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"When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say, 
For Your Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today"

8th Belfast H.A.A. Regt.

aka   'The Twelve Mile Snipers'
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WW1 Soldiers database               8th Index               WW2 Soldiers database

meems@marylennon.co.uk

The Men

Sergeant William Adrain - Diary and Biography

D. J. Bailie - War Diary and Photographs

Colonel Wm. N. Brann

Sgt. Thomas Herbert Coulter (Herbie)

Jimmy Cunningham's Private Army Comes Home

Bdr. William (Buttons) Hunter

Irvine Brothers 23rd Battery

Bdr. J. C. Irvine 23rd Battery

Bde. Thomas Henderson Kane

 Gnr. Jim Lennon's War Records - Photos

Sgt. Joseph Harold Lynn (aka Harry-Joe)

Matchett Brothers 23rd Battery

 Jimmy McKittrick

Bdr. Thomas McLaughlin

Colonel Harry Porter

Sidney Ernest Wright - Diary & Photographs

NOMINAL ROLLS, etc.

N-O-K- Dec'd Personnel 21/22/23 Hy.A.A.

Posted/Repatriated from 23 HY A.A.

List of Additional Soldiers

List of names, no addresses 23rd Bty.

Memorial Service Book (list of names) B Troop

22nd Bty. Memorial Brochure  names, addresses

23rd Bty. Memorial Brochure  names, addresses

RHQ/REME Memorial Brochure, addresses

Nominal Roll 21st Bty. all ranks

Nominal Roll 22nd Bty. all ranks

Nominal Roll 23rd Bty. all ranks

8th Belfast HAA Nominal Roll 21st Battery

8th Belfast HAA Nominal Roll 22nd Battery

8th Belfast HAA Nominal Roll 23rd Battery

Alterations & Additions to Nom. Rolls 23rd

RHQ / REME Nominal Rolls

other WW2 stories

Cpl. William F. Davison

Belfast Telegraph Tuesday June, 6, 1944 Invasion

 Poppy Appeal 

 

 

 

 

FreeFoto.com

Newspaper Clippings

Assorted Clippings 1

Assorted Clippings 2

Correspondence

SEAC March 1944

 

Photographs

Sport & Small Groups

8th Belfast Band

Individuals & Friends

Large Group Pictures

Donated Photos

8th Belfast Band items

Documents  *  Items

MEMORABILIA

Old Comrades Section

Burma Star Luncheon 2009

St. Annes and Lansdowne Court Hotel Laying-up of Burma Star Standard 3rd October 2010

 

Misc.

Obituaries  *  Memorials  Changi Prison Chapel

8th Belfast HAA History
by Colonel Murray Barnes, OBE , TD.

A short History of The 8th (Belfast) Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment Royal Artillery (Supplementary Reserve)
by Harry Porter

Poems

Dean Houston McKelvey's Sermon
3rd October 2010

Extract from Coralie Kinahan's book
'Behind Every Great Man'
"Robin's War"

 

Video Page

Harry Porters film of the Twelve Mile Snipers
(in 3 parts)

Burma Star Luncheon

The Last Parade

and more....

reproduced with kind permission of Colonel Murray Barnes, OBE , TD.



and
Dean McKelvey of St. Anne's Cathedral, Belfast

"With acknowledgement to the following;

the late Colonel H. J. Porter OBE;

 - The History of the Royal Regiment of Artillery

 

  - Anti -Aircraft Artillery, 1914 -55 by                                  Brigadier N. W. Routledge OBE TD

 

  - The Years of Defeat - 1939 - 46 by General Sir Martin         Farndale KCB

 

  - The Far East Theatre, 1941-46 by General Sir Martin         Farndale KCB."

 


The story of 8th (Belfast) Heavy Anti Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery . 1939 to 1945.

 
 
     On the north side of the ambulatory (St. Anne's Cathedral, Belfast) there is a very distinctive war memorial to this regiment, many members of which had links with the Cathedral.
     This account has been written by Colonel Murray Barnes, OBE, TD, former second-in-command of the TA regiment which succeeded the 8th.
     Canon Tom Gibson, Dean Crooks, Canon Nobel Hamilton and Dean McKelvey served at various times as Chaplains to the Ulster TA Gunners.
 

