Rifleman Percy McCormack, 1919 - 2014.
At his recent funeral in Yiewsley, Rifleman Percy Alex McCormack was honoured by men of the London Irish Rifles, with whom he served during the Second World War in North Africa and Italy from 1942 to 1945.
One of his daughters, Maureen, said:
"He was obviously a young man when he fought in Italy and we can't imagine what he must have seen. All he used to tell us was about his downtime, and how he used to go out and meet girls and he would joke and make it sound like he had very fond memories of the place. Myself and my sister took him back to Italy because we thought he would like to see it again, but it was clear that was really very difficult for him.
It really gave us a different insight into his life - he never spoke about the bad things," she said.
A piper and members of D Company attended Mr McCormack's funeral, which was held on 17th October at St Matthew's Church in High Street, Yiewsley. His brother and sister, twins Reggie and Rene, 86, were also at the funeral, along with his extended family of children and grandchildren.
Rifleman McCormack had returned home in September 1945 and met up with old friends, including one of his sister's friends, Averill, who would soon become his wife.
"My Mum and Dad had known each other before the war, but Mum didn't see Dad for six years while he was away and they met up again once he had returned," Maureen said. "Within a month, they were married."
Percy and Averill were married at St Mathew's and their nine children were also christened there; the eldest Maureen, along with Sheila, Celia, Alec, Christine, Vincent, Dean, Lance and Shawn - who died as a baby.
"There were a lot of us and times were sometimes hard but we never went hungry, and Mum and Dad made sure we were always provided for. We were a very happy family. Christmas was always the best at our house because there were so many of us and we always had someone to play with. The rest of the family always wanted to come to us for Christmas because it was always the most fun," Maureen said.
After the war, Percy worked as a bricklayer, helping to build houses right across the borough, and he did not retire until he was over 70.
After 95 years and 4 months, Percy had enjoyed a truly rich, fulfilled life.
CYRIL ILETT: 8TH NOVEMBER 1924 - 18TH JULY 2014.
Cyril Ilett served with the 1st Battalion, London Irish Rifles during a period of bitter fighting in the Anzio Beachhead, where he was severely injured during early 1944.
Cyril leaves his wife, Joan, and their three children Rosie, Alison and David.
In a most remarkable and moving occasion during the recent Association pilgrimage to the Italian battlefields, Cyril's family shared their father's story with the joint London Irish Rifles' and Royal Fusiliers' group. Our thoughts and thanks for the actions of Rifleman Ilett and his friends and comrades at Anzio were further illuminated by the wonderful piping of Pipe Sergeant Williams.
The Ilett family have shared some further memories of their father with us here:
"One of the defining events of Dad's life was his time as a Rifleman with the London Irish Rifles during the Second World, which changed him physically and mentally for the rest of his life. It's something that we knew little about until recently when we (Alison, Rosie, David and his wife, Jeanette) went on the Regiment's 70th Anniversary Pilgrimage to Anzio.
Being there meant that we understood much more about what Dad had experienced. We had learnt little from him over the years because he hadn't really wanted to talk about it. He was really interested though to hear about our trip and see the photographs and very appreciative of the messages we brought back to him from members of the regiment.
Dad had been too young for active service when the war started and was initially in the Home Guard. (If you imagine Pikey from Dad's Army, I don't think you'd be far off the mark). When he was old enough, he was enlisted into the London Irish Rifles and sent to Omagh for training. At that point it seems he was still a rather wayward teenager getting into scrapes. He told Alison once about a few of the escapades he got involved in but afterwards she was sworn to secrecy! As well as learning to handle a rifle and learning some discipline, he was also trained as a radio-operator, but was never called on to use this skill.
