Centenary of the Battle of the Falklands

Battle of the Falklands – 08 Dec 1914

Prelude to Battle

Following the Battle of Coronel on 01 November 1914 off the coast of Chile, where the Royal Navy had suffered an embarrassing defeat at the hand of Admiral von Spee’s squadron, the Admiralty was making plans to redress the loss.  Admiral von Spee clearly realised his actions would not go unpunished. At a post battle celebration in Valparaiso in central Chile, he was given flowers whereupon he commented ‘these will do nicely on my grave’ and refused to drink to ‘the confusion of the British Navy’.

The Admiralty ordered two battlecruisers, HMS Invincible and HMS Inflexible, to sail south to engage von Spee’s squadron on 11 November 1914, despite being told by Devonport dockyard that Inflexible could not be ready until 13 November. The dockyard pulled together and both ships put to sea at 4.45pm on 11 November.

The location of von Spee’s squadron after Coronel was unknown.  Would he come through the Panama Canal into the Caribbean Sea?  Would he round the Cape Horn into the Southern Atlantic? Would he remain in the Pacific? Was he already off the coast of Brazil as one (false) report suggested? The Admiralty covered all options, but it seemed probable that he would remain off the coast of Chile, so the Falkland Islands would be essential as a coaling base. The battleship HMS Canopus was therefore directed to moor at Port Stanley and guard the islands.

On 23 November, sound intelligence was received by the Admiralty that von Spee remained off the Chilean coast.  On 24 November, Admiral Sturdee and Admiral Stoddart were to join forces and move to the Falklands.

Meanwhile, Admiral von Spee had rounded Cape Horn on 02 December with two armoured cruisers (SMS Gneisenau and Scharnhorst) and three light cruisers (SMS Nurnberg, Dresden and Leipzig).  On 06 December he made a decision to take the Falkland Islands, expecting to meet a small British squadron at worst. Unknown to him, Admiral Sturdee’s squadron, consisting of two battleships (Invincible and Inflexible), three armoured cruisers (Carnarvon, Kent and Cornwall) and two light cruisers (Glasgow and Bristol) arrived at the Falklands on the forenoon of 07 December. Sturdee’s intention was to coal immediately and sail in search of von Spee on 08 December.

At 7.50am on 08 December, while the British ships were still coaling, Admiral von Spee’s squadron was sighted by lookouts from HMS Canopus.  At 8.30am all coaling was ordered to cease and “Action” was sounded. At this moment, SMS Gneisenau and Nurnberg were approaching Port Stanley at a range of eight miles, while the remainder of von Spee’s squadron were at twenty miles.  By 9.15am, the two lead German ships were making ready to fire on the wireless station above Port Stanley. Only HMS Carnarvon was ready for action at this point, but Canopus had the first say in the action by firing on the Gneisenau at a range of 11,000 yards.

At 9.40am the Gneisenau had view of the harbour. It must have been a severe shock to see the dense smoke created by an unexpectedly large number of British warships, and worse still, to see the tripod masts of battleships! By 9.45am the Gneisenau and Nurnberg had turned and fled.  By 10.00am the British ships were under way and the chase had begun.

By 11.07am the enemy were in sight and it was clear the British ships had the advantage of speed. At 11.30am Admiral Sturdee aboard Invincible ordered that the next meal be taken aboard all ships while they closed in.

At 12.51pm the first shot of the chase was fired by Inflexible at the lagging Leipzig.  At 1.20pm, Admiral von Spee made a courageous and honourable move to save the Leipzig and his other light cruisers.  He turned his two armoured cruisers around to engage the British and ordered the light cruisers to make their escape.  Admiral Sturdee immediately ordered his light cruisers to break away and give chase.

Fate of German Armoured Cruisers

As soon as von Spee ordered the turn, Inflexible opened up on Gneisenau and Inflexible attacked the Scharnhorst.  The enemy had not replenished their ammunition since Coronel.  Von Spee sought to close the range down to make fire more effective, and held off returning fire until he was close enough. Sturdee realised this and continued to fire at long range.  By 3.10pm the action was at its hottest with Gneisenau listing and Scharnhorst burning.  By 4.00pm the Scharnhorst’s guns fell silent as she listed to starboard.  By 4.17pm she had sunk with the loss of all hands.

The attention of two British battleships now turned on the cruiser Gneisenau.  Despite being pounded, she continued to fight bravely.  By 5.10pm Admiral Stoddart in the Carnarvon had caught up and joined in.  By 5.30pm she was burning furiously and listing heavily, but still firing defiantly.  She sank at around 5.45pm with around 200 of her 850 men being picked up by 7.30pm.

Fate of the German Light Cruisers

Unknown to the British, the German Light Cruisers were not in good condition at the point war broke out.  After four months cruising with no maintenance periods, they were even worse with doubts raised over the condition of the boilers.  Glasgow being the fastest soon caught the Leipzig and opened fire at 2.53pm.  The Liepzig turned and launched a broadside at Glasgow.  This slowed the Leipzig’s progress and allowed Kent to close up.

Shortly after 3.30pm the German ships scattered on different courses.  Cornwall and Glasgow pursued Leipzig while Kent chased Nurnberg.  Dresden was able to escape due to her superior speed.

By 4.15pm Cornwall and Glasgow had closed in and engaged Leipzig.  Ten minutes later, it was clear that Leipzig was doomed as she was being hit time after time and her speed was falling.  But the Leipzig continued to fight for nearly two hours until the Cornwall closed range and began to fire lyddite, a high explosive.  A surviving German officer described it as ‘terrific’ and ‘fearful’ as the vessel became an inferno filled with dark smoke lit by the flashes of the bursting shells.  By 7.00pm Leipzig’s guns fell silent, but she managed to launch three torpedoes from her starboard tubes.  The crew opened the sea cocks to sink the Leipzig and gathered amidships in hope of rescue before she went down.  Sadly this was not seen by the British due to the smoke and flames and at 7.50pm, Captain Luce decided to finish Leipzig off at close range.  During this, the crew of the Leipzig managed to burn two green lights.  Luce ordered cease fire and put rescue boats into the water at 8.45pm.  Leipzig, a mass of flames and smoke, turned on her beam ends and sank at 9.23pm.  Only eighteen men were saved alive.

