1ST BATTALION – LIEUT-COLONEL MACNAMARA SAYS GOOD-BYE
The most notable event for the London Irish Rifles in early 1942 was the departure on promotion to another command of Lieut-Colonel Macnamara. He took over a post in the newly formed RAF Regiment. His departure was genuinely regretted by all ranks, because under his leadership not only had the whole Regiment grown in status and efficiency, but also his personality had engendered a fine spirit of comradeship and brotherhood throughout all ranks. He had also inculcated a personal pride in the Regiment.
When he left in February he was given a great send-off by each company, upon whom he called in turn. For him it was a sad day, because he was leaving the Regiment at a time when everyone expected it would soon be called upon to prove its worth in battle. His great ambition had been to lead the London Irish Rifles in action, but with typical selflessness he went where duty sent him, and devoted his fine talents to new and other important tasks.
The loss to the London Irish Rifles was another’s gain.
In his farewell message to all ranks on February 22, 1942, Lieut.-Colonel Macnamara said:
“To-day I finish my command. Before going I wish to thank all ranks, officers, warrant officers, non-commissioned officers, and men for their loyal co-operation and help. . . . I have never asked for a job to be done which has not been done with just that bit of extra enthusiasm which has made it so pleasant to lead you all. .
I want to look back for a minute and remind those who served in the days when Territorials were unpopular of the struggles we had together, and to thank them for helping me see it through.
“Many have come to this unit since the war, some from the Regular Army, mainly from Ulster, where I am very pleased to be going, and some straight from civilian life. All of you have in this war perhaps been disappointed at times, but you must remember that the responsible jobs you did, especially in Kent, have been much appreciated, and although not spectacular, have been as important as any jobs done elsewhere in this war.
“Our battalion has a reputation for comradeship, a gay spirit, tough physique, and a keen and smart attitude to soldiering. Keep it up all the time. This war will be long, and there will come times when the country may be down in the clumps and will be reinspired only by soldiers such as you. I wish you all good luck, and good-bye and good bunting.”
Lieut-Colonel IH Good, of the Royal Ulster Rifles, under whose able command the final intensive training was carried out, took Lieut.-Colonel Macnamara’s place and the London Irish were prepared for overseas service.
A hint of this was given when the 1st Battalion also said goodbye to its mascot, Tara, an Irish wolfhound which was presented to them when in Kent by Miss Sheilagh Seale. It was realised that the large dog could not accompany the battalion abroad.
Not long after the change in Commanding Officers, RSM Hynds left the 1st Battalion on promotion as Quartermaster to a battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. CSM J Cairns, who had served as an instructor at the Duke of York’s Headquarters in the old days, became RSM, and his promotion was very popular among those who knew his worth.
In June 1942 the 1st Battalion was under canvas at Ickworth Park, near Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk. It had become a very serviceable amalgam of Irishmen and Londoners. It included, in about equal proportions, Territorials, regular soldiers, and Army Class men, with an average age of about twenty-four. The battalion was put on full war establishment with first-line reinforcements from the Essex Regiment, the Royal Berkshire Regiment, the Royal Sussex, and several other English county regiments. There were also men from the Royal Scots Fusiliers, but the only Irish regiment to supply a draft was the Royal Irish Fusiliers.
While in Ickworth Park, the 56th (London) Division was visited by HM the King, who watched the battalion during a training period. He praised the physique and fitness of the men and was particularly interested in the work of the Bren carriers and the motorcycle dispatch riders. The battalion was ready for active service almost anywhere. Tropical kit was issued, embarkation leave granted, and then it was known that it would not be long before the battalion would be on its way to one of the war fronts. Whither, was not known, but there were many guesses, ranging from North Africa to the Far East.
The battalion received a number of new officers to bring it up to strength. Several former officers, who had been with the Young Soldiers or attached elsewhere, returned, and in August 1942 the roll of officers was:
Lieut-Colonel IH Good, Commanding Officer.
Major the Viscount Stopford, Second-in-Command.
Captain MD Ryan, Adjutant.
Mr J Cairns, RSM.
Major PM Mahon, Officer Commanding.
Captain JG Adams, Carrier Platoon.
Captain PJ Toal, Quartermaster.
Lieutenant DA Gibson, Mortar Platoon.
Lieutenant H St.G Gallaher, Carrier Platoon
2nd Lieutenant A Mace, Transport Officer.
2nd Lieutenant S Sharp, Intelligence Officer.
2nd Lieutenant J McVitty, Anti-tank Platoon.
2nd Lieutenant J Gates, Pioneer Platoon.
2nd Lieutenant H Miller, Signals Platoon.
Major J Cantopher, GM, Officer Commanding.
Captain A Palmer.
Lieutenant GE Buss.
Lieutenant ALF Orr.
and Lieutenant JV Reynolds.
Captain HCS Lofting, Officer Commanding.
Captain M Bonham-Carter.
Lieutenant CA Croft.
Lieutenant SW McCabe.
2nd Lieutenant T Barry.
Captain WE Brooks, Officer Commanding.
Lieutenant WK Byrne.
2nd Lieutenant TW Coghlin.
2nd Lieutenant PC Isitt.
Captain Sir James Henry, Bt., Officer Commanding.
Captain JR Strick.
Lieutenant EM Grace.
Lieutenant M Power.
2nd Lieutenant TJ Sweeney.
Captain RA O’Brien, Officer Commanding.
Lieutenant JA Boddam-Whetham.
Lieutenant AG Hamer.
2nd Lieutenant DA Hardy.
2nd Lieutenant RA Wigger.
2nd Lieutenant J Grennan.
Chaplain: The Rev T Flynn (RC).
Medical Officer: Lieutenant C Byrne (RAMC).
For six months the 2nd Battalion lived in a land of Nissen huts in Didlington, an outlandish part of the Norfolk countryside. They were housed among a narrow belt of coniferous trees inhabited by brown squirrels and tree-creepers and a multitude of fat rats whose feet beat a tattoo on the metal sheeting of the huts. The winter at Didlington was a hard one, with snow on the ground for weeks at a time. More than once the water supply was frozen, but despite everything the health of the battalion remained remarkably good.
Training was strenuous, and the battalion made great strides in its final preparations for War. A short period was devoted in December 1941 to assisting the local farmers in agricultural work. On June 4, 1942, the battalion received urgent and secret orders to mobilise for active service, and only twenty-three days were given for that task. The order came at a time when a large part of the British Army was reorganising following the lessons of the Battle of France and the campaign in North Africa – in so far as it had gone.