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On 1st July 1916, Drummer Jack Downs of the 10th Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, sounded the ‘Advance’ of the 36th (Ulster) Division at the Battle of the Somme. Over the first two days of the battle, the Division lost some 5,000 men and, of these, more than 2,000 had been killed. The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers lost 2,208 casualties, of whom 868 were killed.
In the history of the First World War, few bugles could have more resonance than that belonging to Drummer Downs, and to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, this iconic Bugle, held in the collection of the Inniskillings Museum, will again sound the ‘Advance’ exactly 100 years on.
The Somme commemoration at Enniskillen Castle on the morning of Friday 1st July will start promptly at 7.00am with gates open to the public at 6.30am (admission free). This symbolic service will be held outdoors against the backdrop of the historic castle, birthplace of the Inniskilling Regiments. The service will conclude at 7.45am when everyone present will have the unique opportunity to sign The Inniskilling Scroll of Honour which lists the names of all Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers killed on the first two days of the battle. The Scroll will then be placed in a First World War brass shell case and kept in the museum collection as part of the Inniskillings Museum Great War legacy for future generations.
At lunchtime the Inniskillings Museum will be providing three short lectures between 1.00pm and 2.00pm on the Inniskillings and other Irish soldiers at the Battle of the Somme. Following the lectures, a new publication entitled ‘The Inniskillings and the First World War’ will also be launched in the museum. Admission to the lectures is free but pre-booking is advisable as space is limited (please telephone the museum office on 028 6632 3142 to book).
The commemorations on the 1st July will conclude with an ecumenical Service of Reflection in St Macartin’s Cathedral, Enniskillen at 7.30pm, where a new memorial window will be dedicated in the Regimental Chapel to all those Inniskillings who served in the Great War and their families.
Irish homes in mourning.
41 Irish soldiers died in the Dublin Rising, and 581 in the Battle of Hulluch in France. Well over 1,000 were wounded in the battle, including many gassed. For the rest of their lives these men suffered chronic lung and breathing difficulties.
16th (Irish) Division is blooded
The Division was authorised in Ireland in September 1914.
|47 Brigade||48 Brigade||49 Brigade|
|6th Royal Irish Regiment||8th Royal Munster Fusiliers||7th Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers|
|7th Royal Irish Rifles||9th Royal Munster Fusiliers||8th Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers|
|6th Connaught Rangers||8th Royal Dublin Fusiliers||7th Royal Irish Fusiliers|
|7th Leinster Regiment||9th Royal Dublin Fusiliers||8th Royal Irish Fusiliers|
After training in Ireland and England, 47th and 48th Brigades moved to France in December 1915. 49th Brigade, the Ulster Brigade, was held back for further training.
Recruiting had been slow because many Ulstermen had joined 10th (Irish) and 36th (Ulster) Divisions. In February 1916, 49 Brigade sailed for France, with pipers of 7th Inniskillings playing “The Sprig of Shillelagh’.
Training for the whole Division had been fairly rudimentary. They were not to know that within a month of becoming fully operational in France they were to face one of the heaviest gas attacks of the year. There was no introduction to gas warfare or anti-gas training or drills. Rudimentary gas masks were issued. These were the PH face masks (the Tube Helmet) which consisted of layers of flannel cloth impregnated with chemicals to protect against chlorine and phosgene gas.
During the first two months of the year, battalions were made familiar with trench life, given more training and were employed on trench digging duties. There was also some action and the first casualties.
With the arrival of 49th Brigade, 16th Division became fully operational on 1st March. It moved into the Hulluch and Puits 14 Bis (a coal mine) sector in the Loos salient. An advantage of the area was the plentiful supply of pit baths! Opposite was the German 4th Bavarian Division.
St Patrick’s Day
Every effort was made to make the 17th March a holiday. After Mass, brigade sports were organised, and evening battalion concerts held.
The Battle of Hulluch (North-East France) 27-29 April 1916
16th (Irish) Division faced its first big enemy attack.
A gas attack struck the whole of 48th and 49th Brigades.
