Francis Ledwidge was born in Slane, County Meath in 1887. He was the son of a farm labourer and worked in the local copper mines. In his early years Ledwidge was a keen sportsman and amateur actor, and began writing poetry where he found an influential local patron, Lord Dunsany.

Ledwidge, standing on left, aged 15, with staff at Slane Castle

Ledwidge, standing on left, aged 15, with staff at Slane Castle

Ledwidge and his brother were founder members of the Slane corps of the nationalist Irish Volunteers. A particular friend was a fellow poet, Thomas McDonagh, one of the seven leaders of the Easter Rising in Dublin. When the First World War broke out Francis joined the army, saying, “I joined the British army because she stood between Ireland and an enemy common to our civilisation, and I would not have her say that she defended us while we did nothing at home but pass resolutions.”

Ledwidge served with the 5th Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers in Gallipoli and Macedonia in 1915. In early 1916 he was invalided home, and during this time McDonagh was executed for his part in the Easter Rising. On recovering, Ledwidge served for a time in Ebrington Barracks, Londonderry before being posted to the 1st Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers in Belgium, with the rank of Lance Corporal. On 31st July 1917, while on a working party near Ypres, he was killed by a shell.

Francis Ledwidge, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers

Francis Ledwidge, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers

Ledwidge; Soldier, Poet will be a celebratory concert on Thursday 20th July 2017 reflecting on Ledwidge’s life and death as a soldier through readings of his poetry and recitals of music inspired by his words. The evening concert will commence at 7.30pm in St Macartin’s Cathedral, Enniskillen, the home of the Inniskillings Regimental Chapel, and conclude across the street in St Michael’s Church. Where possible, the performers will be Inniskillings, their descendants or young people from the local area.

The concert will be in two parts; the first will review Ledwidge’s career as a soldier and the second will consider how his military service influenced his poetry. The narrator will introduce readings of Ledwidge’s poetry, recitals of musical settings of his work by Head and Gurney, musical settings of poetry which influenced him such as WB Yeats and Thomas Moore, and short talks about his military career. The renowned actor and director Adrian Dunbar will draw the evening to a close by reading Seamus Heaney’s emotive poem ‘In Memoriam – Francis Ledwidge’.

John Graham, Inniskillings Museum Trustee and event co-ordinator commented “Ledwidge’s story and poetry is as inspiring today as it was 100 years ago when he was killed in Flanders, and it is an honour to bring this special celebration to Enniskillen.”

John concluded “This is the Inniskillings Museum’s major community engagement event for 2017 and is generously supported by the Irish Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Department for Communities in Northern Ireland and Fermanagh and Omagh District Council.”

Tickets for the concert are free but numbers are strictly limited and may be requested from the Inniskillings Museum at or telephoning +44 28 6632 3142.

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Lieutenant Cormac Patrick James WRAY

A courageous Inniskilling is killed during a trench raid, 15th/16th July 1916.

Trench Raids.

Trench raids were carried out by both sides, usually at night, for a variety of reasons:

  • To obtain information on enemy defences and units.
  • To capture prisoners for interrogation.
  • To seize maps and documents.
  • To maintain an ‘offensive spirit’ among the men. Many British officers felt that the men got slack during quiet times.
  • To keep the enemy on edge, kill sleeping men and lower morale.

Faces blacked with burnt cork, a small group of lightly equipped men would crawl across no man’s land and invade the enemy trenches.  As it was important to overcome resistance and sentries as silently as possible, and rifles and bayonets were too clumsy, the men were equipped with a variety of purpose made wooden and metal clubs, not far removed in design from medieval weapons.  They also carried a supply of hand grenades to throw into dugouts as they left.

Raids were unpopular among the men, they were not voluntary and often brought enemy retaliation. Losses were very high, often for little meaningful return.

Cormac Wray

Cormac Wray, son of John Francis Wray, a solicitor in Enniskillen, was a member of the Irish Volunteer movement in Co Fermanagh.  It was pledged to support the introduction of Home Rule in Ireland.

