December 1944


By early December 1944, the 1st Battalion was back in the line on the banks of the Senio River, a peculiar form of battle with the London Irish dug in on one side of the river and the Germans on the other. The river had flood-banks about thirty feet high, with a very small stream between the two banks, and both sides were able constantly to fling missiles at each other. The fighting at times seemed unending and unfruitful. Supply problems, fortunately and for a welcome change, presented no great difficulties.

In one position only were carrying parties needed, and those were used to carry up to the river bank itself, where the London Irish positions were dug about twenty yards from the Germans’.

The band, batmen, storemen, and clerks were used on these carries, and they did sterling work under fire which at times was most unhealthy. The most noticeable feature of the supply problem was the extraordinary amount of ammunition expended. On one day one thousand five hundred two-inch mortar high-explosive bombs, endless boxes of .303-inch ammunition, dozens of rounds of Piat ammunition, and large supplies of thirty-six grenades were delivered to and expended by the rifle companies. It was an occasion when the riflemen almost enjoyed war. Ammunition was unlimited, and they fired away day and night. There were several minor battles to whittle out the enemy, and on one occasion the enemy sent over a “present”-a barrel of explosive which failed to blow up.

That provided C Company with an idea, and they retaliated by sending over barrels loaded with explosives which did go off, to the great discomfiture of the enemy. Occasionally the enemy succeeded in getting small harassing parties across the river, with the purpose of restricting movement and causing confusion. Normally such parties were not easy to dislodge, and frequently a platoon found it necessary to carry out a small-scale attack to drive them back. Casualties during these incidents were fortunately never severe, and any attempt on the enemy’s part to retaliate was usually frustrated by the gunners.

On one occasion Sergeant J O’Connor, who was in charge of 12 Platoon, crawled up to the top of the river bank and, with the aid of a rifleman, located the exact positions of some German posts. The two were fired on but the task was accomplished successfully. The sergeant afterwards led a patrol which dealt effectively with some of the posts he had spotted. Corporal W Wardle, a section leader, did some good work with a Piat gun from the top of the bank to which he crawled three times. He also gave the Germans an unpleasant surprise on another occasion by bombarding them with phosphorus grenades. For their gallantry on these and other occasions the two non-commissioned officers were each awarded the MM.


It was while the battalion was on the Senio River that Colonel JRJ Macnamara, MP, their former Commanding Officer, was killed when paying them a visit. The London Irish were taking over positions from a Gurkha Regiment, and Colonel Macnamara recognised many old faces as he watched the battalion move up into the lines. It had always been his great ambition to lead the London Irish in battle, but his promotion denied him that opportunity. However, he told Lieut-Colonel Sperling that he would like to see the forward companies, and he went up towards the river.

While he was with C Company, and talking to Major MVS Boswell by the roadside, he was caught in a sudden mortar bombardment. Colonel Macnamara and Lieutenant Prosser MC, who was also in the group, were killed, and Major Boswell was wounded.

The death of Colonel Macnamara in such tragic circumstances, and while for the first time he was watching in action the Regiment of which he was so proud, came as a great blow to all ranks.