There had been some warning. A German deserter gave some indication, aerial reconnaissance showed gas cylinders in enemy lines and swarms of rats were seen leaving German trenches as they sought to escape leaking gas. On the British side, anti-gas agent sprays were checked and the gas helmets made ready. Defences, especially wire, were strengthened. In 49 Brigade, 7th Inniskillings and 8th Irish Fusiliers were up front, 8th Inniskillings and 9th Irish Fusiliers in support.
At 0435, the German attack began with intense machine gun and rifle fire. Ten minutes later a heavy artillery barrage began. Almost simultaneously, gas, a mixture of chlorine and phosgene (choking gases), was released from German positions, and a gentle breeze carried it forward across no man’s land. Visibility was reduced to three yards.
As the gas lingered over the battalions’ trenches, the bombardment lifted and moved rearward. It now included tear gas shells. Under cover of the gas and smoke, the Germans attacked. The feet and legs of the attacking troops were visible under the gas cloud and the Irish battalions opened up with rifle and machine gun fire.
German troops broke into several Irish trenches, and close hand-to-hand fighting followed. Some Irish prisoners were taken but many were killed by British counter-barrages. Though many gas casualties were inflicted, most Irish casualties were caused by the German bombardment which destroyed the front line trenches. Irish reinforcements were sent forward and eventually the Germans were driven from the trenches.
The 7th Inniskillings particularly distinguished themselves. The Times war correspondent said, “never was a job more quickly or more cleanly done”. Some 450 German dead were counted in front of 48th and 49th Brigades’ trenches. Two hours later a renewed gas and bombardment took place, followed by another attack which was beaten off. The wind changed and the German gas was blown back into their trenches. As the German soldiers tried to escape, British artillery and Irish machine guns took a heavy toll.
The 7th Inniskillings bore the brunt of the attack, and lost 68 soldiers killed, 52 wounded and 137 gassed. The commanding officer, Lt Colonel Young, said,
“I desire to express to all ranks my high appreciation of their conduct and bearing, when they displayed a high standard of courage and endurance”.
The Brigadier-General of 49th Brigade said to the survivors,
“When defending a position under a storm of shrapnel, high explosive etc, and at the same time being subjected to three gas attacks, as you were on 27th, it is easy to get excited and cause a panic. You, however, stood firm, counter-attacked, and absolutely defeated the enemy’s attack. You have seen the worst of it, and have shown by your steadiness, coolness, and courage that you are good soldiers. You have proved yourselves good men of your country, Ireland can be proud of you”.
It was after this that the Battalion became known as the ‘Fighting Seventh’.
28th April was a quiet day, spent recovering the dead, wounded and gassed. Long lines of men filed down the choked and chaotic communication trenches, making their way to the Regimental Aid Post before being evacuated to Casualty Clearing Stations. The 8th Inniskillings relieved the 7th.
A lieutenant of the 7th Leinsters recorded the terrible task of recovering the dead and wounded:
“They were in all sorts of tragic attitudes, some of them holding hands like children in the dark”.
He and his men found themselves pestered for the next few days by “half-poisoned rats by the hundred”.
A chaplain, Fr William Doyle SJ, described the scene in a letter home:
“There they lay in the bottom of the trench, in every conceivable posture of human agony; the clothes torn off their bodies in a vain effort to breathe, while from end to end of that valley of death came one long unceasing moan from the lips of brave men fighting and struggling for life”.
At 0500, gas was released again, hitting the 8th Inniskillings, 8th Dublin Fusiliers and 8th Irish Fusiliers. It was preceded by a German artillery bombardment of the reserve and communication trenches. Again the Germans, as they massed for their attack, were overwhelmed by their own gas which forced them out of their own trenches into the open where they were caught by Divisional artillery and British small-arms fire. The expected German attack did not occur.
The 8th Inniskillings lost 63 killed and 214 wounded. In the two attacks the two Inniskilling Battalions lost nearly half their total strength. The 8th Royal Dublin Fusiliers (48 Brigade) had 183 men killed. 60 were buried in one shell hole.
