The record of Ulster in the war is one of which her
people have no reason to feel ashamed, and it will compare favourably
with that of any other part of the Empire. Both in the actual fighting
services and in work at home, the people of Ulster threw themselves
heart and soul into the struggle against Germany.
All that was done by the Ulster troops has not been
generally recognized, owing to one rather curious fact, that not a
single battalion which is recruited in Ulster bears the name of the
province. It is quite different with regard to other parts of Ireland.
Leinster's two regiments are known as the Leinster Fusiliers and the
Dublin Fusiliers. Munster, beside the Royal Irish Regiment, has its
Munster Fusiliers. Connaught's solitary regiment is known as the
Connaught Rangers. On the other hand, the three famous Ulster regiments,
all of them among the most distinguished in the army, are known as the
Royal Irish Rifles, Royal Irish Fusiliers, and Inniskilling Fusiliers;
where much more appropriate names would be the Royal Ulster Rifles, and
the Royal Ulster Fusiliers. Thus it often happened that when war
correspondents or commanding officers reported acts of gallantry, as
they often did, by the "Irish Rifles" or "Irish Fusiliers", no one
outside Ireland understood that these were in fact Ulster battalions.
For the same reason, a great many people imagine that Ulster's total
contribution of fighting men was comprised in the famous 36th (Ulster)
Division, although in addition there were actually six battalions of the
regular army from Ulster, as well as five Ulster battalions in the 10th
(Irish) Division and five more in the 16th (Irish) Division.
Taking the various regiments and battalions, it may
be mentioned that there are eight regiments in the regular army drawn
from Ireland, of which three come from Ulster and five from the other
provinces. Each had two battalions, so that Ulster contributed six
battalions, and the rest of Ireland ten battalions.
Of the Ulster regiments, the Royal Irish Rifles, with
depot at Belfast, are recruited from Belfast, County Antrim, and County
Down. The Royal Irish Fusiliers, with depot at Armagh, are recruited
from Armagh, Cavan, and Monaghan; and the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers,
with depot at Omagh, are recruited from Derry, Tyrone, Fermanagh, and
When the war broke out the Royal Irish Rifles, in
addition to the two regular battalions, had three reserve battalions—the
3rd, 4th, and 5th. The Royal Irish Fusiliers had two
reserve battalions—the 3rd and 4th; and the Inniskilling Fusiliers had
two—the 3rd and 4th. When the new army, composed of what were called
"service battalions", was formed, many additional battalions of these
regiments were raised. The Royal Irish Rifles gave the 6th (service)
Battalion to the 10th (Irish) Division, and the 7th to the 16th (Irish)
Division; while it sent to the 36th (Ulster) Division battalions
numbered 8 to 16 inclusive. In addition, three new reserve battalions
for the Ulster Division were raised, the 17th, 18th, and 19th; while
ultimately there was also formed the 20th (garrison) Battalion, though
not until a later period of the war.
The Royal Irish Fusiliers sent the 5th and 6th
(service) Battalions to the 10th (Irish) Division; the 7th and 8th to
the 16th (Irish) Division; and the 9th and 10th to the 36th (Ulster)
Division. Subsequently another service battalion, the nth, was raised,
while three reserve battalions, the 12th, 13th, and 14th, were formed as
reserves for the 36th (Ulster) Division.
The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers sent the 5th and 6th
(service) Battalions to the 10th (Irish) Division; the 7th and 8th to
the 16th (Irish) Division; and the 9th, 10th, and 11th to the 36th
(Ulster) Division. The 12th (reserve) Battalion was also raised for the
36th (Ulster) Division, and at a later period of the war an additional
Service Battalion, the 13th, was also raised.
It may be of interest to point out that by the end of
1914 Ulster had actually contributed 42 battalions out of 82 raised in
Ireland. In addition there was the North Irish Horse, whose first
squadron went to France at the beginning of the war, and from whom other
squadrons were subsequently sent out before the autumn of 1916, when a
large section of the cavalry was dismounted and turned into infantry,
and the men from the North Irish Horse became attached to the 9th Royal
Irish Fusiliers. There were also two depots of the Royal Artillery near
Belfast, which, during the war, trained and sent out many thousands of
valuable recruits. Nor does this exhaust the records of Ulster's
fighting services. Inspired by old family traditions, many Ulstermen
chose to enlist in Scottish battalions. For example, in the 6th Black
Watch, which formed part of the famous 51st (Highland) Division, there
was a whole company of Ulstermen, who for some years before the war
belonged to the battalion and crossed every year to Scotland for
training. Further, several hundred men joined the 4th Seaforth
Highlanders (who for some time had a recruiting office in Belfast), and
also fought with the 51st Division, while a considerable number of
others joined the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. In the London Irish
there were many Ulstermen, and also in the Church Lads' battalion of the
King's Royal Rifles, while considerable numbers were to be found in the
Bantam battalions, and the Royal Scots, Cheshires, and Sherwood
Foresters. Altogether out of 145,000 voluntary recruits from Ireland,
Ulster contributed, in round numbers, 75,000. Besides the Irish
recruits, a very large number of men born in Ulster were to be found in
the Dominion troops, especially among the Canadians, with whom two
Ulstermen won the V.C. It is not possible in a brief space to describe
fully the war services of the various Ulster battalions. It may be most
convenient to record first the work of the regulars who went on service
at the outbreak of war.
"THE OLD CONTEMPTIBLES"
1st BATTALION, ROYAL IRISH RIFLES
The 1st Battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles had been
for over seventeen years serving in India, and did not reach France
until the beginning of November, 1914, and so just missed the first
terrible battle of Ypres. It saw no heavy fighting before the following
spring, its first big engagement being the desperate battle of Neuve
Chapelle on 10th March, 1915. In the course of this magnificent attack
it went right through two lines of German trenches and seized the
village of Neuve Chapelle itself, which it held for nearly a fortnight
against many furious German attacks, losing during the period 9 officers
killed, 9 wounded, and over 400 N.C.O.'s and men killed and wounded.
Owing probably to the death of Colonel Laurie, the commanding officer,
little official notice was taken in army records of this fine feat, but
to show the feeling in the army it may be mentioned that when the
battalion was relieved and was on its way back to billets, other troops
turned out to cheer it as it passed, in appreciation of its gallantry.
Two months later the battalion was again in the thick of the fight,
heading a determined attack at Fromelles, in which once more it gained
every objective, losing very heavily in the process. Its new commanding
officer, Colonel Baker, was among the killed. The battle of Loos was its
next big fight. On this occasion it was in the front line, acting in
support, and lost about 100 officers and men. In March,
1916, the battalion went south to take over a portion
of the line at La Boiselle. Here it successfully beat off a fierce
German raid at a cost of 90 killed, wounded, and missing. To show the
German opinion of the battalion, a German official order, captured
shortly after this engagement, may be quoted: "The regiment of the Royal
Irish Rifles created a most favourable impression both by their physique
and mode of repelling an attack". In the opening of the great Somme
battle of 1st July, 1916, the battalion took an active part, attacking
and capturing Ovillers, but sustained exceedingly heavy losses amounting
to 18 officers, amongst whom were the commanding officer, Colonel
Macnamara, and the Adjutant, with 440 other ranks. Further fighting went
on at intervals until 23rd October, when in another fiercely-contested
battle the battalion was reduced in numbers to less than 300 men. The
rest of the winter and the early part of 1917 was spent in the usual
routine of resting in billets or holding the line. 31st July found the
battalion once more in the thick of heavy fighting, this time in front
of Ypres, where the attack on the ridges was beginning. Here again its
casualties were serious, amounting to 16 officers and 350 other ranks,
and once more the commanding officer, now Colonel A. D. Reid, was
amongst the killed. In the desperate fighting of 16th August the
battalion again sustained extremely heavy losses, all the officers but
one, including Lieutenant-Colonel M'Carthy O'Leary, being killed and
wounded, as well as 230 N.C.O.'s and men. Up till the time when the
fierce fighting for Passchendaele Ridge culminated in the attack of 1st
December, the battalion continued to share the honour and the sacrifices
of this long-drawn battle. For its work during this time it was praised
not only by divisional and corps commanders but by the
Commander-in-Chief, Sir Douglas Haig, himself. At the end of the year,
on the reorganization of the army, the battalion was incorporated with
the 36th (Ulster) Division, in the account of which the remainder of its
fighting record will be described.
2nd BATTALION, ROYAL IRISH RIFLES
The 2nd Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles, went to the
front at the opening of the war in August, 1914, forming part of the 7th
Brigade of the 3rd Division. It took part in the first advance and
subsequent retreat from Mons, seeing a good deal of heavy fighting, and
afterwards in October at Neuve Chapelle was conspicuous in repelling a
fierce attack by the Germans. General Smith-Dorrien, then commanding the
army corps, in an Army Order stated: " During an attack on the 7th
Infantry Brigade the enemy came to close quarters with the Royal Irish
Rifles, who repulsed them with great gallantry with the bayonet. The
commander wishes to compliment the regiment on its splendid feat, and
directs that all battalions shall be informed of the circumstance and of
his high appreciation of the gallantry displayed."
During the rest of the winter and most of the
following spring and summer the battalion was alternately holding
portions of the line and in billets. At the battle of Loos it played a
very gallant part, not only piercing the German lines, but holding the
position for twenty-four hours until obliged to retire because the
troops on both sides had not been able to advance so far.
Addressing the battalion after its removal to another
portion of the line, the Divisional Commander said: "You have a splendid
fighting record throughout the campaign, being complimented by Sir John
French and General Smith-Dorrien in corps orders. The fighting in this
part of the line during the last few months has been very severe, and
this battalion has made history. When the history of the campaign has
been written the name of the 2nd Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles, will be
written in large print. . . . Your Brigadier was ordered to hold the
Germans in the Ypres salient while the other corps made the attack
farther south. You attacked the strongest position in the enemy's line.
. . . Your clever demonstration in front of this part of the line
brought all the enemy's reserves to this point, thereby facilitating the
offensive towards Loos. In fact the enemy was prepared to attack, but
was half an hour too late."
During the battle of the Somme the battalion served
in various parts of the line, and subsequently, on the Messines-Ypres
front, it also saw some very heavy fighting between June and September,
1917. It was subsequently transferred to the Third Army and attached to
the 36th (Ulster) Division, to whose record its further history belongs.
Altogether the battalion lost more than 100 officers
and 2000 other ranks killed and wounded, while the honours gained
amounted to over 400.
1st BATTALION, ROYAL IRISH FUSILIERS
The 1st Battalion, Royal Irish Fusiliers, famous as
"the Faugh-a-Ballaghs", went to France at the opening of the war, and
took part in the retreat from Mons, especially in the heavy fighting at
Le Cateau-Cambrai, where it lost 200 officers and other ranks.
After the Marne the battalion was prominent in
pursuit of the Germans and in the fighting on the Aisne, losing 8
officers and about 150 men. When the pursuit was stopped on the Aisne,
the battalion was transferred north and took part in the heavy fighting
at Armentières, in the capture of which it had
a leading role. During the stay of the battalion in this district
Private Robert Morrow, of Dungannon, Co. Tyrone, who was subsequently
killed, won the V.C. by carrying six wounded men in succession into
safety, under heavy fire. The 10th Brigade, of which this battalion
formed part, was in the thick of the fighting in the second battle of
Ypres, in April, 1915, and lost no less than 10 officers and 500 other
ranks, receiving the personal thanks of Field-Marshal Sir John French
for its gallant resistance.
Again in May of the same year the battalion suffered
severely in one of the early German gas attacks, and was sent into
billets for a rest, after which it was moved to the Somme. During the
winter of 1915 the battalion was engaged holding the line in comparative
quiet, but made a name for itself by daring raids on the enemy's
trenches, notably on 16th April, 1916, when the battalion was specially
thanked by the army corps commander and mentioned in dispatches by the
The Fusiliers, in support of the Sea-forth
Highlanders, fought through the Somme battle on 1st July, 1916, and
obtained the warmest praise of Lieutenant-General Sir A. Hunter-Weston,
who personally visited the battalion to thank the men for what they had
done, and in addressing them said:
"Officers, non-commissioned officers, and men of the
1st Battalion, Royal Irish Fusiliers, it is impossible for me to express
fully my admiration for the splendid courage, determination, and
discipline displayed by you all. ... I salute each officer,
non-commissioned officer, and man of the battalion as comrades-in-arms,
and am proud to have such a band of heroes in the corps under my
On 12th October, 1916, the battalion was again
heavily engaged in the Le Transloy sector, and in a fierce three-hours'
fight lost no less than 14 officers and 300 other ranks. Its numbers
were now reduced to 8 officers and 250 men, so it was withdrawn for some
months to rest and to train new drafts.