Then suddenly in February 1944, this raw recruit, just 19 years old, was shipped out from Greenock to some unknown destination and he found himself on the Anzio beach. There followed a hellish fortnight during which Dad didn't know what day it was or exactly where he was, but was under bombardment day and night. He had rather confused memories of constant shelling and strafing raids followed by helping to deal with the bodies of fallen comrades. He also remembered unexpectedly coming across German soldiers when searching what looked like empty buildings.
After around two weeks of this, our Dad was helping to dig a trench when a mortar hit nearby. The men on either side of him were killed outright. Dad had a number of injuries, including a leg severed at the foot by shrapnel and the war was over for him.
Even though he then spent many months in hospital in three different countries and was disabled for the rest of his life, he was one of the lucky ones. Like so many others, his life could have ended there on the beachhead. We are all thankful that he had another 70 years to enjoy."
"Soldier, rest! Thy warfare o'er,Dream of fighting fields no more:
Sleep the sleep that knows not breaking
Morn of toll, nor night of waking."
Sir Walter Scott
Cyril's funeral will be held at 2.20pm on Wednesday 30th July at Hanworth Crematorium, Jameson Chapel.
Brian J Dolan
AUGUST 1928 – JANUARY 2014
BRIAN DOLAN was commissioned into the Kings Own Royal Regiment in 1946 and joined us in 1948, having written whilst on demob leave, to the Duke’s’ to enquire whether they had a vacancy for a subaltern. He was called in for interview with the CO, Lt Col Viscount Stopford and the Adjutant Capt, (later Maj), Sir Christopher Nixon Bt. Brian didn’t think the interview went particularly well but felt that his father’s service in the Connaught Rangers 1906-1919 could have tipped the balance in his favour.
The officers’ Mess that Brian joined was truly vintage, John Cantopher, Basil Irwin, Harry Gallagher, Dick Haig, ‘Rooter’ Grace, Desmond Fay, Noel Dorrity and Cyril Rand are just a few names that will give you the flavour. Brian spent several happy years as a platoon commander and during that time in 1950 married the love of his life Margaret and four years later adopted their son Paul. Increased responsibilities at work with the Licenses and General Assurance Company eventually meant the end of part time soldiering. However, Brian still found time to serve for many years on the General Management Committee of the Regimental Association and in 1979 took over as Hon Treasurer of the Officers’ Club.
Whilst living in the family home in Catford that he shared with his parents Brian sang in the Holy Cross choir and attended the Aquinas Centre where he made many friends. Perhaps inspired by Noel Dorrity and Mike Powell he also played Rugby at the London Irish Rugby Club. Brian was a member of the Edward Elgar Society and with Margaret enjoyed visits to Malvern. He was also a volunteer at the Royal College of Music.
In 1982 Brian and Margaret made the difficult decision to move from Catford to the rural bliss of Keston. After three happy years Brian retired, ostensibly on health grounds, but really to care
for Margaret who had been diagnosed with breast cancer. After Margaret died life was never quite the same for Brian, but he continued volunteering and pursued his interest in genealogy helping countless people around the world to trace their family histories, until failing eyesight forced him to give up.
As secretary of the Officers’ Club I kept in touch with Brian, who never failed to respond to my invitations to social events, usually with a generous donation! For some years he had been unable to attend due to an escalation in ill-health. Brian always typed his replies on the return slip, here is his penultimate reply:
Dear Nigel, Thank you for your Christmas Lunch Notice and your kind offer re. Transport. I am afraid I only go out locally for short periods now: treatment continues for advanced prostate cancer, plus angina, stage 3 chronic kidney disease, diverticulitis and vaso-vagal faints. Otherwise in pretty good nick! Not planning to go yet. Cheque enclosed towards the expenses of the day.
Greetings to all, Brian
PS. Don’t laugh – I’m forcibly tee-total now – my Baptist lady GP is pleased.
The Regimental Association has been informed of the recent death of Sidney Swift, who served with the 1st Battalion, London Irish Rifles (1 LIR) in Iraq and Italy during the Second World War.