The Kent was not known as a good steamer, but by burning almost everything made of wood she had performed a miracle and had got almost within range of the Nurnberg by 5.00pm.  The Nurnberg immediately fired her stern guns which went over the Kent, while the Kent’s guns struggled to get close.  Things quickly improved as two of the Nurnberg’s boilers had burst slowing her down.  The Kent gained ground and soon her guns were within effective range with fire being exchanged from 5.45pm.  By 6.00pm the range was very close and the Nurnberg was taking severe punishment, so she turned away.  Kent continued to shell at longer range and ten minutes later Nurnberg was on fire with several guns out of action.  By 6.25pm Nurnberg had almost stopped in the water.  She had a heavy list, was down by the stern, she was ablaze and all her guns were out of action.  Just before 7.00pm, Nurnberg hauled down her colours in surrender and sank just before 7.30pm.  Kent sent boats to the rescue and continued to search until 9.00pm, but only seven men were saved.

What of SMS Dresden?  She had escaped, but Admiral Stoddart’s order to locate and sink her remained.  Worn out and with no coal, she was trapped by HMS Glasgow in a Chilean port were her crew scuttled her on 14 March 1915.

By Mark McCrea, History Hub Ulster Member

Reference: Naval Operations – History of the Great War Volume 1 – by Sir Julian S Corbett

Ulster and the First World War Book Launch

big_live_link_jonathan_bardon_s_bookPRONI is pleased to invite you to a lunchtime lecture by renowned author and historian Jonathan Bardon OBE on Ulster and the First World War. This is to conincide with the launch of his new publication with the same title.
JONATHAN BARDON was born in 1941 and educated at Trinity College Dublin and Queen’s University. He has lived in Belfast since 1963, teaching history. Bardon is best known for his critically acclaimed text, A History of Ulster.  The book examines, in detail, the cultural, social, economic, and political arenas of the province, beginning with the early settlements and progressing linearly to present-day Ulster.
He has also written numerous radio and television programmes on the subject of Northern Ireland. Most recently he was commissioned by BBC Radio to create a two hundred and forty-episode series entitled A Short History of Ireland.
WHERE: PRONI
WHEN: 3 December 2014, 1pm
HOW MUCH: Admission is FREE
Please contact PRONI to book your place at proni@dcalni.gov.uk . T: 028 90534800

Ulster’s Cold Water Warrior – Captain Francis Crozier

By John Hagan

Sonar images, captured in early September 2014, by a team of Canadian marine surveyors, have helped shed light on a longstanding mystery involving Banbridge explorer, Captain Francis Crozier.  Thanks to this new technology, the final resting place of one of the two ships (Erebus or Terror), on Crozier’s ill-fated North West Passage exploration of 1845, has been found. John Hagan describes the background to the Royal Navy’s greatest ever polar exploration disaster and Crozier’s role in it.

Far from this spot

In some unknown but not unhonoured resting place lie all that was mortal of

Francis Rawdon Moira Crozier Captn R.N.

So reads the commemorative marble plaque in Holy Trinity Parish Church, Banbridge (Co Down). In the square outside, his monument stands proudly opposite the house in which he was born. Snapping around his feet are the polar bears reputed to have taken his life. His was a remarkable existence, full of adventure, exploration, bravery and – disappointment. While Irishmen have always been in the vanguard of Polar exploration – Shackleton, Crean, McClure, McClintock and Kellett – Crozier’s feats are arguably the most remarkable, involving five expeditions to the Arctic and two voyages to the Antarctic. He was truly an extraordinary cold water warrior.

crozier_plaque

Plaque on Crozier’s former house in Banbridge

Born in 1796, Francis, the fifth son of Banbridge Attorney, George Crozier, joined the Royal Navy in 1810, when he was just fourteen. During the next thirty years he served the Senior Service on frigates, ships-of-the line, cutters and gun brigs, in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, while working his way from cabin boy to captain.

It was in 1819 that he had his first taste of Polar exploration, volunteering to join an expedition led by the legendary Commander W E Parry in search of the North-west Passage. It was the beginning of a passion which would eventually see him spend some ten winters clenched in the mandibles of Polar ice.

Smitten by the discovery bug, three more Arctic voyages with Parry followed in 1821, 1823 and 1828, the latter a failed attempt to traverse the ice to the North Pole. Crozier was not part of the overland foray, but remained on board HMS Hecla to make astronomical and magnetic observations. He returned to Banbridge on half-pay before teaming up with his former messmate James Clark Ross in 1835, on a dangerous expedition to rescue missing whalers caught in the winter ice of Davis Strait in the Antarctic. But it was his second voyage south, from 1839 until 1843, which would so profoundly impact on his future.

Again under the leadership of Ross, Crozier left England in 1839 in HMS Terror for the purposes of magnetic research and geographical discovery in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean. Headquarters for the expedition was Hobart Town, capital of Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania). While the colony comprised of about 6,000 ‘free settlers’, it was also ‘home’ to some 15,000 convicts, including thousands of Irish, sentenced to transportation for often trifling misdemeanours.

It was in Hobart that Crozier made the acquaintance of the Colony’s Governor, and his future North West Passage commander, Sir John Franklin. Also a resident in Government House was Franklin’s niece, Sophy Cracroft, described as “a young lady of beauty and fortune”. Although many years her senior, Crozier fell deeply in love with Sophy and proposed to her in 1841. But Sophy, being something of a snob, regarded Crozier as “a horrid radical and an indifferent speller”, not to mention being ‘poor Irish’, so his advances were quickly rebuffed. When they met again in London in 1844, on the eve of what was to be his last voyage, Crozier made a second offer of marriage and was again refused.

During the early part of the nineteenth century, Sir John Barrow, England’s Secretary of the Admiralty, had dispatched eight Royal Navy expeditions in an effort to discover the North West Passage and a lucrative trade route to the Orient. Under pressure from other European seafaring nations and commercial interests in England, a further attempt was launched in 1845.

This was to be the largest, best-equipped Polar expedition ever mounted. The two ships chosen, HMS Erebus, and Crozier’s former Southern Ocean vessel HMS Terror, were the most technologically advanced vessels on the planet. Their bows and bottoms were specially reinforced, internal heating and insulation systems were installed, and each was fitted with sophisticated retractable screw propellers powered by locomotive steam engines. The vessels were also equipped with their own desalinators, and lavishly provisioned thanks to a recent innovation – canned food.  Staffed by 129 hand picked sailors, this was the Apollo mission of its day.  Yet, it vanished without trace – the worst disaster in the history of polar exploration.

Leadership of the mission was offered to Crozier’s erstwhile host in Van Diemen’s Land, Sir John Franklin. While Franklin was a Polar explorer of some renown, he was almost sixty years old, had not been to sea for thirteen years, and had not set foot in the Arctic in seventeen years. There is little doubt that, given his relative youth, knowledge and experience, Crozier should have been offered the position, but, was passed over for the English knight, and instead made captain of the Terror and Franklin’s second-in-command.