Lt Cormac Wray (by permission Impartial Reporter)

Lt Cormac Wray (by permission Impartial Reporter)

Like many nationalists, he responded to the call by John Redmond, political leader of the Home Rule movement, to enlist in the army on the outbreak of war.

After training as an officer, in April 1916 Cormac was posted to France to join the 8th Inniskillings, 16th (Irish) Division.

Divisional Badge

Divisional Badge

In early July, the Division was not on the Somme front, but was on a relatively quiet sector to the north, near Béthune. Cormac was killed in the aftermath of a trench raid.

The Raid.

The Battalion report on the raid runs to three pages.  The purpose of this raid was to obtain information on the German defences opposite, on the other side of no man’s land.  In this it was successful.

The raid was preceded by the explosion of two mines, which left craters about 60 yards wide near the German front line.  Simultaneously, British artillery, trench mortars and machine guns swept the German trenches and parapets.

The raiding party of one officer (Cormac Wray) three NCOs and 18 men was divided into three squads.  They left their trenches at 11.00 pm. The first two squads successfully entered the German trenches, bombing enemy dugouts as they advanced.  Meanwhile, Cormac reconnoitred the enemy defences. After 35 minutes, he led two of the squads back, capturing a wounded German on the way.  The third squad encountered fierce resistance and had to withdraw to one of the new craters.

While Cormac was preparing his report outlining the layout and construction of the German trenches, for example, he reported that the dugouts were 25 feet deep, were built in pairs and had two entrances, he learned that this squad was in difficulties.  He returned to his men and found a fierce fight in progress around the crater against a greater number of the enemy.  His determined action rallied the men and the Germans were driven back and dispersed.  At this point he was severely wounded by an exploding grenade.   He died shortly after being brought back to his trench.

He was 21 years old, and is buried in Philosophe Military Cemetery, alongside many of his comrades of 16th (Irish) Division.  His headstone bears the inscription,

“Oh Holy Cross, under thy shadow I will rest.”

Nine other Inniskillings died in the raid, and 29 were wounded.  This included men in the covering party which was in no man’s land.

Philosophe Military Cemetery

Philosophe Military Cemetery

The Division’s commanding officer, Major General Hickie, wrote to his father:

Dear Mr. Wray,

I beg that you will accept the expression of my sympathy with you in the loss of your son.  He was a very fine young soldier, and had he lived, he would have been recommended for the Military Cross for his gallant action on the day of his death.   He had fulfilled his mission and had successfully accomplished the raid which puts us in possession of valuable information.  It must be a consolation to you to know that your son died in the execution of his duty, and was not killed in back billets by a chance shot, but in the forefront and in the glow of success, and that he left an honourable name behind him.

Yours very truly, W.B. Hickie.”

Magor General William Hickie

Major General William Hickie

The Military Cross could not be awarded posthumously.

Cormac was ‘Mentioned in Despatches’ (MiD), a decoration for bravery which could be awarded posthumously.

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Opening of The Quartermaster’s Store

Phase one of our Great War Legacy Project saw the opening on 13 April of the ‘Quartermaster’s Store’, Information Desk and Shop, by former Inniskillings Museum Curator and Trustee, Maj (Retd) George Stephens MBE DL in celebration of his 90th birthday. Following an introduction by Neil Armstrong, Curator/Manager of the Inniskillings Museum and a short speech by George Stephens, the tape was cut and the store officially opened.

Commemorative Plaque

Commemorative Plaque

Neil then invited George and assembled guests to view the shop, information desk and equipment.

Finally it was time for George to have a well earned break with some birthday cake!

George receiving his birthday cake

George receiving his birthday cake

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1917 – Darkest Days

1917 Exhibition Panel 1
1917 Exhibition Panel-2
1917 Exhibition Panel 3
1917 Exhibition Panel 4
1917 Exhibition Panel 5
1917 Exhibition Panel 6
1917 Exhibition Panel 7
1917 Exhibition Panel 8
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1917 Exhibition Panel 12
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1917 Exhibition Panel 14
1917 Exhibition Panel 15
1917 Exhibition Panel 16
1917 Exhibition Panel 17
1917 Exhibition Panel 18
1917 Exhibition Panel 19

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An Intrepid Campaigner

Lieutenant Colonel Terence T. Macartney-Filgate OBE,  1898 – 1981

Known as ‘Phil’, he came from a military family from Co Louth, and joined the Inniskillings’ Special Reserve in 1915.

