Irish Brigade

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

Faugh a Ballagh        Nec Aspera Terrent         Quis Separabit


6 Innisks – May 1943

1st May – DJEBEL BOULAHOURDJEB.

No contact was made with the enemy by our night patrols but they were fired on by MGs. A strong wind blew all day causing considerable dust. A rock spring fit for drinking purposes exists close to Bttn HQ. Road head has now been advanced to Heidous and a single echelon of mules as taken the place of the double echelon previously carried.

Rations and water now arrive in the Bttn area in daylight, which adds to the comfort of the Bttn. A second draft of 89 ORs, mostly from the Welch Regiment joined the Bttn tonight. The A/Tk and Carrier platoons of S Coy have been reformed and A, B, and C Coys have been reorganised back to the normal three platoon organisation. The strength of these Coys is approximately 110 each. It is not yet possible to reconstitute D Coy owing to shortage of officers and ORs.


2nd May – DJEBEL BOULAHOURDJEB.

As above, but the weather has changed back to normal heat. Bttn was to have been relieved by a French unit but it didn’t arrive in time. KD blouses and trousers have been issued and SD trousers withdrawn.


3rd May – DJEBEL BOULAHOURDJEB.

Brigade is handing over present positions to 46 Division and French Infantry units tonight and Bttn is to come under command 36 Infantry Brigade for a short period.  Bttn R Group recced new positions east of Medjez-el-Bab. Bttn A Group came out later. During the day, it was discovered the Germans had withdrawn during the night on the Brigade front, probably owing to the recent American advance towards Mateur. C Coy moved forward along the ridge, but failed to make contact.

Hand over to the 2 RTA (French) was complete by 2130hrs and the Bttn marched to Kelbine and embussed in TCVs. Essential transport had been brought up from B Echelon.


4th May – MEDJEZ/TUNIS ROAD.

Bttn arrived at pt 68 (6735) at 0545hrs and came into Brigade reserve with a counter attack role, supported by 48 Bttn RTR. A Coy with under command 2 A/Tk guns and 2 MMGs took up a forward position on pt 151 (6836) with the role of immediate counter attack onto any of the three forward Bttn positions. This feature had previously been occupied by 6 RWK, who now moved forward to take over position of a Bttn from 4 Division. The Bttn dug in a shallow gully with a flowing stream, which added to the comfort of Bttn during a very hot, dusty day. Recces for the c/a roles of the Bttn were carried out. K/D shorts and hose tops were issued. All transport, other than carriers and A/Tk portees, were sent back to a Brigade A Echelon transport area. The Bttn has now been on a mule borne basis for a month and for the past fortnight has been fighting continuously on steep mountainous country with the minimum comfort and no blankets or greatcoats, on compo rations. The return to the plains, in spite of the heat and dust is a welcome relief to all ranks. 


5th May – MEDJEZ/TUNIS ROAD.

1200-1330 A few enemy shells in Bttn area. No damage or casualties.

1530 O Group to give details of move to relieve RWK.

1815 Leading Coy left the gully. The new area with Bttn HQ in Crully 676352 is not far so the personnel carried their kit. A Coy remains in its former position. B Coy pt 144. C Coy reverse slopes of 688357. A/Tk guns spaced between C Coy and RR 683354. Their rear positions are unprotected by SA.

The role of the Bttn is to form part of a line protecting units concentrating in Medjez area.

Steady wind made the day very dusty. The new position is away from the road and grass covered so will not be affected.


6th May – MEDJEZ/TUNIS ROAD.

0700-0900 Much transport seen moving up Tunis road, as start of drive for Tunis.

1000 A Coy takes over from A & SH on Hill 151 (6836).

1800 Dismounted brens of the Carrier Platoon are protecting the A/Tk guns. Formed as a platoon under Lieut Pollard (i/c A/Tk platoon). They are called the Polforce.

There is no water available for washing. The men walk down to the gully previously occupied.

Visibility has been obscured all day by clouds of dust over the plains, caused by vehicles.

Rumours of the fall of Bizerte, Djedeida and Zaghouan are unconfirmed but cheering.


7th May – MEDJEZ/TUNIS ROAD.

0200–0700 Heavy rain, making the place very muddy. Some difficulty in moving transport except on main roads, especially motor cycles.

1800 A Coy takes over from Polforce.

News that forward Allied elements have reached Tunis.


8th May – J638280.

0300 Brigade Conference. This is the occasion that the Bttn returns to 38 (Irish) Brigade, having been on “loan” to 36 Brigade for 5 days.