On 1st April, 1917, in the battle of Arras, the
battalion again suffered severely, losing 7 officers and 360 other
ranks, but carrying the German positions for a depth of seven miles.
Shortly afterwards it was again prominent in a very gallant attack on a
German position which it succeeded in carrying, although at a loss of 9
officers and 230 men. In August, 1917, the Fusiliers were transferred to
the 36th (Ulster) Division, with whom the rest of their fighting was
done, as will afterwards be described.
2nd BATTALION, ROYAL IRISH FUSILIERS
When war broke out the 2nd Battalion, Royal Irish
Fusiliers, was in India, and reached France only at the beginning of
1915. Most of its early work consisted in holding various positions near
St. Eloi. It remained there until September, 1915, and was then
transferred to Salonika, where it took part in the operations under the
French General Sarrail, and saw hard service. Subsequently the battalion
joined the 10th (Irish) Division, its service with which will be dealt
with in due course.
1st BATTALION, ROYAL INNISKILLING FUSILIERS
The 1st Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, well
known in earlier days as the 27th Foot, was in India at the outbreak of
war, and did not reach England till 10th January, 1915. It was then
attached to the famous 29th Division and sent to Gallipoli, where it saw
some desperate fighting, and where Captain G. R. O'Sullivan and Sergeant
Somers, afterwards killed, won the V.C. After the evacuation of
Gallipoli the battalion was sent to Egypt with the 29th Division. There
it had a period of rest before being transferred to France, where it
arrived in March, 1916. In the Somme fighting, commencing 1st July, the
Fusiliers played a prominent part. By a curious coincidence, the
battalion was on the immediate left of the 36th (Ulster) Division, and
more curious still, the 2nd Inniskillings were on the right of the
Ulster Division at the opening of the battle. The 1st Inniskillings
attacked Beaucourt and Beaumont Hamel, which had been strongly fortified
by the Germans, and although the battalion gained most of its
objectives, so fierce was the German fire that it was subsequently
forced to withdraw with very heavy losses, including that of
Lieutenant-Colonel R. C. Pierce, the gallant commanding officer.
Lieutenant-General Sir A. Hunter-Weston in a message to the battalion
said: "Though we did not do all that we hoped to do, you have more than
pulled your weight. It was a magnificent display of courage, worthy of
the best traditions of the British race."
The next action of the battalion, still in the 29th
Division, was a brilliant attack on the German line at Le Transloy, in
January, 1917, in which it broke the German front for a distance of
two-thirds of a mile, capturing 200 prisoners and earning high praise
from the divisional general.
In the spring of 1917, the battalion was moved
northwards and took part in the famous attack on Vimy Ridge, near Arras,
on 23rd April, when by sheer dogged fighting a portion of the German
line was broken. So severely had the battalion suffered that it was
withdrawn for a lengthy rest and the training of new drafts. In the
autumn of 1917 it took part in the very heavy fighting round Cambrai.
During the great German counter-attacks, the splendid defence of Masnières
by the 29th Division was one of the great feats of the war; and Sir
Douglas Haig sent a special message to the commanding officer of the
division, which included the Inniskillings, for its gallant fighting.
On the reorganization of the army shortly after this
battle, the battalion was transferred to the 36th (Ulster) Division,
where, on 19th January, 1918, it met its own 2nd Battalion for the first
time during the war. The subsequent service of the battalion will be
told in the history of the 36th (Ulster) Division.
2nd BATTALION, ROYAL INNISKILLING FUSILIERS
The 2nd Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, went
to France in the first week of the war, arriving just in time to take
part in the retreat from Mons, where it was engaged in some very heavy
fighting near Le Cateau, and subsequently in the battle of the Marne and
the advance to the Aisne.
During the remainder of the first winter the
battalion was engaged in fighting at various parts of the line, never
remaining long in any one place, but always showing its characteristic
bravery. This battalion had the honour of possessing the first N.C.O. to
receive a commission for distinguished services in the field, namely
Sergeant H. H. Kendrick, who was given a commission, and within two
years had risen to be Lieutenant-Colonel, commanding a battalion of the
After this first winter in the trenches the battalion
shared in some stiff fighting near Festubert on 15th May, 1915, when it
formed portion of the 5th Brigade in the 2nd Division. In spite of
obstacles the battalion carried all the objectives it had been told to
capture, and held on grimly in spite of a tremendous German bombardment
followed by massed attacks. No assaults of the enemy could force the men
to yield an inch of ground. They held their positions until relieved by
reinforcements, but only a handful was left. Of 1000 who went into
action, no less than 20 officers and 700 men were killed and wounded.
Sir Douglas Haig, the Commander-in-Chief, himself sent, through his
staff-officer, the following special message to the commanding officer
of the battalion, Colonel Wylie: "General Sir Douglas Haig, K.C.B.,
K.C.I.E., K.C.V.O., A.D.C., General Commanding First Army, has
personally desired me to thank all ranks of the 5th Infantry Brigade for
their great gallantry and hard work during the recent operations, which,
although they did not result in any great gain of country, had other
far-reaching effects and achieved important results".
General Sir Charles Munroe, commanding the army
corps, also issued a general order to the effect that he "wished to
congratulate all ranks of the battalion on their fine performance on the
night of the 15th-16th May. He has known the battalion for a long time,
and has every confidence that they will do in the future as they have
done in the past."
For the rest of the summer of 1915 the battalion was
in rest billets, engaged in training the new drafts, and in the spring
of 1916 it was transferred to the 32nd Division, sharing in the Somme
battle of 1st July, when, as formerly mentioned, it fought to the
immediate right of the 36th (Ulster) Division. In the series of fights
which lasted for a number of weeks the battalion lost very heavily, and
in August, 1916, on the second anniversary of its arriving in France,
only one officer was left who was serving at the outbreak of war.
During 1917 the battalion was engaged in desultory
fighting, and in 1918 it was transferred to the 36th (Ulster) Division,
with whom its subsequent history will be told.
THE 36th (ULSTER) DIVISION
A WONDERFUL RECORD
So far we have been dealing solely with the
battalions of the regular army drawn from Ulster. As in every other case
these troops were not brigaded on any territorial basis, but simply
according to the districts in which they were serving at the outbreak of
war, or as arranged by the War Office under the war mobilization scheme.
In Ireland, as in Great Britain, the new service
battalions were on the other hand raised and grouped on a strictly
territorial basis, and served in special new divisions of their own
until the army reorganization scheme of 1918, when, as already
mentioned, the regular battalions and the service battalions from Ulster
were formed into divisions together.
On 4th August, 1914, Great Britain formally entered
the war, and the next day the secretary of the Ulster Unionist Council
received a telegram from Sir Edward Carson, as follows: "All officers,
non-commissioned officers, and men who are enrolled in the Ulster
Volunteer Force, and who are liable to be called out by His Majesty for
service in the present crisis, are requested to answer immediately His
Majesty's call, as our first duty as loyal subjects is to the King".
On the day on which Sir Edward Carson's request was
received, General Sir George Richardson, K.C.B., Commander of the Ulster
Volunteer Force, issued an instruction to all the County Committees and
Regimental Commanders of the Force to take an immediate census of their
men, and report how many were ready, first, to enlist for active
service; secondly, to serve in Home Defence Corps anywhere in the United
Kingdom; and thirdly, how many could give a certain time for Home
Defence work in Ulster. The response to this request was remarkable, and
within ten days, when a large number of reports had been received at the
Unionist head-quarters in Belfast, Sir Edward Carson was able to assure
Lord Kitchener that more than ten thousand men were already certain, and
that additional reports were coming in every day.
As so many men were then available, the War Office
decided that the simplest and best plan would be to create a separate
division for the Ulster Volunteers, and as far as possible allow their
own officers who were competent, and had already received a military
training, to command them, the War Office of course retaining the right
to appoint the divisional staff, commanding officers, and the senior
officers of the battalions. It should, of course, be remembered that a
large number of the men who had been acting as officers for the previous
two years in the Ulster Volunteers had served in the army, and many of
them were actually on the reserve of officers, while others were young
men from the Public Schools, who had already passed through the
Officers' Training Corps; also among the rank and file of the Volunteers
were a large number of men who had either retired from the army after a
number of years' service or were still in the reserve, and the latter of
course joined up automatically with the regular army when mobilized.
On 3rd September, 1914, Sir Edward Carson, having
completed the arrangements with the War Office for the new division,
crossed to Belfast and made a stirring appeal to a crowded meeting of
the Ulster Unionist Council and the heads of the Ulster Volunteer Force
from various parts of Ulster, in which he said:
"What have we to do and what is the course we have to
pursue? It is to assist with our last man in the destruction of the
tyrant who has brought this about. . . And under these
circumstances—knowing that the very basis of our political faith is our
belief in the greatness of the United Kingdom and of the Empire—to our
Volunteers I say without hesitation:
'Go and help to save your country. Go and help to
save your country and to save your empire; go and win honour for Ulster
and for Ireland!' To every man that goes, or has gone—and not to them
only, but to every Irishman—I say, from the bottom of our hearts,' God
bless you, and bring you home safe and victorious'."
Following upon Sir Edward Carson's speech the whole
machinery of the Ulster Unionist Party and the Ulster Volunteer Force
was put into motion. The Unionist head-quarters known as the "Old Town
Hall", which was formerly the "City Hall", Belfast, was practically
handed over to the military authorities as recruiting offices, and here
for the next few weeks there was a continuous stream of recruits, at the
rate of about 600 a day, to join the various battalions of the Ulster
The recruiting was conducted most systematically.
Separate days were set aside for the men of the various districts of the
city. They assembled at their own Volunteer head-quarters, formed
themselves into military formation, and marched in a body through the
city to the recruiting office, each march being witnessed by
enthusiastic crowds of the citizens. Sir Edward Carson, accompanied by
Captain Craig, M.P., now Lieutenant-Colonel Sir James Craig, marched at
the head of several of these detachments to show his appreciation of the
magnificent response to his appeal.
Branch recruiting offices were also established at
the Volunteer headquarters in the various counties and districts, and
here also the enrolling and medical examinations were carried on in a
systematic fashion, so that by the middle of September about 12,000 men
had been enrolled, enough to supply the infantry contingent of a
division, and accordingly the new division was now formally entered on
the Army Roll as the 36th (Ulster) Division, which afterwards became one
of the most famous divisions in the army.
Mr. Asquith was certainly an unprejudiced authority,
with no special bias in favour of the Ulster Volunteers, and he said in
the House of Commons on 16th September, 1914:
"He understood that during the past few weeks Sir E.
Carson had taken steps to encourage and stimulate the men forming part
of his organization to respond to the call of the King and enlist with
the colours, and take part in the common defence of the Empire. He
certainly recognized the patriotism and public spirit which had been
shown by the Ulster Volunteers, and he had the most sanguine confidence
that they would be found not only among the most loyal but amongst the
most efficient defenders of the honour of the Empire."
