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

This article was written by Michael Nugent, a Trustee of the Inniskillings Museum, a Director of the Military Heritage of Ireland Trust, a member of the Western Front Association and an associate member of History Hub Ulster.

He also conducts independent research at https://ww1researchireland.com/

Capt J F Harvey Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, KIA 21 March 1918

It was whilst carrying out research for my book on the 36th (Ulster) Division in March 1918, that I first encountered Captain Harvey.

I was visiting Noyon New British Cemetery, around 30 miles south-east of St Quentin, when I came across a number of headstones bearing the Inniskilling insignia including these two beside each other and away from where other Inniskillings were interred.

My interest was aroused as firstly, I did not expect to find any Inniskillings in this cemetery as the battalions of the regiment were in action some distance away and secondly, as I reasoned that there could not have been a large number of soldiers with the rank of Captain killed at that time.

Initial checks with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission indicated that there were two Captains from the Inniskillings killed in the period 21-31 March 1918. One, Captain Arthur Hodder Robbins was attached to 7/8th Inniskillings with the 16th (Irish) Division. He was killed in action aged 22 on 21 March 1918 and is buried at Ste Emilie Valley Cemetery, Villers-Faucon. The other was the unknown Captain, interred at Noyon.

Later in my research, I was piecing together the actions on a day to day basis of the three Inniskilling battalions, 1st, 2nd and 9th, involved in the German Spring Offensive, with the intention of providing an account of the fighting withdrawal of the 36th (Ulster) Division at that time.

On 23 March 1918, the withdrawal had been ongoing for two days and all Inniskilling battalions had crossed the river Somme and St Quentin canal and were gradually being pushed backwards by overwhelming numbers of German stormtroopers.  On the morning of that day, 9th Inniskillings were at the village of Brouchy having arrived there the previous night. The battalion war diary recorded the events of the day:

At about 7 am on 23rd March the battalion marched out of Brouchy and took up a line from the railway bridge through Aubigny. At about 11 am an enemy attack forced us back on Brouchy, 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, re-taking Aubigny, this time suffering heavy casualties. One light and two heavy machine-guns were captured and many casualties inflicted upon the enemy.

Map of Brouchy

Map of Brouchy

The war diary covers the period 21-31 March in one entry and mentions no individual casualties. At the end of the entry, it states that in the period 21-31 March, the battalion suffered casualties of 23 officers and 464 other ranks.

Crucially, the war diary included a nominal roll of casualties with the first name being Captain JF Harvey, listed as killed in action. There were no others in the rank of Captain listed.

But how to prove John Harvey was the unknown Captain buried at Noyon?

The key was the man buried beside him, Private John Douthart 27685. Research quickly established that John Douthart was attached to 9th Inniskillings and analysis of his Commonwealth War Graves Commission records indicated that he was killed on 21 March 1918. This is almost certainly wrong. (Many of those who fell in the period of the German Spring Offensive are given the death date of 21 March or 21-29 March, due to the chaos and confusion which existed)

His Commonwealth War Graves Commission graves registration documents show that he, and an Unknown British Captain Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, were initially buried at Brouchy Churchyard, most likely by French civilians and in a graves concentration process in 1934, were exhumed and re-buried at Noyon New British Cemetery.

Graves concentration Burial Return

Graves concentration Burial Return

This was the evidence that I needed that the remains interred at Noyon could only be those of Captain Harvey. Further corroborating evidence was also contained on this document, namely the details of the exhumation which details that the Captain’s uniform bore Inniskilling badges and was provided by W J Purdon, Belfast (WJ Purdon were Manufacturer’s Agents based at Union Street, Belfast)

All the evidence was combined along with biographical detail and was forwarded to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in July 2017. On receipt, it was forwarded to the CWGC Investigations team.

John born on Saturday, 27 January 1894 at Ballymaconaghy on the outskirts of Belfast, the eldest son of William and Elizabeth Harvey, nee Forsythe. William Harvey was a Leather Merchant in Belfast. John had two siblings:

Edna Elizabeth Kathleen, born 30 August 1892

William born 17 January 1899.