Preparation for war

     Following the Munich Agreement in 1938, preparations began for war in the hope that peace would prevail.
Ulster had always wanted to have Territorial Army units, but this was not possible because the Government had signed a Treaty with the Irish Free State, binding them not to raise an army in Northern Ireland. However, it was agreed to permit Territorial units on condition that the parentage of the new force was accepted entirely by the War Office, and the object of the territorial units was for Imperial defence only.
     In 1937, a Battery of Heavy Artillery with a Fortress Company of Engineers (both TA) had been raised for the defence of Belfast Lough. As the war clouds grew in size, 3rd Anti –Aircraft Brigade (3 AA Bde) of the Supplementary Reserve was formed in early 1939 and was in action prior to the second mobilisation of the Territorial Army, to provide defence for the City of Belfast.
     The 8th (Belfast) Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment RA (Supplementary Reserve)  ( 8 HAA Regt) formed part of 3 AA Bde.

 

Manpower and Personalities

     8 HAA Regt, which initially comprised over 1000 men from the City and district  of Belfast was formed at Dunmore Camp on the Antrim Road. Many of these men were friends and colleagues from the same offices, works and organisations in the City. The Army list for 1938 contains a list of the names of the first Officers to serve in the Regiment.
     Some of the men while not well known in 1938 went on to become household names both during and after the war e.g. Jimmy Cunningham who later commanded the Regiment and post war headed the family financial company,  Robert Stephens who post war became the Secretary to the Governor of Northern Ireland, Harry McKibbin an Irish International and British Lion rugby player, as was Blair Mayne, who was destined to become the most decorated officer of the War, and a founding member of the Special Air Service.  It was, and remains the view of many that Blair Mayne should have received the Victoria Cross. Post War Blair became the Secretary of the Law Society and was unfortunately killed in a car accident near his home in Newtownards in County Down in 195?.   David Holden went on to become Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service. Norman Brann to become Her Majesty’s Lieutenant for County Down, and Robin Kinahan to become Lord Mayor of Belfast and to receive a Knighthood.  He served on the Board of the Cathedral and was a major fund-raiser for its development. He assisted Dean Peacocke in establishing Samaritans in Ireland.

 

Equipment

     The Regiment was equipped with the 3.7 inch Mobile Anti-Aircraft Gun which weighed 9.5 tons and had a muzzle velocity of 2,670 feet per second. The shell weighed 28 pounds and the gun fired 12 to 15 rounds per minute up to an effective ceiling of 25,000 feet.
     The Regiment was split into Three Batteries, 21, 22 and 23 Batteries. Each Battery had two troops and each Troop was equipped with  3.7in Anti-Aircraft guns which were drawn by a Matador Tractor. The guns were also capable of firing in the ground role if and when required.

 

Training and France

     Britain declared war on 3 September 1939 and on 4 September, the British Expeditionary force was ordered to France. 8 HAA Regt remained in defence of Belfast until October when it left Northern Ireland for practice camp in Cornwall.
     After a period of training in England the Regiment embarked in December to join the British Expeditionary Force and was in position in France before Christmas.

 

British Expeditionary Force, France 1940

     In France, the winter months started with the period popularly known as the “Phoney War”.  Life resolved into a drab routine of continuous manning and labouring programmes, with nothing to break the monotony.  Endless digging, wiring, draining, hut building and sand bagging apart from humping stores and ammunition.  The winter was harsh, with heavy rain and hard frosts which lasted for weeks.
     In December 1939, 8 HAA Regt was deployed largely in defence of the port of Le Havre.  21 Battery moved forward to Arras where it was deployed in May 1940.   RHQ with 22 and 23 Batteries remained at Le Havre.
     In May 1940, the Regiment was in action and fighting hard.  21 Battery was involved heavily near St Valery, but was eventually surrounded by German Tanks and subjected to aimed machinegun fire.  In these circumstances the Battery was forced to destroy its guns, and remove the breech blocks.  The men of the Battery then courageously assisted the infantry with small arms fire and were eventually evacuated to Dunkirk.
     22 Battery managed to get out through Cherbourg and after many adventures, 23 Battery escaped from St Malo. Both of these Batteries had been deployed in defence of airfields. It is of note that one Battery, despite orders to blow them up, managed to bring back three of their 3.7inch AA Guns along with vital gunnery instruments.
     The History of the Royal Artillery confirms this story and adds that the Regiment claimed to have shot down two enemy planes on the day of its embarkation.


