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Royal Irish, The - Actions in WWI (World War 1, First Great European War) to 1915

Updated on February 5, 2015

Royal Irish Undaunted By The Loss Of Their Leader

On October 14th, 1914, General Hubert Hamilton (53), commander of the British 3rd Division, was killed by artillery fire whilst surveying the front line.

He was the first British divisional commander to be killed in action during the Great War.

In spite of this, in the days that followed, the three brigades of the 3rd Division, which included the Royal Irish, fought their way gradually towards Lille.

They progressed well, and by October 19th, had traversed the main road running from Estaires to La Bassée; along their way they had found strong German defences.

Estaires to La Bassée Road

show route and directions
A markerEstaires -
Estaires, France
get directions

B markerLa Bassée -
La Bassée, France
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"... We went on to meet the old 18th Royal Irish Regiment, the senior of all the Irish regiments. The night before, the Commander- in-Chief, Sir John French, had asked me to convey a message of congratulation to this regiment for their gallantry in the field, and to assure them how proud he was to be their colonel." - Mr. John Redmond.

Battle of the Mons

Second-Lieutenant J. Dennis Shine
Second-Lieutenant J. Dennis Shine | Source

Hard Luck For The Irish At Le Pilly

Le Pilly was one of the little villages defended by the Germans.

It hindered the advance of the 8th Brigade, and General Doran ordered the 2nd Royal Irish Battalion, to storm it.

They had been fighting hard for some time.

They were not at full strength, a major being in command, but they were 'chomping at the bit' to get the job done.

Once a plan of attack had been arranged, the men silently took their places around the village, company by company and platoon by platoon, and eventually found themselves quite close to it by a series of short rushes.

Then, with a shout, they were in the village.

It didn't take them long to take it, and in a few minutes all the occupying Germans there had either been killed or made to retreat rapidly.

They dug trenches round it, put their machine-guns into positions, and made themselves as comfortable as they could for the night.

So, Le Pilly became an Irish village, but for a short time only.

One Germans tactic was to mount a sharp counter-attack, for these often found their opponents in a weakened condition, and sometimes surprised them.

On this occasion, unfortunately, they had just taken Lille, and masses of fresh troops were pouring into that city.

Some of these were ordered to retake Le Pilly.

The German troops marched out early in the morning of October 20th, and completely surrounded the captured village.

The Royal Irish fought bravely, but they were cut off from any assistance, and during that day they were forced to surrender.

Lieutenant J. S. Luckett
Lieutenant J. S. Luckett | Source

A Gallant Irish Quartermaster-Sergeant

The 2nd Royal Irish Battalion had been at the front with the British Expeditionary Force from the very beginning of the conflict.

At the Battle of Mons they helped to line the canal which runs from that town through the colliery villages to Condé, and until nightfall they fired steadily at the oncoming Germans.

They marched back about five miles, in the dark, at which time the following incident occurred .

This was a summer night, the men marching away from Mons, with hordes of Germans close behind.

Artillery shells were bursting all around them, and the sky was lit up from the glare of burning buildings.

Just outside Mons, Quartermaster-Sergeant Thomas William Fitzpatrick realised the closeness of the German troops to his men.

At some crossroads some fifty of his men gathered together and were told by him that they must hold back the enemy.

They took up their positions, and, under his direction, they began to fire upon the German pursuers.

By their excellent marksmanship they managed to prevent the Germans from advancing for sufficient time for their comrades to retreat in relative safety.

They were assisted by recommissioning a machine-gun which had been abandoned by some of the British troops.

Fitzpatrick retrieved it, and with another man repaired it so that it could be fired once again.

After a night's march the Royal Irish reached a position between Framenes and Quarouble.

They found they were no longer amid the grime and dirt of colliery refuse, but in fields of ripening corn.

Here they fought for a while, and then they were off again on another tiring march.

Arriving near Le Cateau, they were ready to fight in the battle of August 26th.

A day of hard fighting there was followed by another retreat, but by then the worst was over.

On the Thursday and Friday of that terrible week less was seen of the Germans, who were much too weary to push on as quickly as they had previously done, and on the Saturday Sir John French was able to give his men a day's rest.

Battle Of Le Cateau

Captain G. A. O'Callaghan,
Captain G. A. O'Callaghan, | Source

The Irish at Vailly

After the Marne, the Aisne.

The Royal Irish and the rest of the 8th Brigade crossed the Aisne at Vailly.

This was a not the easiest of tasks, and as it turned out was, in fact, a very daring piece of work.

For their part in the proceedings, two privates of the Royal Irish, J. Doherty and N. Fernie, won the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM).

It was raining hard that night.

The men stood to arms at three o'clock in the morning.

They managed to get down to the river-bank without serious loss.

