Martyrs Memorial L.O.L.No. 213 Oxford

The Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry in Northern Ireland 1919 - 1921

Information taken from 'The Bugle and Sabre' edited by Stanley Jenkins

Background

Ireland was a major recruiting ground for the British army - so much so that, at various times the regular army was composed largely of Irishmen. In the early 19th century, for example, the 43rd and the 52nd Light Infantry seems to have been at least fifty per cent Irish, and many of the regiment's most famous figures  were Irishmen, or of Irish decent. Bugler Robert Hawthorne, for example, who won the VC at Delhi during the Indian Mutiny, was born at Maghera in County Londonderry.

Ireland had been linked to the English crown since 1171, when Henry II, armed with a Papal Bull from Pope Adrian IV, entered Dublin to receive homage from his vassal Richard de Clare, who had married the King of Leinster's daughter and thereby inherited the throne of Leinster. Thereafter, Ireland was seen as an integral part of the Kingdom of England, although wars or rebellions erupted at various times, notably during the reign of Elizabeth I, when Hugh O'Neil, the Earl of Tyrone attempted to wield the fractious Gaelic tribes into a modern army which could face the English on equal terms; in the 1590's, his men were said to be wearing red coats and morian helmets, 'like English soldiers'.

In the following century a widespread rebellion in Ireland precipitated the English Civil War which, in turn, led to Oliver Cromwell's punitive Irish campaign of 1649 - 1650. Religious differences had, by that time, poisoned relations between England and Ireland - the English having become enthusiastic Protestants whereas most of the Irish had remained Roman Catholics. Henceforth, religious strife would be an inevitable concomitant of Ireland's political troubles.

In 1689 the deposed King James II brought further trouble to Ireland when he invaded the island with French assistance and proceeded to make Catholicism the official religion. Over 2000 Protestants were condemned to death as 'traitors' and this made civil war inevitable. In 1690 James and his French Allies were utterly defeated at the Battle of the Boyne by King William.

A further rebellion in 1798 ended in sectarian strife as the Irish Yeomanry and a small force of regulars subdued the rebels at the Battle of Vinegar Hill.

In 1801, on the 1st January, the Act of Union between England and Ireland came into force. Catholic emancipation followed in 1829.

In general Protestants in Ireland considered themselves to be British citizens who lived in an integral part of the United Kingdom, whereas the Catholics favoured what what became known as 'Home Rule' - ie. the repeal of the Union and the establishment of a devolved government in Dublin.

By the end of the 19th century the Irish Nationalists, led by Charles Stuart Parnell, a Protestant landowner, held the balance of power in Parliament. This led to the 'Irish Question' dominating the workings of Parliament. Ireland had become a major party political issue due to the fact that the Liberals favoured Home Rule while the Tories were unswerving supporters of the Union. Having made unsuccessful attempts to introduce Home Rule Bills in 1886 and 1892, it appeared that, in 1912, the Liberals would finally be able to impose this deeply divisive measure. However the Irish Protestants declared that Home Rule would be 'disastrous to the well being of Ireland', subversive 'to civil and religious freedom and perilous to the unity of the empire'. They vowed to defend their 'cherished position of equal citizenship within the United Kingdom'. Many thousands of Protestants flocked to sign the Ulster Covenant in Ireland, England and Scotland - some even signed in their own blood, and the Ulster Volunteer Force was raised with over 100,000 men - weapons were obtained and military training took place. They swore to use 'all means which may be found necessary' to oppose the Home Rule Bill.

Faced with this thinly veiled threat of violence, Herbert Asquith, the Liberal Prime Minister, prevaricated - his discomfiture being magnified by the 'Curragh Mutiny', when the commander of the Third Calvary Brigade and fifty-seven of his officers announced that they would resign their commissions rather than take offensive action against Ulster. A largely Catholic force called the Irish Volunteers was meanwhile formed to oppose the Ulster Volunteers. It appeared that civil war was about to commence in Ireland but the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914 ensured that the Irish Question was temporarily subsumed by an immeasurably greater conflict. Ulster Volunteers enlisted in their thousands to defend the United Kingdom - they were readily accepted by the armed services because they were already trained fighting men and as such were ready to go to war immediately.

Although the war ended on 11th November 1918, there was little peace in Ireland. In Easter 1916 extreme Irish Nationalists staged an uprising in Dublin. This open rebellion, in time of war, was inevitably followed by a series of executions of the some of the terrorists involved. The survivors of the Easter uprising were imprisoned for the duration of the war with Germany. On their release after the war these so called Sinn Feiners created an illegal undercover organisation known as the Irish Republican Army to continue the so called war with England.