The “Battle of Britain” and “the Blitz”

 
     There was little respite for the gunners of the 8th on their return from France. A rapid redeployment to Blackpool took place where further training was organised. Then, they were deployed to protect Coventry, Plymouth and Wolverhampton. The “Blitz” began in September 1940 with nightly attacks on large cities. There had been a painful foretaste in July and August, but it was the new intensity  and continuity of the offensive that gave it its place in history. The night “Blitz” of 1940 – 1941 lasted just over eight months.
     When London was heavily bombed on 7 September 1940, the Regiment was concentrated there.
     On 27 September 1940, an enemy plane was claimed as shot down during a raid on London. On 2 October the Regiment helped to extinguish some of the 2000 incendiary bombs which fell in or near Harrow School, setting part of it alight. Between 8 and 16 October, bombs fell on the Regiment’s positions on several occasions causing three fatal and twelve non fatal casualties. On 24 and 25 November, the destruction of a further plane was claimed.
     In January of 1941, the Regiment was moved to Middlesborough, over which enemy raiders passed on their way to attack other targets. These raiders were engaged with uncertain results, but just before the Belfast raid of 5 May 1941, pieces of an enemy aircraft were found scattered over the Tees Valley.
 

India

     Early in 1942 , 8 HAA Regt (SR) embarked by a strange coincidence on the  Belfast built “Britannic” bound for India, where they arrived in Bombay on 28 July 1942.
     Colonel Harry Porter who served in the Regiment as a sergeant during the action in France and who was later commissioned, recalled that the Officers and men of the Regiment disembarked at Bombay, the guns arrived in Karachi, and everything was brought together in Lahore in the Punjab. Having gathered together equipment guns, and stores, the Regiment embarked on a 1,000 mile drive across India to Calcutta in East Bengal on “the Grand Trunk Road”  involving the crossing of the Ganges delta– a major undertaking especially in the absence of bridges in most places– to join  the Indian Anti-Aircraft Brigade. Colonel Porter indicates that the men of the Regiment were not prepared for the poverty which they found on their arrival in Calcutta.
     In late July and August 1942, the Regiment defended Calcutta against air attacks, and then moved to the border with Burma to defend Chittagong and East Bengal. By this stage each of the guns in the regiment had been named after the wife or girlfriend of the Number 1 in charge - the name being painted on to the gunshield!
     From October 1942, a long series of Japanese air attacks were directed against the Digboi oil plant and the forward airfields of Eastern Bengal as far south as Chittagong. Calcutta was  raided regularly. The most common form of attack was carried out by Army type 97 bombers (Mitsubishi Ki 21 or “Sally”) flying in formation and escorted by Zero fighters. The newly arrived British and newly formed Indian Regiments alike, took time to bring drills and procedures up to the right standard. Some casualties were suffered by the defending gunners, but soon they began to bring down their targets.
     Chittagong not only had a large airfield but was also the supply base for 15 Corps and by March 1943 there were 24 x 3.7 inch and 32x 40mm guns in position there. The History of the Royal Artillery records that, in the Chittagong area, “…. the Ulster AA Regiment, 8th HAA was noted for its good shooting, bringing down three out of five for 24 rounds on one occasion.”
First Arakan Campaign – September 1942 to May 1943
     The first offensive of 15 Corps to clear the Arakan commenced during December 1942. This offensive was unsuccessful. Despite an initial advance almost as far as Akyab, Japanese forces held firm and in the counter attacks which followed, the British front was thrown back. In spite of personal intervention in command by General Slim, by May 1943 15 Corps was back where it started six months before.