Sidney lived almost his entire post-war life in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire where he married Mary (née Sheppard), whom he had met in the dancing school. Until his retirement in 1979, he had worked as a compositor for the printing firm of Balding & Mansell.
He and Mary raised their two children in Wisbech, but his first memories were of London. Sidney was born in Brixton, and as a child he frequently visited Jack Massey, his paternal grandfather, who has been described as ‘the last of the great bare-knuckle boxers’. After attending Tenison’s School in Leicester Square, he moved with it to a new site next to the Oval. The location afforded tantalising half-views of test matches. Once the library had closed, Sidney and his schoolmates would irritate the bus conductors by hopping on and off their vehicles as they passed alongside the ground, in the hope of glimpsing a wicket from the upper deck. Sidney’s lifelong love of cricket was only slightly tempered by regrets that he once casually turned down special training sessions from the England bowler, Alf Gover. Sidney’s father, who had been injured at the Somme, moved his family to the peaceful Buckinghamshire village of Monks Risborough, but the rural idyll was soon interrupted by the outbreak of a second world war.
In 1939, Sidney joined up with the Royal Sussex Regiment before transferring to the London Irish Rifles and in August 1942, after three years of training and home front duties, he embarked from Liverpool with the 1st Battalion and they passed by Freetown and Cape Town en route to Bombay before finally arriving at Basra in Iraq. 1 LIR's new role was to join the Persia and Iraq Force (PAI Force) in protecting the oil fields near to Kirkuk.
In April 1943, 1 LIR left Iraq and spent three months training in Egypt before landing in Sicily in early July. Here, the battalion was involved in bitter fighting at Fosso Bottacetto just to the south of Catania, Sidney lost many of his friends and colleagues there, and he recalled helping to bury his platoon comrades Rifleman Horace Savage, Rifleman Pearton and L/Cpl Biggs in a ditch. It was only in recent years that it emerged that Rifleman Savage did not have an official grave, although his name does appear on the memorial wall at the Cassino CWGC cemetery, and this was something that Sidney continued to feel very strongly about.
1 LIR travelled to mainland Italy in October 1943, before taking part in fighting at Monte Camino and at the Garigliano River, before the battalion was transferred to Anzio in February 1944. It was here that Sidney was taken prisoner, and was then transported on the back of a lorry to Rome, before being transferred by rail to the Stalag camp at Torun, which is now in Poland. Sidney would say that the hardships and privations he experienced during his months of captivity helped him to get through life at its difficult moments, and indeed he bore the occasional indignities of old age with great courage.
In recent years, Sidney’s shock of white hair was easily spotted in his home town, as he travelled across the market place on his buggy, or he could be found at home sipping a sherry and listening to band leader Bert Ambrose, or devising some homespun contraption in his shed.
The embodiment of the polite values of a bygone age, Sidney was loved and respected by all who knew him. His wife and son predeceased him. He leaves behind a daughter, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
(thanks are due to the Cambridgeshire Times).
We have received a note to inform us that Sidney Belcher, who served with the 2nd Battalion, died peacefully on 5th August at the age of 94 years and 9 months.
Sidney, from Cannock in Staffordshire, joined up with the London Irish Rifles in 1940 and trained with them as part of the 'Carriers' throughout Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland and England before embarking for North Africa in November 1942. In the first major engagement for the battalion at Hill 286 in Tunisia, Sidney was taken prisoner, sent first to Italy, and later to Austria where he worked as a lumberjack before being liberated by American forces in May 1945.
Sidney was able to write about his war time experiences in a personal memoir "Another Feather In Me Cap", which was published in 1998.
Sidney's funeral will take place at 10.30am on Friday 16th August, at Stafford Crematorium, Tixall Road, Stafford ST18 0XZ. Flowers, or donations to Midlands Air Ambulance Charity, Hawthorn House, Dudley Road, Stourbridge DY9 8BQ (www.midlandsairambulance.com).