The men were all Inniskillings except two Royal Dublin Fusiliers (RDF):
2nd Lieutenant Noel Trimble, son of the proprietor of the local newspaper, The Impartial Reporter.
Corporal James Smith from Drumawill, Enniskillen
Lance Corporal Henry Phair from Lisnaskea
Lance Corporal Thomas Meehan from Monea
Lance Corporal Francis Beatty from Newtownbutler (RDF)
Private James Leonard (RDF) from London but whose parents came from Enniskillen
Private Irvine Brown from Shanmullagh
Private Patrick Boyle from Rosslea.
Five were killed by gas:
Corporal Peter Drumm from Enniskillen
Private Patrick McCabe from Derrygonnelly
Private Francis Donnelly from Enniskillen
Private Michael Corrigan from Belcoo
Thomas Cassidy from Irvinestown.
Fighting died down by 30 April and the Hulluch sector remained quiet for some time. The Germans had not had a particularly good experience with their own gas. On the British side there was an enquiry as to why there were so many gas casualties, even when gas masks were properly worn. Initially poor gas mask procedures or faulty masks were blamed but the limitations of the PH hoods became clear, particularly in high concentrations of gas. Production of the more effective French box gas masks was speeded up.
News of the Dublin uprising travelled to the German lines. One placard erected by the Germans facing 16th
Division’s lines said:
“Irishmen! Heavy uproar in Ireland. English guns are firing on your wives and children.”
The 9th Munsters used the placards for target practice, and sent out patrols at night to seize them and bring them back to their trenches.
The Battalion War Diaries
The Regimental Magazine, The Sprig of Shillelagh
Archives of the Inniskillings Museum
The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers in the Great War: Sir Frank Fox
Ireland’s Unknown Soldiers, The 16th (Irish) Division in the Great War: Terence Denman
Orange, Green and Khaki, The Story of the Irish Regiments in the Great War: Tom Johnstone
Deveron to Devastation, brother officers of 7th Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers in the First World War: James Fraser Bourhill.
The Book of the Seventh(Service) Battalion of the Inniskilling Fusiliers, from Tipperary to Ypres: GA Cooper Walker
FLAG RETURNS TO LIBERTY HALL AFTER 100 YEARS
On Easter Tuesday 25th April 1916 soldiers of the 3rd, 4th and 12th Reserve Battalions of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers arrived in Dublin as part of a hastily assembled Ulster Composite Battalion to quell the Easter Rising. By that evening the battalion had established its headquarters in Amiens Street Station. At 8am on Wednesday 26th the armed auxiliary patrol yacht Helga opened fire on Liberty Hall in preparation for an assault by the battalion. Liberty Hall, headquarters of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union, had also become the headquarters of the Irish Citizen Army, and served as a munitions factory for the impending rebellion. The Proclamation was printed in Liberty Hall the night before the Rising began, and it was on the street in front of the building that the leaders of the Rising assembled before their march to the General Post Office on Easter Monday.
Soldiers entered Liberty Hall on the Wednesday morning, and a Royal Inniskilling Fusilier, 21 year old Acting Corporal John McAlonen of the 3rd Battalion, retrieved a flag from the ruins.
It was made from green tabby weave wool with a centrally appliquéd uncrowned harp in yellow wool and string made from cream braid, and was presented to the Inniskillings Museum by Colonel John McClintock in 1935, a year before his death. McClintock, a native of Seskinore in County Tyrone, was the commanding officer of the 3rd Inniskillings during the Rising and was Mentioned in Despatches for distinguished conduct in Dublin during the Rising.
Now, after months of analysis and research, all evidence would appear to indicate that this flag is the uncrowned green harp flag that James Connolly placed over Liberty Hall on Palm Sunday, 16th April 1916, a week before the Rising. It is well documented that James Connolly, General Secretary of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union and Commander of the Irish Citizen Army held a formal ceremony outside Liberty Hall that day and an uncrowned green harp flag made by shirt-maker Margaret Shannon was presented to 14-year old Molly O’Reilly from Gardiner Street who was the youngest member of the Citizen Army. Connolly said “I hand you this flag as the sacred emblem of Ireland’s unconquered soul” and Molly, who went on to play an active part in the Rising, proudly hoisted the flag over Liberty Hall.
