Milazzo, Sicily 1806 and 1943 – 27th Foot and 6th Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers

Milazzo town and citadel are located on the north coast of Sicily, not far from the strategically important Straits of Messina, the narrow waterway separating Sicily from mainland Italy.

On two occasions, separated by four generations, Inniskillings were in Sicily and had occasion to occupy Milazzo.

Milazzo today

Milazzo today

First visit: 27th (Inniskilling) Regiment of Foot during the Napoleonic period, 1805-1812

The ambitions of Napoleon Bonaparte, firstly as a French general and then as French Emperor, were to control as much of the Eastern Mediterranean as possible. Firstly, he led an army to conquer Egypt. This was frustrated by Admiral Nelson’s naval victory at the Battle of the Nile in 1798. French forces in Egypt were eventually defeated in 1801 by a British army, which included the 1st Battalion of the 27th (Inniskilling) Regiment of Foot.

British Army lands in Egypt 1801

British Army lands in Egypt 1801

French ambitions after 1802 extended to the conquest of all of Italy. Central and northern Italy were already occupied and ruled by client princes and monarchs.  The southern part, called the Kingdom of Naples, remained.

Based in Malta, captured from the French in 1800, the British attempted to frustrate these ambitions by military and naval action.

Battle of Trafalgar

Battle of Trafalgar

Using their naval superiority, achieved at the Battle of Trafalgar in October 1805, British forces were sent in late 1805 to assist the King of Naples. The army, which included the 1st Inniskillings, landed in Calabria in Southern Italy. The subsequent campaign was a rather feeble affair, and the army retreated in the face of a French advance.  It evacuated to its naval transports but had to wait for about a month until permission was received from the King of Naples to occupy the island of Sicily in 1806.

The 1st Inniskillings garrisoned Messina and Milazzo and remained based in Sicily until 1812.

They were joined there in 1806 by the 2nd Inniskillings who were housed in huts in Milazzo.

Corporal James Nicol’s letters

The Inniskillings Museum has photocopies of three short letters written from Sicily between 1806 and 1811 by James Nichol to his father.  James was a corporal in the 2nd Battalion, which arrived in Sicily in 1806.

In his first letter written shortly after his arrival in Sicily, dated October 1806, he refers to a lot of sickness among the soldiers.  At first the men had no shelter, having one blanket each and a board laid on the ground.  His daily food was 1lb of beef and 1lb of bacon and a pint of wine. Bread of course would have been plentiful and vegetables were cheap. In the letter he mentions Milazzo.

In all his letters he enthuses about how cheap the wine was!

In his 1809 letter, he refers to the short expedition which captured the island of Ischia.   And he complains about receiving so few letters from home.

His 1811 letter recounts artillery exchanges across the Straits of Messina.  “They send their 42 lb shot over our barracks and we return them the same by way of kind compliments.”

Nicol's letter

Nicol’s letter

James died of unknown causes in 1812, perhaps disease or action in Eastern Spain.

The one event of particular significance that the regiment was involved in at this time was the Battle of Maida, in July 1806.   This was the climax of a small expedition from Sicily onto the mainland.  This consisted of an army of about 6,000 men sent to harry French forces in Calabria. The Inniskillings were in a brigade commanded by Sir Galbraith Lowry Cole (of Florence Court, County Fermanagh).

Sir Galbraith Lowry Cole

Sir Galbraith Lowry Cole

There was a brief engagement, lasting about 15 minutes, with a slightly larger French force. The French were defeated.  The particular significance of the engagement is that it was the first time British infantry had stood up to and defeated a Napoleonic army.

Battle of Maida

Battle of Maida

An incident occurred at this time which has gone down in regimental folk lore!   After the battle, the regiments returned to the beach where they had landed.  Permission was given for the men to bath in the sea to wash off the gunpowder soot from the battle.  While in the sea, an alarm was raised as a large dust cloud was spotted.  It was feared that French cavalry were approaching.  The soldiers rushed from the sea, and without putting on their clothes, grabbed their muskets and ammunition and formed line of battle on the beach. The dust cloud turned out to be a herd of buffalo!  Thus the Regiment became known as “the skins”.

(the circumstances surrounding this gruesome object – the iron cage – are unknown. A possible explanation lies in the practice in the British Army at the time to execute men for desertion, looting or murder, and to display the corpse before the assembled regiment as a warning)

At times small detachments were sent to garrison the fortress of Scilla across the Straits, until it was captured by the French.

