We are pleased to be able to add the unpublished personal memoirs of Captain Percy Alexander Hamilton MC, who served with 38 (Irish) Brigade from early 1943 onwards. He was able to write down his wartime story while based in Austria during 1945 and 1946.
We would like to thank Percy Hamilton’s sons, David and Ronnie, for allowing us to add these most evocative and moving personal accounts to the Irish Brigade web site.
“I walked through the iron gates of Westland Row station Dublin some time about dawn on a morning late in February 1943. I had been on a fortnight’s embarkation leave and was on my way back to England. My mother and father were at the station to see me off, but the regulations kept all but travellers behind the railings. I could see them from the carriage, and by leaning out of the window, I could have shouted last minute messages, but I could think of nothing. We had been through everything so many times. The train pulled out, and I leaned out and waved as long as the station was in sight…”
Back Row: Fusilier Rolfe, Fusilier Keen, L/Cpl Swainson, Fusilier Francis.
Front Row: Fusilier Ruane, Sgt O’Connor, Lt Hamilton, Cpl Fielder.
“There was no delay leaving the ship except to collect francs instead of pounds etc. Some of the lads threw pennies onto the quay to watch the urchins scramble for them.
The heavy baggage and big packs were put onto transport and all the drafts set out to march to their various camps. There was some confusion because the only way out of the docks led up a long slant – all the dock traffic and innumerable Arab carts used it and marching troops had a bad time. Our draft had to march to a transit camp called Fort De L’Eau, about eight miles away, and we found the heat extremely trying, having come straight from a February at home….”
“March 13th 1943 was the first date I can remember for certain and when we arrived at ‘B’ Echelon in the morning. They were in a very thick cactus grove; cactus in that part of the country is not of the flower pot in the hall variety – it grows to twelve foot high….”
“On Patrick’s Day 1943 we got three bottles of beer between two men. I believe that most of the officers went off to Brigade, but I was not in the know, so there were only a couple of us left in the lines…”
“In front of the ‘Windmill Farm’ area, about half a mile ahead, there was a hill which was used as an ‘OP’. The company commanders were taken there and then each commander brought his platoon commanders up.
Looking across the plain beyond Avenue Farm, there was a range of mountains, one of which was pointed out as our next objective. It was called Djebel Mahdi; we called it ‘Mahdi’….”
“The Battalion left Chaouach in the late afternoon and marched in single file to a spot behind a feature called Bettiour. The first part of the march was made quite unpleasant by so much transport passing by, then someone thought they saw a aeroplane so everyone had to disperse off the road and wait for a bit.
We reached the allotted area and it became obvious that there was something brewing. There were ‘Order’s Groups and conferences going on. It was dark before we got the ‘dope’…”
“The day after Tanngoucha fell, there was a plan made on a high level. The Irish Brigade was to push through across the hills and towards Tebourba. There were a lot of report lines and code names for objectives and we were to push on as fast as possible.
We started off at midday and the CO was in a shocking temper from the start….”
“Rumours start as usual before anything happens. We were to move soon, it was pretty obvious. We were bound for all sorts of places, but we hoped to be sent somewhere on the coast as it was getting to the end of May and good bathing weather and some of us liked an occasional swim.
Finally the plan was divulged or we were ‘put in the picture’, as they say. The brigade was to move to a place called Guelma about fifty miles south of Bone. It was 350 miles from Tunis and we were to spend two days on the way…”
“We came in sight of land early in the morning and sailed along the coast to port. The sea was flat calm and the sun was shining, and about midday, we came to an improvised port, but had to wait a little way out while some other ships unloaded. After lunch, we pulled in to the jetty, which ran out from a sandy beach far enough for the LST to come right up to it. There was room for two ships at a time, as coming in bow first, they only need their own width. The beach was covered with Summerfelt track, an improvised road made out of coconut matting and wire netting, so we were able to drive the transport right up to the road without any trouble….”
“About an hour before dawn, the CO came back from brigade and called a conference. He told us that news was vague and that we were to push on to the village of Centuripe, which was supposed to be clear.
We started at dawn, and it was cold and everyone was glad to get moving. Everybody marched in the usual infantry formation in single file on either side of the road. We passed a mule running about loose and I caught it and led it along for a bit, but it didn’t seem keen so I gave it to someone else. It might have been useful for carrying things as we were short of mules….”
“After ten days or so at Mortar Corner, it was decided to send half the Bttn at a time to the north coast for a week. The first lot went and returned and my turn came and after we got there, it was decided to keep the whole lot up there so the first party had to come all the way up again. It was about a fifty miles over very bad roads.
When we arrived at the rest area, we found that we lived in tents in amongst shady fig trees with a vineyard on one hand and the sea on the other…”
“We marched down to the docks at Barletta. It was nice and sunny and everyone seemed in good form. I had to wait on one side for a bit with my platoon as we were going on an LCI with the RIrF and the only other Skins on this ship would be our Coy HQ. We had a pleasant day’s sailing and although it was very hot, we enjoyed it. We didn’t know where we were going but one never worried very much. We were looking forward to the week’s rest we were to have, before we went into action….”
“After the week or so spent in our nice house in Montenero, we had to move up to take over the Trigno bridgehead from the LIR. The move up was confused. We followed the road until about a mile from the bridge, which had been blown just before the LIR had reached it and then struck off to the left to cross the river half a mile above the bridge, as it was not safe at the latter because of shells. He had the bridge well and truly registered as we were to find out later….”
“After patrols had been carried out and conferences called and we had been taken up to a hill overlooking the river from where we could see very little anyway, the way was set for another push forward.
This was a very big show and we were to have tank support and nearly all the artillery in Italy too. The latter was lined up behind the high ground south of the river. There was to be a ‘Chinese’attack on the left of the main attack. This was to be carried out by Bofors and Urlicane firing tracer horizontally….”
Percy Alexander Hamilton joined the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers in Belfast on 15th October 1940, and served as a corporal with their 1st Battalion for nearly two years before entering the 164 Officer Cadet Training Unit (OCTU).
When he passed out of the OCTU in October 1942, he received an emergency commission and was assigned initially to the 5th Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers (5 Innisks), which was a reserve unit based in Northern Ireland. At the end of January 1943, he embarked for North Africa with a reinforcement draft, and was able to join up with the 6th Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers (6 Innisks), who were occupying positions on Grandstand Hill, north of Bou Arada, on 13th March 1943.
He served with 6 Innisks and then 2 Innisks when they joined the Irish Brigade, and was present at most of the brigade’s actions in Tunisia and Italy, including those at Tanngoucha, Centuripe, Termoli, San Salvo, the Liri Valley, Lake Trasimene, and the Argenta Gap.
Percy rose to the rank of Captain, although he was acting Major when he was Officer Commanding C Company, 6 Innisks, during their assault on Pucciarelli Ridge near to Lake Trasimeno, on 21st/22nd June 1944. For his actions that night, he was awarded the Military Cross.
On leaving Austria in June 1946, Percy Hamilton returned home to Dublin.