Derry’s contribution to World War II in North Africa and Italy is recalled in a new publication, ‘The Derry Boys’.
This was the nickname given to the 9th Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment which was recruited in Derry and towns across the west.
The outfit had one of the lengthiest spells of service abroad for any regiment during the Second World War.
A new 24-page booklet on the regiment has been written by Richard Doherty, the military historian and broadcaster.
It is an abridged version of his history of the regiment, “Wall of Steel”.
Richard Doherty writes that, during 1939, recruiting for the regiment was brisk and it was quickly up to its planned strength.
The regiment left Derry on November 4, 1939, and, following stopovers in both England and France, eventually arrived in Alexandria in Egypt later in the month.
Based initially at Sidi Bishr, a tented camp to the east of the city, 9th Regiment began a rigorous training programme to prepare to take over the defence of Alexandria harbour.
Soon after the regiment arrived in Egypt, Captain Sir Basil McFarland, 25 Battery’s captain and the sitting Mayor of Derry, began a practice of sending brief reports home to Derry Corporation.
As these usually ended with the comment, ‘All Derry Boys with me are well’, the regiment adopted the soubriquet, the ‘Derry Boys’.
During the following summer, 25 Battery was sent to the Western Desert, serving with 7th Armoured Division (the Desert Rats) and then Port Sudan which it defended against numerous air raids by the Regia Aeronautica – the Italian air force.
From North Africa, the regiment took part in the invasion of Italy, landing at Salerno in September 1943 on D-Day + 6. Before leaving Italy for Britain in September 1944, the regiment had also supported American forces along the Arno river and earned much praise for the accuracy and effectiveness of their shooting at ground targets.
At one time the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa was in their target area but the gunners were not allowed to fire at it. Strict instructions were issued that no guns were to fire anywhere within an arc five degrees to either side of the tower.
The Derry Boys’ final operational role was in Britain where the regiment was part of the defences of Derby before moving to the east coast in early 1945 as part of the ‘Diver’ defences; this was the codename for the guns deployed to engage the V1 flying bombs, known as doodlebugs, some of which were launched from aircraft over the North Sea.
Although the regiment saw no V1s to fire at, their guns did engage German aircraft in the Luftwaffe’s final operations over Britain in March 1945.
Copies of ‘The Derry Boys’ can be obtained from the NI War Memorial, 21 Talbot Street, Belfast BT1 2LD, priced £3 including postage.