The London Irish Rifles (LIR) was originally formed in 1859 during the Victorian Volunteer Movement, and initially named the 28th Middlesex (London Irish) Rifle Volunteer Corps. Men from the LIR fought in the 2nd Boer War (1900-02) with the City of London Volunteers and the Royal Irish Rifles. In 1908, the London Irish were transferred to the Territorial Force and renamed the 18th (County of London) Battalion, the London Regiment (London Irish Rifles).
Three battalions were raised by the regiment in the First World War, and two went into combat. The 1st Battalion went to France in 1915 and fought at Festubert in May. It then participated in the Battle of Loos in September 1915, and this is when the regiment gained its most famous battle honour when, whilst advancing across No-Man’s Land, Rifleman Frank Edwards, who was captain of the football team, kicked a football towards the German trenches. The football is preserved in the London Irish Regimental Museum in Camberwell, and Edwards’ actions are commemorated annually on Loos Sunday. A second London Irish battalion also served in the Allied campaigns, for a short period in France and then sent to Greece and Palestine and London Irishmen were one of the first to enter Jerusalem after it had been evacuated by the Ottoman Army in early December 1917.
In 1937, the Regiment was renamed as London Irish Rifles, The Royal Ulster Rifles. This signified its role as the territorial arm of the Royal Ulster Rifles, which were based at Ballymena in Northern Ireland. During the inter-war years, the regiment adopted the Caubeen (baggy hat), a traditional form of Irish headgear, and was the first British Army regiment to do so. The London Irish were one of only two regiments that pulled the Caubeen to the left, with all other units wearing the Caubeen pull it to the right. A second battalion was raised in 1939 as war approached.
The 1st Battalion left the UK in August 1942 and was to serve in Iraq and Italy. The 2nd Battalion, now part of the 38th (Irish) Brigade, joined Operation Torch, the invasion of Morocco and Algeria, in November 1942. This was followed by stalwart service right across Tunisia, Sicily and Italy. The 1st Battalion fought in the battle for the Anzio Beachhead and the 2nd Battalion at the 4th Battle of Cassino. In April 1945, the battalions served side by side for the first time at the battle for the Argenta Gap, the last major battle of the Italian campaign. The 2nd Battalion was to be disbanded in March 1946 and the 1st Battalion was re-formed soon after the war as a battalion of the Royal Ulster Rifles.
In 1968, the London Irish became D Company (London Irish Rifles), 4th Royal Irish Rangers and, in 1993, would form ‘D’ Company of the newly re-established London Regiment with which it serves to the current day.
London Irish Rifles 1859 – 2009 by David Rowlands.