WILLIAM G ARTHUR.
The family of William G Arthur has recently informed us of his death.
Will Arthur died peacefully and bravely on 18th June 2013, aged 92, after suffering a lengthy debilitating illness.
At the age of 14, he joined the Queens Army Cadet Company and then signed up as a Territorial in the 2nd Battalion of the London Irish Rifles in 1939 at the age of 17 finally being called to the “Colours” in August 1939 in anticipation of the inevitable war.
For 2½ years, he was assigned to guarding strategic assets such as railway bridges around the UK before being transferred to the 1st Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, embarking for India shortly afterwards. Following the loss of Burma to the Japanese, William was part of the reinforcements to bring the Battalion back up to strength as a third were lost during the earlier defeat.
In late 1943, the Battalion was again sent into Burma, this time to advance down the Mayu Peninsula to establish a forward base, the rugged terrain and narrow width of the peninsula presented problems from the start for the Battalion. These problems, together with no reconnaissance or air support, resulted in delays which allowed the Japanese to fortify the peninsula, the Battalion launched many determined but unsuccessful attacks, eventually being overrun by the enemy and were forced to escape in small groups through the jungle, where many became hopelessly lost or were killed by the Japanese.
It was during this retreat, in February 1943, that William was shot and wounded. The injury was sustained whilst carrying another wounded man on a stretcher; the bullet entered his back and passed straight through fortunately missing all his vital organs but nicking his spine in the process and it was this wound that would affect and impair his mobility in later years.
Despite this, he managed to survive the retreat and after treatment he spent many months convalescing in India after which he had only light duties.
William was flown home after the end of hostilities in August 1945 and was assigned to guarding duties at a POW Camp near Rugeley in Staffordshire. It was here that he was demobbed, after completion of his engagement and released to reserve in May 1946 being finally discharged from reserve in June 1959.
Not long after the war, after settling down into normal routine, he joined his old Regiment’s Association, the London Irish Rifles Association, and was awarded life membership for his long service. He would often attend the various veterans and remembrance parades and the one he enjoyed more than most was St. Patrick's Day when the regiment gave out the “shamrock”.
After moving to Brentford, he got actively involved with the local branch of the “Burma Star Association” and became the standard bearer for the South West Middlesex Branch. He carried out this duty, with immense pride for over 20 years before the pain from his disability became too much and had to give up.
William was with us for 92 years and will not be effaced from our memories.
NEC ASPERA TERRENT
We have received notice that James (Jim) Hall died on 15th April 2013 at the age of 88 years.
Jim joined the 70th (Young Man's) Battalion of the London Irish Rifles (LIR) in 1942, when he was not yet 18 years old - he said that he had "lied" about his age to be able to join up. After training with the battalion for over a year, and when it was disbanded in 1943, he joined the Royal Armoured Corps, and served with the Royal Tank Regiment in Northern Italy during the autumn of 1944 at the extremely hard fought battles near to the Gothic Line. He also supported the final Allied thrusts in April 1945 up to the River Po, in close proximity to both the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the LIR. Jim was a regular attendee at Regimental Association events over the past few years, and joined the pilgrimage in 2009 to the battlefields of southern Italy.
Jim's funeral will take place on Thursday 2nd May at 1400hrs at The Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady in Wymondham, Norfolk.
We have received notice of the death on 6th April 2013 of James Bayley, who served with the London Irish Rifles during the Second World War.
His daughter, Karen Fransz wrote to us:
"I don't know if you keep records of old London Irish soldiers but my father passed away yesterday and was a member of your regiment. His name was James Bayley and he kept us entertained for years regarding his tales of the Second World War. He fought in Italy and at Monte Cassino and always talked fondly of the comrades he lost. He was a wonderful father and he has left a huge hole in our lives but, we have the memories and laughter that he has left in his wake to keep us smiling through the tears.
I hope he can be remembered in some way at the regimental HQ."