William Hanna

Captain William "Bill" Hanna led D Company, 1st Battalion, Royal Irish Fusiliers on the attack at Centuripe under heavy machine gun fire on 2nd August 1943.


William Hanna


Captain William Hanna (112985) served in the Royal Ulster Rifles attached to 1st Battalion, Royal Irish Fusiliers during the Second World War. Known as Bill, he was the son of George Walker Hanna and Susan “Sue” Hanna of Hartford Place, Armagh, Co. Armagh. Bill had two older brothers, Robert Hanna and James Hanna who served in North Africa with the North Irish Horse.

In civilian life, Bill was a keen sportsman. He played rugby for the 1st XV of The Royal School Armagh as well as representing Ulster at the sport. He also represented the province at cricket and hockey. A fellow subaltern remembered him from the schoolboy sporting days.

I had travelled over (to Armagh and then onto Ballymena) with Teddy D’Arcy… and Bill Hanna, a fine athlete against whom I had played matches for Campbell College when he was at the Royal Academy in Armagh. Bill had represented Ulster at rugger, cricket, and hockey. I remember being tackled by him – it was like being hit by a charging bull.

Military Career

Bill began his military career at Sandhurst Military Academy, Berkshire, England in July 1939. On the outbreak of the Second World War, he was commissioned into the Royal Ulster Rifles, joining them in Northern Ireland on 5th January 1940.

On 13th May 1943, Hanna was posted to 1st Battalion, Royal Irish Fusiliers, following a posting to the British North African Force as a reinforcement toward the end of the Tunisian campaign. At this time, he received a promotion to Captain and took over as a Platoon Commander and second-in-command of A Company. He led the company during the final battles north of Medjez-el-Bab. Captain Hanna then took over as Commander of D Company following the wounding of Major John Horsfall. Under Hanna, D Company and the rest of the battalion underwent rigorous training in Tunisia and Algeria to prepare for Operation HUSKY.

Death at Centuripe

Captain Hanna died on 2nd August 1943 aged 22 years old during D Company, 1st Battalion, Royal Irish Fusiliers’ attack on the hilltop town of Centuripe. Hanna’s D Company led the advance on the town, proceeding along the main road. Just before H-Hour, a small rise of land, referred to in diaries as “a pimple” was hit with mortar fire to remove the enemy. A platoon moved to the cleared high ground to support D Company’s advance.

At H-Hour, supporting artillery fire rained down on Centuripe and D Company moved out under the cover of darkness and mortar fire. Concealed German positions had escaped the worst of the Allied shelling and enemy machine gun fire opened up on the Fusiliers. Captain Hanna took the full force of enemy gunfire and was killed almost immediately leading from the front. There were many other casualties including Robbie Robinson and the advance slowed to a halt.

2050: D Coy reported they were on their first objective but not their second. While attacking the second, the Coy Commander Captain W Hanna was killed.

Earlier in the day, some within the Irish Brigade had foreseen Hanna’s fate. As Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel Beauchamp Henry Butler D.S.O. gave the orders for the attack, Adjutant Captain Brian Clark looked over at Captain Bill Hanna.

[He] saw a man who was going to die; he had death on his face.

When word came back to the Battalion Headquarters after H-Hour that Hanna was wounded, Clark instinctively knew otherwise.

No, he’s dead.

Captain Hanna’s grave is in Section IV, Row F, Grave 9 of Catania War Cemetery, Italy. His headstone bears the inscription:

In proud, loving remembrance of our darling Bill. Mum, dad, Bob and Jim.

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