War as practiced by the IRA consisted mostly of ambushes, shoot-outs and random murders. Members of the Royal Irish Constabulary were among their first victims e.g. Constable James O'Donnell and Constable Patrick O'Connell were both murdered by IRA gunmen on 21st January 1919 whilst escorting some gelignite to a quarry at Soloheadbeg in County Tipperary, the gelignite and both officers weapons were taken by the gunmen. On 30th March 1919, retired District Inspector John Milling was murdered in his home. The Constabulary were now fair game for the IRA terrorists.

Due to the activities of the IRA, the government reinforced the Royal Irish Constabulary with former soldiers from the British Army, who came to be known as 'The Black and Tans' because of their uniforms i.e. a mixture of army khaki and RIC dark green. The Black and Tans were used as a striking force to hunt down the IRA terrorists and they were the governments principle weapon in the campaign against the IRA terrorists.

The Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry was in Ireland in considerable strength by 1919, the 3rd Battalion, at that time consisting of some 300 men, having left England for Victoria Barracks in Cork, on 1st March 1919. New recruits continued to arrive and the Battalion strength increased to 1,000 men. The 3rd Battalion was absorbed by the 2nd Battalion on 1st August 1919. By the beginning of 1920 the Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry was present in considerable strength in Munster - the 1st Battalion in Limerick and the 2nd Battalion stationed in Cork.

The first few months were reasonably quiet for the 2nd Battalion although some 60 men of the regiment were called out to assist after a major fire broke out at Douglas Mills near Cork. The owners of the premises sent 20 to the regiment in recognition of the help received during the fire. This sum was divided amongst the 60 men and worked out to 6s 8d for each of them.

Following the shooting of two policemen at Berrings on 28th September 1919, the 2nd Battalion carried out it's first aggressive patrol supporting the RIC. It was reported in the regimental Chronicle that three officers and twenty other ranks paraded at 1645 hrs and proceeded in four lorries to King Street and Union Quay RIC Barracks where they picked up 20 armed policemen. they then travelled westwards to Ballincollig RIC Barracks where they picked up four more policemen but by the time they reached Berrings it was too dark to carry out any searches and they all returned to Cork.

At the beginning of 1920, the 1st and 2nd battalions were still at Limerick and Cork, although detachments were sent out to outlying towns and villages. Life among the battalions settled down to a routine of patrols, searches and escort duties. Patrols were carried out on foot, by bicycle or by lorries. Lorries used were mostly Crossley tenders which had outward facing seats and a crew of 6 other ranks and 1 officer. Convoys usually contained three vehicles with a gap of 200 yards between them. The officer in charge travelled in the rearmost lorry and the leading truck was equipped with a Very pistol to warn of any ambush.

The Oola Ambush

Brigadier General Lucas was captured by IRA rebels on 26th June 1920, while on a fishing holiday near Fermoy. The General did however manage to escape by removing the bars on his window and climbing out. He made his way to Pallas Green RIC Barracks where it was decided that he should be taken to Pallas from where he could obtain a lift from Limerick to Limerick Junction on the military mail motor. On 30th July the General boarded a Crossley tender of the 43rd Light Infantry. During the journey at a point about half a mile on the Tipperary side of Oola and about 4 miles north-west of Limerick Junction the lorry was forced to stop at a barricade across the road. As the vehicle came to a stop a volley was fired by a group of about fifty men who had been hiding there. The soldiers immediately returned fire and, during the fighting, which continued for some thirty minutes, two of the soldiers were shot dead and three wounded. Whilst the fight was in progress  a second Crossley arrived along with six armed policemen from Oola. The IRA group then retreated and the military party continued on to Tipperary. At first it was thought that the ambush was made to recapture the General, but according to contemporary press reports there were strong rumours in Tipperary that the ambushers were unaware that General Lucas was aboard the lorry and that they were after the military mails that were on the vehicle. The regimental Chronicle reported that the two men killed were Lance-Corporal G.B.Parker - 20 years old, and Private Daniel Verey Bayliss - 18 years old, of the 1st Battalion. The injured soldiers were privates Snelling, Steer and Cornwall. Private Bayliss was buried in Rose Hill Cemetery, Oxford and Lance-Corporal Parker was buried in High Wycombe Cemetery.

Cratloe

By July 1st 1920 the 2nd Battalion had moved to Lichfield, being replaced in Cork by the 2nd South Staffordshire Regiment. The Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry were involved in an incident at Cratloe, County Clare on the 18th November, when an aeroplane made a forced landing close to Punches Quarry. The Regiment was tasked with guarding the machine during the night and a platoon from 'C' Company of the 1st Battalion, commanded by 2nd Lieutenant M H Last was sent to the site. Apparently once the platoon reached Cratloe, they set up camp near the aircraft and then built a large fire unaware that a gang of IRA men were going to raid the site to try to capture the aircraft's machine gun. The group, led by Joe Clancy of the East Clare Brigade, opened fire on the soldiers at approximately 17.30 hours, killing one soldier (Private Alfred Spackman) and severely wounding another (Private Maurice Robins). Private Robins died of his wounds in Fermoy Hospital on 2nd March 1921 aged 17yrs. After driving off the attackers, a round up of known republicans in the area was carried out by 'C' Company.

