Irish Brigade

The story of the 38th (Irish) Brigade in the Second World War

Charles Ward – January 1943

 Friday Jan 1st 1943.

More shelling today. NAAFI supplies arrived. Went out on standing patrol all night. Extremely cold.


Saturday Jan 2nd.

Came back from patrol and slept morning. Increased air activity. One plane shot down. More shelling in Goubellat.


Sunday Jan 3rd.

Went out on day patrol visiting farms on Goubellat plain. Nothing doing. More mail.


Monday Jan 4th.

Hell of a wind and rain during night. Still windy in morning but no rain. More air activity.


Tuesday Jan 5th.

Nothing much today. More shelling and air activity. Capt. Grant, Sgt Silverman, Rflm Scanlon and Sherrif failed to return from patrol.


Wednesday Jan 6th.

Smashing day so far. Wind dropped and sun very warm. Nothing doing.


Thursday Jan 7th.

Took over 13 platoon position for day while they did patrol.


Friday Jan 8th.

Dug dugouts for section, now sleeping below ground level. Quite dry.

 


Saturday Jan 9th.

Strong wind got up during night and slight rain. Improved trenches in morning. Compulsory rest in afternoon as whole coy on patrol at night. Went out on patrol but nothing doing. Took over rest of platoon as platoon commander and sergeant took patrol out.


Sunday Jan 10th.

Rested all day after night patrol. Rained like hell all day and night.


Monday Jan 11th.

Rain stopped during night but still a bit cloudy. Tank battle in progress on Goubellat  Plain. Enemy tanks ran but ground very bad and tanks getting bogged. H Coy sent out to capture anti-tank gun in farm. Took position but suffered casualties. Two sgts and two riflemen dead and some wounded. We, in reserve, were to go and cover bogged tanks until LAD got them out but they managed to get out themselves before dusk. Two tanks were knocked out, one burned all night. Plan altered, 14 pl to go out and help H Coy in. Got there but H Coy had started back on different route. We came back and met them on road. Got back to camp at approx 01.30 hrs. hot soup, cup of tea and a small nip of rum very welcome. Good show by H Coy and supporting groups which included mortars, machine guns and artillery plus the tanks. Enemy abandoned guns and ran. Stuff captured included bottles of champagne, boxes of cigars, rations, guns, rifles, pistols etc.


Tuesday Jan 12th.

Slept during day getting over long trek last night. Artillery again active firing onto plain. Bombs dropped by plane just behind our position.


Wednesday Jan 13th.

Went out on standing patrol on road junction. Too confident of position and wound up in Goubellat. Got 3 tins of beef and one carrot which we ate when we got back to the road junction. Stan went out on patrol at night and laid mines. Bumped enemy and got machine gunned but no casualties. 15 platoon came back from all-day patrol had been mortared. Two very slight casualties.


Thursday Jan 14th.

Nothing doing today. Terry went out on all-night patrol. NAAFI supplies up again. Rumours of mail again.


Friday Jan 15th.

Orders to be ready to move at dusk. Busy packing during day. Moved at 01.30 hrs Sat. morning.


Saturday Jan 16th.

Northants regiment took over position in early hours. One of first Battalions to land. Got within nine miles of Tunis before they knew the big push was off. Had with them one prisoner who had run of Battalion. Ate, slept and went into action with them bringing back wounded and dead. Helped generally all round. Moved by TCV to harbour near El Aroussa where we slept all day. Moved off in early morning into farm.


Sunday Jan 17th.

Stayed in farm all day. Everything quiet.


Monday Jan 18th.

Big battle raging this morning. Took up position and dug in. Rumoured seven enemy tanks knocked out and they’re on the run but still plenty of firing going on. Dive bombed on road. One JU 88 shot down and burst into flames. Good show. Bags of low level bombing on roads and Bou Arada. Got one shot off at one plane. Ten Spits escorting bombers came over. Saw one plane go down in distance and nine spits came back, looks as if one lost. RAP bombed and evacuated to our farm. Skins reported to be doing well. Plenty of artillery going. Truck going forward all day with ammo. Misinformed – all Spits returned, must have been enemy plane shot down making two on this plain. Moved up left of Bou Arada, took up position from Rifle Brigade. REs blew up enemy tank during night near our position.


Tuesday Jan 19th.

Orders to move at 11.30 to take up position near Skins. Moved onto plain through Bou Arada and got mortared to hell. Managed to dive into wadi but one landed right in and Stan got hit bad. Don’t think he’ll pull through. Connery and Ted also hit but will survive. Mr Hardwick hit but made his own way out. Continued and took up position on hill. Dug in.


Wednesday Jan 20th.

Went in to take hill in early hours. Moved forward with 13 and 15 forward, 14 in reserve. First hill clear. Second hill clear. Third hill all hell let loose. 14 platoon and a few odds and ends drew back into hollow. Moved out to help other company take hill. Reached top but driven back by tanks into hollow. Mortared in hollow for hours. One dropped in own mortar pit. Cpl Howe and three others caught it. Another dropped near and Blair got a piece in his back. Major went back for MO. FOO took over (Capt Atkins). Hell of a man. Cool as a cucumber. Got injured out. Got artillery to lay smoke screen then all dashed out back to wadi. Checked up on strength of approx 30 men left in coy. Got food up, blankets etc. and other coys went forward to hold position on first hill. Our coy slept in wadi,


Thursday Jan 21st.