On obtaining his commission in 1917, he was posted to the 5th Battalion, 10th (Irish) Division in Macedonia and then to Palestine and France.

When in Macedonia, as a young lieutenant, he was tasked with taking a group of sick soldiers to the port of Salonica.  Travelling at night, to avoid the heat, the group got lost.  Coming across a railway station, Phil commandeered a train and successfully brought his men to the port.  By the time their exploit was realised they were well out to sea.

After the First World War, from 1920-25, Phil served with the 1st Battalion in India and Iraq.

1922 - Punjab, India

1922 – Punjab, India

After that, he volunteered for a tour of duty, 1925-1930, with the Iraq Levies, a force raised in British controlled Iraq, to assist Imperial forces.

1925 - England, just before posting to Iraq Levies

1925 – England, just before posting to Iraq Levies

Back home, he was promoted to the rank of captain, and served with the Highland Light Infantry.

In 1937, with the restoration of the Inniskillings’ 2nd Battalion, he re-joined his old regiment as Adjutant to the battalion and served with it in France, 1939-40, before being evacuated from Dunkirk.

1938 - with newly reformed  2nd Battalion, York, England

1938 – with newly reformed 2nd Battalion, York, England

After a period in command of a Training School at Moore Park, he was given the post of Commanding Officer of the newly raised 6th Battalion, Inniskillings, part of the Irish Brigade.  He commanded the battalion in Tunisia, North Africa in 1942 until 20th December, when he was wounded when his car was machine gunned by a German Messerschmitt 109.  After recovery, he had a number of Staff appointments with 8th Army in N Africa, Sicily and Italy.

1944 - Italy

1944 – Italy

After the war, in 1946 he returned to command the 2nd Inniskillings (it had been amalgamated with the 6th in 1944) when the battalion was part of the allied occupation army in Austria.  His last task was to make the arrangements for the disbandment of the battalion in February 1947.

Lt Col Macartney-Filgate OBE - Medals

Lt Col Macartney-Filgate OBE – Medals

Macartney- Filgate’s medals

Left to right: Order of the British Empire, OBE; British War Medal 1914-1920; Victory Medal 1914-19, with oak leaf (Mentioned in Despatches); 1939-45 Star; Africa Star 1940-1943; Italy Star 1943-45; Defence Medal 1939-45; 1939-45 War Medal with oak leaf, (Mentioned in Despatches); Iraq Active Service Medal 1924-38

He was awarded the OBE (Order of the British Empire) in 1945 for his services.

Plaster cast for a bust of Lt Col Macartney-Filgate (Inniskillings Museum Collection)

Plaster cast for a bust of Lt Col Macartney-Filgate (Inniskillings Museum Collection)


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Four Memorials to a Young Soldier

Lieutenant Richard Playe Abney Smith – 1859-1882

Lieutenant Richard Playe Abney Smith

Lieutenant Richard Playe Abney Smith

There are three memorials to Richard Smith in St Macartin’s Cathedral, Enniskillen and one in St Mary’s Church in Shrewsbury.

His grave stone is in the Cathedral grounds, just to the left of the entrance porch, and a brass tablet and stained glass window are in the Regimental Chapel in the Cathedral.

Richard was the only son of Major Richard Playne Smith of the 10th Hussars.

He was commissioned into the Shropshire Militia in 1879 before joining the 108th Regiment of Foot.  This regiment became the 2nd Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers in 1881, and he was posted to Enniskillen.

There he bought a yacht, and while out sailing on Lough Erne with John Smith, a well-known local waterman on Sunday, 12th February 1882, the yacht was caught in a storm and sank.  Both men were drowned. Their bodies were recovered a week later.

