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ENNISKILLEN CONCERT TO CELEBRATE AN INNISKILLING FUSILIER AND WAR POET
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 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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or telephoning +44 28 6632 3142.
A courageous Inniskilling is killed during a trench raid, 15th/16th July 1916.
Trench raids were carried out by both sides, usually at night, for a variety of reasons:
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, 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.
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.
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 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.
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.”
The Military Cross could not be awarded posthumously.
Cormac was ‘Mentioned in Despatches’ (MiD), a decoration for bravery which could be awarded posthumously.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Lieutenant Richard Playe Abney Smith – 1859-1882
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.
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.
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 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.
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).
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.