THE EQUIPMENT OF THE 36th DIVISION
The method of the clothing and equipment of the
Ulster Division was unique. As is well known, owing to the great rush of
recruits in the early weeks of the war, it was impossible to find
uniforms and equipment for many of the new divisions as they went to
their various training camps. Thousands of men were obliged to drill and
work for some time in their ordinary civilian garments, which soon
became almost unwearable; while thousands of others had only a rather
shabby makeshift blue uniform, which was little improvement on the
civilian dress. That there would be this difficulty was realized at the
outset by some prominent Belfast business men connected with the Ulster
Volunteer head-quarters, and they accordingly took measures to have the
36th Division properly uniformed and equipped from the first. The War
Office was informed that if permission were given, these Belfast
business men would undertake to procure all the necessary uniform and
equipment, under the directions and supervision, of course, of the
military authorities—all accounts and book-keeping to be periodically
examined by the official War Office auditors. This offer was accepted,
and within three days a complete clothing and equipment department was
established in a large empty warehouse close to the recruiting office in
the old Town Hall, and a staff of forty assistants, clerks, typists,
bookkeepers, &c, was installed. There were also competent tailors,
boot-makers, and others, able to alter uniforms or boots which were in
any way defective or ill-fitting. Through their large business
connections in Great Britain, the committee in charge of this department
were able to buy and have made up into uniforms great consignments of
cloth, as well as puttees, boots, underclothing, and every other part of
the equipment necessary for the recruits; all of which were made to the
regulation pattern supplied by the War Office, and had to pass the War
The system for supplying the recruits was extremely
simple and worked with the greatest success. As soon as a volunteer had
been medically examined, passed, and formally enlisted, he was taken to
the outfitting department, less than 100 yards away, where he was
immediately fitted with uniform, boots, and underclothes, and supplied
with belt, haversack, house-wife, and all the equipment which a recruit
should receive. He then departed in a company or section to join the
camp where his battalion was to be trained. Meanwhile his civilian
clothing, boots, and other possessions were dispatched to any address he
desired. As recruiting stations were opened in various parts of Ulster,
the Clothing and Equipment Department also opened branches where the
same procedure was carried out, and as soon as the various camps had
been arranged and occupied, branches of the outfitting department were
established at each camp, under the charge of competent men. The result
of all these arrangements was that while recruits in the United Kingdom
had to wait weeks and even months for their uniform, every Ulster
Volunteer received his complete uniform and equipment on the day he
enlisted, and the whole division was completely uniformed and equipped
by the beginning of October. The effect upon a recruit of receiving his
uniform and' equipment immediately on enlistment can be easily
understood. It made him feel that he was actually a soldier, and thus
increased his self-respect, and even his very carriage and appearance
improved. There was at once amongst the men of the 36th Division an
esprit de corps which it took months to produce in many other
divisions. Nor was this the only service that the Equipment Committee
did for the War Office. By their practical business knowledge and
experience of buying in the best markets, and by the payment of prompt
cash, advanced from the Volunteer funds, they were able to purchase to
such advantage that the War Office auditors were astonished and
delighted, and reported to London in terms of the highest commendation.
Ultimately it turned out that the Ulster Division was
not only the first to be equipped in the new armies, but that the cost
of its uniform and equipment was many thousands of pounds less than that
of any other division.
As Commander of the new division the War Office
appointed Major-General Powell, C.B., an officer who had seen a good
deal of service in India, with Lieutenant-Colonel Craig, M.P., as his
Chief-of-Staff, and Divisional Head-quarters were established in a
convenient building in Belfast.
The principle was adopted of enrolling recruits in
battalions, each representing a county or counties, while the city of
Belfast alone contributed five battalions, one each from the north,
south, east, and west—the four Parliamentary Divisions— and another from
an organization known as the Young Citizen Volunteers. This was a body
composed largely of young business men, which had been formed a few
years before to act on ceremonial occasions as Guard of Honour to the
Lord Mayor or to any distinguished visitor, such as the Lord-Lieutenant.
In general type it closely resembled units of the standing of the London
Scottish or the Artists' Rifles; and a very large number of its members
subsequently obtained commissions.
As recruits were still coming in the War Office made
repeated requests for the establishment of other Divisional Units, every
one of which was more than fulfilled by the Division. It was able to
enlist and train its own Army Service Corps, in which a large number of
the younger Ulster medical men served with distinction. A complete body
of Divisional Engineers was raised among the skilled mechanics in the
shipyards and engineering works of Ulster; similarly a Divisional
Signalling Corps was formed from the signallers of the Volunteers, a
remarkably efficient and competent body of men. Then came a complete
Divisional Train of the Army Service Corps, a complete Veterinary
Section, a Divisional Cyclist Corps, and a special Cavalry Unit, known
as the Service Squadron of the Inniskilling Dragoons. The last named was
very similar in type to the North Irish Horse. The officers were nearly
all men who had served in the army, while the men were mainly sons of
farmers, who had been accustomed to riding and to the handling of horses
all their lives, and many of them were prominent hunting men. A Pioneer
Battalion was also raised, known as the 16th Battalion, Royal Irish
Rifles, composed mainly of Volunteers from County Down.
THE ROLL OF THE DIVISION
As finally constituted, the various Divisional Units
were as follows:—
(Brigadier-General C. H. H. Couchman, C.B.)
8th Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles (East Belfast
9th Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles (West Belfast Volunteers).
10th Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles (South Belfast Volunteers).
15th Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles (North Belfast Volunteers).
(Brigadier-General G. Hacket Pain, C.B.)
11th Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles (South Antrim Volunteers).
12th Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles (Central Antrim Volunteers).
13th Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles (1st County Down Volunteers).
9th Battalion, Royal Irish Fusiliers (Armagh, Monaghan, and Cavan
(Brigadier-General T. E. Hickman, C.B., D.S.O.)
9th Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers (Tyrone Volunteers).
10th Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers (Derry Volunteers).
11th Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers (Donegal and Fermanagh
14th Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles (Young Citizen Volunteers of
In addition the division raised a Pioneer
Battalion—the 16th Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles (2nd County Down
The various Divisional Units, except the artillery attached to every
army division, were also raised by the 36th Division on its own account
and ultimately comprised the following divisional troops:—
Service Squadron, Inniskilling Dragoons.
153rd Brigade, Royal Field Artillery.
154th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery.
172nd Brigade, Royal Field Artillery.
173rd Brigade, Royal Field Artillery.
Divisional Ammunition Column, Royal Field Artillery.
121st Field Company, Royal Engineers.
122nd Field Company, Royal Engineers.
150th Field Company, Royal Engineers.
36th Divisional Signal Company, Royal Engineers.
Divisional Cyclists' Company.
108th Field Ambulance, R.A.M.C.
109th Field Ambulance, R.A.M.C.
110th Field Ambulance, R.A.M.C.
76th Sanitary Section, R.A.M.C.
Divisional Train, R.A.S.C.
48th Mobile Veterinary Section, R.A.V.C.
Army Chaplains' Department.
The artillery was of course not raised by the
division, as each brigade received the contingent of artillery to be
attached to it according to the mobilization arrangements of the War
With regard to the Pioneer Battalion and divisional
troops, the 36th Division occupied a unique position in Ireland. In the
10th and 16th (Irish) Divisions these attached units were not raised by
the divisions themselves, but were supplied from English depots; thus
the 36th Division has the proud boast of being the only purely and
exclusively Irish division in the whole of the British army. Even to the
divisional cooks and bakers, the 36th Division provided all the men from
the Ulster Volunteer Force.
It is also worth noting that in addition to its
service battalions, the 36th Division was the only Irish division to
maintain several reserve battalions at home which trained recruits as
they were wanted for service at the front. These reserve battalions
included the 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th Royal Irish Rifles, the 12th
Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, and the 10th Royal Irish Fusiliers.
For the first eight months the division carried out
its training in various Ulster camps, several of which, such as
Clande-boye, the demesne of the Marquis of Dufferin, and Randalstown,
the demesne of Lord O'Neill, were placed at the disposal of the army
authorities by patriotic Ulstermen.
The first time for the division to meet as a whole
was on 8th May, 1915, when, with the exception of one battalion in
quarantine through sickness, the entire division with all its attached
units was inspected near Belfast by Major-General Sir Hugh M'Calmont,
K.C.B., and subsequently marched through the city, General M'Calmont
taking the salute in front of the City Hall. The inspecting officer
expressed himself as greatly impressed by the discipline and fine
marching of the men, most of whom, it should be remembered, had already
the advantage over other new service battalions in the army of more than
a year's previous training.
Almost immediately after this review the division was
transferred to Seaford, in Sussex, and then to Aldershot for its final
period of home training.
A good deal of discussion as to the merit of this
division had arisen, and suggestions had been made that it was of very
little fighting value. It was inspected by several distinguished
officers at Seaford, notably by Lord Kitchener, who, as has since been
learned, reported on his return that it was one of the finest divisions
he had seen in the new army. Finally, on 30th September, 1915,
immediately before its departure for France, the division was inspected
by His Majesty the King, from whom, the next day, the following gracious
message was received:
"Officers, non-commissioned officers, and men, you
are about to join your comrades at the front in bringing to a successful
end this relentless war of over twelve months' duration.
"Your prompt, patriotic answer to the nation's call
to arms will never be forgotten. The keen exertions of all ranks during
the period of training have brought you to a state of efficiency not
unworthy of my regular army.
"I am confident that in the field you will nobly
uphold the traditions of the fine regiments whose names you bear. Ever
since your enrolment I have closely watched the growth and steady
progress of all units. I shall continue to follow with interest the
fortunes of your division.
"In bidding you farewell, I pray God may bless you in
all your undertakings."
Early in October the division went to France and
before long was in the trenches. The first private soldier was killed in
November, 1915, and only a few days later the first officer fell, in the
person of Lieutenant M'Dermont, son of the Rev. Dr. M'Dermont, a
well-known Belfast clergyman.
It should have been mentioned that Major-General
Powell, being considered not sufficiently robust in health for active
service, was succeeded in command of the division just before it left
England by Major-General Nugent, C.B., D.S.O., himself an Ulsterman.
During the winter of 1915 and the first months of 1916 the division,
like other divisions of the new armies, was
divided, the different battalions being attached to various regular
units for training, but by the end of February it was reunited, and
during the remainder of the spring and summer, like the rest of the
army, the 36th Division was preparing for the battle of the Somme.
THE SOMME BATTLE
What the Ulster Division accomplished in that contest
is now amongst the most glorious episodes in the history of the British
army. It had the misfortune, if it was a misfortune, to find itself
opposite one of the strongest portions of the whole German front, and
yet in spite of all obstacles the division broke through five successive
lines of trenches and held its position grimly for twenty-four hours,
when, as its flanks on both sides were in the air, it was obliged to
retire. So strong were the German defences on the Ancre and at Beaumont
Hamel that they were not again entered by the British army until the
month of November, and the troops which then gained these positions were
astonished at the feat of the Ulstermen.
In his well-known history of the war, Colonel John
Buchan says: "North of Thiepval the Ulster Division broke through the
enemy trenches, passed the crest of the ridge, and reached the point
called the Crucifix, in rear of the first German position. For a little
they held the strong Schwab en Redoubt, which we were not to enter again
till after three months of battle, and some even got into the outskirts
of Grandcourt. It was the anniversary day of the battle of the Boyne,
and that charge, when the men shouted 'Remember the Boyne!' will be for
ever a glorious page in the annals of Ireland. Enfiladed on three sides,
they went on through successive German lines, and only a remnant came
back to tell the tale. That remnant brought many prisoners, one man
herding fifteen of the enemy through their own barrage. In the words of
the General who commanded it: 'The division carried out every portion of
its allotted task in spite of the heaviest losses. It captured nearly
600 prisoners, and carried its advance triumphantly to the limits of the
objective laid down.' Nothing finer was done in the war. The splendid
troops, drawn from those Volunteers who had banded themselves together
for another cause, now shed their blood like water for the liberty of
Mr. Philip Gibbs, the famous war correspondent, said:
"The attack of the Ulstermen was one of the finest displays of human
courage in the history of the world".
On the morning of 1st July over 9,000 men from the
division took part in the attack; at roll call on 3rd July scarcely 2500
answered, while of 400 officers, more than 250 were killed or wounded.
Some battalions had hardly an officer left. The casualties were as
follows: 8th Royal Irish Rifles, officers killed, wounded, and missing,
20; 10th Royal Irish Rifles, 18; 11th Royal Irish Rifles, 14; 12th Royal
Irish Rifles, 17; 13th Royal Irish Rifles, 18; 14th Royal Irish Rifles,
16; 15th Royal Irish Rifles, 15; 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers, 18; 9th
Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, 16; 10th Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, 12;
nth Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, 15; 16th Royal Irish Rifles, 1.