Memorial at St Marys Church, Shrewsbury

Memorial at St Marys Church, Shrewsbury

Lieutenant Smith, aged 22, was buried with full military honours.  The procession from the main barracks, through streets lined with spectators, was led by a firing party of 40 Inniskilling Fusiliers, followed by the Regimental band playing with muffled drums. At the head of the band was the regimental mascot, Fan, a doe antelope adopted in India in 1875. The coffin, carried by six men of Smith’s company, was draped with the Union and the Regimental flags and was surmounted by his helmet and sword along with five wreaths.  Following was the chief mourner, his father Major Smith, and regimental officers. The main body of the regiment, some 400, followed.

At the church, the coffin was received by the garrison chaplain, Rev D O’Leary and the rector, Rev S Greer.  After the service, in the grave yard as the coffin was lowered into the grave, three volleys were fired.

The funeral of John Smith took place on the same day, in the Roman Catholic cemetery. As the funeral passed through the town, men of the regiment presented arms.

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The Battle of The Somme

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Somme Bugle to sound the ‘Advance’ 100 years on

On 1st July 1916, Drummer Jack Downs of the 10th Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, sounded the ‘Advance’ of the 36th (Ulster) Division at the Battle of the Somme. Over the first two days of the battle, the Division lost some 5,000 men and, of these, more than 2,000 had been killed. The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers lost 2,208 casualties, of whom 868 were killed.

In the history of the First World War, few bugles could have more resonance than that belonging to Drummer Downs, and to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, this iconic Bugle, held in the collection of the Inniskillings Museum, will again sound the ‘Advance’ exactly 100 years on.

The bugle used by Dmr Downs to sound the advance of the 36th (Ulster) Div on 01 Jul 1916 (Inniskillings Museum Collection)

The bugle used by Dmr Downs to sound the advance of the 36th (Ulster) Div on 01 Jul 1916 (Inniskillings Museum Collection)

The Somme commemoration at Enniskillen Castle on the morning of Friday 1st July will start promptly at 7.00am with gates open to the public at 6.30am (admission free). This symbolic service will be held outdoors against the backdrop of the historic castle, birthplace of the Inniskilling Regiments. The service will conclude at 7.45am when everyone present will have the unique opportunity to sign The Inniskilling Scroll of Honour which lists the names of all Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers killed on the first two days of the battle. The Scroll will then be placed in a First World War brass shell case and kept in the museum collection as part of the Inniskillings Museum Great War legacy for future generations.

Drummer Jack Downs, 10th Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers

Drummer Jack Downs, 10th Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers

At lunchtime the Inniskillings Museum will be providing three short lectures between 1.00pm and 2.00pm on the Inniskillings and other Irish soldiers at the Battle of the Somme. Following the lectures, a new publication entitled ‘The Inniskillings and the First World War’ will also be launched in the museum. Admission to the lectures is free but pre-booking is advisable as space is limited (please telephone the museum office on 028 6632 3142 to book).

Thiepval Wood, Somme - Sep 1916

Thiepval Wood, Somme – Sep 1916

The commemorations on the 1st July will conclude with an ecumenical Service of Reflection in St Macartin’s Cathedral, Enniskillen at 7.30pm, where a new memorial window will be dedicated in the Regimental Chapel to all those Inniskillings who served in the Great War and their families.

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Battle of Jutland, 31 May – 01 Jun 1916

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Easter Week, 1916 : A Double Tragedy

Irish homes in mourning.

41 Irish soldiers died in the Dublin Rising, and 581 in the Battle of Hulluch in France. Well over 1,000 were wounded in the battle, including many gassed. For the rest of their lives these men suffered chronic lung and breathing difficulties. 

16th Division Insignia

16th Division Insignia


16th (Irish) Division is blooded 


The Division was authorised in Ireland in September 1914.