The 1901 Census of Ireland shows the family as resident at house 1 in Castlereagh. Little is known of John’s early childhood and by 1911, the family was resident at house 8, Cregagh, Castlereagh. At that time, John aged 17 was an Apprentice in the Linen Trade. Records indicate that he was employed by Messrs Richardson Sons & Owden, Linen Manufacturers at Donegall Square North, Belfast. This building now houses Marks & Spencer.

Like many young men at the time John would have been acutely aware of the deepening Home Rule Crisis and along with many thousands of others he signed the Ulster Covenant opposing Home Rule for Ireland, doing so at Strandtown Presbyterian Church, Belfast on Saturday, 28 September 1912. At that time, he gave his address as 41 Palmerston Road, Belfast.

John enlisted in the 12th (Reserve) Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers at Newtownards on 8 September 1915. This battalion had been raised in April 1915 and its purpose was to train men who would then be posted to the Regiment’s Service battalions. On enlistment, John gave his occupation as a Warehouseman and his next of kin as his father, William, 41 Palmerston Road, Belfast. John was issued with the service number 12/26043 and travelled to Finner Camp, near Ballyshannon, County Donegal to begin training.

Also attached to 12th Battalion was a Private John Douthart 27685. Born at Macosquin, Co. Londonderry in 1894, John was the eldest son of Samuel and Elizabeth Douthart. Samuel Douthart was a Shoemaker and prior to enlisting, the family was resident at Fairhill Street, Ballycastle. At that time, John Douthart was employed as a Carpenter.

In November 1915, John Harvey, by then a Lance Corporal, applied for a Commission, stating his preference for the Infantry. His application was recommended by his former employer Charles Richardson, and his level of education was affirmed by the Vice Principal of Belfast Municipal Technical Institute. John’s application was approved by the War Office and he was directed to report to No 7 Officer Cadet Battalion at the Curragh on 5 April 1916. Successful in his course of instruction, John was appointed as (Temporary) Second Lieutenant in the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers on 7 July 1916.[1] Appointed on the same day was Second Lieutenant William Hanna Patterson.

Both men were posted to 9th (Service) Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers (Tyrone Volunteers) arriving on 25 September 1916. At that time the Battalion were in billets at Dranoutre, seven miles south-east of Ypres, Belgium. John remained with the battalion and would have seen action at Messines, Langemarck and Cambrai in 1917, rising through the ranks to become a Captain and Company Commander by the beginning of 1918.

This was as far as my research was able to proceed as I waited on notification of progress from the CWGC. Finally, in January 2019, I received the following from the MOD Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre – popularly known as the History Detectives.

Notice of acceptance by MoD

Notice of acceptance by MoD

The race was now on to identify surviving relatives. Working with my contact Rosie Barron at the MOD JCCC, we managed to trace two great nieces’ resident in Northern Ireland and other family members in the UK, Canada and the United States.

I met with the Northern Ireland connection, Valerie, Pauline and Dennis in late January. At an emotional meeting, I explained how I had come across Captain John Harvey. What they were able to tell me added a whole new dimension to the story.

John’s memory had certainly not been forgotten within the family. In particular, Pauline and Valerie’s father (and John’s nephew) kept a portrait of him in uniform in a prominent position in his home. He had also made attempts to find out what had happened to John by writing letters (in pre-internet days) to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. In a sad twist, he died in his nineties in November 2018, unaware of the findings I had made.

The family members brought a large amount of memorabilia to the meeting including John’s Death Penny, family photographs and most importantly two letters. The first was from John’s commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Warren John Richard Peacocke DSO and Bar to his parents. Dated 1 April 1918, the letter states how John was killed having just successfully led a counter-attack and goes on to offer words of comfort.

The second letter however, is of greater significance. John Harvey and his friend 2nd Lieutenant William Hanna Patterson, had agreed that if the worst happened to one, then the other would write to an agreed family member – not the parents, outlining what had happened.

