Serving in Northern Ireland 1 Aug 1940 to 14 May 1942

On joining the Army on 1 August 1940, I went to the recruiting office in Enniskillen who promptly passed me on to the main recruiting centre in Omagh. It was my intention to join the Inniskilling Fusiliers – my County Regiment. When I made this request, I was told that recruiting for the Inniskillings and the Ulster Rifles was closed but that a battalion of the Royal Irish Fusiliers was being formed at Ballykinlar and had vacancies and that I should go there. I was quite staggered at this news; “a nation at war and so soon after the evacuation from Dunkirk” was limiting recruitment to infantry regiments. What appeared to have caused this state of affairs was the fact that the British Government was fully expecting the Germans to invade England and the Government of N. Ireland was urgently recruiting for three Battalions of young soldiers for service in N. Ireland only. These battalions, Inniskilling Fusiliers, Royal Ulster Rifles and 5th Btn The Royal Irish Fusiliers were hurriedly trained and, by platoons, dispatched to key points around the province.

I was included in a detachment dispatched to a fort at a place called Greypoint on the coast near Bangor where there were 2 x 6” naval guns, which, along with two similar guns on the opposite side at a place called Kilroot near Carrickfergus, were responsible for preventing any hostile ships entering Belfast Lough.  In turn, we were to be responsible for the security of the guns and their crews. At that time, all this was very serious stuff indeed and no one had a clue as to what might happen. Many other places around the Province that had to be guarded round the clock were the Government House at Hillsborough, the Viaduct and Railway Station at Bessbrook, Ammunition Dumps, Petrol Dumps etc.  During my period in Northern Ireland, I served in Ballykinlar, Greypoint, at Knock in Belfast for a few weeks during which time the German air raids occurred, Hillsborough, Mourn Park near Kilkeel, Scarva and Guilford. I also spent a few weeks with a detachment guarding a radar station near Newtownbutler in Fermanagh.

Some few months after joining up, we discovered that our attestation papers were marked across the top in red with “For Service in N.I. Only”.  This meant that there were about 2000 young men in uniform between the ages of 18 and 20 who could have stayed in N.I. for the duration of the war.  After the invasion of Russia by Germany during 1941, it became obvious that there would be no invasion of England.

I was appointed to L/Cpl. In 1941 and I made my intentions known that I wanted to transfer to a regular battalion of the Regiment and, in May 1942, I with 3 other L/Cpls were posted to the 1st Battalion then undergoing intensive training in Ayrshire Scotland, we arrived on 13th May and were posted to different Coys.  I went to ‘D’ Coy. whose commander was Major John Horsfall M.C. The Battalion were under canvas in a wooded area near the town of old Cumnock.

The 1st Bn. with the 6th Bn. Inniskilling Fusiliers and 2nd Bn. The London Irish Rifles formed the 38th (Irish) Brigade (motorised in the 6th Armoured Division and underwent intensive training for the next six months. I had to work very hard to catch up with the high standards of the Battalion to justify my stripe. Age wise I was several years younger than the average of the Company and must have impressed my superiors as I was promoted to Corporal In September.

The 21 months I served with the Battalion in N. Ireland were not very memorable; the duties we were performing were boring, we were poorly trained, equipped and armed.  A phase of my military service that I would rather forget.

In early November 1942, there were strong indicators that the whole 6th Armoured Division was being got ready for overseas. About the 3rd week in November we were sent by train to the Port of Liverpool where we embarked on the troop ship Tegelberg, along with a number of other troop and cargo ships, formed a large convoy guarded by a number of warships, set sail for an unknown destination. We knew that “Operation Torch”, the landings on the coast of N. Africa in the Mediterranean, had occurred and we had a fair idea that was where we were heading. In due course, we arrived on the battlefields of Tunisia near the end of December 1942.