Scilla Castle today

Scilla Castle today

The only release from the tedium of garrison duty in the later years of the occupation was the exciting news of the actions of the Mosquito Fleet.  This was a force of fast rowing boats and gun boats commanded with great flair by an Inniskilling officer, Captain Thomas Reade. The soldiers and gunners were British, the sailors Sicilian. This ‘fleet’ defended the coasts of Sicily and attacked French convoys, capturing ships, ammunition and supplies.

Model of a British gun boat

Model of a British gun boat

Colonel Sir Thomas Reade, CB. Thomas Reade was from Congleton in England, had run away from home and joined the Lancashire Militia at the age of 16. He transferred to the 27th   Foot where his family purchased him a commission as lieutenant in 1800. He served all of his military career in the 27th.

Thomas Reade

Thomas Reade

He served with the 1st Battalion in Egypt in 1801 and then in Malta and in Sicily, was promoted to captain in 1805, and major in 1811. He was awarded a decoration by the King of Naples, the Knight of the Sicilian Order of St Ferdinand and of Merit. This was most likely for his leadership of the Mosquito Fleet. After Sicily, he fought in the campaign in Spain 1812-14, and then in North America in 1814 in the war against the United States. He arrived back in England with seven companies, the rest delayed by storms, to join up with the 2nd Battalion for immediate shipping to Belgium to be part of the Duke of Wellington’s allied army for the campaign against Napoleon. At first the Inniskillings were a part of the protection force guarding the French Royal family and would therefore not likely play an active part in the campaign. Reade was transferred to the general staff, the Quarter-Master General’s department.  Thus he missed Waterloo where his regiment was to play such a heroic part.  He was knighted in 1815, a Companion of the Order of the Bath, no doubt in recognition of his exceptional service, and promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

Thomas Reade's signature

Thomas Reade’s signature

He then served as assistant adjutant-general of the troops guarding Napoleon in his exile on the island of St Helena until Napoleon’s death in 1821. After this, in 1824, Reade was appointed consul-general in Tunis, a post he held until his death in 1849. He is credited with doing much to persuade the ruler of Tunis to abolish slavery in his lands.  Also, he made an extensive collection of Roman and Greek archaeological remains which are now in the collection of the Manchester Museum.

In 1812, the two Inniskilling Battalions joined a British/ Sicilian force sent to eastern Spain.

Second visit: 6th Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers during the Second World War, 1943

In 1943, a British and American army invaded Sicily in the first step to opening a front in southern Europe against Germany and Italy.

Map of Sicily, 1943

Map of Sicily, 1943

Two battalions of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers were in the invading army. The 2nd Battalion went in first, landing on 10th July 1943 near Syracuse. It fought up the east coast and along the eastern slopes of Mount Etna.  (see Inniskillings Museum publication: Globe Trotters).

The 6th Battalion landed a month later at the same place and followed a more inland route, and ended their campaign on the western slopes of Mount Etna.

Their main and most significant action was the capture of the village of Centuripe.  This was a small hill-top town which occupied a key position in the German and Italian defences stretching from the northern Sicilian coast to the eastern shore near Catania.

Centuripe today

Centuripe today

On 2nd August, along with the other two battalions of the 38th (Irish) Brigade, 1st Royal Irish Fusiliers and 2nd London Irish Rifles, the German defences were attacked, with the Inniskillings in the lead.

Centuripe panorama 1943

Centuripe panorama 1943

The cliffs leading to the town had to be scaled against strong resistance. After a foothold had been obtained in the town, there was fierce house to house fighting. Eventually the village was reported as clear of the enemy. The cost was high, nine Inniskillings were killed and 39 wounded.

Inniskillings endure the Italian summer as they await their move to Centuripe

Inniskillings endure the Italian summer as they await their move to Centuripe

The Battalion was awarded more gallantry decorations (6) for this action on a single day than any other Inniskilling Battalion in any of their engagements in the Second World War.  When General Montgomery was shown the cliff that the Inniskillings climbed, he is reputed to have said, “Impossible”.