On 20 April 1918, 2nd Lieutenant Patterson wrote to John’s younger brother William from the British Red Cross Hospital, Netley, where he was convalescing after having been wounded. In the letter he outlines how John (who he knew as Jack) fell:

On 23rd March about 3 o’clock, Jack’s Coy was forced to evacuate a village (I don’t remember its name at present) I was with him in the village. We sent the Coy out in small parties, then we started off. We did not get further than 100 yards when Jack was hit by a sniper through the stomach and wrist. I bandaged him up, then his Orderly endeavoured to carry him on his back and we got him about thirty yards when he was hit again through the stomach and he was then really to ill to carry on the back, then the Orderly got killed. I stayed with Jack until the Boche were into the village. His last words to me were, ‘You had better go now, tell Mother.’

Second Lieutenant Patterson managed to get back to the British line by crawling along an old drain, leaving the mortally wounded Captain Harvey with his dead Orderly. As there were only two British soldiers buried in Brouchy Churchyard, it is my belief that Private John Douthart, who had been with John Harvey in 12th Inniskilling prior to transferring to the 9th Battalion was John’s Orderly.

Efforts have been made through research and through a press appeal in local newspapers to try to identify any of John Douthart’s descendants with no success to date. Efforts in this regard will continue and if anyone reading this can assist, please contact the Inniskillings Museum in the first instance.

As highlighted by the Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre, a moving re-dedication service was held on the afternoon of 21 March 2019 at Noyon New British Cemetery. I was delighted to attend and participate, representing the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers Association and the Inniskillings Museum.

New Headstone

New Headstone

The original Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstone, identifying the ‘Unknown Captain’ has been obtained on loan from the CWGC and is on display at The Inniskillings Museum, Enniskillen Castle, Co. Fermanagh.

As he had not initially been identified, John was commemorated on the Pozieres Memorial to the Missing along with many of his comrades. In addition, his sacrifice is commemorated on the Rolls of Honour at Castlereagh Presbyterian Church, Strand Sydenham Presbyterian Church and May Street Presbyterian Church.[2]

 

[1] All officers who were not Regular Army Officers were known as Temporary as they held the rank for the duration of the war. This led to some jibes from Regular Army officers who referred to them as ‘Temporary Gentlemen.’

[2] At May St Presbyterian Church, John is identified as Forsythe Harvey and a Private in the Royal Irish Rifles.

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Skins in ‘Funnies’

In 1940, after the experiences of defeat in France by the German ‘blitzkrieg’, the army decided there was a need for an expansion in the number of armoured regiments. Initially three new regiments were raised for the duration of the war.  In 1941, three more were raised.

The first three, raised in 1940, were the 22nd Dragoons, 23rd Hussars and 24th Lancers.

22nd Dragoons' Cap Badge

22nd Dragoons’ Cap Badge

22nd Dragoons:  The new regiment was made up of cadres supplied by the 5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards and the 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards.  The number 22, by a mathematical coincidence, was the sum of the numbers of the antecedent regiments: 6th Inniskilling Dragoons, and 5th,4th and 7thDragoon Guards.   The “Skins” provided Major CP Legard, Captain W Barraclough MC (Reserve Officer), Captain JR Crocket, Lt EBG Oates, 2/Lts JRH Hornby, Mathews, CHA Dunks, and 63 Other Ranks.  During 1941, 25 subalterns were newly commissioned into the Regiment, including the actor Ian Carmichael.

Ian Carmichael, actor

Ian Carmichael, actor

Based in the north of England, the Regiment was assigned at first to 29th Armoured Brigade, then to 30th, both in 11th Armoured Division, commanded by Major General Percy Hobart. It trained as a standard Armoured Regiment in a variety of tanks: Crusaders, Centaurs, Covenanters, Cromwells and Shermans. In October 1943, the Brigade, with its three constituent regiments, 22nd Dragoons, Lothian and Border Yeomanry and the Westminster Dragoons, transferred to 79th Armoured Division, to be commanded by the newly knighted Major General Sir Percy Hobart.