The weight of history guided the Inniskillings Museum back to Liberty Hall and discussions with the present occupiers, the trade union SIPTU, soon revealed a common determination to conserve the flag and return it to the building it was taken from exactly 100 years ago.
“Having conserved many important Irish flags over the years, this is one of the most exciting discoveries to come to light. In construction and design the flag is clearly comparable to other surviving 1916 flags. As it has never been exposed to the light, the strength of the colours are as strong as 100 years ago and the flag would have been clearly visible along the quays” commented Rachel Phelan, Textile Conservator.
Neil Armstrong, museum curator concluded “The Inniskillings Museum is honoured to loan this irreplaceable artefact from its collection to SIPTU where it will reach new audiences and motivate further learning of our past. I hope the exhibiting of the flag will set our collection in context and generate fresh perspectives as history is full of contrasts, and Easter Week 1916 is no exception. At the same time the Rising was raging in Dublin, the 7th and 8th Battalions of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers were part of the 16th (Irish) Division at the Battle of Hulluch in northern France where they were subjected to two days of German gas and artillery attacks which left 581 Irish soldiers dead.”
After many weeks of meticulous conservation work, the flag was officially presented to the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins in Áras an Uachtaráin on Tuesday 22nd March 2016 and will then return on loan to public display in Liberty Hall for Easter.
Some very rare 200 year old items from the period of the Peninsula War are on display in the Inniskillings Museum. These items are the belongings of two Inniskilling officers. They are linked in an extraordinary way, though the items came to the Museum at different times and from different donors. The two men served at the same time in the same battalion.
Firstly on display is the red coatee which belonged to Captain Edward Pope of the 2nd Battalion of the Inniskillings in about 1812. Also on display are the accoutrements of Captain Charles Parsons from the same time, and also from the 2nd Inniskillings. Parson’s items are his haversack, which was used to carry food, his water bottle, his mess tin, a homemade dirk, fashioned from a musket bayonet and his sash of rank.
The Museum also possesses the warrant dated 1813 appointing Edward Pope to succeed Charles Parsons as a company commander after the latter was wounded.
From 1805 and 1806 the First and Second Battalions of the Inniskillings were on campaign in the eastern Mediterranean, and were based in Malta and Sicily.
In 1806, the 1st Battalion was part of a small army sent to Italy, south of Naples, to attack French occupation forces. The French were defeated at the battle of Maida, the first time British redcoats had succeeded against the hitherto invincible French. Captain Pope was present at the battle.
Then, in 1812-13, these two Battalions of the Inniskillings were a part of an Anglo/Sicilian army sent across the Mediterranean to eastern Spain to link up with a Spanish army and create a diversion against French forces and prevent reinforcements reaching the French armies facing the Duke of Wellington’s allied army in Portugal and western Spain.
Overall, this eastern Spanish campaign was not a particularly memorable one. It suffered from poor leadership and too frequent changes of command. This was in contrast to the success of Wellington. (in his army were the 3rd Inniskillings)
In March 1813, in a skirmish near the town of Alcoy in S-E Spain, the 2nd Battalion encountered the French for the first time. The Inniskillings were caught by an entire French division and but for the timely arrival of 58th Regiment of Foot, things would have gone badly. In the action Captain Charles Parsons was seriously wounded and Captain Edward Pope was appointed to succeed him as a company commander.
Charles Parsons died at home in September 1813, aged 26, from an infection following an operation to remove a musket ball from his thigh.
All photographs (except Memorial Tablet, Memorial & Church) are courtesy of The Inniskillings Museum Collection
Doctor and War Artist
Henry Lamb was born in Australia, but the family moved to Manchester, where his father was appointed professor of mathematics at the university.
