Regimental History - Second World War
2nd Battalion, King's Own Royal Regiment, Lancaster
Private H Livesey - of B Company, 2nd Battalion -
provided an eyewitness account of the battle leading up to the fall of
Merjayoun on 23rd June, 1941.
Merjayoun, the scene of our first battle in Syria, was an enemy position
of great strength. This position commands the central approach to
Damascus, and it will be recalled, it was here that the enemy made his
first determined stand.
We had been travelling for over a week and were eager to get into action
and finish it off. Moreover, we had been told, that it was unlikely the
enemy would put up a strong resistance. I remember at the time thinking
that it was a pity we should have to fight our former [French] friends
and Allies; but we were soldiers first, and we were serving our country.
To the sound of bursting shells, we rose from our blankets in the early
dawn; and, after eating a hurried breakfast, we piled into transport and
moved off to our dispersal area. Our objective was a small village
called Ibles-Shaken, on the right of Merjayoun. The intention was to
attack, take, and hold the position at all cost. Under a fierce
artillery barrage, the forward company went into the attack. Up the
forward slope they swarmed like ants; here, there, everywhere, moving
with great coolness and determination.
Although the enemy put up intense mortar and light machine gun fire,
they could not stop us from gaining a foothold on top of the slope.
Now came our turn; and we steeled ourselves for what was to come. We
moved forward, now in file, now opened out, taking advantage of all the
cover we could get. It did not take long for the enemy observers to spot
us. Down came the mortar shells, dogging our steps where-ever we went.
With magnificent coolness our officers led us onward. Threading our way
amongst the gulleys and rocks, we finally got into position for our
attack. Away on our left the town of Merjayoun towered above. It looked
inviting and peaceful. Then our company commander gave the order to
attack, and amid huge rocks and stones, we wormed our way forward
against a hail of machine gun and shell fire.
With eyes strained for a target, we went forward, always on the alert
for the whine of shell or mortar fire - down under cover one minute,
charging forward the next, eager to grapple with the enemy. Woe betide
anyone who got in our way. Onward we went, one platoon low on the
hillside, No. 11 Platoon in the centre, and another spread amongst the
higher reaches of the slope. In this formation we forced our way
forward, against a seemingly impregnable position. Every man needed his
wits about him, for the enemy had chosen his positions well.
Owing to the number of wounded and casualties sustained in the advance,
the company commander realised it was sheer folly to carry this attack
further, and gave us orders to take up a defensive position.
There we lay, tensed for any counter-attack which might be launched.
Although the enemy used everything he had, we hung on like grim death,
and he failed to dislodge us.
During the advance some of our sections had got well forward, our
company commander being amongst these. Owing to the terrific cross fire
and the loss of our 2” mortar, the CSM himself wounded, decided to
withdraw to our defensive positions in the rear. Although temporarily
forced to withdraw from our forward positions, we had forced the enemy
to disclose his whole defensive position, and it was largely owing to
this that Merjayoun fell two days later.
The day wore on and darkness came; a relief to the gruelling hot sun and
flying bullets. Although tired and weary, we were still ready for an
opportunity to improve the situation. We then got the order to evacuate
our wounded, and we left our advance positions, much reduced in numbers,
but still full of fight.
Later that night, we learnt that the enemy had evacuated the positions
we had attacked that day, thus preparing the way for the final assault.
A day or so later we heard that the town had fallen, we were filled with
enthusiasm, to think that we had played a part, however small, in this
common struggle of ours.
We record our appreciation of the stubborn fight the French offered in
this section, and to our fallen comrades, our tribute.
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