Major General Sir Percy Hobart

Major General Sir Percy Hobart

A Tank Regiment was divided into four squadrons, ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’ and ‘HQ’.   ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’ squadrons were divided into four or five troops, each troop with four tanks.

Hobart’s Funnies The new role of the Division was born out of the tragic experiences of the amphibious landings at Dieppe in August 1942 when the landing forces had been unable to deal with the German beach defences of Hitler’s Atlantic Wall.  Under General Hobart’s leadership, the Division developed a series of specially designed armoured vehicles, nicknamed ‘funnies’. Some existing ideas were perfected, like a mine and barbed wire clearing tank equipped with a flail, nicknamed a ‘crab’, and a tank with 36 cubic foot space to carry stores, tools and demolition charges, armed with machine guns and a 12” mortar and carrying assault team of six Royal Engineers.

This was for demolishing concrete fortifications.  Other developments involved adaptations to carry a small box girder bridge capable of crossing a thirty-foot gap, a fascine of sticks which could be dropped into an anti-tank ditch, a bobbin of coir matting which could be laid over muddy ground or sand to give some grip for vehicles.

The 22nd’s ‘Crabs’ The 30th Brigade was to specialise in the use of ‘crabs’.

Crab Diagram

Crab Diagram

It was issued with Sherman tanks which had a rotating jib out in front to which were attached lengths of chain.  The boom could be rotated by the main tank engine.  When the ‘crabs’ were flailing, a tank had to have its turret pointing to the rear, and therefore could not defend itself.

Into action: ‘D’- Day, 6th June 1944    The 22nd’s task was to land with the second wave (the first wave consisted of DD tanks (Duplex Drive Amphibious) which swam ashore. Typically, a troop of four ‘crabs’ landed along with two other ‘funnies’ out of each LCT (Landing Craft Tanks). Two ‘crabs’, sweeping in echelon, cleared a path, moving at 1.5 miles per hour, dropping markers on the outside to delineate the outside of the cleared path.  They navigated by compass because the flails threw up a cloud of sand and dust. They were closely followed by the two other armoured vehicles (AVRE) till they were close enough to concrete emplacements to hurl a ‘dustbin’.  The remaining three tanks, together with any DD tanks remaining at the water’s edge, kept up fire on enemy positions and were reserve if a ‘crab’ was immobilised. The third wave was sappers who would remove beach obstacles and their attached explosives.  Infantry would land in the fourth wave.

‘A’ Squadron landed on Sword beach with 26 ‘crabs’, ‘C’ Squadron on Juno beach.  By the end of the day only five ‘crabs’ in all were capable of operating, but their work had been done.  Within 24 hours most had been repaired.  Two days later, the Commanding Officer, Lt Col Grosvenor and ‘B’ and ‘HQ’ squadrons landed with supplies and reinforcements.

After about a month’s continuous work, the Regiment had a 10-day complete overhaul, which included new engines.  34 men were killed/died of wounds during the Normandy campaign, 6th June – 25th August.

The Regiment was then assigned to the Canadian Army to assist in the capture of the major ports, like Le Havre and Calais, along the coast.   The winter was spent taking the Siegfried Line and the country up to the Rhine.

After the crossing of the Rhine on 23rd March 1945, most of the tanks had their flails removed and they became gun tanks.  There was still some hard fighting to be done as the Regiment fought its way north up to Hamburg.   German forces in NW Europe surrendered on 4th May 1945.

The Regiment performed some occupation duties until it was disbanded on 23rd November 1945.

64 men of 22nd Dragoons lost their lives.

Memorial in All Saints Church, Helmsley, North Yorkshire

Memorial in All Saints Church, Helmsley, North Yorkshire

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A Special Relationship? War in North America

Special Relationship

Special Relationship

The 27th (Inniskilling) Regiment in North America, 1776-1815

As European settlers flooded into the vast and nearly empty lands of lakes, rivers, mountains and plains, a struggle for power followed between the European nations for control of the huge natural resources of North America.