Few in the Royal Navy were Crozier’s equal on the quarterdeck, and his seamanship was recognised by peers and crew alike. He was a superb navigator, and also knew what it was to suffer the depravations of a polar winter – encased in ice amidst howling gales, enduring months of darkness in temperatures 50 degrees below zero.

Background was apparently the sole impediment to expedition leadership. Crozier may have been ‘an officer’, but he was certainly, in the eyes of his peers, not considered ‘a gentleman’. Not ‘the sort of chap’ a brother Royal Navy officer would ask to the club, despite being a Fellow of both the Astronomical Society and the Royal Society. He was considered as rough as the country he came from, ‘dreadful Irish’, crudely educated, plain spoken, with none of the required social graces of the day. Considerations of nationality and status seemed to conspire against him.

Watched by an enthusiastic cheering crowd of some 10,000, Erebus, Terror, and their elite crews were farewelled, with due pomp and ceremony at Greenhithe (London) on 19 May 1845. Aboard Terror, facing the prospect of another three years polar hardship, his heart apparently broken by both Sophy’s and the Admiralty’s rebuttals, Crozier was morose and pessimistic. “All goes smoothly”, he wrote to Ross, “but dear James I am sadly alone, not a soul in either ship that I can go and talk to — I am generally very busy but it is a very hermitlike life”. Unlike the Lords of the Admiralty, Crozier apparently had little confidence in Franklin, who, he considered as being, “Very decided in his own views but has not good judgement”. As he sailed away, he reportedly told a fellow officer that he did not expect to see his home in Ireland ever again.

Six weeks after departure, the ships reached Disco Bay in Greenland, where they offloaded supplies. On 12 July, they struck west across Baffin Bay, and on 26 July 1845 were observed by two Arctic whalers – before vanishing completely.

By the end of 1847, amid mounting concern for their safety, a number of private and official Royal Navy search expeditions were dispatched to the Arctic – without success.  In 1854, Dr John Rae of the Hudson’s Bay Company met Eskimo traders and learned that four years previously they had encountered a  party of “kabloonans” (white men), led by a tall, middle-aged officer (possibly Crozier), dragging a boat southward. Four months after this initial contact, they informed Rae that they had discovered the remains of the party near the western end of King William Island. According to the Eskimo all had apparently “perished from want of food”. To confirm their story the Eskimos sold Rae a number of articles picked up at the site, including a silver tablespoon bearing the initials ‘F.R.M.C.’ (Crozier).

Following many fruitless naval searches for the two ships, the Admiralty was finally convinced that all had perished and notified Lady Jane Franklin that she was now entitled to a widow’s pension. However, in the hope that her husband and members of his crew might still be alive, Lady Jane, financed a private expedition under the command of Dundalk’s Captain F L McClintock.  On 25 May 1859, on King William Island, McClintock’s expedition found his first piece of evidence – a skeleton lying face down in the snow. It was a steward from HMS Terror. On 2 June, McClintock arrived at Point Victory, where he discovered a huge heap of clothing and equipment, and more importantly, read a message, signed by Crozier, which was scrawled around an official piece of naval record paper.

“April 25th, 1848. H.M. Ships ‘Erebus’ and ‘Terror’ were deserted on 22nd April, 5 leagues N.N.W. of this, having been beset since 12th September 1846. The officers and crews, consisting of 105 souls, under the command of F.R.M. Crozier, landed here, in lat. 690 37’42”N., long. 98041’W. —- Sir John Franklin died on 11 June 1847; and the total loss by deaths in this expedition has been, to this date, 9 officers and 15 men. And start on to-morrow, 26th for Back’s Fish River.”

Since then, despite the voracious appetite of the polar ice, other relics have been uncovered, shedding further light on the fate of Crozier and his crews, but not fully unraveling of the greatest Arctic mystery of the age – what had happened to the ships and their crews?

In the two years following the Greenhithe departure, Erebus and Terror were entombed for nineteen months by monstrous ice packs pouring off the Pole like avalanches. Fahrenheit temperatures of 50 – 60 below zero cracked bolts and fastenings like gun shots, while blizzards lasting for weeks, buried the ships beneath 20-foot snowdrifts.

Despite all the expedition’s advanced technology, life in this frozen prison was brutal. Each seaman had a space 14 inches wide for his hammock; quarters were damp, and the bedding, often shared with rats, continually froze in the numbing cold. By the end of the second winter, rations and heating were in short supply and the incessant grinding of ice against the hull, accompanied by the shrieking Polar wind in the top decking and masts, added to the torment. Isolation, loneliness, privation and fear were unremitting.

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Crozier statue in Banbridge

On 11 June 1847, Sir John Franklin died from undetermined causes and Crozier assumed leadership of the beleaguered expedition. It was his first, and last, command in the Royal Navy. With stores dangerously low and no thaw imminent, Crozier decided to abandon the ice-locked ships and strike out for the Hudson’s Bay Company outpost on Great Slave Lake. Leaving Terror, his ‘home’ for so many years must have been a great wrench to Crozier, and not a decision taken lightly. If he could guide the crew to the Back’s River, some 250 miles to the south, it may be ice free, and afford them the opportunity to row the remaining 700 miles to Fort Resolution on Great Slave Lake. It was a desperate plan and evidence suggests that Crozier made careful and deliberate preparations.

Clothing was carefully adapted, screws were inserted in shoes to provide traction on the ice, and goggles were fashioned to prevent snow blindness. Remaining food supplies were removed from boxes and placed in sacks to reduce weight, and only minimal weapons were carried.

To navigate Back’s River, Crozier needed boats, plus enough equipment and food for the remaining 105 officers and crew, all of which would need to be lugged across the intervening inhospitable ice desert. This presented a daunting task for fit, strong men, never mind sailors who had been on half rations for the previous nine months and were generally in poor health. The twin spectres of frostbite and starvation loomed large.

Numbed with cold, dehydrated, and tortured by hunger, the survivors moved slowly, man-hauling their sleds and boats up jagged ice pressure ridges, while at other times sinking in soft wet snow up to their hips. Clothing, saturated by sweat while they hauled, clamped them like a frozen straightjacket when they rested.  Physical punishment and torment were unrelenting as they advanced a pitiful three to four miles per day. While flesh on faces froze, turning the skin a scaly grey, it was frostbitten feet which caused most despair and panic. When these limbs became infected they swelled grotesquely, turned black, and emitted a foul smell. A man who couldn’t walk, couldn’t haul, and so became a liability and a burden to others.

