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Irish Brigade

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

Faugh a Ballagh        Nec Aspera Terrent         Quis Separabit


The life and legacy of Major John E McNally MC

Duncan McNally has kindly sent us further details about his father, Major JE McNally MC. We would like to thank Duncan, his mother Elisabeth, and his two sisters for their kind permission to add this story to the Irish Brigade website.


“Like many in the Irish Brigade, Dad was not born an Irishman, and was in fact a Lancashire lad. Born in June 1911 into a working class family, he left school at the age of 14. and went straight to work in a mill. He hated it and a few years later took one of the only ways out available – he joined the army, and having already been in the St John’s Ambulance Brigade, Dad opted to join the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC).

From Aldershot, where he was initially based, he was posted to Egypt, and loved the country, and had ambitions to join the Egyptian police at the end of his service and remain there. Six years into his service, and having risen to the rank of Sergeant, his service obligation ended and he landed up, trained as he was in pharmacy and nursing, in a small pharmacy in Torcross, Devon.

In 1939, when war was declared, my Dad was of course on the Reserve call-up list and liable for immediate service. As he explained to his family: ‘I decided to join the infantry. What else was I going to do? Throw a bedpan at the enemy?’

If I remember correctly, he was encouraged by his superiors to become an officer, although I think he would have been happy to start at the bottom again with the infantry. His training with the Officer Cadet Training Unit was in the Isle of Man, and he was then commissioned into the King’s Regiment and it was during this period that he met and later married his first wife, Pat.

Subsequent details of his following years of service is not exactly clear, until we can see him listed as having joined the Royal Irish Fusiliers in North Africa on 12th June 1943, where the following week he met with King George VI, when he visited Algeria.

Lieutenant McNally’s MC citation signed by Generals Montgomery and Alexander.

At the end of his service with the Faughs in August 1944, Dad was transferred to ‘METC’, according to the 1 RIrF war diaries…..

John McNally (front row three from right)  with the King’s Regiment in Meerut.

….I have been sent a picture of him along with the rest of the officers of the 1st Bttn The King’s Regiment at Meerut in India, dated 1947 and we think he was with the British forces when they began to withdraw from India and later Palestine. In a further posting, it was while the King’s Regiment were in Cyprus that Dad’s wife Pat became ill and died.

At some point during the following years, the ‘Powers That Be’ decided Dad was an RAMC man after all and returned him to that regiment. The following is an entry in the London Gazette of 13th August 1954 (P.4678) – the words ‘Short Service Commission’ seem ironic:

ROYAL ARMY MEDICAL CORPS

Capt John Edward McNALLY, M.C. (162014), from King’s, Short Serv. Commn. (Emp. List 4), to be Lt. (Qr.-Mr.), 19th June 1954.

Lt. (Qr.-Mr.) J. E. McNALLY, M.C. (162014), to be Capt. (Qr.-Mr.), 19th June 1954. 

Sometime in the 1950s, as an officer in the RAMC, my father was transferred to the British Military Hospital in Berlin where he met a British-trained nurse, Elisabeth, whom he fell in love with and married. She had spent most of her war in Berlin being bombed by the Allies.

Shortly afterwards back in Devon, near to where he had started the war, my Dad was informed by his CO:

‘McNally, we’re sending you home.’

‘Bolton ?’, he asked.

‘No, Belfast,’ was his CO’s answer.

My Dad had never previously been to Ireland, but by some coincidence and doubtless partly as a result of his service with the Irish Brigade and the fact that like your own father, he belonged to the endless Irish diaspora, and the identification of people by name to a common nation, ‘back’ he was transported to a place that no ancestor in living memory had inhabited. Here my sisters and I grew up.

Consulting the British Army website, I see that my dad was brought to Belfast probably in order to help set up 4 General Hospital, a TA unit described below.

Formation and early years : On 8th May 1961, 4 General Hospital (Territorial Army) was formed as an independent medical unit of the Territorial Army, with its Headquarters at Tyrone House, Malone Road, Belfast. 

The Commanding Officer, five Officers and thirty one Other Ranks were transferred from the former 107 (Ulster) Field Ambulance. By 1962, following an extensive recruitment campaign, it was a well recruited and experienced unit with several of its personnel having seen War Service between 1938 and 1945.



Dad retired from the army in 1966 at the age of 55 and went on to have a successful career in the Northern Ireland hospital administration service and, although then a civilian, was often honoured by colleagues in what seemed a peculiarly Irish way as ‘Major McNally’.

I attended school in Belfast, and my secondary school’s houses were named after generals who had a connection with Ireland. My father thought it quite apt when I arrived at grammar school that I was allocated to ‘Montgomery’ House, although I suppose, it could equally well have been ‘Alexander’. In 1976, Dad retired from civilian life and we returned to his birthplace, Bolton. This is where he lived out the remainder of his life very happily.

He died at home in February 2005. He was a good father and is fondly remembered.”



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