00.30 hrs. Hell let loose again. Attacked by tanks, supported by infantry. Caught entirely by surprise and scattered. I made off with Terry in direction of Bou Arada. Machine gun fire all along top of wadi. Got out and crossed road into ploughed field and ran like hell. Tracer flying everywhere especially to our right and left into farms where 25 pounders were. Got right away to farm where we first came to and met Les. Walked along road to El Aroussa and picked up by water truck and arrived at A Echelon. Had good breakfast and got down to sleep about 10.30. woke up at 11.45 and told we had to go back by truck with rations. Got nearly up there and mortars started in front of leading truck. About turned and went back to El Aroussa. Stayed there until dark then went half way up by truck and walked the other half. Got to carriers position and had food and slept there all night. Reported back to battalion and company was less than a platoon strong.

 


ELABORATION OF BRIEF DIARY ENTRY

It was described to us as the final squeeze on Rommel’s army with our objective the capture of Medjez el Bab, the gateway to Tunis. My company of the London Irish Rifles were in the hills on the right of a gap to the Goubelat Plain but were to launch our offensive from the hills on the left of the gap. This was on Wednesday, Jan 20th (see diary).

It was decided to move us across the gap in broad daylight, which meant we were a sitting target in full view of the enemy through the gap until reaching the cover of the hills on that left hand side. Sure enough they allowed us to get into the middle and then opened up with everything they had.

We moved as quickly as possible between the stops we had to make going to ground when the sound of incoming shells were heard. We eventually reached a wadi which we thankfully dropped into and began moving in comparative safety towards our final position.

As a down to earth Yorkshireman, I don’t think I imagine things but from where I do not know I suddenly heard one word which brooked no argument, “Run”. Calling to my section to run, I set off at high speed along the wadi and had just rounded a bend when I heard a shell explode behind me. I quickly returned and found that the shell had fallen right in the wadi on the spot from where I had started to run. Whether they had not heard me or whether they were slow off the mark I have no idea but the end of my section had been hit and two of my men (Lance Corporal Ted Gant and Rifleman Connery) and Corporal Stan (I think his surname was Seager) the leader of the following section were lying badly wounded. I patched them up as best I could and stayed with them until the medical corps personnel came and evacuated them.

I  have checked  on the Commonwealth Graves Commission web and found all three died of their wounds, Stan Seager and Connery are buried at Medjez el Bab and Ted Gant at the Thibar cemetery. I have written complaining to the War Graves Commission that their records list all the London Irish casualties as being members of the Royal Ulster Rifles, yet all the gravestones give the London Irish Rifles, which could be most confusing.

The next morning, we launched our attack which turned out to be quite a disaster and the remains of our company were holed up in a large depression in the ground being constantly shelled. With us was the RAs forward observation officer and his wireless operator. He ordered me to go to the top of the depression to locate the source of the constant shelling. At the top, I found a small hollow in the ground, and I thought at the time it was about the size of a grave. From there, I saw the shells were coming from a farm house on the plain. Returning to the depression, I discovered that a shell had fallen in the place where I had been lying and others who had been with me were injured.

The officer decided that our position was much too dangerous and sent a message to the guns to lay down a smoke screen and under that cover we all rapidly retreated to a wadi which gave us much better protection.


DIARY CONTINUED:

Friday Jan 22nd.

Battalion in terrible state, only about 300 strong but people rolling up all day. Took up defensive position on hill at night. Everything quiet tonight except for a bit of artillery duel.


Saturday Jan 23rd.

Came down from hill for day and got a little organised. Three letters from Elsie but a lot missing. Weather beautiful lately.


Sunday Jan 24th.

Nothing much today. A little shelling but no air activity. Reinforcements arrived.


Monday Jan 25th.

Same as yesterday but Spits put in an appearance. They got Paddy Ward and a L/Cpl from F. One of the boys suggested we stay awake tonight and watch the Eighth Army go by. Took over one of H Coy’s position as two of their platoons have gone on jobs. Mail up again. Five letters.


Tuesday Jan 26th.

Little shelling by us today but no reply so far. Capt Atkins, the FOO with us in the hole, reported killed today by enemy patrol in OP at Mosque Hill. NAAFI supplies up today. 100 cigs, 2 bars chocolate and bottle of beer. Poles reported to be giving themselves up.


Wednesday Jan 27th.

Rain today. Ground in terrible state. Pay. Preparations for moving out destination unknown. Heavy shelling by our guns. One or two shots fired in reply. Two spits just gone over. Aircraft from both sides very scarce these days. Moved out at dusk. Took us practically all night to move four miles.


Thursday Jan 28th

Looks like rain but it has kept off so far. Artillery still banging away. Rumours we’re taking over that memorable hill 286 from the Guards. Spits over again this morning.


Friday Jan 29th.

Moved out at 05.00 hrs. Relieved by Rifle Brigade. Went back about four miles into olive grove for rest and reorganisation.


Saturday Jan 30th.

Good night’s sleep. Not much work during day. Everything quiet.


Sunday Jan 31st.

Other coys sending small numbers back to A Echelon for 48 hrs complete rest. Managed to get a much needed hair cut. Still quiet.



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