as well as on the ground but just to show the Turk what we could do, we brought one ‘plane down (perhaps two) on the last day of our stay. The next time, we’ll bring down three.

Good luck and thank you from the bottom of my heart”

Seeing this in cold print, more than half a century later, one wonders whether this speech was worth recording but one has to remember that Sir John Shea was an emotional man and there was a certain atmosphere at this time. The personality of the man made this an occasion which is imprinted on the mind. And – typical of him – while congratulating the Battalion, on having brought down one ‘plane (there was some doubt about the second, which may have got back to its base), he encourages us to bring down three next time.

For the next week, work was limited to one hour a day – then training was again taken in hand. The Division had been in Army Corps Reserve since leaving the Jordan Valley and this training, when it recommenced, consisted mainly of “sports”.

On 21st May, we moved to Beitin and, on the following day, were informed that the Battalion was to be disbanded. We were to reinforce battalions in the 10th (Irish) Division. The 10th, like the 60th Division, was to become an Indian division.

The overall plan was that, in each brigade, the strongest battalion was to be retained, the weakest to be disbanded to provide reinforcements for battalions remaining in the country and the other two battalions to leave for France.

In 180 Brigade, the 2/19th Battalion was retained, the 2/17th and 2/20th Battalions left for France and the London Irish provided drafts; under Capt Gray MC to the 1st Leinster Regiment; under Lieut RDC Gardner to the 1st Royal Irish Regiment and 2/Lieut GE Maccarthy MM to the 2nd Royal Irish Fusiliers.

So two years after Lieut-Col Murphy took the 2nd London Irish to France, Capt Gray and his draft joined the battalion, in which that highly regarded Commanding Officer served as a Lieutenant throughout the South African War.

About half a dozen – perhaps a few more – joined the 2/19th Battalion and so remained with the 180th Brigade. Lieut-Col Norton was given Command. Lieut Hurley went as Signal Officer; 2nd Lieut Maylin, myself and one other Signaler – so that we might continue on the Battle Headquarters.

Three Indian battalions were brought in to complete the Brigade.

Before Allenby was robbed to reinforce the army in France, he had seven Infantry divisions – 81 British battalions and 3 Indian. On reorganisation, he had one British division (the 54th) and six Indian divisions, each consisting of three British battalions and nine Indian battalions. So a total of 30 British battalions and 54 Indian battalions.

Of the six Indian divisions two were very good, having fought in France early in the war and then in Iraq; but the Indian battalions in the other four divisions were new formations. One of the battalions in 180 Brigade noted in its Diary that, on arrival in Palestine, only half of its strength had even fired at a Musketry Course.

So training went on at a great pace during the ten weeks or so before the autumn offensive began in September 1918.

Honours and Awards.

No story of an infantry battalion a war is complete without a List of Honours and Awards won by its members and some account of the outstanding actions which earned such recognition.
It is matter of the greatest regret that I have found impossible to compile anything approaching a complete list – and even more impossible to describe the individual actions, which earned such recognition.

Some are still remembered clearly, but I find these are invariably about men in whom I had some special interests such as:

Signaller Stoate DCM.

Mentioned here in Colonel Norton’s account of the December 1917 action on Kherbet Adasseh (for which Stoate received the DCM).

Signaller George Gregory DCM.

Another Signaler who, on Nebi Samwil on 29th November 1917, did the impossible not once but twice and survived. At a time when it looked impossible that a man could survive one minute on that rocky hillside under such heavy shellfire, and communication between Colonel Norton and the Companies had broken down, he set off to find and repair breaks in the telephone cable and reached the top, only to learn that he had re-established communication for less than a minute before the cable had been broken behind him. So he turned round and came back, again finding and repairing the breaks; and against all the odds survived. He found on his return that the vital information had come through – but that the line was again broken behind him. However, with the information through, the line could now wait a while before repairs were again vital. Another DCM.

CSM Parkes DCM.

The story on Kherbet Adasseh on 23rd December 1917 has been told and Colonel Norton’s recommendation for an immediate award of the DCM, which came through with unusual speed.

My apologies go to all those about whom I cannot write because of the passing of the years. For each story told, a dozen or so are omitted.

I have told the story of two incidents, which I find equal to the best but which no recognition was given in one case and small recognition in the other. My admiration goes to them because they required long and sustained effort

These two incidents are:

The four men killed in France in October 1916, after forty minutes digging for the man buried by a “Minnie” while “minnies” dropped all round them at the rate of one every two minutes. Perhaps it is necessary to have close acquaintance with just one “minnie” to appreciate just what this means. No awards, of course, because they did not survive. One of them, Grey, was among my friends before the war.

I have told the story of Sgt Burt in “K” Sector in Greece – of his march straight ahead 1,000 yards in full view of the Bulgars, right up to their “wire” to pick up the wounded sergeant of the 2/20th Battalion in broad daylight. This takes cold blooded “fortitude” of a very special kind. And he got – a “Mention in Despatches”!

I am not happy about my failure to do justice to this subject but I find some comfort in the knowledge that many of those who deserved such recognition did not survive the actions, which earned it.

To receive an Award, it was necessary to survive the action, which earned it – this always seemed to be wrong to me.

One thing, which is clear beyond question, is that those who received an Award of any sort more than earned what they got.