In order to save the living, Crozier was forced to make a nauseating decision – to cannibalize the dead.  Remains found along the route of this ‘death march’ attest to intentional dismemberment of corpses. Perhaps, in time, the debilitated and wretched survivors became accustomed to the taste of human flesh and bone marrow, and, in the ultimate act of desperation, may have been forced to kill some of their number for sustenance and survival. Substantial remnants of the expedition were eventually discovered near Montreal Island, some 60 miles short of the mouth of the Back’s River. Beyond this location no more remains, including the fate of the two ships, have (until recently) ever been found. The fact that the wretched men had been able to struggle so far was in itself a miracle and perhaps attests to Crozier’s inspired leadership. While all may have foundered, courage and camaraderie seemingly remained resolute in face of the most horrific Arctic conditions and deprivations.

Although it is possible that Crozier was devoured by polar bears, it has been suggested he may have survived to spend his remaining days amongst the nomadic Chippewyan Inuit of northern Canada. Certainly his previous forays into the Polar regions endowed him with the necessary knowledge and endurance skills to cope in the environment. Like these esquimaux herders, Crozier had been a polar wanderer for most of his life. Perhaps with them, he finally found contentment and acceptance for what he was, rather than discrimination based on his birth and social background.

In keeping with his renown as an explorer, the name Crozier is attributed to eight of the world’s landmarks including three Cape Croziers, a Crozier Channel, and a Crozier River. However, perhaps the most significant memorial to Francis Rawdon Moira Crozier lies about 240,000 miles away on the surface of the moon.

In naming ‘Crozier Crater’ in the lunar sea of Mare Fecunditais, the humble sea captain from Banbridge, is now rightfully recognised amongst the company of great polar explorers, including Amundsen, Shackleton, Scott, and Nansen who are also commemorated on the lunar landscape.

Shadows of the Great War: World War One on Film

battlesofcoronelTo mark the Centenary of World War One, QFT and Film Hub NI are presenting a programme of films, talks and events.

Exploring a wide range of themes, the Shadows of the Great War programme will give audiences the opportunity to experience a diverse range of archive, classic and contemporary films, all of which present and reflect on the Great War and its legacy.

The Centenary of World War One, and the huge interest in the historical narrative surrounding it, creates a timely occasion to consider the relationship between film and the Great War.  Despite being in its infancy, film played an important part in the war effort, recording and documenting the events of the conflict, relaying news to the home front and keeping people informed.  This exploration of how the events and legacy of the Great War have been depicted on film will be supported by a programme of talks by eminent First World War experts.

The Launch event will take place on Armistice Day, 11th November at 6.30pm at QFT with the Irish premiere of ‘The Battles of Coronel and Falkland Islands’. This new restoration from the British Film Institute National Archive is one of the finest films of the British silent era – a thrilling reconstruction of two decisive naval battles of 1914, recreated and filmed 13 years later, in peacetime. The film has been updated with a new score performed by the Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines.  Receiving its UK Premiere in London in October, the Guardian described it as ‘…the greatest British war film you’ve never heard of’.

A_Night_at_the_Cinema_in_1914_-_A_Film_Johnnie_pic_1-300x195Other highlights include: ‘A Night in the Cinema in 1914’. Cinema a century ago was a new, exciting and highly democratic form of entertainment. This special compilation from the BFI National Archive recreates the glorious miscellany of comedies, dramas, travelogues and newsreels which would have constituted a typical night out in 1914. A highly successful screening on the City Hall in August allowed audiences to enjoy this presentation on the big screen.  Showing at QFT, the film will be preceded with a talk from Ian Montgomery (PRONI) on 1914 in Ireland, placing the film in context for local audiences.

‘War Horse’, the 2011 film adapted from the popular children’s book by Michael Morpurgo,  is the story of a remarkable friendship between a horse named Joey and a young man named Albert.  Set during World War One and focusing on themes of friendship and adventure, this film is a simple introduction for children to the wider context of the War and the reality in which young people of the time lived. War Horse shows at the Ulster Museum on 6th December at 1.00pm War-Horse-movie-900x562

Documentary film ‘The Green Fields of France’ is a poetic documentary film about the Irishmen who died in World War One, with the voices of Frank McGuinness, John Banville and Peter Fallon as Irish poets Patrick MacGill, Francis Ledwidge and Thomas Kettle.  The film will be shown at the Ulster Museum on 22 November and at the Strand Arts Centre on 20 January.

After the Ulster Museum screening, Professor Richard Grayson, Goldsmith’s, University of London and author of the highly successful ‘Belfast Boys: How Unionists and Nationalists Fought and Died Together in the First World War’ will give  a talk about the role Irish troops played in the Great War.

The screening at the Strand will be followed by a talk from local historian Jason Burke on East Belfast and the Great War.

Gallipoli_photo_colourOther films in the programme include: the dazzling technicolor satire “The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp”, “All Quiet on the Western Front” focusing on the gulf between the concept of war and the actuality, Richard Attenborough’s musical film “Oh! What a Lovely War”, French anti-war film “La Grande Illusion”, classic epic Lawrence of Arabia, “Joyeux Noel” the story of the 1914 Christmas truce on the Western Front, a love story set during the Italian campaign “A Farewell to Arms”Australian film “Gallipoli” which tells the story of two young Australian sprinters fighting on the Turkish Front and “The Wind That Shakes the Barley” an Irish film set after World War One which highlights the difficult situation in Ireland during the fight for Independence.

Full programme details are available at www.filmhubni.org and tickets can be booked through each venue – QFT, Strand or Ulster Museum.

Supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Centenary: The Loss of HMHS Rohilla

HMHS Rohilla

HMHS Rohilla

Built by Harland and Wolff in Belfast, the Rohilla was built as a passenger and cruise liner and after her launch the Rohilla entered the London to India service operating from Southampton to Karachi throughout the winter months. In 1908 she joined her sister ship the Rewa as a troop ship, being designated No.6.

In 1910 the Rohilla conveyed members of the House of Lords to the Coronation Naval Review of King George V at Spithead, whilst her sister ship Rewa conveyed members of the House of Commons. It was not until the 6th August 1914 that the Rohilla was finally requisitioned as a Naval hospital ship.

After being requisitioned as a hospital ship the Rohilla was adapted to accommodate her new role as passenger accommodation was converted into hospital wards. The ship was equipped with two operating theatres, complete with X-ray appliances. The work continued day and night in an effort to make her ready as quickly as possible. Overseeing the work was the captain of the Rohilla, David Landles Neilson. He was given command of the Rohilla when she was built, spending his whole career with the British India Steam Navigation Company.