Henry studied medicine for four years at its medical school. However he abandoned it for painting.
He moved to London, and in 1906 began to study at the Art school run by the sculptor, Augustus John and the artist, William Orpen. He became part of the Bloomsbury group of writers and artists which met to discuss literary and artistic issues. He was remembered as, “an Adonis, with curly blond hair, a slim figure, and a unique way of dressing in old fashioned silk or velvet garments. He wore a gold ear ring”. In 1913, he met the painter, Stanley Spencer, and his later paintings were much influenced by his style.
On the outbreak of war, he was anxious to do something for the war effort. However he had doubts whether a recurring stomach disorder would make him unsuitable for military service. With his medical knowledge, he decided to volunteer for hospital work. After some time in the outpatients’ department of Guy’s hospital in London as a wound dresser, he found himself working in the operating theatre.
Later he travelled to France where he worked in the Hospital du Casino, Fécamp. It was a privately run establishment, financed by wealthy aristocrats and doctors. There he witnessed the casualties from the fighting in Artois and Champagne. He made numerous pencil sketches of scenes at the hospital and of the soldiers and nurses.
In November 1915, he returned to Guy’s to finish his medical studies and qualify for a commission in the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC). In July 1916, he completed his studies and was commissioned into the RAMC. In September 1916, Lamb was sent to Salonica to work with the Northumbrian Field Ambulance Unit in the Struma valley.
In March 1917, he was promoted to captain and posted to 5th Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, 10th (Irish) Division in Salonika. His time was spent in the Struma valley where there was little action but a great amount of malaria spread by mosquito infestations. He would have held daily parades to give out doses of quinine and an evil smelling ointment, Paraquit, for smearing on hands and face.
He was later to paint a canvas illustrating his work there. In it a group of soldiers stand impassively in a clearing, their collars raised against the damp chill of an early morning and little sense of emotion is evident. Small details of the soldiers’ lot can be seen: two soldiers in the left foreground slumped on wicker baskets, their heads in their hands, as if the early symptoms of malaria take hold; the crutches for walking wounded; a summary of boredom, sickness and discomfort.
In September 1917, he was posted with the battalion to Egypt. There the 10th (Irish) Division joined the expeditionary force, led by General Edmond Allenby preparing for the invasion of Palestine to drive the Turkish army out. By December, Jerusalem had been captured.
During his spare time, he amused himself drawing sketches of the scene around himself and his fellow officers.
He was awarded a Military Cross for his bravery tending the wounded during the bombardment of 5th Inniskilling Fusiliers at Jiljila, Palestine in early May 1918. Four soldiers were killed and eight more wounded.
When later he was asked to paint a large commemorative painting for the national record of the war, the Hall of Remembrance, he choose the Jiljila incident and called his painting, “Irish troops in the Judean hills surprised by a Turkish bombardment.” Eleven figures, caught in the barrage, strive desperately to reach the shelter of the terraces, their hands outstretched as though in pleading, their puttee-bound legs splayed awkwardly as they clamber for cover.
In late May 1918, he was posted with the battalion to the Western Front where he was badly gassed and invalided home just days before the Armistice.
During the Second World War, Lamb was appointed an official war artist.
The 5th and 6th Inniskillings arrive in Salonica, Greece, October 1915
The 5th and 6th Battalions of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers were in 31 Brigade, 10th Irish Division. Their sister battalions in the Brigade were 5th and 6th Royal Irish Fusiliers.
In October 1915, the Division was sent to Greece with a view to defending Greece from a Bulgarian attack and to go to the assistance of Serbia. It arrived in Salonica much under strength after its three month campaign in Gallipoli. The men were in poor physical condition for the trying climate of the Gallipoli Peninsula had sapped their strength. An eye witness said, the faces of most of the men were yellow and wizened and their bodies thin. The 5th Inniskillings’ roll recorded 21 officers and 676 Other Ranks. (the normal OR roll would be around 1000).
