We have been in recent contact with Jeff Jeffrey, who served with the 2nd Battalion, London Irish Rifles (2 LIR) in Italy and Austria from 1943 to 1946.
Jeff, who now lives in Australia, joined the LIR Cadet Company at the age of 16 in 1941 when he was first given the opportunity to play the pipes. He would later play with 2 LIR’s Pipe Band throughout his service overseas.
In his note Jeff wrote:
“I was with 2 LIR for three years until it broke up in Austria. Those bandsmen who had not been demobbed were posted to 1 LIR in Trieste. I had been trade tested as a clerk and was sent to the Military Government and made sergeant and chief clerk- lucky again.
I was de-mobbed in 1947 and it was then discovered that I had pulmonary tuberculosis and I spent two years in the British Legion Sanatorium at Preston Hall near Maidstone. I was told that the active service conditions and, probably, also the constant sharing of bagpipes had caused the problem. Going back to piping seemed like a bad idea and I have never played them since, but every time I hear the pipes I have to go and listen.
There was a final twist. Signalling, into which I was so unwillingly pushed, gave me a new interest to replace the piping I had lost. I sat for exams and became a licensed radio amateur, a hobby which I still pursue to this day in Australia where I now live – I emigrated in April 1957. I had been working as a civilian technical storeman for an heavy anti-aircraft regiment in south-east London. An interesting job, but dead end. I came here and spent 28 years in broadcasting as an announcer.”
In an excerpt from his war time memoirs, Jeff would recall a memorable day in Rome.
The Band take tea (and altar wine) at the Vatican.
Jeff Jeffrey parading behind Paddy Brennan of the Royal Irish Fusiliers.
“The 2 LIR’s visits to the Pope in 1944 is well documented but nothing has been written of the Band’s performance.. On arriving, we did the usual trick of counter-marching on arrival at any church, so as to be facing the following marchers who then wheeled and marched into the church. The band would then stop playing and look around for a pub or cafe, being sure to be back in time for the end of the service. In this case we surveyed St Peter’s Square, but there was no place of refreshment to be seen, so we stood about smoking. In a while, a priest emerged from the Vatican and said that we should go inside. We told him that we were not of the faithful, but merely the musical accompaniment. “It doesn’t matter,”he said, “come along in.” Not wishing to be rude, we followed him into the audience chamber.
It transpired that the Pope (Pius XII) had expressed a wish to hear the pipes,but the heathen pipers (us) were outside. So the priest was sent to fetch us.’The Wearing of the Green’ seemed to be suitable for the occasion, so we played that. His Holiness seemed to enjoy it and we were all given a rosary and a photo of the Pope to take away with us.The photo never survived the vicissitudes of war, but I gave the rosary to a very pretty peasant girl at Tavernelle near Lake Trasimene. It didn’t do me any good – her father warned me off.
When we came out into the sunlight, we were accosted by some Irish priests who, being Irish citizens and therefore neutral, had been living in Rome during the German occupation. It seems that they were desperate for a cup of tea. They had not been able to get any and, like drug addicts, were feeling the pangs of withdrawal. A truck was dispatched back to camp and it brought back a chest full of tea. The young priests were loud in their gratitude and invited us to visit their seminary. So we piled into the truck – it was heart warming to watch as squaddies, priests and tea chest set off through the streets of Rome. On arrival, the tea was carried reverently into the kitchen and a brew was soon on the go, with the priests sniffing the aroma like Bisto Kids. It was heartwarming to watch them drink the first cup they’d had in months. “Aaaaah!” they said. Having satisfied their craving, they showed their gratitude in a most practical way. Tea may have been scarce, but wine was plentiful, and they produced it in abundance. I actually remember little of that afternoon, except a haze of alcohol and good company. They talked about the rigours of the occupation and we brought them up to date on the war so far. Eventually, amid many expressions of goodwill on both sides, they went back to God and we went back to camp.”