Kilmichael

One of the most notorious incidents in the rebellion occurred at Kilmichael, near Macroom, on the evening of 28th November 1920 when eighteen members of the RIC Auxilliary Division, travelling in two lorries, were stopped by a man in what appeared to be a British army uniform, who told them that his vehicle had broken down. On going to assist, the patrol drove straight into an ambush, a gang of the 3rd Cork brigade of the ira having been deployed on both sides of the road. Many of the Auxilliaries were killed in the first volley, the wounded being callously murdered while they lay on the ground. The Times reported that the bodies had nearly all six bullet wounds, and had 'suffered terrible mutilation', as though they had 'been attacked with hatchets'. One man, Cecil Guthrie, an ex-RAF Officer from Buckfastleigh in Devon, managed to escape but was captured by the attacking ira terrorists and shot, his body being thrown into a bog. H. F. Ford who was also ex-RAF was found alive at the scene of the ambush, although shot in the head and sadly brain damaged.

The bodies of the murdered Auxiliaries were subsequently conveyed to Fishguard aboard the destroyer HMS Undine, prior to which they had passed through the streets of Cork with full military ceremony, shops and business premises having been closed for the day, while the local inhabitants stood with bared heads as the bodies passed - those who refused to remove their hats having them knocked off and stamped on by the police or soldiers.

Sixteen victims of the Kilmichael Massacre were listed in the Times on 1st December 1920, although Cecil Guthrie, the seventeenth victim who was still missing, was not included. Captain P N Graham, one of the victims, from Wooton Road, Abingdon, Oxon. is buried in a war grave in Abingdon Cemetry.

The Dromkeen Ambush

On 3rd February 1921 the ira ambushed two police vehicles at a place called Dromkeen in County Limerick. The attack, which began at 1430 hrs, caused the first lorry to crash into a wall, leaving it's occupants either dead or injured by the roadside. The second vehicle then came under intense fire before the RIC men could respond to the situation. Eleven policemen were killed in this ambush, three of them being shot after they had surrendered.

Soldiers murdered at Woodford

On 22nd February 1921 three members of the regiment, Private H. Morgan, Private W. S. Walker and Private David John Williams, were found murdered by rebels near Woodford in County Galway. They had been reported missing from Strand Barracks on 13th February, and nothing more was heard of them until their dead bodies were found by a farmer at Woodford. The ira had place the following message around the neck of one of their victims: 'Spies. Tried by Court Martial and found Guilty. Let all others beware'.

On 11th April 1921 a bomb was thrown near the John Street Police barracks, which killed one elderly man and injured several other people. In response to this bomb attack and other outrages the Oxford & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry was ordered to carry out official reprisals in Limerick, several rebel houses were burned, while one hundred other ranks of the regiment furnished patrols and piquets for the area.

Murder of a Baronet's Daughter

On Saturday 14th May 1921, Lieutenant W. T. Trengrouse. an officer of the 1st Battalion, was involved in an ambush while motoring between Glenstal and Newport in company with District Inspector Major Harry Biggs of the RIC, and Miss Winifred Barrington, the only daughter of Sir Charles and Lady Barrington of Glenstal Castle. The party also included Miss Coverdale and Captain William Gabbett, a friend of the Barrington family. On reaching Coolboreen Bridge near Newport, in County Tipperary, the car was fired at by a gang of armed terrorists, Miss Barrington and the District Inspector were fatally wounded, while Captain Gabbett surrendered and Lieutenant Trengrouse managed to escape. Witnesses later reported that Major Briggs was shot ten or twelve times while he was lying injured in the road.

The Tulla Ambush

The next major incident involving members of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry occurred near Tulla on the morning of 28th June 1921 when a patrol consisting of 22 year old Lieutenant Richard Crawford Warren MC and eleven men was ambushed on their way back to Tulla Workhouse at about 0200 hrs. The patrol which had been sent out to prevent rebels from felling trees across the roads, was approaching Fortaine cross roads when a civilian suddenly appeared in the middle of the road. Lieutenant Warren went forward to speak to the man, but the man suddenly drew a revolver from his pocket and shot the officer in the stomach at point blank range. Terrorists immediately opened fire from both sides of the road, most of the fire coming from the right. Two more soldiers were wounded but Sergeant Thomas Swift rallied his men and mounted  a spirited counter-attack, at which point the terrorists fled from the scene.