2 LIR – November 1942

The exercises ended and the London Irish began to receive new equipment of all kinds: guns, carriers, mortars, and the rest.  Embarkation leave followed, and then came a hectic period of cleaning and packing.  On November 10 the battalion embarked at Glasgow in H.M.T. Duchess of York.

When the troop-ship was out in the Clyde and among a vast convoy, news was received of the Allied landings in North Africa.  Everyone knew then whither they were bound, and that it was likely that the 2nd Battalion would be in battle first, although the 1st Battalion had already gone overseas.

The senior officers were given an outline of the progress of the landings, and maps of Algeria and of Tunisia were studied.  Eleven days after embarking the lights of Tangiers were seen in the moonlight.  Coming from a blacked-out Britain the lights seemed strange and almost unreal to the troops.  The short voyage was without incident, and on November 22 Algiers came into view.

The tall, white buildings stood out sharply in the great bowl of the Algerian capital, rising steeply one thousand feet above the sea.  As the convoy entered the harbour an air-raid warning was sounded.  A smoke screen was swiftly laid by ships of the Royal Navy, and anti-aircraft guns went into action.  Fortunately no bombs were dropped and the raiders flew away.

With the bagpipes leading, the 2nd Battalion went ashore in full marching order.  The staging area was fifteen miles from Algiers, near Maison Carree, and the march through the streets of Algiers, up the steep, tortuous hills to Kouba, was one of the most tiring the battalion had up to then endured.

Algiers was raided that night by German and Italian bombers and the defensive fire was an awe-inspiring sight.  From every degree of the compass a riot of tracers sped towards the raiders.

A very dry summer had passed, and the arrival of the London Irish in North Africa coincided with the start of the rainy season.  Two days after landing a downpour began which lasted three days.  The bivouac area in a vineyard rapidly became waterlogged, and no one could keep dry.  Better quarters were found in a factory, and being out of the rain no one complained of the large brown rats which scampered about all night.

The journey towards the front was made in cattle-trucks, and for two days the battalion clattered through the snow-capped mountains of North Africa to Bougie.  In that tiny but attractive port the battalion received all its transport, which had been sent separately from the United Kingdom.  Trucks, carriers, staff cars, all had come through unscathed.

The next move was by road to Teboursouk.  The battalion crossed the mountain range to Setif, three thousand five hundred feet up in the Atlas Range, and as it grew dark they reached Constantine, the great Byzantine city.  The journey was resumed to Souk Aras and finally to Teboursouk, near the ancient ruins of Dougga, which once had a prosperous population of eighty thousand.

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