The Irish Guards celebrate St Patricks Day in Tunisia

A Camouflaged 25-Pounder Gun in Action near Medjez-el-Bab: the Hill in the Background is Dzebel Djaffa, Tunis. War artist henry Carr 1943.

A Camouflaged 25-Pounder Gun in Action near Medjez-el-Bab: the Hill in the Background is Dzebel Djaffa, Tunis. War artist Henry Carr 1943.

More and more troops were arriving in Tunisia. The Germans were doing their best to bring in re-inforcements, with Hitler following a policy of never giving ground anywhere.

Among the fresh British troops arriving were the Irish Guards. Amongst many colourful characters in their ranks was John Keneally, better known to his mother, and the Honourable Artillery Company, as Leslie Jackson.

The Leslie Jackson who had served in the HAC had a reputation as a good soldier but a poor discipline record, a record which denied him the chance of transferring to his preferred regiment, the Irish Guards. It had not stopped him finding another route in. Now he was where he wanted to be and he was spoiling for a fight:

At Bone we did a day’s drill in preparation for a St Patrick’s Day parade on 17th March. This is a big day for the Irish Guards and is always celebrated, no matter where the regiment finds itself.

The great day was warm and sunny. We formed up and each man received a small piece of shamrock which had been flown out by General Alexander, who was the overall commander of both the 1st and 8th Armies. With the shamrock had come a message from the General (who was an Irish Guardsman himself): ‘Welcome to the Micks. Now we will get cracking’

We marched past the Transit Camp Commander with the battalion pipes and drums in full flow, watched by a large contingent of American troops with whom we became very pally afterwards. After the parade we were allowed the rest of the day off.

Most of us headed like excited schoolboys for the port of Bone to see what delights it had to offer. Michael and I palled up with a couple of GIs who knew their way around. Within three hours the town was in uproar. The lads had been drinking the local wine as if it were the ale they were used to. The results were dramatic: fights broke out, windows were smashed and soon the Military Police were dragging soldiers away. It turned out to be quite a night in the best Irish tradition.

It was the last St Patrick’s Day most of the battalion were ever going to see.

Next morning, we were roused early. We were going into the line at Béja, where the situation was critical. This was it, we were going into action. Halfway to Béja, a large staff car came thundering past us, full of red-tabbed staff officers who stopped the CO at the head of the convoy.

Word passed down the line. Change of plan.The position of Medjez El Bab was even more critical. It was here that the Irish Guards were to play their part in the various actions that would culminate in the fall of Tunis and the collapse of the German forces in North Africa.

See John Keneally: The Honour and the Shame

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