So, as soon as the Engineers had built a pontoon bridge, they dashed across to the other bank, and made what use of the little shelter provided there that they could.

They dug trenches quickly to give them some further protection from the German shells, which were exploding all around them.

The German guns were at the top of the bank, so the next spell of fighting was an attempt to make their way up the hill to engage them.

The first attempt was repulsed and the Royal Irish and their comrades were driven back to Vailly.

On the second attempt they were more fortunate, managing to get themselves firmly entrenched on some higher ground.

There they remained until the whole of the British army was transferred to Flanders.

Then came Le Pilly.

Battle Of The Marne

Second-Lieutenant F. M. Wookey
Second-Lieutenant F. M. Wookey | Source

The 1st Battalion Royal Irish

While the 2nd Battalion was being re-formed by drafts from home, the 1st Battalion arrived from India.

In February, 1915, they saw a little fighting at the front.

These Irishmen were in the new 27th Division, and were in trenches near St. Eloi, where, on the night of St. Valentine's Day, 14th February, 1915, the Germans came calling unexpectedly, when they rushed some portions of their trenches.

The Germans only managed to keep these trenches for a few hours, for the next morning they were turned out from them.

Men of the Royal Irish won five Distinguished Conduct Medals in this fighting, all for heroism in rescuing the wounded.

This was just a trial run for the battle in which the Irish took part in March.

After allied troops had gained a certain amount of ground around Neuve Chapelle on the 10th, the Germans made ready for their usual counter-attack.

This counter-attack was perpetrated on the 14th, and was fiercest, not at Neuve Chapelle, but at St. Eloi, about fifteen miles away to the north.

There, as exactly a month before, the 1st Royal Irish and the remainder of the 27th Division were holding the trenches, and as before, they were driven from them by the unexpected rush of men.

Men of the Royal Irish resting in the long grass behind a rampart In France. Rifles are piled, and the mental tension of war is relaxed. But even through the broad smiles of these loyal men from Ireland one can detect the determination to win.
Men of the Royal Irish resting in the long grass behind a rampart In France. Rifles are piled, and the mental tension of war is relaxed. But even through the broad smiles of these loyal men from Ireland one can detect the determination to win. | Source

The Turn Of The Irish

In this game of "... pull devil, pull baker," it was now the turn of the baker.

On March 15th, at two o'clock on the morning, all the necessary preparations for a British attack had been made.

The Royal Irish and the three other battalions of the 82nd Brigade were standing ready.

On command they leapt into action, and drove the Germans from the village of St. Eloi before the day was very old, and had retaken some of the lost trenches.

The Irish had lost two of their officers in that assault; Lieutenant-Colonel G. F. R. Forbes, who led them, died of his wounds a few days later, and Major F. S. Lillie was among those killed in action.

Some fighting expressions of the Royal Irish. Many of the men are wearing enemy helmets captured just prior to this photograph being taken. But no number of Pickelhauben could possibly make a British soldier look like a German.
Some fighting expressions of the Royal Irish. Many of the men are wearing enemy helmets captured just prior to this photograph being taken. But no number of Pickelhauben could possibly make a British soldier look like a German. | Source
Lieutenant E. D. Price
Lieutenant E. D. Price | Source

A Little Of Royal Irish History

This famous regiment, the Royal Irish, long known as the 18th of the Line, was raised in the time of Charles II., and after serving in Ireland, went to the Netherlands to fight for William of Orange.

There the Irishmen won for themselves immortal glory for their part in the assault on Namur, August 20th, 1695.

In memory of its gallantry then the regiment now bears on its colours the lion of Nassau, the emblem of William of Orange.

Under Marlborough the Irish fought at Blenheim and in the duke's other great victories.

Their bravery at the Siege of Venloo carried them right into the fortress, where the garrison quickly surrendered, and they also did good work at the Siege of Tournai.

On their deeds at Malplaquet Irishmen can look back with pride and yet with sorrow.

There the Royal Irish found themselves opposite the Royal Irlandais, a regiment of gallant exiles who had taken service under the King of France, and in the fighting the superior discipline of Marlborough's men prevailed.

For many years after the peace of 1714 the Royal Irish did only garrison duty.

They were in Minorca from 1718 to1742, and from then until 1800 were in Ireland, Corsica, and the West Indies.

In 1801 they were in Egypt, and from 1805 to 1817 in Jamaica.

After some more years of inactivity the regiment fought in China in 1840, then in Burma, and in 1854-55 in the Crimea, where the men shared in the assault on the Redan.

They had met the Maoris of New Zealand in battle before they were sent to Afghanistan in 1879, and to Egypt in 1882.

At Tel-el-Kebir, according to Lord Wolseley, the regiment "... particularly distinguished itself." Before the Great War it served in Rhodesia, on the Indian Frontier, and in South Africa.

Then it found itself again in Flanders.

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