47 Brigade 48 Brigade 49 Brigade
6th Royal Irish Regiment 8th Royal Munster Fusiliers 7th Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers
7th Royal Irish Rifles 9th Royal Munster Fusiliers 8th Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers
6th Connaught Rangers 8th Royal Dublin Fusiliers 7th Royal Irish Fusiliers
7th Leinster Regiment 9th Royal Dublin Fusiliers 8th Royal Irish Fusiliers

After training in Ireland and England, 47th and 48th Brigades moved to France in December 1915. 49th Brigade, the Ulster Brigade, was held back for further training.

Recruiting had been slow because many Ulstermen had joined 10th (Irish) and 36th (Ulster) Divisions. In February 1916, 49 Brigade sailed for France, with pipers of 7th Inniskillings playing “The Sprig of Shillelagh’.

Training for the whole Division had been fairly rudimentary. They were not to know that within a month of becoming fully operational in France they were to face one of the heaviest gas attacks of the year. There was no introduction to gas warfare or anti-gas training or drills.  Rudimentary gas masks were issued. These were the PH face masks (the Tube Helmet) which consisted of layers of flannel cloth impregnated with chemicals to protect against chlorine and phosgene gas.

PH Gas Mask

PH Gas Mask

During the first two months of the year, battalions were made familiar with trench life, given more training and were employed on trench digging duties. There was also some action and the first casualties.

With the arrival of 49th Brigade, 16th Division became fully operational on 1st March. It moved into the Hulluch and Puits 14 Bis (a coal mine) sector in the Loos salient. An advantage of the area was the plentiful supply of pit baths! Opposite was the German 4th Bavarian Division.

St Patrick’s Day

Every effort was made to make the 17th March a holiday. After Mass, brigade sports were organised, and evening battalion concerts held.

Loos Salient, showing Hulluch

Loos Salient, showing Hulluch

The Battle of Hulluch (North-East France) 27-29 April 1916

16th (Irish) Division faced its first big enemy attack.

27th April       

A gas attack struck the whole of 48th and 49th Brigades.

There had been some warning. A German deserter gave some indication, aerial reconnaissance showed gas cylinders in enemy lines and swarms of rats were seen leaving German trenches as they sought to escape leaking gas. On the British side, anti-gas agent sprays were checked and the gas helmets made ready. Defences, especially wire, were strengthened. In 49 Brigade, 7th Inniskillings and 8th Irish Fusiliers were up front, 8th Inniskillings and 9th Irish Fusiliers in support.

German Gas Attack

German Gas Attack

At 0435, the German attack began with intense machine gun and rifle fire. Ten minutes later a heavy artillery barrage began. Almost simultaneously, gas, a mixture of chlorine and phosgene (choking gases), was released from German positions, and a gentle breeze carried it forward across no man’s land. Visibility was reduced to three yards.

As the gas lingered over the battalions’ trenches, the bombardment lifted and moved rearward. It now included tear gas shells. Under cover of the gas and smoke, the Germans attacked. The feet and legs of the attacking troops were visible under the gas cloud and the Irish battalions opened up with rifle and machine gun fire.

German troops broke into several Irish trenches, and close hand-to-hand fighting followed. Some Irish prisoners were taken but many were killed by British counter-barrages. Though many gas casualties were inflicted, most Irish casualties were caused by the German bombardment which destroyed the front line trenches. Irish reinforcements were sent forward and eventually the Germans were driven from the trenches.

The 7th Inniskillings particularly distinguished themselves. The Times war correspondent said, “never was a job more quickly or more cleanly done”. Some 450 German dead were counted in front of 48th and 49th Brigades’ trenches. Two hours later a renewed gas and bombardment took place, followed by another attack which was beaten off. The wind changed and the German gas was blown back into their trenches. As the German soldiers tried to escape, British artillery and Irish machine guns took a heavy toll.

The 7th Inniskillings bore the brunt of the attack, and lost 68 soldiers killed, 52 wounded and 137 gassed. The commanding officer, Lt Colonel Young, said,

I desire to express to all ranks my high appreciation of their conduct and bearing,  when they displayed a high standard of courage and endurance”.