0500 O Group. CO announces that the Bttn will take part in clearing of Tunis.

0830 Bttn move off in MT. Side roads still vey muddy.

0900 Head of column reaches main road. Delays by 1 RIrF, 2 LIR being late coming from Brigade area. Continuous stream of traffic, including nearly all types of Allied vehicles, and guns and Churchills all rolling towards Tunis.

1000 Bttn convoy moves off and reaches La Mornaghia without incident, where we turned down a side road for lunch.

1400 Orders for CO give the southern part of Tunis as our area. He warns Bttns to be prepared for street fighting.

1430 Bttn embusses and moves off towards Tunis, passing an unbelievable host of Axis PoWs, walking away from Tunis.

1500 They were unescorted except for solitary CMPs. They carried their kit and were unarmed. All services were there. They formed up in single file on either side of the tree fringed road. The only vehicles are the CO’s carrier and wireless truck and several motor cycles. A French soldier supplied as guide by Brigade cannot speak English. The CO communicates with him in French. A Coy leading – under Captain Hanna – got held up on reaching the ancient gates by the LIR, having got into our area. Bttn moves on after 1 /2 hour delay.

Resistance has been announced at an end in Tunis. A tremendous welcome awaits the Bttn. Most of the public buildings are flying Tricolours. Groups of people stand on the road cheering, clapping and giving the V sign. Reaching the Rue de France, there was a crowd right across the road. The vehicles have to force a passage through a sea of people, waving flags and throwing roses to us. Some civilians asked us if we were the 8th Army. They seemed badly informed about the situation of the war.

Bttn turned down the Rue de Carthage, left the crowd and received orders from the CO to close in threes to march to lying up area.

2000 Bttn HQ reach Farm 089518. A Coy proceed to Hill 100500. C Coy to area of 090505. B Coy in area 090510.

The role of the Bttn is to prevent counter attack by strong enemy elements still on Cap Bon. There are strong forces of Allied troops south of our positions.


9th May – SOUTH OF TUNIS.

1330 Bttn HQ moved without incident and rather casually to olive grove at K 092508. B Coy took up a position between A and C Coys. There is a magnificent view from A Coy’s position looking towards Cap Bon. Sounds of artillery can be heard from the battle there.

Large dumps of Italian ammo have found in the lines.


10th May – SOUTH OF TUNIS.

0900 4 Germans walked onto Bttn HQ to give themselves up. They came from Sedjoumi 0250. (1 flak, 3 infantry).

1700 C Coy sent guard to Sedjoumi to take over medical stores abandoned by the enemy. The party returned, as the RAMC had had conflicting orders.

The bread ration has been reduced by a third due to vast number of PoWs taken.

11th May –SOUTH OF TUNIS.

1000 Fusilier Harkness – a PoW released by the fall of Tunis – returns.

1500 Part of the Italian ammo dump set on fire by the Pioneer platoon looking for wooded boxes. Two fusiliers injured. The shells kept exploding all day. Large pieces of shrapnel flew about. The MO’s tent and the Padre’s suitcase were pierced.

Passes to Tunis allowed but limited to 15%.

2000 The Brigadier dined with HQ.


12th May – SOUTH OF TUNIS.

Cessation of hostilities in North Africa. Everybody relieved. All day, a stream of lorries mostly enemy type have passed, laden with PoWs coming from Cap Bon direction. Virtually unescorted and mostly driven by Germans.

Captain Kerr sent to hospital. He has been ill for 3 days.


13th May – SOUTH OF TUNIS.

0200 Bttn marched to the Batterie K159522.Bttn HQ is in the buildings of a defence works, which are in a filthy condition. The coy lines and messes are among the olive groves around the hill. The water and electric light systems have been broken by the enemy.

0830 Recce Group left for Maxula Reges.


14th May – MAXULA REGES.

0900 Section of RE examine the tunnels, lifts, switches etc of the defence works for booby traps. Detention personnel put to cleaning up the buildings. Bttn HQ has a separate office for each department. Quarter Guard mounted. Daily routine established on proper basis. A bathing beach is almost 2 miles away. Bounds include villages of Megrine and Maxula Reges. Effort made to re-start the Pipe Band.


15th May – MAXULA REGES.

0900 33 replacements arrived and 25 released PoWs.

Recreation room started.

News received of the death of Sgt McAleer DCM as the result of an accident while in convalescence.

Captain Duddingon rejoined the Bttn on recovery from wounds.


16th May – MAXULA REGES.

1730 Film Show held in the nearby school. This was the first entertainment of any kind many members of the Bttn had had since November.


17th May – MAXULA REGES.

Rifle T’s OET being carried out by companies.

Bttn transport inspected by LAD.


18th May – MAXULA REGES.