Almost every family in Ulster was left mourning after
the battle. In many cases two brothers fell on the same day. Amongst the
prisoners was Captain C. C. Craig, M.P. for East Antrim, who fell
wounded in the leg while gallantly leading his company.
Two days after the battle General Nugent issued a
special order of the day, in which he said: "The General Officer
commanding the Ulster Division desires that the division should know
that, in his opinion, nothing finer has been done in the war than the
attack by the Ulster Division on 1st July. The leading of the company
officers, the discipline and courage shown by all ranks of the division,
will stand out in the future history of the war as an example of what
good troops, well led, are capable of accomplishing."
After the Somme battle the 36th Division was
transferred to the 2nd Army in Flanders under General Plumer, and spent
the rest of 1916 and the spring of 1917 in the neighbourhood of Messines,
where it took its share in holding the trenches and in some lively raids
on the German lines.
Then came the famous attack on the Messines Ridge, in
which the 36th Division, side by side with the 16th (Irish) Division,
which itself actually contained five Ulster battalions, stormed the
ridge with the greatest gallantry, but at considerable cost in killed
and wounded. The attack penetrated as far as the third German line,
which was successfully captured and held.
General Gough, who was then commanding the Army
Corps, stated: "In this battle the Ulster Division displayed the
greatest courage and dash, as well as the greatest discipline and
training. Their conduct was splendid, and I am happy to say the results
were as splendid as the conduct which led to them."
After a short rest the division was transferred to
Frezenberg, north-east of Ypres, where on 16th August, 1917, there was
another fierce battle in which several battalions, especially the 9th
Royal Irish Fusiliers, suffered very heavily.
During this time the conditions recalled the first
awful winter of 1914-15. The muddy ground was too soft to allow the
making of proper trenches, and the men sheltered as best they could in
shell-holes and muddy hollows of various kinds, continually raked by
German machine-gun fire from a height known as "Hill 35", which
dominated the whole position of the division. At last a desperate attack
was made on this hill, which the Ulster-men, wading nearly to the waist
in mud, almost succeeded in capturing. They were unfortunately weakened
so seriously in the process, however, that they were unable to maintain
their position against the fierce German counter-attacks.
Sir Philip Gibbs has described the event in his usual
graphic way. He tells how the Ulstermen seized the hill, and adds: "Then
the counter-attacks drove in the thinned but still determined line of
Irishmen, and they came back across the riddled ground, some of them
wounded, all in the last stages of exhaustion, pausing in their
unwilling journey to fire at the snipers who harassed them, and reaching
at last the trenches they left at dawn, angry and. bitter and
disappointed, but undismayed—the heroes of a splendid failure". After
this ordeal the division was taken out of the line for rest and
reorganization, and was afterwards transferred to the southern zone,
near Cambrai, to form part of the Third Army.
During the autumn of 1917 in the general army
reorganization there was a redistribution of the various Ulster
regiments, including both regulars and service battalions. In September
the 8th and 9th Rifles were amalgamated, and also the nth and 13th
Rifles, to fill the vacancy in the 107th Brigade. The 1st Battalion,
Royal Irish Fusiliers (regulars), was included in the 107th Brigade, and
the 2nd Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles, was brought to the 108th Brigade,
which was also strengthened by the transfer of 500 men from the North
Irish Horse into the 9th Battalion of the Royal Irish Fusiliers.
During September and October the new units and the
old battalions of the division were engaged in training the drafts which
had been sent to replace the losses incurred at Messines. On 20th
November the 36th Division played a foremost part in the dashing attack
on the Hindenburg Line at Cambrai.
Referring to the attack of the Ulster-men, Sir A.
Conan Doyle, in his history of the war, says:
"The British front was cut across diagonally by a
considerable canal with deep sides—the Canal du Nord. Upon the north
side of this was one division. This flank unit was the famous 36th
Ulsters, who behaved this day with their usual magnificent gallantry.
Advancing with deliberate determination, they carried all before them,
though exposed to that extra strain to which a flank unit must always
submit. Their left was enfiladed by the enemy, and they had continually
to build up a defensive line, which naturally subtracted from their
numbers and made a long advance impossible. None the less, after rushing
a high bank bristling with machine-guns, they secured the second
Hindenburg Line, where they were firmly established by 10.30, after a
sharp contest with the garrison. They then swept forward, keeping the
canal upon their right, until by evening they had established themselves
upon the Bapaume-Cambrai road."
At first the division was brilliantly successful in
winning all its objectives, which it held against fierce
counter-attacks. The 107th Brigade did not take part in the original
attack on 22nd November, but was thrown in on the 23rd to strengthen the
other brigades, when the 8th-9th Rifles specially distinguished
themselves, capturing Round Trench and Quarry Wood, near Moeuvres.
Unfortunately the battalion became isolated through want of support on
both sides, and was driven out of the Wood, but held on to Round Trench
until relieved by another battalion. During these actions the
engineering sections of the division were specially commended for their
heroism and endurance in consolidating positions which had been
captured. Unfortunately the casualties once again were very heavy,
including many officers, who could ill be spared.
Following upon this fight at Cambrai the division was
still engaged in several sharp contests on the Hindenburg Line close to
Havrincourt Wood. During the first week of December there was a very
fierce struggle at La Vacquerie, in which the 8th Inniskillings (Tyrone
Volunteers) suffered considerably, having five officers killed. Amongst
them was Second-Lieutenant J. S. Emerson, who was subsequently gazetted
to the V.C. which he did not live to receive, this being the fifth V.C.
awarded to the division.
At the beginning of 1918 the 36th Division was moved
from the Cambrai district and sent south-east, where they took over a
certain portion of the line to relieve the French, who were then hard
pressed for reinforcements.
Early in the same year there took place a complete
reorganization of the army under a new scheme, by which each brigade was
to consist of three battalions instead of four. In February the 8th-9th
Rifles were disbanded, as also the 10th, 11th-13th, and 14th Rifles, the
men being drafted into other battalions of the division. The 10th and
nth Inniskilling Fusiliers were also disbanded and transferred to other
battalions of the same regiment.
Just before the beginning of the great German attack
in March, the composition of the newly - arranged Ulster Division was as
1st Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles.
2nd Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles.
15th Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles.
12th Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles.
1st Battalion, Royal Irish Fusiliers.
9th Battalion, Royal Irish Fusiliers.
1st Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.
2nd Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.
9th Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.
From this it will be seen that all the old regular
battalions of the Ulster regiments, except the 2nd Royal Irish Fusiliers
who were serving in the East, had now been drafted into the 36th
Division, which then formed part of the 18th Corps, under the command of
Lieutenant-General Sir Ivor Maxse.
Other battalions of the three Ulster regiments, the
Royal Irish Rifles, Royal Irish Fusiliers, and the Inniskilling
Fusiliers were still serving in the 10th and 16th (Irish) Divisions,
whose history has yet to be related.
THE LAST GERMAN OFFENSIVE
On the eve of 21st March, 1918, the Ulster Division
held a front of about 6000 yards in the forward zone, and also occupied
ground to a depth of about 1200 yards from its outposts. The three
battalions of the 108th Brigade met the first weight of the German
onslaught. After being bombarded for five hours with a tremendous
canonade from all sizes of German guns, they were attacked by the full
weight of no less than three German divisions, the odds being something
like ten to one. The three heroic battalions were practically wiped out,
and it was only from a few survivors of the 12th Royal Irish Rifles, who
swam down the canal at night, that Head-quarters learned how a small
handful of the battalions was still gallantly holding out. After
twenty-four hours continuous fighting the three battalions were
represented by a few stragglers, so that the full story of that heroic
stand can never be fully told, as the men who escaped had only a
confused idea of what actually happened during the fog.
The forward zone held by the 108th Brigade having
been thus carried by the Germans, there followed a furious onslaught on
the actual battle front defended by the other two brigades, who offered
a desperate resistance, although the attacking forces were far more
numerous and unfortunately stronger in artillery. The mist formed an
additional handicap to our men, making it impossible for the British
artillery in the rear to direct their fire with accuracy upon the
advancing Germans. Nevertheless only at one point, Contescourt, did the
enemy succeed in piercing our line, and the whole front would probably
have been held by the men of the 36th Division, but for the fact that
their right flank was completely turned at Essigny, where the Germans
succeeded in driving back a neighbouring division. The loss of this
position and the necessity of forming a new front on its right flank,
along with the risk of being completely surrounded and cut off,
ultimately compelled the division to withdraw, but it fell back fighting
grimly all the time. Here and there some remarkable gallantry was shown
by the different battalions. At Fontaine-les-Clercs the 1st Battalion,
Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, repulsed no less than twelve consecutive
attacks by overwhelming numbers of the enemy, and would probably have
succeeded in holding the position by fierce counter-attacks, had it not
been necessary to fall back with the rest of the division to save
envelopment. The withdrawal was carried out in good order on the night
of 26th March, and the retreat was quietly and steadily conducted.
During this time the 121st Field Company, R.E., aided by the Engineering
Company attached to the division, performed splendid service at St.
Simon and elsewhere in destroying bridges and otherwise obstructing the
enemy, always under continuous fire. So far from being broken or
demoralized the division preserved its fighting spirit to the bitter
end. Of this there were many notable illustrations, as when the 9th
Royal Irish Fusiliers turned furiously on the enemy at Ville-selves, and
actually charged side by side with the Royal Dragoons, in a brilliant
counter-attack. At another place a small band of less than forty
machine-gunners recaptured Erches and took 200 German prisoners, while
the 109th Brigade held on to Guerbigny up to the 27th March, when it was
almost entirely surrounded by the enemy.
Once again the losses of the division were terribly
severe, amounting to more than five thousand officers and men. The
number of killed and badly wounded was, however, less heavy than at
Thiepval, the majority of the losses being officers and men taken
prisoner. Amongst the killed was Lieutenant W. D. Magookin, 12th Rifles,
who before obtaining his commission was the first N.C.O. in the division
to receive a decoration, having been awarded the D.C.M. in 1915 (when
Second-Lieutenant H. M. de la Maziere Harpur of the same battalion won
the first M.C. gained by the 36th Division). Second-Lieutenant E. De
Wind, 15th Rifles, who had gained the V.C. at St. Quentin, also fell
The other St. Quentin V.C, Second-Lieutenant C. L.
Knox, R.E., was fortunate enough to survive the retreat. Amongst the
officers captured were Lieutenant-Colonel Lord Farnham, commanding the
2nd Inniskillings, and Lieutenant-Colonel C. O. Place, of the
By this time it was felt that the broken and
shattered 36th Division was fairly entitled to a rest, and it was moved
north to billets at Cassel for a time. Its period of training and
recuperation did not last long. The 108th Brigade, while marching to
join the other two brigades, was suddenly called upon to meet the last
desperate German attempt to reach the Channel ports. For some days in
April, 1918, the fighting was extremely severe, and the 108th Brigade
lost many of its best-known officers, including Lieutenant-Colonel Blair
Oliphant, D.S.O., who was then commanding one of the battalions; but as
usual the Ulstermen accomplished all they were asked to do. The cost,
unfortunately, was heavy, and it was only a remnant of the 108th under
General Griffiths that survived to join the other two brigades. It was
given three months to rest and refit before again going into action.
Early in May, Major-General Nugent handed over the
command of the division to General Coffin, V.C, who had greatly
distinguished himself right from the beginning of the war. The new
commander occupied himself at first with the task of reorganizing the
shattered division and once more bringing it up to strength, ready for
During the summer of 1918 there was a good deal of
desultory fighting, and the division suffered considerably from
continual counter-attacks, but the threatened German offensive in force
never developed. The power of initiative had finally passed from the
During the earlier stages of the last great French
and British advance, the northern sector was comparatively quiet. In the
middle of August, however, when the Germans were in full retreat on the
southern sector, the British offensive was extended farther north. On
24th August the 1st and 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers and the 15th Royal
Irish Rifles made a brilliant attack, carrying the whole system of
German defences at Bailleul on a front of over a mile, and compelling
the enemy to evacuate the famous Kemmel Hill, from which they had since
April threatened the British lines. The Ulstermen's onslaught was
pressed home with relentless vigour. The 109th Brigade came into the
line and took over the new positions which the 107th and 108th Brigades
had captured on 24th August. They immediately discovered the German
retreat, and by 26th August the whole division was in full pursuit of
It was not altogether easy for these troops to carry
out the new system of open warfare, after three years of trench
fighting, but within two days the division had adapted itself to the new
situation. The 109th Brigade, consisting of three Royal Inniskilling
Fusiliers battalions, pressing hard on the enemy, drove them at one
stroke from the famous Ravelsberg Ridge, and following in pursuit forced
them back to a new defensive position at Neuve Eglise. These successes
were not won without a considerable number of casualties. The 2nd
Battalion, Inniskilling Fusiliers, had to mourn the loss of their
gallant commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Knott, D.S.O., who died
from wounds received on 30th August.