The two major rival nations were Great Britain and France. Opposing armies consisting of regular soldiers were posted from Europe, settler militias were raised from the townships and farmsteads and Native American tribes joined in, favouring one side or the other as the Europeans struggled to master the terrain and climate.

During this period, much of the conflict was along the river valleys and lakes linking the French settlements along the St Lawrence River and the British settlements at Albany and New York.  Each side built forts at strategic positions on Lake George and Lake Champlain. At the southern end lay the British forts of Lord Edward and Fort George, with the French forts of Ticonderoga and Crown Point guarding the northern end.

Throughout this period, the 27th (Inniskilling) Regiment of Foot played a significant role.

Map of North America

Map of North America

ACT 1, Seven Years War, 1756-1763

At first, the conflict went badly for the British until they had built up a strong invading army which launched a vigorous three-pronged attack in to French Canada from the south, the east and the west.   The main force, which included the 27th , was a force of some 6.000 regulars, and 9,000 militia troops whose task was to capture the French forts on Lake Champlain , and push on to seize Montreal and Quebec.

Rogers' Rangers

Rogers’ Rangers

Rogers’ Rangers     An interesting and novel feature of this campaign was the creation of this force. Robert Rogers was a settler of Ulster Scot descent whose family arrived in Northern Massachusetts in early 1720s.

Robert Rogers

Robert Rogers

In 1756, he arrived in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, with a warrant to recruit soldiers for the British Crown. He recruited from the fort garrisons and from American and British regiments. This unit operated primarily in the Lake George and Lake Champlain area where it undertook raids against French towns and military establishments, travelling on foot, in whaleboats and on snow shoes during winter. Recruitment from the Inniskillings seems to have been popular. It was found that many of the Irishmen of the 27th were well suited to the rough lake and mountain living.  There men were two generations descended from the tough frontiersman who has defended their farms and villages during the Williamite Wars in Ireland.   Rogers’ Rangers were eventually to amount to 1,400 men and included three Native American battalions.

Fort Ticonderoga, 1758-59

A great convoy of ships and gunboats conveyed General Abercrombie’s army up the Hudson River to attack the French fort on Lake Champlain.

It was well placed in a well-fortified defensive out-post. It was surrounded on three sides by water and swamp stretched half way across the fourth.  A breast work, protected by a rampart of felled trees completed the defensives.   Without waiting for his artillery, Abercrombie decided on a frontal attack on the fort. For five hours, attack after attack by the British was driven off. A Scottish regiment, 42nd Foot (Black Watch), managed to fight its way to the top of the wall, but was shot down in great numbers. When retreat was ordered, discipline broke down amongst the British and the men abandoned their weapons and withdrew back to their boats.   The 27th lost over 120 men killed or wounded.

This failure led to the replacement of Abercrombie by General Amherst, who withdrew his army into winter quarters at Fort Edward.

General Jeffrey Amherst

General Jeffrey Amherst

A renewed assault followed, though this time the British waited for their artillery.  After only a few days’ bombardment, the French abandoned both the fort and also Crown Point.  They fell back on a strong position at the northern end of Lake Champlain, called Ile aux Noix.

The 27th wintered at Crown Point as the British built up more strength for the campaign north towards Montreal.  At the same time, a strong force, led by General Wolfe, moved down the St Lawrence and captured Quebec in September 1759.

By now Montreal was threatened from three directions: the Hudson River, St Lawrence River and from Lake Ontario.  The three forces linked up at Montreal and the French garrison was forced to surrender in September 1760.  The British conquest of French Canada was complete.

The 27th spent the next few years in garrison duty in Canada.

Act 2, The American War of Independence, 1774-1783.

The role played by the 27th in this conflict was limited to the opening phases, 1775-1778.