Based temporarily in Scapa Flow, the ship left shortly after bound for Dunkirk on a route that would take her down the east coast. The Captain hadn’t navigated the North Sea before and had to contend with, German submarines, and mines scattered around the coastline many in unchartered minefields.

Mary Roberts Mary Roberts, left, survived both the sinking of the Titanic and the Rohilla

Mary Roberts, left, survived both the sinking of the Titanic and the Rohilla

Under war time restrictions the crew had to navigate their route using dead reckoning for navigation, war time restrictions meant that navigation lights were turned off, navigation signals were muffled and poor weather did little to help keep accurate courses. It is believed the last fix was taken and a new course set as they passed the Farne Islands off the Northumberland coast in worsening weather.

The Whitby Coastguard was positioned in a shelter on the cliffs that would, in good conditions have given him an clear view of the coast. He was aware of the outline of the Rohilla and knew instantly that the vessel before him appeared to be heading for Whitby Rock a treacherous reef system that would ultimately spell the end for the fine vessel. Under normal conditions the hazard would have been marked by the permanently moored Bell Buoy. However with the war conditions the bell had been silenced and the light extinguished. The coastguard tried in vain to warn the vessel of the impending danger despite signaling for thirty minutes the ship failed to alter course.


At 4.10 am on Friday 30th October 1914 there was a terrifying shudder as the ship hit the rocks at Saltwick Nab at full speed with
229 persons onboard. Although the ship was grounded only 600 yards from the shore the weather made any rescue attempt perilous, within
minutes the coastguard fired off the explosive maroons alerting the town to the unfolding drama. Coxswain Thomas Langlands had the unenviable task of informing his lifeboat crew that it was to perilous to launch the lifeboat in such bad weather. Miss Mary Keziah Roberts was a nurse and one of five women stranded aboard the ill fated vessel. She was unfortunate to have been aboard the Titanic as it foundered, she later described the sinking of the Rohilla as being more harrowing than that of the Titanic.

Dawn brought no further chance of launching the lifeboat, as the weather had not abated. It was still not possible to launch the number one lifeboat. The only other option was to get Whitby’s number two lifeboat into a position opposite the wreck of the ship. After being rowed across the harbour, the 36 foot lifeboat was lifted over an eight foot wall on the east pier. It was a formidable task to drag the heavy lifeboat across the scar. Even though the hull of the lifeboat had been holed as it was dragged across the scar it had the task of attempting the rescue.

Even so it reached the ship and with its crew of fourteen it managed to rescue seventeen of the ships crew. The second attempt succeeded in rescuing another eighteen men. After landing the men the lifeboat was in such a condition a decision was made that the lifeboat was not fit to launch again. It was dragged onto the scar where it was abandoned.

Despite the courageous attempts of a total of 6 lifeboats under severe conditions, of the 229 crew, doctors and nurses originally on board only 145 survived. In total 85 Doctors were killed. Bodies of the unlucky souls from the Rohilla were washed ashore and collected by the townsfolk. Many of the crew where never found.

Many of the crewmen were buried in Whitby where the owners of the Rohilla erected a monument to the ships loss. It was clear from advances in
shipbuilding and vessels of that era that a new breed of lifeboat was needed and shortly after the loss of the hospital ship, Whitby’s now outdated rowing lifeboat was replaced with a motor lifeboat.

Many of the lifeboatmen were awarded medals for bravery including the captain of the Rohilla who was awarded the Bronze Medal of the Royal Society For Prevention of Cruelty to Animals for rescuing the ships cat. The Royal National Lifeboat Institution lists the events as one of the worst services in its history.

Read more: http://www.eskside.co.uk/ss_rohilla/rohilla_tragedy.htm

The Inaugural Margaret McCoubrey Lecture

Margaret McCoubreyThe Inaugural Margaret McCoubrey Lecture

WOMEN, WAR AND WELFARE:

THE COOPERATIVE CRUSADES OF MARGARET TAYLOR McCOUBREY

1880-1956

Dr Myrtle Hill

Recent research has helped to illuminate the dynamic engagement of women in the social and political history of Ireland; this illustrated lecture explores the life of activist Margaret McCoubrey and her crucial role in the Suffrage movement, Pacifism, the Co-operative movement and Labour politics in early 20th century Belfast

Thursday 6 November 2014 from 19.00 – 21.30

Venue: The Duncairn Centre for Culture and Arts, Duncairn Avenue, Belfast

Hosted by The Cross-Currents in British and Irish Working-Class Life Research Group at Queen’s University Belfast’s Institute for Collaborative Research in the Humanities

In association with

The Ministerial Advisory Group on the Ulster Scots Academy (MAGUS)

Institute for Collaborative Research in Humanities

 

Centenary of the Battle of Coronel: Loss of at least 26 Ulstermen.

HMS Monmouth

HMS Monmouth

Centenary of the Battle of Coronel:

Loss of at least 26 Ulstermen, 91 Irishmen, Armoured Cruisers HMS MONMOUTH, HMS GOOD HOPE and Admiral Sir Christopher Cradock

The destruction of Admiral Sir Christopher Cradock’s squadron by German Admiral von Spee at The Battle of Coronel occurred on 1st November 1914 resulting in the loss of 1,654 souls, 91 known to be Irishmen, 26 of them Ulstermen.

Ulster losses include:

-15 year old Midshipman Gervase Ronald Bruce from Downhill, Derry, one of ten cadets lost on MONMOUTH.
-Armagh man Gunner James McVey who was underage on enlistment and was likely the first Ulsterman from the Royal Marine Artillery to die in the Great War.
-Antrim man Private Adam Morrow who was likely the first Ulsterman from the Royal Marine Light Infantry to die in the Great War.
-Five more Ulster teenagers were lost; Belfast boys Stoker (2nd) John McAteer, Boy (1st) William Connell, Able Seaman William A. J. Wilson and Ordinary Seaman Herbert Kelly as well as Ordinary Seaman Henry McNally who was from Draperstown.

The Royal Navy, had spent months looking for the German East Asiatic commerce-raiding squadron known to be operating under Admiral von Spee in the Pacific without success. An intercepted radio communication, in early October revealed details of a plan devised by von Spee to prey upon shipping in the crucial trading routes along the west coast of South America. Patrolling South America at that time was Admiral Cradock’s West Indies Squadron, which consisted of two armoured cruisers, HMS GOOD HOPE and HMS MONMOUTH, the light cruiser GLASGOW, and a converted ex-liner, OTRANTO. Cradock was ordered to deal with von Spee even though his fleet was ill-matched when set against von Spee’s formidable force of five vessels, led by the armoured cruisers SCHARNHORST and GNEISENAU plus three modern light cruisers.

