The London Irish in Gaza, November 1917.
Alongside the exploits of the 1st Battalion, London Irish Rifles on the Western Front from 1915 to 1918, the 2nd Battalion's campaigns in the Middle East during 1917 and 1918 are much less well known.
From the time of their landing at Alexandria on 12th June 1917 to their disbandment after suffering heavy losses in May 1918, the battalion spent an extremely gruelling time in Egypt and Palestine, being involved in some quite momentous events including entering Jerusalem in December 1917. In total, over 130 London Irishmen are buried in the CWGC cemeteries in Egypt, Palestine and Israel with many hundreds more having been wounded in action.
The first battle honour awarded to the 2nd Battalion during the First World War, 'El Mughar', was for their involvement with 60th (London) Division at the Battle of Sheria in Gaza from 6th to 8th November 1917. Ten London Irishmen were killed during this period with three of these men buried at Gaza CWGC cemetery.
Sjt Guy Tyrrell, Age 26, (formerly RAMC). Born in Battersea, Enlisted in Chelmsford, Resided in Chelmsford. Son of Arthur and Kate Tyrrell, of Camberley, Surrey. His brother Arthur Tyrrell also fell at the Somme.
Rfn Harold Norman Lloyd, Age 26, (formerly RAMC). Born in Worcester, Enlisted in Chelmsford, Resided in Pleshey, Essex. Son of John and E Lloyd, of Bromsgrove, Worcs.
Rfn James Arthur Mackey. Born in Dublin, Enlisted at the Duke of York’s HQ, Chelsea, Resided in Walworth.
Harry Tyers remembered.
RSM Harry Tyers served with the 1st Battalion of the London Irish Rifles throughout the First World War, a remarkably long period for anyone during those years of desperate conflict. Equally amazing was the fact that Harry drew extremely evocative cartoons of his time in the trenches throughout the war and these are now held in the Regimental Museum with some print copies displayed around Connaught House. Following the end of the war, Harry was also able to write a marvellous memoir of his time with the London Irish Rifles and this can also be found in the Museum.
Harry's son Barry and his wife Helen recently visited Connaught House to look at both Harry's cartoons and his memoirs and spent an enthralling two hours reviewing the proud history of the London Irish Rifles during the First World War.
Harry Tyers was born in 1889 and joined the Territorial Army in 1911, before joining the London Irish Rifles and serving with the Regiment throughout the war time period. Later, Harry became a regular visitor to the Duke of York's HQ up to the time of his death in 1969.
You can find two excerpts of Harry's memoirs on this website
WE have been recently contacted by the great nephew of Rifleman Frederick Curnow, who was killed in action on 11th May 1916, while serving with the 1/18th Battalion London Regiment (London Irish Rifles).
In his note to us, Kieran Saunders wrote: "The one thing that puzzles me is that after reading your site as to where the 1st Bttn were situated on the date that he was killed, it appears they were around the Vimy Ridge/Souchez area. Yet on his 'In Memorium' card, it says he died near Verdun which is nowhere near that area. Perhaps you can shed some light on this?"
After reviewing the regimental history, we can confirm that when Rifleman Curnow died, he was indeed serving with the 1st Battalion London Irish Rifles just to the north of Arras.
Richard Haigh remembers Anzio, 70 years on.
A recent visit to meet with Major Richard Haigh MC was most appropriately timed as the Regimental Association continues to remember the 70th anniversary of the Regiment’s front line role during the Second World War.
From his home at Charter House in Bedford, Richard vividly recalled his time serving with the 1st Battalion, London Irish Rifles (1 LIR) from 1943 to 1946 and then again during four years of post war service as part of the reconstituted Territorial Army.
Following the German invasion of Belgium and France, Richard enlisted with the Royal Fusiliers, with whom he served for two years with their 2nd Battalion and becoming a corporal. Richard recalled his time with the Fusiliers: "The Londoners were fantastic characters and, though it was tough to start with, I became one of them, though not in speech."
In 1943, Richard entered an Officer Cadet Training Unit and although he had absolutely no family connection with Ireland, he was commissioned into the Royal Ulster Rifles (RUR), and joined up with them in Northern Ireland. After several months stationed at Larne with the RUR, Lieutenant Haigh volunteered to join a reinforcement draft which journeyed to Algiers in the middle of July 1943. Richard was then sent onto a holding camp at Philippeville and in early August was posted to 1 LIR, who were at this time resting on the east coast of Sicily.
One of his first assignments was working as a Movement Coordinator supervising the crossings of troops from Messina to Reggio di Calabria. Richard remembers serving there alongside Lieut-Colonel Sieff, later to be Chairman of Marks and Spencers, who was working on the beach at the same time and also when he took an unauthorised round trip across to Reggio “to see what Italy was like”. The movement unit had been ordered to dispatch 4,000 vehicles in 5 days but actually achieved 5,000 vehicles in 4 days – a success for which Sieff was rewarded with an OBE.