A good deal of the country now traversed was familiar
to many of the officers and men of the division, as they had held it for
some time before the capture of the Messines Ridge in June, 1917. In
this region further severe fighting was now experienced. The 109th
Brigade, after their advance from the 26th to 30th August, dug
themselves in on their new position, while the 108th Brigade advanced
through their lines and attacked Neuve Eglise. On the morning of 1st
September, the 1st Royal Irish Fusiliers, and the 12th Rifles headed the
advance, with the 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers in support. The enemy,
realizing the importance of their position, made a most stubborn
defence, sweeping all the open spaces with fierce machine-gun fire.
Nothing, however, could stop the men of the 36th Division, and soon
Neuve Eglise was surrounded. At this stage the attack was temporarily
held up by the fire from concealed German machine-guns; while the rapid
advance of both the 1st Royal Irish Fusiliers and 12th Rifles had left
them unprotected on both flanks. Accordingly a detachment of the 12th
Rifles was told off to rush Neuve Eglise. The attack, in spite of the
heavy fire it had to encounter, was brilliantly successful, and by four
o'clock in the afternoon of 1st September the village was taken.
After the capture of Wulverghem on the following day,
a halt was made to enable reinforcements to be brought up and to prepare
for a renewal of the attack next morning. During the night the Germans
were also strongly reinforced, and when the 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers,
who were now holding the front line, attacked on the 3rd, they met with
a very stiff resistance. In spite of this they captured Hill 36, the
most important point of the line, and held it against determined
counter-attacks. Further progress, however, was for the moment
The 107th Brigade next carried on the attack, which
encountered desperate opposition on the Messines Ridge, where again the
advance was checked. The brigade, however, stubbornly held to the ground
it had won, although it was subject to the most intense shell-fire, and
lost several of its senior officers, including Lieutenant-Colonel J. H.
Bridcutt, D.S.O., commanding the 2nd Rifles; while Lieutenant-Colonel
Smythe, D.S.O., commanding the 15th Rifles, was wounded. The 2nd
Inniskilling Fusiliers also lost their commanding officer,
Lieutenant-Colonel L. de Fitzgerald, while the second in command, Major
G. M. Forde, D.S.O., was severely wounded.
A few days later the division was ordered still
farther north, where, with the 9th and 29th Divisions, it formed the 2nd
Corps, which co-operated with the Belgian army in the final advance. The
first fighting of this phase took place on 28th September, 1918, in the
Ypres region, the Germans being driven from their positions only to take
up a new defensive line a few miles farther back.
Once again the famous 109th Brigade came into action,
with the 1st and 2nd Inniskilling Battalions leading, and the 9th in
reserve. Operations were entirely successful in spite of the determined
defence. Not only was the whole German position captured, but the 2nd
Battalion pushed on two miles beyond it, completely surprising the enemy
and taking many prisoners. The 108th Brigade suffered many heavy
casualties in its gallant attack on a commanding position east of
Dadazeele, the crest of which it however attained and held. Farther
south the 107th Brigade also met with fierce resistance, and the 12th
Rifles and 1st Royal Irish Fusiliers had to withstand some tremendous
German counter-attacks. Nothing, however, could move them from their
positions, and, although both battalions were reduced to a mere handful,
they obstinately refused to retreat, and held their ground until it was
time for a further advance.
The next fortnight was spent in the consolidation of
the positions and the bringing up of reserves. During this period German
shell-fire was practically continuous. The division suffered heavily.
Lieutenant-Colonel P. E. Kelly, the gallant young commander of the 9th
Royal Irish Fusiliers, was killed on 10th October.
On 14th October the attack was again launched, and
the enemy, driven from his positions, was pursued by the 109th Brigade
as far as Courtrai, the Inniskillings being the first British troops to
reach and enter the town. The principal bridge over the Lys Canal having
been blown up by the retreating enemy, the engineers of the division
promptly proceeded, with the greatest gallantry, to lay a pontoon bridge
under heavy fire. Before the division could cross, however, it was again
sent farther north, and eventually made the passage of the Lys at Oyghem
in face of fierce opposition,, the 109th Brigade and the engineers again
earning great credit. When, on nth November, the Armistice put an end to
the fighting, the 36th Division was holding the line of the Scheldt to
which the Germans had been driven back.
During these last days casualties were very heavy,
and included Colonel Jones, D.S.O., of the 15th Rifles, who was mortally
wounded. Two Victoria Crosses were won by the division: one going to
Lance-Corporal Ernest Seaman, 2nd Inniskilling Fusiliers, who was killed
a few days later; the other to Private Norman Harvey, 1st Inniskilling
Before the division was disbanded it had the honour
of being visited by the Prince of Wales on 30th January and 1st
February, 1919. It was quite an informal event, no reviews or regular
inspections being held. The Prince visited all the battalions and was
able to converse with a large number of the officers and men, including
the sick in the Field Ambulances.
In the spring of 1919, all the service battalions but
one were disbanded and returned to their depots in Ireland. The 12th
Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles, having been strengthened by volunteers
from other units, was retained for service, and advanced with the other
British troops detailed for the occupation of German territory. At the
time of writing it was stationed at Cologne.
Before the division broke up to return home the
Commander of the Army Corps, Lieutenant-General Sir Ivor Maxse, issued
the following order of the day to General Coffin:
"The 36th (Ulster) Division has been fighting
continuously since the 28th September in the operations in Flanders. The
spirit, dash, and initiative shown by all ranks have been splendid and
beyond all praise. The leadership displayed by yourself and your brigade
and other commanders could not have been better. The conditions under
which the men have had to fight have been trying, but nothing seemed to
stop your gallant division. I have also been struck with the good staff
work of the division, and it is very creditable to all concerned. Will
you kindly express to the commanders, staffs, and all ranks of the
division my heartiest congratulations and thanks for their work?
"When the history is written of what the division has
done in Flanders during the past month it will prove to be a record of
magnificent fighting and wonderful progress, for, during this period, an
advance has been made of about 25 miles over the worst of country and
under the heaviest machine-gun fire ever experienced in war. This
advance has entailed constant fighting, but the 36th Division has
overcome every obstacle and has proved itself to be one of the best
fighting divisions in the army—well commanded and well staffed."
The following order was also issued, dated 22nd
"Marshal Foch visited the Army Commander to-day and
asked him to send his congratulations to the 2nd Corps and to the 9th,
29th, and 36th Divisions for their splendid work in the operations since
the 14th October. Please communicate the above to all ranks.
"The Divisional Commander congratulates all ranks on
the splendid fighting qualities exhibited by them which have won this
approbation from Marshal Foch.
(Signed) " A. G. Thomson,
"36th (Ulster) Division."
This ends the fighting history of the famous 36th
(Ulster) Division, who have left a record of gallantry and success
equalled by few and perhaps surpassed by none of the new army divisions.
The following is the record of honours gained by the
officers, N.C.O.'s, and men of the 36th (Ulster) Division, from October,
1915, to the end of the war:
Victoria Cross, 9
Distinguished Service Order, 71
Military Cross, 459
Distinguished Conduct Medal, 173
Military Medal, 1294
Meritorious Service Medal, 118
Foreign (French, Belgian, &c.), 312
In a message sent by His Majesty the King to Sir
Edward Carson in December, 1918, he said:
"In these days of rejoicing I recall the deeds of the
36th (Ulster) Division, which have more than fulfilled the high opinion
formed by me on inspecting that force on the eve of its departure for
the front. Throughout the long years of struggle, which have now so
gloriously ended, the men of Ulster have proved how nobly they fight and
THE 10th IRISH DIVISION
The deeds of the different battalions of the 36th
Division by no means exhaust the record of Ulster's soldiers in the war.
They were very largely represented in other divisions. The 10th (Irish)
Division, for example, contained a whole brigade and one additional
battalion. The 31st Brigade of the 10th Division consisted of the 5th
and 6th Battalions, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, and the 5th and 6th
Battalions, Royal Irish Fusiliers, while in the 29th Brigade there was
the 6th Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles. This was the first division of
the new service battalions formed in Ireland, and it included a large
number of Ulstermen who joined up immediately in the first rush to the
colours, before official sanction had been obtained from the War Office
for the formation of the 36th Division from the Ulster Volunteers.
The division was trained close to Dublin, and
afterwards at Basingstoke. Its commanding officer was General Sir Bryan
Mahon, a distinguished Irish soldier, who took the division to Gallipoli
in August, 1915, after a year of training. The Ulster Brigade of the
10th Division took part in the first famous attack, being amongst the
first troops to land.
In front of it was a hillock known as Chocolate Hill,
while behind was the main ridge of the Gallipoli peninsula, known as
Sari Bair. The disembarking was a terribly difficult business, carried
out under a hail of machine-gun fire and shrapnel from the concealed
Turkish positions. On landing, the Ulster Brigade, commanded by
Brigadier-General F. F. Hill, moved forward by a narrow strip of sand
between the sea and the Salt Lake, harassed all the way by machine-guns
and snipers. The attack pressed on, however, until with a great cheer
the Inniskillings and Irish Fusiliers swept forward into the enemy's
trenches, the whole of which were captured before nightfall. Severe but
unavailing fighting followed as the defence grew stronger. Besides the
many casualties inflicted by the enemy, there were a considerable number
due to disease, but in spite of all, the men kept up their fighting
spirit. As it was found impossible to advance towards Sari Bair, the
10th Division was ordered to attack along both sides of the ridge known
as Kiretch Tepe Sirt, which was held by the Turks. The northern side was
the easier proposition and was successfully carried; but on the south
the 5th Inniskillings found themselves faced with a practically
impossible task, and were almost exterminated in their unavailing
attempts to carry it out. The Turks were well supplied with
hand-grenades, with which they bombarded our men incessantly. Attacked
as they were on front and flank, the Royal Irish Fusiliers, who held the
ground nearest the sea, were also almost wiped out, but the survivors
stubbornly clung to their position.
On the night of 15th August, the other brigades were
brought up to reinforce their comrades, but on the following morning it
became clear that the position was untenable, and the 10th Division was
ordered to retire. Harassed on all sides by a tireless but well-nigh
invisible enemy, without sleep or rest, tortured by thirst and in many
cases suffering intensely from enteric or dysentery, the men had held
what seemed an impossible position for thirty-six hours, and even in
failure had covered themselves with glory.
The 6th Rifles did not share in this fighting, but
soon had their own ordeal. They disembarked at Anzac on 5th August, and
were held in reserve for a day or two, before being sent to hold the
ground already captured half-way up the steep ridge of Sari Bair. Here
they were terribly exposed to enemy fire, and ultimately, on 10th
August, had to meet a desperate attack from the Turks. Again and again
the enemy was thrown back, but fresh masses continued to roll forward.
The colonel, adjutant, and practically all the senior officers soon
became casualties, and, before the evening of the 10th, a junior officer
from Belfast found himself in command of the battalion. Orders came to
withdraw, but the men, few in number and worn out as they were, insisted
on one last counter-attack. It was in vain, and the remnant was finally
The advent of Bulgaria into the war and the German
advance through Serbia had altered the situation in Macedonia, and in
September a considerable number of British troops were moved from
Gallipoli to Salonika, amongst them the- remnant of the 10th Division.