HMS Good Hope

HMS Good Hope

On 18 October von Spee, having heard of the solo existence of the GLASGOW, set off with his squadron from Valparaiso with the intention of destroying it. Cradock, who was aware that he was outgunned had been waiting in the hope of naval reinforcements. The Admiralty dispatched an armoured cruiser DEFENCE and an elderly battleship CANOPUS but neither reached Cradock before battle unexpectedly commenced on 1 November 1914. Deciding that he could wait no longer for reinforcements, Cradock determined to sail from the Falkland Islands to rendezvous with GLASGOW at Coronel, where she was gathering intelligence.

The First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, issued orders to Cradock on 28 October instructing him to halt, pending possible reinforcement from the Japanese Navy. However Cradock had intercepted a radio signal on 31 October that LEIPZIG, the slowest of von Spee’s light cruisers, was in the area. He promptly ordered his squadron north to cut it off and found himself confronting von Spee’s entire force the following day at around 4.30pm. At this stage it is probable that Cradock’s force could have escaped by sailing towards CANOPUS as with the failing light, von Spee would most likely have lost contact with the British squadron. Instead Cradock chose to stay and fight; however he ordered OTRANTO to break formation and flee. In difficult seas, von Spee moved his faster vessels out of Cradock’s firing range; at sunset with the moon clearly silhouetting Cradock’s fleet, he began to shell the British force, with SCHARNHORST’s third salvo crippling the flagship GOOD HOPE and both GOOD HOPE and MONMOUTH were destroyed shortly afterwards, MONMOUTH under repeated battering.

Newspaper reports at the time were confused and it was not confirmed until many days later what had actually happened to Cradock and his fleet. In fact on 4th November it was reported that HMS GOOD HOPE had not been damaged at all and on the 7th November it was reported that ‘The Admiralty have now received trustworthy information’ and that HMS MONMOUTH was ashore in Chile.

Eyewitness reports state:

“Monmouth continued to battle until her hull was riddled. She toppled over in the water and lay for a moment with her keel lapped by the waters, then plunged to the bottom.”

“After the Monmouth disappeared, the Germans closed in on the Good Hope, the big guns of the two battle cruisers firing with marvellous accuracy. With flames bursting from her in a dozen places, her superstructure carried away and her guns out of commission, the Good Hope finally turned and ran ashore with water pouring into her hull.”

A German report expresses that:

“German officers bear testimony to the great gallantry of the crew of the Monmouth, which while in a sinking condition, attempted to ram one of the German vessels.”

Although GLASGOW and OTRANTO both escaped, 1,654 men were drowned on GOOD HOPE and MONMOUTH. No survivors were found and Cradock himself was lost with his ship.Von Spee’s own fleet had suffered little damage, and sailed thereafter to Valparaiso to a rapturous welcome from the local German population.

Once news of the scale of the British defeat, and its consequent humiliation, reached the British Admiralty in London a decision was quickly taken to assemble a huge naval force under Admiral Sir Frederick Sturdee. This was promptly dispatched to destroy von Spee’s force, which it subsequently did, at the Battle of the Falkland Islands.

The loss of these men will be marked within the introduction to QFT’s screening of ‘The Battles of Coronel and Falkland Islands’. This new restoration from the British Film Institute National Archive is one of the finest films of the British silent era – a thrilling reconstruction of two decisive naval battles of 1914, recreated and filmed 13 years later, in peacetime. With a new score performed by the Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines.

Queen’s Film Theatre; 11 November at 6.30pm and 16 November at 3pm. Book online: http://www.queensfilmtheatre.com/
Ulster men lost:

HMS GOOD HOPE
Gunner James McVey, born Armagh, lived Belfast
Able Seaman David Boyd, born Dromore, lived Belfast
Stoker (1st) Hugh Brough, lived Belfast
Stoker (2nd) John McAteer, born Belfast
Leading Stoker Joseph Wood, lived Belfast
Leading Seaman John Weir Hanna, born Belfast, lived Aghalee
Able Seaman James McGregor Reed, born Turmore, Donegal
Able Seaman George Todd, lived Newcastle
HMS MONMOUTH
Stoker (1st) John Bleakley, born Belfast
Boy (1st) William Connell, lived Belfast
Able Seaman Samuel James Dickson, born Edenderry, lived Belfast
Able Seaman Albert Henry O’Hea, born Londonderry
Leading Seaman Herbert Campbell, born Belfast
Private Adam Morrow, born Antrim
Able Seaman George Henry Patton, born Belfast
Able Seaman Alexander Rodgers, born Belfast
Able Seaman William A J Wilson, born Belfast
Seaman Samuel Johnston, born Newtownards, lived Donaghadee
Seaman John McMullan, born Downpatrick
Ship’s Corporal (1st) William McAllister, born Portrush
Leading Seaman John Bernard, born Belfast
Ordinary Seaman Herbert Kelly, born Belfast
Ordinary Seaman Henry McNally, born Draperstown
Leading Seaman Michael Molloy, born Ardglass
Able Seaman David Prentice, born Belfast, lived Dromore
Midshipman Gervase Ronald Bruce, born Downhill

Research by Karen O’Rawe, Chair History Hub Ulster.

History Hub Ulster is a research group based in Belfast, but working on projects across Ulster.

 

First Irish bank staff to be killed in the Great War

The Belfast News Letter of 15th December 1914 reported in the war series “Ulster and the War – Bank Clerks in the Army”.  Within the first few months of war being declared, over 100 bank clerks or workers had volunteered for service or had been ‘called up’ due to being in the Army Reserve.

Private Michael Millett from the Bank of Ireland was probably the first bank official to be killed in action.  Millett was born around 1886 in Kilcloney, Co. Roscommon and was the son of Colour Sergeant James Millett.  He would have joined the Bank of Ireland around 1902.  Soon after, he enlisted in Athlone into the Army Reserve.  At the outbreak of war he was immediately called up to serve in the 2nd Bn. Prince of Wales’s Leinster Regiment (Royal Canadians).  After training, he was sent to France with the British Expeditionary Force.  He was Killed in Action on 20th October 1914 aged 28.  Millett is remembered on the Ploegsteert Memorial, Comines-Warneton, Hainaut, Belgium and on the Bank of Ireland War Memorial in College Green, Dublin.