After two months in Sicily, 1 LIR rejoined the 56th (London) Infantry Division, which formed part of the 5th Army’s move northwards from Naples. In January 1944, after a short spell in hospital recovering from a bout of jaundice, Lieutenant Haigh returned to the battalion as they were involved in several days of sharp actions near to the River Garigliano. Richard recalls joining up there with the LIR’s bridgehead forces as they prepared to attack Castelforte for a second time but, before they were able to do so, he was“relieved” to hear that the battalion was being sent instead to a place called Anzio.
As second in command of ‘C’ Company, Lieutenant Haigh was called forward to take command of ‘B’ Company during the battalion’s desperate defensive action near to Aprilia (known as ‘The Factory’). It was on February 7th 1944 that Lieutenant Haigh was awarded the Military Cross (MC) and, in common with other men from that era, Richard prefers to remember the bravery of others rather than his own part, but the MC citation clearly describes his actions on that day:
"On 7 Feb '44 when Captain Hardy, in command of ‘B’ Coy, was wounded, and the other officers of that Company had become casualties in action near the ‘Factory’ area of Caraceto, Lt Haigh was sent to take over the Company.
Just after he took over, the enemy put in another fierce attack on the Company position which was preceded by a very sharp artillery and mortar bombardment together with MG fire from close range on the right flank. During the bombardment Lt Haigh moved about the Company areas reorganising the defence after the previous attack and steadying the men, many of whose leaders had become casualties. During this time, he was wounded by small arms fire in the arm but continued his task without the slightest hesitation.
Later he found the enemy had got into part of the group of house occupied by his Company HQ. At once he personally led an assault on the enemy in the houses and drove them out with grenades. During this phase, he was again wounded in the arm and leg with small arms but continued to control and direct the defence with great personal gallantry, resource and coolness. His personal example and display of leadership was of the very highest order enabling the Company he had taken over at such short notice to maintain its positions."
Richard was evacuated to North Africa but was able to convalesce successfully and rejoin 1 LIR as they travelled back to Egypt for a much needed period of rest. The battalion would return to Italy during July 1944, and take part in several bitter battles on the Gothic Line during September before spending the winter near to the Senio River. It was during this period that Richard remembers meeting with Colonel Macnamara, former CO of the Regiment, when he visited the 1 LIR in December 1944, and just before both he and Lieutenant Jack Prosser MC were killed by a sudden mortar bombardment.
Richard had become temporary Company Commander on a number of occasions during 1944 and 45 before being promoted to Captain and assuming command of ‘C‘ Company as 1 LIR took a leading role in the 8th Army’s final decisive breakthrough offensive to reach the River Po in April 1945 and then taking part in post war peacekeeping duties at Pola and near to Trieste.
After the war, Richard returned to his family's home in Devon, before moving to Eastern England, when he was able to combine his working day with training nights spent with the London Irish Rifles at the Duke of York’s HQ in Chelsea. He would spend the next forty years working in a variety of business roles, including taking over the family’s agricultural business in the early 1970s, before eventually retiring in 1988.
During four hours of enthralling conversation, Richard Haigh clearly recalls the distinct personal and military attributes of many of his fellow London Irishmen – Monty Stopford, Jack Cantopher, Bill Byrne and Harry St George Gallaher amongst others - and provided a fascinating insight into the workings of an infantry battalion during war time.
At the age of 95 ¾, Richard Haigh continues to epitomise a group of men whose levels of valour has no equal.
Loos Sunday, September 1943, at Piedimonte Etneo.
The London Irish Rifles Association was recently contacted by Dr Felice Vitale, who told us in a wonderful note from his home in Sicily:
"I was born in Piedimonte Etneo, Catania, near to the town of Taormina, and in conjunction with my friend Giuseppe Pagano and the local Lions Club, we are planning a detailed exhibition/conference on the legacy impact of allied troops on the social and cultural life of the lands of north east Etna. The 1st Battalion of London Irish Rifles was among the British troops (together with 90th Field Regiment of the Royal Artillery), which entered the town of Piedimonte Etneo during August - September 1943. The aged people of Piedimonte still tell the young people that the entry of London Irish Rifles troops meant freedom for all the citizens.
The London Irish Rifles were welcomed warmly and the record of the Regimental Day Parade (celebrating the battle of Loos and its hero Frank Edwards), which was held on September 25th 1943, is still alive in the minds of the older citizens. We are wondering, though, if any kind of document, picture or film is available within your historical archive on the Battalion's stay in Piedimonte Etneo or in the possession of any members of the Association. If so, we and Piedimonte's community would greatly appreciate it if you could share it with us."
