Arriving in North Africa

The 6th Battalion The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, the 2nd Battalion London Irish Rifles and the 1st Battalion Royal Irish Fusiliers were representatives of the new Territorial and Regular Armies. Each was a fine representative. In addition most of the men were volunteers.

H.M. THE KING INSPECTS ARMY UNITS IN SCOTLAND (H 25132) Original wartime caption: Personnel of the London Irish Rifles are inspected by the King. Copyright: © IWM. 

We knew in October that preparations were being made for a “party”. Shipping was assembling at big ports, unit transport and equipment was being overhauled. All ranks were granted embarkation leave. But no one knew where we were going. And no one actually did know until the ships were two days at sea. It was a well kept secret. The “Skins”, London Irish and Brigade Headquarters set sail in mid November and the “Faughs” followed a fortnight later.

A big convoy at sea is an impressive sight and I will never forget it. We had a safe passage without interference from sea or air – which was admirable work, for by this time, the first landings had already been made – the “gaff” had been blown and U boats were on the job.

A bright sunny morning about a week later saw us steaming into Algiers. It seemed very different weather to November in Scotland; but we found out that night it could rain very well in North Africa.

In ten days, we’d married up with our transport, and were on our way to the battle now about 450 miles away.

Not only were we glad to get there, but the original small force, the spearhead of which had been fighting hard for three weeks against daily increasing odds, was very glad to see us.

By the first week in December, the Inniskillings were in a supporting position on the Medjez – Teboursouk road, and the London Irish were in a back stop position on the Le Krib – Bou Arada road. These positions were about 12 miles apart, but this didn’t seem to worry anybody except the Brigade Commander, with his Headquarters, like a floating kidney, in the middle of a great space.

At this time, the war was pretty fluid. There were certain well defined spots, lines of approach to Tunis and Bizerte where we had troops, and the Bosche was dug in. But in between were large gaps, practically uninhabited by either army, and which were loosely patrolled by both sides. We immediately took a hand in this long distance, offensive patrolling.

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