Casualties in the field combined with sickness had terribly reduced its
strength. The 5th Royal Irish Fusiliers, for example, consisted of only
4 officers and 160 men. For a short period the division remained at
Lemnos and Mudros to recuperate, but in October found itself in the
trenches north of Salonika, along the line from that town to Krivolak in
support of the French right. On the 27th of the month it was decided to
make an attempt to get into touch with the retreating Serbian forces. In
that mountainous country, with only one available railway, and scarcely
any roads, the task of moving troops was extremely difficult. Every day
brought some disheartening news of the Serbian rout and the German and
Bulgarian advance towards Salonika along the Struma valley. It was
therefore necessary to draw back the Allied forces, and the 10th
Division acted as the pivot on which the operation was made, holding the
vital spot until the French were able to withdraw from their positions.
On 6th, 7th, and 8th December it was attacked in force by the enemy, at
a time when it was suffering very severely from the intense cold of the
Macedonian mountains. The division at this time was holding the line for
ten miles in mountainous and difficult country, including a spur known
as Rocky Peak. In the defence of this position the Ulster brigade again
distinguished itself. Before daylight the enemy had rushed an advance
post of the Irish Fusiliers at Rocky Peak, from which they were able to
command a considerable part of our line with machine-guns. For nine
hours, however, the Ulster brigade, using rifles almost solely, held off
great masses of Bulgarians, sometimes counter - attacking fiercely with
the bayonet. Finally the line fell back to the mouth of the Dedli Pass,
which they held for three more days until the rest of the Allied forces
had been safely drawn back. Then in turn the 31st (Ulster) Brigade and
part of the 29th Brigade, acting as the rear-guard, began to retire,
with the enemy pressing hard on their heels. On the northern edge of
Lake Doiran the Inniskillings and Irish Fusiliers fought some desperate
battles to hold back the enemy, retreating all the time through bleak,
open country in torrents of rain, while the other brigades, more
fortunate, were able to retire by train down the only available railway.
Speaking of this rearguard fighting the French general declared, "The
rear-guard fighting of the Irish in the Serbian mountains was one of the
most striking feats of arms in the whole war. Against ten times their
number, they saved the British and French." For nearly six months there
was little fighting on the Macedonian front, and the 10th Division was
mainly engaged in training new drafts, resting the survivors of the
Gallipoli and Lake Doiran fights, and preparing the outer defences
of Salonika, which it was expected the enemy might
attack any day. When it became evident that neither the Germans nor
Bulgarians had any inclination for an onslaught on these practically
impregnable defences, the Ulster brigade, along with their comrades of
the 6th Rifles, again advanced into Northern Macedonia, occupying the
heights overlooking the Struma Valley. In September, 1916, the 10th
Division held the heights on the right bank of the Struma River with the
enemy on the other side, and during the autumn various small engagements
In November, 1916, the 5th and 6th Battalions, Royal
Irish Fusiliers, were amalgamated, as both had been so badly cut up,
while the 2nd Battalion of the same regiment was brought up to replace
the 6th Rifles in the 36th Division. The remainder of 1916 and the
spring of 1917 was spent in comparative quiet, varied only by occasional
raids, and in September, 1917, the 10th Division, except the 6th
Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles, was ordered to Egypt for the advance on
Palestine, after nearly two years of a very trying experience in the
At the end of September the 10th Division reached
Alexandria, and after a week's rest joined General Allenby's army. The
Sinai Desert was safely crossed, although the troops suffered
considerably from want of water. In the first advance the 10th Division
was told off to attack the enemy's line between Gaza and Beersheba. The
first fighting took place on 6th November, when the Ulster brigade was
opposite a network of strong and well-constructed Turkish trenches,
which were speedily captured, the 2nd and 5th Irish Fusiliers leading
the attack. On the following day Haneira Tefe redoubt, one of the
strongest enemy positions, was taken by assault, and the Turks were
completely driven out of their line.
The 10th Division then marched westwards across the
desert near the coast. By the end of November it was advancing
northwards through the land of Goshen and the Valley of Agalon, and on
9th December took its full share in the great attack which enveloped
Jerusalem. When the Turks made an equally-determined reply, the division
counter-attacked with a view to cutting off the enemy's communications.
The Ulster Brigade carried a series of heights overlooking the region
known in the Bible as the Valley of Elah, the scene of the historic
encounter between David and Goliath, and very soon sent the Turks into
headlong retreat. After a Christmas rest most of January and February
was spent in road-making, bringing up ammunition and supplies, and in
other preparations for the next advance. On 9th March, 1918, a new
offensive began towards Tiljilia (known in Scripture as Gilgal), and in
this the 2nd Irish Fusiliers, the 5th Irish Fusiliers, and the 5th
Inniskil-ling Fusiliers particularly distinguished themselves, while the
31st Brigade had the honour of being the only one which captured all its
objectives within the allotted period. Then for a spell the division was
once more engaged in road-making and other work behind the front lines,
and just as a fresh offensive was about to commence the greater portion
of it was suddenly transferred to France to assist in stemming the last
great German offensive.
No longer, however, did the 10th Division operate as
a unit. The 5th and 6th Irish Fusiliers were sent to the 14th Division
in the Merville sector, and afterwards to the 30th Division, then to the
66th, and finally to the reorganized 16th (Irish) Division, which it
joined in August, 1918. It took part in the subsequent advance along the
La Bassee-Haute Deule Canal and as far as the Scheldt, which was crossed
on 10th November, the day before the signing of the Armistice. The
Inniskilling Fusiliers were in the Cambrai sector, and did their share
in the fighting in October, which has already been described.
One of the Ulster battalions of the 10th Division,
the 6th Irish Rifles, never served in France, remaining in the Balkans
until the close of the war, and assisting in the ultimate defeat of the
THE 16th DIVISION
In the 16th (Irish) Division, as in the 10th, there
were five Ulster Battalions— the 7th and 8th Royal Inniskilling
Fusiliers, the 7th and 8th Royal Irish Fusiliers (which formed the 49th
Brigade), and also the 7th Royal Irish Rifles, which formed part of the
48th Brigade. There were also in the 6th Battalion Connaught Rangers
(another unit of the 48th Brigade), several hundred Ulsterman, chiefly
from Belfast; while the 6th Royal Irish Regiment, in the 48th Brigade,
also contained several hundred men from Londonderry and Tyrone.
The 16th Division was trained at Fer-moy, County
Cork, and before leaving for England in 1915, the 49th Brigade spent a
short period at Finner Camp in County Donegal. Training was completed at
Aldershot, and in December, 1915, the 47th and 48th Brigades went
overseas. The 49th, or Ulster Brigade, was not at full strength, because
1700 men had been taken from it to fill up vacancies in the 10th
Division when it went to Gallipoli. In January, 1916, however, it had
again been brought up to full strength, and was inspected by the Queen
before proceeding to join the other brigades.
For the first two or three months the division held
the line at the Vermelles sector, and soon made a name by its smart
raids on the German trenches. The first serious ordeal took place on
27th April, 1916, when it was subjected to one of the most intense gas
attacks which up till then had been launched by the Germans.
Unfortunately the gas-masks and other defensive appliances were not then
as good as they afterwards became, and the division, especially the two
Inniskilling battalions, suffered severely. In spite of the gas these
battalions held their lines against fierce German onslaughts both on
27th and 29th April, not a man giving way.
During the next two months, the division, like so
many others, was busy preparing for the Somme battle. It was not
actively engaged in the first fighting on the Somme, but in September,
1916, made a splendid name for itself by its attacks on Guinchy and
Guillemont. Guillemont was first attacked on 3rd September, and was
carried with splendid gallantry, although it was well known to be one of
the strongest fortified positions in the whole of the German line, and
in less than a week Guinchy was captured in a similar fashion, the Royal
Irish Rifles specially distinguishing themselves, and this was followed
up by another victorious rush by the two Fusilier battalions just north
of Combles. The 49th Brigade and the 7th Royal Irish Rifles suffered
very heavily in this fighting, their casualties going well into four
figures. Colonel Dalzell Walton, Commander of the 8th Inniskillings, was
killed; Colonel Young, of the 7th Inniskillings, dangerously wounded;
Major A. B. Cairns and Major Nash of the 7th Rifles were killed; and
also Lieutenant-Colonel Lenox Conyng-ham, a gallant Ulsterman who was
commanding the 6th Connaught Rangers.
During the rest of 1916 and the spring of 1917, the
division was in the northern sector in Flanders, where it held the line
next to the 36th (Ulster) Division. In the great attack on the Messines
Ridge on 7th June, 1917, the 16th Division fought on the left of the
Ulster Division, and thanks to the excellent work of the artillery the
casualties were much less than on the Somme. A wood captured by the
"Skins" in the course of the battle was subsequently, with the
permission of the Commander-in-Chief, named Inniskilling Wood, in memory
of their valour.
Two days after this engagement the division was
relieved and given six weeks rest. On 31st July a season of fierce
fighting began and lasted until 16th August, the 36th and 16th Divisions
fighting side by side. The Inniskillings and Rifles of the 16th Division
found themselves opposed to a powerful system of German concrete
blockhouses. As they advanced they were received with terrible
machine-gun fire from these defences, and lost very heavily. Nothing
daunted, however, the Rifles advanced a considerable distance, capturing
a number of prisoners; while the Inniskillings seized two strong
redoubts and Hill 27, one of the keys of the position. Here both
Inniskillings and Rifles hung on grimly for many hours, but owing to the
intense machine-gun fire from the still uncaptured blockhouses it was
impossible to advance farther or even to hold the ground already gained.
Not only were the battalions subjected to heavy fire from the
"pill-boxes", but also from German aeroplanes. Finally the order to
retreat was given, and slowly, still fighting, the 49th Brigade fell
back, losing many men in killed and prisoners. Among the killed were
Colonel Boardman of the Inniskillings, Lieutenant Coombes, the famous
army boxer, and many other officers.
After this action certain amalgamations took place
amongst the greatly reduced battalions of the 16th Division. The 7th and
8th Inniskillings were joined, as were also the 7th and 8th Royal Irish
Fusiliers; while the 7th Rifles were disbanded and the personnel drafted
into other Rifle battalions.
For the next three months the division rested, but on
2nd November, 1917, it captured the heights of Croiselles, taking nearly
one thousand prisoners, and putting a complete German division out of
action. This position was held until the spring of 1918. When the
Germans made their last great attack in March, the 7th-8th Inniskillings
suffered severely, a large number of men being taken prisoners. The
entire division was reduced to less than the numbers of a brigade. It
was then disbanded and the men distributed among other Irish regiments,
to be reorganized towards the end of the war in conjunction with the
battalions of the 10th Division, which had arrived from the East. It was
ready for action once more when the Armistice was signed.
The work of Ulstermen in the fighting services was
not confined to the army. As was natural in a province so much given up
to shipbuilding and shipping, a large number of men joined the navy, and
there was scarcely a sea fight during the war which did not bring
bereavement to Ulster families.
When the cruiser Hawke was sunk in the North
Sea in 1915, over fifty Belfast men were drowned. In the battle of
Jutland an Ulsterman, Commander the Honourable E. B. S. Bingham, the
brother-in-law of Lord Clanmorris, won the V.C. for a very gallant
exploit. The following is the official record of the award:
"For the extremely gallant way in which he held his
division in their attack, first on the enemy destroyers and then on
their battle-cruisers, in the Jutland battle. He finally sighted the
enemy battle fleet, and, followed by the one remaining destroyer of his
division (Nicator), with dauntless courage he closed to within
three thousand yards of the enemy in order to obtain a favourable
position for firing the torpedoes. While making this attack, Nestor
and Nicator were under concentrated fire of the secondary
batteries of the High Sea Fleet. Nestor was subsequently sunk."
When Lord Kitchener went down with the Hampshire
a number of Ulstermen, including the ship's surgeon, also lost their
Ulstermen played their part in the famous battle of
Zeebrugge. Lieutenant Oscar Henderson, son of Sir James Henderson,
former Lord Mayor of Belfast, was an officer on the Iris in this
battle, and received the D.S.O. for his bravery in heading a party to
extinguish a fire which every moment threatened to blow up the magazine.