27th (Inniskilling) Private and Officer, in uniform of War of American Independence, 1777

27th (Inniskilling) Private and Officer, in uniform of War of American Independence, 1777

Tension between the authorities in the 13 American colonies and the British government in London had been building for a number of years, especially after the end of the French threat to the 13 colonies. The London government felt it had the right to tax the colonies to pay for their protection, either from the French or from hostile Native Americans. By the early 1770s, the slogan, “No taxation without Representation” had become a rallying cry amongst many Americans. Minor skirmishes between soldiers and colonials escalated.  The British decision to evict American forces from positions overlooking Boston harbour led to the first large scale battle, known as Bunker Hill, in June 1775.

British reinforcements, including the 27th, joined General Howe’s army in New York.

General William Howe

General William Howe

Detachments of the regiment were involved in a number of actions in the vicinity of New York throughout 1776 and 1777.  Using command of the waterways, attacks were made on concentrations of rebel forces and on their supply dumps. In one of these, the 27th were part of a force which routed American forces led by Benedict Arnold.

Battle of Brandywine, September 1777.

British soldiers at the Battle of Brandywine, 1777

British soldiers at the Battle of Brandywine, 1777

General Howe led a British and Hessian (German mercenaries) force against Philadelphia, then the American capital, defended by General Washington. In the longest single day battle of the entire war, involving more troops than any other battle, Washington’s forces were defeated and the city evacuated. General Howe’s forces occupied the city, the band of the 27th leading the occupation army into the city.

In 1778, France entered the war as an ally of the Americans.  This changed the whole balance of power. The British decided to evacuate Philadelphia and concentrate their forces in New York. The 27th occupied Statin Island.   Following this, ten regiments, including the 27th, were sent in December 1778, to defend British possessions in the West Indies against the French.

Act 3, The Anglo-American War, 1812-1815

The newly independent United States of America was sensitive to its relations with the previous imperial power. In 1812, disagreements about trade, the overwhelming use of British sea power and an undefined frontier between Canada and the United States led to open conflict.  There may also have been a desire by the new state to occupy Canada, using the opportunity of British military engagement in Europe as an opportunity to overcome weak Canadian local forces.

With the abdication of the French Emperor, Napoleon in 1814, an army of 14,000 seasoned regulars was sent to Canada to reinforce the existing forces.  Amongst these were two battalions of the 27th, the 1st and 3rd.

Uniform of 27th (Inniskilling) Private, 1814

Uniform of 27th (Inniskilling) Private, 1814

Battle of Plattsburg, September 1814

In August 1814, these battalions were part of a considerable force sent to attack American forces threatening Canada from Plattsburg, on the southern shores of Lake Champlain. To ensure their command of the lake, the Americans had built a small but formidable fleet which considerably out-gunned its British counterpart. Though out-numbering the Americans, the British assault on Plattsburg went badly. Relations between the British commander, Sir George Prévost, and his experienced junior commanders were not harmonious.

General Sir George Prévost

General Sir George Prévost

He had already fallen out with his officers when he criticised their non-regulation uniforms and the untidy appearance of the men. (in Spain, the officers were more concerned with military effectiveness than parade ground smartness).  Naval and military operations were not properly coordinated and the British ships were driven off with heavy losses. A general retreat was ordered which turned into a rout: hundreds of men deserted and the wounded and stores fell into the hands of the astounded Americans. Quite a number of the less experienced men of the 1st Inniskillings were among the deserters.

Naval forces on Lake Champlain at Plattsburg, 1814

Naval forces on Lake Champlain at Plattsburg, 1814

Plans were afoot to move the 27th to join the campaign in the south to Louisiana for operations around New Orleans when news arrived of Napoleon’s escape and the renewal of war in Europe. Both battalions were ordered back to the UK.  The 1st Battalion was the first to arrive, and reinforced with men from the 2nd Battalion, fought with distinction at the Battle of Waterloo in June 1815.  The 3rd Battalion arrived not long after.

The next time Inniskilling Battalions were engaged in warfare with the Americans was a hundred years later as allies during the First World War.

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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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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
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1917 Exhibition Panel 19

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