Sadly, when we checked our archives we cannot immediately find any photographs from September 1943, but the official history "The London Irish at War" does recall some of the events of the 1st Battalion's time at rest in Sicily.
"The battalion moved to Fiumefreddo on August 15 1943, and spent some delightful days by the sea, swimming and doing some light training in lifting mines on the beach. In search of a less malarious area, a move was made inland to Piedimonte, a small town at the north-east foot of Mount Etna. It had not been much damaged, and the inhabitants welcomed the London Irish warmly...The battalion said good-bye to its supporting gunners, the officers and men of the 465th Battery of the 90th Field Regiment R.A., which returned to England to prepare for other tasks.
There was a pleasing little ceremony when the gunners were presented with a replica of "The Man of Loos" to commemorate their excellent co-operation with the London Irish. Loos Day was observed at Piedimonte with a parade and service. A local composer wrote a tune for the pipes, though the battalion was still without most of the instruments, which were in the luggage on a later convoy. This prompted the Commanding Officer to declare that on any future invasion the pipes and drums would be in the first flight..."
We would like to take this opportunity to send our fraternal greetings to Dr Vitale and all the citizens of Piedimonte Etneo, and hope members will take an opportunity to visit the area and experience the same warm hospitality that the men of the 1st Battalion received during September 1943.
Rifleman William Ernest Gilbert.
We have received a note from the granddaughter of Rifleman William Gilbert, who served with the 1st Battalion from 1942 to 1944.
In her note, Karen Quantick told us, "I'm having trouble finding information on my grandfather, William Ernest Gilbert 7021070, formerly of the 1st Battalion, the London Irish Rifles. Thanks to your website, I now know where he is buried and his date of death. But having difficulty finding anything else. Growing up, I was lead to believe that he was injured in Italy or France (perhaps run over by a tank, "friendly fire"... or so the family story went) and returned to the UK and later died.
My sister recently received a copy of his marriage certificate, which says he was married in June 1942 and on it, he was listed as being 20 years old, and a rifleman with the LIR…. So given his young age, we would assume he enlisted earlier that year…."
On review of the information on the CWGC roll of honour, it seems that Rifleman Gilbert died in December 1944 and is buried at Lambeth Cemetery, and it is possible (but not certain) that he might have died in England as a direct result of injuries suffered when on front line service with the London Irish Rifles in Italy.
What is also quite remarkable and most tragic is that William’s brother, Henry, served with the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve and died in September 1945, and is also buried at the same cemetery in Lambeth, and only a couple of plots away from William..
Sgt Henry Pitcher MM
We were recently contacted by Hugh Pitcher, the nephew of Henry Arthur Pitcher, who served with the 1st Battalion, London Irish Rifles during the First World War.
Hugh told us that his uncle Henry joined the London Irish Rifles in March 1914 and arrived in France with the 1st Battalion during March 1915. He commenced his service as a private (Rifleman) and progressed to Company Sergeant Major with the battalion, and was awarded an MM for his actions on the Ypres front during early 1917. Later on during 1917, he was commissioned into the Dorset Regiment.
Sergeants from the 1st Battalion, May 1945.
A copy of a very interesting artifact was sent to us by Brian Orr, the son of CSM Charles Orr (see story below), which notes the names of the Sergeants of the 1st Battalion, London Irish Rifles (1 LIR), who celebrated the end of the Second World War in Northern Italy.
It is rather pleasing to see the names of men, who are the backbone of any battalion, but are not usually mentioned in war diaries or any official narrative:
RSM: F Kelly DCM.
RQMS: J Hewitt.
CSM: C Orr, V Piper, P Allworth, J Madigan MM, S Clarke, G Hawkins, J McDaid DCM.
CQMS: E Robinson, O Herlihy, R Sheehan, C Cox, S Pool, J Sheehan, R Blakeney.
Sgt: G Percival, D Lloyd, J Jiggins, A Edwards, J McQuillan, G Rowles, J McKibben, W Flahant, D Wiltshire, C Hill MM, G Haynes, W Wardle MM, J O'Connor, F Salter, H Brand, D Black, H Ade, D Fitzgerald, S Henry MM, P Tindall DCM, D Ward MM, R Bartlett, B Folkerd, P Sweeney, D Marland, J Balfour, J Leary, W Southgate, F McCartney, R Mahon, J Brannigan, E Thurston, S Handcock, F White, R Reeve, J O'Brien, J Bye BEM, V Shaw, E Perry, J Mullucks, F Parsons, J Harris, W Walsh, R Hefferman, J Simmons, E Smith, H Allen, R Stone, H Abbott, A Mason MM.
Pipe Major: J Franklin.
Band Major: F Taylor.