The Brigadier-General of 49th Brigade said to the survivors,

“When defending a position under a storm of shrapnel, high explosive etc, and at the same time being subjected to three gas attacks, as you were on 27thit is easy to get excited and cause a panic. You, however, stood firm, counter-attacked, and absolutely defeated the enemy’s attack. You have seen the worst of it, and have shown by your steadiness, coolness, and courage that you are good soldiers. You have proved yourselves good men of your country, Ireland can be proud of you”.

It was after this that the Battalion became known as the ‘Fighting Seventh’.

28th April was a quiet day, spent recovering the dead, wounded and gassed. Long lines of men filed down the choked and chaotic communication trenches, making their way to the Regimental Aid Post before being evacuated to Casualty Clearing Stations. The 8th Inniskillings relieved the 7th.

A lieutenant of the 7th Leinsters recorded the terrible task of recovering the dead and wounded:

“They were in all sorts of tragic attitudes, some of them holding hands like children in the dark”.

He and his men found themselves pestered for the next few days by “half-poisoned rats by the hundred”.

A chaplain, Fr William Doyle SJ, described the scene in a letter home:

There they lay in the bottom of the trench, in every conceivable posture of human agony; the clothes torn off their bodies in a vain effort to breathe, while from end to end of that valley of death came one long unceasing moan from the lips of brave men fighting and struggling for life”.

29th April 

At 0500, gas was released again, hitting the 8th Inniskillings, 8th Dublin Fusiliers and 8th Irish Fusiliers. It was preceded by a German artillery bombardment of the reserve and communication trenches. Again the Germans, as they massed for their attack, were overwhelmed by their own gas which forced them out of their own trenches into the open where they were caught by Divisional artillery and British small-arms fire. The expected German attack did not occur.

The 8th Inniskillings lost 63 killed and 214 wounded. In the two attacks the two Inniskilling Battalions lost nearly half their total strength. The 8th Royal Dublin Fusiliers (48 Brigade) had 183 men killed.  60 were buried in one shell hole.

Fermanagh’s dead

The men were all Inniskillings except two Royal Dublin Fusiliers (RDF):

2nd Lieutenant Noel Trimble, son of the proprietor of the local newspaper, The Impartial Reporter.

Corporal James Smith from Drumawill, Enniskillen

Lance Corporal Henry Phair from Lisnaskea

Lance Corporal Thomas Meehan from Monea

Lance Corporal Francis Beatty from Newtownbutler (RDF)

Private James Leonard (RDF) from London but whose parents came from Enniskillen

Private Irvine Brown from Shanmullagh

Private Patrick Boyle from Rosslea.

Five were killed by gas:

Corporal Peter Drumm from Enniskillen

Private Patrick McCabe from Derrygonnelly

Private Francis Donnelly from Enniskillen

Private Michael Corrigan from Belcoo

Thomas Cassidy from Irvinestown.

Fighting died down by 30 April and the Hulluch sector remained quiet for some time. The Germans had not had a particularly good experience with their own gas. On the British side there was an enquiry as to why there were so many gas casualties, even when gas masks were properly worn. Initially poor gas mask procedures or faulty masks were blamed but the limitations of the PH hoods became clear, particularly in high concentrations of gas. Production of the more effective French box gas masks was speeded up.


German placard

German placard

News of the Dublin uprising travelled to the German lines. One placard erected by the Germans facing 16th

Division’s lines said:

Irishmen! Heavy uproar in Ireland.  English guns are firing on your wives and children.”

The 9th Munsters used the placards for target practice, and sent out patrols at night to seize them and bring them back to their trenches.


The Battalion War Diaries

The Regimental Magazine, The Sprig of Shillelagh

Archives of the Inniskillings Museum

The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers in the Great War: Sir Frank Fox

Ireland’s Unknown Soldiers, The 16th (Irish) Division in the Great War: Terence Denman

Orange, Green and Khaki, The Story of the Irish Regiments in the Great War: Tom Johnstone

Deveron to Devastation, brother officers of 7th Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers in the First World War: James Fraser Bourhill.

The Book of the Seventh(Service) Battalion of the Inniskilling Fusiliers, from Tipperary to Ypres: GA Cooper Walker

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