2 LIR in North Africa, June 1943

A photograph taken in the summer of 1943 in Algeria shows twenty five officers of the 2nd Battalion of the London Irish Rifles (2 LIR) as they prepared to join the Allied invasion of Sicily. It was a little more than six months after the Battalion had landed in Algiers as part of Operation Torch, the Anglo-American invasion of French North Africa. But, by May 1943, the London Irish had already suffered hundreds of casualties in Tunisia with more than 100 men being killed.

Sitting in the middle of the front row, with a blackthorn walking stick and a determined look, was Lieutenant-Colonel TPD (Pat) Scott, who had taken command of 2 LIR after the battles near Bou Arada in January and February 1943. Then aged 38, Scott had been commissioned into the Royal Irish Fusiliers (the Faughs) in 1924. During the previous year, his father Thomas E Scott had been appointed Colonel of the Regiment. Scott held positions outside the regiment during the first two years of the war and was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel in December 1941 and then became commander of the Faughs in the following August. He would be transferred to the London Irish following its heavy losses in the Bou Arada fighting. Pat Scott was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his leadership of the Faughs in Tunisia and, after spending time in other units in Italy, in February 1944, he was appointed Commanding Officer of the Irish Brigade and held this position until the end of the war during which period he would be awarded a Bar to the DSO.

The Irish Brigade website has gathered information about the other officers in the photograph:

Front row from left to right:

Captain Leslie Joseph (“Doc”) Samuels was born in Dublin in 1912. He was the son of Joshua and Millicent (née Collins) Honigbaum. Joshua, who had been born in the Ukraine, had changed their family name to Samuels at the start of the First World War. Leslie trained with the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland and qualified as a doctor. After the Second World War began, he was one of nine Jews who offered their services at a Gardai station. He and two others doctors were rejected and it was said to be due to an unwillingness to grant officer status to Jews. Samuels then joined the British Army and was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) on 22 May 1941. Promoted to Captain in 1942, Samuels was posted to 2 LIR in September 1942 as its Regimental Medical Officer. Samuels was awarded the Military Cross (MC) for bravery for tending the wounded under heavy fire that had lasted for five hours during the Irish Brigade’s attack north of the River Trigno on the night of 27/28 October 1943. He settled in London post-war, and went into general practice with his brother as ‘Samuels & Samuels’. In 1944, he had married Lenke Iren Szanto in Tel Aviv and, after her death, Samuels remarried, to Sally Lever in 1976. He retired in 1990, although he continued to undertake locum duties, and died in London in June 1997.

Captain JP Delaney joined 2 LIR in April 1943, becoming Officer Commanding (OC) F Coy in May 1943 before moving to H Coy in June 1943. Delaney was hospitalised in August 1943 at which time he left the Battalion.

Major HM Findlater was commissioned into the Royal Berkshire Regiment and joined 2 LIR in March 1943. Findlater became OC G Coy in May 1943 and left the Battalion in June 1943.

Major AKP (Kevin) O’Connor was educated at Ampleforth and Jesus College Cambridge. He was commissioned into the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry and was appointed Second-in-Command of 2 LIR in March 1943 following the battles in the Bou Arada area; then temporarily took over command of the Battalion in August 1943 due to the sickness of its Commanding Officer, Harry Rogers. O’Connor would be killed at 10am on the morning of 28 October in the River Trigno bridgehead by shell fire as he was bringing up supplies to the Irish Brigade. The official history of the London Irish Rifles described him thus: “Fearless, a charming and delightful personality, he was held in high esteem by everyone. The great work he did for the battalion he loved so much will live after him.”  The son of Bernard and Teresa, Kevin O’Connor was 31 when he was killed.

Officers of the 2nd London Irish Rifles. Left to right: – Front Row Capt. L.J. Samuels Capt. J.P. Delaney Major H.M. Findlater Major A.K.P. O’Connor Col. T.P.D. Scott Capt. K. Neely Major J.D. Lofting Capt. E.H. Westcott, Rev. H. Graydon  (NA 3347) Copyright: © IWM.

Captain K (Ken) Neely joined 2 LIR in 1941 and was its Signals Officer in Tunisia. Promoted to Adjutant in May 1943, he moved to a Brigade role in May 1944. Neely was twice Mentioned in Dispatches.

Major JD (John) Lofting served with the London Irish Rifles before the war. Lofting was OC H Coy in Tunisia and led the company in 2 LIR’s first engagement on the road to Bou Arada on 11 January 1943. He was wounded in the fighting for Hills 286 and 279 on 20/21 January, soon re-joining the Battalion and was involved in the fighting on Stuka Ridge on 26 February. Lofting was OC E Coy during the battles around Heidous in April 1943. He would be wounded for a second time following the attack on Fossacessia during the Irish Brigade’s Sangro river assault in November 1943 and being then replaced as E Coy commander by Mervyn Davies. Lofting later returned to the Battalion and served with it until the end of the war.