Sergeant William Archibald Pattenden from the Northern Banking Company was to be Killed in Action at Ypres on 31st October 1914.  Pattenden was born in October 1886 in Flimwell, Tunbridge, Kent, England and was Church of England faith.  He was the son of Horace Pattenden and had 2 older brothers, George and Frank.  In September 1906, following his education, Pattenden volunteered and enlisted in the Royal Sussex Regiment at Chichester, England.  On his enlistment form, his next of kin is recorded as his father and the 2 elder brothers.  Their address is recorded as East Street, Hambleden, Kent, England.  He was given the Service Number of 8527.  William is described as being 5 foot 6 inches tall and weighing 141 lbs (10 st 1 lb) with a scar over his left eye.  He has dark brown hair, brown eyes and a fresh complexion.

Pattenden’s military career started off at the Depot, Royal Sussex Regiment.  In 1907 he was posted to the 2nd Battalion.  Later that year he was posted to the 1st Battalion.  Between October 1907 and December 1913 Pattenden was serving in India (Ambular, Rawalpindi, Gharial and Peshawar).  He transferred to the Army Reserve in December 1913.  According to the Army ‘Statement of Services, Pattenden was formally discharged from the Army Reserve on 30th September 1914.  Over the years in service, his army medical form records him suffering from tonsillitis, having an abrasion on his left arm, having an abscess.  In 1913 at Rawalpindi, India he was vaccinated as a result of having ‘vesicles’.  On his transfer to the Army Reserve, he was found to have a hernia.

Sometime after 1913 he moved to Belfast and joined the Northern Banking Company as a Head Office Porter and Caretaker.  He was married and living in 13 Third Avenue, Belfast.
At the outbreak of war, as a Reservist, Pattenden was immediately recalled to the 2nd Bn. Royal Sussex Regiment.  The battalion immediately went to France as part of the British Expeditionary Force.  He was to be Killed in Action at Ypres on 31st October 1914.  He was also the first Northern Bank official to take part in the Great War.  He is commemorated on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial, the Shankill Road Mission War Memorial and on the Northern Banking Company War Memorial in Donegall Square West, Belfast.

Research by History Hub Ulster Member Gavin Bamford

For further information on Banking memorials visit

http://northernbankwarmemorials.blogspot.co.uk/

http://ulsterbankwarmemorials.blogspot.co.uk/

 

Release of previously unseen vintage aerial photographs of Ulster

Harland & Wolff, Belfast, Belfast, Northern Ireland, 1947. Oblique aerial photograph taken facing East.

Harland & Wolff, Belfast, Belfast, Northern Ireland, 1947. Oblique aerial photograph taken facing East.

History Hub Ulster welcomes the release of previously unseen vintage aerial photographs of Ulster by the Britain From Above website.

The site has recently published many unseen vintage aerial photographs of Ulster covering the 1920’s through to the 1950’s.

Within the archive are aerial photographs of the Antrim, Ards, Armagh, Ballymena, Ballymoney, Banbridge, Belfast, Carrickfergus, Castlereagh, Cavan , Coleraine, Cookstown, Craigavon, Derry, Donegal, Down, Dungannon, Fermanagh, Lisburn, Larne, Magherafelt, Moyle, Newry and Mourne, Newtownabbey, North Down, Omagh and Strabane areas.

The photographs will interest everyone from local historians, railway enthusiasts and heritage fans to name a few.

Britain from Above is a four year project aimed at conserving 95,000 of the oldest and most valuable photographs in the Aerofilms collection, those dating from 1919 to 1953.  Once conserved, they are scanned into digital format and made available on this website for the public to see. This project has been made possible due to a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and support from The Foyle Foundation and other donors. The website launched with the first 10,000 images and as we currently have little information about the details in the images, the website provides the opportunity to share and record your memories and knowledge about the places shown in the collection.

Britain From Above website – http://www.britainfromabove.org.uk/restofworld-northern-ireland

Gavin Bamford and Catherine Burrell, History Hub Ulster members

 

WW1 Centenary: Ulstermen killed at the Battle of La Bassee

WW1 Centenary: Ulster men killed at the Battle of La Bassée.

By 22nd October 1914, the 2nd Battalion Royal Irish Rifles had been at the front in France for 70 days. In that time, they had suffered 94 fatalities. In the following five days they were to lose nearly exactly double that figure – 186, in the vicinity of a northern French village which was to become the scene of a vicious set piece battle in the spring of 1915 – Neuve Chapelle.

Amongst the rank and file who fell in this period of savage fighting were three men from West Belfast.

Private Patrick Bannon

Private Patrick Bannon

First to die on 25 October 1914 was 24-year-old Private Patrick Bannon. Patrick was the eldest son of Peter and Mary Bannon, who were originally from Cork, Patrick himself was born in Monaghan. Both parents worked in the flax mills and the family lived at Milton Street in the lower Falls area. Patrick had been with the battalion in France since their arrival on 14 August and had seen much action in that time. In common with the two other West Belfast men highlighted, Patrick has no known grave and is commemorated on the Le Touret Memorial to the Missing.

Private Robert James Foley

Private Robert James Foley

 

The following day, on 26 October 1914, 29-year-old Private Robert James Foley was killed. He was the son of Patrick and Mary Ellen Foley who at the time of his death resided at 59 Servia Street with Patrick’s sister Maggie who worked in a linen mill. In 1911, the family resided a short distance away in Plevna Street. Patrick had been at the front for just over two months before his death.

On 27 October 1914, 36- year-old Private Joseph Lavery was killed. A veteran of the South African

Private Joseph Lavery

Private Joseph Lavery

War, he received the South Africa medal with clasps for service at Cape Colony, the Transvaal and the Orange Free State. Returning to civilian life, he worked as a dock labourer before re-enlisting on the outbreak of war. In 1911 his home was recorded at Johnston’s Court off Durham street, where he resided with his wife, Catherine and his daughters Catherine and Mary – both under six years old when their father was killed. The family had also lived at Bank Street and Berry Street, close to the city centre. Private Lavery had been at the front for only six weeks before his death.

Of the five officers who died, two had connections to North Down, and Campbell College.

