Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria (10 & 11 May 2017)

Date of Auction: 10th & 11th May 2017

Sold for £4,200

Estimate: £4,000 - £5,000

A scarce Second War 1943 ‘North Africa’ M.M. and Second Award Bar group of seven awarded to Sergeant T. O’Donnell, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, late Royal Ulster Rifles, for repeated gallantry in Tunisia, including personally storming a heavily defended farmhouse whilst leading a night patrol

Military Medal, G.VI.R., with Second Award Bar (7013443 A/Sjt. T. O’Donnell. R. Innis. Fus.) minor repair to suspension claw; General Service 1918-62, 1 clasp, Palestine (7013443 Rfmn. O’Donnell [sic], R. U. Rif.); 1939-45 Star; Africa Star; Italy Star; Defence and War Medals 1939-45, minor edge bruising, generally nearly very fine or better (7) £4000-5000

Footnote

M.M. London Gazette 4 May 1943:

‘On the night 6/7 March 43 Sjt O’Donnell was ordered to take a fighting patrol to the Fms [Farms] in the neighbourhood of Argoub Hamra 6612. While in this area he found a German telephone cable leading in the direction a Fm at 654130. Previous reports showed that this Fm was occupied in some force by the enemy. Scrutiny of it showed that a light was burning. Sjt O’Donnell decided to attack the FM. He cut the cable and then led his patrol in extended order to the Fm. He himself walked straight into the Fm covered by his men. When he was within 20 yds of the house door he was challenged by a German sentry. He immediately shot down the sentry. At this moment enemy M.G’s opened up from outside the Fm and the patrol came under heavy fire. One of the M.G’s was within 20 yds of Sjt O’Donnell. He immediately rushed it by himself and throwing a hand grenade silenced it. The Fm was now thoroughly roused and a number of Germans rushed out of the building. Sjt O’Donnell who had meanwhile regained the body of his patrol now directed L.M.G. fire on the advancing Germans having stayed to the last possible moment and inflicted the utmost damage to the enemy. Sjt O’Donnell ordered his patrol to withdraw. The Germans followed them firing off flares, but by clever leadership and use of ground Sjt O’Donnell eluded them and brought his patrol home having suffered one casualty only. This is only one example of the gallantry and devotion to duty which this N.C.O. has shown at all times.’

M.M. Second Award Bar London Gazette 23 September 1943:

‘On Grandstand Hill 656084 on 18 Jan 43 A/Sjt O’Donnell was a Fusilier in a 2 Pdr A/Tk Gun Det, of which the gun was blown up by enemy fire. He was unhurt and unperturbed. The Det. Comd. was killed. Fus O’Donnell immediately took charge, collected the men and whilst the shelling was still in progress moved the Det into adjoining slit trenches, made himself Sec Comd. and carried on as a rifle sec within “C” Coy defences. On 19 Jan this man was then absorbed into “C” Coy in the same forward posn. and still the most shelled place of all on the ridge. Up to 23 Jan 43 local listening patrols had to be sent out from this Coy. Each evening after the severe shelling and mortar fire had ceased this man immediately volunteered to go out. Lack of sleep and persistent noise during the day did not thwart him in his resolve to play more than his full part in the defences. His strong nerve and determination placed him above his fellows, thus he was an inspiration and a fine example of leadership to all who had to undergo similar experience on the ridge.’

Thomas O’Donnell served with the Royal Ulster Rifles, prior to his transfer to the 6th Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers for Second War service. The Battalion formed part of the 38th (Irish) Infantry Brigade, and served with the 6th Armoured Division during the Tunisian Campaign in North Africa, 1942-43. The nature of the terrain lent itself to the following tactics, as recorded in The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers in the Second War, by Sir Frank Fox:

‘The Inniskillings arriving in the combat area had the ample test of undaunted facing-up to difficulties. The first task coming to them was to clear the Goubellat Plain of enemy posts. This plain was a kind of “No man’s land” between a ridge on the north towards Tunis, which was held by us, and a ridge on the south which was held by the Germans. The first move was given to “Maxforce” - a very temporary Formation, led by Major Maxwell, and made up of “C” Company and a section of the Battalion’s anti-tank platoon [see recommendation above]. It had a call on some artillery support in case of need; so it was quite a strong patrol.

Patrol tactics were usually on these lines: by day to “lay low” in farmhouses; by night to go out on missions for the conversion of enemy parties to the belief that surrender was advisable. A patrol changed its headquarters every second night as a precaution against espionage.... It was on “Red Indian” lines, this patrol fighting, and the Battalion learned to be very wily in meeting the stratagems of the enemy, and fairly diplomatic in relations with the “inhabitants of the country.” ‘

This, however, did not preclude the Battalion from being involved in more conventional all-out attacks as 18 January 1943 [see recommendation) was to show:

‘A Brigade attack was now planned. It was forestalled by a heavy German attack on 18th January, in which the Inniskillings gained some recompense. The enemy, expecting to overwhelm a battalion, found the whole Irish Brigade and the divisional artillery waiting for them and were driven back with considerable slaughter of men and of tanks. Brigadier Russell, commenting on the action, was enthusiastic about the cool steadfastness of the Inniskillings : “I well remember their second-in-command reporting so pleasantly and quietly over the ‘blower.’: ‘I see 16 enemy tanks advancing towards us. Wait, I now see 19 tanks. Wait, I now see 24 tanks. Wait, I now see 28 tanks. They are advancing on our positions. Over: now perfect for the Artillery.’ “

The result of this action was a serious blow to the enemy. The Battalion’s casualties were 2 killed and 22 wounded. Among the prisoners taken were 28 men of the Hermann Goering Regiment.

A profitable sequel to this success was the capture, next day, of Point 286 from the enemy by “A” Company. The Brigade Commander congratulated the company on “its perfect attack.” (Ibid)

O’Donnel was wounded in action on the advance to Tunis, 7 April 1943.

1 of only 2 M.M. and Second Award Bars to the Regiment for the Second World War.