38 (Irish) Brigade relieved in Italy

Event
Monday, 24 July, 1944
The Drums and Pipes of the Irish Brigade playing on the grounds of the Sporting Club at Alexandria.

After three months in action in the Battle for Italy, 38 (Irish) Brigade was relieved in the area of Lake Trasimeno at the beginning of July 1944. The Brigade travelled south to a concentration area near Rome before moving out of theatre with the 78th (Infantry) Division, when it sailed from Taranto on 18 July to arrive in Alexandria, Egypt, where it disembarked on 22 July.

By 24 July, the Brigade was firmly established in Qassassin Camp, having driven through Tel el Kebir en route. The 24 July 1944 was the day the Brigade resumed a ‘pre-war routine’. Not only did the units clean and reorganise their allocated camp sites that day, they also mounted Regimental Quarter Guards at 0900 hours and then established individual messes for the officers, the Senior NCOs and dining/mess tents for the Junior NCOs, Fusiliers and Riflemen. Mess tins were packed away and it was back to food served on plates and then taken to tables where each man sat on a chair to eat his meal with his own knife, fork and spoon. However, a battalion recorded in its war diary a reaction when ‘long lists of ‘Dos’ and ‘Don’ts” were published and it soon became obvious that the complete freedom we had enjoyed in Italy would now be seriously curtailed.

Rest and recreation, in addition to the training, was an important element in the maintenance of morale during these out of combat periods. In addition to welfare facilities, games and sporting competitions, there was also leave and entertainment - but not before the all-important lectures from the Regimental Medical Officers on VD and anti-malarial precautions. There were also to be Army Education Corps (AEC) lectures on political and topical subjects; these lecturers were not so much political commissars as school-teachers in uniform. It would later be said in jest that the AEC’s only Battle Honour was the July 1945 General Election when Churchill’s Conservatives lost power to his war-time deputy Clement Attlee’s Labour Party.

ENSA IWM E8873The best news for all ranks on 24 July was the announcement of the leave plan. There would be four leave periods, each of five days that would allow 25% of the Battalions to be absent on leave during any one period. Leave would be taken in Cairo, Alexandria or Ismailia. An additional bonus was that 15% of the battalion strength could take a one-day leave to any of these three locations. And for the evenings in camp, there were NAAFI* bars, live concerts and film shows at the cinemas. The highlight for the evening of 24th July was the allocation of 25 seats to each battalion for the ENSA* live show ‘Nomads of the Nile’.
(Left, ENSA stage with dancers and pianist performing in the Middle East (© IWM E 8873))

The Brigade Commander also issued his training policy on 24 July, with an emphasis on PT and drill during the early morning. There was, to begin with, light training with talks and lectures in the evenings while at Qassassin, and later, there would be a progressive programme, after a move to Sidi Bishr, that would focus on All Arms cooperation training before a return to Italy and a 78th Divisional Concentration where war-fighting drills and procedures would be exercised to bring the Division to a peak of fighting efficiency for the eventual return to the battle area and fighting the Germans in the first week of October 1944

As a footnote for this period, the 6th Battalion The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers would be disbanded at Sidi Bishr and it’s manpower either amalgamated with the new arrival in the Irish Brigade, the 2nd Battalion The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, or transferred to the other two battalions, the 1st Battalion The Royal Irish Fusiliers and the 2nd Battalion The London Irish Rifles.

*
Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA) set up in 1939, was part of the Navy Army and Air Force Institutes (NAAFI) to provide entertainment such as variety concerts either live in-theatre or broadcast on the radio.