Lieutenant Vivian Trevor Tighe Rea

Lieutenant Vivian Trevor Tighe Rea

Lieutenant Vivian Trevor Tighe Rea, was born in Mendoza, Argentina in August of 1891. An only son, his father was a steamship broker and the Vice Consul in Belfast for the Netherlands and Argentina. He was educated at Campbell College Belfast from 1905-1908, where he held a scholarship before going to Queens University, and then Trinity College Dublin where he studied for the Church. In a change of career he enlisted in the Royal Irish Rifles attaining the rank of Lieutenant in 1913. On 25 October 1914, Lt Rea was severely wounded in the front line. He was removed to a Chateau behind the lines where the Battalion medical facilities were, but succumbed to his wounds. He was buried in the grounds of the chateau, but that same night the Germans heavily shelled the area setting the chateau on fire and destroying it. His remains were exhumed and identified in 1921, and re-buried in the Guards Cemetery (Windy Corner) Cuinchy a short distance from Neuve Chapelle. His father arranged for his headstone to bear the inscription, ‘I have fought the good fight.’ In a very busy life cut short, Lt Rea was also a leading light in the nascent Boy Scouts movement, being scoutmaster of the Bangor Troop and Honorary Secretary of the Ulster Scout Council. In a mark of appreciation a stained glass memorial window was erected in his memory at St Comgall’s Church of Ireland, Bangor.

Captain Henry Ousely Davis

Captain Henry Ousely Davis

Another Old Campbellian to fall two days after Lieutenant Rea on 27th October 1914 was Captain Henry Ousely Davis. Born at Church Road, Holywood in September 1884, he was the eldest son of Henry and Mary Davis. He initially attended Portora Royal School Enniskillen before moving to Campbell College in 1901. He remained there until 1903 and played rugby for the school First XV. He entered Sandhurst in 1903 and was commissioned into the Royal Dublin Fusiliers in 1905. He resigned his commission in 1910 and appears to have become heavily involved with the UVF, becoming a member of its Headquarters Staff. In that capacity early in 1914 he approached Campbell College asking if its facilities could be used as a hospital in the event of civil war. At the outbreak of the First World War he re-enlisted in the Royal Irish Rifles. Captain Davis was killed by shrapnel on 27 October 1914, and in the confusion of battle his body was never recovered. In 1921, his family received correspondence from the Imperial War Graves Commission asking for a description of Henry as they intended to open a grave to try and obtain and identification. Sir Edward Carson became involved in the matter, but no positive identification was ever made. Captain Henry Ousely Davis is commemorated on the Le Touret Memorial to the Missing, on a plaque in Holywood Parish Church, St Philip and St James.

Both men are commemorated on both the Campbell College Roll of Honour and the North of Ireland Football Club Roll of Honour.

Battalion Background

The 2nd Battalion Royal Irish Rifles came into being following the reorganisation of the British Army in 1881. The amalgamation of two historic regiments – the 83rd (County of Dublin) and the 86th (Royal County Down) Regiments of Foot, formed one of many two battalion Regiments in the army – the 1st and 2nd Battalions Royal Irish Rifles. The regimental depot was located in Belfast at Victoria barracks which stood where the New Lodge is now. The main barracks entrance was at Henry Place which still joins with Clifton Street.  At the outbreak of the First World War, neither battalion had spent any meaningful time in Belfast since their formation, globetrotting being the norm with the 1st Battalion posted to South Africa, India, Burma and Aden, and the 2nd Battalion spending time in Bermuda, Canada, Gibraltar, Egypt, Malta and India as well as South Africa for the war at the turn of the century. When war was declared however, they were in the less glamorous surroundings of Tidworth in Wiltshire.  Well below their active service strength of 1,000, the 2nd Battalion received 224 reservists from the depot in Belfast before embarking for France as part of 7 Brigade, 3rd Division of the British Expeditionary Force, arriving at Rouen around teatime on 14 August 1914.

Outline of the Battle of La Bassée

The Battalion was involved in the first battle of the war at Mons on 23 August and then at Le Cateau on 26 August. Then began the long strategic retreat which confused many of the Rifles, as they had given such a good account of themselves against the best the German army could throw at them. The Battle of the Aisne in mid-September again saw the battalion on the offensive, and following this they spent a short period in rest billets before marching and being transported to Neuve Chapelle, arriving on the morning of 22nd October. At this time, both the allies and the Germans were ‘jockeying for position’, as what had been relatively open warfare slowly but surely ground to a halt. In the north Flanders plain, the Germans had control of the small town of La Bassee and the strategically important but geographically insignificant Aubers Ridge, (it rose to only 20 metres at its highest). The British forces were clustered round the lower lying marshy ground around Neuve Chapelle. On arrival, the Rifles set about trying to strengthen their position but were not granted that luxury by the Germans, and what followed was warfare in its most raw state with vicious attack and counterattack involving hand to hand fighting, and extensive use of the bayonet, all done under constant shelling by the Germans and what has become known as ‘friendly fire’ incidents involving British Artillery. Initially things went well for the Rifles. A German attack on 23 October was ruthlessly repulsed as an account by Corporal Lucy, a native of Cork, who went on to become a Lieutenant Colonel indicates:

“We let them have it. We blasted and blew them to death. They fell in scores, in hundreds, the marching column wilting under our rapid fire.”

Severe German shelling from heavy artillery took place throughout 24 October, and the German Infantry attack renewed in the evening which led to hand to hand fighting and close quarter bayonet work. This attack was also repulsed with heavy casualties on both sides. Such was the ferocity of the fighting that the Corps Commander, General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien issued the following order on 25 October:

“During an attack by the enemy on the 7th Infantry Brigade last night, the enemy came to close quarters with the Royal Irish Rifles, who repulsed them with great gallantry with the bayonet and made several prisoners. The Corps Commander wishes to compliment the regiment on its splendid feat, and directs that all battalions of the corps shall be informed of the circumstances and of his high appreciation of the gallantry displayed.”

The morning of 25 October saw another attack by the Germans which breached the Rifles defences for a time until reinforcements from the battalion were able to force them out, again sustaining many casualties. More galling for the Rifles was the fact that they came under heavy shelling by British artillery which took some time to stop as it was impossible to communicate with the gunners due to the telephone wires being cut. On 26 October, the Germans broke through the Rifles line in a massed attack and two Companies, B and D simply disappeared, either killed or captured. The remaining exhausted Rifles, dwindling in number managed to rally and once more force the Germans back, but on 27 October were forced due to overwhelming enemy numbers and firepower to withdraw to the village of Neuve Chapelle itself.

Research by History Hub Ulster Associate Member Michael Nugent.

Michael Nugent has recently launched a new research website for families hoping to find out more about their World War One ancestors at http://ww1researchireland.com/

Pictures courtesy of Nigel Henderson at http://www.greatwarbelfastclippings.com

La Bassee men