The Inniskilling Battalions arrived on board HMT Aeneas on 16th October 1915. An officer of the 6th Battalion wrote his impressions: As one enters the harbour of Salonica the scene is very impressive – a fine looking town surrounded by mountains in rear, and on either side; but upon landing and having a closer observation of the town and its human and material contents, one is immediately struck by the tawdry squalor of the whole place, with the possible exception of one street and a few respectable houses on the sea front.
After about two weeks in camp, re-equipping and receiving some new drafts, the Battalions entrained on 8/9th November to move north to cross the Greek frontier into Serbia.
An example of the many tasks being undertaken is that on 15th November, 125 men and one officer of 5th Inniskillings were detached to guard and assist French cavalry clearing inhabitants from five villages
The Bulgarians drive the 10th (Irish) Division back.
The defensive line the Division was to take up was in the mountains between Serbia and Bulgaria. It was wild hill-top country broken by deep ravines, barren rock and scree with little vegetation.
As they marched to their first defensive positions in these mountains the Battalions could hear artillery and rifle fire to their front and left as the French engaged the Bulgarians near the frontier. Francis Ledwidge of 5th Inniskillings commented: Being a mountainy country, we suffer much from rain and cold. A goodly few of us have rheumatism badly —. It poured on us all the 90 miles we had to march and, what with sleeping in wet clothes, sweating and cooling down I got an attack of bad back —-.
On 16th November the 6th Inniskillings received instructions on improving their defensive positions: emphasis was placed on concealing trenches, and if trenches were impossible, stone Sangers were built, faced with earth. A few days later this Battalion was ordered to a new position forward of the front line. It was on an isolated mountain, called Rocky Peak, 700 ft above the surrounding ravines. On the first few days there was occasional action by Bulgarian snipers and artillery and a trickle of Bulgarian deserters crossed over.
Then, on 27, 28 and 29 November, a severe blizzard hit the lines. Temperatures dropped to 30 degrees below; three feet of snow covered the ground, which soon froze. An officer wrote: The drenched skirts of greatcoats stood out stiff like a ballet dancer’s dress It was impossible to go down to the bottom for our dinners or have them brought to us. All our belongings were buried in the snow and the cold and the wet were intense. The Bulgar occupied a similar mountain, not more than a stone’s throw away, but it was too cold for either him or us to shoot, and both armies were too much occupied in trying to keep the circulation of the blood in their bodies. Fires at night were not allowed, so sleep was impossible. When woollen underwear arrived the cold was such that the men would not undress to put it on but instead wrapped it round their necks like scarves.
When the Battalion was relieved on 28th from this exposed position (by 5th Royal Irish Fusiliers) four officers and 65 men were admitted to hospital suffering from frostbite.
The Battle of Kosturino 6th – 12th December
Although the High Command had decided to withdraw from these exposed positions as soon as the French forces on the left had completed their withdrawal, the Bulgarians pre-empted this by launching a full scale attack, in overwhelming numbers, on the whole Division on 7th December.
Fusilier Ledwidge’s description epitomised the experiences of all the Battalions in the front line. The Bulgars came on us like flies and though we mowed them down line after line, they persisted with awful doggedness and finally gave us a bayonet charge which secured their victory. We only had about 200 yards to escape by and we had to hold this until next evening and then dribble out as best we could. Another soldier commented that, in the mist and fog, it was difficult to distinguish friend from foe because the Bulgarians’ head gear was so similar to their own. The 5th Battalion, Connaught Rangers had particularly heavy casualties, with 138 killed and 130 taken prisoner. The Inniskilling Battalions were in reserve and lost 11 killed.
The Division’s fighting withdrawal took account of the need to keep in touch with the hard- pressed French on the left and allow them the time to get their men and supplies back into Greece.
At the height of the fighting, Brigadier King-King of 31st Brigade, which was on the right flank of the Division, fearing that his men were about to be outflanked, on his own initiative, ordered a withdrawal to begin. The Divisional Commander, Brigadier General Nicol, had little alternative but to order a further withdrawal of the whole Division back south and eventually across the frontier.