Brigade practise for forthcoming Victory March. The three Bttns have pooled their Pipes and Drummers for the occasion.

Slip on epaulettes for ORs bearing the Divisional sign and Shamrock are being made. Officers will wear the same insignia on the sleeve.


19th May – MAXULA REGES.

0810 Representatives left by transport for Victory March. 9 officers and 45 men per Coy. They proceeded to lying up area north of Tunis, and will remain till after the march.

1200 A divisional rehearsal held.  As far as possible, the party is composed of those, who have been the longest in Africa.

1800 Lieut Ashe returned to the battalion after illness.


20th May – TUNIS.

1150 Start of Victory Parade. The Bttn led the Brigade, following the Rifles. The officers led, followed by the Bttn with the WOs bringing up the rear, all nine abreast. Aircraft flew overhead and the streets were lined with tanks and guns. General Eisenhower and General Giraud took the salute.

The Bttn returned to camp by transport arriving at 1530. Spectators were allowed, as many as wished to go and the 15% ban was lifted – they commented on the smartness of our KD shorts in comparison with some Allied uniforms.

1830 The kit bags and officer’s boxes left in Bone arrived here. Also the band kit, much damaged.


21st May – MAXULA REGES.

1030 Divisional Commander’s conference in La Colleaie, Tunis. All Officers, WOs and Sgts attended.

The Divisional Commander spoke about the forming of 78 Division and its subsequent history. He referred to the 38 (Irish) Brigade as the youngest member, but said it had settled down well in the Division. He spoke about Divisional “esprit de corps” and gave a hint of our future by saying the Division was to be made up to strength and was not going home.


22nd May – MAXULA REGES.

1415 Conference on performance of weapons according to a Brigade questionnaire,

2000 CO attends similar conference at Brigade.

Lt McClinton sent to hospital.


23rd May – MAXULA REGES.

0930 Brigade Service in LIR lines. Special Thanksgiving and Remembrance. Brigade RC service in Maxula Reges.

1400 D Coy reformed under Captain Duddington. Men drawn from other coys to make up strength . Each Coy is now about 90 strong.

1730 Football match v team of Maxula Reges. The match was fairly even. The French won 2-0.

1830 Officers of the Bttn entertained by Mayor and Council in La Municipalite. On the arrival of the CO, the band played the British and French national anthems. The CO, in a short speech, expressed the thanks of the officers and men for their hospitality. The Mayor replied suitably.

1845 Dance given by Bttn – opened on the palm fringed square. There were numerous partners and music was provided by the Bttn band with some local help. An exhibition of Irish Dancing by Fusilier Duff, accompanied by Fusilier Kane on the pipes was greatly appreciated.


24th May – MAXULA REGES.

0650 RSM’s drill for all ORs. Drill in the Bttn has not been good lately. Probably due to so many men being from different units.

1600 Provisional orders received for move of Bttn to Guelma (Algeria).

Captain Kerr rejoined Bttn after short illness.


25th May – MAXULA REGES.

0615 Daily PT for all ranks started.

1400 Lieut McKenna (QM) left for Guelma.


26th May – MAXULA REGES.

0800 Captain Kerr left with advance party.

A strong wind lowered the temperature considerably.


27th May – MAXULA REGES.

1430 Conference about move.

Packing of vehicles is difficult owing to the amount of surplus kit. – chiefly mess kit and Italian tents. Several trailers have been acquired to ease the situation.

This was our last day in the Batierie. During our stay, the place has been transformed from a dirty heap of rubbish to a clean barracks.


28th May – MAXULA REGES TO LA CROIX

0755 The Bttn in 77 vehicles passed Bttn SP and

0800 Proceeded via Brigade SP (1451). Skirted west of Tunis.

0910 To Divisional SP (9158). 10 Minutes late, and proceeded without incident via Mateur and Tabarka to the Divisional staging area, 4 miles south west of La Croix (H 6542).

2100 Conference for tomorrow’s orders.


29th May – LA CROIX TO GUELMA.

1230 Bttn moved off from staging area. Proceeded via Rommes Souk, Le Tarf, Duzzeervlle to new Brigade area. This is about 4 miles north of Guelma and 1 mile north of Heliopolis.

The Bttn area (west of road) is barren of shade and the lines are cramped.  A pipeline supplies all coys except A. Part of the area appears malarious.

A hot Roman Bath is opposite the lines. Guelma offers an officer’s club, cinema, NAAFI, theatre and cafes.


30th May – GUELMA.

Swimming pool declared open at all times. The weather is oppressively hot from 1000 – 1700hrs. Vehicles centralised for maintenance.


31st May – GUELMA.

0530 Reveille early to get the day’s work over before the heat.