John Lofting was awarded his first MC for leading a raid against German lines on the River Senio near Cotignola in March 1945. His second was awarded during the Irish Brigade’s advance through the Argenta Gap in April that year. Lofting’s company was supporting one of the leading tank squadrons and, on approaching the Conselice Canal, it was found that the village of Cavamento on the near bank was strongly held by enemy infantry whilst the bridge was partially blown.  Major Lofting crossed the canal and formed a bridgehead on the other bank, to the surprise of the enemy. Lofting’s MC citation said: “On two other occasions during the advance to the River Po, Major Lofting’s company has by its dash and swiftness into action achieved great success against the enemy. These successes are all in very large part due to the drive, gallantry and fighting spirit of Major Lofting who, after two years as a rifle company commander, is still an enthusiastic and inspiring example to his company.” 

Captain WH (Bill) Westcott joined 2 LIR in March 1943 and immediately took over command of H Coy. Westcott would be badly wounded in fighting west of Termoli in October 1943.

Captain Rev H (Harry) Graydon was commissioned into the Royal Army Chaplain’s Department and transferred to support 2 LIR in February 1943. He served with the Battalion until January 1944 when he was replaced as Chaplain by Captain Jones-Davies. Graydon was awarded the MC for serving the men of the London Irish on Hill 279 in January 1943.

Second row, left to right:

Lieutenant PP (Pat) Giles joined 2 LIR in March 1943. Giles became Second-in-Command of E Coy and temporarily took over command of the company in the advance north of Rome in June 1944.

Lieutenant RJ (John) O’Rourke joined 2 LIR in April 1943 and was appointed Intelligence Officer in May 1943, before being hospitalised in August 1943. He re-joined the Battalion in November 1943 and was promoted to Captain and then appointed Brigade Intelligence Officer in February 1944. O’Rourke would hold that position until the end of the war and was twice Mentioned in Dispatches.

Lieutenant JD (Jack) White joined 2 LIR in April 1943 as part of G Coy. On 9 October 1943, following the capture of Termoli, White led his Platoon to make contact with and bring in information about enemy positions. He went forward about 7,000 yards and stayed out throughout daylight hours under heavy mortar fire. Despite this, White made a valuable reconnaissance of the ground in addition to discovering several enemy MG positions by showing himself in order to draw their fire. His MC citation said: “White’s high powers of leadership and disregard for personal safety were responsible for the success of the patrol and the gaining of the required information.” White was later promoted to Major and transferred to a training position outside the Battalion after the Battle of Trasimene in June 1944.

Lieutenant TWH (Thomas) Wilson joined 2 LIR at the end of February 1943 and was posted to G Coy. In the attack on Fossacesia on 30 November 1943, White was responsible for dealing with a heavily defended part of the village. Two days later, Wilson and his Platoon beat off two counter attacks on Treglio ridge and this played an important part in holding the ground already won. He later took over temporary command of E Coy after all its officers had been wounded. Wilson would be awarded the MC for these action, promoted to Captain and was then transferred to become a Brigade Liaison Officer in December 1943.

Officers of the 2nd London Irish Rifles. Left to right: – Centre Row Capt. P.O. Giles Lieut. R.J. O’Rourke Lieut. J.D. White Capt. T.W.H. Wilson Lieut. J.A. St.Maur-Sheil Capt. G.G. Hall Lieut. D. Aitkenhead Lieut. S. Wade Capt. J.G. Fitzgerald Copyright: © IWM.

Lt JA (James) St Maur-Sheil was with the 2nd Battalion, Royal Ulster Rifles during the retreat to Dunkirk in 1940 and joined 2 LIR in March 1943, being appointed to E Coy. Maur-Sheil was wounded during the attack on Monte Sperina in Sicily in August 1943, returning in December 1943 before being hospitalised in May 1944 and at that time left the Battalion for good.

Captain GG (Jerry) Hall joined 2 LIR in March 1943, initally in H Coy and then appointed OC G Coy in June 1943. Hall left the Battalion in September 1943 and returned in January 1944 as OC S Coy. Hall commanded the Carrier Platoon in March 1944, then returning to S Coy in April 1944 and was posted to the UK in December 1944.

Lieutenant D (Dave) Aitkenhead was the Battalion’s Quartermaster during its campaigns in North Africa and Italy. Aitkenhead was Mentioned in Dispatches and transferred into the RASC after the war ended.

Lieutenant S Wade was commissioned into the Lancashire Fusiliers and joined 2 LIR’s Carriers in January 1943. Wade moved to E Coy in March 1943 and left the Battalion in June 1943.

