The Inniskillings in Burma, January – April 1943

75 Years Ago the Inniskillings Suffer a Second Bloody Nose in Burma.

In January 1942, the army of Imperial Japan invaded the British possession of Burma. The British and British Indian army forces were out flanked, defeated and were forced to evacuate Burma.  The Inniskillings had been flown into Burma as part of an unsuccessful attempt to create a defensive line north of Rangoon. It failed, and the order to evacuate Burma was given and India itself was now threatened.

In 1943, there was another unsuccessful campaign to halt the advance of the Japanese army. The intention of the campaign was to attack the left flank of the Japanese forces threatening India.  If successful, the campaign would cut Japanese supply lines.

The Arakan Campaign

The Arakan Campaign

The objective was the Japanese naval and air base on Akyab Island which lay at the end of the Mayu Peninsula. This consisted of a narrow, steep and jungle covered range of hills which separated the narrow coastal plain on the Bay of Bengal from the fertile rice growing valley of the Mayu River. Two roads skirted the Mayu peninsula.  On the western side, a good coastal road led along the Bay of Bengal towards the Japanese base at Donbaik north of Akab.  On the eastern side another, less good, road led along the foothills skirting the Mayu River.

Arakan Map

Arakan Map

The capture of Akyab would provide the base for all operations against the Japanese flank.  A plan for a sea born assault had to be abandoned because sufficient naval forces, particularly landing craft, were not available.   Instead a land based attack down the Mayu peninsula was put in place.  (Reminiscent of Gallipoli!)

This was to be carried out by 14th Indian Division, commanded by Mayor General WL Lloyd.

Major General WL Lloyd, commanded 14th Indian Division in Arakan

Major General WL Lloyd, commanded 14th Indian Division in Arakan

In this Division were the Inniskillings in 47th Infantry Brigade, with two other battalions, 1st Battalion, 7th Rajput Regiment and 5th Battalion 8th Punjab Regiment.

Rajput Soldiers

Rajput Soldiers

On 4th January, probing reconnaissance by an Inniskilling patrol a few days earlier had reached the end of the road and saw little sign of the Japanese.  It was to transpire very shortly that they had remained hidden.

Further patrols were sent to the east side of the peninsula and again saw little sign of the enemy.  One of these patrols, led by Captain Coates, approached a village which was protected by an unfordable watercourse. The village was occupied by some Burmese guerrillas.  Coates ordered his men to strip and swim across the river with covering fire provided by Bren guns.  The enemy fled pursued by the naked Inniskillings!

Country on eastern side of Mayu River showing village attacked by Captain Coates and his men

Country on eastern side of Mayu River showing village attacked by Captain Coates and his men

The first attack on Donbaik was by 47th Brigade on 7th– 9th January.  The attack was repulsed. The Japanese defensive bunkers could not be penetrated by field artillery.  When eight Valentine tanks were bought up for another attack, even they failed. Three Inniskillings were awarded medals for gallantry during the February attack. Corporal John Scott was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal and Fusilier William Newman the Military Medal.  Under sustained enemy fire they successfully recovered a damaged carrier, (a light armoured tracked vehicle) thus preventing it from falling into enemy hands.

Lieutenant Basil Fairweather was awarded the Military Cross for successfully leading his section against a Japanese position and then defending it against heavy counter-attacks for 20 hours. A fourth Inniskilling, Corporal Daniel Denton was awarded a Military Medal for, on both occasions, while under enemy fire, rescuing badly wounded comrades.

After all attacks on these well-constructed Japanese defences failed, attention turned to the eastern side where attempts were made to move south through swampy and difficult terrain.  By now Japanese reinforcements were arriving, commanded by Lieutenant General Takeshi Koga.

General Takishi Koga, commanded Japanese forces in the Arakan, defeated a larger and better equipped British Army

General Takishi Koga, commanded Japanese forces in the Arakan, defeated a larger and better equipped British Army

On 10th March, the Inniskillings, with the 5/8 Punjabs and 1/7 Rajputs in 47th Infantry Brigade, moved across the Mayu hills to the east side, where they were deployed holding the villages of Sinoh, Thitkadu, Minbu, Pagaing and Atet-Nara.

On 24-26 March, the Japanese crossed the Mayu River and gained the hill tops.  The right flank of the Inniskillings became exposed as Japanese units began infiltrating the villages.

On 30th March, withdrawal order was given towards the Sinoh Pass. ‘B’ company was ordered to withdraw from its precarious position near Kyang Daung. Its rear party, led by Lt Lister, stayed on for 30 minutes firing everything they had to deceive the enemy, enabling the rest to withdraw, and then they successfully extricated themselves. Other units were under constant attack. Between 26th and 31st March, ‘C’ company was shelled over open sights, and the Japanese tried to set fire to forward positions by means of explosive bullets.

The Battalion was ordered to take up defensive positions on the top of the Sinoh Pass. By 2nd April, the Battalion, alongside the 5/8Punjabs and 1/7 Rajputs, occupied the area of Conical Hill/Thitkado.

On 4th April, the Japanese attacked in strength again and again until they had broken through. Lt Lister killed about five Japanese before he was finally bayoneted. Units were surrounded and, those who could, withdrew to the Sinoh Pass.

Fusilier William Megarry was awarded the Military Medal, when during this retreat, and under sustained enemy fire, he rescued a badly wounded Fusilier and carried him to the Regimental Aid Post.

Fusilier William Megarry MM

Fusilier William Megarry MM

By 6th April, a disorderly withdrawal was now across country over jungle covered hills with speed reduced to ½ mile per hour.  When darkness fell, direction was kept by touch only.  The Battalion had to split into small forces and had to hide up during the day to avoid Japanese patrols.   The parties made for the beach south of Indin.  Casualties were high from Japanese ambushes and prisoners were taken.  The remains of the Battalion were moved to staging camps and then were transported by motor transport to the north across the border into India.

Fusilier Patrick Maguire.

Patrick was captured in April 1943 and subjected to a rough interrogation.  He was made to carry food and ammunition for enemy front-line troops.   During a heavy rainstorm, he slipped away from his captors.  After wandering for two days in the jungle he was captured again.   As before, he was roughly treated and made to carry supplies.  Determined to escape again, just before dark he persuaded a sentry, on pretence of needing to relieve himself, to take him to a secluded spot.  Once there, he attacked the soldier, knocked him to the ground and gave him a severe kicking about the head.  He slipped away into the jungle and walked about three miles to the British lines.   For his initiative and determination, Patrick Maguire was awarded a Military Medal.

Fusilier Patrick Maguire MM

Fusilier Patrick Maguire MM

In January 1943, Battalion strength was 600.  By 5th April, it was 230.  Some 270 were dead from enemy action and disease. Others were wounded, taken prisoner or missing.

In the two campaigns in Burma; March – May 1942, and January – April 1943, 38 Inniskillings have marked graves and 332 have no known grave.

In the Second World War in India and Burma some 425 Inniskillings died from enemy action and disease.

The following are some of the artefacts from the Burma campaign on display in the Inniskillings Museum:

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Battle of the Garigliano – Italy, 17-18 January 1944

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FRANCIS LEDWIDGE; SOLDIER, POET

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, 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 info@inniskillingsmuseum.com 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
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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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