By 10th December the 31st Brigade was back on Greek territory and by 17th the Division was back in Salonica. Men were so exhausted by the gruelling fighting and the forced marches that many of them could not eat the hot food supplied. However, it was said that the 6th Inniskillings arrived back in Salonica as if they had only been on an ordinary route march!
In the Spring 1930 edition of The Sprig of Shillelagh, covering the period of April, May, and June, the unveiling of the “Le Touret Memorial”, at the Military Cemetery in Richebourg, was reported. According to the article, there were 13,479 names on the memorial. Today a total of 245 Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers are listed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission as appearing at Le Touret. The majority of these men were lost on one night – the night of the 15th/16th May 1915 at the Battle of Festubert. The “Sprig” article reads “the Never to be Forgotten 15th of May, 1915, when, at Festubert the 2nd Battalion The Royal Inniskillings Fusiliers, had 700 casualties out of a strength of 1,000, and covered itself with glory”. Now, 100 years on, it is a battle we hear little about despite it being the single worst day for losses for any Battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers throughout the entirety of the First World War.
The 2nd Battalion, having been part of the British Expeditionary Force, was stationed in Dover at the outbreak of the First World War. After receiving drafts of some 700 men from the reserve battalions based in Ireland, they embarked for service on 23rd August 1914. The Battalion War Diary starts two days later, on 25th August, reporting the men detraining at Bertry at 4:30pm and by 7:45pm they were engaged in battle. And so began the First World War for the Inniskillings.
By the end of April 1915 the battalion had suffered 292 men killed and hundreds more wounded and missing. Drafts were coming in from the Reserve battalions “back home”, but it was a constant struggle to keep numbers up. In early May they were in and around the small village of Richebourg, taking part in various attacks on the German lines that CAM Alexander said could “only be classed … as a failure”. On 10th May they went into billets at Richebourg. It was at this time that some of the most well-known photographs of the 2nd Battalion were captured. Men seen in these photos such as 2/Lt JJL Morgan, Lt J H Stewart, Lt RWG Hinds and Lt E Crawford were all amongst the 392 men killed in the month of May 1915.
After daylight attacks had failed on 9th May, a night attack was deemed to be the best option for a successful break through the German lines. The offensive of the 1st Army was to be resumed on the night of the 15th/16th May. The 2nd Battalion had taken over the front line breastworks on the night of the 12th, and before the offensive commenced had already lost 6 men with forty more wounded. Amongst these was 2/Lt VES Mattocks.
At 11:30pm on the night of the 15th May, the 2nd Battalion attacked to the right of the 2nd Worcestshire Regiment, supported by the 2nd Oxford & Bucks and the 9th Highland Light Infantry. “A” and “D” Companies attacked to the left and right, respectively, of a cinder track bordered by two deep ditches on either side. Both gained significant ground. “D” Company penetrated the 1st and 2nd Lines of the German trenches, but “A” Company were cut off after having taken the 1st Line Trench due to lack of support from the failed attack to their left flank and severe losses. “B” Company, who were in support of “A” Company, also suffered grevious losses and were unable to provide the much needed assistance in order to ensure success.
“D” Company would hold the Second German Line until the night of the 16th when they were ordered to retreat to the Reserve Breastworks. The following night they were relieved by the 1/1st Gurkhas.
In total 252 Officers and Men of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers are recognised as having lost their lives on the 15th and 16th May 1915. In the following months, reports of the battle appeared in the Sprig of Shillelagh, such as one from Sergeant R Langford who said, harrowingly, “Many of our wounded were buried by shells in dug-outs where they had been placed for safety”. In other issues, wives searched for their husbands, and others supplied photographs where their husbands were known to have died for obituaries.
The men who peer out at us from these photographs knew not what they were to face just days later. Their faces bear testimony to the courage demonstrated by both the Inniskilling Regiments throughout the First World War, and remind us of the youth that was lost. As we approach the centenary this year we endeavour, at the Inniskillings Museum, to ensure that, as noted 85 years ago, the Battle of Festubert will never be forgotten.