Captain JG (Joseph Gerald) Fitzgerald was a 39 year old lawyer from Dublin and joined 2 LIR in March 1943, becoming OC HQ Coy in May 1943. He commanded F Coy in the attack across the River Simeto in Sicily on 5 August 1943. His MC citation said: “Some disorganisation was apparent after the bridgehead had been gained owing to the activity of enemy snipers and loss of officers and NCOs during the attack. It was at this point that Major Fitzgerald…took charge and with great coolness and efficiency directed the reorganisation of the two companies thus ensuring the complete success of the operation.”  Married to Katheleen, Fitzgerald was killed in the attack on Monte Sperina on 12 August 1943.

Back row, left to right:

Captain RG (Rufus) Allen joined 2 LIR in May 1943 having previously served with the anti-aircraft unit, 8 RUR, in North Africa. He was a Platoon Commander in F Coy when he was killed during the attack across the River Simeto on 5 August 1943. Allen, the son of Raymond and Florette Allen of Swinishead, Devon, was 23 when he was killed.

Lieutenant TA (Terry) O’Connor joined 2 LIR in April 1943 and appointed to G Coy. O’Connor was wounded during the Battle of Cassino in May 1943

Lieutenant GR Stokes was a Gordon Highlander, who joined 2 LIR  in January 1943, serving with E Coy. Stokes would leave the Battalion in June 1943.

Officers of the 2nd London Irish Rifles. Left to right: – Back Row Lieut. R.G. Allen Lieut. T.A. O’Connor Lieut. G.R. Stokes Lieut. F. Lyness Lieut. K. Lovatt Lieut. M.O.W. Clark Lieut. C.K.M. Heaps Copyright: © IWM.

Lieutenant F (Frankie) Lyness joined 2 LIR in March 1943 and was Motor Transport Officer in Tunisia though he had temporarily taken over command of E Coy during the Battle for Stuka Ridge. He would be awarded he MC, the citation for which stated: “…Lyness has fought since almost the beginning of the North African campaign without a break. He was a platoon commander until after the Sangro battles of Dec 1943 when he became a liaison officer for a few months.During the Sicilian campaign and early Italian campaign his patrolling was outstanding, particular on occasions on the Simeto River in Sicily when he showed great gallantry under heavy fire in extricating a patrol of another regiment from a very difficult position and bringing it and its wounded officer back to our lines. In the positions at Monte Castellone at Cassino, he acted as liaison officer at Brigade HQ, his job being to contact battalions in exposed positions on the slopes of Monte Cairo. He carried out his duties for a month running considerable risks from the heavy shell and mortar fire which were a feature of the area. During the battles of May and June 1944 from Cassino to Trasimeno, he was the Battalion Intelligence Officer. His skill, gallantry and cheerfulness under heavy fire in mobile battles was most marked and the work done by him in observing enemy movements and recording information had a great bearing on the battalion’s successful advance. In the battle on Monte Spaduro in October 1944 and the holding positions in the Sillaro valley his work has been of the highest order and his devotion to duty in spite of obvious strain brought on by such a long continuous period of active operations has been unstinting.” Following the battle of Monte Spaduro in October 1944, and by then a Captain, Lyness took up a post as an instructor at the Central Mediterranean Training Centre in Benevento.

Lieutenant K (Ken) Lovatt was an Inniskilling who joined 2 LIR in March 1943 when he became the Signals Officer. Lovatt would be wounded in the Liri valley in May 1944 by the artillery barrage that killed Lieutenant Colonel Goff and returned to the Battalion later in the year.

Captain MOW (Michael Owen Wynne) Clark was a graduate of Christ’s College, Cambridge and the son of Thomas and Catherine Clark of Northend, Turville in Buckinghamshire. He joined 2 LIR in May 1943, transferring from 8 RUR along with Rufus Allen. His MC citation states: “This officer displayed the most outstanding courage on 5/6 August 1943 when the Battalion was establishing a bridgehead on the River Simeto. His company on the left of the attack was disorganised due to the activities of snipers and a local enemy counter attack. Lieutenant Clark reorganised all his available men and attacked with determination two enemy strong points and inflicted casualties on them and forced the occupants to retire. His prompt action at a critical moment undoubtedly prevented a serious situation arising.” Clark was a Platoon Commander in H Coy during its attack on Sinagoga when he was killed, aged 23, on 16 May 1944. His elder brother was John Desmond Clark (10 April 1916–14 February 2002), a British archaeologist noted particularly for his work on pre-historic Africa.

Lieutenant CKM Heaps was commissioned into the East Yorkshire Regiment and joined 2 LIR in Tunisia in January 1943. Heaps, then with H Coy, would leave the Battalion in June 1943.


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