 
Social Life

     The men of 8 HAA were not continually in action and did have some time for rest and recuperation during their time in India and Burma, and when they had the opportunity to relax they grabbed it with both hands.
     For example, the Regiment found time to form a corps of pipes and drums. Three sets of pipes were purchased in India, and within a year, there were twelve pipers. In 1944, the Officers of the regiment presented Kashmir silk Pipe Banners. The pipers and drummers wore a white crossbelt on which was emblazoned the red hand of Ulster. The Band performed when the Regiment was not in action – the Bandsmen had more important things to do when duty called. Parades were held oh St Patricks Day and on the 12 July, led by the Pipes and Drums. At one stage the Regiment had three Bands, including a Flute Band.
     The lack of entertainment produced a self help attitude from the men of the 8th. They formed their own “Concert Party” to entertain their mates  and even persuaded some pals to become female impersonators in the true style of “It Ain’t Half Hot Mum” as shown on TV. These shows were greatly enjoyed by all ranks. Football, Wrestling and Rugby were also arranged. The Rugby was easy to fix especially with Harry McKibbin of Ulster and Irish international fame in charge.

 

The beginning of the end
 

     In January 1945, Akyab fell to the converging Indian Divisions without a fight, and on 31 January both 36 LAA Regt and 8 HAA Regt sent batteries across to the Island to protect the airfield and landing areas.
     The final drive to Rangoon then took place, and its eventual fall did not finish the campaign, although it marked the point of climax. The Anti-Aircraft defences remained on operational status though no serious air attacks developed. In September 1945 the AA defence role ended.
     8 HAA Regt remained in Akyab from its arrival on 31 January 1945 until it left Burma April 1945 for Calcutta and later Madras under 34 Indian Division. But before leaving Akyab and Burma,, there was a further job to do.

 
St Mark’s Church, Akyab

     This small church was a battle-worn building when the Regiment arrived there, and was one of the first to be re-taken in all Burma. It was quickly resolved to restore the fabric of the Church and put it back into operation. The men of the 8th put every effort into this challenge and the job was satisfactorily completed.
     As in any war there were casualties among the men of the 8th, and a number had paid the supreme sacrifice during the Regiment’s service since leaving Belfast for Cornwall in1939. War cemeteries in England, France, Belgium, India and Burma contain headstones upon which are inscribed the names of gunners from Belfast who did not come home.
     At Easter in1945, a memorial tablet in memory of the men who died in the Arakan campaigns was unveiled in St Mark’s Church, Akyab, the church so lovingly restored by the Regiment.
In August of 1945, the 8th set sail from Madras for Home. Once again a strange co-incidence decreed that a Belfast built ship, the RMS Stirling Castle would transport the Regiment back to England.
     Shortly after arriving back in Belfast, the men of 8 HAA Regt (SR), all wearing the distinctive 14th Army Hat with the brim tacked up on one side, took part in a farewell Parade and March Past through the streets of their Home City, led by their Commanding Officer, Colonel Jimmy Cunningham.
          The late Colonel Harry Porter, in a short history of the 8th wrote in 1979 as follows;
     “Whilst “Anno domini” is taking its toll, we like to think that the unique spirit of the 8th will remain until the last member has “shuffled off this mortal coil”. If a little of its magic touches the next generation, it will have been inspired by the enthusiasm and devotion to duty of those who, at a critical time in our history, were privileged not just to be in the 8th Regiment, but to be the regiment itself.”
     The late Colonel Porter can be assured that the “magic of the past” has indeed touched younger generations who take their inspiration from the comradeship, deeds, and sacrifices of those who served in the 8th.
     The Northern Ireland men and women who are presently serving and who have served as volunteers in the Royal Artillery Territorial Army Regiments and Batteries which have succeeded the 8th (Belfast) Regiment can bear witness to this, in particular 206 (Ulster) Battery, the latest in a long line of successors who, as volunteers have served in Iraq during the current operations there.

 

“When you go Home,
Tell them of us, and say,
For your tomorrow,
We gave our To-Day