When the captain was mortally wounded Lieutenant Henderson took command,
and with great skill and bravery brought the vessel safely out of
action. In this battle also a number of Ulster officers and men lost
In the mercantile marine many thousands of Ulstermen
were serving in the three or four steamship lines which have their
head-quarters in Belfast, and also in many other ships.
In the two great shipyards, Messrs. Harland & Wolff
and Workman, Clark, & Co., nearly 11 per cent of all the navy
shipbuilding and ship repairing during the war was carried out. Both
firms gained special credit for the rate at which they accomplished all
the work given to them. They never exceeded the contract time, and in
many cases, thanks to the energy and patriotism of the men, it was
accomplished in two-thirds and even half the time allowed by the
Admiralty. Mr. Lloyd George on more than one occasion paid a special
tribute to the wonderful work of Belfast shipyards.
It was in these yards that the famous "Dummy" ships
were constructed. They were fourteen in number, called after famous
vessels actually in the Royal Navy, and when they had served their
purpose in misleading the Germans as to the strength and size of our
fleet, they were converted into cargo and oil carriers, in which
capacity they did most valuable service. One was utilized as a balloon
It is worth mentioning that the workers in the
Belfast shipyards from the beginning of the war agreed to what is known
as "dilution" of labour—that is the introduction, for temporary work, of
men not Trades Unionists.
Having finished with the "Dummy" ships, the Belfast
shipyards turned their attention to the building of "Monitors"—vessels
of light draught—which were of great use off the Belgian coast. The
first of these was turned out in the remarkably short period of four and
a half months. Altogether seven of these vessels were built at Belfast.
From Belfast also came the Glorious, which at the time of her
launch was the fastest and most powerfully - armed naval vessel in
A great amount of engineering work was also done in
Belfast, including the engines for a number of the largest submarines.
Here also the great White Star liners like the Britannic and
Olympic were fitted up for use as hospital ships.
A remarkable feat accomplished by Workman, Clark, &
Co. was the conversion of four cruisers into monitors, by an ingenious
shell placed along the side of the vessels to protect them from torpedo
attacks. By the same firm seven of the famous "Q" or "Hush" boats were
constructed, also the first oil-tank steamer for use in the war, and a
series of small hospital ships, while they also did a great deal of
repairing work. The average output of Workman, Clark, & Co. was almost
one vessel per day during the war, while Harland & Wolff perhaps did
During this period the workmen in Belfast shipyards
held all the world's records for speed in riveting. Messrs. Workman,
Clark, & Co. also made a world's record by finishing a "standard" ship
of 8000 tons in less than four days from the date of its launch.
Other useful work was done by the North of Ireland
Shipbuilding Co. at Londonderry, and by the Larne Shipbuilding Co.;
while two Belfast firms opened a yard at Warrenpoint, County Down, where
the concrete ships for the Admiralty were built.
In the Air Service Ulster played a prominent part.
She contributed a number of the most brilliant young airmen, such as the
two brothers Tyrrell and the brothers Cowan, who were all killed after
distinguished service ; as well as many others whose names appear in the
list of honours. It is also worth mentioning that Flight-Lieutenant
Warneford, who destroyed the first Zeppelin, although born in England,
was by descent an Ulsterman.
It is not an exaggeration to say that without Ulster
there could scarcely have been any Air Service, because from the Ulster
linen factories came 95 per cent of all the linen used for aeroplanes by
Great Britain and her Allies. A specially-woven cloth was necessary,
combining lightness and strength, which could not be produced anywhere
else in the world but in Ulster. At one time the output would have been
sufficient to equip something like one thousand five hundred aeroplanes
per day. Some of the largest and most powerful engines were built at an
aeroplane factory equipped by Messrs. Harland & Wolff, who also
constructed, a few miles from Belfast, a splendid aerodrome for trial
Many other Belfast and Ulster industries were of
great value in the war. The Belfast Ropeworks Co., the largest concern
of its kind in the world, was almost entirely engaged for four years in
turning out cables of all sorts and kinds for the use of the Admiralty
and the mercantile marine. Many other firms were engaged in turning out
tents and all sorts of linen articles required by the Government.
It is not possible to get a complete record of all
the distinctions won by the several Irish divisions and battalions, but
the following is a complete list of the V.C.'s which were won by
Ulstermen in the army during the war:
34419, Sergeant (afterwards Major) David Nelson, L.
Battery, Royal Horse Artillery. For helping to bring the guns into
action under heavy fire at Nery, on 1st September, 1914, and while
severely wounded remaining with them until all the ammunition was
expended, although he had been ordered to retire to cover. He went to
France as an N.C.O., and died of wounds there in April, 1918, having
risen to the rank of major.
1053, Private Robert Morrow, 1st Battalion, Royal
Irish Fusiliers. For most conspicuous bravery near Messines on 12th
April, 1915, when he rescued and carried successively to places of
comparative safety several men who had been buried in the debris of
trenches wrecked by shell-fire. Was killed in action a few months after
winning the cross.
1539, Sergeant-Major Frederick William Hall, 8th
Canadian Battalion. On 24th April, 1915, in the neighbourhood of Ypres,
when a wounded man, who was lying some fifteen yards from the trench,
called for help, endeavoured to reach him in the face of a very heavy
enfilade fire which was being poured in by the enemy. Sergeant-Major
Hall then made a second most gallant attempt, and was in the act of
lifting up the wounded man to bring him in when he fell mortally wounded
in the head.
10512, Sergeant James Somers, 1st Battalion, Royal
Inniskilling Fusiliers (29th Division). For most conspicuous bravery on
the night of July 1-2, 1915, in the southern
zone of the Gallipolli Peninsula, when, owing to hostile bombing, some
of our troops had retired from a sap, Sergeant Somers remained alone on
the spot until a party brought up bombs. He then climbed over into the
Turkish trench and bombed the Turks with great effect. Later on he
advanced into the open under heavy fire, and held back the enemy by
throwing bombs into their flank until a barricade had been established.
During this period he frequently ran to and from our trenches to obtain
fresh supplies of bombs. By his gallantry and coolness Sergeant Somers
was largely instrumental in effecting the recapture of a portion of our
trench which had been lost. Sergeant Somers was subsequently invalided
out of the army and died in 1918. Captain (afterwards
Lieutenant-Colonel) John A. Sinton, Indian Medical Service. For most
conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty at Orah Ruins, Mesopotamia, on
the 21st January, 1916. Although shot through both arms and through the
side he refused to go to hospital, and remained as long as daylight
lasted attending to his duties under very heavy fire. In three previous
actions Captain Sinton displayed the utmost bravery.
Lieutenant Geoffrey St. George Shilling-ton Gather,
9th Royal Irish Fusiliers (Ulster Division). For most conspicuous
bravery near Hamel, France, on 1st July, 1916. From 7 p.m. till midnight
he searched "No Man's Land", and brought in three wounded men. Next
morning, at 8 a.m., he continued his search, brought in another wounded
man, and gave water to others, arranging for their rescue later. Finally
at 10.30 a.m. he took out water to another man, and was proceeding
farther on when he was himself killed. All this was carried out in full
view of the enemy, and under direct machine-gun fire and intermittent
artillery fire. He set a splendid example of courage and self-sacrifice.
14/18278, Private William Frederick M'Fadzean, 14th
Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles (Ulster Division). For most conspicuous
bravery near Thiepval Wood on 1st July, 1916. While in a concentration
trench, and opening a box of bombs for distribution prior to an attack,
the box slipped down into the trench, which was crowded with men, and
two of the safety pins fell out. Private M'Fadzean, instantly realizing
the danger to his comrades, with heroic courage threw himself on the top
of the bombs. The bombs exploded, blowing him to pieces, but only one
other man was injured. He well knew his danger, being himself a bomber,
but without a moment's hesitation he gave his life for his comrades.
12/18645, Private (afterwards Sergeant) Robert Quigg,
12th Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles (Ulster Division). For most
conspicuous bravery, near Hamel, France, on 1st July, 1916. He advanced
to the assault with his platoon three times. Early next morning, hearing
a rumour that his platoon officer was lying out wounded, he went out
seven times to look for him under heavy shell and machine-gun fire, each
time bringing back a wounded man. The last time he dragged one in on a
waterproof sheet from within a few yards of the enemy's wire. He was
seven hours engaged in this most gallant work, and finally was so
exhausted that he had to give it up.
Captain Eric Norman Frankland Bell, 9th Battalion,
Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers (Ulster Division). For most conspicuous
bravery at Thiepval, on 1st July, 1916. He was in command of a
trench-mortar battery, and advanced with the infantry to the attack.
When our front line was hung up by enfilading machine-gun fire, Captain
Bell crept forward and shot the machine-gunner. Later on, upon no less
than three occasions, when our bombing parties, which were clearing the
enemy's trenches, were unable to advance, he went forward alone and
threw trench-mortar bombs among the enemy. When he had no more bombs
available he stood on the parapet, under intense fire, and used a rifle
with great coolness and effect on the enemy advancing to counter-attack.
Finally he was killed rallying and reorganizing infantry parties which
had lost their officers. All this was outside the scope of his normal
duties with his battery. He gave his life in his supreme devotion to
3/5027, Private Thomas Hughes, 6th Battalion
Connaught Rangers (16th Division). For most conspicuous bravery and
determination at Guillemont, France, on 3rd September, 1916. He was
wounded in an attack, but returned at once to the firing-line after
having his wounds dressed. Later, seeing a hostile machine-gun, he
dashed out in front of his company, shot the gunner, and, single-handed,
captured the gun. Though again wounded he brought back three or four
Second-Lieutenant John Spencer Dunville, 1st Royal
Dragoons. For most conspicuous bravery near Epehy, France, on 24th and
25th June, 1917. When in charge of a party consisting of scouts and
Royal Engineers engaged in the demolition of the enemy's wire, this
officer displayed great gallantry and disregard of all personal danger.
In order to ensure the absolute success of the work envtrusted to him,
Second-Lieutenant Dunville placed himself between an N.C.O. of the Royal
Engineers and the enemy's fire, and, thus protected, this N.C.O. was
enabled to complete a work of great importance. Second-Lieutenant
Dunville, although severely wounded, continued to direct his men in the
wire cutting and general operations until the raid was successfully
completed, thereby setting a magnificent example of courage,
determination, and devotion to duty to all ranks under his command. The
gallant officer has since succumbed to his wounds.
Second-Lieutenant James Samuel Emerson, 9th Royal
Inniskilling Fusiliers (Ulster Division). For repeated acts of most
conspicuous bravery north of La Vacquerie on 6th December, 1917. He led
the company in an attack and cleared four hundred yards of trench,
though wounded; when the enemy attacked in superior numbers, he sprang
out of the trench with eight men and met the attack in the open, killing
many and taking six prisoners. For three hours after this, all other
officers having become casualties, he remained with his company,
refusing to go to the dressing-station, and repeatedly repelled bombing
attacks. Later, when the enemy again attacked in superior numbers, he
led his men to repel the attack, and was mortally wounded. His heroism,
when worn out and exhausted from loss of blood, inspired his men to hold
out, though almost surrounded, till reinforcements arrived and dislodged
681886, Sergeant Cyril Edward Gourley, M.M., Royal
Field Artillery. For most conspicuous bravery when in command of a
section of howitzers, at Little Priel Farm, east of Epehy, France, on
30th November, 1917. Though the enemy advanced in force, getting within
four hundred yards in front, between three hundred to four hundred yards
to one flank, and with snipers in rear, Sergeant Gourley managed to keep
one gun in action practically throughout the day. Though frequently
driven off he always returned, carrying ammunition, laying and firing
the gun himself, taking first one and then another of the detachment to
assist him. When the enemy advanced he pulled his gun out of the pit and
engaged a machine-gun at five hundred yards, knocking it out with a
direct hit. All day he held the enemy in check, firing with open sights
on enemy parties in full view at three hundred to eight hundred yards,
and thereby saved his guns, which were withdrawn at nightfall. He had
previously been awarded the Military Medal for conspicuous gallantry.