Inniskillings engage in house to house searches in Centuripe

Inniskillings engage in house to house searches in Centuripe

Following this, the Inniskillings fought their way north along the rugged slopes of Mount Etna pursuing the retreating enemy. It was rough terrain, consisting of broken lava deposits with innumerable stone walls along narrow tracks.   By 15th August, the Germans had evacuated the island.

Innniskillings view the scene of their success

Innniskillings view the scene of their success

After a period of training and relaxation, the Battalion moved to Milazzo where it embarked on 18th September on Landing Ships, destined for Taranto in southern Italy.

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Captain John Forsythe Harvey

Captain John Forsythe Harvey, 9th (Service) Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers (Tyrone Volunteers)

Whilst researching for a forthcoming book on the 36th (Ulster) Division in the German Spring Offensive, March 1918, the following headstone was found at Noyon New British Cemetery, 30 miles south east of St Quentin.

Unknown Captain - Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers

Unknown Captain – Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers

Further research identified that the remains in this grave and those of another identified Inniskilling – Pte John Douthart 27685 had been exhumed from Brouchy Churchyard in a graves concentration process and re-interred at Noyon. Brouchy is a small village 15 miles south-east of St Quentin.

The war diaries of the Inniskilling battalions were interrogated and it was discovered that on 23 March 1918, the 9th Inniskillings were in the vicinity of Brouchy. By 23 March, the German Spring Offensive had been under way for two days and the 36th (Ulster) Division were performing a fighting withdrawal, hard-pressed by rapidly advancing superior numbers of German forces.

The 9th Inniskillings war diary records the following:

22nd March. The battalion marched to Brouchey (sic) and the night was passed in billets. At about 7 am, the battalion marched out of Brouchey and took up a line from the railway bridge through Aubigny. At about 1130 am the enemy forced us back on Brouchey, but a counter-attack was made and Aubigny was re-occupied with few casualties. The battalion was again driven out of the village but again counter-attacked in the afternoon, this time sustaining heavy casualties. One light and two heavy machine-guns were captured and heavy casualties inflicted on the enemy. During the afternoon our left flank was left in the air and the battalion fell back on Brouchey, where considerable fighting took place.

During the action of 23 March, 9th Inniskillings had five men killed, including Captain John Forsythe Harvey. In a nominal roll attached to the war diary, he is the only Captain identified as having been killed.

Captain John Forsythe Harvey

Captain John Forsythe Harvey

Records from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission indicated that when the remains were exhumed, they were clothed in a Captain’s uniform manufactured by WJ Purdon, a clothing manufacturer situated at 67 Donegal Street, Belfast.

John Forsythe Harvey was born at Ballymaconaghy, Castlereagh, County Down on 27 January 1894, the eldest son of William and Elizabeth Harvey (nee Forsythe). William Harvey was a Leather Merchant at Belfast. In 1911, the family were resident at ‘Inverary’, Downshire Road, Cregagh, Belfast. John, then aged 17 was apprenticed to the Linen trade.

John enlisted in the 12th (Reserve) Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers on 8 September 1915 and was issued with the service number 26043. Around the same time, he applied for a commission and was appointed Second Lieutenant in July 1916. He joined the 9th Inniskillings on 25 September 1916 and by August 1917 was a Company Commander, having been promoted Captain.

John’s family were informed of his death by telegram on 2 April 1918.

Telegram 02 April 1918

Telegram 02 April 1918

John’s remains were officially never recovered and he is currently commemorated on the Pozieres Memorial to the Missing.

Research material was compiled and a case was submitted to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in July 2017 asserting that the remains currently interred at Noyon New British Cemetery in a grave marked Captain Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, name unknown, were those of Captain John Forsythe Harvey.

On 14 January 2019, a letter was received from the MOD Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre stating the following:

After further research I am pleased to inform you that the Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre (JCCC) are in agreement with your findings, that is, that John Forsythe Harvey is the unknown Captain buried in this grave.

The headstone will now be replaced and a re-dedication service will take place at the graveside on 21 March 2019, conducted by a Padre from the Royal Irish Regiment, the decendent regiment of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. The service will also be attended by a representative of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers Regimental Association and the Inniskillings Museum.

Efforts are currently underway to identify surviving descendants of Captain Harvey. Can you help? Information can be passed to the Inniskillings Museum on 028 6632 3142 or research@inniskillingsmuseum.com or use the ‘Contact Us’ page on this website.

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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

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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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