75361, Company Sergeant-Major (now Lieutenant) Robert
Hanna, Canadian Infantry. For most conspicuous bravery at Lens, France,
on 21st September, 1917, when his company met with most severe enemy
resistance and all the company officers became casualties. A strong
point, heavily protected by wire and held by a machine-gun, had beaten
off three assaults of the company with heavy casualties. This warrant
officer, under heavy machine-gun and rifle fire, coolly collected a
party of men, and, leading them against the strong point, rushed through
the wire and personally bayoneted three of the enemy and brained the
fourth, capturing the position and silencing the machine-gun. This most
courageous action displayed courage and personal bravery of the highest
order at this most critical moment of the attack, and was responsible
for the capture of a most important tactical point, and but for his
daring action and determined handling of a desperate situation the
attack would not have succeeded. Company Sergeant-Major Hanna's
outstanding gallantry, personal courage, and determined leading of his
company is deserving of the highest possible reward.
6/17978, Private James Duffy, 6th Battalion, Royal
Inniskilling Fusiliers (10th Division). For most conspicuous bravery at
Lerlina Peak, Palestine, on 27th December, 1917, displayed whilst his
company was holding a very exposed position. Private Duffy (a
stretcher-bearer) and another stretcher-bearer went out to bring in a
seriously-wounded comrade; when the other stretcher-bearer was wounded
he returned to get another man; when again going forward the relief
stretcher-bearer was killed. Private Duffy then went forward alone, and,
under heavy fire, succeeded in getting both wounded men under cover and
attended to their injuries. His gallantry undoubtedly saved both men's
lives, and he showed throughout an utter disregard of danger under very
Second-Lieutenant Edmund De Wind, 15th Battalion,
Royal Irish Rifles (Ulster Division). For most conspicuous bravery and
self-sacrifice on 21st March, 1918, at the Racecourse Redoubt, near
Groagie. For seven hours he held this important post, and though twice
wounded and practically single-handed he maintained his position until
another section could be got to his help. On two occasions, with two
N.C.O.'s only, he got out on top under heavy machine-gun and rifle fire
and cleared the enemy out of the trench, killing many. He continued to
repel attack after attack until he was mortally wounded and collapsed.
His valour, self-sacrifice, and example were of the highest order.
Lieutenant - Colonel Richard Annesley West, D.S.O.,
M.C., North Irish Horse, attached Tank Corps. For most conspicuous
bravery, leadership, and self-sacrifice at Courcelles and Vaulx,
Vraacourt, France, on 21st August, 1918. During an attack, the infantry
having lost their bearings in the dense fog, this officer at once
collected and reorganized any men he could find, and led them to their
objective in face of a heavy machine-gun fire. Throughout the whole
action he displayed the most utter disregard of danger, and the capture
of the objective was in a great part due to his initiative and
gallantry. On a subsequent occasion it was intended that a battalion of
light tanks under the command of this officer should exploit the initial
infantry and heavy tank attack. He therefore went forward in order to
keep in touch with the progress of the battle, and arrived at the front
line when the enemy were in process of delivering a local
counter-attack. The infantry battalion had suffered heavy officer
casualties, and its flanks were exposed. Realizing that there was a
danger of the battalion giving way, he at once rode out in front of them
under extremely heavy machine-gun and rifle fire, and rallied the men.
In spite of the fact that the enemy were close upon him he took charge
of the situation and detailed non-commissioned officers to replace
officer casualties. He then rode up and down in front of them in face of
certain death, encouraging the men and calling to them, "Stick it, men;
show them fight; and for God's sake put up a good fight". He fell
riddled by machine-gun bullets. The magnificent bravery of this very
gallant officer at the critical moment inspired the infantry to
redoubled efforts, and the hostile attack was defeated.
While doing their share in the actual fighting and
other forms of war work, the people of Ulster were not behind in their
support of war charities.
The first large fund raised during the war was the
Prince of Wales Fund, to which over £50,000 was subscribed in Ulster.
Then came the Red Cross Fund, to which, during the war, Ulster
subscribed £150,000 — considerably more than was raised in the other
three Irish provinces combined. Large sums were also raised for the
Belgian and Serbian Relief Funds; for Lady Jellicoe's appeal on behalf
of the Sailors' Funds; for the French War Charities, and for other minor
At the three Belfast railway stations and at the
Belfast Docks, buffets were established during the war at which over two
million men received free meals. The docks buffet was opened every day
in the year from five o'clock in the morning till eight o'clock at
night. A devoted band of ladies took their turn, even in the most severe
weather, to be present and receive the men arriving off the various
cross-channel steamers. Motor cars were also provided so that the men
with only a few minutes to spare were able to catch trains for distant
parts of the country, in many cases allowing them a whole day longer at
home out of their brief leave. Upwards of £5000 was subscribed for these
buffets in addition to very large contributions of food supplies.
In the city of Derry nearly 200,000 men were
similarly entertained, including over 5000 men from 96 torpedoed ships,
who were all given free board and lodging until they could be sent home.
In many cases they were equipped with a complete outfit of clothing,
having lost their own.
Three great enterprises, however, stood out above the
others in Ulster. There was first, the Ulster Volunteer Force Patriotic
Fund, amounting to over £100,000, which was established during the
second year of the war. It was realized by some of the leading business
men connected with the Ulster Volunteers that a large number of
demobilized soldiers might find it difficult to take up their former
work after the war on account of wounds or sickness, and as the pension
allowed by the Government would not be equal to their former wages, in
many cases they would have difficulty in supporting their wives and
children. Accordingly, it was decided that a fund should be provided
under the auspices of the Ulster Volunteer Force Head-quarters to assist
all Ulster soldiers who might be in need after the war. An official
committee was formed, including many of the foremost business and
professional men in the province, who undertook the collection and
management of the fund, which in about a year had exceeded £100,000.
This sum was lodged in the bank in the names of several trustees to
await the end of the war. Since the Armistice, committees have been
formed in each county to undertake the distribution of the fund, which
will be used to supplement the Government pension. Men unable to take up
their former work will be assisted to learn suitable trades; grants will
be given to educate their families, to pay apprenticeship fees, and to
help them in other ways as the committees may think fit. It is clear
that the fund will prove of the greatest possible value and assistance
to hundreds of demobilized men.
Another remarkable enterprise was the Ulster Prisoner
of War and Comforts Fund, which was established in the first autumn of
the war. From that time until the end of 1918 a sum of at least £150,000
was spent in sending regular fortnightly parcels to every Ulster
prisoner of war. A suite of rooms was granted to the committee in the
old Town Hall, the head-quarters of the Ulster Volunteer Force, and a
large number of ladies voluntarily undertook the work of packing and
dispatching the parcels, with the advice of competent business men.
Contracts were entered into for supplies of all the necessary articles,
and many of the large manufacturing houses gave the materials at cost
price, and some at even less.
As the number of prisoners increased, the work, of
course, became more and more strenuous, and in the summer of 1918, after
the last great German attack when many Ulstermen were captured, the
staff of voluntary workers had risen to almost two hundred, and the work
went on steadily until at least ten o'clock every night. Anyone who
visited the rooms of the committee might easily have imagined that he
was in the packing and dispatching department of a huge grocery and
provision establishment, as the work was conducted on exactly the same
lines, everything being checked and entered with the greatest care and
correctness. The work was hard and monotonous, but the workers felt
amply rewarded by the letters of thanks and by the visits which they
often received from repatriated prisoners, who one and all assured them
that the receipt of these parcels was the only thing which kept them
The third great Ulster war charity was the
organization of the Ulster Volunteer Force Hospitals. In the autumn of
1914, when the list of casualties became so great, the heads of the
Ulster Volunteers decided that something should be done to provide
accommodation for the large number of wounded in the various Ulster
battalions. Accordingly, an offer was made to the War Office that the
Ulster Volunteers would equip, and maintain as long as necessary, a
hospital of one hundred beds, preferably for Ulster soldiers, but also
for any men the War Office chose to send. The offer was accepted, and
within a remarkably short space of time a large building, the property
of the Corporation, was acquired. The Corporation allowed its use free
of rent, only stipulating for its return when no longer needed. The
situation was an ideal one, as the building was bounded on one side by a
public park, and on the other by the grounds of Belfast University.
The hospital proved a great success, and before long
the War Office asked if the accommodation could be increased, and,
confident in the support of the Ulster people, the committee at once
The university authorities granted a considerable
strip of ground beside their own buildings, on which additional wards
were erected. As time went on, still further requests were made for an
extension, until finally the buildings had spread over a large area and
were able to accommodate nearly six hundred patients.
From all quarters came most valuable assistance. A
house was granted free as a residence for the matron and nursing staff
by Mr. (afterwards the Right Hon.) J. C. White, Lord Mayor of Belfast.
The students of the university gave up their fine union club as a
recreation and reading room for the men; the theological students of the
Presbyterian College close at hand also voluntarily evacuated their fine
range of residential chambers to be converted into a home for the
V.A.D.'s and nurses.
The Corporation assisted the hospital by every means
in its power, allowing the necessary structural alterations to be made
in the buildings, and the university senate also gave up some of the
class-rooms. Still the work increased, and, thanks to the support of the
Ulster people, funds were never wanting. Two houses were afterwards
taken as a separate convalescent home for officers. Then two large
mansion houses were acquired in County Down, to be used as convalescent
homes to which men could be sent to complete their cure in the fresher
air of the country. Motor ambulances were provided for transporting the
patients to and from the different hospitals. Then followed a special
orthopaedic branch in which limbless men were carefully treated and
equipped with artificial limbs. Next came a splendidly equipped
department for massage and electric treatment. Through the generosity of
Colonel Sir James Craig, M.P., his beautiful residence, "Craigavon", in
a suburb of Belfast, was handed over to the hospital committee as a
convalescent home for men suffering from shell-shock, the treatment of
whom in the other hospitals was not advisable. This was the first home
for shell-shock cases established in the United Kingdom outside London.
Up to the end of the war, in all these different
branches, the Ulster Volunteer Force Hospital Committee was able to
treat several thousands of patients. They were not confined to
Ulstermen. Wounded soldiers were sent from all parts of the Kingdom, and
were unanimous in declaring that there was no hospital superior to the
one organized by the Ulster Volunteer Force in Belfast.
Up to the end of 1918, about eight thousand men had
passed through the different departments of the hospital, and while some
of the branches had been given up as the number of patients grew less,
the limbless, orthopædic, and massage
departments were still in full operation at the end of 1919, as well as
the Craigavon neurasthenic hospital. Practically all the leading
physicians and surgeons in Belfast gave their services free to the
hospital, each taking it in turn to visit the wards, prescribe for the
patients, and perform all necessary operations.
Not only was upwards of £100,000 subscribed to the
hospital, but also other assistance was given in many ways. The
master-butchers of Belfast undertook to supply weekly a large quantity
of meat free to the hospital. The master-bakers and their men made an
arrangement whereby the masters supplied the materials while the men
gave an hour or two overtime several days a week, and so supplied nearly
all the bread free to the hospital, using for this purpose, by
permission of the Corporation, the admirable model bakery attached to
the Belfast Technical Institute. Many of the leading business houses
also undertook to send weekly or monthly contributions of food, clothes,
and such like, while fruit, flowers, and vegetables were regularly
supplied from all over the country. Some of the heads of the Army
Medical Service inspected the hospital at various times, and without
exception stated that in its perfect organization, efficiency, and
success it had no superior.
This was not the only hospital in Belfast. The
committees of the Royal Victoria Hospital and the Mater Hospital both
set apart wings for the reception of wounded soldiers. Another hospital
was established in what formerly had been an asylum from which the
patients had not long been removed to another building, and this was
devoted to men suffering from mental breakdown and other nervous
troubles. The Red Cross and St. John's Associations established and
maintained for a considerable time a convalescent hospital in a suburb
of Belfast for men who were not yet reported fit for duty, although not
requiring regular medical or surgical treatment. Here also a large
mansion house belonging to a prominent Belfast family was lent to the
committee for so long as it should be required, and a very considerable
number of patients were treated.
The end of the war and the new era of peace thus find
the people of Ulster, while sorrowing over their many bereavements, yet
proud of their record in imperial service, and fully determined to
maintain that high position which they have won amongst the loyal
subjects of the King, and as citizens of the Empire to which they are so